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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tick-Tock

As I head ever-closer to eternity, I often find myself contemplating time. I think about how little time I may have left to use the spiritual gifts God has so graciously given me to use for His glory. (Not that He necessarily needs me, mind you. He's quite capable of raising up another to take my place!)  My grandchildren are growing up quickly and I realize how little time I may have to build memories, to interact with them and shine God's truth into their lives. I think of those I teach... the bi-weekly women's Bible study, my 5th/6th Sunday School class, the women I do one-on-one studies with, and my driving desire to transmit to them all the necessary "how-to's" for studying God's Word for themselves, that they may personally know Jesus Christ at an ever-increasing, life-changing depth. The passing of time also leads me to consider how much of it I waste in useless, worthless pursuits. I recall my daughter pointing out once how we all have the same amount of hours in a day. It's how we choose to use them that makes the difference.

Kevin DeYoung (The Gospel Coalition) recently posted a quote from Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Though not a Christian book, Drucker does offer useful considerations about time applicable to all of us. He writes...
The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.
Time is totally irreplaceable. Within limits we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. We can use more knowledge or more brawn. But there is no substitute for time.
Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource. Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes an effective executive as much as their tender loving care of time.
You may not be as old as me. You may think you have all the time in the world ahead of you. You need to realize that age may have absolutely nothing to do with the amount of time you'll spend here. None of us knows which day will be our last! That should lead us to carefully consider our own use of this commodity called time. Don't allow yourself to get caught up with the notion that "someday when I have more time I'll study God's Word  ... someday when I have more time I'll live for Christ ... someday when I have more time I'll get serious about prayer ... someday when I have more time I'll tell others the good news of the gospel". Your "some day" might not arrive.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. [James 4:13-14]

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guard Your Mind, Increase Your Joy

John Piper...
I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.
If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.
One more smaller concern with TV (besides its addictive tendencies, trivialization of life, and deadening effects): It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me; it’s a cliff I walk beside every day with trembling.
TV consumes more and more time for those who get used to watching it. You start to feel like it belongs. You wonder how you could get along without it. I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television.
Commenting on the absence of a TV in the Piper home, Sam Storms writes in For the Fame of God's Name (a collection of essays in honor of Piper's ministry)...
[Piper's] decision to rid his home of the influence of television was not from a disdain for pleasure, but an expression of his radical pursuit of it. What John regards as the banal and mind-numbing distractions of TV serve only to diminish his capacity to enjoy the one preeminent delight that never fails to satisfy, namely, the mind-expanding and ever-fascinating knowledge of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
 [via Andy Naselli]

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Reading Club

"Remote" blog readers are welcome to join us for the Ladies "Winter Doldrums" Book Club. This year we'll be reading Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone starting in mid-February. As we read through the book together, there will be weekly postings on this blog covering the chapters read with an opportunity for your comments. So grab a copy and join us!

From the back cover:
"Many desire to live godly lives, but feel trapped in habitual sins. This book reveals that idolatry lies at the heart of every besetting sin."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Satisfied in Christ


"the Father... has qualified us [past tense, it is finished] to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued/delivered us [past tense; the rescue/deliverance is complete] from the domain of darkness, and transferred us [past tense; the transferal is already concluded] to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have [present tense (ongoing, progressive action), this very moment we possess it] redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:12-14
In his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian Tchividjian writes ...
Sometimes God puts us in a position where our only comfort comes not from what others think about us but from what God thinks about us in Christ - that we're forever qualified, delivered, loved, accepted, forgiven, clean, and approved. ...Because of Christ's finished work, Christians already possess the approval, the love, the security, the freedom, the meaning, the purpose, the protection, the new beginning, the cleansing, the forgiveness, the righteousness, and the rescue we intensely long for and, in fact, look for in a thousand things smaller than Jesus every day - things transient, things incapable of delivering the goods.
The gospel is the only thing big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings - both now and forever.
Believer, where are you seeking your satisfaction? Spend time reading, rereading and meditating upon the truths of Colossians, chapter 1. Believe God! Value Christ! Have 20/20 spiritual vision! (Mt.6:22-23) Don't look for satisfaction in transient things/people/circumstances. You'll never find it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Everyone's An Expert...

 
Blessed is the man who having nothing to say abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact. —George Eliot

It is a mark of the current age that everyone is an expert... in all possible fields of study. Everyone has an opinion and all opinions are considered equally valid. This particularly pains me when someone has a misunderstanding  of biblical truth, yet assumes his opinion is as equally likely as that of someone who is carefully dividing the Word. A careful exegete is always open to clarification and correction, but requires it be based on careful biblical analysis and follow the primary rules of interpretation, not on mere opinion or wishful thinking, wrenching verses out their context and assigning a meaning that was never intended. The primary emphasis needs to be on God's main point, not ours. Engaging in real discourse is always welcome. 

Perhaps nowhere is an uneducated opinion more painfully displayed than in the comments section on amazon. It's not the possession of an uninformed opinion that is the problem, it's the automatic assumption that your uninformed opinion carries any valid weight. Certainly opinions can be held at various levels of understanding. We should all be teachable and open in that respect. We're all learning and the real experts are not always right. But at the minimum, a person should ask themselves the simple question, "Do I know enough about this subject to set myself up as an authority on its analysis?" 

I've started to save some of the worst examples as I peruse through amazon. I'd love to privately take these folks aside and get them thinking about what they have written for all to see. Discretion is an art we all need to learn. Here are a few examples reviewing a classic work of Homer, the Iliad ....
"All the zombies kept telling me to purchase the Iliad and were raving about how intellectual it was. The age of it should have been a first clue. Really a rather boring read that is tripe with inept ideals. Homer Simpson was named after this guy but I believe that he has more insight into the subject matter than the original home boy they call Homer. Good for using to set your coffee mug on and start a fire with in the fireplace, but beyond that it is really a lot of rubbish. I wish Penguin Classics would actually publish classic reading material instead of a lot of blah blah." [Comment on The Iliad] (It would be interesting to hear his definition of "classic"!)
"Seriously. Homer wasn't all that, and I'm so thankful to amazon.com to allow me to give it only two stars. Homer's boring, and he's totally overrated. He's always using the same lines- "bit the dust", "rosy-fingered dawn", "the wine-dark sea", "night filled his eyes", "Achilles swift of foot"- Homer needs to be more original. And what's with the one name- "Homer"- who does he think he is, Madonna?"  [Comment on The Iliad]
The teacher in me yearns to introduce them to Bronze Age history, culture and literary forms, to  the progression in oral storytelling, to the peek we're allowed to have into one of the earliest surviving written story forms. If nothing else, I'd love to help them become aware that time did not begin when they were born, nor is culture exclusively 21st century American. Give me an honest, but humble student any time, one who recognizes they have a lack of information, that life is full of things they can learn. I'd love to meet the young man who wrote this next review. Oh, the discussions we could have! May we all have such teachable spirits!
"ill put my $.02 in here i guess... honestly i didnt like this book much the first time i read it (over this past summer for a 10th grade reading list) i found it boring and at times gory. but then we started reading it again in class and something strange happened, i started to actually understand what was going on and i started to analyze the characters more deeply and i started to almost like it. im not going to go as far as saying id read it again on my own free will cause i definitely wont, but if you read this book read the odyssey as well i liked it better"
.




Thursday, January 12, 2012

Are You Good Or Are You Righteous?

 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:6-9)

As mentioned in my earlier post, Peace With God, one of the great advantages of memorizing passages from Scripture is that it gives you an opportunity to meditate upon God's truth throughout all those little "down times" in life ... when you awake in the morning, as you prepare meals, while driving, waiting in line, ironing, eating your lunch and so forth, all those little moments when you can recite the passage to yourself and think about it from all different aspects. In this next passage (Rom.5:6-9) we discover how undeserving believers really are. As Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit...", those who realize their complete spiritual bankruptcy before a holy God. (Mt.5:3). Only they are willing to approach God on His terms, rather than in their own imagined righteousness.

And that led me, totally apart from the context, to considering the terms "good man" and "righteous man". Are you a "good man" or are you a "righteous man"? The difference lies in one's perspective. Compared to other men, we can often label ourselves as "good". We look at murderers, rapists, child molesters and that ever-popular whipping boy, the "hypocrite" sitting next to us in church, and come away with a positive self-evaluation that we are "basically a good person". We remembered our Mom on her birthday. We've never murdered, nor raped, nor molested the innocent. And certainly we've never said we believed something to be true while living as if we didn't believe it all! So, all in all, we pat ourselves on the back and come away with the self-evaluation that we are basically "good". Isn't that what we most often hear when we proclaim the gospel of Christ to others, that they don't need Christ because they're basically a "good person"?

But God does not want us to be "good". God wants us to be "righteous". He wants us to reflect His own holiness. He wants us to have an obedient heart like Christ's, one that says, "Not my will, but Thine be done." He wants us to love others more than ourselves, in the manner Christ did. Our own righteousness will never be "good" enough. Only Christ's righteousness will do! We must be clothed in His righteousness, God's own righteousness, to have a right-standing before God.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, FOR he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness... (Isa.61:10)
(So that I) "may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." (Phil.3:9)
"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name...           
When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found,
Dressed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.       
     On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
     All other ground is sinking sand,      
     All other ground is sinking sand."    [The Solid Rock, Edward Mote]



Monday, January 09, 2012

One Flesh

R.C. Sproul Jr's wife recently went home to be with the Lord following a 9 month battle with cancer, which led to his following musing. Though painfully honest, it is also incredibly encouraging. It's my hope that reading it will make you look at your marriage in a more biblical light. Pray for this brother and his eight children. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." (Gen.2:24)
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Children, and their parents, crave stability. When their world is rocked by change, they are comforted by that which remains the same. I have been reminding my children of late that the loss of their mother, for all the pain, doesn’t mean that everything has changed. Indeed when I put my littles to bed each night I, as I have always done, remind them of these bedrock truths, “Daddy loves you. Mommy loves you. Daddy and Mommy love each other. And Jesus loves you.” These are the unchanging truths they can always count on, the solid ground on which they walk. We that are left behind are still together. And I am still me.

I am afraid, however, that I am not still me. This melancholy that follows me about like a cloud hovering over Charlie Brown, that’s not me. Waking up with less energy than when I went to sleep, that’s not me. Uninterested in food, that’s definitely not me. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. Neither do I hear my own voice in what I write. It’s a stranger that sits here crying in my office. ...

The Bible says that husbands and wives are one flesh. Christian marriage pundits turn this into “Be nice to each other.” That is, we are told about the importance of open communication. We are encouraged to be as concerned for our spouse as we are for ourselves. We, in rephrasing what God has said so that we might understand it, end up further from the truth. We are not commanded to live as if we were one flesh. Instead we are told that such is the actual truth. The one-flesh reality means that I haven’t just lost the love of my life, but half of me. How could I recognize me, when I am now only half the man I once was? It isn’t quite accurate to say that when she drew her last breath a part of me died. Instead, half of me died.

The good news, however, is the same. Half of me has died, and is with Jesus. Half of me has no melancholy, but only joy. Half of me cries no more. Half of me sins no more. Half of me loves me, and the children, with a perfect love. Mourning, over the coming weeks and months, will move to dancing, as this half of me begins to more deeply believe the blessings I have in my better half.

I love Denise all the way to heaven and back. She in turn loves me all the way from heaven and back. And Jesus loves us both as the great bridge that not only brought us together, but keeps us together. May these gospel truths give me gentle sleep tonight.

[Sproul Jr.s' post on Ligonier]

Friday, January 06, 2012

Another Look at "O Holy Night"

“O Holy Night” is rooted in the French poem, “Minuit, chr├ętiens” (“Midnight, Christians”), by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877).  Sometimes we gain greater insight if we move away from the overly familiar lyrics of a Christmas carol. Below is a direct English translation of Cappeau's poem...
“Minuit chr├ętiens” (“Midnight, Christians”)

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!
May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!
[via Raw Christianity ("Gunner" Gundersen's blog)]
[Poem & translation found here.]

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Eyes on God: A Lesson from Edwards

Last week's post on Christian Resolutions and July's post about personal relationship with God being the primary focus out of which ministry for God must flow (Who's Running the Show?) coincide nicely with this recent post on the Ligonier site. Buck Parsons revisits Jonathan Edwards' preface to his resolutions to "work out his own salvation with fear and trembling" in the power of the Holy Spirit (sanctification), that he might glorify God and enjoy Him forever. He looks at three particular areas where believers tend to be the most needy: dependency upon God, humility before Him and living for God's glory. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him ... Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col.3:17, 23).
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At nineteen, as a ministerial student preparing for the pastorate, I grew concerned that someday I could get to the point in ministry that my passion for ministry would usurp my passion for God — that ministry would become my religion, that the idol of success in ministry would replace my heart’s desire to be faithful to God. With all of this weighing heavily on my mind, early one morning, I slid from my bed onto my knees and cried out to God that He would equip me for ministry, sustain me in ministry, and give me passion for ministry — a passion that would flow out of my love and passion for God Himself. That morning I penned the following words in the front of my Bible: “I shall live for God, not for the ministry.” Every year since then, by God’s sustaining grace, I have surrendered myself to the Lord, imploring Him to help me live for Him and trusting Him alone to equip, sustain, and empower me for His ministry.

In order to remain steadfast in this pursuit of active surrender of living for the sake of God and not for the sake of ministry, I must not only regularly confess my sin of self-reliance I must also resolve to remain resolved every day of my life — living a life of repentance and faith, with every step and every breath, delighting in the Lord’s abundant love and assurance. For if I confide in my own strength, my striving would indeed be losing. 

The Resolve of Edwards
The nineteen-year-old Jonathan Edwards knew his weaknesses and was aware of the destructive nature of his sin, so he resolved to make and keep certain resolutions in his effort to live for God’s glory. He helped pave the way for us all as he prefaced his seventy resolutions with these words:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

These simple, introductory words of Edwards not only provide a glimpse into the mind of one of history’s greatest minds, they provide us with a glorious insight into the heart of a young man whose heart had been humbled and mastered by the Lord God Almighty. We would therefore do well to consider Edwards’ prefatory remarks as we seek to glorify God and enjoy Him forever in our churches, our homes, and our hearts...

Resolving Dependently
I am unable to do anything without God’s help,” Edwards admits. We must be sensible in grasping the simple truth that every resolution must be made in dependence on God. And while every Christian would respond by saying, “Well, of course we must depend on God for all things,” most Christians have been sold the world’s bill of goods. They think that once they become dependent on God, then they will have immediate strength. They mimic the world’s mantra: “Whatever doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.” While the principle is generally true, such thinking can foster an attitude of proud independence. We must understand that in being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us means that we must depend on His strength continuously in order to do all things and to keep all our resolutions (Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11). In truth, whatever doesn’t kill us, by God’s conforming grace, makes us weak so that in our weakness we will rely continuously on the strength of our Lord (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

Resolving Humbly
I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions.” In making resolutions for the glory of God and before the face of God, we must not come into His presence pounding our chests in triumphal arrogance as if God must now love and bless us more because we have made certain resolutions to follow Him more. In reality, the Lord in His providence may choose to allow even more trials to enter our lives; in His unchanging fatherly love for us, He may decide to discipline us even more in order that we might more so detest our sin and delight in Him. We should approach Him in humble reliance on His grace as we seek not merely the blessings but the one who blesses.

Resolving For Christ’s Sake
So far as they are agreeable to his will for Christ’s sake.” We cannot resolve to do anything with a presumptuous attitude before God. The whole matter of making resolutions is not just goal setting so that we might have happier lives. We are called by God to live according to His will, not our own — for Christ’s sake, not our own — for it is not unto us but unto Him that all glory belongs.

[Burk Parson's full post at Ligonier site]

Monday, January 02, 2012

Blessed Are the Underappreciated

Here's an interesting little excerpt from a post Tim Challies wrote back in 2006. It's a reminder we need in the midst of our self-promoting culture. The believer's goal is faithfulness to God, not recognition by others.
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As I have pondered underappreciation, I have come to see that this is exactly where Christians ought to be. Yet far too often we seek to raise ourselves or other people to a level that is simply too high. It would be interesting to know how some people become popular within Christian circles. Sometimes we look at the men leading huge churches or massive, international ministries and can only wonder how they achieved such a position. So often it seems that they have forsaken the gospel and sound theology, yet somehow have been propelled to great heights. Surely there are people with greater talent, greater gifting and more holy lives laboring throughout the kingdom. They may preach from the pulpits of tiny churches far from the lights and the cameras. They may labor overseas as missionaries in near-total isolation. They may drive the buses or taxis you took to work this morning.

Jesus taught us “blessed are the meek.” The meek are the humble, those who show humility and submission before God. They are the underappreciated, yet those who know that in reality they are overappreciated. They have nothing to offer God, but have been accepted by Him. They are aware of the signifance of the gift that has been given them.

Blessed are the underappreciated.

[Challies blog can be found here.]