Monday, October 31, 2011

Go See Courageous!

You will find this movie review to be different than those I’ve written in the past. I don’t intend to give extensive details regarding the plot of “Courageous”. What I do intend to do is encourage you to see it. In the theater if possible. Not because the actor’s performances are so riveting or the cinematography so captivating but rather because the Gospel is proclaimed and the message is undeniably important. I wholeheartedly support the message in this film and encourage everyone to do their small part by providing financial support.

Written by brothers Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the same men who brought you “Fireproof”, “Courageous” chronicles the lives of five men, Adam, David, Nathan, Shane and Javier. Four of the five are Sherriff’s in Albany, GA, while one struggles to make ends meet by working mediocre, unreliable jobs. After tragedy befalls one of the family’s the man runs to Scripture to cope. What he finds in God’s Word dramatically revolutionizes his thoughts regarding fatherhood. Through Scripture he feels challenged to be a better father and asks the other four men to hold him accountable. They take it a step farther and join his quest committing themselves to growing in fatherhood and asking for accountability.

In short, I HIGHLY recommend “Courageous”. My personal opinion is that it would make a great date night movie (don’t forget the tissue it’s a tear jerker). Men, prepare to be challenged to evaluate how you are doing as a father and husband. You may find it appropriate to humble yourself and make some changes at home. Guys, if you are single surround yourselves with older, godly men who treat their wives and children as they ought. Study them. Ask them questions. Learn from their examples. Dig into Scripture. What does God say about fatherhood? By God’s grace Grace Christian Fellowship church is crawling with godly men who are exemplary fathers and husbands. Don’t take that gift lightly, but instead take advantage of it and immerse yourselves in their lives. Who knows, they may even find you a wife.

While I have a captive audience I want to honor my own Daddy, Jim Spurgetis. Not only is he my Dad and church elder he has also been my boss for the past four years. As I was crying my way through “Courageous” I was reminded of the immense gift I have been given in the form of my parents. My Dad is the hardest working man I know, and by his example all five of my siblings and I (two boys, four girls) have followed suit. Particularly my two brothers who desire to provide for their families as faithfully as he has for ours. Being a self-employed Attorney he carries a daily burden from the office few can rival but handles the pressure with grace and a ton of prayer. While my parents are now officially empty nesters they have hardly stopped parenting. He continues to work six days a week to provide for those no longer living at home, but still in need of his financial support. Financial support is only one way to be a good father. Every so often my siblings, Mom and I will receive an email or letter from my Dad which contains encouragement, Scripture and more often then not some confession of sin. He has been humbled by the truths he has read in Scripture and cannot keep it to himself. My Dad still takes my sisters and I on dates even though two of us are already college graduates (two are still academically plugging away at their respective Colleges) and all four of us are technically old enough to be married. As a result of this example I know my brothers will treat their daughters with the same care they need and deserve, and my sisters and I will settle for nothing less when choosing a husband. My Dad regularly talks to my brothers though neither one live in Spokane and are busy with their own lives. They call him seeking advice or just to talk sports (quiz him, I dare you to find an athlete or sport he does not know). The point is they love spending time with him and value his opinion and want to know what he would do if he was in their situation. At the same time my Dad chose his wife very wisely. My parents would be the first to admit their thirty-five year marriage has not been perfect, but that means they have tons-o-wisdom ready for the taking. If you ask, they will tell you what they did wrong and what they learned. I could go on and on and on. While all I have said above is true and important the greatest lesson my Dad taught is the Gospel. Every single week night my siblings and I were required to be home for family dinner. If we were invited to a friend’s house we had to call Dad at work to ask his permission. More often then not he said “no”. This response incurred our wrath, but he didn’t care. He cared more about spending time with us and honoring the Lord by leading a family devotion after dinner. My parent’s examples of the importance of spending daily time in Scripture and being involved in a local church has born much fruit. Because of God’s grace and through their examples all six of us are walking with the Lord and are involved in local churches. None of us missed a beat when we left for college. Even though we all endured growing pains when we left home and we sometimes made bad choices and didn’t care about attending church we still went. Why? My parents instilled in us the importance of frequenting a good local church and the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let us forget it. By God’s grace I will one day marry a man who displays the same godly character my Dad has displayed all my life and he will be the kind of Father to my children that my Dad has been to me and my five siblings. I love you Dad (and Mom)!....Stephanie Spurgetis

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Moneyball, the Movie!

Brad Pitt gives a fantastic performance as Billy Beane, Oakland Athletics' General Manager, in “Moneyball”. Based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name “Moneyball”, rated PG-13, chronicles the A’s 2002 season in which Billy Beane builds his team within the strict confines of a mediocre budget.

After three of his top players are lured away to other teams with promises of bigger salaries, Beane decides to take a long hard look at how he and his staff evaluate players. On several occasions we find Billy arguing with his scouts over the importance of skill before outward appearance or how pretty their girlfriends are. Billy is met with extreme opposition when he chooses to sign Chad Bradford as his relief pitcher simply because Chad throws funny. Billy argues Chad is one of the greatest relief pitchers in MLB, but his pitching style has kept Chad from being hired by prominent teams.

When Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a recent graduate from Yale with a degree in Economics, he finds a kindred spirit who focuses on the statistics of a player’s performance and who believes you can build a team with significantly less money simply by scouting the undervalued players and using them in positions their stats determine to be best suited to their abilities. Things in the A’s clubhouse get a little chilly when the A’s Manager, Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), defiantly refuses to follow Billy’s instructions. However, Billy stubbornly will not back down and firmly supports Peter in their quest to becoming a great team built strictly on statistics.

I confess I am not an avid baseball fan, but I found this glimpse into the inner workings of a professional sports team to be fascinating. The cold hard truth is if you are a professional athlete they essentially own you and can trade your life like you are stock on the NASDAQ. I recommend this movie to those who are sports fans, avid or mildly interested. I did feel that “Moneyball’s” two and a half hour running time could have been cut to at least two hours, but then I remember Baseball season is very, very long so wouldn’t the movie reflect that? That realization, however, did not stop me from thinking it drug on a little too long. There is no sexual content and foul language is kept to minimum. “Moneyball” does a masterful job of showing that professional sports is an unpredictable world in which to live. Unless you are Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriquez or Ichiro Suzuki....Stephanie Spurgetis

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Controversy at the Heart of the Reformation

Martin Luther
In the Autumn of 1517 Martin Luther inadvertently initiated the Reformation. He posted Ninety Five Theses on the Wittenberg church door and a spiritual earthquake shook Europe. Luther was absolutely convinced that men were blind to the truth about themselves, and Luther knew that pride was the culprit. Luther, more than any reformer, saw the Bad News with clarity. Oxford theologian, Alister McGrath, observes that "by late 1514 Luther had arrived at the fundamental insight that the proper disposition for justification is humility…God humiliates man, in order that he may justify him; he makes man a sinner, in order that he may make him righteous─and both aspects of this matter are increasingly seen by Luther as works of God.”
In other words, Luther saw that the goal of the gospel was a humbling faith. Luther was convinced that the conviction that one is under God’s wrath is a first sign of God’s favor.

All of this Luther summed up in his most important theological work, The Bondage of the Will. “Bondage” was Luther’s response to a previous work by Erasmus (1456-1536) A Diatribe Concerning the Freedom of the Will (1524). The bastard son of a Catholic priest, Erasmus was the greatest intellect of his day. Because he was critical of the Roman church, most of his peers assumed that he was sympathetic with Luther. He was under great pressure to take a stand. Was he for or against the disruptive Reformer? His Diatribe was an attempt to stake out his position.

The doctrine Erasmus chose to debate surprises us. He didn’t start where we would expect—the authority of scripture, or justification by faith alone. Instead, he tackled Luther’s teaching on sin, expressed by the bondage of the will. Lets pause to define “the bondage of the will.” When theologians talk about the bondage of the will they are not saying that you are not free to marry whom you like, or take that job you have always wanted in a neighboring state. No, the bondage of the will is about my willingness or ability to know God, love him, or choose to follow him.

Erasmus saw that the bondage (or freedom) of the will was the practical question upon which the Reformation turned. In other words, how serious is sin? How great is its impact? Has the Fall so crippled my will that I am unable to seek God, desire God, or turn to God without his help? Or, is there a residue of ultimate spiritual good remaining in my fallen heart? Will men and women seek and pursue God out of the natural goodness of their heart? In effect, Erasmus said, Sin is not that serious: The will is free.

Luther responded with the Bondage of the Will, a classic in Christian literature. Here is how Luther responded. Sin runs deep. It is comprehensive. It is devastating. It affects the total man: intellect, will, and emotions. Man has no natural love for God or attraction to God. Therefore, the will is bound! This is how Luther concluded to Erasmus.
“I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.”

Purgatory and indulgences, “extraneous issues?” How could Luther say that? Because Luther knew that if sin bound the human will so that it could not, nor would not turn to God, then God must initiate my salvation. And, if sin is this crippling, there is absolutely no hope for anyone through human effort. We are bankrupt. Our only hope is justification by faith alone. And, if salvation is by grace through faith alone, then the whole edifice of Roman Catholicism, built on works righteousness, must come crashing down. The debated doctrines—purgatory, justification by works, the sacramental system, indulgences, the authority of the pope, the need for priestly mediation, etc.—were all just sophisticated tools for earning God’s favor. But, if we cannot earn God’s favor then these are unnecessary.

Luther and Erasmus agreed that the freedom of the will was the central issue. And human freedom was great or non-existent depending upon one’s view of sin.

Here is how Luther’s biographer, Roland Bainton, described Luther’s thought.

“Man’s part, therefore, is to humble his proud mind, to renounce the sinful self-sufficiency which prompts him to treat himself as the measure of all things, to confess the blindness of his corrupt heart, and thankfully to receive the enlightening Word of God.”

Luther was not the only one who thought this way. The other Reformers stood in solidarity with him. “In asserting the helplessness of man in sin, and the sovereignty of God in grace, they [the magisterial reformers] were entirely at one.” For example, in his Institutes John Calvin (1509-67) wrote, “I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, ‘The foundation of our philosophy is humility;’ and still more with those of Augustine, ‘As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery:’ so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.’”

Why is this important? On the surface the Reformation seemed to be about the authority of scripture and justification by faith alone. However, underneath were stronger currents dealing with sin, man, and ultimate issues. The strength of the Reformation was its willingness to grapple with, and own, the wrath of God, the reality of final judgment, and the helplessness of man in sin. If these doctrines were true, and they are, we are bankrupt, and there is no remedy but Paul’s message—justification by faith alone. This was the gospel the Reformers preached, and it turned the world upside down.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Corrupt Moral Foundation

When termites eat at the foundation of a house it is not readily apparent. The damage is often not visible. The problem becomes visible when something shakes the building the foundation gives way, and the structure collapses.

In the same way, sexual morality is essential. The family is the moral foundation of civilized society, and the family is as strong as the sexual morality upon which it rests. However, the termites of relativism are chewing on that foundation. Consider the following.

The goal of the sexual revolution of the sixties was to separate sexuality from marriage. The revolution was successful. However, that was not enough. It was soon followed by the demand for homosexual rights, an attempt to separate sex from its natural object, the opposite gender.

The last 10-15 years have produced even further deterioration. Dr. Leonard Sax, Dr Mark Regnerus and others report how American teens are now even separating the act of sex from relationship. Young men "hook up" with women. They may not even know each other. It doesn't matter. Its not about relationship. It is about sexual expression, or sexual pleasure. In many cases, the young men are reluctant to kiss because kissing implies affection. “There has been a profound shift in the culture of high-school dating and sex, with no strings ‘hooking-up’ replacing dating," writes Dr. Leonard Sax. "‘Kids don’t date nowadays,’ agrees physician and bioethicist Leon Kass. ‘Traditional dating is dead,’ concurs journalist and author Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.’”[1] Dating and relationship have been replaced with "hook ups," and for many young adults relationships just gets in the way.

Of course, in all of this the female is the loser. She wants relationship, but isn't getting it. The male also loses. He needs relationship, and in the long run, he doesn't get it either. As a result the institution of marriage is unraveling. For the first time in U.S. history, recent surveys show that the percentage of unmarried households now exceed the percent married.

The foundation is getting increasingly weak.

The gospel is the solution. However, for the gospel to be a solution its sexual ethic must be incarnated in local churches. Fruits of the gospel are male servant leadership, lasting marriages, a stay at home mom caring for her well-disciplined children, and sexual purity. The gospel connects sex with relationship. It turns our sexual desires toward the opposite gender. It tells us that the natural venue of sex is marriage.

This is a social  foundation that cannot be shaken. Lets build it together.

[1] Dr. Leonard Sax, Why Gender Matters, (New York: Broadway Books, 2005) pg 120

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Southern Seminary Report

Judy and I just returned from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY where I was honored to speak at a Connecting Church and Home Conference. God blessed us with new friends, brothers and sisters on the same team, serving the same Lord, filled with the same passion for his Kingdom. The rise of the "new Calvinism" which Time Magazine said was one of ten prominent trends of our time was conspicuous here. Southern Seminary filled the void created by the leftward move of the nineteenth century Princeton Theological Seminary.

Boasting about 3,000 students, Southern Seminary is the largest in the world. The President, Albert Mohler, has been used by God to make this one of the premier Protestant theological institutions in the world.

Another highlight was worshiping with the Sojourn Church in Louisville. Sojourn is a ten year old Acts 29 church. About 3,600 people attend on three separate campuses. It felt like Mars Hill in Seattle, except we found the music and worship more engaging. Sojourn Church is Southern Baptist. Many of the staff at Southern Seminary attend.

It was great to travel, but we missed our little church in Spokane. It is good to be home.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Help" Reviewed

The Help (Movie Tie-In)
Emma Stone stars as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan in Director Tate Taylor’s PG-13 screen adaptation of Kathryn Stocket’s novel “The Help”. A new college graduate, Skeeter returns to her parent’s cotton farm in Jackson, Mississippi where she is instantly confronted with her family and friend’s disapproval that she not only graduated without a husband but is seeking a job in journalism. Returning home means Skeeter is expected to eagerly fall back into her role as the daughter of one of Jackson’s foremost prominent white families and involve herself in the weekly bridge club and Junior League and do all she can to quickly procure a husband.

While Skeeter does what is expected of her she also does something for herself and lands a job at the local newspaper writing the housekeeping advice column. Knowing full well she knows nothing about house keeping Skeeter seeks out her friend’s, Elizabeth Leefold (Ahna O’Reilly), African-American maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) for help in answering her reader’s questions. Meanwhile, Skeeter’s close friend Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is using her influence as the community’s social leader and head of the Junior League to lead her campaign against the “colored” help using the same indoor bathrooms as their white employers. It is with this issue Skeeter begins to see how the African-American maids are treated so differently from white people.

Following this social awakening Skeeter is determined to write a book from the maid’s perspectives in order to reveal the truth of such injustices. However, Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s was no friend to the African-American and it proved a challenge to convince even one maid to agree to tell her story for fear for her life. Eventually, however, Aibileen musters up her courage and she and Skeeter begin a dangerous partnership which could prove socially detrimental for Skeeter, but deadly for Aibileen. Aibileen’s friend, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), is eventually convinced to join them and the three women, one white, two African-American, begin a journey which could prove to be fatal for them all, but a source of freedom too.

I highly recommend “The Help” as a movie and book. For those book to movie purists I was pleasantly surprised at how the movie rarely strays from Kathryn Stocket’s original creation. A few minor details are added, such as Sissy Spacek’s hilarious portrayal of Hilly Holbrook’s mother, Missus Walters, but overall the story remains the same. Parents, due to the realistic portrayal of racism I would not recommend “The Help” for anyone younger then Junior High. However, the worldview presented here is one I do recommend and encourage a discussion with your children following the film. The director and actors skillfully bring to life the injustices of racism and prove that no matter what the color of your skin we are all made in the image of God and deserve to be treated as such. There is absolutely no room for racism in this world and “The Help” is a skilled reminder of such.... by Stephanie Spurgetis

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where have all the Boys Gone?

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young MenDr. Leaonard Sax, M.D., PH. D, a physician with a large practice in the suburbs of Washington D.C. has done parents and educators alike a great service with his 2009 book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men

Dr. Sax chronicles the increasing withdrawal of primary and secondary school males from responsibility and from life itself. "I’ve seen hundreds of families," Sax writes, "where the girls are the smart, driven ones, while their brothers are laid-back and unmotivated. The opposite pattern—with the boy being the intense, successful child while his sister is relaxed and unconcerned about her future—is rare" (pg 4). A few paragraphs later he continues. "But here’s what’s really strange, and new, about this picture: That young man isn’t bothered by his situation. His parents are. His girlfriend, if she hasn’t left him yet, is at least having second thoughts about him. But he’s oblivious to their concerns as he surfs the Net on the computer they’ve provided, or plays video games on the flat-screen television they bought for him."

Earlier this summer I reviewed Kay Hymowitz' Manning Up which describes the same phenomenom amongst adult men aged 20-40. Our culture is radically hurting, and the wound is deepening with each passing day.

Sax notes five primary causes. First, he blames our educational system which is primarily geared to a female friendly style of learning. Second, he blames the prevalence and use of video games. “The average teenage boy today spends more than thirteen hours a week playing video games, compared with five hours per week for the average teenage girl" (pg 58). Third, he blames the over-diagnosis of ADHD, and the following prescriptions of Ritalin, etc. After withdrawal from these drugs the average user is often passive for life. Fourth, citing falling sperm counts and increasing bone brittleness in boys, he argues that environmental changes have affected the male endocrine system which produces testosterone. Last, he blames the devaluation and disintegration of the masculine ideal. From my perspective he gets closest with this fifth observation.

While all of these have contributed to the problem, the author ignores the elephant in the room, Feminism. He makes a case for all male High Schools, noting that males do better when they do not have to directly compete with females, but the larger reality seems to escape him. That reality is the same phenomenon in home, church, business, politics, the military, and government.

Many men, when mandated to compete with females simply withdraw. Men don't want to be females, and they don't want to be in an environment where they must compete with them. They want to compete with men. They want to identify with men. They want to feel like men. Our culture gives men little opportunity to feel this way.

By contrast, the contemporay script is androgyny, no sex differences in work, task, or funciton. Androgyny does not produce masculinity, i.e. the use of masculine strength in the service of others. It has the opposite affect. Dr. Sax gets close to the issue when he writes, "'Deconstructing' all images of the ideal husband and father, is not likely to result in a father who insists on his wife sharing equally in all sacrifices. The result is far more likely to be a selfish young man who doesn’t feel any strong obligation to the children he has fathered. In the United States, more than one in three babies is now born to an unmarried mother (35.7 percent to be exact). The growing trend away from married couples with children cuts across all racial and ethnic boundaries.”

Despite this concern, I highly reccomend this excellent book. It will greatly serve parents, especially fathers, educators, and leaders in the church. Readers will be deeply enriched. Dr. Sax writes simply and directly about a subject that is crucias to each of us.

It is also crucial to the survival of our civilization.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

John Murray

Life of John MurrayJust finished the Life of John Murray by Ian Murray, one of my favorite historians. Through the biography of Murray (1898-1976) the reader gets a glimpse of the theological collapse of Princeton in the 1920s and the rise of Westminster Theological Seminary.

Born in Scotland, Murray fought in the first World War. He lost one eye and returned home to spend a significant amount of time in recovery. In 1924 He crossed the Atlantic to study theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

During his student days Princeton was morphing from the bastion of theological orthodoxy that it had been for 100 years, into a nursery for theological liberalism. This ultimately led to the defection of Princeton's famed professor of New Testament, Gresham Machen (1881-1937), and many other faculty members. They moved up the road to Philadelphia and founded Westminster Theological Seminary. The goal was the continuation of Princeton's tradition of theological orthodoxy.

By this time Murray had graduated and had returned to Scotland for ministerial work. Machen wrote Murray in Scotland and asked him to join the faculty at Westminster. Murray agreed and ended up spending the rest of his life in Philadelphia.

Biographies are one of the best ways to learn history. This book is a good example. It will be useful to anyone interested in the history of theological currents in twentieth century North America. It is also useful for those who have read Murray's writings and want to know more about the man. I heartily reccomend.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Preach the Final Judgment

I was a law student at Gonzaga University for one year. My grade for the entire year’s work was based on one exam in each class at the end of the year. Papers, quizzes, and homework contributed nothing to my final grade. The entire years work rested on the output of one exam in each class. The pressure was tremendous. I spent the entire year thinking about, preparing for, and hoping that I would do well on that exam. My answers would be judged by my professors and I would be graded accordingly. The stress was incredible.

Similarly, each of us faces a final exam. It is ultimate. By contrast all other exams are trivial. In addition, the requirements are impossible, and the stakes are infinitely more important. How we perform will have eternal, irreversible consequences. It is the final judgment. It is not a popular subject today. It was not a popular subject in Paul’s day, yet he was willing to trust his evangelistic efforts to the proclamation of this event.

To put Paul in a modern perspective, lets assume you had an opportunity to present the gospel to a room full of Harvard philosophy students . Would you start with the final judgment? That would be the last subject on most of our minds. To do so would be very controversial. It would take great courage. We would need to overcome the fear of rejection.

But, that is exactly what Paul did.

The Areopagus was the council that ruled Athens. It’s prestige was great, going back centuries. It was the forum for the social elites, the center of the secular intellectual world of the first century.

However, when asked to share the Christian message to the Areopagus Paul spoke with amazing boldness. He didn’t speak of God’s love. He didn’t make lavish promises of a happy, trouble-free life. Instead, he warned them of the judgment to come. At the climax of his testimony he boldly proclaimed—

“God Has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

People were no different then. First century intellectuals were no more open to news of a final judgment than they are today. The Areopagus were just as offended as a group of Ivy League philosophy majors would be today.

Why did Paul discuss the final judgment? His presentation of the gospel flowed out of very specific assumptions about God and man. The final judgment is reality. Every human being is hurtling toward this, the great defining moment of our existence. God expects perfection. It takes great humility to accept this. God engineered the gospel to reverse the affect of the Fall. That means He engineered it to produce humility. That is why Paul told the Areopagus the truth. He explained the final judgment because it is true. He explained it because it humbles pride.

P.T. Forsyth (1858-1921) wrote, “The question of judgment is where all other questions end. It is the central question in religion. How shall I stand before my judge? …The question is not about our views; nor is it about our subjective state—how do I feel? But our objective religion—how do I stand?” And T. David Gordon, from Grove City College adds, “The great seriousness of the reality of being human, the dreadful seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificance of the present in the light of eternity—realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon—have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.

How about you? Where do you stand on this important subject?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

King of the Jews!

"There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews" (Luke 23:38). This text is a picture of true spiritual authority.

Pilate and the Sanhedrin exercised authority in typical, worldly fashion. They used their authority to advance themselves, protect themselves, and empower themselves. In other words, they used others to enrich themselves. In both cases Jesus was a threat to their popularity or power. The expedient course of action was to liquidate him. It was not to serve him.

By contrast, Jesus showed us what God's authority looks like. It is counter cultural, counterintuitive. Jesus used his authority to enrich others at his expense. The placard over his head announced his crime. He claimed to be king of the Jews. Here is the irony. He is and was King of the Jews. In fact, he is and was King of the Universe. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. He has been given all power and authority. But, how did he use his authority? He allowed others to crucify him for their advancement. He allowed  his enemies to torture him to death that he might secure their forgiveness. This included some of those performing the dastardly deed.

Husbands, here are our marching orders. This is how a godly husband/father exercises his authority. He spends himself for the advancement and welfare of his wife and children. Spiritual leaders, here are our marching orders. This is what true spiritual authority looks like. Those who lead in business and politics, here are your marching orders. On the Day of Final Judgment all of those to whom God has given authority will give an accounting to this standard.

Let us use our authority like Christ, for the advancement and welfare of others!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Family or Christ?

Jesus went to great lengths to convince us that family is never ultimate. For example, he put little trust in his biological family. After his ministry began his own hometown rejected him (Luke 4:18-32).
When his family approached him expecting special attention, he made it clear that the family he first identified with were those who heard the word of God and performed it (Luke 8:19-22).
Jesus even told us to hate our families (Luke 14:26) "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." Of course by hatred he meant, "Love God so much that by comparison your love for your family is hatred."

He warned us that some members of our family would be the first to turn on us and persecute us even unto death (Luke 21:16–17) "You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. "

For someone who loves their family, this is a problem.  I love my family, especially my wife and children.  So, how do I interpret this? What is the solution? The solution is a call to a deeper love for God, and dependence upon God not family. It is also a call to a healthy distrust of sin first in myself, and second in those closest to me. Last, it is a call to gratitude for faithful, loving, Christ-centered family members. This is a luxury none of us deserve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gospel Powered Humility

Gospel-Powered Humility
Have been preaching through the content of my forthcoming book, Gospel-Powered Humility published by P&R, and to be available in Sept 2011. You can access these talks here

Humility is a crucial subject, and nothing is harder to preach about, especially when you clearly feel the smarting evidence of your own personal pride.

Paul understood his own pride with great clarity. He also understood the arrogance of those to who God sent him. That is why he preached a humbling gospel. In Romans 1:16-3:26 Paul gives us a clear picture of how he presented the Good News. His gospel presentation contains 1200 words explaining the bad news, but only 188 words explaining the Good News. Why? We are proud, and our pride hardens us to our tremendous spiritual need. Paul knows that he needs to carefully humble his hearers with an clear exposition of spiritual reality. Only then will we be thirsty for the refreshing water of the gospel.

In the words of Martin Luther, “The gospel tastes best to those who lie in the straits of death, or whom an evil conscience oppresses. For in that case hunger is a good cook as we say, one who makes the food taste good.  For when they feel their misery, the heart and conscience can hear nothing more soothing than the gospel; for this they long, on this they are eager to feed, nor can they get too much of it.... But that hardened class who live in their own holiness, build on their own works, and feel not their sin and misery do not taste this food.  Whoever sits at a table and is hungry relishes all, however, he who is sated relishes nothing but is filled with loathing at the most excellent food."[i]

As always your thoughts would be appreciated. 

[i] Ewald M. Plass, editor, What Luther Says, An Anthology, Vol. 2, (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986) pg 563

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

American Credit Downgrade: What it Means and Why it Matters

The potential downgrade of US government debt has been the subject of recent media headlines. The United States is at one of those crucial historical turning points. The enemy is not out there. It is in our midst. This great nation is on the road to financial insolvency.

At the bottom of money is morality. Our views of family, church, the individual, God, and a host of other issues (all ultimately theological) come to bear upon how we utilize our assets. This applies to individuals, families, and nations.

That is why there has been such a snow storm of confusing opinions on the subject. Last week the Wall Street Journal published an important article that provides a history of the problem. It will also motivate you to pray much for our nation and our elected representatives.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

SGM Board Meeting

This last week the Sovereign Grace Ministries Board met to discuss C.J. Mahaney and the accusations made against him. For all of those interested the conclusions are stated here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Number Destroyer of Marriages

What is the number one destroyer of marriage? Is it infidelity? Yes, infidelity wreaks havoc on marriages, but it is not number one. Is it hobbies? Yes, hobbies can behard on marrages, but they are secondary? Is it squabbles over money, or in-laws, or sex? Yes, all of these are responsible for much marital grief, but they are not number one.

I submit that the number one destroyer of marital harmony and intimacy is the small, insidious, seldom noticed sin of bitterness. You don't keep short accounts. Little wounds accumulate. They don't get healed. Eventually they become infected and kill your relationship. Twenty years into marriage you find yourself sleeping in separate beds.

Here is how it works. Your spouse does something to wound or hurt you, an unforgiven grievance from 12 years ago comes to mind. You combine them, and the pain is doubled. Now the resentment is amplified. "Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do," notes Andree Seu. "That's why most people don't do it. We talk about it, cheer for it, preach on it, and are sure we've practiced it. But mostly the illusion of having forgiven is that the passage of time dulls memory. The ruse will come to light with hair-trigger vengeance when fresh offense hurls in to empty out the gunnysack of half-digested grievances."

Only Christians have a really solid basis for forgiveness. It is the gospel. The gospel is why we forgive. The gospel reminds us that our sins were infinitely heinous in God's sight. Yet, despite this, God so longed to forgive that he sent his only begotten Son to be tortured to death in our place. Now that is mega-forgiveness. It is gross hypocrisy to accept this from Christ and not give it back to our spouse. Their offense against you, no matter how serious, is always finite, but your offense against God is always infinite.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a repeted, heart-felt, act of the will. That is why Jesus, when Peter asked how many times he should forgive, responded  70x7 (Matt 18:22). Those who want happy marriages and increased intimacy do the same.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer Reading

I'm back from vacation feeling tanned, rested, and ready.
Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern ChinaHere are some of the books that I read while gone with appropriate comments.

 Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China by Xi Lian, a Chinese historian living in the West, cataloged  the rise of Christianity in China. When Christianity was the religion of foreigners it won little access to the hearts of the Chinese people. However, when Mao took control of the country in 1948 the western missionaries fled or were forced out. The Chinese Christians that were left (fewer than 1 million) began to slowly evangelize their brethern. No longer was Christianity a religion for outsiders. It was now indigenous. Despite intense persecution by the Communist Party, it spread rapidly. Today there are probably more Christians in China than in the U.S. However, Lian is careful to note that, lacking access to historical Christian theology, the belief system of most Chinese Christians is a syncretism of the Bible, Pentecostalism, Buddhism. Animism, and mysticism.

This book was full of helpful information, but that was all. For someone not familiar with China, it was hard to put the information in context. In addition, he wrote mechanically. The book lacked passion.

A Personal OdysseyA personal favorite was A Personal Odyssey the autobiography of Thomas Sowell. Sowell is not a Christian, but he is a leading conservative, African American economist. Sowell tells the story of his rise from the slums of Charlotte, N.C. during the depression, his experience in the Army during the Korean war, his undergraduate work in economics at Harvard, his masters degree at Columbia, and finally  his doctorate at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and others. Subsequently he taught at various institutions including Rutgers, Cornell, and UCLA.

Sowell's ideas were influential during the Reagan presidency. Although considered for various cabinet posts, he rejected the offers, deciding instead to pursue his studies at Stanford's Hoover Institute, where he was, and is, a resident scholar.

Having read and enjoyed some of Sowell's books, I found his biography interesting. Sowell writes well. It was not only the history of his life, but the history of the middle of the twentieth century in North America. Would that we harkened to Sowell's common sense advice on Economics.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Movie Review: Tree of Life

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7) These bright words blazed into the darkness of the theater as the opening scene of the 2011 film The Tree of Life starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, and Hunter McCracken in an artistic exploration of the human condition. The rest of the film subtly brings to life director Terrence Malick’s parallel of the cosmic grandeur of creation with a very ordinary, dysfunctional suburban family in Texas in the late 1950’s. Malick makes a bold attempt to capture the reality of suffering and grief, the incomprehensible otherness of the Creator, and the frail yet beautiful faith in God that can live between the two.

Tree of Life is not a typical plot-driven movie. There is very little dialogue. The movie opens with the mother receiving notice that her 19-year-old son has died in the Vietnam War. The screen quietly eavesdrops on the grief of mother, father, and brother… unfolding into the whispered questions to God, “Why?” and “Who are we to you?” The film then segues into a slow sequence of swirling images and views of galaxies and planets as they form. A young earth’s volcanoes erupt, and recurrent images of the ocean’s waves show life emerging. Dinosaurs roam the landscape very realistically. An asteroid hits the earth. We are propelled forward in time to the suburbs, to the family as it used to be. It begins with the young groom and bride starting their home, and the birth of the three boys. The family prays before their meals, and before bed. They attend church. Many everyday events of a child’s life are shown in their truth and beauty through the incredible cinematography. We see the harshness of the father, the quiet love of the mother, and the rough camaraderie of the brothers. The eldest son begins to rebel under the heavy hand of his dad, and the rest of the film explores the emergence of his hate for his father and his own chaotic, adolescent desires. The end of the film provides a reconciliation of past and future, faith and unbelief, grief and peace, and father and son.

I would recommend watching the Tree of Life. Although it hints at evolution, and falls short of its goal to sum up all existence, this movie succeeds in ways few movies do. It explores human suffering while humbly implying God’s right to do as He wishes. While remaining mysterious about the nature of God, Malick is not leaving an agnostic message. His film ends with the singing of the Agnus Dei (Latin for the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”) The mother character prays, “Keep us. Guide us to the end of time.” A childlike voice answers, “Follow me.” Other Biblically veiled dialogue occurs when the oldest boy struggles with wrong desires, and says, “What I want to do, I can’t do. What I do, I hate.” (Romans 7:15) He also prays, “Always you were calling me.” The tree of life from the title is the big oak in the front yard on which the boys play. Yet the film title serves to point us to the true Tree of Life in the achingly beautiful City of God depicted in Revelation 22. Everything on Earth should make us hunger for heaven.

In the end, Malick paints a masterpiece of a story: suffering makes us feel life’s beauty more intensely, and look beyond ourselves, leading us on a quest to seek the One who made all life. As the mother says at the end of the movie, “The only way to be happy is to love.” Loving God through faith in the gospel is the key to solving the riddle of our existence...Brian Huseland

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reccomended Podcasts

Many of us like to listen to edifying intellectual content when working out, driving, etc. Here are a couple of reccomends.

First is Al Mohler's daily radio broadcast, The Briefing. For thirteen to fifteen minutes Dr. Mohler sums up the news each morning from a Christian perspective. In addition, about weekly Mohler interviews an author on an important subject. Titled Thinking In Public Mohler's interviews are both helpful, instructive, and keep one in contact with the broader intellectual currents of modern culture. Both arer free downloads at itunes, or can be accessed at

I am also enjoying two other podcasts. NPR supplies both. I am generally going in a different direction from National Public Radio, but I find these two podcasts helpful. The first is Planet Money  a weekly 20 minute program on economics. The other is This American Life. Like the Mohler podcast they are free through iTunes.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Basis for Grace

The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything
In his book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders suggests that the Trinity is the basis for grace. Grace is unmerited favor. In the words of A.W. Pink, grace is "favor shown where there is positive demerit in the one receiving it.” The things that makes God's grace so amazing is that he gave it when he had absolutely no need. Nothing outside of him compelled him. The Trinity is the reason we can make this statement.

God did not create and redeem us because he needed friendship. He had the other members of the Trinity to relate to from all eternity. His social needs were filled to the brim. He did not create us because there was any lack in his happiness or joy. The other members of the Trinity brought infinite delight to each other. God was completely happy and satisified. So why did God create? He does all things for his glory. He acts to share his happiness (his glory) with his creatures. He creates to see his glorified exercised so that he can further delight in it. The one thing he did not do was act from need.

Because of the reality of the Trinity “God did not have to save us," Sanders observes. "There was no external necessity imposed on him, nor did he have any internal need. The perfect blessedness of God would not have been compromised by the final failure of humanity. God did not save us to rescue himself from sadness over our plight. He saved us freely, out of an astonishing abundance of generosity…God created freely and also redeemed freely” (Pg 65).

This is impossible for us to understand. We are creatures. Need motivates everything we do. We are God's opposite. We are infinitely incomplete and needy. God created our need to be met by himself. Even our love for God is tainted by our need for God. But God loves without need. He gives himself without reference to any personal gain. 

Contemplate this in light of the cross, an act of love, suffering, and deprivation for the good of others without paralell. On thing is clear. God is not like us. He is holy, and his holiness expresses itself most perfectly in his love for uworthy sinners, i.e. through the grace that is unmerited favor and that rests on a Trinitarian foundation.

New Green Lantern Movie

Director Martin Campbell’s film adaptation of DC Comics’ “Green Lantern” starring Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal), Blake Lively (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education) is a fun twist on the age old reluctant superhero story.

Years before Earth’s existence a group of aliens called the Guardians of the Universe formed the Green Lantern Corps to act as an intergalactic police force. The heart of the Green Lantern’s powers were harnessed from the green essence of the Emotional Spectrum of Willpower. The Guardians believed the greatest weapon is one’s will and so taught the members of the Corps to harness their will and use it to fight evil. The greatest member of the Corps was Abin Sur whose fearless pursuit of Paralax, the ultimate being of fear, left the villain in prison and the universe safe from Paralax’s terror. However, when Paralax escapes from prison Abin Sur is fatally wounded leaving him little time to find his replacement.

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is the irresponsible, womanizing ego maniac one has learned to expect from a reluctant superhero. After losing his job as an Air Force test pilot Hal is unexpectedly chosen by Abin Sur’s ring to be the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps. After learning the nature of his responsibilities Hal is forced to choose between the Corps and an empty life of selfish pursuits. Hal has little time to contemplate his life’s direction before he is thrust into action by Dr. Hector Hammond (Sarsgaard) who has been infected with Paralax’s spirit of fear. When the life of hundreds of partygoers, including Hal’s on again/off again girlfriend Carol Ferris (Lively) are threatened, he springs into action saving the lives of many and ultimately having the decision of becoming the newest inductee into the Green Lantern Corps made for him.

I enjoyed this movie but am aware that it is not for everyone. If you enjoy cheesy otherworldly superhero charged films then you will enjoy “Green Lantern”. I am grateful for the writer’s understanding that not all the viewers are Comic enthusiasts and so the historical background is detailed and much appreciated. Sexual content is limited to Hal waking up with an unidentified girl and foul language is slim to none. While the theme of good concurring evil is redemptive Hal’s solution to finding the good is to look inside himself and see what everyone else has seen all along. This is a politically correct, self esteem charged film, but enjoyable all the same...Stephanie Spurgetis

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Story of Faith and Love

Tortured for Christ
Just finished Richard Wurmbrand's 1969 classic, Tortured for Christ. It is a tale of amazing faith and love.

Born in 1909 to Jewish parents, Wurmbrand grew up in Rumania. He was an atheist in his teens. After conversion in his young adult years he became a pastor to the church in Rumania. At age 35 (1944) the Russian Army invaded. For four years Wurmbrand enjoyed great success evangelizing atheist Russian soldiers. In 1948 the Communist regime imprisoned him for eight years. Three years were spent in solitary confinement in a lightless cell 12 feet underground. The tortures were extreme. It is hard to understand how Wurmbrand survived this abuse.

Nevertheless. He was freed in 1956 and immediately returned to aggressive evangelism in the Underground Church. He was imprisoned a second time. Eventually, when Western churches offered to buy Wurmbrand's  freedom, his Rumanian brothers urged him to go and tell those in the West what was happening. Wurmbrand made it to freedom and eventually testified before the U.S. Senate.

He founded "Voice of the Martyrs." In addition he wrote several books about his experiences. His testimony was not just about himself, but about the thousands of Christians imprisoned and tortured like himself. Wurmbrand died in 2001.

I was encouraged by Wurmbrand's accounts of supernatural grace. How could I endure the kind of torture and depravations Wurmbrand and his brothers faced? God would enable me as he did Wurmbrand. God gave them supernatural love for their torturers. “A flower if you bruise it under your feet," notes the author, "rewards you by giving you its perfume. Likewise Christians, tortured by the communists, rewarded their torturers by love. We brought many of our jailors to Christ. And we are dominated by one desire: to give communists who have made us suffer the best we have, the salvation which comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.” (pg 66). “In our darkest hours of torture the Son of man came to us, making the prison walls shine like diamonds and filling the cells with light. Somewhere far away, were the torturers below us in the sphere of the body. But the spirit rejoiced in the Lord. We would not have given up this joy for that of kingly palaces.” (pg 73). 

God also gave them supernatural grace to endure the pain.
This is a book worth reading. It is reality therapy to those pampered by Western freedoms. It will make you grateful and thankful.  It will fill you with hope!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: “Thor: The God of Thunder”

Thor Poster Movie B (11 x 17 Inches - 28cm x 44cm) Natalie Portman Chris Hemsworth Samuel L. Jackson Anthony Hopkins Stellan Skarsg rd
When reading the credits of “Thor” I was astounded to find Kenneth Branagh as the director. Written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, this PG-13 retelling of the mythological story of the god of Thunder moves us away from Branagh’s typical link to Shakespeare and directly into the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his younger brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), are the Princes of Asgard learning how to be effective rulers from their father, King Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Many years later, when Thor is to be crowned king, his coronation ceremony is interrupted by a breech in Asgard’s security causing the arrogant warrior to take matters into his own hands. In a reckless fit of rage Thor ignites a centuries old war with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim ultimately resulting in his exile from Asgard to Earth.

While on Earth, Thor loses access to his hammer, the source of his unmatchable strength, and is lowered from god to mere human standards. It is here he meets scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who not only thinks he is an egotistical brut but belongs in a mental hospital. Eventually, however, Thor is able to convince her he is worth trusting and she ultimately comes to his rescue with perfect timing. Through Jane’s example Thor learns to put others before himself resulting in a series of events benefiting Asgard as opposed to his earlier actions which only brought harm.

I recommend this movie for teens on up. I enjoyed watching the larger then life characters on the big screen, but feel the effect will be just as pertinent from the comfort of your own home. The message of the importance of humility, especially in those in high profile positions, is impossible to miss as is the display of laying down your life to serve others even when they are wrong. Hint: be sure you watch all the way to the bitter end, even ALL the credits. Staying true to their reputation, you will not want to miss Marvel’s tantalizing hint into the next installment of their comic empire...Stephanie Spurgetis

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Where Have The Men Gone?

Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys
A pastor friend recently described a large evangelical church in downtown London with over 1,000 single males between the age of 20 and 35. Although they work responsibly, their relationship with the opposite sex is ambivalent at best. Few are seeking mates. The same phenomenon repeats itself regularly in many North American churches. This is a dramatic change from expectations as recently as 25 years ago.

Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, by Kay Hymowitz describes and chronicles this modern phenomenon in secular society. For anyone desiring to understand sex, marriage, and dating patterns in North America I strongly reccomend. The author carefully chronicles the rise of what she calls the "child-man," i.e. men between the age of 20 and 35 locked in cycles of perpetual adolescence. Hymowitz is not only a good sociologist, but she also writes well, a rare combination.

Why the child-man? Why are young single men giving themselves to potty humor, video games, beer drinking, hooking up, and disrespect for the fairer sex? What happened to marriage and the pursuit of adult male responsibility?

In the seventies George Gilder (See Men and Marriage) accurately predicted that to the degree women, motivated by the feminist movement, usurped the traditional male roles in marriage (i.e. leadership, protection, and provision) that men would abandon those institutions and turn to worthless, or worse, aggresively harmful, pursuits. Although Hymowitz doesn't reference Gilder, her book records the fulfilment of his prophecy .

As Gilder predicted, men are abandoning marriage. In the seventies the median young adult male was married by age 22. Today the median is 28 and rising. This means half of men marry after age 28. And, the more education a person has the later the marriage. A college degree bumps it to age 30, and a post graduate degree even later. This is a problem because women are most fertile in their mid twenties. By age 35, when many today are beginning their familes, the biological clock is ticking down. By age 40 one in five women are infertile. This means that the fertility rate of those deferring marriage is also dropping rapidly. In this demographic it is currently 1.7 children per female. The fertility rate must be 2.2 to maintain a level population. This means those without college are reproducing, but those with higher IQs are not. This does not bode well for the long term health of our culture. In addition, it is a grave threat to our entitlement programs like social security, medi-care, etc.

The solution? Manning Up. Hymowitz suggests that early marriage civilizes men and channels their energies into productive applications. She is right. This is the solution, but cultural expectations of delayed marriage are so deeply rooted in the millenial generation that nothing short of the gospel will solve this problem.

As Christians we cannot change culture, but we can ensure that the church maintains it prophetic posture. We are the people who cherish male and female, with their God-stamped distinctives, as a reflection of the glory of God. We cherish sexual purity. We love marriage, and we see children as God's glorious blessing. However, many join our congregations "stained" by the worldly values recoded by Hymowitz. It is our job to help them. It is our duty to encourage marriage, fidelity, fertility, and chastity. God help us to be the counter culture that pleases him.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Wages of Sin

Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying
Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying by Regnerus and Uecker was an eye-opening read. Regnerus, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas, and Uecker, from the University of North Caroliana, have teamed up to give the reader an inside look at how America's emerging adults relate to the opposite sex.

The effects of the 1960s sexual revolution have been immense. In the sixties and seventies sex outside of marriage existed. This is nothing new. But everyone knew it was wrong. Skip forward fifty years and our cultural moral compass has turned upside down. "The majority of young adults in America," writes the authors, "not only think they should explore different relationships [sexually], they believe it may be foolish and wrong not to" (pg 171). The authors prove that 96% of 18-23 year olds in a romantic relationship are currently engaging in regular sexual intercourse. Tragically, the frequency of sex is higher and the age at first sex are actually lower amongst professing evangelicals.

Although sexual liberation and feminism seek to free women, in the sexual arena, these movements have only furthered the enslavement of females and enhanced the liberty of men. "Sexual economics" are predicated on a transaction. The female give sex and the male gives commitment, love, and security. When there are more available women than men, (the situation in our universities), the odds are tipped even more in the man's favor. He gets sex at an even further discounted cost. In general ladies are the net losers.

Regnerus and Uecker chronicle the changing attitudes toward love and realtionships, the increasing desire to delay marriage, and the ensuing falling fertility rates which threaten western culture. All of these are tied to and affected by the sexual attitudes of our culture.

These details and others are the subject of this book. I expect it to make a significant contribution to this field of study. Anyone interested in the long term effects of feminism, or the sexual liberation movement will be helped by the material in this book.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thomas Brooks On Gratitude!

Thomas Brooks (1608-80) one of the great Puritan expositors wrote the following. 
"Is not Christ your treasure? Is not heaven your inheritance—and will you murmur? Has not God given you a changed heart, a renewed nature, and a sanctified soul—and will you murmur? Has He not given you Himself to satisfy you, His Son to save you, His Spirit to lead you, His grace to adorn you, His covenant to assure you, His mercy to pardon you, His righteousness to clothe you—and will you murmur? Has He not made you a friend, a son, a brother, a bride, an heir—and will you murmur?When you were dead, did not He quicken you? When you were lost, did not He seek you? When you were wounded, did not He heal you? When you were falling, did not He support you? When you were down, did not He raise you? When you were staggering, did not He establish you? When you were erring, did not He correct you? When you were tempted, did not He support you? and when you went in dangers, did not He deliver you?—and will you murmur? What! you who are so highly advanced and exalted above many thousands in the world? Murmuring suits none so badly as saints.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Language of Humility (Part Two)

(The first blog in this series discussed the importance of gratitude. This blogs moves on to define gratitude).

To think hard about biblical thanksgiving let’s start with what it is not. It is not politeness. It is not a something that all nice people do. Although thankful people are socially agreeable, biblical gratitude is more than good manners. You can practice good etiquette by continually saying “thank you,” and not get near the biblical idea of gratitude. In her book The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser observes that “polite people” may say “thank you” up to 100 times per day and yet experience “little or no grateful emotion.” In other words, you can go through the outward show of politeness but not even sniff heart-felt gratitude.

Not only is it more than politeness, it is also unnatural. We must be trained to be grateful. The social sciences confirm what we, who believe in Original Sin, already know. Children must be taught to be grateful, and they often push back. One experiment set out to measure children’s propensity for gratitude. The children studied spontaneously said hello and goodbye 27% of the time, but they only thanked their benefactors 7% of the time, and then often only after great pressure from their parents. There is a reason for this. Gratitude is the language of a humble heart, and our hearts are not naturally humble. They are naturally proud.

Last, biblical thanksgiving is not something we do to manipulate others. Dad gives the car keys to his teenage daughter. She says “thank you” because she knows if she does her father is apt to let her use the car more frequently. To the uninitiated this looks like gratitude, but in reality it is the exact opposite. True thanksgiving is not outward. It is not just a matter of words. It is not an external formality.

True gratitude is a matter of the heart that expresses itself with words of thanksgiving. Gratitude is the language of humility, and humility matters greatly to God. It should also matter to us because God makes amazing promises to those who pursue humility. For example, he

“God exalts the humble” (Jam. 4:10).

He “dwells with the lowly” (Isa. 57:15).

He exalts those that humble themselves (Phil 2:5-11).

He “lifts up the humble” (Ps. 147:6).

God “gives grace to the humble” (Jam. 4:6).

God looks to and is intimate with the humble (Isa 66:2).

God also honors the humble (Pr. 15:33).

In other words, thanksgiving is the language of the humble, and humility always attracts God’s attention

It is equally true that God aggressively

“Humbles the proud (Ezek. 17:24).

He opposes the proud (James 4:6).

He withdraws from the proud (Ps. 138:6).

He repeatedly promises to bring down the proud (Pr. 18:12, 29:23).

Anyone who really believes God’s promise to bless the humble, as well as his threats to judge the proud, will joyfully and single-mindedly pursue humility.

Again, here is our important point. Gratitude is the language of the humble. Jesus said, “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.” Therefore, a humble heart increasingly gushes gratitude and thanksgiving. True heart-felt gratitude is a neon sign pointing to humility.

We can say it this way: thanksgiving amplifies humility, and humility amplifies thanksgiving.

What is the connection between gratitude and humility? Why do we say that thanksgiving is the language of humility? Thanksgiving implies need. It assumes that I don’t deserve the favor bestowed. Most people don’t thank the waitress who delivers their food. Why? They paid for it. They deserve it. In Luke 17 Jesus described a servant whom his master commanded to prepare dinner. “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded” (Luke 17:9) Jesus asks? It is a rhetorical question. It has an obvious answer. No! He doesn’t thank the servant. Why? Because the servant is a slave. He owes his master this service.

By contrast, we thank the person who gives us an expensive birthday gift. Why? We have done nothing to deserve it. We are humbled. The giver was gracious and we were needy. It was a matter of grace. It was an expression of unmerited favor. (Anecdote: Ruths Coffee Cup).

In the same way, we deserve nothing from God’s hand but judgment. We deserve judgment, but he gives us eternal life at his Son’s expense. In addition, this gift is infinitely expensive. Therefore, we are duty bound to live life in constant thanksgiving to God.

Gratitude is the language of humility. Why? It also assumes that I am the creature and God is the Creator. Gratitude is the heart-felt confession that God is God, and I am not. Gratitude humbles me. It forces me to face reality. Creature hood means we have no rights. God created us. Therefore, everything we possess is God’s gift. For this reason, the object of true gratitude is always ultimately God. A grateful heart assumes that God is his Creator. It assumes that he is a creature. Since everything—talents, I.Q., height, appearance, parents—are gifts, the proper response of the creature is unceasing thanksgiving.

Therefore, true heart-felt gratitude confesses that I have no rights. It says,

“I did not create myself, God did. I am not responsible for my I.Q. or its lack. I did not choose my DNA. I did not pick my hair color, my height or my facial features. I did not choose my gifts or their lack. I did not choose my parents, nor did I pick the generation into which I was born. I did not even pick my race, or the country of my birth. All of these, and infinitely more, are God’s gracious gifts.”

They were given to me by a gracious God. If this is true, the appropriate response to everything is heart-felt, overflowing gratitude. This is why we say that thanksgiving is the language of humility. Every word of thanks confesses that all or some of these facts are true.

When a professional athlete boasts that “I am the best. I am the greatest” all of this is denied. He might be the most talented athlete, he might be the one with “game,” but if so, it is God’s gift. His speed, his size, or his athletic ability are ultimately gifts. His attitude should repulse us. His boasting says, “I am my own god. I made myself. I am responsible for myself.”

Boasting is the speech of naked arrogance. It is a claim to deity. It is the opposite of gratitude. In summary, thanksgiving is a confession of our ever-dependent creature hood. It is the language of the humble.

When I ask one of my friends how he is doing, he always responds with joy, “Better than I deserve.” This is the speech of the humble. It says “I have been redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross.” It looks at the cross and assumes,

“I deserve crucifixion, and I am not getting it. In fact, I will never get it, and the reason is God’s amazing grace and love. I will never get the judgment I deserve. Christ went to the cross and took it in my place. That is why, for eternity, I will never cease to “abound with thanksgiving.”

Do you have cancer? Like all disease, it is an affect of the fall. However, there is cause for great hope. Because God is sovereign, your suffering is no accident. In fact, God is now using it to channel his love into your experience, to prepare you for eternal glory (Rom. 8:18). Besides, as bad as your experience with cancer feels, you are not getting what you deserve. And you never will. So be thankful.

Did your business just fail? God is sovereign. It is no accident. God is working through it to express his love for you. Besides, you are not getting what you deserve, so be thankful.

Are you anxious and depressed? Be thankful. You are not getting what you deserve.

Thanksgiving is the confession that I am God’s debtor. I owe him everything. He owes me only judgment. Words of gratitude from humble lips confess that I really believe these truths. They confess their ongoing dependence upon God. I need him. He does not need me.

In summary, humble people attract Gods’ attention. They attract God’s favor. We are not saved by being humble. We are saved by faith plus nothing. What I am saying, however, is that God gives special favor to Christians that pursue humility. True heart-felt