Friday, December 23, 2011

Proverbs Take 2

A few weeks ago I started what I hope to be an occasional series on Proverbs. Lately Tricia and I have been talking through them over meals, during long car rides, etc, and it's been a great way to study and apply scripture together. This time I want to revisit 15:17 and show some of the thoughts we had on it, then maybe throw out another one for discussion.

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it. (Proverbs 15:17)

The proverb compares two extreme situations, likely meant to be families, although obviously proverbial wisdom extends far beyond that. The first family is poor - for dinner, all they can scratch together is a plate of herbs. They have a barely subsistence level lifestyle. Eating meat is a luxury they can barely imagine; they'd be overjoyed to get some fresh fruit or a loaf of bread. But they love each other, and despite crushing poverty, they have a happy, supportive home. Dad would do anything for Mom, Mom respects Dad despite his lack of wealth, and the kids are committed to serving and helping the family as much as they can.

The second family is rich beyond belief, eating the equivalent of Wagyu beef for an average dinner. A fattened calf was something so valuable, rich people reserved them for special occasions (see Luke 15), yet this family routinely downs them for occasions like "it's Wednesday!" We're talking royal-level material blessing. Problem is, they hate each other. Mom doesn't respect Dad, Dad doesn't even like Mom, and the kids wouldn't mind if their parents just died so they could get their inheritance and move on already. Dinner's considered a success if nobody even talks, because at least they're not yelling or throwing things. They're a family in name only.

These are the extremes - dirt poor with genuine love, and unthinkable wealth without so much as a shred of common courtesy. And Solomon says, given the choice between the two, it's better to choose love than wealth.

Now obviously few if any will come close to either extreme. But purt near all of us will face situations which mirror the choice. We will have to weigh decisions based on "what will this mean for me financially" and "what effect will this have on my marriage/family" - and sometimes we'll find that mo money means mo problems. When making a decision, some factors are a whole lot more important than "how much money will we make?"

OK, so having your marriage and family be a model of Biblical love is better than being rich (it should go without saying that contrary to the absurdities (I won't even dignify them by calling them 'opinions') of the Useful Idiot types (#OWS, Wallis, etc), you can be both). The follow-up question this Proverb begs is, how do you get that type of loving family? This is where thinking of specific choices can bring the wisdom to home - often in the form of a punch to the gut of my past/present idiocy. Some areas we thought of where this proverb could apply:

Dating/Spouse selection. News flash: who you marry will have a significant impact on your marriage and family life. (You can't get insight like that just anywhere, folks!) So what do you look for in a spouse - or what do you train your kids to most desire? Let me put it this way - if one of my daughters ever says anything like "Well, he makes me miserable and I don't really like him, but he's going to be a doctor so we'll at least be financially secure," she may need to stay in a stone tower until her hair grows long enough for an escape. (For further reflection, this.)

Workaholics. In many jobs, your pay will be somewhat proportional to your workload. You can provide better financially by working longer hours, bringing extra work home, etc - but at what cost? Is the extra money worth it if it means burdening your wife and neglecting the kids? Sometimes it would be foolish to take on more work - and sometimes it would be sinful neglect of duty to not work more (1 Tim 5:8).

Going from 20 to 40 hours may be a necessity, from 40 to 50 can provide tremendous financial blessing with minimal effect on the family, but from 50 to 90 can be familial suicide. This proverb warns against working so much to provide insane riches, while driving the family to hate you. Finding the right balance is a struggle that'll be all too familiar for many who read this - including the one writing it.

Contentment. Closely related to the above. Is the increase in lifestyle or net worth going to be enough to justify the effect it will have on the family? Can you be content with what you have, even as your friends or coworkers are making more and flaunting it? Anyone in his right mind would rather eat a fattened ox than salad. But what will it take to get there, and is it worth it?

Unethical/Illegal Behavior. Sometimes the quick path to wealth will be unethical or outright illegal. Guess what? If you become a shyster at work, it'll follow you home. Loan sharks and thieves don't tend to have great marriages or tremendous relationships with their kids. Know why? Because they're the type of men who can be loan sharks and thieves. Depravity doesn't start when you punch the time clock in and stay at the office when you leave.

How about a current-events example? Here in Illinois, we recently had yet another governor convicted on corruption charges. Blago wasn't content with a great salary and pension; he wanted to raise his family as if they had vastly more wealth than they did. He shook down everyone he could for the money to support the lavish lifestyle. Now how much do you think his family will care about the fancy dinners and vacations and expensive clothes and cars while he spends the next decade or more in prison? And how great must it be knowing your father is the type of guy who'd withhold funding from a children's hospital until they pay a bribe? Think that kind of character just may spill over into parenting or marriage, just a little?

Helpmate Suitable. Much of this so far has been primarily at the men, because I are one. So this is for the ladies. How do you best support your man as he tries to provide for the family? How can you best help him balance his duties at work, home, and church, without belittling or berating? Can you be the voice of contentment instead of the voice of more, more, more - especially if your current standard of living is significantly lower than daddy provided? (I will not elaborate on that for now, except to say I've seen that issue far too frequently, and there are few ways to destroy your husband faster than telling him he doesn't live up to your dad.)

So there's where I went with that proverb. Feel free to chime in more applications or expound on these some more.

And for next time, let's think through Proverbs 19:3. "When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oddball Verses

Every once in a while, you encounter a paragraph in scripture where one line doesn't seem to entirely fit. Every verse is about one topic, but another verse or sentence is about something else entirely.

Or is it?

For those of us who believe that the Bible is God's Word, we must affirm that the scripture is a coherent piece, and that the seemingly oddball verse is integral to the passage. (Actually, that's just common courtesy to believe of an even slightly competent author - knowing that scripture was written by men as carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21) only solidifies it as an absolute.) The question to axe is not "what in the world is this doing where it doesn't belong?", but "how does this verse inform the meaning of the whole passage?"

An example of this is found in Romans 12:14-21. Here is the passage, minus the seemingly oddball verse 16.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep... Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Over and over again, this passage makes the same point from different angles: When people are evil to you, be good to them. Don't take revenge or do evil in return; trust God, and do good.

And what is verse 16, which doesn't seem at first to fit? "Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight." A call to humility and a warning about pride.

So here is where you come in, dear reader. How does verse 16 fit with the rest of the paragraph - actually, how does it form the foundation?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Church on Christmas?

This year, Christmas falls on a Sunday, which means it's time once again for the debate about what to do with church services. Some churches will meet on Sunday as scheduled or on a modified schedule, and some others will shift everything to Saturday.

What do I think? Of course churches should meet on Christmas Sunday. Why in the world wouldn't we? Because it's a holiday - a holy day? Yes, why would we want to gather together as the body of Christ to worship God on a holy day? That would be silly.

Just so I'm clear - I don't just disagree with the opposing position. I don't even understand why it's a question in the first place. I cannot think of one solitary reason why we should move services when Christmas falls on a Sunday. In fact, in years where Christmas falls on some other day, I would love to have an extra service on Christmas morning (granted, many churches will have Christmas Eve services instead, which is nice).

So here's my request - if you have a reason why we shouldn't meet on Sunday, let me know. Particularly if you favor moving from Sunday, I would love to hear the reasoning. And then we can take those reasons and ask whether we should meet on Easter.

I do not understand. I do not comprehend. Please help. Thanks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


You may have noticed that it's become fairly commonplace to describe "religious people" as Pharisees (if you can't think of an example, wait a week). Generally the pattern is like so. A church or pastor wants to do something different, maybe something fairly innocuous (more modern musical style), but more often pushing the boundaries or even outright blasphemous (examples far too numerous). Someone objects that it's inappropriate, in bad taste, etc. That person is derided as a Pharisee. As an added bonus, we are often then told that the church should - no, must - do these kinds of things to shock the Pharisees, because after all, Jesus went out of his way to upset them in his day.

Does that argument hold up? Is it legit to compare those with more conservative taste - even those who can get downright legalistic about it - to the Pharisees? I've got some issues with that, starting with...

1) Most often, the objector is a God-fearer. The Pharisees were not. In case you forgot, the Pharisees were the chief earthly opponents of Jesus Christ and his church. They were so evil that they hated Jesus when sinners were reconciled to God through him, and when they could no longer deny that Jesus was Messiah, they plotted to kill him and bury the evidence.

Mildred (because it's always a little old lady named Mildred, usually with a big hat) has been faithfully attending the church for 70 years, leading Sunday School classes and spending hours a week in prayer for the manifold needs of the church. She doesn't think that playing the song "Kill Your Mother, Stab a Baby, Rape a Goat" by the hot new band "Christ-Punchers" was really appropriate for opening worship at the Christmas Eve service.

Yeah, they're basically the same.

In sum, one group loves Jesus and wants to serve him the best they can (even if they might be wrong on the specifics of how). The other hated Jesus and did everything in their power to silence and kill him. Even thinking about equating the two is nauseating.

2) If anything, the objector is the weaker brother. Let's take an example where the deck's not so stacked - in this one, the objector may even be wrong. Good ole Larry's church decided recently to switch to a more modern worship style. The organ is being phased out and will soon be gone, replaced with electric instruments - guitars, keyboards, those guitars that are like double guitars, maybe even a keytar. Larry objects, and not just due to a difference of taste. He's been taught that such instruments are evil, and are not fit for Christian use.

Now, assuming you believe (as I do) that electric guitars are not necessarily evil, it's not entirely cromulent to  compare Larry to a God-hating, Christ-hating son of the devil like the Pharisees. A much more appropriate comparison is found in Romans 14.

In this passage, Paul considers the case of the weaker brother. This person has come to faith in Christ, but is not yet mature enough in his knowledge to understand the full extent of his freedom. Regarding dietary laws, some in the church understood that they were now free to eat, while some less mature ones didn't yet fully appreciate that freedom. What does Paul say to do? Deride the vegetarian as a Christ-hating Pharisee? Publicly ridicule him for being stuck in old dietary rules mode? Flaunt your freedom by eating a medium rare ribeye or a cheeseburger in front of him every chance you get? Go out of your way to tick him off?

Quite the opposite. We are to make reasonable accommodations where possible, and while working to bring the weaker brother to maturity in that area, strive to avoid harming his weaker faith. If he is in Christ, he deserves the same grace you received when you were an immature newbie (or immature-in-that-area 45-year veteran). Work to build up, not to destroy.

The situation where the objector is wrong will most often fall under this scenario. Rather than slandering him as a Pharisee (about the worst epithet conceivable) and making him the object of public scorn, we should overflow with grace and patience towards him. Even when he's wrong. Especially when he's wrong.

3) Intentionally ticking people off? To hear some talk about it, Jesus thought his main mission was to seek and savor every opportunity to stick his finger in a Pharisee's eye. Thus, they see it as their duty to intentionally aggravate the Pharisees in their midst - who are most often probably weaker brothers who need to be built up, but no worries. In fact, some will claim their boundary-pushing actions are designed primarily, if not solely, to annoy the uptight conservative old ladies in big hats. Does that really reflect what Jesus did?

Now of course, Jesus did frequently upset a lot of people. But it's highly debatable that he ever upset someone as an end in itself, or even as his primary goal. He healed on the Sabbath not to taunt the Pharisees, but because it was the Sabbath and people needed healing. He axed the Samaritan woman about her serial marriages, not looking to mock her while she went scurrying off in shame, but to cut right to the heart of her need to repent. He taught hard truths not because they were offensive, but because they were true.

Of course, the truth about God and us is always offensive. Those who are Satan's children will of course be offended by the gospel. Is it necessary, or even wise, to intentionally add offense on top of that? Let them be upset at Christ, and not upset at you for being a jerk.

So there ya go. If you've used this ridiculous argument to smear opponents, repent of it and stop.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thinking Through Proverbs, Take 1

My second-favorite book I read this year was God's Wisdom in Proverbs by Dan Phillips. Coincidentally, the best was The World-Tilting Gospel, also by Dan Phillips. Basically, you should buy several copies of each, read one and give away the others. If you get nothing else from this post, that's fine, go do that and be blessed.

For those who chose to soldier on, this is the most important thing I learned from GWiP: as long as I can remember, I've been reading Proverbs wrong. I'd always struggled to really benefit from Proverbs because I'd been reading it no differently from an epistle or history book - in large chunks, often several chapters at a time. Every time I read it, it was as part of a reading plan that focused on quantity, getting through the books in a reasonable time. I would read through the Bible in a year (generally 3-4 chapters in a day on those plans) or do the famous "this month has 31 days, read a chapter of Proverbs a day" plan.

The problem is, Proverbs is not meant to be read that way. Rather than reading a large quantity and looking for a unifying theme, following the flow of the argument, or following a narrative account, each Proverb is a standalone nugget of truth to be mined and savored. Don't blow through a whole chapter, barely pausing for a "oh, that's deep" before flying on to the next. Take one proverb, mull it over, think on it some more, imagine the scenario(s) being described (come up with a short story or parable if you can), and work it over for every ounce of truth and application you can glean from it. Talk it over with your family, friends, or Bible study, and work on it some more. You will be amazed at how much application can be made from a short 2-line saying.

Don't believe me? Let's try one together. Proverbs 15:17 - "Better a dinner of herbs where love is / than a fattened ox and hatred with it."

Think about it and post your thoughts in the comments. Some of the applications I thought of include spouse selection/what to train my daughters to value in a husband, workaholism, contentment, helpmate suitable issues, and the meaning of "provision". Let's see what you come up with in those categories, as well as others I missed.

Monday, October 31, 2011

One More Night With The Frogs

Have you ever noticed this in Exodus? The second plague God unleashed on Egypt was to completely overwhelm it with frogs. Pharaoh had his magicians try to help, but all they could do was replicate the problem and make it marginally worse - they were utterly powerless to stop it. Finally, Pharaoh gives in and decides to axe Moses for help...

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, "Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD." Moses said to Pharaoh, "Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile." And he said, "Tomorrow." Moses said, "Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. (Exodus 8:8-10)

Wait, what?


What about, oh, I dunno, right now?

Pharaoh had a thoroughly disgusting problem he had exactly zero hope of solving, and a standing offer of help from the only person in the entire world who actually could stop it. And he decided to spend one more night with the frogs.

When it comes to dealing with sin, how often do we do the same thing?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Be Ready

I recently read 1 Thessalonians again and was reminded of a neat little quirk about the book. Aside from a few lines of goodbye at the end, the end of each of the five chapters is a reminder that Jesus is coming back. Check it out:

Chapter 1: ...and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Chapter 2: For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.

Chapter 3: that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Chapter 4: For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Chapter 5: Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Neat, huh? Now obviously the chapter breaks are not inspired, etc, but still, it gets the point across. Whatever Paul had to say to this church - every encouragement and exhortation, every command or rebuke, all theology and practice - was to be seen in light of the fact that Jesus is coming back to claim his people and judge the world.

So what does this mean for us?

For those who have repented of their sin and embraced the salvation which is in Jesus Christ alone, this is a great encouragement, greater even than grief over the death of a loved one (4:13-18). All the wrongs of this world are coming to an end, all persecution we face will meet ultimate justice, and all our hope will be fulfilled beyond our wildest imaginations. No matter what we've sacrificed in this world or how difficult the struggle may be, the glory at the end is exceedingly worth it. And the commands are not given in a vacuum - they are to be received in the knowledge that Jesus will judge his enemies and reward his people.

The big question facing Christians is whether we remember this well enough. How often do we remind ourselves and each other that Jesus is coming back? Are we living in light of this fact - and doing all we can to prepare others as well? Are we warning those who are still rebelling against God, and exhorting them to be reconciled through Jesus, with the necessary urgency while they still have time?

And for those who are still rebelling against their creator? This truth is the most dreadful news they could ever hear. I was reflecting on this during the 9/11 remembrance news we just went through, and found the juxtaposition rather jarring. The utter fear of another round of terrorist attacks, the kvetching about our emergency response readiness, the endless debates about if something else is coming, how severe it would be, and what we can do about it - all the while pretending to be blissfully unaware that Jesus Christ is definitely returning, it will be millions of times more severe than every terrorist attack and natural disaster in the history of the world combined, and while there's nothing anyone can do to stop it, God has graciously told us the only place to find shelter.

Jesus Christ is coming again. Be ready.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Abigail Faith

Abigail Faith Machel, born 8/28/11, 7 lb 11 oz.

She's awesome.

Family of 4.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Learning to Like It

If you've paid the tiniest bit of attention to the Christian blogosphere or publishing world this year, you probably heard about Rob Bell's fancy new update of George MacDonald-style universalism (that 'hell' is temporary (in Bell's update, it's temporal as well) and restorative rather than punitive - it's God's redeeming/purifying fire rather than his wrathful punishment of sin). Hopefully if that book was even the slightest bit intriguing to you, you first (or better, instead) read Kevin DeYoung's outstanding critique affirming the Biblical doctrine of God's judgment.

But this isn't about any of that, per se.

One interesting phenomenon which arose from the discussion of hell was the tone of many of the defenses of the doctrine - "I may not like the idea of hell, but the Bible teaches it, so I guess I have to believe it". Now this is clearly superior to outright disobedience, but it's short of what Christian maturity requires. DeYoung recently posted two articles which deal with this issue, and these I also wholeheartedly commend to you.

It boils down to this: scripture teaches us the character and will of God. God is good, and everything He does is good. Our goal in sanctification is to become more like Christ, which involves renewal of our minds to love the things God loves. Now, begrudging acceptance is certainly better than rejection of any kind, but we can do better. Consider four possible responses to Biblical teachings, ranked from worst to best:

1) Hypocrisy/Sabotage. Someone who claims to believe, but actively works against the Biblical doctrine. Often accomplished by using familiar Biblical terms in new, unbiblical ways (any similarity between this description and Bell's entire modus operandi is totally not accidental). This is the lowest of the low, worse than outright atheism - these are the wolves, the false teachers that we are so frequently warned about.

2) Defiant rejection. Better than the first class, because at least it's honest. The Bible clearly teaches it, but we reject it because we don't like it. This is the default state of fallen humanity.

3) Begrudging acceptance. "I may not like or understand it, but scripture plainly teaches it, so I have to believe it." Clearly and unquestionably better than the previous, but still not where we need to be. It still trusts my own sense of goodness more than God's, and places myself as judge over him, which is obviously wrong. The acceptance at best comes from a commendable knowledge that God's Word is true, but lacks the conviction that God's way is good.

4) Conformed affection. This is where we need to get. Not only accepting the truth of God's Word, but being fully convinced of its goodness. We learn to love what God loves.

Now the big challenge is to identify areas where you, personally, are still stuck in group 3 and need to grow up, to mature to response 4 (if you're in response 1 or 2, your biggest need isn't maturity but repentance). In my experience, there are three big doctrinal areas where the Biblical teaching is abundantly clear, but acceptance for many is begrudging at best.

God's righteous judgment/hell. See the DeYoung articles. Far too many of us 'defend' the doctrine as if it's detestable. And the thought of any person willingly bearing God's wrath rather than repenting and believing in Jesus Christ is horrific. Yet scripture is clear that glorified saints in heaven will cry out for God's judgment on the wicked and rejoice when it happens. What do we need to understand about hell and judgment to bring our attitude closer to the perfected saints in heaven?

God's sovereign election. I spent a long time as a begrudging believer, after a long time trying to rationalize away the scriptural evidence. The big change for me came through a better understanding of our depraved nature as well as God's gracious display of his glory.

Complementarianism. I think I'm detecting more begrudgingness in defenses of God's created order. Not just with complementary roles for male and female, but also with sexuality in general. Why is it good that the genders are designed have different roles in the church and home? Why is it good that boys should like girls, and why is it good that boys should not like other boys? Maybe it's just my imagination, but I'm hearing a bit too much "Well, sorry you can't be a pastor, but rules are rules, ya know?" and "Gee, it sure would be great if you could indulge those sexual desires, but God says it's bad, so you have to resist, I guess", and not enough faithful proclamation of the glorious way God created us male and female.

What doctrines do you struggle to wholeheartedly accept? With what other doctrines do you too often see timid, begrudging acceptance?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Blessed Miracle of Utter Failure

Have you ever noticed how the mission Jesus initially gave to his first disciples is the same as the mission he gave the church right before his ascension? Jesus is all about making disciples, true worshipers of God throughout all the world. From the call of the sons of Jonah and Zebedee, to the last words he uttered on earth until his glorious return, the mission is unchanged.

So it seems fitting that one of Jesus' great miracles would be repeated at each end of his earthly ministry. Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14 contain the same basic story, although in different contexts. In one case he had just come on the scene and was starting to call people to himself, in the other his devoted followers were trying to figure out what the resurrection meant and answer the all-important question, "So, now what?" But both miracles were essentially the same: professional fishermen spent all night fishing in the Sea of Galilee without catching a single thing, Jesus told them to throw the nets out once more, and the catch was completely overwhelming. In both cases, the disciples immediately recognized this as nothing less than the power of God.

Until recently I was inclined to think of the miracle as the huge catch, and indeed I've often seen it referred to as the "miraculous catch" or something similar. But I think the miracle actually starts much earlier - how in the world could these guys fish all night in those waters and catch nothing?

I had the privilege to go to Israel a few years ago, and spent a little time around the Sea of Galilee (which is really not that big of a lake). The first thing that jumped out was the fish - literally, actually. This lake was absolutely teeming with fish everywhere. The first night walking close to the shore, they were jumping up from the water. They were so tightly packed in there that you could have thrust your hand in and had a decent chance of grabbing one. A child with a handheld net could swipe it through the water and have a pretty good catch rate.

I can't imagine professional fishermen casting a net measuring a couple hundred square feet into the water and pulling up nothing. Doing it once would be a real head-scratcher. Doing it again, and again, and again, and again, and again.... all through the night, all through the best fishing times, over and over and over and over... All this, all night, dozens of casts, throwing out bait, trying new spots, trying again and again until they were beyond exhausted, seeing fish by the thousands swimming down there, practically jumping into their boats - and not a single fish landed in their nets. Not even one.

This utter failure could not be natural. This was the setup for a miracle, but it could easily be classified as a miracle itself. The two parts go together: first the longest, most miserable and frustrating night of fishing ever, an epic fail if there ever was one. Then, a single cast into the same water brought more fish than they can handle. The combined effect was powerful - Jesus, who made it happen, must be divine. And not one fisherman involved could possibly have believed the result was due to his own mad skillz.

That last part is especially important to remember in light of what would happen merely weeks after the second event. Peter, who had been a recipient of both miracles, would deliver his first sermon. What was the result? "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."

Peter had fished for men, and had enjoyed unimaginable success on the very first attempt. Could he possibly imagine that this tremendous work of God was due to his own skillz? Of course not. Rather, he could attribute all the success to the one who was truly deserving.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)

And I hope the lesson isn't lost on us. We could believe that success in ministry will be a result of our own awexomeness, and act like it, finding all sorts of ways to help the gospel out with our wisdom and clever tactics. Or we could believe that success is by Christ's power and blessing, and minister faithfully how he commanded.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

So apparently Mark Driscoll recently went on a rant that was just silly, ignorant, and flat-out stupid. Frank Turk as usual does a masterful job of dissecting the absurdity. It's worth a read. Pack a lunch.

Now, out of that whole mess, there's one particular argument I'd like to take a closer look at. The discussion regards the issue of cessationism, the idea that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the end of the apostolic period. After effectively calling the vast multitudes of Christians throughout the ages who've held this position the same as atheists and deists, Driscoll backs it up with this:

"So within that God's not really speaking, God's not really working and the supernatural gifts are not in operation; Healing, revelation, speaking in tongues, those kinds of things they are over in the God-used-to box. Even though I was reading this book that said he was the same yesterday, today and forever."

The 'book' he read that said that is of course Hebrews, specifically 13:8. His argument seems to be that based on this verse, if God has ever done something some way, He must forever keep doing the same thing the same way.

The book of Hebrews has 303 verses. This attempt to use this verse is so spectacularly awful, you have to wonder if he's ever read any of the other 302.

Honestly, if you were going to make this argument, is there a worse book you could possibly use than Hebrews? OK, maybe Revelation might be up there with it, but Hebrews is about as bad as it can get for this position. It's hard to find a portion of the book which doesn't fight against this silly argument. Consider:

Hebrews 8:13 - "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." Though God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he apparently had no problem replacing the obsolete old covenant with a new, better one.

Hebrews 7:11ff - Remember the Levitical priesthood? The unchanging God gladly replaced it with the superior Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus.

Hebrews 10:1-18 - Based on Driscoll's argument, we should still be worthlessly sacrificing bulls and goats, and verses 9 and 18 are practically atheistic or deistic.

Hebrews 9:11ff - That old tabernacle and associated stuff? Gone. Buh bye. Replaced with the heavenly, better versions. But I thought God was the same yesterday, today, and forever...?

So yeah, the meat of the book is all about the old and obsolete being replaced with the new and better. What else do we find?

Hebrews 10:19-20 - "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh..." Whoa, wait a second, what's all this "new and living way" stuff? I thought God was unchanging!

Hebrews 3:7-11 - "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says..." What does he say? A long scripture quote! Interesting, isn't it? It's almost as if Driscoll's larger argument, that if you don't believe in perpetually ongoing fresh revelation you believe God is silent, is completely and utterly demolished by this single passage. But that would be a silly thought, that God speaks through scripture, AKA His Word.

Oh, how about one more? Let's look at the first couple verses of chapter 2, with my comments in brackets.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels [the Mosaic law, Acts 7:53] proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It [the gospel] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard [the apostles], while God also bore witness [to what? the gospel proclamation of 'those who heard' Jesus!] by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Folks, this is perhaps the #1 cessationist passage regarding the purpose of the miraculous gifts. It very explicitly ties them to the initial proclamation of the gospel by those who heard it directly from Jesus.

So this book, basically from beginning to end, is opposed to the point Driscoll tried to make from one poorly-applied verse. That leaves us with a couple options.

(1) He simply doesn't know any better. The pastor is so unfamiliar with this magnificent tome of Christology that he has no idea how contrary his point is to the central themes of the book.
(2) He knows better, but is fine with completely misusing scripture to make a minor rhetorical point.
(3) I'm so completely far off in my understanding of these fairly plain and straightforward passages from Hebrews that I should really just give up blogging, teaching, or even commenting on scripture until I get my mind right.
(4) ???? I dunno, help me out here.

I'm fairly sure it's not 3 - otherwise, I wouldn't have written this all. 1 and 2 are both simply ghastly options, completely unfitting for a pastor, and really could disqualify one from eldership at all. So someone please tell me it's 4, and figure out what that could possibly be. 'Coz I'm kinda stumped.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Today we're taking Rebekah to the zoo, for possibly our last trip with only one child. I'm really looking forward to it, seeing as how she's generally incredibly happy, especially when she's watching animals do cute animal things. Should be a great time.

And how can she not be entertained? She'll get to see butterflies swinging from the trees and climbing on vines. Turtles will be on the prowl, waiting for an unsuspecting antelope to walk by - and then they'll pounce! The tigers will gently float along in their little pond, waiting for little kids to drop in a handful of food pellets. And don't forget the sheep putting on their amazing aquatic show, with the jumping through hoops and synchronized swimming and doing tricks and being rewarded with fish!

What's that? Ridiculous, you say? Well, yeah, that's kind of the point. Obviously these animals don't do those things - you could say it's against their nature. Butterflies do butterfly things, turtles act like turtles, etc. If something looks like a monkey and acts like a monkey, it doesn't matter if it calls itself a zebra, or if someone labeled it a horse, it's a monkey. Animals act according to their natures.

With that in mind, let's take a look at what Peter had to say:

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." (2 Peter 1:3-4)

This text was the basis for our sermon last Sunday, and it's worth repeating. If you are in Christ, you are a partaker of the divine nature. You've been born again, you are a new creation, you have been raised from death to life. Is it possible that the new, living nature can be the same as the dead, old one? A person with a new nature will have the appropriate new appetites. A person with the divine nature will have new, fitting behaviors.

The challenge is to examine yourself. Do you actually show the signs being a partaker of the divine nature? Do your thoughts, desires, attitudes, actions, environments, and affections appropriately represent new birth in Christ and transferal from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Jesus Christ? If not, are you really in the faith? Then today is the day to repent and believe the gospel.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Oh yeah, that's me

Read this. Personalize it, because it definitely applies to you. Me, too.

It's real easy to read the Bible and see myself as the good guys (in the places where there are any, of course). I can somehow relate to David, but can't imagine being one of the faithless multitudes cowering because of Goliath. I can see what all those people in scripture did wrong, and wonder how they cold be so foolish. Pointing out people making the same mistakes today? Oh, that's easy - far too easy.

But actually using scripture as a mirror and seeing reflections of my own sinfulness? Now that's a lot more of a challenge - not because it's difficult, but because it's painful. It also happens to be blessed and beneficial.

Sure, it's more fun to read scripture (or an open letter) and think of how awful those other guys are. But it's significantly better to diagnose my own sin, repent of it, and kill it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Praise the Lord? I would certainly hope so!

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
(Psalm 148:1-5)

Yep. That's pretty straightforward.

Now, God deserves praise (to say the least!) from everything and everyone because He made them all - not only did He make it all, He continually sustains the entire universe by the word of His power, holding all things together and supplying all needs. Given that, what does it say about those who refuse to praise Him, obey Him, submit to Him, or even acknowledge that He exists?

What would be a fitting response from God to such insolence?

Who, would you say, has a better understanding of reality and how things work - us or God? What is the proper response when my view of reality clashes with what God says about it?

When the one who caused and sustains your very existence issues a command, what are the acceptable reasons for not obeying?

Just axing some questions, maybe a little something in there to think about.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Going Solo

A few weeks ago, I was listening to Dave Ramsey on a Friday afternoon drive. The show is about financial responsibility, with a particular focus on eliminating debt, and Friday's shows are largely dedicated to celebrating with people who have recently escaped debt. One debt-free story that day caught my attention. This couple had begun the process in earnest, after however many months of budgeting and sacrificing, they had grown a little weary. Intellectually it made sense to get out of debt, they believed it was a good idea to go about it so intensely, but the process was really, really hard. So when they saw that a live show was coming to their area, they went and gathered with thousands of others who were fighting the same debt battle they were. Refreshed and encouraged, they were able to continue the fight with renewed energy and persevere to victory.

When I heard them tell their story, all I could think was, I know where I really need to be Sunday morning!

This couple clearly understood that when you're in a difficult struggle, it helps tremendously to be mutually encouraged with others in the same situation. Share your victories and failures, help each other put the past behind them and move on, encourage one another to persevere. Without that, it's easy for a good idea to fall apart when things get too rough.

Many others in all sorts of circumstances get this concept as well. Substance abuse support groups, divorce recovery groups, playgroups for little kids (really, so their moms can get together), people training for marathons together, whatever. If it's a hard but worthwhile goal, people everywhere know they need to support each other.

So why is it that so many supposed self-professed Christians don't seem to get this? Or they understand and just don't care?

We've seen stats about how many claim to be Christians yet never go to church. I'm sure we've all heard cries of LEGALISM!!!1! whenever someone suggests that Christians should commit to a church and actually attend. Heaven help you if you suggest something like joining a small group or doing anything beyond attending on Sunday morning. The voices clamoring against church membership (or the organized church itself!) are legion, many of which belong to people who profess to be in Christ!

And this is where we could recount the many Biblical arguments for church membership - the myriad 'one another' commands, the fact that the church is where Jesus hangs out, the incongruity between claiming to love Jesus while despising his bride, the illustration of being part of the body, the occasional outright command, etc.

But even if none of this was true, not even a single bit, claiming to be a Christian and not being committed to a church would still be colossally stupid. Look, the Christian life is hard. There are bound to be numerous times where you're tempted to give up entirely. All the other things listed above that people know they need help to persevere through - living as a faithful Christian is harder than any of them, maybe all of them combined. So who would ever think it's a good idea to make a go of it alone?

I would suspect that if your life as a Christian is easy enough without being mutually committed to a congregation of fellow believers, your life isn't remotely Christian.

If you're for some reason claiming to follow Jesus, yet remain defiantly disobedient and utterly foolish regarding his church, I urge you to stop pretending and finally choose one. Either obey Jesus and be part of the chosen vessel for displaying God's glory, or stop claiming his name.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Hadn't Noticed

For some reason I followed a link to the latest blasphemy from the Emergent Village, Doug Pagitt's explanation of why he's jumped headlong into the 'process theology' heresy. It's the same combination of nonsense and wickedness that permeates pretty much everything that comes from there, so I don't recommend spending much time on it, any longer than it takes to utter "I am shocked - SHOCKED - that Doug Pagitt would openly embrace wickedly anti-Biblical teaching".

But, I did notice something interesting while I was there. Look at the logo in the top left. Compare it to the logo at this site. Coincidence?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Few Quick Airline Security Questions

I'm sure we've all heard about the new strict 'security' measures that popped up in airports over the last half a year or so. In most cases, to get on a plane now, you must first go through a new type of X-ray machine, using 'backscatter radiation'. Of course we've been assured it's perfectly safe, although since they've already been caught lying about the amount of radiation absorbed, a fair amount of skepticism is not unreasonable. You're given the chance to 'opt out' of this radiation detection, but to do so, you may be required to submit to a sexual assault by a government agent.

Of course, this is absolutely necessary for national security, and if even one passenger gets through without a full-body X-ray or a molestation, it will be awful beyond imagination. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria! Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. Total protonic reversal. Yeah, it's that bad.

Except, not.

See, there are a few things that undermine this little story, including a few anecdotes from our recent vacation. First, not all airports are equipped with the full-body X-rays. Second, before the flight out, we axed the agent whether the radiation was safe for my pregnant wife. He just had us go through the normal metal detector, no X-rays or sexual assault required. Third, on the way back, the security line was insanely long, causing flight delays as passengers couldn't get to their flights. So they shut down the backscatter radiation machines, suspended the molestations, and just rushed a bunch of us through the normal security.


If the new, tight security measures are actually necessary, why would they ever, even for one passenger, suspend the measures? Why, if they are necessary, are there entire airports where they are not in place at all, ever? Why, if they are necessary, would the measures be suspended for an entire terminal at LaGuardia, just to get the line down to a more manageable level? Or if they're necessary, why would they be suspended around Thanksgiving in order to short-circuit any possible protests?

Maybe it's just me, but maybe these types of things might, just a little, possibly, show that the official line about them being absolutely necessary is a total lie.

See, here's the thing. There are certain things that are actually necessary - and you never go without them. In air travel, for example, it is necessary to have enough fuel to make it to your destination. You wouldn't dream of taking off with only half the fuel you need, just because passengers might be complaining about the delays. It is necessary that the wings be properly attached. Sure, it may be inconvenient to switch planes just because one little wing might fall off, but, well, you know, you probably shouldn't risk it, just in case.

To sum: if it's actually necessary, you don't do without it. If you ever do without it, it's not necessary. And this 'enhanced security' garbage is most definitely not necessary.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Prayer on May 21

Heavenly Father,

We thank you for making us alive and saving us through the precious blood of your Son. We praise you for your incomparable grace, for atoning for our sin, and making us righteous in Christ. We thank you for saving us from the judgment to come, not because of anything we have done or any good in us, but only because it pleased you. Thank you for putting our sin to death with Jesus, and raising us to new life in Him. And we look longingly towards the day of His return, when we will be together with you forever. We pray that when you do return to judge the world, that we will be found ready. Keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of your glory with great joy. To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

We pray for those who have been deluded by the cult of Harold Camping, who have put their hopes in a man acting directly contrary to your clear, unambiguous word. Have mercy on them, and grant them repentance and knowledge of the truth. Allow us, your church, to be instruments of grace to them, pointing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us not join in the inevitable mocking, but let us proclaim the truth in love.

And we pray for the mockers, the scoffers, and all those who are still in rebellion against you, our Creator and Sovereign. You are not slow to keep your promise, but patient, not wishing any to perish, but all to come to knowledge of the truth. They presume on the riches of your kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that your kindness is meant to lead them to repentance. But because of their hard and impenitent heart they are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when your righteous judgment will be revealed. We pray that you would grant them repentance and knowledge of the truth, that you would open their eyes to your glory and let them flee from the wrath that is to come into the safe shelter of the blood of Christ.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Restaurant:Impossible and You

We didn't mean to go there. We really didn't.

There are some shows on Food Network and similar programs that are pretty reliable guides to finding a great restaurant to visit. For example, if you visit an Iron Chef's restaurant, you can be sure it'll be top-notch (such as Mesa Grill, where we went Sunday evening). Shows like Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives or Best Thing I Ever Ate profile a lot of restaurants around the country that are worth a visit if you're in the area. But one show profiles places that we would never intentionally seek out - Restaurant:Impossible.

We really, really didn't mean to.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the concept is pretty simple. A restaurant is really struggling, and doomed to fail if things don't change drastically. They beg for help from an expert chef/restaurateur, who has two days, a small budget, and free reign to suggest whatever changes are necessary. After a whirlwind of renovations to the facility, staff, and menu, the place reopens. (It's the same concept as Kitchen Nightmares, except without the perpetual vileness of Gordon Ramsey, so it's significantly more watchable.) It's a pretty neat show, but not one where I would ever plan to go to any of the restaurants or anything.

We were staying one night in the little town of Mystic, CT, and just went over to grab dinner at our hotel's restaurant. The name seemed familiar, but I didn't know why. The inside looked sort of familiar, which was odd since we'd never been there before, and there was something about the show kitchen that made me think I'd seen it before. And when I saw that the chef looked really familiar, too, it clicked - this place had been one of the renovation projects on R:I. Totally unintentional, but hey, might as well see how the turnaround went, right?

It was excellent. Some Chicagoans might not believe me when I say the calamari was the best we've ever had, better even than Harry Caray's, but it was. Everything we had was delicious. The place was fairly busy, and I noticed that on the walls, they had some awards displayed. They had won quite a few (Best in County/State awards from various publications), seemingly every year up through about 2007, but then there was a gap of a few years, until their proudly-displayed 2011 award. Once good, the quality had slipped and brought them to the verge of failure, but it's completely turned around. Good for them.

So what does this have to do with us, or you?

At the end of each episode, there is a quick update about how the restaurant is doing several months after filming. Some places, like this one, are booming. Others went right back to where they had been, and at least one of them had already closed. These restaurant owners put out a desperate plea for help, bring in an expert to straighten them out, but then it's up to them how to proceed. Those that make the suggested changes tend to do well. Others fight against it the whole way, revert to what they had been doing, and fail.

We are no different. Consider this familiar passage from James 1:22ff: "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing."

Or Proverbs 26:11: Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Or Hebrews 13:17: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

When you go to scripture looking for promises to break the power of sin, when you beg your pastor and/or small group for help, do you intend to actually do what you're told? Or will you forget the authoritative word, and scoff at the advice of the experts?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This Week...

So this week the wife and I are on vacation for the first time in several years, and it is absolutely wonderful. The only question we really have is, will the world still be here when we're done?

As you may have heard, a punk named Harold Camping is shooting his big mouth off about how the Bible supposedly guarantees that judgment day will be May 21. Right about the time we're going to be watching a play starring Jack Bauer, Jim Gaffigan, and one of the original cops from Law & Order, Jesus is guaranteed to return, because it's some certain time after the flood, and based on some numerology and awful theology, Camping has cracked the Bible code. And between the omnipresent billboards and the interviews with every media type willing to slander the church (by claiming he's part of us and speaks for us), his message is getting out. May 21 is judgment day.

So what is the Christian response to this?

First, understand that Harold Camping is a vile blasphemer. Jesus could not have been more clear that we cannot, will not, and have no business trying to figure out the date. Whenever he was asked about this, his response was always direct and unambiguous - it's none of our business, and we cannot know. Harold Camping claims that not only does he know, it is the duty of every Christian to know. In other words, he's calling Jesus Christ a liar. This is utter blasphemy. (For more on Camping's devolution, see this excellent five-part series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Second, we can't say for sure that May 21 is not the day (at least the day that everything starts, or the day of the rapture, or whatever your eschatology holds) any more than this guy can say that it is. Look - I understand the temptation to say that if some crackpot is predicting Christ's return on a certain date, we can be sure it won't be that date. But that simply doesn't follow. We won't know either way - we can never predict when it will be, nor can we say with certainty that it won't.

While we don't want to endorse Camping's sinful bluster in any way, we also don't want to go too far the other way, and pretend that Christ's return is not imminent. In denouncing Camping, it's far too easy to sound like the mockers and scoffers of 2 Peter 3. Jesus may not come back on May 21 - it may be May 17, or May 22, or some other day. We don't know - and it is a tragedy when our lack of knowledge here causes us to give comfort to the lost, or get complacent and act like it couldn't happen any moment. Jesus very explicitly warned against this, and Peter was clear about how we should live in light of Christ's imminent return.

Jesus could come back at any time - be ready! Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!

(Postscript: as usual, Al Mohler is right. Had I seen that before I wrote this, I might not have. Such is life.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Because I Said So

In the book of Leviticus, we read...

I know, I know, everyone hates reading Leviticus, that great derailer of Bible-in-a-year plans everywhere. I'll keep it short, I promise.

Anyway, Leviticus has numerous laws for Israel to obey, covering everything from the sacrifices to mildew. Once you get to chapter 18, you may notice an interesting phenomenon. Many commands from there on are punctuated with the following explanation: I am YHWH.

Why should we have only appropriate sexual relations? I am YHWH.
Why should we leave some of our crop for the poor and sojourner? I am YHWH.
Why should we honor the elderly? I am YHWH.
Why should we have just balances? I am YHWH.

And on and on it goes. Do this, because I am YHWH. Live like that, because I am YHWH.

Why follow that law? Because God said so.

So here's your deep thought for the day. God is the one being for whom "because I said so" is always a completely legitimate reason. And here's a bonus corollary: to demand more explanation than that is sin.

Digest and discuss.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Politimical Aside - Taxes

Since today is tax day and all, I figured I would throw out my crazy two-step solution to many of the problems in our tax/political system. Overspending, budget woes, abuse of the tax code for social engineering/punishment? Two simple steps can make a major dent in these issues and more. The first idea I hear fairly often, the second I don't recall hearing many rants about. Here goes.

1) Move tax day back six months, to October 15. Keep elections the first week of November. Anyone need the logic of this one spelled out? I've heard numerous people recommend this or something similar (move elections to late April) over the years, but by itself it wouldn't be nearly as effective as you would think. I suggest adding the second step to really keep them in line...

2) End backup withholding. Depending on how you look at it, backup withholding is either truly brilliant or devious. I believe that this, more than any other single factor, has allowed tax rates to rise to the current ridiculous levels without the wrath of the electorate being unleashed. Consider the following two cases:

Person A makes $5000 a month, or $60,000 a year. Every three months, he writes the government a check for $3000 (by April 15, he must have paid the government a total of $12,000).
Person B also makes $5000 a month, or $60,000 a year. He has taxes withheld at a 25% rate ($1250), taking home $3750 a month. Every year around April 15, he gets a check from the government for $3000.

Both of these people earn the same income, and pay the same net taxes. However, their feelings about their tax bills will be completely different. When it's time for A to do his taxes, he will be rather upset at having to write such a large check. When B does his taxes, however, he'll most likely be thrilled to be 'getting' so much money from the government. He has grown used to living on the smaller take-home amount (smaller than A, who takes it all home but has to set aside the 20% for taxes), and while he may see how much is withheld from his paycheck, it lacks the emotional sting of having the money, then having to write the check and send it away. Plus he has come to see the tax refund as a gift of the benevolent government (don't ya know how much the generous IRS is stimulating the economy by giving your money back?), and sadly many view the tax refund as a sort of savings account!

People in category A include those who have to file quarterlies (small business owners, self-employed, etc); they get their money without withholding, but have to set it aside to cover the tax bill. Shockingly, these people tend to be the most upset at tax increases - and since they are generally society's producers, they also are the target of the taxes. Category B people are generally less upset at tax increases, having been conditioned to the lower take-home pay and the 'gift' of a refund, the repayment of an interest-free, mandatory loan to Uncle Sam.

End backup withholding and put tax day and election day close together, and not only will tax rates drop, but absurd spending (such as the government-funded Ponzi schemes) will be dramatically and immediately reduced, as elected officials will finally be held to account for every dollar they waste.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For - The Hallelujah Chorus

The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah is one of the most striking musical numbers ever written, and it's now one of the most recognizable. Every December this chorus becomes nearly ubiquitous, appearing in numerous Christmas movies and specials, being performed by 'flash mobs', getting played on PA systems in malls throughout the land, and of course being used to hawk all sorts of stuff in commercials of all types. Luxury cars? Discounted name-brand clothing? Lottery tickets? If the commercial airs in December, they just slap the Halleluah Chorus in there and roll with it. Now I'm even hearing it forced into service hawking - are you ready - turkey cold cuts. The song is treated as if totally pliable, performed by anyone, for any purpose, to get a cheap laugh or celebrate the majesty of a 3-day carpet sale. The term "hallelujah" itself is used as a throwaway exclamation, a sacred version of "sussudio".

I would just like to caution those who casually toss around "hallelujah" or break out the chorus - be really careful what you wish for.

Let's take a quick look at the term hallelujah. It basically means "Praise God!", from the Hebrew hallel (praise) and Yahweh. So it's not just a generic exclamation or to a general 'god', it's specifically an acclamation of the greatness of Yahweh. That should be plenty of warning to those who deny or rebel against him, but there's more.

Consider that hallelujah is only used four times in the entire New Testament - all of which are in Revelation 19:1-8:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
   for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
   who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants."

Once more they cried out,

"Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever."

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, "Amen. Hallelujah!" And from the throne came a voice saying,

"Praise our God,
   all you his servants,
you who fear him,
   small and great."

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

"Hallelujah! For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
   with fine linen, bright and pure"—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

So the term "Hallelujah" is directly associated with the following things - the judgment and destruction of Babylon, marked by such a great outpouring of God's wrath that the smoke rises forever and ever, the final union of Christ with his church, and the accompanying destruction of Christ's enemies, where he is completely exalted to reign over all forever. The prospect of this does not seem like something that those who set themselves as enemies of God should celebrate.

Oh, and what comes immediately after the four hallelujahs? You really, really, really do not want to be on the wrong side.

So please, for your own sake, if you're foolish enough to have not repented and placed your faith in Christ alone, do yourself a favor and stop exclaiming 'hallelujah!' Because the worst thing that could possibly happen to you is that God could hear you and grant your wish.

The Marvel of the Gospel

R.C. Sproul:

God set forth Christ as a propitiation by his blood through faith that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). There is no such thing as cheap grace. The gospel is not simply an announcement of pardon. In justification God does not merely decide unilaterally to forgive us our sins. That is the prevailing idea, that what happens in the gospel is that God freely forgives us of sin because he is such a loving, dear, wonderful God, and it does not disturb him that we violate everything that is holy. God never negotiates his righteousness. God will never lay aside his holiness to save us. God demands and requires that sin be punished. That is why the cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. Christ had to die because, according to God, the propitiation had to be made; sin had to be punished. Our sin had to be punished.

In the drama of justification, God remains just. He does not set aside his justice. He does not waive his righteousness; he insists upon it. We cannot be justified without righteousness, but the glory of his grace is that his justice is served vicariously by a substitute that he appointed. God's mercy is shown in that what saves us is not our righteousness. It is somebody else's. We get in on someone else's coattails - that is grace. That somebody, our Redeemer, is perfectly righteous and has fulfilled the justice of God for us perfectly. That is the glory of justification. God demonstrates that he is both just and justifier. If all he did was maintain his righteousness without extending the imputation of that righteousness to us, he would not be the justifier. He is both just and justifier, which is the marvel of the gospel.

(Sproul, Romans, page 104)

Friday, April 8, 2011

New Glasses

Last week I got some new glasses. It had been a few years, and during that time my prescription had gotten somewhat worse. So the new glasses obviously allowed me to see better - just the same up close, but much sharper at a distance.

Funny thing, though. When I first put on the new glasses, my body had a hard time adjusting to them, even though they were helping me see better than I had been for years. They were good for me, a significant improvement over what I had been doing, but it still hurt a little bit to wear them at first. I got a little bit of a headache, and my eyes strained to make the adjustment. Although the new glasses were instantly and obviously better, my eyes had gotten so used to the old, inferior way that the improvement hurt.

There just has to be a lesson in there somewhere, I know it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

One Body, Many Members

"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

I think I may have been missing something on a familiar passage of scripture for years. Not that I've been getting it wrong, but I think my understanding of it has been far too limited, and only recently have I started to reconsider.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a dissertation on spiritual gifts, their proper use, the perspective to keep regarding them, etc. In this chapter he exhorts the Corinthian church to understand their gifts in relation to each other - they are gifts assigned by God (11) for mutual edification (7). They are not given in isolation, but each member has something to contribute to the whole, and is in turn dependent upon the whole (12ff). He makes his point by comparing the church to a body, where every part contributes to the others and needs the others. A body without hands or eyes would not be functioning properly, nor would a pancreas on its own be very useful. Similarly, the church is functioning sub-optimally if genuine gifts are suppressed or withheld, and those who isolate themselves from the church are about as useful as a chunk of liver doing its own thing. Those of us in the church both contribute to each other and need each other, and are united as members of one body, with Christ as our head. When one part suffers, we all do; when one rejoices, we all do as well.

Nothing too controversial there, I think. Anyway, here's where I think I had been missing the boat. I've always read this as concerning individuals within a single local congregation. And it certainly does mean that! In fact, just take a moment to consider all the implications of this truth for your local church - an end of jealousy and factions, sacrificial love for each other, total devotion to each other and commitment to work for the good of the whole. When this truth takes hold, it is a beautiful thing to see.

But what I believe I was missing was the universal application of this passage. That is, we are not just part of the body consisting of our local congregations. We are part of the body of Christ, joined together with all other believers in all the world, now, in all history, and forever. While I am joined in Christ to the fellow members of my church, I am also united to those in the church a few blocks away, and that other church across the city, and one in Kansas, and Mexico, and France, India, and the furthest reaches of the earth. If we are in Christ we are united, regardless of where we live or which congregation we attend. So here are a few implications:

1) I have a closer bond to fellow Christians I've never met than I do to unbelieving friends and even family. If you are in Christ, the same is true for you as well.

2) When one part is honored, all rejoice with it. There is no room for jealousy or rivalry among true churches. When legitimate good news comes regarding another church, we should rejoice. No jealous "why them and not us?" No sniping or backbiting. Just rejoicing for the way God has blessed our brothers.

3) If one part suffers, we all suffer. This was the attitude of the Macedonian church which, when they heard about the extreme suffering of the church in Jerusalem, gave extremely generously despite their own poverty. It 's an attitude that is once again being put at the forefront today, as a devastating tragedy hit Japan. The churches there, the people we are closer to than a brother, who we are united together with us in Christ, are suffering greatly. And we, their brothers, have a chance to help them out. This is what Churches Helping Churches was created for - to help the brethren in time of need. If you don't give through them, please consider another charity or way to help our hurting fellow believers, in Japan and elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seeking to Undermine

A while ago, I started tagging any post that mentions Brian McLaren with the 'atheists' tag. I don't know if anyone noticed. Anyway, the reason I started doing that is that I had this thought - if you didn't know anything about the author, and read one of McLaren's books, which of these would you think is more likely?

A) It was written by a Christian seeking to strengthen the church, or
B) It was written by an atheist seeking to develop a counterfeit religion to undermine the true faith and weaken the church.

I don't think there's any doubt that someone truly versed in the Biblical gospel would conclude B. His stuff is wrapped in Christianesque language, but every aspect is designed to be just close enough to fool people and lead them astray from the true faith. So since his 'theology' is so close to what a devious atheist would develop, might as well treat him as such.

It seems I'm in good company with this observation. Ray Ortlund, a pastor significantly my better in so many ways, has made the same point with regards to the heretic du'jour, Rob Bell. And he's exactly right.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just One Eyewitness

Here in Illinois, we're getting ready to start what seems like an annual tradition. No, not welcoming an influx of crybaby legislators from neighboring states when their governors want to govern like actual adults - that's not quite a tradition yet. What I'm talking about is the upcoming trial, or re-trial, of one of our criminal former governors.

For those who've lost track of which Illinois politician is on trial when, this time it's Rod Blagojevich, back on trial for a couple dozen corruption charges. Honestly, I sort of miss having him as governor. His replacement is just as incompetent and ideologically absurd, but he's just plain boring. Blago had sort of a Jerry Springer appeal, where you were bound to pay attention to see what insanity would happen next. If you're going to be a lousy governor, at least be interesting, right?

Anyway, at the last trial, Blago was convicted on only one of twenty-some charges. What was the big problem with the prosecution's case that allowed him to avoid conviction on so many charges? Many observers pointed to the lack of a compelling eyewitness. There was plenty of evidence, but it was piecemeal and largely circumstantial, and in the end it failed to convince at least one holdout juror. There was no smoking gun, no single person who could explain "this is what they did and how they did it" from planning to consummation. It's fairly safe to say the prosecutors would have traded hundreds of hours of phone tap recordings for just one credible eyewitness who knew everything and could report what was done.

I can't help but think of how different attitudes are towards eyewitness testimony when it comes to the creation of the world.

Suppose you would like to know about the how the universe came to be. Wouldn't it be nice if there had been someone there to observe it - more than that, to actually do it - who was willing to share his completely trustworthy firsthand account? Oh, there is? Huh. Doesn't it seem odd, then, that so many despise his account of the event, particularly those who claim to be devoted to him? I'd like to make a crazy suggestion - since we have the clear testimony of the only possible witness, one who cannot lie, we might want to believe him.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inside the Statistics

This article made the rounds of the ol' blogosphere the last few weeks, looking at the widely-quoted statistics about divorce rates among Christians. Essentially, someone sometime threw out a stat that Christians divorce at the same rate as unbelievers, so apparently we're a bunch of hypocrites with no moral authority to talk about mawwiage, and blah blah blah. It became a nearly universally-accepted claim even among Christian - some would say, especially among Christians - that apparently nobody bothered to check to see if it's even remotely true.

Turns out, not so much.

So of course the many people who linked to it drew attention to the conclusion - those who are actually legitimately serious about their faith live like it, and therefore have significantly lower divorce rates. Yep. Should be pretty obvious.

But I don't know that I saw anyone draw attention to another line in the article, one that seems almost like a throwaway. Consider this: "Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans." Whaaaa??? Not just that the 'nominal' folk are identical to unbelievers - they're actually worse? Huh.

Based on this, I would like to propose the following about 'nominal Christians', where 'nominal Christians' is another way of saying 'unbelievers pretending to be Christians':

Pretending to be a Christian is worse than being open and honest about unbelief.

Too bold of a statement based on a single data point? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Discuss.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Something I Learned Last Week

If you want to prove yourself to be Truly Reformed(TM) and show how fully you've broken away from the Catholic church, you need to quote various catechisms and confessions as if they're infallible proclamations from an infallible magisterium.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Declaring a Moratorium

Today I would like to submit a modest proposal.

I believe we should declare a five-year moratorium on pretending Brian McLaren is a Christian and letting his anti-faith teachings have any influence in the church. If, after five years, no clear evidence of repentance has been displayed, the moratorium will be extended.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Depravity On Full Display

This is one of the most disgusting crimes I've ever heard about: Pa. abortion doc killed 7 babies with scissors. I have a few thoughts about this.

1) This act is unconscionably evil and despicable. I cannot understand how someone can start out as a doctor and end up stabbing babies to death.

2) That said, the only thing illegal about this is the way he killed them. Had he left them in the womb when he stabbed these babies to death, it would have been perfectly legal. God have mercy on us for allowing such a thing.

3) It will be interesting to see how the pro-abort crowd reacts to this story, if they even acknowledge it. On what grounds could they possibly condemn this ghoul? How could they possibly object to this obvious evil while remaining consistent to their position? The only way is if there is a magic barrier at the entrance to the birth canal, which the baby becomes a person when it crosses. Kill the child one inch before, and it's a wonderful thing, a 'choice', the most holy sacrament of feminism. Kill the child one inch beyond, and you're a murderer. Such nonsense is what you're reduced to when you sanction murder.

4) Don't believe me? Consider the quote from the ADA: "He does not know how to do an abortion. Once he got them there, he saw dollar signs and did abortions that other people wouldn't do." That's the problem - he just didn't do the abortions right. If he had, well, who cares about seven dead babies, so long as they were killed in the womb?

5) Well has it been said that the evil of abortion has surpassed the Holocaust, both in number and in number of people who are aware and approve. This same crime is repeated 800,000 times in America every year. This fiend will go to prison for killing seven (and other assorted crimes), but there are legions of other 'doctors' who are on killing sprees far exceeding that total - and what they do is perfectly legal. There are plenty of places in this country (and one entire political party) where any politician bold enough to oppose the murder of unborn children has virtually zero chance of being elected. Accusations of hatred are reserved for people who don't want babies to be slaughtered. The situation is as backwards as the most insane Monty Python sketch or Twilight Zone episode - but there is nothing the least bit amusing about it. We, as a nation, sanction the murder of babies. This should not be.

Pray for repentance, and work to bring about an end to this abomination. Come, Lord Jesus.