Friday, January 30, 2009

Read it again... for the first time!

This year I have challenged the teenagers in my youth ministry to join me and my leaders in reading the bible in a year. I admitted I would not be checking that they are caught up, or rewarding anyone that commits. I simply told them it was something the other leaders and I were excited to do, and challenged them to join us.

Every Wednesday when we gather together for youth, at our information station is a small, sealed black box with pads of paper and pens surrounding it. I encourage anyone with questions they are too embarrassed to ask, questions their accountability leaders can't answer, or anything they wish discussed to write something on one of the pieces of paper and anonymously inserting it into the question box.

After every series (usually once a month) we have a night we called "Unplugged" where we do worship acoustically... we pack 40 chairs into as small a circle as we can make and go through the questions that have added up. It's always the highlight of our month because we always have deep, meaningful conversation about a variety of topics I may not have thought to address.

I was very encouraged to see that this month, half the questions in the box pertained to specific bible passages that had been a part of the reading in our yearly schedule.

One question seemed simple enough, but drew great discussion and insight into an often overlooked portion of scripture. The question was: Why did Jesus bother to ask the demon his name in Matthew 8:28-34? And why did Jesus cast the demon into a herd of Pigs?

We know this story. Jesus and his disciples take a boat into the region of Gerasenes where they are greeted by a demon possessed guy (one specifically, though Matthew notes 2 of them) who Jesus delivers. The story is recorded in Matthew 8, Mark 5 and Luke 18.

Mark's account is likely the most detailed. Here is the account:

1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" 8For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"

9Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"

"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

I love this story for so many reasons. Of course, the text doesn't actually answer either question that was asked. But we can speculate.

First of all we know this man must have been in this condition for a while because it says he had often been chained but broke free, often been held down, but was too strong and he cried out every night. Legion means 1000-- so I think one of the reasons Jesus asked the demon it's name was to highlight to those watching, this man had been suffering all this time under the oppression of 1000 evil spirits. What did they do to help this man? Chain him, pin him and banish him from the community.

Now why did Jesus cast the demons into the herd of pigs? I've heard a few theories on this, perhaps the pig owners were Jewish, and Jesus did not approve of them profiting from the sale of unclean animals to the Gentiles. My difficulty with this is that scenario doesn't seem like Jesus.

One of my youth commented that pigs are unclean, so perhaps Jesus allowed the demons in the pigs to make the statement: "let the unclean spirit be with the unclean... it doesn't belong in this man, who is made in the image of God."

I really liked that speculation. It seems more Jesus. The tragedy of this story is that this man suffered outside the community, a loner and no one cared to help him. When Jesus alleviated his suffering, it's not only a miraculous deliverance, but it's a statement about the worth of man. Made in the image of God is our health and our ability to connect with our creator with a sane mind not more valuable than our possessions? (the pigs)

A beautiful passage in this story is when the farmers run back and see the formerly demon possessed man kneeling at Jesus' feet "dressed in his right mind". And yet the people from this region's hearts are too hard to see what Jesus was trying to teach them. They make him leave the region! Imagine how the guy delivered felt... he is finally able to think clearly and not cry out or cut himself with stones and the man who just healed you is getting the boot!

Well Jesus does leave... and rightfully the man wants to go with Jesus and the disciples. Why would he want to stay with the people of Decapolis who clearly don't care about him? Yet Jesus tells him to stay. I had never really asked why before, but doesn't this seem cruel?

But verses 18-20 say:

18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Notice Jesus, the Son of God, wasn't welcome in this region, and yet this man was able to go and show people what god had done for him and "all the people were amazed"! Jesus heals the man, and uses him to spread the gospel where he himself can not.

Isn't that a great story?

The comment made after we took the time to really examine all the aspects of this passage by another youth was, "the power of redemption really comes out when you read the bible as a story".

Many of my youth were raised in the church, and the biblical stories are familiar to them... but the consensus last night was that as we continue to read the entire bible this year, we're going to read it as though it's brand new... read it without Sunday school answers swimming around in our heads so that the nuances and power in them can show us something new about the God we serve.

Book Review: How to Read a Book by M. J. Adler and C. Van Doren

It is a little weird reading a book on "how to read a book". I found myself having to constantly stop my reading to assess how well I was reading. Strange. Nevertheless, this was a very helpful book. It contained many practical tips along with much of its theory on reading. There were some techniques that it suggested that I already do. There were also many things that I could add to the way in which I read books.

Here are the rules which the authors present to the readers (from Between Two Worlds):

Stage 1: What Is the Book About as a Whole?
Rule 1. You must know what kind of book you are reading, and you should know this as early in the process as possible, preferably before you begin to read. / Classify the book according to kind and subject matter. (p. 60)

Rule 2. State the unity of the whole book in a single sentence, or at most a few sentences (a short paragraph). State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity. (pp. 75-76)

Rule 3. Set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole. / Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole. (p. 76)

Rule 4. Find out what the author’s problems were. / Define the problem or problems the author has tried to solve. (p. 92)
Stage 2: What Is Being Said in Detail, and How?
Rule 5. Find the important words and through them come to terms with the author. / Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words. (p. 98)

Rule 6: Mark the most important sentences in a book and discover the propositions they contain. / Grasp the author's leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences. (p. 120)

Rule 7: Locate or construct the basic arguments in the book by finding them in the connections of sentences. / Know the author's arguments, by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences. (p. 120)

Rule 8: Find out what the author’s solutions are. / Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and as to the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve. (p. 135)
Stage 3: Is It True? What of It?
General Maxims of Intellectual Etiquette

Rule 9: You must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, “I understand,” before you can say any one of the following things: “I agree,” or “I disagree,” or “I suspend judgment.” / Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book. (pp. 142-143)

Rule 10: When you disagree, do so reasonably, and not disputatiously or contentiously. (p. 145)

Rule 11: Respect the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion, by giving reasons for any critical judgment you make. (p. 150)

Special Criteria for Points of Criticism

12. Show wherein the author is uninformed.

13. Show wherein the author is misinformed.

14. Show wherein the author is illogical.

15. Show wherein the author's analysis or account is incomplete.
I think Rules 1-4, in particular, should be incorporated to everyone's arsenal when reading books. If a reader would complete those four rules I think they will have grasped what the book is about and be able to discuss it or share it with others.

This was a very practical read and would benefit all readers, experienced or otherwise.

For more on reading, take a look at How to Read Less More, and Twice as Fast from Greg Koukl at Stand To Reason.

The Most Profitable Resource on the Web

The following as a link to the most profitable resource on the web that I have come across:

Christian Essentials Class at Scottsdale Bible Church - Scottsdale, Arizona

The link will take you to a site where you can download Dr. Wayne Grudem's lessons in Scottsdale Bible Church's "Christian Essentials" class. Dr. Grudem is teaching chapter by chapter out of his Systematic Theology book.

I have found this site to be a huge benefit in my Christian walk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Socrates said "An unexamined life is not worth living".  In deference to his advice, this entry is a little self examination about an analogy I recently made in a small group.  Specifically, I likened our relationship to Christ prior to our salvation to that of a man actively drowning, certain to die who is offered a lifeline and can to choose to grab it or not.  

My analogy of the drowning man sounded good to me.  I was comfortable with it.  It "resonated" with me.  It was in keeping with the tradition of my religious up bringing... but was it accurate, true and supportable through scriptural reference?  Short answer ... no.  (Scripture references:  DYOLW because seeking God's truth is an act of worship in itself)
Now I would say to improve the analogy... a drowned man was found. 
There are several poignant differences between a "drowning" man and a "drowned" man.  A drowning man can engage in a directed, heartfelt, weighty discussion of his pressing condition, the merits of being rescued and more often than not has a strong desire to be rescued.  The drowned man does none of this.  A drowning man needs a lifeline, a rope or a hand.  The drowned man needs chest compressions, mouth to mouth and occasionally some electrical shocks to his heart.  Upon rescue, the drowning man can recount a near death experience.  The drowned man was dead and doesn't even hear the story unless the resuscitation is successful.
So I was spiritually - dead in sin.  Dead already.  Dead. Dead. Dead. Out of his grace God brought me back to life.

Of course, the analogy is still imperfect.  Physically speaking, the drowning and drowned  man both have some knowledge of what is it is "to be alive".  Spiritually, we were never even aware of the "live" state, that is, until we were brought back to life.This is hard to fathom for several reasons.  First, we only know what it is like to be physically alive and contemplate physical death.   We have no experience in the opposite condition of being physically dead and contemplating physical life.   Raising the dead is considered by some to be the sine qua non of deity.  And certainly, from a human perspective, the "living, then dead, then back to life" miracles certainly get our attention.  It is much harder to conceptualize the "never alive to alive" miracle.  In fact if you are like me, when your try to think about this you probably fall into scenarios of  "never existed to existed" rather than try to conceptualize the "exists but has never been alive".   
Lets suppose someone actually meets the criteria mentioned "exists but has never been alive" At what point could you have meaningful discussion with them about their condition?  While they are still dead?  It certainly would not be comprehensible to someone who was truly dead - a corpse - to  understand their condition or their need to undergo a process of "being brought to life".  The only meaningful discussion can occur in retrospect after they are alive.

I have found it likewise in my recent forays into Reformed theology.  The discussion is only meaningful because I'm already alive.  I was resuscitated, didn't actually realize the extent of my deadness or all the machinations that went on on God's part on my behalf until I was actually alive (not alive again but spiritually for the first time).  The details of the story would be irrelevant to me if I were still a corpse.  Please don't misinterpret this as saying if you don't find these discussions meaningful you are still dead.  For me at least,  I was resuscitated quite some time before any meaningful discussion began.

2 Chronicles 1:7-12

" In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” " (ESV)

How many times do we read those verses and come away thinking that what Solomon asked God for was wisdom and knowledge? If you went through your church and took an impromptu survey asking people "What did Solomon ask God for?" I'm guessing you would get the same answer from everyone; wisdom and knowledge.

But that is not the whole picture. Solomon asks for "wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?" He did not ask for general wisdom and general knowledge. His request was in relation to his role as leader of God's people. God recognizes Solomon's request as asking for wisdom and knowledge to govern God's people.

What would have been God's reply had Solomon only asked for a general and healthy dose of wisdom in knowledge with no reference to leading God's people. Would that have been rewarded in the same fashion? Who knows.

I imagine that Solomon, who had just taken over the throne of arguably the greatest ruler up to that point in history, was intimidated by the task before him. He was about to follow in the footsteps of the "slayer of Goliath" as the leader over a huge multitude of people. Even for the strongest hearts that would have been a looming task. And so Solomon asked for knowledge and wisdom to lead God's people. And it was granted to him, and much more beside.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Book Review: Desiring God by John Piper

This is a re-read. I read this book several years ago. At that time, I thought the content was good but I didn't like the style of the writer. It is interesting the difference a few years can make. I can now say that I think the content is great and I like Piper's style. So what's the difference? I think the biggest difference is how much I have come to appreciate the ministry of John Piper.

I really benefited from the plethora of resources to be had at both Desiring God as well as Many of those resources have been mp3s of John Piper preaching. I enjoy Piper's take on the whole gamut of Christianity; he plays hardball. I think that appreciation has carried over to his writing. I know it's the same book so I must have changed.

When I first read Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist the concept of the book was fairly new to me. If one could sum up a book of such weightiness in one sentence it would be the oft repeated line from the Westminster Catechism that Piper has tweaked for his book. The line reads "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". Piper alters it ever so slightly by changing a word: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. And from here Piper dives into Christian Hedonism.

According to Piper, "Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life built on the following five convictions:
  1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse.
  2. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
  3. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God.
  4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
  5. To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. (p28)
This was a novel and exciting concept when I first read it. The re-reading of it has exposed the depth and grandeur of Christian Hedonism. Though I don't live the idea the way I should, I have come to terms with the author in a more authentic manner than when I first read it.

Another idea from the book that shattered a preconceived idea was this: "it is unbiblical and arrogant to try to worship God for any other reason than the pleasure to be had in him"(p18). You see, I used to think along Kantian lines that: "the goodness of my moral action was lessened to the degree I was motivated by a desire for my own pleasure" (p18). But Desiring God turns that concept on its head.

Piper's magnum opus is so full of enriching exposition of scripture and thought-provoking teaching that I don't know where to begin or how to proceed in order to do the book justice. So, here is my solution: I'll share a few of my favourite quotes from the book and hopefully entice you to read it your self.

Speaking of God's love of His own glory: He himself is uppermost in his own affections. A moment's reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if he valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But he himself is supremely valuable. If he did not take infinite delight in the worth of his own glory he would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person's glory.(p42)

Piper on worship: Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of his worth. This is the ideal. For God surely is more glorified when we delight in his magnificence than when we are so unmoved by it we scarcely feel anything, and only wish we could. Yet he is also glorified by the spark of anticipated gladness that gives rise to the sorrow we feel when our hearts are lukewarm.(p96)

And what of prayer: Prayer pursues joy in fellowship with Jesus and in the power to share his life with others. And prayer pursues God's glory by treating him as the inexhaustible reservoir of hope and help. (p182)

I could keep going with this until half of the book was repeated on the pages of this blog. Suffice it to say; read the book!

Pitied and Pitiful!

1 Corinthians 15:19 - If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

In Desiring God, John Piper laments the fact that in looking at Western Christianity it is hard to believe that people think this verse true. "It seems that most Christians in the West describe the benefits of Christianity in terms that would make it a good life, even if there were no God and no resurrection." (p255)

Apparently Paul thought differently. Piper suggests the reason for Paul's view: " The answer seems to be that the Christian life for Paul was not the so-called good life of prosperity and ease. Instead, it was a life of freely chosen suffering" (p255).

Perhaps with more suffering we would come to realize this verse more truly.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I love my nieces and nephews. I have 13 of them if you include my brother's foster-son. And we include him. They are my kids' best friends and they are a lot of fun.

For instance, yesterday I had my brother's son and daughter as well as one of my sister's sons. My niece, Molly, plays with my youngest daughter Arwen. They played all morning and afternoon including a stint outside in the cold. This tired them out. Arwen usually has a nap in the afternoon but we let her skip it due to the fact that her cousin was over. They both decided to have a nap without my prompting. My daughter chose a sofa. My niece chose a box. A wicker box we use for storage and for an end table. Doesn't look particularly comfortable does it? Nevertheless, the only reason I found her was because she was snoring! This episode got me to thinking about boxes.

"Don't put God in a box". There is not many times I hear that and don't find it annoying. Isn't it obvious that the people who say that are putting God in a "box"? They are putting God in the "Don't-put-God-in-a-box" box. And that is all any of us can do. That is how we think; we put things in boxes. We organize ideas and concepts by putting them in boxes and categories. How else can we make sense of the world. We take all the bits of info and make a framework of boxes to understand them. We must classify and order information to make it intelligible.

And so, instead of self-defeatingly trying to "not put God in a box", we should attempt to put God in the right box. A box that is accurate to the truth about God that he has revealed to us. Thus, we read in Psalm 139:7-10 the following:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
And we realize that God is present everywhere and so add that descriptor to the box we put God in. Or, we read in Psalm 115:3 that "Our God is in the heavens;he does all that he pleases" and add omnipotent to the construction of our God-box. Do we really and truly grasp all-powerfulness or omnipresence in their entirety? Of course not. But that is how God has revealed himself to us in His Word so that is how we must think of Him. Now, I understand that part of the revelation of Scripture is that God is above and beyond any box we can even think of: He is not confined to any box we make. But again, is that not just part of the box we make to understand him?

So much of our growth in our faith journey is a process of coming to a better understanding of who God is. Or, in other words, to understand what are the dimensions, attributes, and life of the box we put God in.

There very may well be a time coming when we no longer "put God in a box": For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until then, with God's Spirit helping, let's use God's Word to make sure our "God box" is as accurate and truthful as possible.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Prophet - Range of Meaning in New Testament Times

In Showing the Spirit, D. A. Carson compares New Testament prophets with those from the Old Testament:

"Although New Testament prophets apparently spoke on a variety of topics, there is little evidence that they enjoyed the clout in the church that either the apostles demanded in the church or the writing prophets demanded in Israel in Judah."(p97)

This goes along well with what Wayne Grudem writes in his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Grudem teaches that "By the time of the New Testament the term 'prophet' (Greek prophetes) in everyday use simply meant 'one who has supernatural knowledge' or 'one who predicts the future' - or even just 'spokesman' (without any connotations of divine authority).(p33) He continues, "The word 'prophet' would not automatically suggest 'one who speaks with absolute divine authority' or 'one who speaks the very words of God'. (p34)

In discussing both sides of the matter, Carson brings up Titus 1:12 - One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” The word prophet in this verse cannot possibly be equivalent with the Old Testament use of the word, can it? So I think that it is reasonable to agree with Grudem that the word prophet does not necessarily always mean " 'one who speaks God's very words' after the pattern of the Old Testament prophets"(p40) and that "The precise meaning will have to be determined from the context." (p40)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review: Showing the Spirit by D. A. Carson

The full title for this book is Showing the Spirit - A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. This is the first book of this type that I have read. I have read commentaries of course. As well as books that were partially dedicated to exposition of Scripture. But this is the first time I have read a book, more than 220 pages, almost entirely devoted to an exposition of 3 chapters of the Bible. It was both educational and engaging and one I should have in my personal library; this one is borrowed from a seminary's library.

I first came across D. A. Carson in the writings of others. He is an oft-cited theologian. I have learned that when you come across authors who are regularly cited by other authors in a positive fashion, it is well worth your while to be come acquainted with the author being quoted. This is how I came to read some of Christianity's great writers: ancients such as Augustine or more current writers such as J. I. Packer, G. K. Chesterton, or C. S. Lewis. Maybe the dual first-second initial has something to do with it. At any rate, if your favourite authors are consistently quoting other authors, you should inquire into and read those other author's works.

D. A. Carson's biography from his page at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School's website can be seen here. Briefly, Donald A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1978. Dr. Carson received the Bachelor of Science in chemistry from McGill University, the Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Seminary in Toronto, and the Doctor of Philosophy in New Testament from Cambridge University.

Showing the Spirit is an enjoyable read with solid insight and thorough explanations. It covers the important and controversial topics from the 12th, 13th, and 14th chapters of the first letter to the Corinthians: unity of the body, grace-gifts, baptism in the Spirit, love, prophecy, tongues, order, and authority to name a few.

At the risk of over-simplifying, Carson takes a middle road between the extremes of charismatics and cessationists. He doesn't choose this route to try and find consensus but rather because he believes Scripture warrants it. In doing so he not only explains his interpretation of verses and passages, but also shares major interpretations of other theologians who he sometimes agrees with and at other times disagrees with. He also gives some practical instruction he believes will be helpful.

I did not understand everything in the book; sometimes Carson would refer to Greek words without translating them. And sometimes the theological concepts were beyond my acumen. But for the most part the book was very readable and when it did get "over my head" it would not be long before it returned to a level where I could wade. In particular, I found his summaries and conclusions, which included instruction and correction, to be very balanced and very helpful.

I strongly suggest that you go to a website, such as The Gospel Coalition, where you can find some mp3s of Dr. Carson and listen to him teach and preach. He is an outstanding lecturer and handles topics with depth of understanding and deftness of speech. I also recommend this book and look forward to reading some more of Carson's book of theological exposition.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Philanthropy and Martyrdom

1 Corinthians 13:3 (ESV) : If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Some of D. A. Carson's theological exposition from Showing the Spirit where he expounds on what Paul is saying:

My deeds of philanthropy and my resolute determination to remain loyal to the truth even in the face of martyrdom cannot in themselves attest my high spiritual position or the superiority of my experiences with the Holy Spirit. In all of this, if there is no love, I gain nothing. (p60)

I value loyalty. I thrive on the thought of it and I believe it is Godly character and can often be interchanged with the word faithful. That being said, I need to remind myself, without love it amounts to nothing!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What would you rather?

Last year I had an interesting question posed to me by a good friend. It went something like this: Would you rather have your children do what is right or be happy? Without hesitation I responded that I would rather them do the right thing even if it meant them being miserable. Hands down. And my answer to that question has not changed. I would prefer them to do the what's right, honourable, honest, selfless, and God-fearing and be unhappy than to do what is wrong, or not know the difference between right and wrong, and be happy. But, there is a problem here isn't there? The problem is with the question.

The question is a case of a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is "a situation in which two alternative points of view are presented as the only options, whereas others are available". The question makes it sound like you have two options:
  1. Do what is right and be miserable.
  2. Do what ever you want and be happy
But there is another option. There is the option of doing what is right AND being happy. Isn't that what the beatitudes are all about? The beatitudes begin with "Blessed are" and are followed by an action or a state of being which is "right". However, most of the actions or states of being would be considered unhappy situations by most in our society; poor in spirit, mourning, meek, desiring righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted. Other than pure and peacemaker, most of that list would be undesirable in our culture. But the "blessed" in "blessed are" is defined in my ESV Study Bible as "more than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, this is a state of well-being in relationship to God". That sounds like REALLY happy to me. So, Jesus says that doing what is right can be a condition of being truly happy. And happiness and righteousness are not in conflict. And that is what I want for my children; to do what is right and be truly happy (blessed).

Let's take it one step further. I am currently re-reading Desiring God by John Piper. Piper accurately proposes that in the church there is a "widespread notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest" (p99) and that "the virtue of an act diminishes to the degree you enjoy doing it and that doing something because it yields happiness is bad." (p100) Piper disagrees with these notions and contends that "it is not a bad thing to desire our own good. In fact, the great problem of human beings is that they are far too easily pleased. They don't seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should." (p20) He makes it clear: "Our mistake lies not in the intensity of our desire for happiness, but in the weakness of it." (p20) Piper, if I'm reading him accurately, is suggesting that we should do what is right because it makes us happy in Him.

So, we went from doing what's right or be happy to doing what's right and being happy to doing what's right because it makes us happy in Him.

I'm happy with that.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Koukl's new book.

I pre-ordered Greg Koukl's new book today. Having been through some of this material in a small group study, I am looking forward to it.

From Between Two Worlds:

I mentioned earlier that I already have a list (in my head) of Top 3 Books Published in 2009. One of them is Greg Koukl's new book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions.

Here's the blurb I wrote for the book:
In this wise and compelling book, Greg Koukl—who has thought long and hard about not only what to say but how to say it—provides a game plan for equipping believers through an artful method of careful thinking and winsome conversation. If you struggle with how to talk about your faith and respond to questions and objections in a meaningful and effective way—and most of us do—there is no better book to buy, read, and put into practice. I could not recommend it more highly!
You can read the table of contents and a few pages from chapter 1 online.

Book Review: An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition by John H. Leith

I'm not sure why I chose this book over hundreds of titles that crossed before my eyes. I recently requested and received an alumni card from my alma mater in order to have access to their libraries. I was searching their libraries' databases for interesting books and this one came up in a search. I decided to go with it. And I'm glad I did.

This is a textbook. It is not written for easy-readability. It is not a difficult read, but neither does it flow in Lucado-ian fashion. The book introduces the reformed tradition on a number of fronts:its ethos, its theology, its polity, its liturgy, and its culture. The author is quick to point out that this book is neither a comprehensive accounting of the Reformed tradition nor an exhaustive summary of their history. Rather, he attempts to illuminate themes, motifs, and commonalities throughout the history of this stream of Christianity.

The two chapters which were most appealing to me were the chapters entitled The Ethos of the Reformed Tradition and Theology and the Reformed Tradition. In the former chapter the author suggest that "At least nine identifiable motifs have significantly shaped the Reformed style of being a Christian"(p67). In his estimation the ethos of the Reformed tradition includes motifs such as: the majesty and the praise of God; the polemic against idolatry; the working out of the Divine Purpose in history; ethics, a life of holiness; the life of the mind as the service of God; preaching, the organized church and pastoral care, the disciplined life; and simplicity.

In the chapter Theology and the Reformed Tradition the author consider the characteristics, developments, and representatives of Reformed theology. His examination of the theology's characteristics covers issues at the very heart of Christianity: theology of the holy catholic church, theocentric theology, theology of the Bible, predestination, Creator/creature distinction, theology as a practical science and theology as wisdom. In the chapters introduction the author writes; "The reformed tradition has emphasized the vocation of the Christian to be a theologian and, more specifically, a responsible theologian of Christian faith"(p87) and that "The uniqueness of the Reformed tradition is not that it insists that everyone is a theologian but that it insists that everyone should be a responsible theologian who can speak intelligibly about the faith"(p87).

In the closing chapter where the author considers the future of the tradition we find this quote: "The future can be faced without fanaticism, without ingratitude, and without presumption. Fanaticism takes the future into its own hands because it despairs of God. Ingratitude discards the wisdom of the tradition because it cannot be simply repeated. Presumption forfeits personal responsibility because it forgets that God elects to service and to the fulfillment of his purposes. Faith serves God and trusts God for the future." (p222)

If you don't mind a book with an educational feel and a textbook-like structure you will not mind this work. It was interesting and full of insight into an increasingly vibrant sector of Christianity. I recommend it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Let My Word Abide in You

Here's a snippet from a recent article / sermon by John Piper, regarding the importance of memorizing scripture and allowing it to abide in your heart (based on John 15) Timely!

More Than Memorizing

First of all, having the words of Jesus abide in you is more than memorizing them. We know this for several reasons. First, we know it because the devil can memorize Scripture. He quoted it to Jesus in the wilderness to tempt him (Matthew 4:1-10). Second, we know it because of what Jesus says in John 5:38. He said to the Jews who were questioning him, “You do not have [God’s] word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” But these people knew much of God’s word from memory. Jewish people who are serious about their faith have always memorized Scripture. But Jesus says that God’s word is not abiding in them. So clearly when the word of God is abiding in us, it is more than mere memorizing.
The full article can be found here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Football is a game of territory, of field position. So much preparation and planning focuses on the lines. Running plays, pass routes, defensive drops. They all take the lines on the field and the distances they demarcate as crucial to successful performance. And we all should know the games are won and lost on THE line; the line of scrimmage. How many broken bones, how many contused muscles, how many concussed craniums, how many bruised egos all to try and own THE line. It's about the lines. The whole point is to cross the goal LINE. I'm telling you, its about the lines.

Psalm 17:6(ESV) - The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

God's concerned about the lines too. But the lines of that inheritance you cannot fight for, you cannot play for, you cannot hurt for. Those boundaries are a gift. That territory has already been paid for.

Ephesians 1:11-14(ESV) - 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Indeed, my lines have fallen in pleasant places.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Body of Christ - You're a Part

Jude, Nathanael and I were recently in a small group, discussing the reality that when you become a Christian you are baptized into a corporate identity - the body of Christ (using 1 Cor 12 as the scriptural basis). In his recent post, Glorious Body Radiant Bride, on the Reformation 21 blog, Mark Johnston captures the vital content of that group discussion and it's well worth reading.

I especially like this ...

"It can hardly slip our notice that in the prayer he offered on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus prayed at length and repeatedly that his followers 'may be that the world might believe that you [the Father] have sent me' (Jn 17.20-24). There is no greater visible proof that the gospel really is good news than the fact that it really does rescue and transform relationships - cutting across barriers of race, class, culture in a way that shocks the watching world. Jesus only ever identified one mark of a true church: 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples: if you love one another' (Jn 13.35). The earthly communion of saints is God's great billboard that advertises the power and glory of the gospel."

Tradition, tradition, tradition.

Some excerpts from An Introduction to the Reformed Tradition by John H. Leith.

  • Speaking of Protestant fragmentation: In part, it was due to the Protestant conviction, which accepted the risk of division as preferable to any institution or authority with power to dictate how Christian communities were to read the Bible. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit's speaking through Scripture as the final authority and the obligation of all believers as priests before God to take responsibility for their own faith was a source of Protestant strength nd also divisiveness. (p22)
  • On tradition: By tradition people are saved from the tyranny of the moment, and by it they gain some transcendence over time...Tradition properly enables one to live out of the resources of the past with an openness to the future. (p28-9)
  • On "new" things: Since 1955, theology and churchmanship have been plagued by lust for novelty and narcissistic delight in being original. The result has been faddism. (p29)
  • On benefits of tradition: The greatest asset of a tradition is its provision of a rich resource of accumulated wisdom that gives perspective to the present moment. (p30)
  • A caution: Inordinate love of the past, the repetition of dead traditions as laws for contemporary life, the refusal to change are clearly destructive ways of life. (p30)
  • Tradition versus traditionalism: A historian of doctrine has put it very well. Tradition is the living faith of dead people. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people. (p31)
That's just the first chapter!

Tim Challies on Spiritual Gifts


Often when I hear people speak of spiritual gifts they do so in this manner. “I have the gift of [insert gift here] and my church has no way for me to serve in that way.” Or “I know what my gift is and I am looking for ways to use it.” To these people I would suggest that they may have an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of the way the gifts work. The way to properly exercise spiritual gifts is not to be willing only to do what you’ve determined is your gifting, but to do anything that the church needs to have done, and to do it with joy and excellence. And as you do that, you may find that God gifts and equips you for something far outside your comfort zone.

That is excellent advice. It flies in the face of the "the church is here to meet my needs" mentality. Serve the church! Novel, but not new.

Read the rest of the post here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Review: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

The following came as an email from Gospel Reminders:

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” - D.A. Carson

I think this quote gives a good overview of what the author of The Pursuit of Holiness is trying to teach, encourage, and warn against. Since people do not "drift towards holiness", they need to pursue holiness with "grace-driven effort". Understanding this concept, beginning this journey, and warning against pitfalls is what this book is about.

Bridges uses scripture, personal stories, anecdotes, and illustrations to get across his points. He manages to get across his ideas with a style that is easily understandable and interesting. He covers the topics with balance and gracefulness.

I found some chapters much more profitable, and enjoyable, than others. This is likely due to where I am at on my personal pursuit of holiness. Bridges has something for everyone in this book regardless of where one might be on their own journey.

In this classic work on holiness, Bridges covers a wide array of related topics; God's holiness, our sin, Christ's work and our standing as a result, our responsibilities, personal discipline, the Holy Spirit's work, the central role of Scripture, perseverance, resolve, and prayer as well as many other topics.

You can read other posts I have made about this book here and here.

I'll end with a quote from Tim Challies of Discerning Reader:
"And so I commend this book to you. You will not have to look far to find testimonies of the power of The Pursuit of Holiness... it has been endorsed by hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ who have been challenged by it to live lives of holiness."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Motivational Speaking

I get the opportunity to do a fair bit of motivational speaking. I feel privileged to use the platform I have to try and share something positive with other people. Jerry Bridges shares some interesting things about motivation in his book The Pursuit of Holiness.

In the chapter Holiness and Our Wills Bridges has this to say: "It is the will that ultimately makes each individual choice of whether we will sin or obey. It is the will that chooses to yield to temptation, or to say no" (p125).

Bridges goes on to explain how reason and emotions both affect and influence the will. He suggests that pre-fall man's emotion, reason, and will all worked harmoniously and that their direction was always God-ward. Post-fall, these faculties are in constant conflict and need to be re-directed; we need to "renew our minds(Romans 12:2), to set our affections on things above(Colossians 3:1), and to submit our wills to God(James 4:7)" (p126). He also suggest that we need to make every effort to help our wills to choose rightly. We do this, with help from the Holy Spirit, by influencing the will through our minds with Godly reasoning and through our emotions with Godly motivation. Scripture becomes of paramount importance as the source for righteous reasoning and motivation.

And this gets me to my point about motivational speaking. I try to influence people with my words to choose to do something positive whether it be persevere through difficulties or buy into teamwork. In my talks I try to engage their minds and inspire and motivate so they can influence their wills. Thus, hopefully they can affect their wills with their reason and emotions in order to make good choices. I think I'm think I'm on the right track there.

But here is the problem; I have the Holy Spirit enabling me when I pursue holiness whereas they may not have the Enabler helping them. So, can I really expect to have that significant of an impact? I'm not sure. But I'll keep trying.

I'm grateful we have The Helper, the Holy Spirit, to aid, lead, encourage, teach, and strengthen us in our own pursuit of holiness.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lord of the Ring Finger

A long ring finger relative to index finger is an indicator of success of male high-frequency financial traders.
God wasn't just messing about when he created man. To be sure, the physiological, histochemical, and anatomical features of a human being are astounding but if man was the crowning glory of God's creation then the human mind must be the crowning glory of man - at least in my mind. To contemplate such an entity is overwhelming and to be able to "self contemplate" even more-so. I'm sure the more versed philosophers reading this could better relate this concept but you get my drift.

The human mind is voracious in it's appetitie. Attached to the greatest sensory collecting system ever conceived, it is constantly "pulling in" sights, sounds, smells, temperature, pressure, categorizing, prioritizing, assimilating, deconstructing, becoming situationally aware, strategizing, creating, moving and reacting. In our current culture, the human mind is often mournfully described as being "bombarded by the media". It seems to me that, the human mind is constantly seeking bombardment. The profound lack of bombardment can have devastating effects on the mind as observed in those undergo solitary confinement or sensory deprivation or even more tangibly in the upregulation (increasing number and distribution) of cortical neuroreceptors supplying a portion of the body to which sensation has been lost as in a stroke.

Consider the story in Genesis 11 of the tower of Babel and what happened when men began to make use of their fallen minds to arrange bricks and mortar to make a name for themselves...
“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
Pretty impressive for fallen minds and limited technology to draw God's assessment that their collective power needed to be dispersed. Like every aspect of humanity, the mind certainly "took a beating" at the fall and like every aspect of humanity, the original purpose of the mind was to bring glory to God and this is still the purpose of our mind today. In Love Your God With All Your Mind, J.P. Moreland argues, "The mind is the soul's primary vehicle for making contact with God and it plays a fundamental role in the process of human maturation and change, including spiritual transformation" citing Rm 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Given such a great tool as the human mind, by our creator, as a Christian, why isn't my greatest mind focus my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? I almost always seem to be distracted by something trivially important like ... contemplating the relative length of my ring finger to my index and relating it to stock market performance or building my tower from bricks and mortar to make a name for myself. Lord transform my mind to your glory! Amen.

P.S. Here's another zinger from J.P. Moreland's Love Your God With All Your Mind "The contemporary Christian mind is starved, and as a result we have small impoverised souls"

Stop staring at your fingers!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Chapter for the Ages

I am currently reading The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. When people talk about "classics" in Christian living, this book is often mentioned. Though only a third of the way through this book, I'd thought I'd share from gleanings from an outstanding chapter.

Even in "classic" books, sometimes a particular chapter will stick out. For instance, in J. I. Packer's well-known and highly acclaimed Knowing God there is a chapter on adoption that is the finest theological writing that I have ever read. Similarly, Bridges chapter entitled A Change of Kingdoms is an outstanding piece of writing.

Bridges begins with the dilemma that faces Christians when they desire to live a holy life. "Many have sought to live a holy life by their own will power; others have sought it solely by faith...In our search for answers to our sin problems, a troublesome question arises: What should I look to God for and what am I responsible for myself?" (p52-3) The author goes on to explain that many Christians err in one of two ways when pursuing holiness: either trying to will themselves holy or doing nothing while trying to rest in Christ's finished work. Bridges explains the answer to this riddle: "...God has indeed made provision for us to live a holy life, but He has also given us definite responsibilities" (p54).

Bridges outlines these responsibilities by focusing on two things we must do. First we must reckon ourselves dead to sin. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11, ESV). In doing this we are aligning ourselves with what Christ has already accomplished. "Because He died to sin, we died to sin. Therefore, it is apparent that our dying to sin is not something we do, but something Christ has done, the value of which accrues to all who are united with Him (p55). Secondly, Bridges encourages us that we also must resist sin as an act of the will; "...the responsibility for resisting is ours" (p60).

He sums up this excellent chapter with the following: "To confuse the potential for resisiting (which God provided) with the responsibility for resisting (which is ours) is to court disaster in our pursuit of holiness." (p60)

I am looking forward to the rest of this book.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book Review: Comfort for Christians by A. W. Pink

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is the second book by Pink that I have read; the first being The Attributes of God. Both Pink's style and content I find edifying, encouraging, and educating.

In terms of style, Pink is a "straight shooter". He is an economical writer who writes with precision. But his frugality in words does not mean he is dry or boring. Rather, he writes with a certain flair and eloquence. He gets his points across in quick order but with a flourish that I really appreciate. For example:"One second of glory will outweigh a lifetime of suffering. What were the years of toil, of sickness, of battling with poverty, of sorrow in any or every form, when compared with the glory of Immanuel's land! One draught of the river of pleasure at God's right hand, one breath of Paradise, one hour amid the blood-washed around the throne, shall more than compensate for all the tears and groans of earth."

His style of writing is also one which is saturated with scripture. Each chapter is really just an exposition of a verse from the Bible. And along with many scripture references to emphasize his points he incorporates a technique that I really enjoy: he inserts scripture mid-sentence to complete his thought with inspired words. I realize this can be done flippantly with adverse affect to the reader, but this can also be done responsibly and this technique speaks to me. Here is this literary tool in use: How we shall then praise Him for His covenant faithfulness, His matchless grace, and His loving kindness, for having "remembered us in our low estate! Then shall we know, even as we are known. Our very memories will be renewed, perfected, and we shall remember all the way the Lord our God hath led us" (Deut. 8:2), recalling with gratitude and joy His faithful remembrances, acknowledging with adoration that "His mercy endureth for ever."

Using Isaiah 40:1 as a directive, Pink explains that we are all, as Christians, charged with bringing comfort one to another. With this in mind, Pink covers many topics in his attempt to do so: condemnation, assurance, God's character, trials, chastisement, suffering, punishment, rewards, and the beatitudes. And though this work would certainly be of benefit for Christians who are going through some sort of intense suffering, it is also edifying to those not currently experiencing difficulties. It is an apt tool for preparing for the unavoidable suffering that the Bible assures us is the lot of every believer.

I definitely recommend this book and encourage you to read this and other works of A. W. Pink.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Eternity... Now?

As I shared before, I've been really examining myself lately about how I live. A friend of mine recently said as I was lamenting about my recent difficulty with the "Eat. Sleep. Work. And Accumulate Stuff." mentality of modern culture that it seems like there's a "Let he who dies with the most toys win" mindset that even the church has not escaped.

The dangerous "name it and claim it" style preaching that has become more and more popular shows how even our Christian sub-culture is effected by this mentality. Praying to God for a pay raise so that we can afford a second vehicle. There was recently an article written in a Grandville, MI newspaper about a 20 million dollar building program initiated by a local church, the page went on to state that one in five people in their city live in poverty. The question remains, did God need a larger house to match North America's growing waistline?

Anyway, I was in a local high school again this week and talking about the importance of, as Rich puts it, "Doing your own Leg Work"... that is, going straight to Scripture yourself moreso than relying on other to interpret God's word for you.

The exercise we did was to examine familiar passages of scripture and to try to interpret them ourselves, without the hindrance of church tradition etc. As we read John 3:16, perhaps the most common scripture in the Bible, someone asked, "well, what is eternal life"? I let a few people answer, before turning to John 17, I began reading in verse 1: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your SOn, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

They were fascinated as we discussed the implications of this idea that eternal life is not for after we die here on this earth and are transported to some other location... but that eternal life is wrapped up in the very essence of "knowing" God and relating to him through Jesus. In essence, eternal life is not for us after we die, but begins here and now as we begin to know Jesus.

This is an exciting subject, and the teenagers faces lit up as they began to connect the dots. "Is this what Jesus meant when he prayed "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"?"

I realized that there is a profound shift that happens in our thinking when we realize eternal life starts now, that our job as followers of Christ is to live out this "Kingdom mentality" on earth... to give the world a glimpse of what God's intention for it was. We walked out of these with a cool new phrase that had been birthed... they'd heard "give 'em hell".. but they were excited to know our job is to "give 'em heaven" to a world that has only known hell.

What have you got?

1 Corinthians 4:7 - For who sees anything different in you? 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?

Those are 3 good questions to start the day off with. Who sees anything different in you? There is a sense in which we are unique, one-of-a-kind, special creatures created by God. There has never been and will never be anyone just like you. But, there are many ways in which we are the same. We are all sinners. We are all in desperate need of a savior. And if a Christian, we all inherit salvation because of the One. And having been saved, everything that we have and all that we are is because of what God does in our lives. And thus, we are not different. We are all children who have received blessing upon blessing from our Father. We have no basis to take credit for anything good or valuable in us. And so Paul asks, "For who sees anything different in you?"

What did you have that you did not receive? Or as John the Baptist put it, "A person cannot receive one thing unless it is given him from heaven" (John 3:27, ESV). I need to ask myself this question on a regular basis. When I get arrogant and prideful I should look in the mirror and ask myself: What do you have that you did not receive? Anything good or perfect, good by His standards as opposed to mine, has come down from the Father(James 1:17). It is only His goodness, His grace, His mercy that I can stand on.

If then you received it, why do you boast? With the other two questions in mind, this one is rather self-explanatory!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bug the ones you like!

We have a saying in the football locker-room: Bug the ones you like! You have to have thick skin in a locker-room. Teammates are constantly poking fun, mocking, teasing, fooling, and bothering one another. But it is important to remember that if someone is "ragging" on you, it is probably because he likes you. Conversely, if someone doesn't bother you with jibes and jesting, it may well be because he doesn't care for you all that much.

God takes a similar, yet pure and undefiled, approach to things as seen in Hebrews 12: 6 which reads: For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (ESV) So, on the football team we bug the ones we like whereas God disciplines the ones He loves. And NOT being disciplined by God should cause us to fear because "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Hebrews 6:8, ESV)

It is with that in mind that I share some gleanings from A. W. Pink's book Comfort for Christians. Pink has a chapter on divine chastisement in which he elucidates some of the differences between punishment and chastisement. Pink starts by offering three distinctions between the two: God's role, the recipients, the design. These distinctions are important because "The difference between punishment and chastisement lies not in the nature of the sufferings of the afflicted" (p.41).

God's Role
God metes out punishment in the life of non-believers as a Judge. But in the Christian's life, God chastises as a Father. "The Christian occupies an entirely different position from the non-Christian: he is a member of the Family of God" (p.42).

The Recipients
The next distinction can be seen in the recipients of God's punishment and chastisement. The object of God's punishment are His enemies whereas the object of His chastisement are his children.

The Design
The distinction between punishment and chastisement can also be clearly seen by considering the design of each. The design of punishment is retributive; the design of chastisement is remedial. "
The one flows from His anger, the other from His love. Divine punishment is never sent for the good of sinners, but for the honoring of God’s law and the vindicating of His government. But Divine chastisement is sent for the well-being of His children" (p.42).

A quick word-study was also enlightening:
Unhappily there is no word in the English language which is capable of doing justice to the Greek term here. "Paideia" which is rendered "chastening" is only another form of "paidion" which signifies "young children," being the tender word that was employed by the Saviour in John 21:5 and Hebrews 2:13. One can see at a glance the direct connection which exists between the words "disciple" and "discipline": equally close in the Greek is the relation between "children" and "chastening." Son-training would be better. It has reference to God’s education, nurture and discipline of His children. It is the Father’s wise and loving correction. The word study is in reference to Proverbs 3:11-12.

I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter and similarly have enjoyed the book thus far. Again, you can read the book online here.

Christian's Culture Conundrum

"Culturally relevant Christian" seems to a much desired title in the churches of today. Carl Trueman is a contributor at Reformation 21 where he has written an excellent article on Christians and culture. Here is an excerpt:

Alternatively, I could try to move out of my own little world, start thinking less in cultural and more in biblical terms. I could become less obsessed with particularities and more concerned with universals. I could engage less with the accidents of culture and more with the substance of nature. I might even spend less time training people who don't know the Apostles' Creed to watch movies that would have made grandma blush and more time teaching them the basic elements of scripture and doctrine. Horribly modernist, I know; in fact, boringly passé. But it might, just might, prove more relevant in the long run than being able to understand the sacramental significance of Sharon Stone or playing `Spot the Redeemer Figure' in the latest Jim Carrey movie.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Do your own leg work!

In my vocation, I have the opportunity to examine medical trainees as they prepare for final certification before independent practice.  Preparation for this exam usually involves 18 months of intensive study during which time trainees pour over all relevant resources: textbooks, lecture notes, journal articles etc. to ensure that they have acquired as much knowledge within their discipline as possible.  This activity is "the radical minimum standard" as my friend Jude likes to say.  Without fail, every year, trainees begin to create their own study "cue cards" summarizing relevant points on particular topics.  When the exam rolls around, there are typically 1000-1500 cards in any given trainees collection.  One year,  a curious thing happened, a particular trainee created an exceptional collection of cards - excellent summaries, great charts, spectacular diagrams, entirely comprehensive and in MS Word format to boot.  I saw them - stick a binding on and they would be entirely publishable!  For the next several years, copies of these cards were passed down to the next generation of trainees and this was the problem.  Possession of the content without the process is (almost) useless!  Reading someone else's interpretation, summary, thoughts does much less to engage your mind,help you learn and make you competent than if you were to do it yourself. I say "almost" useless because having the content may expose you to other topics you may not have even considered at which point you can they proceed to pursue them.
Now, concerning to my own spiritual studies, I'm trying not to fall into the same "easy way out".  Reading another person's works, thoughts, summaries, "opinions" on Christian spiritual matters may be of some benefit but is not a substitute for reading the primary source - The Bible - and doing my own leg work!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A. W. Pink comments on Romans 8:28

Here is the verse most of you will be familiar with:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

From his chapter entitled The Christian's Assurance in his book Comfort For Christians, Pink writes:

"All things work together." The first thought occurring to us is this: What a glorious Being our God be, who is able to make all things so work! What a frightful amount of evil there is in constant activity. What an almost infinite number of creatures there are in the world. What an incalculable quantity of opposing self-interests at work. What a vast army of rebels fighting against God. What hosts of super-human creatures over opposing the Lord. And yet, high above all, is GOD, in undisturbed calm, complete master of the situation. There, from the throne of His exalted majesty, He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11).

That is a fine bit of writing! I love this line: What an incalculable quantity of opposing self-interests at work. Think of the myriad of selfish wills constantly at tension with one another and at odds with God. And yet He stands sovereign over it all! And He effects good for His children out of that mayhem. Awesome!

You can read Pink's book Comfort For Christians online here.

When caught, blame others first.

I was at my sister's place last night and after dinner my sister and her husband and my wife and I talked. As is usually the case, with 9 children between the two couples, our conversation covers many topics about our children. Their activities, growth, idiosyncrasies, strengths, and flaws all make their way into the conversation. Such was the case last night.

My brother-in-law told us about a habit of one of his boys which is a default mode his son falls into whenever he is getting in trouble. When his parents question him about what he has done he always begin with who is to blame. When he comes up from the basement crying his parents ask him "What happened?" and his response begins with the sibling's name who he wishes to blame. He is not as concerned about what happened as he is with declaring who is to blame. That is an interesting quirk. And I have seen it in my kids as well.

This morning I was reading from Genesis 3. Here is the paragraph that caught my attention:

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

After eating from the tree in disobedience to God's command, God had 3 questions for Adam and Eve: Where are you? Have you eaten from the tree which I commanded you not to eat? What is it that you have done? None of these questions should be answered by an indication of a person. And yet, in guilt, Adam replies to God's question of "Where are you?" by pointing a finger at God and saying "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid,". Then when Adam is asked if he has eaten from the tree the first words out of his mouth are "the woman". Answer the question, man! And Eve, when questioned about her role , in like manner, responds with "the serpent". Having been given responsibility over all of creation before "the fall", they would not take responsibility for their actions after "the fall".

Now, drawing these parallels from the conversation with my brother-in-law and God's Word is pretty fascinating. I must admit, I even began gloating over my discovery the more I thought about it. But then I realized, the point of the exercise was to show me that this is what I do. And it's true. My first reaction when I err(read sin) is, like Adam and Eve and my nephew, to blame someone else. The gloating stopped, quickly. When it comes to the blame game, I need look no further than than the tip of my nose.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Jesus for President (A Book Review)

Lately I have found my view of the world and my Christian role within it shaken up. In high school I remember debating with the social justice club leaders often, raising debates in law class and in sociology class... I have always enjoyed a theological sparring match and I was very passionate about upholding Christian values within Canadian social programs as well as legal restrictions (even though my lifestyle didn't always match these convictions, but that's another story entirely).

Lately I've been discovering that I have a lot of ideas, but few relationships. I have an idea where I stand on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage because of my biblical worldview, but ... my "knowledge" was flipped on it's head when I met a young man in a local high school. I have been running Christian Apologetics programs out of several local high schools and having an opportunity to interact with young people brave enough to call themselves Christians in one of the harshest environments there is.

After a particular session a young man approached me and said after lunch he has a spare period, and would it be ok if he and I went out for coffee to talk. Of course I was happy to take him out and pretty quick to pat myself on the back for making a "connection".

While we sat in a small coffee shop, as isolated as we could be, this 16 year old proceeded to tell me that he has grown up in the church, his parents are ministry leaders and recently he's discovered that he's attracted to other boys.

This young man poured his heart out to me about how he has prayed for over a year, nightly, that God would make him straight... that God would take this away and make him normal again. He's heard Romans 1 preached in church, he's heard that the feelings he has are unnatural, but the more he prays, the more frustrated he gets.

My heart broke for that young man as I thought, this young boy feels alone and terrified in the church... the church, that is the body of Christ, where he should feel the most embraced, love and accepted.

Recent events like this combined with reading several eye opening books have really made me reassess some things (mainly UnChristian by David Kinnaman as well as the one I will somewhat review). Don't get me wrong, I know what the bible says concerning these issues, but I also know the Jesus the bible describes, and that's where "Jesus for President" comes in.

Jesus for President is a book written by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, two of the founders of an intentional faith community in the Kensington district in Philadelphia. These are two men who have chosen to truly sell everything they own and follow after Jesus... no possessions, just them, Jesus and a community of diverse needy people.

Their book describes the difficulty facing the modern (North) American church. Shane writes: "We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church’s imagination. The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world’s largest superpower have bent the church’s identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds 'guiding the course of history' a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual virtues of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love."

Chris Haw goes on to talk about how Nationalism is such a compromise to being a Kingdom citizen of heaven. This was where I began to feel my heart strings tugged a little.

Shane and Haw begin to question how living in the only remaining superpower nation affects our Christian lives. They examine the similarities between America and the Roman empire that was in power when the early Christians lived and wrote the New testament enduring. The two authors create a stark contrast between the early churches relationship to the empire in which they lived and modern America's attitude of church and state.

Claiborne and Haw describe out great undertaking as modern Christians is to navigate this sticky terrain. To try and live a life of love, sacrifice and faith within an empire that will preserve its interests at any cost.

Describing our biblical heroes relationship with "state"Claiborne writes, “The powers would drag them before governors and courts, beat them and insult them, feed them to beasts, and hang them on crosses. And hate [Christ's] followers is what the world did- at least for the first couple of hundred years.” The authors postulate that North American Christians have been able to escape persecution not because we live in a Christian nation, but because the church is content with the government’s Christian facade.

Perhaps Christians have forgotten that we are not only called to "believe" in Christ, but to "follow" him... and Jesus went places I don't think the church is ready to go. Into the dens of harlotry, into the houses of tax collectors and sinners... like the young boy I sat across the table from in that coffee shop, I realized these hurting, fragmented souls are those that Jesus most attracted... they came to HIM! Yet these are the people less likely to run to the church for the same love Jesus extended.

Perhaps Christians have become so used to living with power, luxury and blessing that we are hesitant to articulate a different way of living. What if we're not called to lobby to change laws without changing people's hearts? What if we're not called to ask people to live moral lives before we point them to Jesus? And what if our allegiance to our nation runs deeper than our allegiance to our God? What kind of church would that turn us into... or has that turned us into?

I know there are alot of things swirling around in my head and heart, and I'm struggling with articulating the change that needs to be made within my own life... it's that scary kind of change you don't want to be part of, but love compels you to...

Book Review: The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

This is the first book of Timothy Keller's that I have read. Keller started the now 6000+ member Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. I heard of him on various blogs and websites I frequent and I decided to put this book on my Christmas wishlist.

To be honest, before reading a word, I was disappointed. When I compared the price tag on the back with the scarcity of words on the pages and pages in the book I was frustrated. The book is just shy of 150 small pages with big margins. In books of all things, quality should trump quantity; so. I started reading.

From the very beginning, my frustration and disappointment began to subside. In the foreward Timothy gives full credit to others for much of the book's content. He also explains why the title The Prodigal God. I have shared that tidbit in an earlier post. He also alerts the reader that he plans to focus on the overlooked brother in the parable; the elder brother. Keller points out that despite the fact that the parable is commonly called "The Parable of the Prodigal Son" that Jesus actually begins that parable saying "There was a man that had two sons". Keller has some other interesting ideas that he pulls out of the parable. He suggests that the parable highlights the two main ways people "try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery" (p29). The moral conformity path is represented by the elder brother where as the self-discovery path is represented by the younger brother. However, "The message of Jesus's parable is that both of these approaches are wrong" (p33). I think we all recognize the wayward son's faults, but sometimes we overlook that "The elder brother is not losing the father's love in spite of his goodness, but because of it" (p35). These thoughts lead well into his fourth chapter which is aptly titled Redefining Lostness.

The author discusses other nuances of the parable that were sometimes a welcome reminder and at other times were fresh insights. The book really soars in my eyes when Keller speaks of the gospel; "The gospel of Jesus is not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism. Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles - it is something else altogether. The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches (that of the younger and elder brother): In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change" (p45).

The final chapter, The Feast of the Father, is excellent. Keller writes on four aspects of salvation:Salvation is Experiential, Salvation is Material, Salvation is Individual, and Salvation is Communal.

The angst I encountered when I first handled the book has been replaced by an admiration for the author and an interest to read more of his works. And the content of the book has caused me to examine my own "elder-brotherishness" as well as remind me of the glory of the gospel and the salvation won for us by Christ.

Worth every penny!

The Abolition of Man

By way of an opening disclosure, I am a shameless fan of the writings of C.S. Lewis.  If you are not a fan, I would advise you in the same fashion that Lewis often "sign posted" his own works and move on to the next blog entry which may be of use to you.  
Most of us are familiar with Lewis's metaphorical gospel story presented in The Chronicles of Narnia.  They are great books for children and I admit I have re-read them again as an adult couched in the excuse that I was "doing it for the kids".  Recently, I have grown to appreciate other writings of Lewis in Christian thought and apologetics.  I have been reading The Abolition of Man - a compilation of 3 essays originally published in 1944 in which Lewis discusses the relevance and importance of objective universal values like courage, honour etc.  What I found interesting was the striking relationship of the ideas in this book to more recently published works on moral relativism and ethical issues like Beckwith and Koukl's Relativism - Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air.  From the second essay "The Way" Lewis states
This thing which I have called for convenience The Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or  the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value.  It is the sole source of all value judgements.  If it is rejected, all value is rejected.  If any value is retained, it is retained.  The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory... The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and new sky for it move in.

For those of you who find Lewis's writing style a little wordy, most of his works are available in audio book format through iTunes.  Having someone else reading kept some of  those long sentence structures a little more understandable!  Not to mention I managed to get through Mere Christianity while driving around Christmas shopping.