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Monday, December 07, 2009

The Work of the Holy Spirit

John Piper had some interesting insights into the work of the Holy Spirit, whose role in the Trinity is often misunderstood. He writes...
"A recent book calls the Holy Spirit the shy member of the Trinity. His ministry is to point away from himself to the wonder of God the Son and God the Father... When Jesus promised the Spirit (in John 16:14), he said, "He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you." The Spirit is ... self-effacing. When we look toward him, he steps back and pushes forward Jesus Christ.

Therefore, in seeking to be filled and empowered by the Spirit  we must pursue him indirectly - we must look to the wonder of Christ. If we look away from Jesus and seek the Spirit and his power directly, we will end up in the mire of our own subjective emotions. The Spirit does not reveal himself. The Spirit reveals Christ... Christian spiritual experience is not a vague religious emotion. It is an emotion with objective content, and the content is Jesus Christ."

[from sermon: "Christ Conceived by the Holy Spirit", by John Piper, 3/11/84]

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Travels: Curved Stairways

The architecture of Paris is stunning. I could spend a month just walking around appreciating the intricate architectural beauty of the city... interspersed with sidewalk cafes, books, public fountains and people watching. A feature I especially identify with Paris is the interior curved staircase. I find them visually fascinating and thought I'd share a few shots with you. Aren't they beautiful? And you wonder how French women stay thin!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent: Tabernacled Among Us

Now that December is here, I've started reading through a series of writings and sermons centered upon the 1st Advent of Christ. I thought I would share excerpts with you as we advance towards the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior. Since the Monday Night Ladies have so frequently discussed the Tabernacle in our OT studies, I thought they, in particular, would appreciate the following passage:

John 1:14 "the Word dwelt among us", literally, "tabernacled among us," which means, "he pitched a tent among us." The OT tabernacle is where God moved in and lived with his people ...

The tabernacle was where God met with men: "I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6).

The tabernacle was the center of Israel's camp, a gathering place for God's people: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." (John 12:32)

The tabernacle was where sacrifices for the sins of God's people were made: "But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 10:12)

The tabernacle was a place of worship: "Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and My God' " (John 20:28)

Just as the tabernacle in the wilderness contained and displayed God's glory (Exodus 40:34-35), even more do we behold "the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Moses sought to look upon the glory of God, and was warned by God himself not to look (Exodus 33:18-20); but we have the privilege of looking upon the face of the Word of God, upon Jesus by faith through his Word. Later, one day, by sight we will see the face of Jesus, who will be the full revelation of God and manifestation of his glory."

[from That You May Believe: New Life in the Son, Joseph R. Ryan]

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Cup

The last few years I've been teaching mostly from the OT. One result has been an increasing understanding of NT allusions to OT concepts, allusions which would not have been difficult for 1st Century AD believers to understand, but which are often lost to modern believers, who don't tend to have their solid understanding of the OT.

I recently became aware of the OT significance of the term "this cup" in Mark 14:36 [cf. Mt.20:22], which Jesus refers to in His prayer at Gethsemane the night before His death. "And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." I had always assumed He was speaking of His approaching suffering and death ... the scourging, the humiliation, the crucifixion. On a human level, those would be considered serious, painful events. Being human, we are quick to identify with such suffering. That is certainly the main viewpoint in Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of Christ".

But Jesus is actually speaking of something He had a very clear concept of, yet something which mankind has little understanding of ... God's wrath against sin. Christ is referring to "the cup of God's wrath", seen frequently in the OT as the just response of a holy God to sin. The reference appears frequently in the OT: look at Ps. 75:8, Isa. 51:17, Jer. 25:15-28, Ezek. 23:32-34 and Hab. 2:16. The NT also refers to the cup of God's wrath in Revelation 14:10, "the cup of His anger", and in Revelation 16:19, "the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath".

What brought our Lord to His knees that evening was His knowledge that He was about to take God's wrath upon Himself - wrath He did not deserve, but which our sin had earned. Any other suffering paled in comparison! Romans 8:1 tells us the result of His having done so, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Jesus willingly took God's deserved wrath for our sin upon Himself, with the result that it no longer lies upon those who have placed their trust in Christ and His perfect atonement. This is a truth so far beyond our wildest imaginations that I don't think we stop often enough to contemplate the significance of such a loving gift!

What is even MORE amazing is that knowing what was about to occur, Christ's over-riding, greater concern was that God's will would be done! Scripture is full of God's will for us, beginning with having a genuine sorrow for our sin against a holy God, a sorrow that leads to repentance: "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation..." 2 Corinthians 7:10. May we never take sin against a holy God lightly!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Therefore, Be Reconciled

I have had so many "aha" moments in Bible Study this week I'm dizzy! It never ceases to amaze me how long I can carry a wrong or incomplete understanding of a biblical passage in my head, until the day comes, praise God, the blinders come off! Something I thought I totally understood suddenly opens up to me.

Mt. 5:23-24 is a common counseling passage about being reconciled to a brother. Today I suddenly understood the passage in its greater context . First, I noticed an important word at the beginning of v.23, "Therefore". Hmm... Jesus is about to give a resulting conclusion based on previously given information. Aha....what comes just before this verse? He's teaching about a wider understanding of sin, going beyond the focus on outward actions, as taught by the rabbis, and expanding back into one's thought life (21-22). They had heard rabbis teach that murder is a sin. Jesus now expands upon that teaching to help them understand sinful anger in their thought life is equally worthy of God's judgment! That knowledge gives the worshiper in v.23 a MOTIVATION for being reconciled with a brother who is holding something against him. Love for your brother should motivate you to prevent him from suffering the consequences of sinful anger!

Secondly, I see the verb "be reconciled" is an Imperative of Command in the Greek. There is no personal choice in the matter. The Lord Himself directly gives this command.

Finally, the passage says absolutely nothing about the attitude of the worshiper. It matters not whether the worshiper believes a problem actually exists with his brother. What matters is that THE BROTHER thinks there's a breach. Which leads to an important additional point. The worshiper is commanded to be reconciled to his brother irrespective of the justice or injustice of the brother's judgment! How many of us refuse to take steps to be reconciled with a brother because we consider ourselves to be innocent of any wrongdoing? It's THEIR problem, we say. I haven't done anything wrong. According to this passage, our guilt or innocence doesn't matter. It's the brother's opinion that counts. Remember, Jesus' focus isn't on our guilt or innocence here, but on our brothers sinful anger.

The point is to love your brother enough that you are willing to do whatever is necessary to remove the ground of estrangement from between you, and thereby save him from sinful anger. That's what it means to "build up one another". It's not that believers go around saying, "Good job!"... "Atta boy!" to one another all the time, but that we help each other become increasingly Christ-like, and thereby glorify God!

And we have Christ's own example to follow. "But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." [Rom. 5:8] That's the selfless, loving attitude Jesus is looking for in His people!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Learning to Read Scripture in Context

"To read a passage of Scripture in context is simply to read it with a sense of its place in the whole. This is, on the one hand, one of the easiest of our hermeneutical principles and takes the least amount of time. But on the other hand, it takes a lifetime. This is true because the Bible is unfathomably rich. So rich that no one can master the Scripture in a lifetime. There is always something more to know, something more to learn from God's Word. And it is precisely from our knowledge of the whole that we must read the part." Tremper Longman III

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Fascination with Hiroshige's Prints

Recently "Chronicle" featured a NH artist who created a series of woodblock prints inspired by the style of the well-known Japanese printer, Hiroshige (1797-1858), probably best known for his series of prints based upon different views of Mt. Fuji. His representations of waves and water are also quite familiar.

I have always been drawn to Hiroshige's prints. There's something about the layering of woodblock prints that fascinates me. I admire the ability to see a finished work broken down into its layered components. I don't have a brain capable of that type of thinking, but admire those who do. His use of color also draws my interest. The range of blues can keep me looking at a print for ages. I also like his contrast of blues with browns. I remember as a child I would wear those two colors together and be teased for it. But I always liked them together.

A third fascination in his work is the opportunity to look into a world far different from my own... not only in time, but in culture (East vs West). His prints, therefore, hold my interest on several levels. I've posted a few for you to enjoy and recommend borrowing a book of his work the next time you go to the Library. Perhaps you'll find the prints as mesmerizing as I do.  Here is a reasonably priced volume of his famous work, ""100 Views of Edo".

Friday, September 25, 2009

Your Piece of the Local Assembly Puzzle

I love the wisdom in Ray Ortlund's recent blog. I think we must have a driving passion for serving in our local assembly, because God has gifted us to do so. Too often we focus on the gift, rather than the PURPOSE of the gift, which is to help meet a need of the particular assembly where God has placed us to serve. Do you ever think about that? Does it ever occur to you that God may change gifts when the need changes? We lament when we are no longer able to serve in the manner we are accustomed to serving, perhaps due to health issues or a move to a new area. But do we remember God's Providence in these "circumstances"? We are not "locked into" one way to serve... He will enable you to serve EXACTLY where you are needed in your own assembly. Our home church is where God wants us working... whether that is in Chester, NH or Guatemala City or Hong Kong. So what are you doing sitting around on your hands? When a gift of God is not being exercised in the local body... the body is disabled and can't function the way God intended it to.

Here is Ray Ortlund's post:

"My passion isn't to build up my church. My passion is for God's Kingdom."

Ever heard someone say that? I have. It sounds large-hearted, but it's wrong. It can even be destructive.

Suppose I said, "My passion isn't to build up my marriage. My passion is for Marriage. I want the institution of Marriage to be revered again. I'll work for that. I'll pray for that. I'll sacrifice for that. But don't expect me to hunker down in the humble daily realities of building a great marriage with my wife Jani. I'm aiming at something grander."

If I said that, would you think, "Wow, Ray is so committed"? Or would you wonder if I had lost my mind?

If you care about the Kingdom, be the kind of person who can be counted on in your own church. Join your church, pray for your church, tithe to your church, participate in your church every Sunday with wholehearted passion.

We build great churches the same way we build great marriages -- real commitment that makes a positive difference every day."

Encouraging words. You think you have a MORE important agenda than the one God already has for you?

Not Everyone Who "Says"

I've been reading through Jeremiah this week and am struck by two things. First, I noticed that I understood it a lot better than I had the last time I read it. That is something I love about studying the Bible and ancient history. You generally don't realize you are making tiny, incremental steps forward in your understanding. Then one day you read a passage of Scripture and it opens up to you! We tend to be so impatient and want to understand it ALL ... NOW. But it just doesn't happen that way. It takes time and perseverance. And so often we are impatient and give up too easily. Trust me when I tell you it is WORTH every bit of patience and perseverance!

Secondly, I couldn't help realizing how many similarities the self-proclaimed "Christian" culture has with OT Israel. Like them, how many don't really fear God at all? How many "name the name", yet take Him for granted, ignore Him, shake their fist at His authority... and still expect His tolerance and continued blessing, as if He owed them or as if He couldn't see the true condition of their hearts. Look at these verses and tell me what you think...

"... the dread of Me is not in you" (2:19)
"... you refused to be ashamed" (3:3)
"...They have lied about the LORD And said, "Not He; Misfortune will not come on us" (5:12)
"The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so!" (5:31)
"...They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush." (6:15)
"Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail..." (7:8)
"Do they spite Me?" declares the LORD. "Is it not themselves they spite, to their own shame?" (7:19)

And how do you tell the difference between a "professor" and a true follower? Jesus Himself told us in Mt.7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me..." If we truly trust in Christ's atonement for forgiveness, it is displayed in our obedience. "Jesus ... said..., 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.'" (Jn. 14:23) Sobering.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

OWN a Book

Tim Challies recently had the good sense to quote one of my favorite passages from a book I have long loved called, "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler. Mr. Adler is the reason my books are such a mess my children will never want to inherit them... even though they think they do. I have so thoroughly marked up my books with comments, cross references, arguments and criticisms that few people other than me will ever enjoy having them. Read on and discover how you really "own" a book!

"There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher’s icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your blood stream to do you any good.

Confusion about what it means to “own” a book leads people to a false reverence for paper, binding, and type — a respect for the physical thing — the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, which a great book contains, without staking his claim by pasting his bookplate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn’t prove that its owner has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his father, or his wife, was rich enough to buy them.

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers — unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books — a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many — every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.) …

But the soul of a book “can” be separate from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini’s score of the G minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores — marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them—is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Importance of Context: Morals-Driven vs Gospel-Driven Living

Probably one of the most common problems we face when studying a NT epistle is our desire to "skip ahead" to the "Application" portion of the letter before we have had an opportunity to seriously reflect upon the earlier "Doctrinal" portion which undergirds even the possibility of "Application." As a result we become heavily focused upon "doing" without having a solid appreciation for the rhyme or reason, or the power behind it. Bypassing the doctrine results in a "morals-based" Christianity. We completely focus on the end-product, to the point that we begin to think we are getting "brownie points," "earning" God's favor for having "accomplished" some right behavior. Saved by the gospel, we now abandon its power and turn our focus completely onto ourselves, instead of onto the God who made our obedience even possible. We may even begin to expect that God "owes us," that we "deserve" blessings or at least "a break."

Ephesians 4-6 provides such a good example. In my early biblical counseling training, those three chapters provided a solid basis for Christian living. If you've ever taken "Self Confrontation," you're certainly familiar with the commands in these three chapters: "Be angry and sin not," "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted," "Speak the truth in love." And yet how many times have you heard people say, "I keep working on the same problem!" They know these verses, they try to obey them ... but they continually fail. And what is the eventual result? They might "give up," perhaps contenting themselves in their sin. Or they may concentrate instead on verses that are easier for them to consistently obey, building a foundation of spiritual pride. Or they might conclude, "That's hard." and try to ignore the command. Or even worse, they might say, "I tried that and it didn't work."

It's tragic! Now let's bring in the context. Go back to Eph. 4:1. What KEY connecting word do you see at the very start? You're right... it's "therefore." What does that tell you? Right again... what follows is a RESULT of the truth that has just been written. And what HAS just been written in Chapters 1-3? That's right... it's "doctrine." [You're really good at answering these questions!]

Paul has spent the first 3 chapters explaining what God has done for believers, those who "were dead in trespasses and sins." God "chose" them "before the foundation of the world", He "predestined" them "for ADOPTION as sons through Christ Jesus", He "LAVISHED the riches of His grace" upon them, He "BLESSED them in Christ with EVERY spiritual blessing" ... and so on ... and so on. Stop! Think about these truths, chew on them, reread Eph.1-3 every day for a week and ruminate on truths revealed! Let them seep down in deep, ponder them, think about their implication. Then, and only then, move on to Eph. 4:1... "THEREFORE ... "

Do you see those last three chapters a little differently now? If you truly comprehend the doctrine in Chapters 1-3, then your heart's desire is to respond in obedience. Don't ever separate the doctrine of the early chapters from the commands in the final chapters, or you'll become "morals-driven" and destined for failure, instead of "gospel-driven" and destined to glorify the God who has shed His mercy on you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Word Pictures of Thomas Watson

One of the books I'm currently reading is Expository Preaching with Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson, by Jack Hughes. I enjoy reading good books on Homiletics because so many things also apply to good teaching. Thomas Watson is a Puritan author who remains very approachable some 300 years later. Here are a few examples of his work:

"Walking in the ways of sin is like walking on the banks of a river. The sinner treads on the banks of the bottomless pit, and if death gives him a jog, he tumbles in."

"An idle person is the devil's tennis ball, which he bandies up and down with temptation till at last the ball goes out of play."

"The world is but a great inn where we are to stay a night or two and be gone. What madness it is so to set our heart upon our inn as to forget our home!"

If you've never read anything by Thomas Watson, I'd recommend trying The Godly Man's Picture. Don't expect to rush through it, but work your way through it slowly, savoring the words.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Boredom" & Life Expectations

As many of my teen friends will attest, there are few phrases that raise my hackles as quickly as the words, "I'm bored".  It's a common enough status on fb if you're between the ages of 13 and 18.  I especially find it ironic when their previous status was often, "I have so much work/studying/homework to do I can't stand it."  You would think a little down time would be a welcome break!

I'm sure in many cases it is primarily a call for companionship, but I think there is an underlying truth I find quite disturbing.  It's a call to "be entertained".  The need for constant entertainment and "business" is a siren call for many.  I find myself wondering if we parents have contributed to that by raising kids with an activity schedule that would make your head spin!  There are so many "programs" available that our kids grow up thinking they can't be content unless they are "busy" participating in an organized activity.  I remember struggling with this when my kids were little.  I tried to limit "programs" so there would be plenty of time for "free play", for "reading", for "family conversation"... and especially in our house, for "chores". [Raising animals meant work!]

The "Jollyblogger" recently posted on the subject.  He wrote, "Boredom is a decision we make, not something that happens to us.  There really is no excuse for being bored.  The "bored" of the world are those who believe it is the job of others to make them happy and keep them entertained ... A learner is never bored, an inquisitive person who pays attention to the world and people around him can always find something to engage his attention."

So I encourage parents to consider avoiding the rut of over-programming their children.  Allowing them time to learn to self-engage with the world around them can be a much more valuable gift in the long run.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Teach Self-Control

Sometimes it's hard to take the time necessary to teach our children the lessons they need to learn. We become caught up in the business of life, or embarrassed by their public display of sin or just get distracted with other things. The following post on the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood blog gives a great example of how and when to do it: 

"Two sports events this weekend, one seen across the globe, the other far more mundane, provided me with an opportunity to teach my six-year-old son a crucial lesson in biblical manhood.

The first event unfolded Saturday on a little league diamond near our home in a game involving my son. After getting a hit in each of his first two at-bats, Jeffrey grounded out to first base. He stroked a nice, hard grounder, but the first baseman made an even nicer play. A runner moved from second to third base on the play and thus it was, in baseball parlance, a productive out. 

As his coach, I was pleased. As his father, I was less pleased, however, by what happened next: Jeffrey threw his batting helmet in anger. In the dugout, he knocked around some equipment and even gave his glove a brisk toss. Now, this is certainly no way to treat your equipment, but that is beside the point. As the team went back into the field for the next inning, I kept Jeffrey in the dugout with me. "You're out of the game for the rest of the day," I told him. Needless to say, he wasn't thrilled. 

After the game, we talked about sportsmanship and self-control and idolatry and doing all things to the glory of God. We talked about the humbling nature of baseball, how even Ted Williams failed seven times in 10, how you must put failure behind you and how the game parallels the Christian pilgrimage. Self-control and learning how to fail gracefully are critical lessons for future men to learn; they are a critical part of manhood, a critical part of a man's ability to lead well. "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls." (Prov. 25:28) Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:23) and Paul urged young men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6). I want my sons to learn this lesson in baseball, where the damage is limited to a scarred helmet, rather than in real life, where the damage can be catastrophic and eternal. 

Event No. 2, the British Open golf tournament that concluded Sunday, provided the perfect illustration for a lesson on self-control. At 59, Tom Watson missed becoming the oldest golfer to win the esteemed tournament when he left short an eight-foot putt on hole No. 18. Watson had made that putt ten thousand times before, but this time he missed and lost a four-hole playoff to Stewart Cink. In overtime, Watson's game fell apart. On the third hole, he drove deep into the rough while Cink, who spoke afterward of his Christian faith as a steadying reality, salted away his first victory in a major tournament. 

It was Watson's calm demeanor over those final five holes that provided the lesson. After misfiring on one of the playoff holes, Watson strode calmly down the fairway, doffed his hat and smiled to the cheering gallery. When he missed the putt that would have clinched the win, there was no club throwing, no foul language, no fit of anger, only a slight grimace and a pained smile. In the end, Watson stood at Cink's side, wearing a smile, graciously extolling his younger opponent before the media. Pure class. Real manhood. 

Life in a fallen world is fraught with losing, for biblical Christianity is a perennial competition between two factions warring for supremacy over the human heart. God warns us about this reality early in His Word (Gen. 3:15a). All men fail on some level and even the most sanctified man will emerge from this war with scars from battles lost and battles won. My son must learn to deal with victory and defeat now. I pray that these lessons will make clear his desperate need for the One Victorious Man, the One who won the war over sin and death and yes, even helmet throwing and glove kicking, once and for all (Rom. 5:19)

[Jeff Robinson]

Saturday, May 09, 2009

"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1 John 2:15

In general, the term "the world" speaks of an ordered, as opposed to a chaotic, system. In Scripture it can have three possible meanings, determined by the context where it is used. It can mean the physical earth (Jn.21:25). It can also mean the human race, mankind (Jn.3:16). But predominantly it has ethical import, i.e. the human race in its alienation from and opposition to God. In the above verse, John has in view the world of humanity steeped in sin and dominated by the Evil One. (1Jn.5:19)

John then gives three reasons why such a prohibition is crucial. I've spent some time considering the first reason (15b "the love of the Father is not in him"). In the Greek construction, there are three possible meanings for "the love of the Father":
1. the love that comes from the Father [Source]
2. the Father's love for the individual [Subjective]
3. the individual's love for the Father [Objective]

Considering the immediate context, "love of the Father" is opposite "love for the world". Therefore, I would lean towards the 3rd definition, it is speaking of the individual's "love for the Father". But... since our love for the Father is the result of His love for us (1Jn.4:19), there could be a sense of the 2nd definition underlying the immediate context.

John is saying that love for the Father & love for the world cannot hold mutual sway in the same human heart. [cf. Mt.6:24] For a believer, love for the Father is the motivating force in his heart & life. And therein lies the challenge. God created man to be a worshiper. If he does not worship God, then he is worshiping something else. Quite often the object itself is amoral. It's his attitude towards it, his love of it, the placing of that object above the things of God that is the problem. For an unbeliever that is to be expected. But for a believer it is gross sin to love something more than God.

That brings me to an observation I made while doing errands yesterday. It has long been a habit in our family to read bumper stickers and vanity plates on people's cars. I was idly doing so as I crept around Derry and Londonderry. Then it hit me... we advertise our idols on the outside of our cars for the world to see! In our culture we publicly declare our "love", our "idol" to everyone. What kind of things do people in our part of the cosmos worship? Take a look the next time you're out driving ... everyone is promoting his own personal idols!

And that brings me to a personal challenge... what or who is foremost in your own life? Is it your children and their "honor roll" status? Is it your sports team? Is it your hobby? Is it some type of exercise? Is it your car? Is it your "social cause"? Is it the environment? Is it your pet? Is it some media figure? Is it your pet peeve? Is it your politics? All of those things are amoral in themselves. It's our love of them, our elevation of them in our heart that becomes sinful. Is there something you love more than God? Where is your time devoted? Where is your money devoted? What do you tend to talk about the most? What thoughts fill your head when your mind is on "idle"? What bumper sticker would God put on the outside of your car?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Content of Prayer

I'm often struck by the difference between our prayers and the prayers we read about in Scripture. I am too often guilty of directing my focus to subjects of "safety" and "benefit" for those I am praying for. Especially when it comes to my own family I fear I "overdo" prayer in the areas of safety and protection. I find myself imagining every possible injury, illness and need that might occur and "praying up", as it were, protection against the possibility of such things ever happening. Such prayers reflect more of a concern for the comfort of my loved ones, than a desire for God to work in whatever way might be necessary to bring them to greater spiritual maturity and an increasing love for God, which so often requires travel on the road of trial and tribulation.

It's not that we should not be praying for those things, but that we need to expand our horizons beyond "the hedges" of protection we ask God to keep around those we care for - whether family, missionaries or fellow believers in the local assembly. While rereading the book Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God for our Ladies' Book Club, I came across the following quote by a missionary named Timothy A McKeown. His words are worthy of our contemplation.

"Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers, but on the power, majesty, testimony and victory of God over His - and our - enemies ... The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the 'costs' - not to personal comfort and safety." He adds that he often asks those who pray for him & his family to "focus not so much on our 'safety' as on our 'faithfulness' in whatever circumstances our Sovereign God might call us to minister."

If you're praying for me, I ask that you pray for my obedience and faithfulness to the Lord. In what ways could the Lord use me if those things were consistently strong in all areas of my life!

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Great Scroll of Isaiah

While visiting the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem a year ago, I quickly hurried downstairs to look at the Great Isaiah Scroll, found among Qumran's Dead Sea Scrolls. Probably your eyes are glazing over and you're stifling a yawn... but consider this. How many ancient versions of Scripture are ever on display to the public? Almost none. The earliest portion I had ever seen was a scrap from the Gospel of John dating to the early 2nd Century AD on display at the British Library in London.

My hopes of seeing the Isaiah scroll were dashed as soon as I realized I was looking at a replica. The original is kept in a climate-controlled, bombproof vault and only small portions are ever put on display. [I believe Beth was able to see one in a special exhibit that toured the US.] If I had waited until summer, I could have seen a large portion that was placed on display at the Shrine of the Book in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary.

You may not appreciate the significance of this scroll to the preservation of Scripture. Dating to ca. 120 BC, it is by far the oldest complete copy of any biblical book. Our modern English versions of the OT are based upon the Masoretic texts, which came from a school of scribes and Torah scholars working from the 7th-11th Centuries AD, based in the cities of Tiberias, Jerusalem and Babylonia.

The Great Scroll of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (120 BC), is nearly identical to the Masoretic version of the Book of Isaiah (7th-11th Centuries AD). Even though 1000 years separates the two texts, the differences between them are amazingly minor! That should give us confidence in the accuracy of the texts used to translate our modern Old Testaments. What other ancient literature can even come close to claiming that?!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Return My Book or Else...

I've always liked the idea of book plates and often wished I had some to paste into my favorite books. But what about placing a curse on someone who doesn't return a book? That's probably a little far-fetched in this day of massmarket paperbacks and public libraries. [I do recall a fellow book lover who used to handwrite a "curse" in the books he loaned out... oh, the things we end up remembering!]

But think back to the days when books were individually hand written, when there were no public libraries and only the wealthy could afford books. Even after the printing press was invented, not many copies of books were made. People saved up money in order to buy one. That helps us understand the desperation behind this "curse on book thieves" found in the monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona, Spain:

"For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not,
this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in
his hand and rend him.

Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted.

Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let
there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution.

Let bookworms gnaw his entrails... and when at last he
goeth to his last punishment, let the flames of hell consume
him for ever."

Now who needs to return one of my books?

Happy Birthday, Facebook

In honor of Facebook's fifth birthday, Al Mohler's blog offers advise on safeguarding the social networking experience. Since the phenomenon has become such an integral part of every-day life, it's important for believers to reflect and consider the moral impact of any new technology. In my short term experience using Facebook I have enjoyed the interaction with friends from the past, as well as having an opportunity to get to know people better. I do have concerns that believers realize we are ambassadors for Christ in ALL our communications, whether spoken or written, whether serious or trivial. I'm also convinced that this technology is most appropriate for teens and older, not for children.

Here are Al Mohler's recommendations:

1. Never allow social networking to replace or rival personal contact and communication. God made us to be social creatures that crave community. We cannot permit ourselves to substitute social networking for the harder work of building and maintaining personal relationships that are face to face.
2. Set clear parameters for the time devoted to social networking. These services can be seductive and time consuming. Social networking (and the Internet in general) can become obsessive and destructive of other relationships and higher priorities for the Christian.
3. Never write or post anything on a social networking site that you would not want the world to see, or anything that would compromise your Christian witness. There are plenty of young people (perhaps older persons now, too) who are ruining future job prospects and opportunities by social networking misbehavior. The cost to Christian witness is often far greater.
4. Never allow children and teenagers to have independent social networking access (or Internet access, for that matter). Parents should monitor, manage, supervise, and control the Internet access of their children and teens. Watch what your child posts and what their friends post.
5. Do not allow children and teens to accept any "friend" unknown to you. The social networking world can be a dangerous place, and parental protection here is vital.
6. Encourage older friends and relatives to sign up and use the technology. Grandparents can enjoy keeping up with grandchildren and with friends and loved ones separated by distance or mobility.
7. Use the social networking technology to bear witness to the Gospel, but never think that this can replace the centrality of face-to-face evangelism, witness and discipleship.
8. Do all things to the glory of God, and do not allow social networking to become an idol or a display of narcissism.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Scrutinize the Spirits

In 1Jn. 4:1-3, the Apostle John, addressing believers ["beloved"], contrasts the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of false prophets. He gives two commands (Imperatives):

1. Stop believing in / entrusting yourselves to every spirit.
[Present Tense = progressive, on-going, lifestyle action]

2. Be testing/scrutinizing/analyzing each spirit.
[Present Tense = progressive, on-going, lifestyle action]

He then explains this can be done by examining each spirit's message.

a. One confessing [def: to say the same thing as God] Jesus Christ having come in the flesh
"confessing" = Pres. Tense [progressive, on-going, lifestyle action];
"having come" = Perfect Tense [action which happened in the Past with continuing results in the Present]

b. One NOT confessing Jesus Christ having come in the flesh

He also gives a reason WHY it is necessary for these believers to do this: "because many false prophets have gone out into the world". And he tells them the SOURCE of this false teaching - the spirit of antichrist, which they had heard was coming, and which now, in fact, had arrived.

What is the significance of John's words, penned over 1900 years ago? The spirit of antichrist REMAINS in the world. False messages about Jesus Christ are STILL being promoted. Christians STILL need to stop believing every spirit and STILL need to be testing/scrutinizing/analyzing the messages they are hearing. Within the past five years alone many cults have started claiming they believe in Jesus. But if you analyze their message you will find they are proclaiming "another" Christ, not the One who is revealed in God's Word.

Tragically, many who name the name of Christ have lost their ability to test, to scrutinize, to examine because they no longer know the Truth as it is revealed in God's Word. They may listen to preachers teach about Christ, but they do not have the ability to discern whether or not the teaching is True. They may read books naming Christ, but they do not have the ability to discern whether or not the writing is True. That is because they have abandoned the Truth. They no longer read their Bibles. They no longer read, re-read, meditate, taste, savor Scripture. They may have the indwelling Holy Spirit, but they give Him no Scriptural food to work with.

So my challenge to you who name the name of Christ is to examine yourself. If you find you no longer have a hunger for God's Word, it may be because you have starved yourself and thereby lost your appetite.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Five Reasons to Be Thankful for Obama's Inauguration

Over at the Irish Calvinist blog, Erik Raymond has written a post on why he, as a believer, is thankful for President Obama. I have found myself being incredibly disappointed with the response of many believers to his election. If you name the name of Christ, you are representing Him in this fallen world, even in so lightweight a place as Facebook. It is a serious matter in God's eyes; we need to take it seriously in our own eyes. One does not need to have supported the man in order to be thankful for God having sovereignly placed him over us at this point in time. If you are in need of an "attitude adjustment", here are the highlights from Raymond's five reasons.

1. A finger in the eye to evangelicals. When George Bush became president many professing Christians looked at him as if he was some sort of lower-case ‘m’ messiah who would usher in the religious right’s agenda. Too often it felt like evangelicals were content with their king and forgot to long for the King.

2. More occassion to pray. There are many issues that are on the hot plate now. Now the burden seems heavier to pray and pray harder. We (me!) might have been a little lax before as we looked to men who professed to have the same views as ours to bring about such radical change. Furthermore, I am forced by virtue of the fact that I know this president and his staff need Christians to pray for him . I need to pray and keep praying for the President in light of 1 Timothy 2, that the Word of God might continue to be proclaimed freely in this country.

3. Racial progress in America. Within the lifetime of many folks watching this inauguration, an African-American could not have even been served a meal in public, much less receive the oath of president of the country! This represents great progress for our country in the area of racism. As this is more in line with God’s revealed will, I am thankful.

4. The peaceful transition of power. I am reminded afresh of the abundant grace of God in allowing this country to not have violence in the street as the power is wrestled from the current leader. Instead we have our outgoing president sitting respectfully, smiling and affirming our new leader. This is a cause for thanksgiving.

5. A fresh and vivid reminder to long for the King. All of the noble ideals and grand plans pale in comparison to the treading down of all unrighteousness, the visible reign of the Righteous One, the swelling emotional and theologically-driven worship that will abound when the gloriously wonderful One will finally reign.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Look at Sovereignty & "Free Will"

"We love Him because He first loved us."
1 John 4:19

Many believers are convinced by Scripture of the sovereignty of God in all things, yet not quite reconciled to "the fairness" of it in their mind. They know Scripture is true and their thinking in error, but find they can't quite reconcile their personal ideas about "fairness" and "free will" with God's sovereignty, and they would like to be able to.

I believe part of the answer lies in having an accurate understanding of "free will". "Free will" does not mean an individual can do whatever he wants. As Americans, we are "free", but we are not "free" to do "whatever we want". We can not murder, steal or drive drunk and expect there will be no adverse consequences for our actions. Even the much-touted idea that "As an American I can grow up to be whatever I want to be" is fallacious. I may "want" to be a nuclear physicist, but I am limited by my intelligence and a lack of funds to expend on the required education. I may "want" to be President, but only one person is elected every four years. Do the math ... every American cannot become President, no matter how much they might desire the job.

From a Scriptural point of view, "free will" means a man has the freedom to act according to his nature. An unregenerate heart/mind is at enmity with God. [Rom.8:7]. (By the way, that verb is in the Greek Present Tense, which indicates a progressive, on-going, "lifestyle" kind of action.)

It takes a "golden chain" of effort on God's part to bring a mind at enmity towards Him into a relationship of loving Him. "For those whom He forekenew, He also predestined... and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified." [Rom.8:29-30]

For months I have been trying to think of an illustration that might demonstrate "free will" in a scenario involving outside intervention. Remembering the above definition of "free will", that an individual is "free" to act within their nature, I recalled an incident I think might help illustrate the concept.

When we were raising sheep, it was not uncommon for people to dump their pregnant cats in our neighborhood. While doing chores one morning, the kids were surprised to have a kitten drop down from the loft into the grain bin. A litter of kittens had been born in the loft above. Understanding that I would incur a cost, I called the animal shelter to make arrangements to bring the new family into their care. I was told I could not bring the kittens to the shelter until they were weaned. I was also warned that if I left them on their own in the barn, they would be feral cats by the time weaning occurred - untameable and unsuitable for adoption.

So, with considerable effort on our part, we finally caught all of the kittens and their mom, and brought them into the house. We fed them, held them, patted them, put up with their propensity to scratch furniture and climb curtains ... until they were weaned and could be brought to the shelter, which for a fee would neuter each one and give the appropriate shots, making them presentable for adoption by loving owners.

Now, if I had not intervened, what would have happened to those kittens in the barn? They would have had the "free will" to be feral. What happened when I DID intervene, paying the price of scratched kids & curtains, feeding & vet costs, nurturing time, etc.? Their "nature" was changed and they had the "free will" to be tame cats. In both cases they possessed "free will" to follow their nature. My intervention did not remove their "free will".

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Winter came late this year, but it seems to be making up for lost time. I thought you might enjoy the following poem by Ogden Nash:

Winter comes but once a year but it lasts for most of it,
And you may think there is a chance it may be a mild one, but there isn't a ghost of it.
Some people still say ice is nicer than slush
And to those people I say Hush.

Some people still say snow is nicer than rain,
Which is like being still unreconciled to the defeat of James G. Blaine.
Some people still say a freeze is nicer than a thaw,
And I hope they find cold storage Japanese beetles in their slaw.

Slush is much nicer than ice because when you step in it you simple go splash,
instead of immediately depositing either your posterior or your pate on it,
And also you don't have to skate on it.
Rain is much nicer than snow because you don't have to have rain plows piling rain up in six-foot piles exactly where you want to go,
And you don't have to build rain-men for the kiddies and frolic in sleighs and sleds,
and also rain is nicer because it melts the snow.
A thaw is obviously much nicer than a freeze,
Because it annoys people with skis.
And in all my life I have only known one man who honestly liked winter better than summer,
Because every summer he used to have either his tonsils or his appendix or something out,
and every winter he was a plumber.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Always Changing Jerusalem

When someone visits Israel for the first time, it can be easy to imagine that the historical areas have always looked the way you are seeing them. But modern Israel is about 20 feet above where it would have been during Jesus' day. Here are two photos of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The top picture was taken in 1964. Note the large crack in the stone behind the man's knees.

The Western Wall Plaza has been lowered about 6 feet since then. The bottom picture shows how it looks today. Note the same cracked stone under the right hand of the young man in the red shirt who is standing on a chair. I found this to be a wonderful visual reminder of the constant changes Jerusalem is undergoing.

[I found these two photos on Todd Bolen's website. The top photo was taken by David Blevin and the bottom one by Todd.]

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Happy" in Christ

Speaking to His disciples in the "Sermon on the Mount", Jesus gave a list of the characteristics of individuals who will enter the Kingdom. This isn't a 'pick & choose list'. All of these attributes are characteristic of the person entering the Kingdom. Each verse in Mt.5:3-11 begins with the word variously translated "Blessed" or "Happy" in English. You might misunderstand the biblical meaning if you are relying upon the meaning of the English word "happy", which is based upon the root word "hap", meaning luck as a favorable circumstance (e.g. "happenstance"). It carries the idea that life is good, I am lucky, and as a result that makes me "happy". But what happens when the circumstances of life are not good?

The Koine Greek word used is "makarios". Dr. Zodhiates gives a good definition in his NT Word Study: "Blessed, possessing the favor of God, that state of being marked by fullness from God. It indicates the state of the believer in Christ, of one who becomes a partaker of God's nature through faith in Christ. The believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of Christ and as a result should be fully satisfied no matter the circumstances."

To be "makarios" is to have God as your "portion" [Ps.119:57]. It means to be totally, completely satisfied in God regardless of the circumstances of life. [If you didn't happen to hear Pastor Wragg's sermon last Sunday night, be sure to listen to it on the FBC website.] This section of Ps.119 starts out with, "The LORD is my portion..." and then lists six ways a believer cultivates satisfaction in God, rather than allowing life's circumstances to be the bellwether of his happiness.

1. Constantly, wholeheartedly be seeking to know God as He has revealed Himself in His word. (58)
2. Constantly be practicing repentance. (59)
3. Be doing what God commands. (60)
4. Be fighting against all earthly distractions. (61)
5. Constantly be practicing thankfulness in prayer. (62)
6. Be developing close relationships with Godly-minded people. (63)

How does this truth impact your life?  In what ways can you specifically incorporate it into your Christian walk?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beware of Jewish Myths

Recently I came across a few Jewish myths which have made their way into Christian teaching and preaching. Todd Bolen wrote about one in his bibleplaces blog. You've probably heard that the priests would tie a rope around the ankle of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies so that he could be removed should God strike him dead. It turns out this is a Jewish myth which didn't appear until the 13th Century AD when it was mentioned in a Jewish work called "the Zohar" (which contained many inaccuracies). It's not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Apocrypha, the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud or the Jerusalem Talmud. But you CAN find it in the NIV Study Bible comment on Ex.28:35.

Another myth which has trickled into Christianity is the idea that the deaths in Naomi's family were the result of their sin. According to F.B. Huey, Jr. in his Commentary on Ruth (Expositor's Bible Commentary), that idea comes from a Rabbinic teaching which stated they were being punished for having left Judah and for having married non-Jews. I don't find Scripture supports such an assumption:
1. Scripture nowhere condemns their actions.
2. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob also left the land during times of famine. In fact God personally arranged for Jacob and his family to go to Egypt during a protracted famine.
3. The word translated "sojourn" in Ruth 1:1 speaks of temporarily leaving, being a pilgrim. They had every intention of returning to Bethlehem.
4. As for marrying women of Moab, Israel was not specifically prohibited from doing so. Moab is not included in the ban of Deut.7:1, 3. In fact, you'll remember the people of Moab were descended from Abraham's nephew, Lot. [It is true that because of Moab's involvement in hiring Balaam to curse Israel, they were not allowed into the congregation of the Lord until the 10th generation. But marriage was not prohibited.]
5. And finally, both King David and Jesus were physically descended from Ruth, the Moabitess.

Yet we find this Rabbinic tradition repeated in Christian Commentaries... and subsequently being preached from pulpits, taught in Bible studies and written into Sunday School lessons.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Life Behind the Service

Daniel Block, Wheaton Prof & OT Commentator was guest speaker at Winterim at The Master's Seminary last week. Concerning the use of spiritual gifts (particularly in worship music), he stated, “The life of the person is more important than the performance.” 

How true this should be for ALL ministry. God is NOT looking for “talent”, He's looking for obedient faithfulness. Shouldn’t churches seek SS teachers, Youth workers, etc. based upon their faithful walk before a holy God, rather than looking at ability alone or attempting to “fill holes” with whoever can be talked into doing the job? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people concentrated on their Christian walk to the point that they would feel “honored” to be considered qualified enough to be asked to serve some way in the local assembly?

I've heard people complain that their “gift” is not appreciated, nor utilized by their assembly… and so they become church jumpers. Isn't it better to be concentrating on your walk before the LORD and on being sensitive to His leading into a particular area of service?

Over my first year as church secretary I’ve received multiple calls from people wondering if we could use their “gift” in our church… yet never asking a single question about what we believe or preach! I’m serious! The second most asked question is, “What kind of music do you have?” or “Do you have contemporary music?” In the past year I’ve never had a SINGLE question concerning whether we have expository preaching, if we stress Missions & Evangelism, asking to see a Statement of Faith or wondering how many Prayer Services and Bible Studies we offer.

Putting the emphasis on your “gift” instead of on your walk with the One who GAVE you that gift is tantamount to serving yourself and not God.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Are You From New England?

I came across this and thought it might bring a chuckle... and perhaps motivate me to start writing here again. Can you add to the list?

You know you live in New England if ...

... you can drive 65 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching.

... you've worn shorts and a parka at the same time.

... you're proud that your region makes the national news 96 nights each year because Mt. Washington is the coldest spot in the nation.

... your local Dairy Queen is closed from September through May.

... someone in Home Depot offers you assistance, and they don't work there.

... you've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number.

... you measure distance in hours.

... you have switched from "heat" to "A/C" in the same day and back again.

... you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both unlocked.

... you carry jumper cables in your car and your wife knows how to use them.

... you design your child's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit.

... you know the 4 seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.