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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beautiful Feet

Christians are ambassadors for Christ. (2Cor.5:20) Wherever God has placed you, you are to be Christ's ambassador to those around you, your "neighbors,"  those with whom you come into contact in the day-to-day living out of life. When it comes to supporting foreign missions, then, where should  priority be given? Where do we focus the bulk of our prayers and resources when we look beyond our personal sphere of influence? Too often, I fear, we think with our emotions, rather than considering reality from a biblical point of view. The question is not which nations have the greatest earthly poverty. The question is which nations lack a Christian witness. May we be compassionate to all as God gives opportunity, but may we never forget that the GREATEST compassion is to bring the good news of the gospel to the perishing. Eternity is at stake.The following video looks at one area of great need ... Asia.
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" (Rom.10:14-15)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Look at "Dinner Table Devotions"

God commanded His people Israel to teach their children about Him, His character and His mighty deeds. The parameters for doing this included all of life.
"You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul ... You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut.11:18-19)
The New Testament repeats this command to the body of Christ. "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (Eph.6:4) 

The difficulty is that many of us need a little help, a little guidance, a little direction. It would be wonderful if every parent could open up their Bible and start teaching their children from it, and I hope you are increasing in your knowledge of the Word so that you will be able to do that! But in the meantime, you might appreciate a little help. Notice the content of what we're supposed to be teaching our children. We are to teach them who God is, what He expects of man, how He works in this world, what His plans are for the future ... in short, we are to help them know God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. The problem is that so many family devotion books place their emphasis on morality and outer behavior without ever challenging the heart. If we're not careful, we might find ourselves raising little Pharisees! So it is very refreshing to come across a book that approaches our responsibility from a more biblical perspective. 

Josh Harris recommends a new book by Nancy Guthrie entitled, Dinner Table Devotions. He has been pleased with the results after using it with his own children (aged 11, 9 and 5). Having had children who were 4 years apart, I appreciate any material that can stretch across multiple ages! But more importantly, the introduction to the book explains its biblical approach.
Whereas most family devotionals focus on Bible stories or on practical moral lessons, Dinner Table Devotions and Discussion Starters focuses on biblical themes, concepts, and words, in ways that are understandable to children without talking down to adults or teens. It will help your family take a step back to look at the big picture of what God is doing in the world and His purposes and plans in creating and redeeming the world. Once you and your family have worked your way through this book, you will have discussed nearly every major attribute of God and a host of profound theological truths, such as justification, redemption, substitution, and sanctification--without all those daunting words. You will have looked into important concepts from the Bible, such as covenant, adoption, judgment, and redemption, as well as spiritual realities, such as hell, angels, resurrection, and glorification. This is not dry theology for theology's sake, but living theology that makes a huge difference in how we do battle against temptation, deal with disappointment, and determine our futures."
Nancy Guthrie's website offers a sample of the first ten devotions. The book is available from amazon for $10.19. Customer ratings have been high. I've ordered a copy for the FBC Library if you would like a chance to try it before making your own purchase. This looks like a great resource for your parenting arsenal!


Monday, September 26, 2011

"Imperfect Truth Must Hinder Holiness"

"A holy life in man’s estimation may be simply a life of benevolence, or of austerity, or of punctual devotion, or of kindly geniality, or noble uprightness, or liberal sympathy with all creeds, all sects, all truths, and all errors. But a holy life in God’s estimation, and according to Bible teaching, must be founded upon truth, must begin personally, in conscious peace with God through the blood of the everlasting covenant, must grow with the increase of truth and deliverance from error, must be maintained by fellowship with God, in Christ Jesus, through the indwelling of the 'Spirit of holiness'. Error or imperfect truth must hinder holiness."

[Scottish churchman & hymn writer Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), God’s Way of Holiness; [via Kevin DeYoung's blog]

Biographical excerpt from Christian Classics Ethereal Library:
Horatius Bonar had a passionate heart for revival and was a friend and supporter of several revivalists. He was brother to the more well-known Andrew Bonar, and with him defended D. L. Moody's evangelistic ministry in Scotland. He authored a couple of excellent revival works, one including over a hundred biographical sketches...
Horatius was in fact one of eleven children, and of these an older brother, John James, and a younger, Andrew, also became ministers and were all closely involved, together with Thomas Chalmers, William C. Burns and Robert Murray M'Cheyne, in the important spiritual movements which affected many places in Scotland in the 1830s and 1840s.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 6

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself! 

There is so much good material in this chapter, I hardly know where to begin! So I will start where Stott does, by tying the OT shadows of substitutionary atonement to their NT fulfillment. That's quite helpful for most of us who don't have the familiarity with the OT that we should have. As you read through the Bible, always keep in mind that it is ONE book ultimately composed by ONE person, the Holy Spirit. (2Pet.1:20-21)  God is telling ONE story, progressively revealed.
"The Self-Substitution of God"
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life."  (Lev.17:11)
Three important affirmations about blood are made in this text. 
First, blood is the symbol of life. This understanding that 'blood is life' seems to be very ancient. It goes back at least to Noah (Gen.9:4) ... The emphasis, however, was not on blood flowing in the veins, the symbol of life being lived, but on the blood shed, the symbol of life ended, usually by violent means.
Secondly, blood makes atonement, and the reason for its atoning significance is given in the repetition of the word 'life' ... One life is forfeit; another life is sacrificed instead .... T.J. Crawford expressed it well: 'The text, then, according to its plain and obvious import, teaches the vicarious nature of the rite of sacrifice. Life was given for life, the life of the victim for the life of the offerer', indeed 'the life of the innocent victim for the life of the sinful offerer'." [Doctrine of Holy Scripture, 237, 241]
Thirdly, blood was given by God for this atoning purpose. 'I have given it to you', he says, 'to make atonement for yourselves on the altar.' So we are to think of the sacrificial system as God-given, not man-made, and of the individual sacrifices not as a human device to placate God but as a means of atonement provided by God himself. [cf. Heb.9:22, 10:4 No forgiveness without blood meant no atonement without substitution.]
But the OT blood sacrifices were only shadows; the substance was Christ. (Col.2:17) For a substitute to be effective, it must be an appropriate equivalent ... Only 'the precious blood of Christ' was valuable enough (1Pet.1:19) ... The possibility of substitution rests on the identity of the substitute.

Our substitute then, who took our place and died our death on the cross, was neither Christ alone ... nor God alone ... but God in Christ, who was truly and fully both God and man, and who on that account was uniquely qualified to represent both God and man and to mediate between them ... The only way for God's holy love to be satisfied is for his holiness to be directed in judgment upon his appointed substitute, in order that his love may be directed towards us in forgiveness. The substitute bears the penalty, that we sinners may receive the pardon.

Christ is not an independent third person, but the eternal Son of the Father, who is one with the Father in his essential being ... For in giving his Son he was giving himself. This being so, it is the Judge himself who in holy love assumed the role of the innocent victim ... Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.

The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone ... The theological inference is that it is impossible to hold the historic doctrine of the cross without holding the historic doctrine of Jesus Christ as the one and only God-man and Mediator ... The incarnation is indispensable to the atonement. In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical with the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (2Cor.5:19)

The second inference is personal. The doctrine of substitution affirms not only a fact (God in Christ substituted himself for us) but its necessity (there was no other way by which God's holy love could be satisfied and rebellious human beings could be saved). (Jn.14:6) Therefore, as we stand before the cross, we begin to gain a clear view both of God and of ourselves, especially in relation to each other. Instead of inflicting upon us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured it in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the 'scandal', the stumbling-block [Greek: skandalon], of the cross. For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin and guilt or our utter indebtedness to that cross. Surely, we say, there must be something we can do, or at least contribute, in order to make amends? ... The proud human heart is there revealed. We insist on paying for what we have done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy (Mt.5:3) and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that this somebody else would be God himself is just too much to take. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.

But we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. (Gen.3:7-10) We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness. (Rev.3:17-18)
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your Cross I cling;
Naked, come to you for dress;
Helpless, look to you for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
[Rock of Ages, Augustus Toplady]
[Challies' review of Chapter 6]
[Selections: Chapter 1; Chapter 7, Part One; Chapter 7, Part Two]

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Face of Gossip

"I have made you an assayer and a tester among My people, That you may know and assay their way. All of them are stubbornly rebellious, going about as a talebearer..."  (Jer.6:27-28)
Notice how gossip/talebearing is linked to rebellion against God in Scripture. We tend to think of it quite lightly, as an "innocent" sin. God views it as rebellion against Him because it undermines His work.
"Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell."  (James 3:3-6)
How destructive the tongue can be! "See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!" Every time we murmur (or repeat someone's murmuring), every time we complain (or listen to someone complain), every time we participate in gossip as either the speaker or the listener ... the fire spreads. See how easily God's work can be destroyed! Instead of building up and biblically loving another (1Thess.5:11), we tear them down. Instead of promoting unity within a body of believers (Eph.4:1-3), we  tear apart God's work. Jesus said the sins of the mouth originate in the heart. "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person." (Mt.15:18-19) So the heart is where our attention must go. We need to take the sins of the tongue as seriously as God does, so that we might also help other believers take them seriously!

[Cartoon from The Doghouse Diaries]

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 5

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself! 
                                         "Satisfaction for Sin"

"We must certainly remain dissatisfied whenever the atonement is presented as a necessary satisfaction either of God's 'law' or of God's 'honor' in so far as these are objectified as existing in some way apart from him ... 'Satisfaction' is an appropriate word, providing we realize that it is he himself in his inner being who needs to be satisfied, and not something external to himself. Talk of law, honor, justice and the moral order is true only in so far as these are seen as expressions of God's own character. Atonement is a 'necessity' because it 'arises from within God himself.' [Ronald S. Wallace, Atoning Death]

To be sure, 'self-satisfaction' in fallen human beings is a particularly unpleasant phenomenon ... since we are tainted and twisted with selfishness. But there is no lack of self-control or humility in God, since he is perfect in all his thoughts and desires. To say that he must 'satisfy himself' means that he must be himself and act according to the perfection of his nature or 'name'. ... Negatively, he 'cannot disown himself' (2Tim.2:13); he cannot contradict himself; he 'never lies' (Titus 1:2, apseudēs, 'free from all deceit'), for the simple reason that 'it is impossible for God to lie' (Heb.6:18); he is never arbitrary, unpredictable or capricious; he says 'I will not ... be false to my faithfulness' (Ps.89:33). Positively, he is a 'faithful God who does no wrong' (Deut.32:4). That is, he is true to himself; he is always invariably himself. Scripture has several ways of drawing attention to God's self-consistency, and in particular of emphasizing that when he is obliged to judge sinners, he does it because he must, if he is to remain true to himself. 

The first example is the language of provocation. Yahweh is described (and indeed describes himself) as 'provoked' by Israel's idolatry to anger or jealousy or both. ... The exilic prophets, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were constantly employing this vocabulary. They did not mean that Yahweh was irritated or exasperated, or that Israel's behavior had been so 'provocative' that his patience had run out. No, the language of provocation expresses the inevitable reaction of God's perfect nature to evil. It indicates that there is within God a holy intolerance of idolatry, immorality and injustice. Wherever these occur, they act as stimuli to trigger his response of anger or indignation. He is never provoked without reason. It is evil alone which provokes him, and necessarily so since God must be (and behave like) God.

Secondly, there is the language of burning. ... verbs which depict God's anger as a fire and speak of its 'kindling', 'burning', 'quenching' and 'consuming'. It is ... applied in the Old Testament to Yahweh, who 'burns with anger' whenever he sees his people disobeying his law and breaking his covenant. ... Never from caprice, however, always only in response to evil. Nor was his anger ever uncontrolled. Once kindled, it was not readily 'quenched'. Instead, when Yahweh's anger 'burned' against people, it 'consumed' them. That is to say, as fire leads to destruction, so Yahweh's anger leads to judgment. For Yahweh is 'a consuming fire'. The fire of his anger was 'quenched', and so 'subsided' or 'ceased', only when the judgment was complete, or when a radical regeneration had taken place, issuing in social justice. There is something in God's essential moral being which is 'provoked' by evil, and which is 'ignited' by it, proceeding to 'burn' until the evil is 'consumed'.

Thirdly, there is the language of satisfaction itself. The chief word is kalah... It means 'to be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished, spent'. It occurs in a variety of contexts in the OT, nearly always to indicate the 'end' of something, either because it has been destroyed, or because it has been finished in some other way. [Jesus on the cross "said, 'It is finished!' And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit." John 19:30] ... It is significant that the 'pouring out' and the 'spending' go together, for what is poured out cannot be gathered again, and what is spent is finished. (Lam.4:11) ... To sum up, God is 'provoked' to jealous anger over his people by their sins. Once kindled, his anger 'burns' and is not easily quenched. He 'unleashes' it, 'pours' it out, 'spends' it. This three-fold vocabulary vividly portrays God's judgment as arising from within him, out of his holy character, as wholly consonant with it, and therefore as inevitable. ...

[Fourthly, there is] the language of the Name, God always acts 'according to his name'... When God thus acts 'for the sake of his name', he is determining to be true to it. His concern is less for his reputation than for his consistency.

... the way God chooses to forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself must, first and foremost, be fully consistent with his own character. ... So then, the cross of Christ 'is the event in which God makes known his holiness and his love, simultaneously, in one event, in an absolute manner'. [Emil Brunner, The Mediator]  God is not at odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is. He is 'the God of peace', of inner tranquility not turmoil. True, we find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time. In the words of G.C. Berkouwer, 'in the cross of Christ God's justice and love are simultaneously revealed' [Work of Christ] ... One theologian who has struggled with this tension is P.T. Forsyth, who coined - or at least popularized - the expression 'the holy love of God'... 'Without a holy God there would be no problem of atonement. It is the holiness of God's love that necessitates the atoning cross.' [Cruciality of the Cross] This vision of God's holy love will deliver us from caricatures of him. We must picture him neither as an indulgent God who compromises his holiness in order to spare and spoil us, nor as a harsh, vindictive God who suppresses his love in order to crush and destroy us."
Beneath the cross of Jesus
   I fain would take my stand -
The shadow of a mighty rock
   Within a weary land ...

O safe and happy shelter!
   O refuge tried and sweet!
O trysting-place, where heaven's love
   And heaven's justice meet.
[Challies' review of Chapter 5]
[Selections: Chapter 1, Chapter 6]

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"If Weak in Prayer, We Are Weak Everywhere"

Author Mark Tomlinson, in his biography of Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994)...

"He especially deplored the weakness of the praying of most local churches. He felt the strongest meeting of the church should be the church prayer meeting, but said that it was generally the weakest, if it even existed at all.” In his lifetime Ravenhill saw the daily or weekly prayer meeting disappearing from most local churches. This grieved him because he “directly connected the effectiveness of true ministry with the prayer life of the church."

Ravenhill often quoted his mentor, Samuel Chadwick, who had written...
"The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray. No man is greater than his prayer life."
In all the books, articles and blogs currently being written to urge believers into ministry and service, very few talk about the importance of prayer in ministry, about  the necessity of maintaining a vital connection with the God whom we serve. When we don't spend as much time in prayer as we do in ministry, aren't we serving in our OWN strength and putting ourselves in the place God deserves? When we value "doing" and neglect prayer, it's not a very far leap to expecting God to be thankful for what we've done FOR Him!

And when we do pray, how often we view it solely as a source of benefit to ourselves, as a means of addressing our own personal needs and concerns, as a one-way street. Ravenhill wrote...
The praying of a Christian can become a ritual. The place of prayer is more than a dumping ground for all our anxieties, threats and fears. The place of prayer is not a place to drop the shopping list before the throne of God with endless supplies and limitless power.

I believe the place of prayer is not only a place where I lose my burdens, but also a place where I get a burden. He shares my burden and I share his burden.
This is an area where I suspect most modern believers need to evaluate themselves. Let's encourage one another to model  prayerful dependence upon God! Let's be known as people of prayer!

[This biography of Ravenhill is available for Kindle. Amazon has a free Kindle app for personal computers which I use to read works not available elsewhere. They also have free apps for most mobile devices.]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Is It Remorse or Repentance?

We often confuse remorse with repentance. Without realizing it, we can find ourselves holding to cultural attitudes we've absorbed rather than relying upon God's revealed truth. There is a huge difference between mere remorse and biblical repentance! The language of forgiveness we choose to use can reveal our basic heart attitude. Are you more likely to say, "I'm sorry" or do you confess (Greek: homologeō, literally, "to say the same thing" as God does about it, agree with His view of your sin)  and turn from it, saying, "I was wrong to _____ , will you forgive me"? One requires humility before God and others. The other does not. One is biblical. The other is not. One leads to spiritual growth. The other does not. Let's be very careful how we approach this issue in both our homes and our churches.

Pastor Stephen Davey gives a clear presentation of the difference in his new book, In Pursuit of Prodigals: A Primer on Church Discipline and Reconciliation. While aimed at the level of the local assembly, these biblical truths also apply on an interpersonal level. Our homes are where these God-honoring truths are first learned and practiced! 
Should the discipline of a prodigal accomplish its divine goals, he will publicly and consistently exhibit the evidences of true confession and repentance. Repentance is a change of direction: a confession of sin, followed by the desire to make restitution, rebuild relationships and, in general, make everything right. The evidences of repentance will be:

  • Acknowledging his sin honestly (Ps.51:2-3; 1Jn.1:9);
  • Discontinuing the sinful behavior which initiated the discipline (James 5:19-20);
  • Seeking biblical counsel, if needed, to gain victory over sinful patterns of behavior (Acts 26:20);
  • Making financial restitution, if necessary (Luke 19:8);
  • Initiating confession and asking forgiveness from all parties involved (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Exhibiting a spirit of humility and brokenness, revealing a true work of God’s Spirit (Ps.51:17).
Short term
Long term
Involves emotions
Involves emotion and will
Distressed by the consequences
Distraught by his actions
Makes vague resolutions
Makes specific restitution
Wants public attention
Humbly accepts obscurity
Desires immediate return to positions of ministry/authority
Recognizes need to rebuild trust
over time
Makes external displays of contrition
Displays internal development
and change
Finds fault in how he is treated in the
process of discipline
Exhibits submission to the humbling
process of discipline
Hesitates to follow counsel in relation to reconciliation/restitution
Initiates action toward restoring broken relationships and making restitution

[via Counseling One Another & Vitamin Z blogs]
[Painting: Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal; click on the photo for a closer look.]


Friday, September 09, 2011

Addressing Grouchiness in Our Children

How easy it can be to allow our children to get into behavior patterns destructive to themselves and to the whole family. I've observed young moms who have trained themselves to recognize it in their children because they view it as a God-given opportunity to shine the light of God's Word into their lives in order to lovingly correct them. How do you view grouchiness in your child? As in imposition on your time? As a nuisance, an annoyance? As a "stage" they're going through? Or as a blessing from God, who is graciously making you aware of their sin so that you might address it? Amy at the Raising Arrows blog has written a helpful post with practical advice called, "Grouchy Girls" (she has daughters). Her entire post may be found here.

"Some days are just like that ... But, what do we do when our daughters seem to be having “that day” repeatedly? While the world tells us grouchiness is just part of certain growing up years, I have a different perspective [as does God!] and can often be heard telling my daughters,
What you practice now, you will become later.
If insolence and complaining are practiced in your daughter’s younger years without restraint, you can guarantee she will struggle with these same things as an adult. If finding fault and unbridled tongue-lashings often occur in her days as a youth, you better believe they will occur in her days as an adult. The brunt of her grouchiness will move from her siblings to her parents to her husband to her children.  She will feel discontent and out of sorts because no one truly wants to be like this, but because she practiced such things in her youth, her adult years will be fraught with bitterness.

As mothers, we should not accept grouchy girls as the norm.  We must continually strive to teach our daughters to glorify the Lord in all things…our attitudes included. But how do we foster a sweet spirit and attitude in our young daughters?  Here are some ideas: 

*Pray for her and over her.  This is not a time for condemnation, but rather a time to speak into her life the things you know please the Lord.  Rather than pray for her to quit yelling at her siblings, pray for her to continue to learn the art of a meek and quiet spirit.  Always give her something to strive towards.

*Praise her when you see or hear good attitudes.  Yes, you might embarrass her, but she needs to know you see the good in her and not just the bad.

*Model right behavior.  Check your attitude, mama.  Do you grouch around the house more often than you smile?  Do you laugh?  Do you enjoy the girls God has given you?  Or are you grouchy too?  Sometimes a daughter’s attitude is a direct reflection of her mother’s...

*Never allow grouchy responses.  You may have to model the correct vocal inflections or have her repeat exactly what you say and how you say it or ask her to try again many, many times, but do not allow grouchy responses.  Again, she is practicing.  Don’t let her practice the wrong thing. 

*Do a character study of the Fruit of the Spirit.  Teach your daughter about patience and kindness and self-control and what those words mean... reading through [Gal.5:22-23] and simply talking about each component.

*Realize the fruit of the Spirit is the Fruit of the Spirit and you are not the Spirit.  True fruit in your daughter’s life will only come from the Holy Spirit.  You can disciple and lead and guide and direct, but ultimately, this is God’s work." 

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 4

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself!
"The Problem of Forgiveness" (Chapter 4)

"...we have dared to proclaim our self-dependence, our autonomy, which is to claim the position occupied by God alone. Sin is not a regrettable lapse from conventional standards; its essence is hostility to God (Rom.8:7), issuing in active rebellion against him. It has been described in terms of 'getting rid of the Lord God' in order to put ourselves in his place in a haughty spirit of 'God-almightiness'. Emil Brunner sums it up well: 'Sin is defiance, arrogance, the desire to be equal with God, ... the assertion of human independence over against God, ... the constitution of the autonomous reason, morality and culture.' [Man in Revolt, 129]

The Bible takes sin seriously because it takes man seriously ... It is part of the glory of being human that we are held responsible for our actions. Then, when we also acknowledge our sin and guilt, we receive God's forgiveness, enter into the joy of his salvation, and so become yet more completely human and healthy. What is unhealthy is every wallowing in guilt which does not lead to confession, repentance, faith in Jesus Christ and so forgiveness...

... the essential background to the cross is not only the sin, responsibility and guilt of human beings but the just reaction of God to these things, in other words his holiness and wrath. That God is holy is foundational to biblical religion. So is the corollary that sin is incompatible with his holiness. His eyes are 'too pure to look on evil' and he 'cannot tolerate wrong' (Hab.1:13; Isa.59:1-2). Therefore our sins effectively separate us from him ... Closely related to God's holiness is his wrath, which is in fact his holy reaction to evil.

Human anger is usually arbitrary and uninhibited; divine anger is always principled and controlled. Our anger tends to be a spasmodic outburst, aroused by pique and seeking revenge; God's is a continuous, settled antagonism, aroused only by evil, and expressed in its condemnation. God is entirely free from personal animosity or vindictiveness; indeed, he is sustained simultaneously with undiminished love for the offender ... What is common to the biblical concepts of the holiness and the wrath of God is the truth that they cannot coexist with sin. God's holiness exposes sin; his wrath opposes it...

We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won for us only after we have first seen God's inaccessibility to sinners. We can cry 'Hallelujah' with authenticity only after we have first cried 'Woe is me, for I am lost'... All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely 'hell-deserving sinners', then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before. (1Pet.1:17)

The essential background to the cross, therefore, is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross. If we reinterpret sin as a lapse instead of a rebellion, and God as indulgent instead of indignant, then naturally the cross appears superfluous. But to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves not only dispenses with the cross; it also degrades both God and man."

[Challies' review of Chapter 4]
[Selections: Chapter 1; Chapter 5]

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 3

The Cross of Christ is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself. 

"Looking Below the Surface" (Chapter 3)

 "The cross enforces three truths - about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.

First, our sin must be extremely horrible
Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ's resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ's cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves. Apathy, selfishness and complacency blossom everywhere in the world except at the cross. There these noxious weeds shrivel and die. They are seen for the tatty, poisonous things they are. For if there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed. It is only when we see this that, stripped of our self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, we are ready to put our trust in Jesus Christ as the Savior we urgently need.

Secondly, God's love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. 
God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not.  Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is 'grace', which is love to the undeserving.

Thirdly, Christ's salvation must be a free gift. 
He 'purchased' it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now 'finished' [Greek 'teleo' - to completely fulfill, bring to planned consummation, brought to perfection; Perfect Tense, literally meaning "it has been and will for ever remain finished"], there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a license to sin and can always count on God's forgiveness. On the contrary, the same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life. But this new life follows. First, we have to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgment, thank him that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness. Against this self-humbling our ingrained pride rebels. We resent the idea that we cannot earn - or even contribute to - our own salvation. So we stumble, as Paul put it, over the stumbling-block of the cross. (1Cor.1:23; Rom.9:32)"

[Tim Challies' review of Chapter 3]
[Selections: Chapter 1, Chapter 4]

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 2

The Cross of Christ is the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series. As I read through the book, I thought I'd share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. After having a taste, I hope you will want to spend time in this influential book yourself.

"Why Did Jesus Die?" (Chapter 2)


"... we ourselves are also guilty. 
 Indeed, we have done it. For whenever we turn away from Christ, we 'are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace' (Heb.6:6). We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate. 'Were you there when they crucified my Lord?' the old spiritual asks. And we must answer, 'Yes, we were there.' Not as spectators only but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining, and handing him over to be crucified. We may wish to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate. But our attempt will be as futile as his. For there is blood on our hands. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance). Indeed, 'only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross', wrote Canon Peter Green, 'may claim his share in its grace.' (Watchers by the Cross)

...although Jesus was brought to his death by human sins, he did not die as a martyr. 
On the contrary, he went to the cross voluntarily, even deliberately. From the beginning of his public ministry he consecrated himself to this destiny... 'The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,' he said. Then, dropping the metaphor, 'I lay down my life ... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord' (Jn.10:11, 17-18).

Moreover, when the apostles took up in their letters the voluntary nature of the dying of Jesus, they several times used the very verb (paradidomi) which the evangelists used of his being 'handed over' to death by others. Thus Paul could write 'the Son of God...loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal.2:20). It was perhaps a conscious echo of Isaiah 53:12, which says that 'he poured out (LXX paredothe) his life unto death'. Paul also used the same verb when he looked behind the voluntary self-surrender of the Son to the Father's surrender of him. For example, 'he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rom.8:32). Octavius Winslow summed it up in a neat statement: 'Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; - but the Father, for love!" (No Condemnation in Christ Jesus)

It is essential to keep together these two complementary ways of looking at the cross. 
On the human level, Judas gave him up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. But on the divine level, the Father gave him up, and he gave himself up, to die for us. As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both, 'I did it, my sins sent him there' and 'he did it, his love took him there'. The apostle Peter brought the two truths together in his remarkable statement on the Day of Pentecost, both that 'this man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge' and that 'you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross'. Peter thus attributed Jesus' death simultaneously to the plan of God and to the wickedness of men. For the cross which ... is an exposure of human evil, is at the same time a revelation of the divine purpose to overcome the human evil thus exposed." 

"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. ... But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering..."  (Isa.53:5, 10)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Cross of Christ - Chapter 1

I'm rereading John Stott's classic book, The Cross of Christ, the current Challies' choice for his "Reading Classics Together" series.  Stott went home to be with the Lord on July 27th, ending a lifetime of faithful service. He persevered to the end, not an easy task for prominent Christians in our time! Christianity Today honored him as "an architect of 20th-century evangelicalism [who] shaped the faith of a generation." Serving as a cleric in the Anglican church until his retirement at the age of 86, he was also a prolific author, penning more than 50 books, plus numerous essays and articles. He is perhaps best known for this work. As I read through the book, I thought I would share highlights from each chapter with you and include a link to Challies' full review. May you be inspired to join us.
"The Centrality of the Cross" (Chapter 1)

The Perspective of Jesus
...the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus himself... Jesus designates himself 'Son of Man' (the heavenly figure whom Daniel saw in his vision, coming in the clouds of heaven, being given authority, glory and sovereign power, and receiving the worship of the nations) and yet paradoxically states that as Son of Man he will suffer and die, thus with daring originality combining to two Old Testament Messianic figures, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and the reigning Son of Man of Daniel 7.

The Apostles' Emphasis
... although the apostles attributed the death of Jesus to human wickedness, they declared that it was also due to a divine purpose. (Acts 2:23, 3:18, 4:27-28) ... they repeatedly emphasized that the death and resurrection of Jesus happened 'according to the Scriptures'. Paul's own later summary of the gospel also stressed this. (1Cor.15:3-4; Acts 17:2-3) 

... they called the cross on which he died a 'tree'. (Deut.21:22-23) It was our curse he was bearing. Paul in Galatians wrote, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." (Gal.3:13) And Peter wrote, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." (1Pet.2:24)

In John's vision (Revelation), the Lamb is more than the Savior of a countless multitude; he is depicted also as the lord of all history....his the key to history and the redemptive process it inaugurated. It is not surprising to learn that the author of salvation and the lord of history is also the object of heaven's worship.
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open the seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation..."  [Rev.5:9]
Emil Brunner, the Swiss theologian, whose book The Mediator was first published in German in 1927, subtitled, 'A study of the central doctrine of the Christian faith', defended his conviction with these words:
In Christianity faith in the Mediator is not something optional, not something about which, in the last resort, it is possible to hold different opinions, if we are only united on the 'main point'. For faith in the Mediator - in the event which took place once for all, a revealed atonement - is the Christian religion itself; it is the 'main point'; it is not something alongside the center; it is the substance and kernel, not the husk ... And there is no other possibility of being a Christian than through faith in that which took place once for all, revelation and atonement through the Mediator.

[Tim Challies' review of Chapter 1]
[Selections: Chapter 2]

Friday, September 02, 2011

Being Satisfied in God

Excerpted from the "Me and Brooks" blog, as a reflection upon the following quote from Puritan Thomas Brooks...
all (our) afflictions, troubles, and trials shall work for (our) good ...  That scouring and rubbing, which frets others, shall make them shine the brighter; and that weight which crushes and keeps others under, shall but make them, like the palm tree, grow better and higher; and that hammer which knocks others all in pieces, shall but knock them the nearer to Christ, the corner stone.  Stars shine brightest in the darkest night; torches give the best light when beaten; grapes yield most wine when most pressed; spices smell sweetest when pounded; vines are the better for bleeding; gold looks the brighter for scouring; juniper smells sweetest in the fire; chamomile, the more you tread it the more you spread it...”
"The question for us in trials is then, is this ‘good’ something we actually want? Do we actually want to be more righteous?

One of the ways our trials increase our righteousness is that troubles take away the gifts so we can better appreciate the Giver.  Afflictions rob us of our comfort, our ease, our peace, our health, our wealth and even our sense of security, but they never rob us of God.  They do us good by showing us that our existence is not as much about enjoying the benefits of God as it is about enjoying God Himself.  In a way, our lives are an unending, recurring replay of the second half of Romans 1.  We struggle to place more value on God than we do on the gifts that God gives us. We constantly slip into placing more worth on the creation than the Creator. When God brings afflictions into our lives it is precisely the opposite of the judgement of God ‘giving us up’ to our own way. Our troubles bring us back to face the question: is God alone enough for us?

When we are ‘scoured’ what gets rubbed off is only those things that should be. Our desires for the creation over the Creator get left in the rubble so that we will be rock solid in our satisfaction with God alone.  Afflictions lead us toward greater degrees of righteousness because afflictions lead us toward greater degrees of closeness to God. What this means is that the bedrock question is not, “Do we want to be more righteous?” but rather, “Do we want more of God?”  It will help us to want the ‘good’ that afflictions bring if we remember that righteousness is the path to enjoying more of God. In this way our afflictions are a way that God walks us away from the broken cisterns where we try to quench our thirst in vain and to the fountains of living water (Jeremiah 2:13). In this way our troubles are used to remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see the glory of the living God (Hebrews 12:14).

When you are under afflictions and find yourself grumbling, remind yourself that these afflictions are ‘good for you’... because they will be used by God to give you what is most valuable; that is, God himself.

" of the world, whose portion is in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your treasure... As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake."  [Psalm 17:15]"

[The entire post may be found here.]

Finding GOD'S Main Point

The order of Bible study is familiar to many of you. You start by repeatedly reading a passage, chapter or book, making Observations as you go. [Identify the original author & his audience, people, places, literary genre (narrative, poetic, prophetic, wisdom, apocalyptic, gospel, parable, etc., each of which has its own rules for understanding). Establish the context of the entire book & the immediate context of the passage (where does it start/end? e.g. a question is asked; the passage has "book ends"). Determine the historical context. Identify cultural considerations. Take note of repeated ("key") words & phrases. Look up the context of any OT quotes & determine their use in your passage. Roughly outline the structure. Look for connecting words that clarify meaning [and (links ideas), but (contrast), therefore (concluding result), for/because (reason or explanation), that/in order that (purpose), that (content), etc.]

Next comes Interpretation, which good observation makes possible. What did the original author mean to convey to his original audience? Is a Principle or a Practice being taught? Exegesis is a key element here. It means breaking down the text, the flow of the argument, the meaning of words determined by their use in context, verb tenses, pronouns, main verb(s) & subject(s), direct objects, indirect objects (to/for), deciding what participles & prepositional phrases are modifying ... the actual nitty-gritty of language that gives Meaning

Careful time spent in these first two steps, makes the final step possible. What Universal Principles can be drawn? And once those have been identified, what are the particular Applications you need to make in your own life? What are the implications of these Universal Principles/Truths on the way you think and live? What specific changes do YOU need to make in your thinking or living/actions [put offs/put ons]?

A common error is to jump to Application before having laid the solid foundation of the first two steps. Such error is often prefaced by the words, "What this verse/passage means to me ...". Our human nature is all too quick to "look for the blessing" instead of disciplining ourselves to "look for God's meaning." That's where true blessing lies! 

In the following 4 minute video clip, Tim Keller, Don Carson & John Piper discuss the importance of careful time spent in exegesis prior to making Applications. As believers who are cautious to "rightly divide the word of truth," we want to be very sure we're making the exact same conclusions God intended us to make!

Make God's Word Your 'Thing' from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Special Exhibit: "A Photographic Portrait of Cuba"

Heads up on a photography exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston now through January 16, 2012, "Violet Isle: A Photographic Portrait of Cuba" featuring the combined works of Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb. Perhaps it's because I'm a child of the 50's-60's, perhaps because I was mesmerized by a photography exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA) a few years back (was it Jeffrey Milstein's work?) or perhaps because one of our Ladies' Literary Luncheons was based on Isadora Tattlin's fascinating book, Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana that I find myself enthralled by any and all photographs of Cuba. It's like looking at a place out of time. There are the old cars in mint condition, the brightly colored buildings with art deco facades, the strutting roosters, the crumbling interiors echoing bygone days of splendor and always, there are the people themselves. I can't stop looking! I expect to find Hemingway leaning against the doorway of a bar, cigar in hand, telling outrageous fishing stories to a group of old cronies. So take advantage and see these works while they're here. The Boston Globe wrote the exhibit "presents all the lushness and liveliness of Cuba." Disfrutar!

Here's the book if you can't make it ...

A Wife's Faith Tested

Below is a recent post by Jen Smith, entitled "A Wife's Testing Ground." She examines an area many Christian wives do not recognize as a potential problem area ... until they find themselves in the situation where their husband is struggling. As Christian women we're encouraged to rest in and rely upon our husband's leadership. But over time, our attitude might easily slip into putting them into the position only God should hold in our lives. These frightening situations can become a God-given opportunity for our spiritual growth. Therefore, the FIRST place we must turn our gaze in such situations is onto our God. It's the first step taking us back to the path of eternal perspective, and into a deeper relationship with our Lord and Savior. Then we can be the helpmeet our husbands need us to be in a crisis situation.

"Some of my most scary moments as a wife have been when my husband has struggled. Some of my most intimate encounters with Jesus have been when my husband has struggled.  As a wife, each of us has faced or will encounter one of these scenarios:
  • Your husband has just confessed sexual or financial sin. 
  • His company has downsized and his position terminated. 
  • Usually a solid rock, he is filled with doubt and questioning God.
What does a wife do when her husband is caught in sin, reveals an area of vulnerability or is just plain weak for a time?

There is no more heart revealing place for a wife than when her husband is vulnerable. Immediately and with gut-wrenching force, a stumble or struggle from our husbands exposes us to the core. Fear and anxiety leap to the surface as we desperately try to find our footing. We ask ourselves who we can trust to lead us through the uncertainty of this trial when the supposed “leader” is on the side-lines. Cynicism abounds as we wonder how God could leave us unprotected. If our value is tied to his purity, we will be devastated. If our security is grounded in his job title, we will be shaken. If our faith rides the coattails of his, we will find ourselves drowning in unbelief. If our husband is our rock, we may be crushed by him.

We walk a fine line in trying to understand how to respond to our husband’s sin or struggle.  As a Christian woman, while we are “one flesh” (Gen.2:24) with this man, our lives are also hidden with Christ (Col.3:3).  Regardless of the chronological timeline of these events, the moment you were welcomed into God’s family as a daughter supersedes the day you became wife. The core of the issue is that steadfast love and commitment in a marriage finds its hope and source in Jesus alone. We cannot expect perfection from our husbands; we can from Christ...

... practical comfort for a wife who is facing the pain and hurt of her husbands’ absence – be it emotional, physical or spiritual:
  • All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2Cor.5:18)
  • Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!  (1Chron.16:34)
  • For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.  (2Cor.1:20) 
  • He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. (Isa.30:19)
  • For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1Thess.5:9) 
Same answers every time – from thousands of years ago when the psalmist asked to today when the lonely, grief-stricken wife asks. God is our Rock and where our hope must lie. The condition of a wife’s heart exposed under the pressure of her husband’s weakness is a glorious opportunity for her to draw near to her Rock and Redeemer. May we take those uncertain moments to pour out confidence in the grace and certainty of Christ to our men. We get to show our husbands that the love of Christ can sustain us both as we hope and pray for them."