Friday, December 18, 2009

The Spirit and Sexual Sin

We live in a culture that flaunts sexuality. Unbelievers who come to Christ have likely been stained and affected by these practices, and those who profess faith in Christ are commonly falling into practices that are contrary to our calling in Christ.

On the other hand, we believe that for followers of Christ, the Spirit of God has worked to save and is continuing to work to sanctify. Fellow Christians desire to be used by God in the progressive maturing and perfecting of those who profess Christ and desire to serve Him.

The material in 1 Thessalonians speaks both to the issue of the Spirit in the lives of believers, and the problem of sexual sin. I will try to weave these together.

Biblical Foundation

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 is perhaps the clearest and most direct New Testament passage that calls for sexual purity. Paul places this aspect of the believer’s walk (v.1) in the category of sanctification (3:13; 4:3,4,7), and attributes the power for behavioral change to the Holy Spirit (v.8).

Other references to the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians show that this Spirit powerfully brings radical change of heart and life orientation at conversion (1:5, and evidenced in 1:9,10). This same Spirit is involved in examining a believer’s heart (2:4) and in applying God’s will and Word (2:13) to his/her life. But the purifying influence of this Spirit can also be hindered (5:19) by neglecting/despising the living Word of God in lesson and/or application (5:20), and by tolerating/adopting evil influences.

So we expect that the effective work of the Spirit in the believer’s life will be brought to bear against practices of sexual sin. It will not merely be tolerated or controlled. We expect that the ongoing influence of the Spirit will defeat practices of sexual sin.

As we look at the nature and demands of gospel ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2, we can see how sexual sin, along with other sins, will prohibit a minister from fully giving himself to those to whom he is to minister. He (or she) will be holding back in selfish ways. Sexual sin trains one in self-seeking rather than in self-giving (2:8); sexual sin steals personal and spiritual resources that should be dedicated to ministry (2:13, day and night ministry), including time, energy, enthusiasm and imagination. We conclude that sexual sin is a hindrance to the gospel ministry, just as are Christ-haters (2:16) and Satan himself (2:18).

Practical Application

So given the fact that all of us are sinners, and that it is possible that many of us have incidences of sexual sin in our history, here are some conclusions that I believe are consistent with an expectation that the Spirit intends a sanctifying work in our lives.

We should expect and demand from one another
a) Unflinching honesty concerning sin, and
b) Clear actions taken that are the fruit of repentance.

Honesty Concerning Sin:
• Telling the truth
• Telling the whole truth
• A refusal to minimize the sin
• A refusal to blame
• A refusal to make excuses

The Fruit of Repentance:
• The follower of Christ takes iniative in dealing with sin.

When a person is caught in their sin, as opposed to taking the initiative to deal with their sin, it is nearly impossible to discern the fruit of repentance. This does not mean that a person who is caught in sin is not repentant. It just means that we cannot be sure if they are sorry for their sin, or sorry they were caught. So we desire to see actions that take the initiative in dealing with sin even before it is exposed.

That means that you and I must take initiative with our sins, whether they be sexual sins or some other category. Don’t just cover it up. Don’t try to manage it. Attack it. Take the initiative in battling that behavior in your life.

This does not mean that you are trusting in your own actions in order to accomplish sanctification. No, it is the Spirit who sanctifies. Pray that the Spirit would give victory. But don’t just pray and ask to change after experiencing some failure, expecting that the Spirit will work in spite of your actions and patterns. Make and plan, and work the plan, and improve the plan – but trust in the Spirit to do what only He can do.

• We are to pay careful attention to the underlying cause of our sins (why is/was this temptation to powerful for me?).

There is much material available that helps us to understand what is going on in our hearts that then is manifested in the form of sexual sin.

• There is careful attention paid to the circumstances in which failure may occur, and how to avoid those circumstances. Have any roadblocks been placed to make a return to sin more difficult?

Again, there is much material available to guide us in practical steps that we can take that make sense.

• There has been care in establishing accountability.

• That a plan to deal with the sin is working, and that the individual has not stopped pursuing a plan that is effective.

• The individual has engaged in a walk with Christ which makes it obvious that he/she has a desire to love Christ more than he/she loves the sin.

The goal in all this is that we want to serve Christ with those who are walking with the Spirit. To be engaged in sexual sin, and sins of other sorts, is to walk another path. We are then walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit. A return to the path of walking with the Spirit requires that we be honest about our sins, and that we take clear, concrete actions that would drive a stake through the practice of sin and mortify the flesh.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Spirit Gives Joy

The powerful Spirit produces joy. We know this, because for the Thessalonian believers, they experienced joy, not only in favorable circumstances, but also when distressed: “having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NAS95). The joy did not appear naturally, but rather, supernaturally. From a worldly point of view, there was no cause for joy. But something else was going on in the minds and hearts of these believers. Their eyes were opened to a new estimation of things. The value of the word had become greater than present comforts. The promise of future reward more than compensated for the risk or experience of present loss. What was gained was now more precious that what was lost.

I see a lack of joy in my Christian experience. I also see it in the lives of other believers. We are not persecuted. We do not suffer greatly. We engage in our commitments, and we do our duties. We plod along, and we exhibit faithfulness; but not joyfulness.

Why is this? If I looked only at 1 Thes 1, I might conclude that all we need is a good dose of tribulation to bring out the joy. But that is not what that text is saying. It is not the tribulation that produces the joy, but the Holy Spirit. And so the question has to be asked, “What am I doing to stifle the production of joy by the Holy Spirit?” And so I have gone searching, and find some answers in the following passages in which both the concept of “joy” and “Spirit” occur together.

In Acts 13:52, the Gentiles who had just recently heard the gospel and realized that it was good news, not just for others, but also for people like them, were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Their excitement and wonder at being accepted and included in God’s gracious plan that brings forgiveness of sins changed their view of all things, producing joy. Life could never again be the same. So much of the world around me is hell-bound. God’s electing grace should be shockingly refreshing. This can be spoiled by a sense of entitlement, as though God, for some reason, owed me a spot on the bus.

Romans 14: 17 says that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Specifically, Paul has just said that a brother for whom Christ has died is more important and more dear to him than eating or not eating. It appears that if one trades out the importance of people for personal liberties or luxuries, then he may very well forego “righteousness and peace and joy.” Joy is experienced as one lives in light of these three facts: God is working His plan; people are highly valuable; and we are preparing for and investing in a drastically better future. Again, I lose joy when the biggest plan in view is what’s for lunch, or who’s doing music, or what’s on TV.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NAS95) We see that the God of hope works in concert with the Spirit of power to produce “joy and peace in believing.” God is doing something strange and contrary to expectation. He is bringing together a people that unites old enemies. And the follower of Christ is challenged to continue in the acceptance of those who are not just like you, and who formerly may have been offensive or disgusting. You behave in this new way because you have been re-visioned, re-vised according to a new creation kind of existence, to which you are fastened by hope. And the joy that is mentioned seems to have in it a sense of adventure and a scent of anticipation. I lose the experience of joy when I focus upon the accomplishment of “old man” objectives as opposed to God’s heavenly purposes in His Son, in His church, and in His world.

In 2 Corinthians 7:13, Paul and Titus are rejoicing in the continuing faith of Corinthians Christians. Yes, life is hard – “conflicts without, fears within” (v.5) – but the fellowship, the comraderie of Christians who are on the same team and running the same race is sustaining, refreshing, and heart-lifting. As we see later in 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20, the fellowship with other believers is critical. If this “band of brothers” loses its sense of direction; if they begin to exist for no good purpose other than to endure – they will lose joy.

So, if it fits, make your own diagnosis. Why joylessness? What is at stake is more than a life lived in dullness and depression. Spiritual joy is linked also to peace and hope and love and fellowship. To be depleted in the area of joy is to be disabled in worship and witness and service.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What Power?

To what degree have we cast an image of the Spirit that is powerless, since that sits well with our own experience? We howl when we see individuals man-handle the Word and practice some form of eis-egesis (reading their viewpoints into the text) rather than ex-egesis (developing the text's conclusions from out of the text). And we are instantly critical of those who, evilly shaped by the culture around us, make God in our own image, into what we want Him to be, instead of us being re-made in His image, into what He wants us to be. But then, where is the outrage when we conceive of the Holy Spirit apart from the concept of power?

Gordon Fee shows at the end of his chapter on the use of the word "spirit" in his book, "God's Empowering Presence," that there is such a strong, explicit connection between "spirit" and "power" in so many texts, that, even when the word "spirit" is used without the word "power," we must still think about what power is being exercised; and, when the "power" is used without a direct reference to the Spirit, we would do well to think about how the Spirit is involved. The connection is that close. He does not say that every time one word or the other is used, that the author necessarily has the other in mind. He just says that there is a good chance of it.

In my mind, the Spirit is holy. He is active in our sanctification. The Spirit is the Comforter. He provides assurance and a sense of God's presence. The Spirit is a guide. He helps in discernment. He helps in our prayers. But in my experience, the Spirit is not powerful. Oh, I'm sure He can be, and that He has been at some times in some places. But not here and now. Not lately. My eyes have glossed over the strong Biblical evidences of the connection between Spirit and power that do not fit my experience. And I want my experience to conform to this Biblical portrait of God's Spirit whose activity is powerful.

I understand that the Spirit's power is different from the world's conceptions of power. While the world may base their definitions of power on military strength or economic leverage or political clout, the Spirit's power may reveal itself in an enduring faith, and in sacrificial love, and in an other-worldly hope that rejects would-be, easy-access saviors. These examples may seem benign, but even these are surprising and shocking. They are evidences that cannot be explained.

I also understand that the Spirit's power can be experienced just as much in the undertow as in the crashing wave. But in either case, it is still a power that is felt; a power that matters; a power that we must not do without.

Good, Old-Fashioned Bible Study

In reading Gordon Fee’s “God’s Empowering Presence,” the 2nd chapter is entitled “Preliminary Observations on Usage.” Someone needs to give poor Gordon some assistance on sexy chapter titles, because this one is not going to draw a crowd. It is most definitely not seeker-sensitive. It’s just good, old-fashioned Bible study.

First of all, it is careful study. Fee goes through usage by usage and analyzes both the grammar and logical issues. He charts them out and categorizes them. In so doing, he is able to refute an earlier theory that the use of the article (“the”) in the Greek text denotes a reference to the divine spirit, whereas the absence of the article suggests a reference to the human spirit. No, that doesn’t work. And he carefully shows his work.

We all need to be involved in careful Bible study. There are many aspects of such study, but one is to carefully look at the words that are used, and how the words are used. Yes, there has been a lot of attention given to the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative – some rendition of “creation, fall, redemption, consummation.” But the superstructure rests on the individual pieces of words and arguments. While it is possible to lose sight of the big picture because of an atomistic approach to the Bible, it is also possible to drift along above the text with some kind of Big Picture that does not attend to careful study.

Second, Fee challenges me about letting the Bible speak for itself. As the careful student looks at the words, he also seeks to follow the argument that is being constructed. Of course, grammar provides many of the needed clues. I have found that it is relatively easy to spend hours in studying words and making lists, but much more difficult to trace and describe an argument. And, as in the next point, I need to be very careful not to insert my argument for the author’s. Fee gives a great example of enduring Bible study that arrives at definitions and conclusions, not just data.

It is so easy to come to the text with preconceived notions about what it says before we let it speak. My 3rd note is a caution against demanding that the text answer my questions. An example of this is found in most of the treatments that I have read seeking to state the Bible’s position of divorce and remarriage. One after another of us have pressed Jesus’ statements (and Paul’s, and Moses’) to fit our questions rather than to grasp the point being made in context and letting that material work us over. I must try to listen for the questions that the author is answering. And they most likely are not the questions that I had in my mind when I started the study. I was reminded to come to the text and to listen.

How long has it been since you spent a couple of hours in good, old-fashioned Bible study? Just you and your Bible. Maybe a concordance, but no commentaries or study notes. Just you and your Bible, wrestling with words and arguments, and you asking God what it is He has to say to you today?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Have We Settled?

“my concern is that in our having his Spirit, we not settle for a watered down understanding that gives more glory to Western rationalism and spiritual anemia than to the living God” (Introduction, p.9) God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, by Gordon D. Fee. Hendrickson, 1994.

Fee, writing with a sincere concern for the church and with an intense interest in an experience of the life of God as mediated or communicated by the Spirit, confesses for many of us that the working out of our faith is heavy on theological description and low on spiritual experience. If that is the case, it seems that we would be skilled in discerning the right and the wrong, but clumsy in areas of wisdom and gifting and community and witness and prayer. In personal terms, it seems that we would be better in our answers and in detecting errors than in progressing in holiness. In terms of witness, we would be left to rely on argument in our efforts to convince the lost rather than presenting a compelling, living lifestyle that reflects the sweet reality of heaven’s values.

So, have we settled? Have we settled for a kind of Christianity that is dry and unfruitful? Are we more comfortable with a faith that is predictable, though lacking power in its expression? Do we settle for church life that is lacking in love, and weak in obedience?

Let me back off for a moment. Yes, the church with which I am familiar is Western, and rationalistic, and predictable. But there are still many wonderful examples of love and sacrifice and obedience and blessing. But, …

I do not believe that God wants His children, any of us, to settle for less than what He has provided. I am excited about following Fee’s lead through Paul’s epistles as he exegetes and examines what God has said about His empowering presence.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Two Atrocities: A Head with Multiple Bodies; or, A Body with Multiple Heads

Maybe “atrocity” is too strong a word. But “anomaly” is too weak. And “curiosity” is just sick. And we aren’t talking about something that you might have seen in the old, circus “freak” shows. No, we are talking about seems to happen often in the evangelical church.

A Head with Multiple Bodies

Christ only has one body. We just seem a little confused about who it is. So there are many (and by many, I mean a whole lot) who claim to be that body, and who are pretty sure of all the ones who are not. I’m pretty sure that Christ knows who makes up His body. But in the meantime, in our separations and isolations, we are left either to envision a Head with only our little remnant, which would be a really small, puny body; or to envision an atrocity: Christ with many bodies.

Ephesians 2:14 says “He is our peace.” Verse 15 says that He has made “the both one.” There are not two peoples of God. There is one. There are not two ways to God. It is Jesus. And if we take this theme and run with it, we can safely say that Christ our Head does not have multiple bodies.

If He did, can you imagine what would happen? Several would claim to have direction from their Head, even though each body is clearly not going in the same direction. And it seems, then, as though the Head would almost be forced to favor one body over the others. “Will the real body please stand up?” And the others are left, what, just to dangle?

If Christ our Head had many bodies, then language such as “beloved” (for instance, in Psalm 127:2; Ephesians 5:1) becomes trite. It would be like the young chaser buying Valentine cards for all his girls that say, “I love you will all of my heart.” A shepherd with multiple flocks must necessarily be absent at times. A Good Shepherd may have many, many sheep. But He has only one flock.

A Body with Multiple Heads

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24 NAS95S). In other words, it’s just not going to work. The masters are going to fight. The servant is going to take sides.

But the Body on earth tends to conduct itself as though the Head in heaven is far away (see Ephesians 1:20-23 for the concept of the “Head in heaven”). Therefore, it must adopt other direction for its practical and daily existence. Maybe it is worldly wisdom. Maybe it is church tradition. But the church in the world often replaces heavenly direction with earthly direction, and, in essence, seeks to operate with multiple heads.

But our Head is not far away. Heaven has invaded earth in the coming of the Son, and He has conquered the distance and the divide so that we can have constant fellowship and direction from Him, through His Spirit and Word. So when we opt for substitute headship, we operate according to the flesh, not according to faith. And that produces an atrocity.

We need less meetings and more prayer. We need less talking and more paying attention. We need to be a little less like the adolescent, who, when spoken to, cannot possibly hear, because he is entombed in headphones and distraction. He is, for all practical purposes, dead to the Head.

A local body of believers (see Ephesians 4:15-16 for the Head in relation to individuals in local community) has many heads when they are all going a dozen directions, fed with many varieties of spiritual diet. Let’s say one group is more passionate about the election (or, non-election) of some politician than they have ever been about King Jesus. And let’s say another group is really, really focused on the family. And let’s say another group is all about feeding the hungry. And another comes to church out of loyalty, but they feel much more fed when they listen to Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t this be a body with multiple heads?

Paul one more time uses the “Head” theme in Ephesians 5, when he applies the beauty of the new creation and spiritual living to husbands and wives. They are to live in love and submission with/to one another, even as the local body is to practice love and submission in relation to one another, under the banner of the Love of Christ for His church and submission to Christ has her Lord.

Every time I substitute willfullness and selfishness for submission and love, I am guilty of sin: of separating from Christ, my Head, to follow the impulse of some other Authority. This should never be considered normal. It is an atrocity.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In the Presence of My Enemies

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;” (Psalms 23:5 NAS95S)

This just doesn’t happen. When you are surrounded by enemies, you do not spread the tablecloth, unfold the napkin, and take a sip of wine. You don’t take a deep breath, clear your mind, and share a joke with your friends.

No, when you are surrounded by enemies, you are on the run. If you eat at all, it’s some hunk of old, half-a-biscuit, that, as you run, are careful not to leave crumbs behind, lest the enemy be able to track you down. There are no refinements; no pleasantries. It’s wilderness and caves and sweat and fear.

The New Testament theology that informs the Old Testament text is this: Christ has defeated the enemy by his resurrection from the dead, and is thus able to provide for his followers safe refuge. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14) who has given his life for the sheep, and whose work ensures that “no man is able to pluck them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

The theology is sound and assuring. Our practical application is often flawed.

Because God-in-Christ provides us with such security and pleasure, we often begin to draw the conclusion that we really have no surrounding enemies. If the table is so rich, and the fellowship so fine, then we forget the larger context that we live in this world as pilgrims and strangers, even aliens, and that our many enemies, sometimes categorized under the rubric of “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” are still present, and potent, and prowling about.

Of course, we can err in more than one direction. If we have the tendency to explore the ditch on one side of the path, then surely we are capable of excavating the ditch on the other side as well. And so, not only can we forget “the presence of our enemies” and live as though they do not exist, but we can also, in the rush and tumble of life, forget the table, its fare, and its fellowship. Whether it is our nose to the grindstone, or our feet to the fire, we are hurried and pressed, and we forego the restful intimacies that our Savior requests, even commands.

As sheep, we just take what is given to us. If a meal is provided, we eat. And if the shepherd presides over us for our protection, we accept it. But as intelligent people, we forget and neglect. And so, intelligent men and women, consider this prayer for today: “Lord, let me be a lamb today.”

Friday, July 03, 2009

Daily Prayer

“Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;”
(Psalms 144:1 ESV)

It is difficult for me to think that Your Son needed training. But then, "he learned obedience" according to Hebrews 5. Those infant hands and fingers had to learn to write, and to work with wood, and to touch lepers, and receive nails. And they will one day lead in final battle.

It is not difficult for me to think that we need training. We need to be trained to think Your thoughts after You. We need to be trained to pray. We need to be trained to practice boldness with grace, and humility without reserve. We need to practice patience, and patiently receive correction, over and over again. Train us well. Drill us. Mold us.

Father, I pray that you would put an end to our training in things that are unprofitable. We all devote our minds and hearts and hands and fingers to things that don't matter, or worse, that do damage. We practice these things. We are being trained negatively, even demonically. Put an end to such training that will bring difficulty and defeat, and replace it with divine training fit for sons of heaven. Amen

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Daily Prayer

“and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” (John 10:12 ESV)

I pray that we will have a greater, deeper, more powerful relationship with the Shepherd than with the wolf. We know what the wolf can do to a person. He can bring great damage, and put great distance, at least in terms of fellowship, between the sheep and his Shepherd. I pray that you would protect each one from being snatched by the grip of one more powerful than himself, and so I pray that you would help each to see his spiritual weakness, and to stay close to the Shepherd. And I pray that they would not be scattered - separated from closest relationships with other believers; separated from ministry involvements; separated from spiritual power.

I pray that you would cause each one to love the Shepherd and hate the wolf - to fly to the Shepherd and run from the wolf.

We are told that men are supposed to be strong. Father, we are not. But your Son is. May we find our safety the remainder of this day in Him. Amen

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“sons of men” and the Son of Man

We were born into this world as sons of men. Created by God from the dust of the earth, the first man had a close affinity to the created order. We are a part of this world. We breathe its air and drink its water and find ourselves at home here.

But we were also created with an affinity for the Creator. God Himself breathed into Adam the “breath of life.” He and Eve are “image of God” in a way that distinguishes them from all the rest of the created order.

When Eve and Adam sinned, they placed their relationship with the created order over their relationship with the Creator. They opted for the fruit and the flesh rather than the life of the soul that lives with/from God. And ever since, sons of men naturally live according to the flesh.

“Flesh” in the Bible is characterized by brevity. It withers like the grass and fades like the flower. It lives for the moment, and disregards eternal concerns. That is how the sons of men look at life. That is how they behave.

Think, then, of how the sons of men speak – the nature of their words. Our words are worth little because they are designed to carry the moment at the expense of the eternal. The sons of men do not speak easily in terms of timeless truths, but rather in bytes intended to make an impression, leverage a response, and manipulate the situation for our advantage or comfort.

How different then, is the Son of Man. He steps into this world, like the sons of men, with an affinity to the created order. He was, after all, “born of a woman.” He was part of a culture, speaking their language, and practicing their customs. But, unlike the sons of men, his primary relationship was not with the created order via the flesh, but with the Creator, via the Spirit.

He words show his distinction from the sons of men. He dares to forgive sins, something the sons of men find strange, even offensive. He claims to be Lord of the Sabbath, whereas the calendar and the week rules us. He stands above, as Lord of the created order, whereas we, as sons of men, are captivated by it.

The Son of Man came to deliver the sons of men from their bondage, to restore a proper priority of relationship with God. And the Son of Man will come again, with great power and glory, to speak in judgment with decisiveness and clarity, in perfect righteousness. sons of men can not fathom that kind of clarity from the morass of doubt and relativism in which they operate.

And so, those who call themselves Christians have an important question to answer: will I follow the sons of men, or the Son of Man? We will do one or the other. The two paths do not run the same direction.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Genesys, and Exodys

Genesys is the name of a health care facility in our area. Cute. But I think they oversell themselves a bit. I am truly thankful for medical science, and for recent breakthroughs and improvements, and I hope for more. I appreciate that hospitals are now competing for customers, and that they are trying hard to put their best foot forward.

But their theology is lacking. And the marketing department is running the show. Don’t worry. They are not alone. It is happening at businesses, and schools, and in churches.

“Genesis” means “beginnings.” The book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament of the Bible, starts with the words, “In the beginning, …” It is a book about the beginnings of the created order, spoken into existence by the Word of God. It follows with the story of the beginning of the human race, with God Himself personally and intimately involved in the formation of both male and female. Genesis goes on and tells the story of the beginning of a people through a childless couple, and the beginning of covenant promise and commitment.

I wonder, are there any of these senses in which Genesys thought it was appropriate to co-opt the word, “Genesis?”

Genesis also includes less cheery beginnings. It records graphically the first sin, both silly and stupid. It chronicles the rapid rise of sin into evil, and God’s response in the ‘whelming flood. The book of Genesis also does not whitewash the close-to-home evils of betrayal and envy and bitterness and lies.

I hardly think Genesys wants that kind of association.

And I wonder, is the backside of the hospital call Exodys. If you enter the front door with hopes and promises of all that can be done, what happens when all that can be done isn’t enough? What happens when the cancer wins; when the bleeding can’t be stopped, and when the treatment for one ailment kills you with another?

“Exodus” means “departure.” So, in a sense, Exodys might be a better name than Genesys. Everybody wants just to get out of there and go home. But we all know that there is a more serious departure about which we seldom think, and which does not fit into anyone’s marketing plan.

We are all going to die. We will all make an exit, timely or untimely. The exodus will happen whether we think we are ready or not. Maybe the hospital won’t tell us about the inevitability of death, but someone should. And if we are going to be ready to die, then we need a new beginning, another genesis.

If you want a good Exodus, you need a new Genesis – to be part of a new creation; a member of a new humanity; birthed into a new family; welcomed into covenant community. You need a cure, not for cancer, but for sin, whether sin that is attached to the cosmos, or to the human race, or to you personally.

Genesis and Exodus. They belong together. They should be attended separately.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Red Sea Rescue

There are numerous applications to God’s saving rescue in the church’s life and the Christian’s life from the account of the Red Sea Rescue of Israel in Exodus 14.

After the plagued power-struggle between God (Moses) and Pharoah, Israel has finally been released to go worship God in the wilderness. But the Egyptians have a change of mind.

“What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?”

We forget how the devil desires to rule over us. He enjoys, in a diabolical sort of way, our service to him. And we fail to realize that, apart from Christ, we are always serving the devil. There are only two to serve: Christ, or the devil. And if we are not serving the One, then we are serving the other. So even homes that seem moral and orderly are, unwittingly, serving the devil’s interests, though I do not doubt that, somehow, they also serve God’s general interests in society and culture. The dentist who does not serve Christ serves the devil. He may do fine (painless) work, and he may truly help people in the here-and-now and be a benefit to his community, but the devil has him right where he wants him. He is not serving Christ.

When Israel realizes their predicament, that they are pinned in no-man’s-land between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, they complain. “Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’”

And so we say to the preacher, “Mind your own business.” And so we say to God’s Word, “This doesn’t apply to me.” And so we say to the Holy Spirit, “Just this once, and I will ask forgiveness.” And so we say to Christ, “I do not account your death on the cross as being of equal value with my personal comfort and happiness.” And so we say to God, “Leave me alone!” Today, we want to serve ourselves, not realizing that, in doing so, we are serving the devil. At least the Israelites better understood their options.

Moses takes the matter to God, and since God already know what He will do (in fact, He already told Moses what He would do), He says, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

Just go forward. We think the path is obstructed. But just go forward. We fear our feet getting wet. But just go forward. We fear appearing foolish and stupid. But just go forward. I wonder how often I have lived, stopped in my tracks, waiting for God to move my feet for me, when, what He has promised is to create a path. Just go forward.

The people proceed on dry land through the Red Sea. Walls of water on the right and the left. Drowning Egyptian soldiers behind. Moses and God up ahead. “So the people feared the Lord, and the believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”

Perhaps the greatest rescue that God accomplishes is not in the defeat of the enemy and the creation of a path through the sea, but in the conversion of hard hearts. These stubborn people actually came to fear the Lord and to believe. What a miracle! No, I do not want to discount the other aspects of this deliverance. What power, shown in the most God-glorifying of ways!

We need a Red Sea Rescue today. The Church, and individual Christians, need protection from Satan’s molesting designs. We need deliverance from the sickening attitude that we are better off settling for the temporary security that the enemy provides. We need a push in the back and a kick in the butt to push forward. We need true fear of the Lord, and real faith in a rescuing God and in his servant Jesus.

May today be a “go forward” day.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Thought of God

Reflections on “The Thought of God,” by Maurice Roberts. Banner of Truth, 1993. The book takes its title from the first article.

Often times at a funeral home, we will hear the explanation, perhaps to a grandchild, “Grandma is not here. She is gone to heaven. Only her body has been left behind.” Regardless of the sophistication, or lack thereof, of the truth prounounced, it reminds me of the point made powerfully in this reading, “The Thought of God.” When facing trouble, the Christian is really not completely here. He is, or, his attention is, directed to heaven. The problematic visibility does not describe the spiritual reality.

Roberts at one point calls it “intuitive,” at another, “instinctive.” Some men in our church have spoken of it as “our first reflex.” It is what Christians do. They turn to God. Their minds run to God. The are governed by “the thought of God.” In short, Christians pray.

Roberts uses a turn of phrase to communicate a beautiful truth: “godly men are not more ready to raise their minds to God in trouble than he is to hear and help them” (p.4). And this confidence is what makes turning to God an activity in which we can invest significant time and energy. God hears our prayers.

The other quote I choose is from pp. 6,7: “ Panic is the sinful failure to apply our knowledge of God to particular problems.” Could theology be any more practical than this? Does this not apply to issues weighing the mind even today? And, has “the Thought of God” ruled your heart and carried the day?

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

Friday, March 13, 2009

So Teach Us to Number our Days

I’ve often heard, and probably said it myself, that we should live each day as though it were our last. Perhaps this would be a word of admonition in line with Ps 90:12
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
But I’m not sure it gets it quite right.

Yes, it is true that we do not know how many days we have here on earth. This may be our last. And certainly, if it were our last, then there are certain things that I would want to say to certain people.

But the other side of this truth is – we may have a great many days left on this earth. And if that is the case, then we should not live each day as though it were our last. If we did, we would only do those things which are most urgent. We would not plan. We would not strategize. We would begin no large projects. We would stretch for no large aspirations.

And so it seems that we have a two-sided lesson here. Our times are in God’s hands. We must be very careful not to leave unfinished business, especially in the sense of unforsaken and unconfessed sin, or in failing to offer forgiveness or seek reconciliation in bruised and broken relationships.

But we must also dare to begin endeavors which may take decades to complete. We must begin friendships that may not mature for years. We must invest in worthy projects much like a farmer would plant seed in the Spring. Do we have a guarantee that we will enjoy the harvest on this earth? No, but there is harvest in heaven even for projects only begun.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Garbage Day

It may seem silly, but I love garbage day. Just think, you carry your junk to the street, and then it’s gone. The bags are gone. The garage is clean. The trash cans are empty. This has got to be one of the greatest achievements of modern civilization.

If you doubt me, answer this: What would you do with all your trash if no one took it away? Would you burn it? The smoke from everyone’s trash would cover the town. Would you bury it? Frankly, I’m afraid I come up with more trash that I have room to dig. You could shove it down the basement stairs, but that seems short-sighted.

What I really love about garbage day is that it reminds me of forgiveness. “If we confess your sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

This verse doesn’t explain the mechanics of atonement. It just states it as a fact. Forgiveness is possible, and forgiveness is possible. When I address my sin – recognizing my sin as sin, and name it for what it is – then forgiveness is promised. It’s a little like taking garbage to the street. In essence, you are admitting to the public – “I have garbage. Here it is.” And then it’s gone.

Sure, there are questions that need to be answered: What about unconfessed sin? How does God forgive sin and maintain His justice? Doesn’t this arrangement just encourage us to sin all the more? What about the consequences of sin? Are they taken away as well? And there are important answers to those questions.

But it doesn’t take away the delight of garbage day, and the joy of forgiveness day, which, when lived in the light, in fellowship with Jesus, is everyday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Forty Days in the Wilderness

Jesus is enjoying the wilderness, not because he’s an outdoors guy, but because he is full of the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit (Lk 4:1,2). The truth is, Jesus would be happy anywhere, full of the Spirit, walking in the pleasure of God. The environment and the hunger are real, but not so real as the reality of God.

The devil shows up in the wilderness. They size one another up. Their minds are worlds apart.

The devil must be puzzled by Jesus. Could this really be the Son of God? Sure, Satan was cast out of heaven for treason against the Most High. So what must the Son of God have done, to be cast as a human, bound by disgusting flesh? At least the devil was still an angel, but here is this Jesus, obviously lower than even angels.

If Jesus were only pretending to be the Son of God, then he would be extremely useful to the alMost High. Satan can always use pretenders, capitalizing on their pride.

But if Jesus is indeed the Son of God, then he must be destroyed. And it shouldn’t be hard, should it, since the devil had already proven that mere men were easily tempted and quickly turned.

Just a little shell game would do the trick. A little catering to the animal impulses. A little show and tell. The offering of a shortcut. The spectacle of a miracle. A seemingly noble way to put God in the service of man, as opposed to man in the service of God. This should be easy.

Jesus looks at the devil. Jesus has been training his mind and heart, his body and will, his emotions and spirit, to be satisfied with God, and with God alone. Whatever appearance the devil has, it finds no appeal in Jesus. His eyes are for God alone. His heart is for God alone. God alone. God alone. For thirty years, and for forty days, this has been his pattern and his life. God alone.

Jesus hears the devil, and knows Satan’s own self-deception, even as he attempts to begin his deceiving work. He observes the devil’s manipulation of the playing field, the re-framing of the rules, the altering of expectations, the reduction of all things important to this single moment in time. And Jesus knows.

He knows because he created this angel of light, now become the prince of darkness. He created his gifts and his abilities. The devil’s aptness for leadership did not arise from the abyss, and the span of his creativity did not evolve. It was given by God, through the handiwork of the Son.

When the devil spoke, he spoke through instruments designed by Jesus himself – instruments that were intended to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts.” He created a will that was to bend and bow in constant subservience to the will of God Almighty. And he created an angel with the ability to assist in bringing a redeemed humanity to “the praise of His glory.”

So perhaps Jesus views the devil with sadness. Perhaps with the kind of righteous anger that one feels when one’s Father’s name has been disdained. But certainly Jesus knows that He will defeat this devil.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alternative Energy

Christians are called “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Jesus says “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). John says that this “light was the light of men” (John 1:4). And in all these references, we can contrast the light with darkness. But I want to think of an association of light. Light produces heat. But not just heat. It is energy.

And so Christians operate with an alternative energy. Our energy comes “from above.” Other energies are operative in the world, but they are worldly. They come from below. The energies from below produce pollutions, like malice and envy; like selfishiness and abuse of others. But the energy from above produces things like joy and peace, and love.

The energies from below are part of a “death grid.” They depend on death. And they produce death. The energy from above is in complete contrast. It is a “life grid.” It begins with resurrected life (Romans 1:4), and begets eternal life (Romans 6:23), which is a whole different kind of life than one ever finds in the culture of death.

There is so much talk these days about alternative energy. My illustration makes me sound like a raging liberal. Coal and oil are bad. Sun and wind are good. And I’m not sure that is an appropriate conclusion to draw. It seems that in God’s design for this earth, coal and oil were provided as gifts. I suppose a person could argue that coal and oil are produced in the death and decay of organic materials, and so belong to the “death grid.” But that is another discussion. Let’s not make the illustration the lesson.

The lesson is this: Christians operate on a different plane because they are energized by a different Spirit (I think there is good evidence for a Biblical connection with Spirit as the breath of God, and energy or energizing.) And when I sink to operate according to the spirit of the age, according to the “elemental things” (Galatians 4:3) then, no wonder, I lose the grand experience of joy and peace and love, and I trade off for frustration, disillusionment, and a preoccupation with my own self.

Christian, look up. Feel the warmth of Jesus on your face and in your heart. Praise God for the wind of His Spirit, whether in reminding you of Biblical truth, or conviction of sin, or of a return to thankfulness and grace.

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18 NAS95S)

Friday, January 02, 2009


Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

In the chapter, “Journey: Are the Pilgrims still making Progress?” the authors discuss the tension between the journey itself, and the destination. They quote a sentiment which is widely accepted, and perhaps especially in the emergent church that “The destination matters little. The journey is the thing” (p.32)

Here’s where it’s fun to blog through a book, not critiquing the book necessarily, but looking for application for oneself. I’m going to talk about a direction that the chapter doesn’t really go. The authors go the direction of “certainty/uncertainty,” and even get around to discussing the emergent handling of homosexuality. I’d rather talk about heaven.

The pendulum still swings, though it is hard to tell when it has reached bottom (to borrow a market term). When I was growing up, we were all going to heaven. Now, we are living the Christian life. When I was growing up, people were living the Christian life on their way to heaven. Now, we are living the Christian life, and heaven will happen eventually. See the difference?

My pastor used to refer to people who were “so heavenly minded they were no earthly good.” I’m not sure I know anyone like that these days. We may now be so earthly minded, we are no heavenly good. And the trends in the American church are further toward friendship with the world, and enmity toward God (James 4).

This is not an us vs. them problem. This is a virus the emergent church caught from the evangelicals, and now the tumors are breaking through the surface. All of us need to catch a hunger for heaven that begins to break the attachments we have to this world.

Let me take a breath and clarify. When I say “heaven,” I don’t mean an escape from God’s creation into something else. No, I understand 2 Peter 3, where he speaks of “waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2Peter 3:13 ESV) I know that God’s creation is good, and that it awaits final redemption, though it will be dragged through the purging wringer in order to ready it for that day. Also, I am not advocating isolationism. We must break with the world even as we love sinners and sacrifice and suffer for them.

Our problem is our attachment to this world, and the current state of things – to its comforts; its prosperities; its entertainments; its coolness; its congratulations. We seem not to believe the following biblical phrases: “the present form of this world is passing away.” (1Corinthians 7:31 ESV); “And the world is passing away along with its desires,” (1John 2:17 ESV). Our journey seems to have lost its destination, and we think we can settle here, comfortably.

I want to affirm the importance of the journey. God uses the journey to prepare us for the destination. Each test; each gift; each trial is used by God to wean us from the world and make us thirsty for Christ. But somehow, we seem to be missing the lessons.

And I also want to affirm the importance of the destination. So let me go back to those intriguing words from 2 Peter: “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2Peter 3:11-12 ESV).

The American church is way out of balance, and we are veering away from center.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reading List from 2008

Here are books that I read in 2008, along with a few random notes.

I started the year with a book edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.

I ended the year (today) with The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What a challenging book, all the way to the end, like his life.

Graham Cole, He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

Books by D.A. Carson - Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, The Gagging of God (2nd time reading through this 900 pager, Christ and Culture,

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes. Someone related to Southern Serminary put together a book-of-the-month list for old Puritans. I read most of what he recommended (a couple I had read before). Thomas Boston, Repentance. Flavel, The Mystery of Providence. Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture. Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus. Owen, Mortification of Sin. Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (I think my favorite of the whole Puritan collection). William Guthrie, The Christian’s Great Interest. Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

St. Augustine, City of God. I had read this years ago. To think that what he said then is still important now.

Greg Beale, Temple of God (Biblical Theology). I love the books in this series.

Paul Tripp, A Quest for More. A helpful book that I’ve recommended to many, and which I gave to my wife for Christmas. Actually, I gave her my copy for Christmas. I also read Tripp’s How People Change, and Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection fo the Son of God. I finally finished this third volume of his series. Though I don’t follow everything, the guy is brilliant.

Rasenberger, America: 1908. A fascinating look at America 100 years ago.

Erickson and Taylor, eds. Reclaiming the Center

Feiler, Abraham. This guy shows Abraham in relation to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. And I’m not sure he understands any of them.

Guiness, The Call. I’ve read this twice, and still feel like I’m missing the point. It makes me feel thick.

Kistler, ed. Feed my Sheep, a book on preaching. Great chapters.

Harris, Slaves of Christ. This will deal with that triumphal streak in you. Very biblical, and a needed emphasis.

Packer, Dever. In My Place Condemned He Stood. Dense argumentation, but rich.

Paul Stiles, Is the American Dream Killing You? How the Marken Rules our Lives. I read this in the first half of the year. If I had waited to the second half, I probably would have wanted it to say, “how the market ruins our lives.” But it doesn’t, does it? It can’t. It doesn’t have that kind of power.

Mike Fabarez. Preaching that Changes Lives, borrowed from a friend at church. I wonder, now why was he so willing to share this with me?

Alex and Brett Harris, Do Hard Things. I have some blog entries running with a few threads from this book.

Henry Cloud, Integrity. This guy goes deep with the concept. I think he might be “Christian”, based on how he approaches or explains different concepts. But his failure to point to Christ anywhere in the book seems like, well, a lack of integrity.

DeYoung and Kluck. Why We’re Not Emergent. I’m currently blogging through this book, though not very energetically.

Newton, Elders in Congregational Life. A very good, brief treatment of the subject by a Baptist pastor. I liked his careful treatment of Acts 20; Hebrews 13, and 1 Peter 5.

Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spirit Discernment.

Ronny Russel, Can a Church Live Again? This SBC pastor is a “can-do” sort of fellow, and helps give hope and direction to moribund churches. It is not biblical, in that sense that he draws more from experience than from biblical teaching.

Machen, The Gospel in the Modern World. Of all the postmodern stuff out there, this book seemed pretty relevant. The labels change, but the truth stays the same.

Roy Hesson, We Would See Jesus. This old guy just takes the “I Am’s” literally, and helps me to see Jesus.

Timmis and Chester, Total Church. This is fresh, and does not bash traditional church, though what they are doing is anything but. Helpful insights.

Neal Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. I felt like I should have read this book years ago, but finally got to it this year, and its still relevant.

J. Hudson Taylor. Union and Communion with Christ: Thoughts on Song of Solomon. This was one of my favorites of the year. I know that the pendulum has swung in S of S studies, from Christological, to some kind of marriage manual. But I think I liked the pendulum back the other way.

Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case fot he Deity of Christ. This book was full of Biblical argument, but I found it very warm and encouraging for myself, as it caused the Person of Jesus to grow before my eyes.