Saturday, January 31, 2009

Do We Really Need TV?

"If all other variables are equal, your capacity to know God deeply will probably diminish in direct proportion to how much television you watch. There are several reasons for this. One is that television reflects American culture at its most trivial. And a steady diet of triviality shrinks the soul. You get used to it. It starts to seem normal. Silly becomes funny. And funny becomes pleasing. And pleasing becomes soul-satisfaction. And in the end the soul that is made for God has shrunk to fit snugly around triteness.....TV is mostly trivial. It seldom inspires great thoughts or great feelings with glimpses of great Truth. God is the great, absolute, all-shaping Reality. If He gets any air time, He is treated as an opinion. There is no reverence. No trembling. God and all that He thinks about the world is missing. Cut loose from God, everything goes down.....So there are good reasons to try a TV fast. Or to simply wean yourself off of it entirely. We have not owned a TV for thirty-four years of marriage except for three years in Germany when we used it for language learning. There is no inherent virtue in this. I only mention it to prove that you can raise five culturally sensitive and Biblically informed children without it." (emphases mine)

- John Piper, Pierced by the Word, 18

The Humility of Zeal

Ps 69:9
For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.

Ps 119:139

My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.

Ga 4:18
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.

If a thing is worth doing, then it is worth doing with one's whole heart, mind, and strength. If God, in our relationship with Him as Father, Savior, Lord, Helper, and Sanctifier, is the Pearl of Great Price to our souls, then knowing Him and seeking to please Him should so consume us that all else in our current existence must necessarily fade to gray.

Do we presently have sack loads of issues on our backs, encumbering our progress and stripping us of joy? It may be that we have allowed our zeal for God to wane. It may be that we have lost the peculiarity that must mark the child of God for having been so immersed in the world's pursuits. Have we been seeking success and the affirmation of the world and our fallen selves to the snuffing out of the fire of God that once raged within?

Let us once more realize that life lived upon this earth can only have meaning, can only have worth, can only have significance if it is a life that accomplishes the purpose for which it was given existence by the Creator. It may be true that things are crumbling all around you. The things that once gave you fulfillment are no longer doing their job. The loved one has failed you; work has become a routine that wears you down; ministry has become a drudgery; habitual sins constantly erode your sense of joy and peace and diffuse guilt instead. These things are true for many of us, and yet only one thing is needed: AN UNDIVIDED PASSION FOR CHRIST. The difficult circumstances surrounding our lives may remain as they are, but rekindling Christ as our heated core and having Him as our FIRST LOVE, first in terms of position and primacy, are the only means of staying on this earth sane and sound.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Called to Lose

Mt 16:24
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mt 16:25

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Mt 16:26
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

I used to think back then that Christianity, or my relationship with the Lord, was the key energizing element that would ensure my "success" in this world. I was certain that "the Lord's favor" would get me climbing up the corporate ladder a lot faster than I would have without its help. I'm glad that the Lord has lovingly guided me away from that flawed train of thinking.

What the Christian must realize is that the desire to be a "success" is evidence of sin still residing within the heart. The "success" I am referring to here is the clamor to be Chicken No. 1 in the Pecking Order, having the right to peck at the bottom chickens with no threat of being pecked back. It is the insidious sin of pride disguised as one's right "to be all that you can be". In the milieu of this deception, being a "winner" is the chief of virtues while being a "loser" is mortal sin.

In God's eyes, the one who is a true success is the one whom the world calls loser, underachiever, underdog, pathetic, bottom chicken, all because he has reordered his thinking into pursuing the kind of success that is marked by loving others with a kind of love that considers them better than himself and therefore not competitors. God's winner also has found the world's labels to be utterly meaningless and has firmly decided within his heart and mind that all that matters is for the silence to be broken in the end by these words from the Master's lips, "Well done, good and faithful servant".

Such a man is free in the fullest sense of freedom. No longer is he a rat in the rat race but a bird soaring high on wings as eagles. He is a man of vision, zeal, and creative energy--a dynamo--consumed not by the vain pursuit of pecking rights but by the passion to be just like his Master, a despised servant.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Humility and the Power of the Gospel

"The power of the glorious gospel is not the product of human genius or technique. We are weak and common, plain and fragile, breakable and disposable, but that does not prove fatal to the work of God. On the contrary, we demonstrate that God must be at work, for that is the only logical explanation! Paul’s humility sustained him, as it will all true servants of Christ. Incontrast to our message we are nothing. When we humble ourselves in the presence of the Lord, he will exalt us (Jas. 4:10)."

- John MacArthur, Stand (A Call for the Endurance of the Saints), ch. 3, p. 65-66

The Gospel is for Me, a Sinner!

"Since the gospel is only for sinners, I come to Christ as a still practicing sinner. In fact, I usually use the words of that tax collector in the temple when he cried out, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner' (Luke 18:13). God has been merciful, and I’m quick to acknowledge his mercy in my life, but I say to him that I come in the attitude of that tax collector. 'I need your mercy. I am still a practicing sinner. Even my very best deeds are sinful in your sight, and I am an object of your mercy and your grace.'

And so we come to the Lord and we say, 'Lord, I come still a practicing sinner, but I look to Jesus Christ and his shed blood and his perfect obedience, his righteous life that has been credited to me. And I see myself standing before you clothed in his righteousness.'

- Jerry Bridges, Stand (A Call for the Endurance of the Saints), ch. 1, p. 23, 26

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

His Word that Makes Real

Ac 17:28
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Heb 1:3
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

Every time I wake up in the morning, I am reminded that, beforehand, God spoke. The continuance of my earthly consciousness and bodily functions are owing to God being pleased to have me live a day more. This is true of the whole universe. What science terms as the laws of physics are actually God deciding to do things the same way, day-in day-out, for all these thousands of years. These laws have no power of their own to function automatically. They derive their ability to be from God. That's why "miracles" should not be outside the realm of reality to a true thinking Christian's mind. They are simply instances wherein God chooses to act a little differently than before--or perhaps not so little, as with the Egyptian plagues.

All this is cause for PRAISE and THANKSGIVING. You are alive today. God took delight in giving you one more day of earthly existence. Honor Him by the recognition of this fact and more other facts about Him in a book called, the Bible.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thomas Watson on God's Will

We must know his will before we can do it; knowledge is the eye to direct the foot of obedience. The Papists make ignorance the mother of devotion; but Christ makes ignorance the mother of error. "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures" (Matt 22: 29). We must know God’s will before we can do it aright. Affection without knowledge, is like a horse full of mettle, but his eyes are out.

Unless we deny our own will, we shall never do God’s will. His will and ours are like the wind and tide when they are contrary. He wills one thing, we will another; he calls us to be crucified to the world, by nature we love the world; he calls us to forgive our enemies, by nature we bear malice in our hearts. His will and ours are contrary, and till we can cross our own will, we shall never fulfil his.

Pride is the spring of disobedience. "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" (Exodus 5: 2). A proud man thinks it below him to stoop to God’s will. Be humble. The humble son says, Lord what wilt thou have me to do? He puts, as it were, a blank paper into God’s hand; and bids him write what he will, and he will subscribe to it.

"Teach me to do thy will:" as if David had said, Lord, I need not be taught to do my own will, I can do it fast enough, but teach me to do thy will. (Ps. 143:10). And that which may add wings to prayer, is God’s gracious promise, "I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes" (Ezek 36: 27). If the loadstone draw the iron, it is not hard for the iron to move: if God’s Spirit enable, it will not be hard, but rather delightful to do God’s will.

Source: Ron Cook, Christian Lifestyle - Part 3: Obedience, PBM

Monday, January 26, 2009

"The Christian Anthem" by Lee Behnken

I first came across this song by Lee Behnken back in 1998. In fact, I've seen Lee play live on two different occassions during one of his visits here in the Philippines.

This particular song cuts me to the heart. It is timely, given the global economic crisis and the recent appointment of the new U.S. president, the one chiefly tasked with the alleviation of the aforementioned burden. It reminds me that no nation can ever continue to stand and prosper, in the ultimate sense of these two words, apart from submission to the sovereignty of God and His Word.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Humility of Tears

"One of the reasons God loved David so much was that he cried so much."

"It is a beautiful thing when a broken man genuinely cries out to God."

- John Piper, When the Darkness Will Not Lift, Ch.2

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Humility Before Honor

Indeed, God desires to bless His children. In fact, not just His children for "...he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mat 5:45). It is in God's unalterable nature to be gracious. So gracious is He that He "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up, for us all, how then shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32). "All things", however, has taken on a new meaning for most Christians. It has now mutated into the acquisition of the world's symbols of success, of being lauded by others as a person of power and influence, of living a hardship-free existence. This is not what God's blessing must mean to a blood-bought child of God. In fact, we are promised tribulation by none other than our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. But He doesn't leave us in that predicament. He gave His Word, the Word that fashioned worlds, that in Him we can overcome the pain, disappointments, heartaches, and sufferings that must inevitably befall His disciples. Let us hearken to His words: "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (Joh 16:33)

One of the things that stick so tenaciously to even a Christian is the need for honor. We want to be the head of the pack. We want to be "the man". We want to be the one who "gets things done". There is all the biblical support for being the best that we can be in everything we put our hands to, but this is quite different from that virulent scourge of pride that often ravages our souls and leaves us as either demigods or burned-out vagabonds. What is the way out of this? In light of the biblical warning that "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Pro 16:18), how do we overcome pride in our souls? The same way all enemies of our souls are overcome: THROUGH CHRIST.

If we have based our self-worth, our hopes, our dreams--our future--on CHRIST, pride must naturally fade away. We are given the injunction to "be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." (1Pe 5:5) What could be a more daunting prospect than to have God resist you--to have Him resist your proud flauntings by a withholding of His grace? But then, what could be a greater source of joy and power than to be assured of a continuous supply of this grace--the grace that feeds you, clothes you, places you within a loving family, gives you the physical and mental strength to hold a job--the grace that saved you from your former wretched life?

The lower you go, the more real His grace becomes! It truly is AMAZING!

Hey, Oscar! (Candle-Burning and Contentment)

Psa 127:2
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

Workaholism has become a type of "holiness" to many. It has taken on a sacred meaning in today's materialistic world. Burning the candle on both ends is a sign of one's competence and worth. Or so the world says.

It is refreshing that the child of God does not have to destroy both his body and soul in the pursuit of worldly affirmation. His "good feelings" don't come from his occupational rank, his luxury homes, his fast cars, nor his bank account, for he has learned the wisdom of the ff. passages:

1Ti 6:6
But godliness with contentment is great gain.

1Ti 6:7
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

1Ti 6:8

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

What is the wellspring of this godly contentment? It gushes forth endlessly from the Holy Spirit-wrought conviction that nothing else matters in the universe but God. If a person is right with His Creator, everything is settled. Food, clothing, shelter? All that is covered: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Mat 6:33) What about a little clout? Some fame mixed in? Extra cash? Nah! The child of God would echo Paul's words: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Php 3:7-8)

Let's not lose sleep over stinking trash.

"Beam Me Up, Scotty!" (The Temporal Nature of Earthly Life)

Consider yourself blessed if you reach the age of 70. But what if you found out that your time on this earth was slated for a much shorter period...say, 35 years? Would you be glad or sad? Joyful or wrathful?

I believe a good part of Christianity is the weaning from worldy entanglements that make "exiting" such a dreadful prospect. If you truly believe, along with the apostle Paul, that: " live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Php 1:21), then "kicking the bucket" would be way better--infinitely better--than staying a little while longer. Of course, our welcome on this earth is in the hands of the Ruler of the Universe who sustains everything by His word, but we should, even now, turn ourselves off to the affections of this decaying world and set our hearts to anticipating our ultimate rendezvous with Christ.

It takes a little wackiness (indeed, we are a peculiar people) to be in the "Beam me up, Scotty" frame of mind, but you will notice that the variables currently existing in your life will take on a simpler tone, whether they be joys or griefs, if it is adopted. Things will be lighter. Pleasures will be sweeter. Difficulties will be bearable--even welcome--as you consider that they serve to make you more like Christ and that soon eternal bliss in His presence will be yours.

1Jo 2:17
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

Ps 90:12
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Winner's Choice

Psa 34:18
The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.

Psa 34:19
Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.

A Christian does his soul well if he would accept that troubles are the norm and not the exception. Yet there is a way to make the seasons in the valley seasons of joy.

Psa 84:5
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.

Psa 84:6
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.

Psa 84:7
They go from strength, to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.

Joy in times of adversity is sustained by virtue of the grounding on which one's hopes are based. Hoping in God is not a downgrading of one's life vision, as what the world system and the Enemy would have you believe, as if it is the last alternative of the loser in his many attempts at fulfillment using methods that should've worked for a man made of nobler stuff. On the contrary, it is the response of the man who has weighed the alternatives and found them pathetic and wanting and has discovered for himself a pearl of great price, the value of which renders the options worthless as chaff.

Upon this solid rock of hope, the Christian finds even in the most arid of deserts, where there is loneliness, disappointment, and death, springs of comfort and delight issuing forth from the promise of God to deliver and transform. The valleys of God make men--men of joy, hope, and the power of a Christlike nature.

When I Am Anxious

When I am anxious about some risky new venture or meeting, I battle unbelief with the promise: "Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God; I will help you, I will strengthen you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand" (Isaiah 41:10).

When I am anxious about my ministry being useless and empty, I fight unbelief with the promise, "So shall my word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not come back to me empty but accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11).

When I am anxious about being too weak to do my work, I battle unbelief with the promise of Christ, "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9), and "As your days so shall your strength be" (Deuteronomy 33:25).

When I am anxious about decisions I have to make about the future, I battle unbelief with the promise, "I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8).

When I am anxious about facing opponents, I battle unbelief with the promise, "If God is for us who can be against us!" (Romans 8:31).

When I am anxious about being sick, I battle unbelief with the promise that "tribulation works patience, and patience approvedness, and approvedness hope, and hope does not make us ashamed" (Romans 5:3-5).

When I am anxious about getting old, I battle unbelief with the promise, "Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save" (Isaiah 46:4).

When I am anxious about dying, I battle unbelief with the promise that "none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself; if we live we live to the Lord and if we die we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose again: that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living" (Romans 14:9-11).

When I am anxious that I may make shipwreck of faith and fall away from God, I battle unbelief with the promise, "He who began a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:6). "He who calls you is faithful. He will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). "He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25).

- John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Anxiety

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Humility of Laughter

"Laughter is a divine gift to the human who is humble. A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity; he cannot give himself over to the rocking and rolling of his belly. But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego."

- Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis

Some Points on Worship

Joh 4:23
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

Joh 4:24
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

The kind of worship that God esteems is the kind that is both founded on the truths of God's Word and brimming with fire and passion, involving the total man.

Firstly, a true worshipper must be one with Truth personified, and that is Jesus Christ. Only the person who has the Holy Spirit in him, and is united with Christ, can offer acceptable worship unto God.

Secondly, a true worshipper must know the One to whom He is offering worship. This is where the study of God's Word plays a primary role. We are commanded to KNOW GOD in Scripture and through Scripture. As we know more of God's character and nature, we are filled with awe and reverence, and this, in turn, leads us to the third point.

A true worshipper must worship with all zeal and enthusiasm, involving emotions that have been charged by a sincere affection for God, founded on the truths about Him revealed in His Word.

True worship must involve the MIND, the AFFECTIONS, and the WILL. Anything short of this is a farce.

"Sincerity, enthusiasm, and aggressiveness are important, but they must be based on truth. And truth is foundational, but if it doesn't result in an eager, excited, enthusiastic heart, it is deficient. Enthusiastic heresy is heat without light. Barren orthodoxy is light without heat...The Father seeks both enthusiasm and orthodoxy, spirit and truth." - John MacArthur, Jr., The Ultimate Priority - Worship, ch.11, p. 116

"All worship is an INTELLIGENT and LOVING response to the REVELATION of God...

Therefore acceptable worship is impossible without preaching.

Our worship is poor BECAUSE OUR KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS POOR, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is EXPOUNDED in its fullness, and the congregation begin to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before His throne.
" (emphases mine) - John Stott, Between Two Worlds, pp. 82-83

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cool Enough to be Uncool

I don't know if it's still the buzzword among the younger ones but, back in the day, being "cool" was what it was all about. "Cool" could mean you were conforming to the latest fad and fashion or going against it in a screaming way, brandishing unconformity in the choice of wardrobe, music and overall personal style. It was a crazy word. Everyone wanted to be "cool" and yet it was a hazy concept, with one being "cool" one day and horribly "out-of-style" the next.

Simply put, the corrupt, anti-God world system wants its denizens adopting certain mindsets, beliefs and philosophies which, naturally, must translate to behavior. It wants people flaunting their independence. To be "cool", you had to be independent; you had to put forth evidence of this independence, this self-sufficiency, this I-am-the-captain-of-my-ship principle in how you conducted yourself in every area of life. Sporting designer and branded anything meant that you were made, or rebelling against the establishment signified strength and a tough core. Of course, no one can maintain this charade for long and many end up crushed under the weight of this mindless and stupid burden.

The Christian young person does not need to aim for the world's standard of "coolness". For one thing, independence is a myth. Not a single human being is independent of God, regardless of how one may think that not to be the case. When a person sleeps at night, he lays himself at the mercy of the God who sustains life, unwittingly hoping that he wakes up the next day with the breath of life still in him. In every sphere of existence, the creature is dependent upon the Creator.

I offer this challenge to not just the new generation but to everyone who names the Name of Christ: DEPEND ON GOD WITH ALL YOUR BEING. Risk being called "uncool" by those you perceive as mattering in your life if this means glorifying Christ. Do you crave being called a "winner"? A winner at what? At having your own way in every decision of life and amassing symbols of power? Why not rather be spat upon and labelled a "loser"? Was not your Lord treated in the same way? Would you claim Him as Lord and yet shun the kind of life He lived? Would you desire eternal life without carrying your cross?

Be as an utterly helpless child at the feet of God--NOTHING IS COOLER THAN THAT!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ark-mazing Grace!

God is ALWAYS glorified in His schemes, however foolish it may seem to the humans involved at the time.

"An instructor once gave a lecture to admirals at the U.S. Naval Academy. 'For centuries', this man said, 'men built ships in various proportions. But since British naval machinists found the formula for the battleship Dreadnought, all naval construction follows the proportions of Dreadnought, since they have been found to be scientifically perfect.' Then he added, 'The proportions of Dreadnought are exactly the same as the ark.'" - John MacArthur, The Keys to Spiritual Growth (Unlocking the Riches of God), ch. 4, pp. 63

Friday, January 16, 2009

Depression: Under a Juniper Tree

After a decisive victory over Baal's prophets, Elijah was slumped under a juniper tree in the vise grip of depression. His plea to the Lord was for immediate death. Better there under God's merciful hand than through the cruel fingers of Jezebel, whose threat of death was what primarily instigated his state of despair in the first place. His case offers us a glimpse of an aspect of the nature of depression, the knowledge of which will prove valuable especially to those currently in the midst of this debilitating mental condition.

The New Bible Commentary (21st Century Edition; edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson and R.T. France) states:

"It is often suggested that Elijah was suffering from depression. Depression can have many different causes (from suppressed anger to vitamin deficiency) and we should not assume that when we are depressed our problem is the same as Elijah's, or his the same as ours. In his case, depression and discouragement seem to have stemmed from his skewed perspective. He both underrated his own achievement and undervalued the contribution of others. The answer, in part at least, was for him to be given a glimpse of things from God's point of view. We need such glimpses too, if we are not to become discouraged in the Christian life."

Elijah's depression was caused by his loose grasp of the truth. What were the lies that he allowed to creep into his soul that eventually brought him to the pit of despair?
  • GOD is distant and unable, or unwilling, to deliver me from the hand of Jezebel.

  • My triumph over Baal's prophets, for the glory of God's name, is futile and I will still end up dead.

  • I am the only one left in all Israel who has not defiled himself with the worship of Baal and remained faithful to God.
The solution to the dilemma came when God debunked all the lies by revealing the truths of the following:

I. The physical and mental welfare of God's servants are important to Him.

1Ki 19:5
And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.

1Ki 19:6
And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. 1Ki 19:7 And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.

1Ki 19:8
And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

The sight, or just even the knowledge--if Elijah didn't actually see--of an angel providing his physical needs sure would have boosted both his morale and glycogen reserves.

II. God's commitment to His own glory ensures that our labor for Him, when done in the power of the Spirit, will result in the outcome intended by Him and is not to be measured by our our own finite calculations.

1Ki 19:14
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

1Ki 19:18
Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

Elijah erringly counted his exploits for God as of little significance, even subtly implying that, since he is the only one left, God's cause is at a loss. This undoubtedly caused much of his mental suffering. The instructions of God given to him in a whisper, right after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, proved that God was still at the helm of the Elijah ship.

In the quest of the alleviation of depression, it is paramount that the truths underlying the situation be firmly apprehended and lived out. The truths applied to life will then manifest itself in holy patience, in waiting for the Lord to act.

Isa 40:31
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Renowed Scientists on Intelligent Design

Fred Hoyle (British astrophysicist): "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."

George Ellis (British astrophysicist): "Amazing fine tuning occurs in the laws that make this [complexity] possible. Realization of the complexity of what is accomplished makes it very difficult not to use the word 'miraculous' without taking a stand as to the ontological status of the word."

Paul Davies (British astrophysicist): 1.) "There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all....It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe....The impression of design is overwhelming." 2.) "The laws [of physics] ... seem to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design... The universe must have a purpose."

Alan Sandage (winner of the Crawford prize in astronomy): "I find it quite improbable that such order came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence, why there is something instead of nothing."

John O'Keefe (astronomer at NASA): "We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures.. .. If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in."

George Greenstein (astronomer): "As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency - or, rather, Agency - must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit?"

Arthur Eddington (astrophysicist): "The idea of a universal mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory."

Arno Penzias (Nobel prize in physics): "Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say 'supernatural') plan."

Roger Penrose (mathematician and author): "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance."

Tony Rothman (physicist): "When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it's very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it."

Vera Kistiakowsky (MIT physicist): "The exquisite order displayed by our scientific understanding of the physical world calls for the divine."

Robert Jastrow (self-proclaimed agnostic): "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Stephen Hawking (British astrophysicist): "Then we shall… be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God."

Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): "When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics." Note: Tipler since has actually converted to Christianity, hence his latest book, The Physics Of Christianity.

Alexander Polyakov (Soviet mathematician): "We know that nature is described by the best of all possible mathematics because God created it."

Ed Harrison (cosmologist): "Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God – the design argument of Paley – updated and refurbished. The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one.... Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the teleological or design argument."

Edward Milne (British cosmologist): "As to the cause of the Universe, in context of expansion, that is left for the reader to insert, but our picture is incomplete without Him [God]."

Barry Parker (cosmologist): "Who created these laws? There is no question but that a God will always be needed."

Drs. Zehavi, and Dekel (cosmologists): "This type of universe, however, seems to require a degree of fine tuning of the initial conditions that is in apparent conflict with 'common wisdom'."

Arthur L. Schawlow (Professor of Physics at Stanford University, 1981 Nobel Prize in physics): "It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life."

Henry "Fritz" Schaefer (Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia): "The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, 'So that's how God did it.' My goal is to understand a little corner of God's plan."

Wernher von Braun (Pioneer rocket engineer): "I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science."

Carl Woese (microbiologist from the University of Illinois): "Life in Universe - rare or unique? I walk both sides of that street. One day I can say that given the 100 billion stars in our galaxy and the 100 billion or more galaxies, there have to be some planets that formed and evolved in ways very, very like the Earth has, and so would contain microbial life at least. There are other days when I say that the anthropic principal, which makes this universe a special one out of an uncountably large number of universes, may not apply only to that aspect of nature we define in the realm of physics, but may extend to chemistry and biology. In that case life on Earth could be entirely unique."

Antony Flew (Professor of Philosophy, former atheist, author, and debater): "It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."

Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): "From the perspective of the latest physical theories, Christianity is not a mere religion, but an experimentally testable science."


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pink, Flying Elephants Anyone?

Try thinking of something--anything--that is UNIQUE. Something that no one has ever thought of before. A concept that has never entered a human mind. SOMETHING THAT HAS ABSOLUTELY NO BASIS IN REALITY.

I've used the example of a pink, flying elephant before as something that someone might answer in reply to my "provocation" above. However, even that, or at least its components, is based on artifacts that are existent in reality. Elephants, the color pink, and the concept of flight are all figments of reality.

Actually, NO ONE CAN THINK OF ANYTHING THAT HAS NO BASIS IN REALITY. The human mind, FINITE as it is, merely SUBSCRIBES to what is before him, as REALITY presents it, and from there forms CONCEPTS and ABSTRACTIONS.

I mention all this in relation to the concept of GOD. Man could NEVER have conjured up the idea of God if God wasn't REAL. He would not have anything to draw upon. Man is in touch with the idea of God BECAUSE GOD CHOSE TO REVEAL HIMSELF. This is the absolute basis of man's relationship to God: that God in love and utter condescension, broke through the infinity barrier, proclaiming HIS CHARACTER and HIS WORKS to lumps of clay made in His image and likeness. He has made Himself UNDENIABLY known through HISTORY, the BIBLE, and the INCARNATE CHRIST (the chief revelation of God).

French thinker, René Descartes, spoke in the same vein when he said in the Fifth Meditation:

"But if the mere fact that I can produce from my thought the idea of something that entails everything which I clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it, is not this a possible basis for another argument to prove the existence of God? Certainly, the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being, is one that I find within me just as surely as the idea of any shape or number. And my understanding that it belongs to his nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature."

So, any new ideas?

Why We Need the Puritans

Why We Need the Puritans
by Dr. J. I. Packer


Horse Racing is said to be the sport of kings. The sport of slinging mud has, however, a wider following. Pillorying the Puritans, in particular, has long been a popular pastime both sides of the Atlantic, and most people's image of Puritanism still has on it much disfiguring dirt that needs to be scraped off.

'Puritan' as a name was, in fact, mud from the start. Coined in the early 1560's, it was always a satirical smear word implying peevishness, censoriousness, conceit, and a measure of hypocrisy, over and above its basic implication of religiously motivated discontent with what was seen as Elizabeth's Laodicean and compromising Church of England. Later, the word gained the further, political connotation of being against the Stuart monarchy and for some sort of republicanism; its primary reference, however, was still to what was seen as an odd, furious, and ugly form of Protestant religion.

In England, anti-Puritan feeling was let loose at the time of the Restoration and has flowed freely ever since. In North America it built up slowly after the days of Jonathan Edwards to reach its zenith a hundred years ago in post-Puritan New England. For the past half-century, however, scholars have been meticulously wiping away the mud, and as Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel have unfamiliar colours today now that restorers have removed the dark varnish, so the conventional image of the Puritans has been radically revamped, at least for those in the know. (Knowledge, alas, travels slowly in some quarters.) Taught by Perry Miller, William Haller, Marshall Knappen, Percy Scholes, Edmund Morgan, and a host of more recent researchers, informed folk now acknowledge that the typical Puritans were not wild men, fierce and freaky, religious fanatics and social extremists, but sober, conscientious, and cultured citizens: persons of principle, devoted, determined, and disciplined, excelling in the domestic virtues, and with no obvious shortcomings save a tendency to run to works when saying anything important, whether to God or to man. At last the record has been put straight.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Idolization of Success

Referring to Luke 10

"It is so easy to rejoice in success. Our self-identity nay become entangled with the fruitfulness of our ministry. Of course, that is dangerous when the success turns sour---but that is not the problem here. Things could not be going better for Jesus' disciples. And then the danger, of course, is that it is not God himself who is being worshiped. Our own wonderful acceptance by God himself no longer moves us, but only our apparent success.

This has been the sin of more than a few 'successful' pastors, and of no fewer 'successful' lay people. While proud of their orthodoxy and while entrusted with a valid mission, they have surreptitiously turned to idolizing something different: success. Few false gods are so deceitful. when faced with such temptations, it is desperately important to rejoice for the best reasons---and there is none better than that our sins are forgiven, and that by God's own gracious initiative our names have been written in heaven.

- D.A. Carson, For the Love of God Vol. I, February 24

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Word to Those Yearning for the Speeding Up of Their Sanctification

"Too often our practical view of sanctification, discipleship, and counseling is shortsighted. If you memorize and call to mind one special Bible verse, will it clean up all the mess? Will prayer drive all the darkness away? Will remembering that you are a child of God, justified by faith, shield your heart against every evil? Will careful self-discipline and a plan to live constructively eliminate all failure? Is it enough to sit under good preaching and have daily devotions? Is honest accountability to others the decisive key to walking in purity? These are all very good things. But none of them guarantees that three weeks from now, or three years, or thirty years, you will not struggle to learn how to love rather than lust. We must have a vision for a long process (lifelong), with a glorious end (“the day of Jesus Christ”), that is actually going somewhere (today). Put those three together in the right way, and you have a practical theology that’s good to go and good for the going.....WHAT MATTERS MOST IS NOT THE DISTANCE YOU'VE COVERED. IT'S NOT THE SPEED YOU'RE GOING. IT'S NOT HOW LONG YOU'VE BEEN A CHRISTIAN. IT'S THE DIRECTION YOU'RE HEADING." (emphasis mine)

- David Powlison, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Ch. 4 Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken, pp. 80, 81


"Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity... we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access, reassurance."

- A.E. Newton

The 7 Penitential Psalms

I daily seek solace and refuge in these Psalms. Everyday there is reason to repent, and it is a life of repentance all the way to glory.

Psalm 6

1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.

But you, O Lord—how long?
4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

6 I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

Psalm 32
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Psalm 38
1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.

3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

5 My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
and meditate treachery all day long.

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!”

17 For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!

Psalm 51

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 102
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!

3 For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
13 You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
15 Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
16 For the Lord builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
17 he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer.

18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
19 that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
22 when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

23 He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
24 “O my God,” I say, “take me not away
in the midst of my days—
you whose years endure
throughout all generations!”

25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.

Psalm 130
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Psalm 143
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

7 Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge!
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

11 For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

Monday, January 12, 2009


"If you’re a Calvinist you might ask, am I elect? If you’re not a Calvinist you just might ask, is my faith authentic? It’s the same kind of problem experienced at the same level. And the bottomline answer to that is not a simple little “here it says, ‘If you believe, you have the Holy Spirit.’” Have you believed? Yes. Where’s the Holy Spirit? He’s in my heart. That does not work. That simply does not work. That is so superficial, because the issue is, am I really believing? Because the Bible says there are going to be some people in the last day who are stunned when he says, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matt. 7:23). They’re going to think they were believing all the time, but they were not believing. So how do I know if I am believing? That’s the kind of terror that will keep you awake at night and make life really hard. The bottom-line answer is: Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Only in looking to Christ and the cross does Romans 8:16 powerfully happen. “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” I can’t give anybody assurance that they’re truly saved.

I can’t give anybody assurance that they’re elect. But God can. And it’s a miracle. You pray for it and you wait for it, and you don’t stand in front of the mirror looking endlessly into your soul with introspection. That comes periodically, but mainly you stand in front of the cross and you keep looking and looking and looking. And in looking you are saved.
" (emphases mine)

- John Piper, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, Appendix: An Interview with John Piper, pp. 229

In on the Plan Again

The self-esteem cult is a dud! It fails to deliver on its promise, and this is the expected outcome of anything that curls inward into man, looking to fill the void in his soul with, ludicrously, himself!

In contrast, the man with the greatest peace, assurance, and soundness of mind is the Christian who makes it a point to maintain a right standing before God. The apostle Paul understood:

Ac 24:16
And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

This kind of person is invincible. He is superman. But he can be reduced to a pulp just as easily by sin, and he is very much aware of this, his faulty heel. Restoration to power is therefore an integral aspect of his life dynamic and is, in reality, a daily process. It's called REPENTANCE.

Repentance is the wanting in again on God's plan after having deviated from it. It is acknowledging that nothing on this earth is more beautiful and more worthy of one's life than God. It has, at its core, the all-consuming passion and desire for the beholding of God's perfections and ultimate comeliness, as man was designed to pursue beauty and in this pursuit he spends his life, be it a beauty founded on deception or truth. Therefore, in repentance man reaffirms all these, confessing to God the many trivialities that he has allowed to occupy his time and drain his energies when they could and should have been utilized in the affairs of the Kingdom. And the man who travels on the road of God's plan is, indeed, the man! He is BLESSED:

Ps 32:2
Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

Ps 32:5
I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.

1Jo 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The Best Thing in Life?

"What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. 'This is what the Lord says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me"' (Jer 9:23)" (emphasis mine) - J.I. Packer, Knowing God

The best thing in life is THEOLOGY in the mind, in the affections, and in the will, integrated in a character robust with CHRISTLIKENESS.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pastor's Regress

"Since the 1960s, we have experienced an evolution in what we expect a local church pastor to be. FORTY YEARS AGO HE WAS EXPECTED TO BE A RESIDENT AUTHORITY ON THEOLOGY AND BIBLICAL TEACHING. Slowly this gave way to a model of the pastor as the CEO of the church, the administrative and organizational leader. Today the ministers we want are Christianized pop therapists who are entertaining to listen to." (emphases mine) - J.P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind - The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, ch.10, pg.188-189

The anti-intellectualism that pervades most of evangelical Christianity today is lamentable. The average church-goer sees church as primarily a place for emotional stroking, perhaps a few laughs interspersed in between, good music and entertainment, and shallow socialization---a condition that is perpetuated by the pastor's willingness to pander to these whims. Whereas theological erudition was a key prerequisite to pastoral leadership in past times, charisma, a sense of humor, rhetorics and playing the crowd are all that's needed these days to qualify one as an overseer of God's people. It goes without saying that reform is badly needed.

Reform? But how? It must start with the realization of the truth that every form of devotion to God begins in the INTELLECT. One must first of all value truth in order for progress in the Christian life to ensue. Nowadays, EMOTIONALISM has taken the place of primacy in the Christian's mode of approaching the living of the Christ life. This is a perversion. One's emotions must be informed by truth for it to be sound, and not the other way around.

It's about time for the Church to once again send out THINKERS in the global marketplace of ideas, contending for the sole spot that the Christian worldview must occupy in the minds and hearts of people. The truth must be---and will be---known.

Mt 22:37
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Joh 8:32
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Joh 16:13
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

1Jo 3:19
And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

Joh 14:6
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

The Humility of True Success

Within every human being resides the desire to be all that he or she can be. It could not be otherwise for God designed man this way, honored with His image and likeness. However, because of sin, man is blinded to that which he must truly pursue in order for him to be all that he can be. A counterfeit standard is then offered by the world by which he can measure his progress towards full potentiality. Even supposed Christians are hoodwinked into believing the world's criteria for success.

The world's definition of success may be summarized as follows: YOU ARE SUCCESSFUL IF YOU HAVE THE POWER TO ACQUIRE EVERYTHING THAT YOU WANT AND MAY EVER WANT. There is nothing essentially wrong with this. Desire is key to the achievement of man's destiny. What is tragically amiss in the world's view of the successful life is that it leaves out the ground by which this kind of life is truly attained, namely God, and in place of Him enthrones money, influence, sensuality and physical beauty as the foundations of success. No wonder then that the new generation has adopted a pessimistic/nihilistic view of society and life. The world's "success" is chiefly unattainable by the majority of human beings and is actually not meant to be pursued.

What then is TRUE SUCCESS? It is the carrying of the easy yoke:

Mt 11:29
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Mt 11:30
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

It starts with LEARNING about God--beginning in THEOLOGY, then carried out in a LIFE OF OBEDIENCE TO GOD, culminating in GLORY:

Ec 12:13
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Let us not taint the presentation of the Gospel with even the slightest offering of the world's "success", but boldly proclaim the PURE and LIBERATING truth that A SUCCESSFUL LIFE IS A LIFE FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, LIVED OUT IN DEVOTION TO HIM.

The Humility of True Treasure

"Suppose He put ten million dollars into your bank account every morning for the rest of your life, but He didn't save you? Suppose He gave you the most beautiful body and face of anyone who ever lived, a body that never aged for a thousand years, but then at death He shut you out of Heaven and into hell for eternity? What has God ever given anyone that could compare with the salvation He has given to you as a believer? Do you see that there is nothing God could ever do for you or give to you greater than the gift of Himself?" - Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, ch.7, pg.119

The funny thing is that the heretical and diabolical "prosperity gospel" promises the same "millions", the same "beauty", and the same DECEPTION, but with an added bonus: A FREE TICKET TO HEAVEN!

Morning Surrenders

Every morning I am brought face to face with my weaknesses. God was pleased to grant me a new day of life and, as I try to focus my soul on Him, I see the stark incongruity between Him, in His sheer beauty, and me, in my utter imperfection. I am brought to despair. I am sick of the failures that arise from the corruption that still festers within me. I want to be free of this ugliness.

In brokenness, I fall prostrate before God. I realize that Christ's life, His perfect righteous life, with its merits imputed upon me, is the ground for my being able to approach the God who cannot tolerate the ugliness of sin in His presence. In Christ, I can "...come boldly unto the throne of grace, that (I) may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb 4:16) Hope is rekindled as I ponder on the grace and favor that God has promised to bestow upon those in whom He sees Christ formed and being formed. And all this in spite of my present disfigurement, for no one can earn by performance the grace and favor of God. I have the holiness of Christ imputed upon me in one sense and the holiness of His character being formed in me by the Holy Spirit in another. And it is for more of this latter holiness that I surrender everything every morning, hoping on His word that "for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (Ro 8:29)

I worship God for the hope of being as Christ, fully, one day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hypocrisy and Grace by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

A Meditation for Lent

In a 1995 film Anthony Hopkins plays Richard Milhous Nixon, that great and devious man. In this role, Hopkins is very, very good. In fact, while he was making the film Hopkins walked and talked and gestured like Nixon not only on the set but also off it. At home, in restaurants, even out on the streets of Hollywood, Hopkins adopted that awkward, formal manner of one of the tragic figures in international politics.

Of course, after he made the film Hopkins reverted to his own self. Of course. Who would want to get inside Richard Nixon and stay there? Who would want to be Richard Nixon—a man in whom ambition, defiance, and shame seemed to struggle for pre-eminence? As a professional actor, Hopkins played Nixon and then put him away.

But the remarkable thing is that some actors never do get all the way back to their old selves. They absorb their roles and are never the same again.

In Character
You might almost say that in such cases an actor converts to his role. Some of our ancestors used to worry about acting for this very reason. They worried about what it does to a person’s integrity. What does it do to you to climb inside somebody else’s character? Is it safe to pass yourself off as somebody else and to do it convincingly? What if you forget who you are? What does it do to Anthony Hopkins to play a ghoulish villain like Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs? Would some of the character’s evil stick?

But then, of course, we might ask what it does to Anthony Hopkins to play C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands. Maybe getting inside somebody else’s character could do you some good. Lewis himself used to recommend that one way to become a Christian is to pretend to be a Christian, to act like a Christian, to, so to speak, dress up like Jesus Christ. We have to “put on Christ,” as Paul says (Gal. 3:27), almost as if we could pull Jesus Christ over our heads like a costume. The idea is that strange and wonderful things can happen when we absorb a role into our innards. Maybe Christ’s character will seep into ours. Maybe we will convert to our role and approach others as Jesus did, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

But here a question arises: Assuming that we go around acting like Christians, how do we know we are sincere? How do we know what our real motives are? How do we know that we aren’t just acting?

One Man’s Agony
Did you know that, in part, the Reformation grew right out of that very question? Martin Luther was a good Roman Catholic Christian who did what good Roman Catholic Christians were expected to do. When he sinned, he took his medicine. He took the cure. And what was that? The cure for sin was the sacrament of penance. In this sacrament a sinner confesses his sins out of a contrite heart, and then his priest absolves him.

The whole thing started to trouble Luther. He began to question it: “How do I know that my confession of sin is sincere? How do I know my heart is really contrite? Suppose I get on my knees before God to confess my sins—I think I am sorrowful because my sin grieves God. But what if I’m deceiving myself? What if the real reason I confess my sins is just to take out the garbage so I’ll feel better? What if I’m put off by my sinfulness not because it wounds others and grieves God but because I think sinning is a scummy lifestyle that’s beneath me?”

Luther worried about the possibility that he might be a hypocrite. And why not worry about it? Isn’t hypocrisy the one sin Jesus really goes after? Have a look at Matthew 23: “Woe to you, hypocrites. On the outside you look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Woe to you. Woe to you. Woe to you. Seven times Jesus says, “Woe to you.” Seven times Jesus pronounces reverse beatitudes on people who aren’t as good as they look. Jesus Christ lays a sevenfold judgment on those who play the role of righteous people but who are only half-converted to their role.

In Matthew 23 through 25 our Lord addresses his disciples and then some teachers of the law and then his disciples again in a pattern that tells us he is talking to the leaders of his people, no matter who they are. He addresses the theological leaders, but he also addresses his followers. In his address our Lord brings judgment and grace, and he brings them right at us.

Because we are religious people, because hypocrisy is one of our natural vulnerabilities, and because it’s time for Lenten self-examination, I think we should know what hypocrisy is and why it matters so much to our Lord.

Only Playing a Role?
Hypocrisy is a kind of “disintegrity” in which people present themselves as godly when their hearts are far from it. People do this all the time, and at Calvin Theological Seminary we worry about it because hypocrisy may be a special temptation of ministers. People expect ministers to carry on in certain caring and pious ways, and ministers want to oblige. They want very much to look and sound like a minister, adopting solicitous tones of voice and expressions of concern, praying with spontaneous fervor. Some, as Fred Craddock once put it, “boast of their weaknesses and humbly confess their strengths.” All this lays a burden on a minister’s heart, which may have to race to catch up. As you know, ministers sometimes get converted to the Christian faith while they are in ministry. Something happens—maybe a crisis, maybe some other teachable moment—and the minister turns to face God straight and square for the first time:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,and put a new and right spirit within me (Ps. 51:10, NRSV).

And, of course, ministers aren’t alone when it comes to the temptation to make a false presentation of piety or concern. Anybody can do that. Sometimes the presentation is deliberately false. A man may flatter a woman, and she may even enjoy it. But sooner or later she figures out that the praise is too high or too contrived and that the flatterer is out to finesse her. He wants something from her, and he’s manipulating her to get it. That’s deliberate hypocrisy, and the hypocrite knows it. But I think it’s crucial to see that at some point the hypocrite becomes blind to his falseness. He becomes that most impenetrable of creatures, the sincere hypocrite.

The Sincere Hypocrite
Jonathan Edwards wrote about this odd creature. A person may be a hypocrite, but she can’t see it. That’s the nature of corruption, you know, that sooner or later it gets to our brain. And then we can’t see straight or think straight. We don’t know who we are anymore. We can’t tell when we’re acting and when we’re not. Our corruption is too advanced. We deceive ourselves about our sin, we will our own ignorance, we play a role that we think is in character but isn’t, and we blind ourselves to the whole sorry mess.

I think that’s why Jesus (in Matt. 23, for example) speaks against hypocrisy with such a lash in his voice. He’s trying to cut through the layers of self-deception. His grace comes in the form of rebuke. The problem with the hypocrites among the religious teachers is that they are blind. They are blind guides, blind Pharisees—vainly trying to finger a speck out of somebody’s eye but making a bad job of it because of the logjam in their own. The hypocrites Jesus confronts are so blind, so foolish, and so frighteningly sincere.

“Woe to you, hypocrites; you look beautiful on the outside . . . but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23:27-28).

The terrible truth here is that without a change of heart the hypocrite is doomed. He’s one of the surprised reprobates of Matthew 7 or Matthew 25. He’s been honoring God with his lips all his life, but his heart is far from God. He once knew that, and even regretted it, but that was a long time ago, and the memory has been buried under layers of self-deception.

An actor pretends, but a hypocrite deceives, and eventually one of the persons a hypocrite deceives is himself. He cannot tell that he is only a half-converted actor. He cannot tell that he is a Christian only in his head but not in his heart. He cannot tell that he is wondrous only in the eyes of people who are just as divided as he is. Above all, a hypocrite cannot tell that he needs Jesus Christ, our Savior.

The Cradle of Grace
And so the Heidelberg Catechism is right (and ironic): the first thing we need to know in order to live and die happily is how great our sins and miseries are. The catechism is straight as a post on this topic: How can we praise our Savior when we don’t grieve over our sins? How can we embrace true religion while not looking for signs that we are false people? How can we get into real union with Jesus Christ when half the time we’re just playing a role, or might be?

Here’s our Lenten problem: We’re like Martin Luther. We don’t know how straight our confession is or how contrite our hearts or how real our enthusiasm for the faith. We don’t really know because our capacity for self-deception is, frankly, fathomless.

And so we need what Luther taught the whole church: If we need to trust our own sincerity in order to get saved, if the cost of salvation is the offering of a pure and contrite heart, then we are priced right out of the market. All of us are still divided creatures. As Geoffrey Bromiley once pointed out, we may despair of ourselves and of all our efforts. In good, old-fashioned Reformed style we may despair of ourselves but also be fiercely aware of this despair and keenly interested in its merit. We may humble ourselves before God in repentance and be quite proud of our humility. We may get up a head of steam in our prayers and hope that heaven is as impressed with them as we are. Everybody knows, as Helmut Thielecke once said, that while we are at worship the wolves may be howling in our souls.

Thus our need for the grace of God. There are lots of reasons why we need the grace of God. One of them is that we don’t even know how sincere we are. We don’t know how divided or deceived we are. We don’t know each other’s hearts, and we don’t even know the maze in our own hearts. Lent is as good a time as Reformation Day to say with our lips and believe in our hearts that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Nothing shows us the need of our Savior more than this simple fact: we may be hypocrites and not even know it.

“Woe to you, hypocrites.” It’s a terrible word, and we need to hear it. But it’s not the last word. Sin is never the last word. The wonderful truth is that our confession of sin and of folly, and of the folly that is sin and the sin that is folly, and all else that is so messed up we don’t know what to call it—all this is confessed inside the cradle of grace, underneath the wings of God.

What makes God’s grace so amazing is that it comes not just for the proud and the envious and the angry, but also for us hypocrites. And when it comes, a miracle happens. After all our years of playing a role, we convert to it. We finally become the person we have been practicing for all these years. At last we are in character as sons and daughters of God, just the way we were redeemed to be.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps. 139:23-24, NRSV).


Ordo Evangelium

"Evangelism must start with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the demands of the law, and the eternal consequences of evil."

- Dr. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p.235

The Humility of Singularity

"The only way to know God and understand all that is revealed about God, is to MAKE THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD THE PRIMARY PURSUIT OF YOUR LIFE. If you are consumed with looking for money, if you are devoted to looking for success, if you are involved with looking for anything else more than the knowledge of God, you will not deeply understand His glory."

- John MacArthur, Jr., The Ultimate Priority, ch.5, pg.49 (emphasis mine)

Luther's Misery

"I sit here at ease, hardened and unfeeling—alas! Praying little, grieving little for the Church of God, burning rather in the fierce fires of my untamed flesh. It comes to this: I should be afire in the spirit; in reality I am afire in the flesh, with lust, laziness, idleness, sleepiness. It is perhaps because you have all ceased praying for me that God has turned away from me. . . . For the last eight days I have written nothing, nor prayed nor studied, partly from self-indulgence, partly from another vexatious handicap [constipation and piles (hemorrhoids), we find out in another place]. . . . I really cannot stand it any longer; . . . Pray for me, I beg you, for in my seclusion here I am submerged in sins." - E. G. Rupp and Benjamin Drewery, eds., Martin Luther: Documents of Modern History [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1970], 72-73.

These words were penned for Melanchthon by Martin Luther when the latter was in the midst of translating the New Testament. It gives me great encouragement to know that someone like Luther, who was monumentally used by God, went through the same quagmire of DESPAIR over sins that most would consider absent in a man of his spiritual stature (which, of course, is the common misconception).

The war with sin will rage on while the breath of life courses through our lungs. But sometimes the enemy gets his way and we are left reeling in SHAME and DEFEAT. Luther reminds me that GOD IS FAITHFUL and HE WILL FINISH WHAT HE STARTED IN ME, regardless of what present circumstances might dictate.

The FLESH...LUST, LAZINESS, may have your way for a season but "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." (Rom 8:37)

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