Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The quintessential revelation of God

From Crossway's new title, God With Us by K. Scott Oliphint, comes the following:
As we will see, there is an inextricable link between the doctrine of God-his attributes and properties-and the biblical understanding of who Christ is. This should not be surprising. If indeed we know who God is by virtue of his revelation to us, the quintessential knowledge of God will naturally come by way of the quintessential revelation of God, which is given to the world in Jesus Christ. It would not be an overstatement to say that the way to a proper understanding of God and his character is given foremost in a proper understanding of the Son of God come in the flesh, Jesus Christ. (10)
This was a very encouraging excerpt for me as I am leading a small group study whose main source is A. W. Pink's The Attributes of God. This sentence, "there is an inextricable link between the doctrine of God-his attributes and properties-and the biblical understanding of who Christ is", is good fodder for encouragement in this process. I'm chomping at the bit to get further in to this book.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A proper perspective on providence

In this passage from Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin gives us an explanation why we need not be fatalistic despite believing that God has ordained all things that come to pass.

Yet the sluggishness of our minds lies far beneath the height of God's providence, we must employ a distinction to lift it up. Therefore, I shall put it this way: however all things may be ordained by God's plan, according to a sure dispensation, for us they are fortuitous. Not that we think that fortune rules the world and men, tumbling all things at random up and down, for it is fitting this folly be absent from the Christian's breast! But since order, reason, end, and necessity of those things which happen for the most part lie hidden in God's purpose, are not apprehended by human opinion, those things, which it is certain take place by God's will, are in a sense fortuitous. For they bear on the face of them no other appearance, according to our knowledge and judgment. (1.16.9)

So, in light of God's meticulous providence of all things, what should our posture be in regards to the future? Calvin continues,

As all future events are uncertain to us, so we hold them in suspense, as if they might incline to one side or the other. Yet in our hearts it nonetheless remains fixed that nothing will take place that the Lord has not previously foreseen. (1.16.9)

Read it again if you didn't follow the first time; this is hugely important if we want to avoid a fatalistic approach to life!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Great article by Rex Murphy

Rex Murphy: What the tolerant must tolerate

To be a serious Christian in modern Western culture is to be the favoured easy target of every progressive thinker and every half-witted comedian. It is to have your sensibilities and your deepest beliefs on perpetual call for taunts, mockery and desecration. At a time when all progressives preach full volume for inclusivity and sensitivity, for the utmost care in speech when speaking of others with differing views or hues, Christians, as Christians, are under a constant hail of abuse and disregard. There is nothing too low or too vulgar.

Something as inconsequential as a Christmas special, for example, will have — almost as an essential element, it being “Christ’s” birthday after all — something determinedly offensive to Christians. Russell Peters, the Canadian joker, for his special this year has invited Pamela Anderson, pinup queen and soft porn actress, to play the Virgin Mary.

Pamela Anderson as Mary the Immaculate: I know — the wit, the daring, the originality — hell, the bravery of it all. No wonder Peters is at the very top of the yuk-heap. Can it be that it’s only 30 years since Monty Python and The Life of Brian? Talk about “cutting-edge.” The casting is so, so clever — getting a lewd exhibitionist to play Mary, to call in a pop-culture tart to play the very Mother of God.

But for believers to object, well that would be irksome and stuffy and high-handed and parochial — it being another of this age’s curious predisposition that Christians are supposed, if not to like the jeers hurled at them, to at least be good enough to suffer the insults, blasphemies and mockeries in silence, if not secret approval. To actually object to Russell Peters going for a cheap, unintelligent and vulgar laugh would probably get categorized as “intolerance” or “censorship.” Go for it, Russell — Pam Anderson as the Virgin Mary will tickle the funnybone of every single digit IQ from St. John’s to Victoria.

There was another example in the now nearly defunct occupy movement. In Vancouver they lit a “sacred fire” on the lawn of the art gallery — I think the “sacred flame” itself was kept in an oil drum (a curious temple, but leave that go). When the Vancouver fire brigade arrived to put it out, there being bylaws about fires in public places, there were ululations of the most ferocious kind accusing the firemen of committing a grave offence against native spirituality.

Meantime, overseas, their occupy brethren in London were found to be defecating (I could use the vulgar term here as it so matches the act, but let us retain some respect) within — not on the steps or in the precincts, but within — St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s — in ancient times the cathedral where John Donne preached, where Lancelot Andrews, one of the fathers of the King James Bible, was dean, a cathedral arguably second in importance in Christianity only to the Vatican — treated as a sewer.

A report for the cathedral summed up the mischiefs and abuse: “Desecration: Graffiti have been scratched and painted on to the great west doors of the cathedral, the chapter house door and most notably a sacrilegious message painted on the restored pillars of the west portico. Human defecation has occurred in the west portico entrance and inside the cathedral on several occasions.”

In short, they turned St. Paul’s Cathedral into a public toilet and used its sacred walls as a crude bulletin board. However, there was no vast outcry at the appalling disrespect, the deep contumely such acts represent. Put out a “sacred fire,” set in the first place mainly to provoke, and it’s shock and petty scandal. Defecate in St. Paul’s, and I’ll bet this is the first time many reading this have heard of the outrage.

Of episodes of this kind there is no end, and it will surely be accounted a kind of prudery or humourlessness to make objection to them. Let it be so. However, there is a radical inconsistency to the treatment afforded to Christian believers and that of most other religious groups and it is not idle to insist on this point. It would be rather nice if so many people, the Christians of the West, who offer respect, tolerance and regard for beliefs other than their own, could be treated with equal civility and courtesy.

And nice, too, if Russell Peters could see the cheapness of his ever-so-hilarious casting call.

National Post

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Book Deals

If you like books and you like deals, than you may want to check out the awesome collection that Tim Challies has amassed here for Black Friday.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Five questions for self-examination

In this post, we looked at a direction given by Walter Marshall, from his classic puritan tome called The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, for the examination of our state and ways in the revealing and instructing light of God's Word. In the same section from his book, Marshall gives us some tools for examining ourselves in a balanced manner. Marshall is concerned that we neither "unjustly condemn or justify faith, by proceeding on insufficient evidences." He offers us five questions to examine ourselves with:
  1. Are we made thoroughly sensible of our sinfulness, and of the deadness and misery of our natural state, so as to despair absolutely of ever attaining to any righteousness, holiness or true happiness, while we continue in it? 
  2. Are the eyes of our understanding enlightened to see the excellency of Christ, and the alone sufficiency and all sufficiency of His grace for our salvation? 
  3. Do we prefer the enjoyment of Him above all things, and desire it with our whole heart, as our only happiness, whatsoever we may suffer for His sake? 
  4. Do we desire with our whole heart to be delivered from the power and practice of sin, as well as from the wrath of God, and the pains of hell? 
  5. Do our hearts come to Christ and lay hold on Him for salvation, by trusting Him only, and endeavouring to trust on Him confidently, notwithstanding all fears and doubts that assault us?
Let me paraphrase these five questions:
  1. Do we see our sin for what it is? 
  2. Do we see our Saviour for who He is and what He has done? 
  3. Do we prefer Him? 
  4. Do we desire deliverance from our sin? 
  5. Do we actually come to Christ?
Reality check time; ask yourselves these questions and the fall on the grace and mercy of Christ once again!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


For even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ of old. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque. 
Father Païssy in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Love smote

But all the afflictions of the believer are the effects of Divine love. They can resolve themselves into nothing else. While the same stroke, falling upon an unbelieving, rebellious, sin-loving sinner, may be the first-fruits of eternal punishment, to the saint of God it may prove the first-fruits of eternal glory. The correction which you at present consider as an argument of wrath, may be an evidence of love and an act of mercy. God will prune you, but not hew you down. The 'right hand of His mercy' knows what the 'left hand of His severity' is doing. Better for you to be a chastened son, than an undisciplined child of the devil. Oh yes! there was no anger, no vindictiveness, no vengeance in that heavy stroke which laid your heart's fondest treasure in the dust. Love smote, but love yearned while it smote.  - Octavius Winslow, from "The Chastening of Love"

 This week in our small group, we have decided to look at suffering and the Lord's discipline. We wanted to discuss how they relate, interact, and are defined by Scripture. In my readings I came across this article by a favourite of mine, Octavius Winslow. I was accosted by the first two lines of this paragraph. All the afflictions of the believer are the effects of Divine love. Does anything happen outside of the sovereign purview of Almighty God? No. Does God ever relate to His elect, His adopted children, as anything less than their heavenly Father? No. Therefore, it seems, every difficulty of the Christian can "resolve themselves into nothing else" than the loving, disciplining actions of a benevolent Father. To those not of the household of God, the exact same situations and experiences may be the "first-fruits of eternal punishment", but to the sheep of His pasture those trials are the "first-fruits of eternal glory".

Monday, November 21, 2011

What are we looking for in a job?

When we look at our work, we often look through the lens of our own personal fulfillment. Yet the New Testament writers look at it through the lens of our own spiritual formation, an outworking of our salvation and our sanctification. It is a good and desirable thing to have work that fulfills us. There is nothing inherently wrong about pursuing a great job, but we must remember it is not necessary for God's will to be accomplished in our lives. What is necessary is that we are formed into greater Christlikeness in our work. -  Tom Nelson in Work Matters

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All ways are Thine

A short prayer from Fyodor Dostoyevsky that comes to us through his character Alyosha Karamazov in his famed novel The Brothers Karamazov: 
"God, have mercy upon all of them, have all these unhappy and turbulent souls in Thy keeping, and set them in the right path. All ways are Thine. Save them according to Thy wisdom. Thou art love. Thou wilt send joy to all!" Alyosha murmured, crossing himself, and falling into peaceful sleep.
This brief prayer speaks volumes to me. How often is my soul unhappy and turbulent? Apart from God's sovereign grace, my soul would never find peace eternally or temporally. And yet, God in His sovereignty, stands behind my turbulent times ordaining all that comes to pass and working all things together for good. He is love and will send His joy! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Warfield via Ortlund on suffering

Dane Ortlund shares:

It is because we cannot be robbed of God’s providence that we know, amid whatever encircling gloom, that all things shall work together for good to those that love him. It is because we cannot be robbed of God’s providence that we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—not tribulation, nor anguish, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword. . . . Were not God’s providence over all, could trouble come without his sending, were Christians the possible prey of this or the other fiendish enemy, when perchance God was musing, or gone aside, or on a journey, or sleeping, what certainty of hope could be ours?
‘Does God send trouble?’ Surely, surely. He and he only. To the sinner in punishment, to his children in chastisement. To suggest that it does not always come from his hands is to take away all our comfort.
—B. B. Warfield, ‘God’s Providence Over All,’ in Selected Shorter Writings of B. B. Warfield (2 vols; ed. J. E. Meeter; P&R, 2001), 1:110; quoted in Paul Helseth, ‘Right Reason’ and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal (P&R, 2010), v

Friday, November 18, 2011

Michael Horton on Calvinism and the 'moral monster' claim

Does Calvinism Make God a “Moral Monster”? Nov.16, 2011 by

Among the caricatures of Calvinism is the widespread claim that it renders God the author of evil, suffering, sin, and even the fall of humanity itself. In his recent book, Against Calvinism, Roger Olson carefully distinguishes the official teaching of Calvinism from where he thinks it logically leads. However, there are over three dozen statements in his book about Calvinism leading by good and necessary logic to a deity who is a “moral monster,” indistinguishable from the devil.

I respond to this charge directly in my companion volume, For Calvinism. A thoughtful review of my book from an Arminian perspective came to my attention today and this question again rose to the surface. (By the way, Calvinists talk so much about predestination more because of the charges leveled repeatedly against it than because of its alleged centrality.)

If God knew that Adam and Eve were going to transgress his law, why didn’t he change the circumstances so that they would have made a different choice?

Why would God create people he knew would be condemned for their original and actual sin?
The questions multiply.

However, there is one point that is worth pondering briefly: Non-Calvinist theologies are just as vulnerable on this question. Classic Arminian theology shares with Calvinism—indeed with all historic branches of Christianity—that God’s foreknowledge comprehends all future events. There is nothing that happens, nothing that you and I do, that lies outside of God’s eternal foreknowledge.

Now go back and read those questions above. Notice that they don’t refer to predestination, but to mere foreknowledge. They pose a vexing challenge not merely to Calvinists but to anyone who believes that God knows exhaustively and eternally everything that will happen. In other words, everyone who affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge has exactly the same problem as any Calvinist. If God knows that Adam will sin—or that you and I will sin—and could keep it from happening, but does not, and God’s knowledge is infallible, then it is just as certain as if he had predestined it. In fact, it is the same as being predestined. Then the only difference is whether it is determined without purpose or with purpose.

Roger Olson states his own view: “God is sovereign in the sense that nothing at all can ever happen that God does not allow” (100). So, if the fall happened, then God allowed it. The fall “was not a part of [God's] will except to reluctantly allow it” (99). OK, but then the fall was in some sense a part of God’s will. Calvinists acknowledge that it was not part of God’s revealed (or moral) will, but that he willingly permitted it as part of his plan. Yet Roger is looking for something in between: God “permits” it, but it is not a “willing permission” (64). Aside from the fact that any act of God in permitting something is already an act of will—a choice, my main point here is that Roger’s weaker claim is still strong enough to get him into the same hot water with the rest of us. Roger agrees that God knows everything that will happen. God even supervises everything that will happen. Nothing escapes his oversight. “I believe, as the Bible teaches and all Christians should believe, that nothing at all can happen without God’s permission” (71).

There is indeed a trail of hyper-Calvinism on the fringes of Augustinian Christianity that turns God’s decree to permit into a decree to accomplish or bring about. There, then: God is the author of sin. Next question? That certainly solves the intellectual riddle. Or, one can untie the knot in the other direction. Some have moved beyond Arminianism into the Socinian view that God doesn’t even know the future actions of free moral agents. Known as “open theism,” this denial of God’s omniscience recognizes that Arminianism and Calvinism are unable to resolve this dilemma. They rightly see that if God foreknows everything from eternity, including our free acts, then these acts are certain to come to pass. Foreknowledge entails predestination, so they reject the classical Christian doctrine of God’s omniscience.

Hyper-Calvinists and hyper-Arminians share the same impatience with mystery. Neither position bows reverently before God’s revelation, acknowledging its clear affirmations of divine sovereignty and human responsibility without answering all of our philosophical questions. Contradictions are abhorrent to the faith, but every important docrine in Scripture is shrouded in mystery. Hyper-Calvinism and hyper-Arminianism are willing even to set Scripture against Scripture, rejecting some clear teachings in favor of others, for the sake of rational satisfaction. Yet both, in different ways, represent deadly errors—indeed, blasphemies—against the character of God.
Happily, the debate between Roger and me is not hyper-Calvinism vs. hyper-Arminianism. The real difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is whether God has a purpose when he allows sin and suffering. Again, both views affirm that nothing happens apart from God’s permission. However, Calvinism teaches that God never allows any evil that he has not already determined to work together for our good (Rom 8:28). Nothing that he allows can terminate in evil. What would we say of a deity who “reluctantly permitted” a terrible disaster or moral tragedy, without a determination to overcome that evil with good? But that takes a plan and that plan must necessarily comprehend the evil that he is to conquer.

Any view that makes God the author of sin does indeed turn the object of our worship into a moral monster. However, any deity who merely stands around reluctantly permitting horrible things for which he has no greater purpose in view, is equally reprehensible. In the one, God is sovereign but not good; in the latter, God is neither. Once you acknowledge that God foreknows a sinful act and chooses to allow it (however reluctantly) when he could have chosen not to, the only consolation is that God never would have allowed it unless he had already determined why he would permit it and how he has decided to overcome it for his glory and our good. Mercifully, Scripture does reveal that God does exactly that. Roger agrees that God “chose to allow” suffering and sin (72). The Calvinist says that God chose to allow them for a reason. It’s permitting rather than creating, but it’s permission with a purpose. Permission without purpose makes God a “moral monster” indeed.

Reformed theology has maintained consistently that Scripture teaches God’s exhaustive sovereignty and human responsibility. God does not cause evil. In fact, God does not force anyone to do anything against his or her will. And yet, nothing lies outside of the wise, loving, good, and just plan “of him who works all things after the council of his own will” (Eph 1:11). That God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are true, no serious student of Scripture can deny. How they can be true is beyond our capacity to understand. As Calvin put the matter, following Luther, any attempt to unravel the mystery of predestination and human responsibilty beyond Scripture is a “seeking outside the way.” “Better to limp along this path,” says Calvin, “than to rush with all speed outside of it.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You must belong to the local church

An excerpt from Joe Thorn's book Note To Self:

To be a disciple of Jesus you must belong to and work with, for, and through the local church. You need the strengthening, encouragement, and reproof that only the church can give, and you need the church to be faithful to the command of Jesus. God calls his followers to live in community together, loving, serving, sharing, and discipling one another. The church, for all its faults, is essentially connected to God's mission and our spiritual life. You simply cannot survive spiritually on a weekly worship service, podcasts, and books. You need the community more than you probably realize. You can't make it alone; nor can anyone else.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Benefits of attributing omnipotence to God

Those who attribute due praise to the omnipotence of God thereby derive a double benefit. He to whom heaven and earth belong, and whose nod all creatures must obey, is fully able to reward the homage which they pay to him, and they can rest secure in the protection of Him to whose control everything that could do them harm is subject, by whose authority, Satan, with all his furies and engines, is curbed as with a bridle, and on whose will everything adverse to our safety depends. In this way, and in no other, can the immoderate and superstitious fears, excited by the dangers to which we are exposed, be calmed or subdued. I say superstitious fears. For such they are, as often as the dangers threatened by any created objects inspire us with such terror, that we tremble as if they had in themselves a power to hurt us, or could hurt at random or by chance; or as if we had not in God a sufficient protection against them.

In this excerpt for The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin puts forward two benefits to those who praise God for and exult in His omnipotence. He indicates that the recognition and resulting regard for the righteous power that resplendently resides in the Ruler of the universe results in two advantages. First, a supremely powerful God has the wherewithal to do good to those who subject themselves to Him. And secondly, superlative safety is within the purview of One to whom all harmful things, of this world or otherwise, are subservient to. God's omnipotence supports His sovereignty. He can back himself up!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review - Work Matters

"The worst of work nowadays is what happens to people when they cease to work.” This quote by G. K. Chesterton reveals the high regard in which this famous English writer held work. In his enigmatic style, Chesterton somewhat paradoxically praises work and the worker. Tom Nelson, pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, also holds work in high regard. In his recently released book, Work Matters, Nelson embarks on a journey in which, as the book's subtitle suggests, he tries to connect Sunday worship to Monday work.

Nelson endeavours to explore work both theologically and practically. He wants the reader to perceive the profound honour of work due to its theological foundation as well as help the reader transform how he actually works. Nelson explicates a theology of vocation by considering work in light of the meta-narrative of the Bible; creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Simply put, “To be an image-bearer is to be a worker” (22). Nelson maintains that God is a worker, and one of the most important ways we reflect His glory is through our work. We were created for this. However, as a result of sin, work has become difficult, disillusioning, and distorted. “We must recognize that at this point in redemptive history, our work will not be all we want it to be” (47). The futility of work is not the end of this story the author reminds us. Though sin has marred and maimed work, Christ's work of redemption encompasses what we have called 'the daily grind'. Nelson informs us of the positive and negative aspects of the gospel's effects on work. We are encouraged that “as new creations in Christ ... we are again able to do the work we were created for” (58) and yet we are warned that without Christ “your work will never be all that God intended it to be” (61). Finally, the author touches upon a few ideas concerning the afterlife. Our work here on earth will be rewarded. And, writes Nelson, “if our daily work ... in some way carries over to the new heavens and the new earth, then our present work itself is overflowing with immeasurable value and eternal significance” (73).

I found this section of the book very encouraging as I considered my job and the daily work-a-day life that many of us live. These deep theological truths infuse our work with value, significance, and purpose far beyond the accumulation of money. These are the types of teachings which will indeed help us connect worship and work.

Though Nelson never leaves his theological and doctrinal moorings, he moves on to practical implications of the theology he has just demonstrated. Nelson covers topics such as the witness of our work, our sanctification through work, and common grace and our work. He also examines individual work issues such as contentment, calling, giftedness, and growth.

This was a helpful book written convincingly. It offers a solid theological basis for holding work in high regard and helps us see the inseparable connection between our lives as worshipers and our lives as workers. The truths in this book are fodder for continual application of truth from God to our lives as they are lived daily. For and educational and engaging look into vocation and its theology, I recommend this book.

Nelson, Tom. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship with Monday Work. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Promoting the life of faith through examination

Another means to be used diligently for the promoting the life of faith is examination of our state and ways according to the Word, whether we be at present 

in a state of sin and wrath, 

or of grace and salvation; 

that, if we be in a state of sin, we may know our sickness and come to the great Physician while it is called today;

and, if we be in a state of grace, we may know that we are of the truth, and assure our hearts before God with greater confidence, by the testimony of a good conscience (1 John 3:19, 21); 

that so our hearts may be more strongly comforted by faith and established in every good work;

and that, if our ways be evil, we may turn from them to the Lord our God through Christ; without whom none come to the Father (Lam. 3: 40; John 14:6).

The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall
(line breaks mine)

I am of the opinion that we do not examine our 'state and ways' as often as we should. At least, we don't examine ourselves in light of the Word. We either make a lot of assumptions about the state of our heart and actions, or if we do examine ourselves, we use man-made standards instead of God's standards.  Both of these routes will lead us into peril. But this should not dissuade us from a serious search of our inner life to see if we 'be in a state of grace' or 'if our ways be evil'.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Mixed Bag

In Work Matters, author Tom Nelson brings the following verses from Ecclesiastes to our attention:

    So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
    I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, ... What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
(Ecclesiastes 2:17-18, 22-23 ESV)
Nelson then goes on to comment
The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that work in this fallen world is a mixed bag. Work is both a curse and a gift. Work greets us with both frustration and exhilaration. Our work gives evidence of our glorious creation as well as our great estrangement from God and our need for a Savior who will redeem us from sin's devastating curse. (42)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pre-Piperian Christian Hedonism

Any of you who are familiar with John Piper likely are aware that he is a proponent of and the key spokesperson for a concept he has termed "Christian hedonism". Briefly, Christian hedonism according to Desiring God-Piper's ministry-is defined and explained in this excerpt:
A "Christian Hedonist" sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? If the term makes you squirm, we understand. But don't throw this paper away just yet. We're not heretics (really!). Nor have we invented another prosperity-obsessed theology by twisting the Bible to sanctify our greed or lust. We are simply stating an ancient, orthodox, Biblical truth in a fresh way.
"All men seek happiness," says Blaise Pascal. "This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves." We believe Pascal is right. And, with Pascal, we believe God purposefully designed us to pursue happiness.
Does seeking your own happiness sound self-centered? Aren't Christians supposed to seek God, not their own pleasure? To answer this question we need to understand a crucial truth about pleasure-seeking (hedonism): we value most what we delight in most. Pleasure is not God's competitor, idols are. Pleasure is simply a gauge that measures how valuable someone or something is to us. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure.
We know this intuitively. If a friend says to you, "I really enjoy being with you," you wouldn't accuse him of being self-centered. Why? Because your friend's delight in you is the evidence that you have great value in his heart. In fact, you'd be dishonored if he didn't experience any pleasure in your friendship. The same is true of God. If God is the source of our greatest delight then God is our most precious treasure; which makes us radically God-centered and not self-centered. And if we treasure God most, we glorify Him most.
Does the Bible teach this? Yes. Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13). This is the essence of sin. The Bible actually commands us to delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4). Jesus teaches us to love God more than money because our heart is where our treasure is (Matt. 6:21). Paul wants us to believe that gaining Christ is worth the loss of everything else (Phil 3:8) and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to endure suffering, like Jesus, for the joy set before us (Heb. 12: 1-2). Examine the Scriptures and you'll see this over and over again.
Christian Hedonism is not a contradiction after all. It is desiring the vast, ocean-deep pleasures of God more than the mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power or lust. We're Christian Hedonists because we believe Psalm 16:11, "You show me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy, in Your right hand are pleasures for evermore."
Join us in this pursuit of satisfaction in God, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
With that in mind, I thought I would share a quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that hinted at some thoughts of the author that seem to support this idea of Christian hedonism.

If I seem so happy to you, you could never say anything that would please me so much. For men are made for happiness, and any one who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God’s will on earth.’ All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy."

Though perhaps Piper would want to, in our current use of the language, differentiate between joy and happiness, I think Dostoyevsky, speaking through the character Father Zossima, is probably speaking to the same thing. Dostoyevsky's character is recognizing that an enduring quality of the righteous, of the saints, despite sickness and other sufferings, is a profound happiness-or joy-found in God and that this happines should be pursued.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dostoyevsky on Repentance

I am enjoying The Bothers Karamazov, considered by many to be Fyodor Dostoyevsky's finest work. I hope to share some of it with you who frequent this blog. I'll start with this excerpt on forgiveness:

"Fear nothing and never be afraid; and don’t fret. If only your penitence fail not, God will forgive all. There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all the earth, which the Lord will not forgive to the truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as to exhaust the infinite love of God. Can there be a sin which could exceed the love of God? Think only of repentance, continual repentance, but dismiss fear altogether. Believe that God loves you as you cannot conceive; that He loves you with your sin, in your sin. It has been said of old that over one repentant sinner there is more joy in heaven than over ten righteous men. Go, and fear not. Be not bitter against men. Be not angry if you are wronged. Forgive the dead man in your heart what wrong he did you. Be reconciled with him in truth. If you are penitent, you love. And if you love you are of God. All things are atoned for, all things are saved by love. If I, a sinner, even as you are, am tender with you and have pity on you, how much more will God. Love is such a priceless treasure that you can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own sins but the sins of others."

-spoken by Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God uses the sun, but needs it not

No creature has a force more wondrous or glorious than that of the sun. For besides lighting the whole earth with its brightness, how great a thing is it that by its heat it nourishes and quickens all living things! That with its rays it breathes fruitfulness into the earth! That it warms the seeds in the bosom of the earth, draws them forth with budding greenness, increases and strengthens them, nourishes them anew, until they rise up into stalks! That it feeds the plant with continual warmth, until it grows into a flower, and from flower into fruit! That then, also, with baking heat it brings the fruit to maturity! Yet the Lord, to claim the full credit for all these things, willed that, before he created the sun, light should come to be and earth be filled with all manner of herbs and fruits [Gen. 1:3, 11, 14]. Therefore a godly man will not make the sun a principal or necessary cause of these things which existed before the creation of the sun, but merely the instrument that God uses because he so wills; for with no more difficulty he might abandon it, and act through himself. John Calvin, Institutes 1.16.2

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A compartmentalized modern life

So often we think of worship as something we do on Sunday and work as something we do on Monday. However, this dichotomy is not what God designed nor what he desires for our lives. God designed work to have both a vertical and horizontal dimension. We work to the glory of God and for the furtherance of the common good. On Sunday we say we go to worship and on Monday we say we go to work, but our language reveals our foggy theological thinking. That our work has been designed by God to be an act of worship is often missed in the frenzied pace of a compartmentalized modern life. (Nelson, Tom. Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship with Monday Work. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print. 27)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Desperate sinfulness and alone sufficiency

The most effectual knowledge for your salvation, is, to understand these two points; 
  • the desperate sinfulness and misery of your own natural condition, 
  • and the alone sufficiency of the grace of God in Christ for your salvation; 
that you may be abased to the flesh,  and exalted in Christ alone. 
- Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It’s (Past) Time for a Charismatic Reformation

 This article appeared at CHARISMANEWS:
In honor of Reformation Day, here are some complaints I’m nailing on the Wittenberg door.
Long before there was an Occupy Wall Street, Martin Luther staged the most important protest in history. He was upset because Roman Catholic officials were promising people forgiveness or early escape from purgatory in exchange for money. So on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed a long list of complaints on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Luther’s famous 95 theses were translated from Latin into German and spread abroad. Like a medieval Jeremiah, Luther dared to ask questions that had never been asked, and he challenged a pope who was supposedly infallible. Through this brave monk, the Holy Spirit sparked the Protestant Reformation and restored the doctrine of grace to a church that had become corrupt, religious, dysfunctional, political and spiritually dead.

I am no Luther, but I’ve grown increasingly aware that the so-called “Spirit-filled” church of today struggles with many of the same things the Catholic church faced in the 1500s. We don’t have “indulgences”—we have telethons. We don’t have popes—we have super-apostles. We don’t support an untouchable priesthood—we throw our money at celebrity evangelists who own fleets of private jets.

In honor of Reformation Day, I’m offering my own list of needed reforms in our movement. And since I can’t hammer these on the Wittenberg door, I’ll post them online. Feel free to nail them everywhere.

1. Let’s reform our theology. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is God and He is holy. He is not an “it.” He is not a blob, a force, or an innate power. We must stop manipulating Him, commanding Him and throwing Him around.
2. Let’s return to the Bible. The Word of God is the foundation for the Christian experience. Any dramatic experience, no matter how spiritual it seems, must be tested by the Word and the Holy Spirit’s discernment. Visions, dreams, prophecies and encounters with angels must be in line with Scripture. If we don’t test them we could end up spreading deception.
3. It’s time for personal responsibility. We charismatics must stop blaming everything on demons. People are usually the problem.
4. Stop playing games. Spiritual warfare is a reality, but we are not going to win the world to Jesus just by shouting at demonic principalities. We must pray, preach and persevere to see ultimate victory.
5. Stop the foolishness. People who hit, slap or push others during prayer should be asked to sit down until they learn gentleness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
6. End all spiritual extortion now. Christian television ministries must cease and desist from all manipulative fundraising tactics. We must stop giving platforms to ministers who make outlandish claims of supernatural financial returns, especially when Scripture is twisted, deadlines are imposed and the poor are exploited.
7. No more Lone Rangers. Those who claim to be ministers of God—whether they are traveling evangelists, local pastors or heads of ministries—must be accountable to other leaders. Any who refuse to submit their lives to godly discipline should be corrected.
8. Expose the creeps. Churches should start doing background checks on traveling ministers. Preachers who have been hiding criminal records, lying about their past marriages, preying on women or refusing to pay child support should be exposed as charlatans and shunned if they do not repent.
9.  Stop faking the anointing. God is God, and He does not need our “help” to manifest Himself. That means we don’t sprinkle glitter on ourselves to suggest God’s glory is with us, hide fake jewels on the floor to prove we are anointed or pull chicken feathers out of our sleeves to pretend angels are in the room. This is lying to the Holy Spirit.
10. Let’s return to purity. We’ve had enough scandals. The charismatic church must develop a system for the restoration of fallen ministers. Those who fall morally can be restored, but they must be willing to submit to a process of healing rather than rushing immediately back into the pulpit.
11. We need humility. Ministers who demand celebrity treatment, require lavish salaries, insist on titles or exhibit aloofness from others are guilty of spiritual pride.
12.  No more big shots. Apostles are the bondslaves of Christ, and should be the most impeccable models of humility. True apostles do not wield top-down, hierarchical authority over the church. They serve the church from the bottom up as true servants.
13. Never promote gifts at the expense of character. Those who operate in prophecy, healing and miracles must also exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. And while we continue to encourage the gift of tongues, let’s make sure we don’t treat it like some kind of badge of superiority. The world needs to see our love, not our glossolalia.
14.  Hold the prophets accountable. Those who refuse to take responsibility for inaccurate statements should not be given platforms. And “prophets” who live immoral lives don’t deserve a public voice.
15. Let’s make the main thing the main thing. The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s anointing is to empower us to reach others. We are at a crossroads today: Either we continue off-course, entertained by our charismatic sideshows, or we throw ourselves into evangelism, church planting, missions, discipleship, and compassionate ministry that helps the poor and fights injustice. Churches that embrace this New Reformation will focus on God’s priorities.
J. Lee Grady is contributing editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. He expounds on these topics in his 2010 book The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale (Chosen).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Swimming in reality for our sanctification

'Work hard' at Christianity can be a bit misleading as an imperative for sanctification. It really depends what you mean by 'work hard'. Tullian Tchividjian addresses what working out our salvation should look like. In his recently released book Jesus + Nothing = Everything, the author leans heavily on the idea that we have hard work to do in our Christian walk, but this hard work does not consist of trying to get the virtues we don't have, but rather it is the hard work of believing in Christ's work that we are called to. For example,

I’ve said before, I used to think that when the apostle Paul tells us to work out our salvation, it means go out and get what we don’t have—get more patience, get more strength, get more joy, get more love, and so on. But after reading the Bible more carefully, I now understand that Christian growth does not happen by working hard to get something we don’t have. Rather, Christian growth happens by working hard to daily swim in the reality of what we do have. Believing again and again the gospel of God’s free justifying grace every day—and resting in his verdict—is the hard work we’re called to. (171-2)

Tchividjian, Tullian. Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Surprised by Oxford

My wife recently met the author of Surprised By Oxford who kindly gave her a copy of that same book. I found the endorsements intriguing and began reading the book which quickly heightened my interest. Here is the description of the book to be found at Amazon:
A girl-meets-God style memoir of an agnostic who, through her surprising opportunity to study at Oxford, comes to a dynamic personal faith in God. Carolyn Weber arrives for graduate study at Oxford University a feminist from a loving but dysfunctional family, suspicious of men and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she grapples with her God-shaped void alongside the friends, classmates, and professors she meets, she tackles big questions in search of love and a life that matters. This savvy, beautifully written, credible account of Christian conversion follows the calendar and events of the school year as it entertains, informs, and promises to engage even the most skeptical and unlikely reader.
I have really enjoyed the book so far. It is with some envy with which I read the descriptions of studying at Oxford and there rises sensations of nostalgia when the author mentions her time spent in London, Ontario and the University of Western Ontario which I share with the author as a hometown and an alma mater.

Perhaps I will blog some more on the book later, but for know, here was an insightful quote:

No individual, by the very state of existence, can avoid life as a form of servitude; it only remains for us to decide, deny, or remain oblivious to, whom or what we serve. (5)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Already in possession

Because of Christ’s finished work,
Christians already possess 

the approval, 
the love, 
the security, 
the freedom, 
the meaning, 
the purpose, 
the protection, 
the new beginning, 
the cleansing, 
the forgiveness, 
the righteousness, 
and the rescue

we intensely long for and, 
in fact, 
look for in a thousand things smaller than Jesus every day—things transient, things incapable of delivering the goods.

The gospel is the only thing big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings—both now and forever. (77, line breaks mine)

Tchividjian, Tullian. Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The encumberance of entitlement

Contrary to what I had thought, I did not need easing circumstances, relief from difficulty, and distance from pain in order to be free. I was learning that the freedom Jesus secured for me is not freedom from pain and suffering here and now. Rather, it’s freedom from bitterness, anger, fear, resentment, self-pity, offense, and hopelessness in the crucible of present pain and suffering; it is freedom from my burdensome sense of “I deserve better,” the encumbrance of entitlement. I was realizing that only the gospel can free us from the enslaving pressure to defend ourselves. That’s real freedom—God-sized freedom! (76)

It is funny what we often think is freedom in reality is just more bondage and servitude. Recently, while sharing a feast of fellowship and food with friends, we had a brief discussion of a concept and strategy of investment referred to as "Freedom 55". We mused that this might better be labelled "Servitude 67" and none of us knew of any 55 year old enjoying their retirement. The race for riches-no different than the sprint for success or the marathon for money-is ultimately unsatisfying and results in our hearts being imprisoned; this is not freedom. True freedom only comes from the gospel, the cross, the Redeemer.  

Tchividjian, Tullian. Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.