Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas is about Authority

Dr. Bruce Ware, professor at Southern Seminary, writes, “We live in a culture that despises authority at every level. (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pg 137). This is a problem, for in God's eyes rebellion is cosmic treason. For this reason the Son of God became man, to make peace with those in rebellion against his gracious authority.

To a young virgin, the angel Gabriel announced this rescue mission. "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:31-33).

Jesus came to restore the throne of God's kingdom in the hearts of men. But here is the catch. He would exercise this authority as a lowly servant. It would mean a sinless life followed by the rejection of Israel, death on a cross, and resurrection from the dead.

How should we respond? Like the Wise Men we should bow low in worship, overcome with joy, eager to obey and serve our gracious sovereign.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Waiting For God!

If you are like me, you think of prayer as activity. We speak to God. We wrestle with God. He listens and answers. But prayer also involves waiting. “For you I wait all the day long” (Ps. 25:5). “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14). “Our soul waits for the Lord. He is our help and shield” (Ps 33:20).


I just spent two days in silent retreat. By “silence” I mean, I was alone. For me silence is a difficult. I forced myself to slow down enough to sit before God in quiet expectation, waiting for him to speak, waiting for him to initiate.

This was not natural. I am a busy man. Productivity is my calling card. However, “waiting” nourished my soul. Waiting reminds me that nothing ultimately depends upon me. Waiting says God is faithful. He will answer. My petitions do not fall on deaf ears. God has heard, and in his own good time, he will graciously speak. Waiting reminds me that God is the Master and I am the servant. It says, apart from him I can do nothing.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” wrote the Psalmist. “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning more than watchman for the morning” (Ps. 130:5-6).

May all of us learn the discipline of “waiting.”

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Big God and Small People

As the nineteenth century progressed, the immensity of the universe became increasingly clear. In its shadow we became increasingly small. As Winston Churchill quipped, we looked “specks of dust, that [had] settled in the night on the map of the world.”


This presented a problem for the doctrine of the Incarnation. Why would God descend from realms of infinite glory to save creatures so small and insignificant?

Here is how one nineteenth century theologian, R. L. Dabney (1820-98), answered. “When once it was found that this earth was a very small planet in our system, it would appear very absurd, that the Lord of all this host of worlds should die for a little speck among them… [But] to God’s immensity, no world is really great, and all are infinitesimally small.

Here is the thrust of Dabney’s argument. So what if we are so small it is ridiculous? Physical size just doesn’t matter. The entire universe, no matter how big is, by definition, infinitely small compared to a God who is infinite in power, majesty, knowledge, and grandeur.

That is the God we worship. My personal conviction is that we are small for God’s glory. Our smallness magnifies the humility and condescension revealed by the Incarnation. God descended an infinite distance to save creatures infinitely small. What will it be like to see this God face to face?

Adore him during this advent season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why did God become Man?

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury
Christmas is coming, the day we celebrate the Incarnation, the doctrine that God became man. This raises a great question. Why would God become man? Wasn’t there an easier way? Surely God could have forgiven sin without taking on human flesh.

Like many before and after him, Anselm, the great medieval theologian, raised and answered this question. In his epochal work, Cur Deus Homo, he wrote, “No one, however, ought to make satisfaction for the sin of man except man; and no one can make this satisfaction except God Himself. He who makes satisfaction for human sin must therefore be God-man.”

Here is the idea. Because God is infinitely just, a man had to atone for the sins committed by man. But, because God is also infinitely holy, no one but God himself could make satisfaction to God for the infinite weight of human sin. Therefore, God had to become flesh.

Anselm’s crucial proposition is a window through which we see the infinite greatness of both God’s justice and his love. Both had to be satisfied, and God was willing to become man to get the job done.

Rejoice! This is no small God. It is the God we worship during this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Who Commits Hate Crimes?

In his book, What Americans Really Believe, Rodney Stark, professor at Baylor University, makes an interesting observation. “The most virulent and common form of religious intolerance still to be found in America is that held by the irreligious toward the religious. As for the reverse, religious people express little hostility toward the irreligious.”

In our experience, many of us agree. The real "hate crimes" move from liberals to conservatives, not in the other direction. Has the speech perversion of George Orwells 1984 found a roost in contemporary culture? Those who patiently and mercifully object to deviant behavior are accused of hate, but those who try to censor the virtuous are now the practicioners of love.

Be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No Small Sins

There are no small sins. Either we repent  thoroughly or they grow and ultimately dominate our lives or the lives of our children. 2 Kings 3:2-5 describes the sons born to David while king at Hebron. "Third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur."

Despite clear biblical prohibition against marriages to unbelievers, David married the daughter of a foreign king. It was a small thing, you say. To the watching world it was small. David had many wives, they were all sons of Abraham except Maacah, but no sin is small to God, and God was watching. Sin has consequences, and they seldom appear immediately.

Thumb forward to 1 Kings 11. A couple of decades have passed. David is dead, and his son, Solomon, reigns in his place. Solomon is now eating from the tree his father planted. Solomon watched his father. There was no outward repentance about his marriage to Maacah. Solomon imitates his father. David's discreet sin now matures into full-blown, life-wrecking, culture-seducing idolatry.

"Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods." (1 Kings 11:1-8).

The consequences of David's little compromise was massive. The "high places" to these horrible idols were not removed  until the reign of King Josiah, almost 3 centuries later.
 
What small unconfessed sin lingers in our lives? What small compromises have captured our hearts? "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8).

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Division that Unifies

We all want unity. No one wants schism, pain, or the resentment that comes from disunity. We live in an age that exalts "inclusivism," the attempt to include all and exclude none.

But, "inclusivism" as a goal is a problem for Christians. The gospel divides. It divides families. "And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David" (1 Sam 19:1). The presence of David, God's anointed, divided Saul's family. David didn't want this. David didn't seek it. He wanted to be friends. However, God's anointing on his life separated people into two camps, those for and those against him.

So it is today. We cannot be good stewards of the gospel and and make inclusiveness our goal. Jesus warned us that this would be the case. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26).

The gospel also provokes persecution from those we love the most. "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”" (Luke 12:51-53).

If our gospel never divides or alienates it might signal unfaithfulness. The message that Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life does not alienate . What alienates is what Paul called the "offense of the cross" (Gal. 5:11), the doctrine that God is holy and demands perfection, that the wrath of God rests upon all men who reject this gospel, that the gate into Heaven is narrow, and few enter through it. If this is the case, human effort cannot make us right with God. Only faith in what Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection can close the gap between God and man.

Ironically, great unity, great inclusiveness belongs to those that embrace this "offense." This is the unity Jesus sought when he prayed "that they may be one even as we are one" (Jn. 17:13).

In the spiritual world painful division always precedes true unity.

Monday, November 30, 2009

God Keeps His Promises!

David wrote that a righteous man is one who "swears to his own hurt and does not change" (Psalm 15:4). These words go beyond the righteous man. They describe God. Even when the cost is off the charts, God keeps his promises. In Gen 3:15 he promised a Savior. In 2 Sam 7 he added the promise of a Messiah-King. Even when it meant infinite hurt (the crucifixion and rejection of  his Son), God did not shrink back from his promises. He was faithful. This is what Paul meant in 2 Cor. 1:20 "For all the promises of God find their yes in him [Christ]."

God's promises promise eternal life to those who believe (Rom. 10:9), the physical return of his Son (Acts 1:9-11), new Heavens and Earth (2 Pet. 3:13), eternal "destruction" for those who do not obey the gospel (2 Thes. 1:7-9) as well as a host of other promises.

When tempted to doubt the promises of God meditate on the cross. When tempted to compromise your own promises, meditate on the cross. God promised our redemption and even though it cost him his Son to fulfill those promises, he did not change.


The fact that God keeps his promises does not mean your life will be easy. It may be hard, but another promise is clear. “All things work together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Our God is a promise-keeper. Trust Him!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can one follow Christ solo?

A person visited our church recently. "Are you a Christian? I asked."

"I have been a Christian for many years."

"Where do you normally go to church?"

" I don't go anywhere. I don't believe in church. You don't have to follow ‘churchianity’ to follow Christ," she said.

"May I ask why you don't go to church?"

"Too many hypocrites. I love Jesus, but sometimes his followers are hard to take."

She was right. Being a member of a local congregation can be painful, but it is God's will for our lives. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). We are not just baptized into Christ. God immerses us into a group of people, a church. That means the church universal, but it also means a specific local church. Baptism is renunciation of the excesses of individualism. It is a commitment to live out my life with a specific group of people. Why is this so important?

The Trinity is ultimate reality. The godhead has always existed and always will. The material universe exists to glorify the godhead. Ultimately, God's creation has no other purpose. Here is the punch line. The Trinity is social—one God yet three Persons. That is why, when God saves us he baptizes us into a community. He does it to glorify the moral beauty of God, a group of people so loving and serving each other that many become one.

This unity is costly. It means pushing oneself. It means forgiving the unforgivable, wrestling with your insecurities, dousing the flames of pride with humility, attending events when you would rather stay home, submitting to pastoral authority, and serving others with your time and money.

Is this they way you see it? Have you discovered the joy of losing your self "so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 3:10).

It is impossible to follow really Jesus solo. You must join a local congregation.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Meekness on Thanksgiving

My Blackberry went down two days ago. Verizon sent me a new one. I am thankful. However, while trying to reprogram the new Blackberry, I ran into major obstacles. Instead of responding with thanksgiving and grace, I threw a hissy-fit (Old English for temper tantrum).

I lacked meekness.

This virtue matters. Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). According to Websters meekness is the quality of "enduring injury with patience and without resentment." In other words, meekness is that disposition of spirit in which we accept God's dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting

Moses is a case study. His siblings, Miriam and Aaron, attacked him unjustly. "Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?" Moses refused to defend himself. He trusted God to defend him. The text notes, "Now the man, Moses, was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3). God responded. He struck Miriam with leprosy.

Everything the Bible says about meekness culminates at the cross. The cross glorified Christ's meekness. In the words of Peter, Christ "suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23). Like Moses, Jesus left his defense to God.

Here is the amazing truth. Through the cross, through meekness, Christ inherited the earth. Because of his suffering and death, the Father crowned him "Lord of Lords and King of Kings." You and I will inherit the earth in the same way.

How counter-intuitive could any truth be? Islam conquers by Jihad. Christ conquered through meekness. Islam conquers by taking life. Christians conquer by dying in the beauty of meekness.

I want to grow in meekness. I trust you do as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Family in Collapse

According to Douglas Schuuran, professor at St. Olaf's College, the American family is in trouble. In his book Vocation, on pages 104-05, he cites the following disturbing figures. “For children ages six to twelve, between one in three and one in five girls, and one in eleven boys, are victims of child sexual abuse. Forty-four percent of the women surveyed report either sexual assault, rape, or violent rape. There is no statistical difference for children living in ‘Christian’ homes. Increasingly feminists are becoming more concerned about children and maternal/paternal functions. After divorce, on average, the living standard for ex-wives drops by thirty percent while that of ex-husbands improves by eight percent; two-thirds of African American babies were born to single mothers; one-fourth of children under age 18 have little or no contact with their fathers; forty-one percent of divorced men walk away from their families without a child support agreement.”

These dismal statistics are the byproduct of several factors. Most prominenet are the "sexual revolution" of the sixties, the burgeoning welfare system, and the collapse of moral absolutes. There is only one solution, and it is not more state intervention. It is the proclamation of the gospel leading to the salvation of millions of individuals. No nation can stand long with the family in this state of dissarray. God have mercy on America!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heavenly Perspective

Perspective is everything. A ten year old's perspective is limited. His world is his family, and maybe his grade school. Life seems very long. Old age is another world. He can't even imagine it. A three month summer vacation is an eternity. Time moves slowly when one is waiting, and he is waiting for all the good things to come.

By age thirty his perspective has expanded. Now it includes career and family. He sees how crucial youthful decisions moulded him. Time is moving faster. How quickly he went from twenty to thirty. His children are pre-schoolers. Their adult years still seem far off in the distance, and life still seems long.

Age fifty five is a different story. The children are raised. The career is almost over. The decades have leaped forward in ever-quicening bounds. His parents are in the advanced stages of old age. His children are adults. How quickly it happend. He has grandchildren. His perspective on life is vastly different. What stressed a ten or thirty year old don't stress him. He sees life's details in light of the big picture previously concealed.

If perspective constantly changes with time, how will it differ after death? How will we see what seems so important today? Will it still matter? Or, will it now appear trivial? Blessed are those who see from an eternal perspective . That was how Paul saw things. "So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Corinthians 5:6-10).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving

New Testament scholar P.T. O'Brien notes that “Paul mentions the subject of thanksgiving in his letters more often, line for line, than any other Hellenistic author, pagan or Christian.” For example, in the letter of Colossians alone we have the following, "We always thank God" (1:3), "Giving thanks to the Father" (1:12), "Abounding in thanksgiving" (2:7), "And be thankful" (3:15), our singing is to be with "thankfulness in our hearts to God" (3:16), and Paul exhorts us to do everything every day "giving thanks to God the Father through him" (3:17).

Why so much thanksgiving? Those that know what they deserve and the grace that has come to them through the cross of Christ are compelled to be thankful. The knowledge of our sin and God's mercy are the keys to the heart abounding with thanksgiving. It is also a crucial key to joy. This is how Paul knew himself. To Timothy he expressed his true sentiments. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Tim 1:15). Is that how we see ourselves?

It is the key to gratitude, thanksgiving, and joy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review of "God At Work"

Just finished Gene Edward Veith's God at Work. Veith gives us an excellent summary of Martin Luther's unique approach to the doctrine of "Vocation." The modern world needs this material. Vocation has become a secular term, i.e. "vocational training," etc. But, until recent decades "vocation" was a religious word. It comes from the Latin "to be summoned," and God is the One summoning. He summons us to fulfill the purpose for which he made us.

In other words, the search for vocation used to be a search for God's calling. What does God want me to do...carpentry, ministry, law, education, or mother/housewife? The answer is not a palliative for self-fulfillment. Rather, the summons is always a call to serve. But, the irony is that serving always eventually terminates in self-fulfillment because "He that loses his life (in service) will gain it."

Parents who want to guide their children into God's summons need this book. Pastors that want to guide their flock into God's summons need this book. People who want to know the joy and satisfaction of knowing they are doing what God created them to do need this book.

I heartily reccomend.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Free Keller Sermon

For some time Tim Keller has posted his sermons for sale at the website of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. However, he has recently made about 150 of his most important talks available free for MP3 download at http://sermons2.redeemer.com/

Enjoy.

Real Faith or a Countefeit?

Real faith changes everything. It works "through love" (Gal. 5:6). In other words, real faith acts. That is because saving faith is more than mental assent to truth. It is the "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). It is an "assurance" seated in the heart. An earnest "conviction" that these things are true.

If you are "assured" that you will someday stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and if you are "convicted" that God is infinitely holy, you will flee to the gospel for refuge. If you feel a deep "conviction" that Christ is your happiness, in both this life and the next, you will pursue him aggresively. If you are assured that Christ judges idolatry then you will "flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14). If someone walks into a theatre and yells "fire," those with "assurance" and "conviction" head for the exit. Those who lack these qualities will mock and scoff.

Our churches are filled with well-meaning people who only have the faith of demons (James 1:19). They believe, but their faith lacks "assurance" and "conviction." Its domicile is the mind. It has not descended the thirteen short inches to the heart. How can one tell?  Their faith does not express itself with works.

Which are you today?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Heart Idolatry

Barry Webb, professor at Moore College in Sydney Australia, writes; “Idolatry is the worst sin of all, because it moves God to the periphery of our lives and puts something else in his place. It gives to something else the glory that should be God’s alone. Chameleon-like, it constantly disguises itself so that we are scarcely aware of its presence, even when we are most in the grip of it. Greed, Paul tells us, is idolatry, because it turns us away from God towards things, and makes the pursuit of them the passion of our lives. The modern world is no less given over to idolatry than the ancient one; it is just that its cruder forms were more prevalent then”
The Message of Isaiah, pg 180, (Downers Grove, IVP, 1996).

Webb is right. Paul David Tripp gives us an even more insightful definition. “An idol of the heart is anything that rules me other than God. As worshiping beings, human beings always worship someone or something. This is not a situation where some people worship and some don’t. If God isn’t ruling my heart, someone or something else will. It is the way we were made”
Instruments In the Redeemers Hands, pg 66 (Phillipsburg, P&R, 2002).

What rules you...fear for your children, lust for acceptance, selfish ambition? Instead, lets obey Paul's clear command, "Flee from idolatry" (1 Cor 10:14).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inaugural Post

From 1999 to 2002 my wife and I published a bi monthly journal titled The Raven, Food for Hungry Christians. We started Grace Christian Fellowship in the Spring of 2002 and The Raven Disappeared under the busy load of launching a new church plant. To honor The Raven I am bringing the old name forward. My sincere hope is that this blog will also feed hungry Christians. If it does, the time and energy expended will be justified.