Saturday, November 29, 2008

2 Timothy 2:3

How to work with God as your boss

By accident?

Questioner: Materialists and some astronomers suggest that the solar planetary system and life as we know it was brought about by an accidental stellar collision. What is the Christian view of this theory?

Lewis: If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents -- the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else's. But if their thoughts -- i.e., of Materialism and Astronomy -- are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents.

C. S. Lewis, "Answers to Questions on Christianity," in God in the Dock, pages 52-53.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Day


“He who loves not wine, woman and song is a fool his whole life long." Martin Luther

"Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." 1 Timothy 4:4

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dylan: how not to do an interview


Dylan in attack mode, out to embarrass this TIME reporter. He makes some good points, but it's all wrong. It's one aggressive gotcha after another. Not his finest hour.

"Flee youthful passions" (2 Timothy 2:22). That verse isn't about sex. It's about the immature pleasure of arguing in order to show off, having fun by making someone else look stupid, an unrestrained ego brutalizing someone else, smart-alecky cleverness displaying itself and scoring points.

"I'm so honest, I'm so free, I'm so radical, look at me." A good thing to repent of.

Doubt: a threshold to certainty


"Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, chapter 8.

I believe the Lord takes every one of his children to this place of bare trust in his Word. Without it, we would remain shallow. Through it, we emerge more deeply surrendered to God as God, more deeply settled and quietly certain and surprisingly satisfied.

I also believe that many of us are in that place of intense pressure right now.

God will keep us.

How sanctification works


Justification by grace empowers and spreads sanctification by grace.

I think of my inner self as a globe, a world, with many dark continents still unexplored, uncivilized, vast jungles of primitive impulses. But Jesus the Liberator steps ashore on the coast of one of those continents, plants the flag of his kingdom in my consciousness and declares peace. That is justification.

Then sanctification begins. For example, it doesn't take long for a half-naked savage to run out onto the beach with spear in hand to attack Jesus. This is some selfish desire in me rising up against the King. But he declares peace all over again and subdues that aspect of me by the force of his grace. "Clothed and in his right mind" (Mark 4:15) is the picture.

The King starts moving steadily inland, planting his flag in ever new regions of my being. He brings one dark thing after another into my awareness, declares peace again and again and again, and thereby establishes civilization.

Sanctification works as I re-experience the surprise of justification, applied to new points of need.

God sees, whether or not right prevails

Someday I will stand before God and give an account of my life. Right now I stand before the forces of history, and I feel small. But winning is not essential. Getting ready to give a good account to God is the only essential. On that great and final day, even small things will matter.

This is why I signed the petition to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act. I hope you'll sign it too. You can here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Francis Schaeffer discusses the early church


"A human god is a poor foundation."

"The Christians were not persecuted because they worshiped Jesus; they were persecuted because they worshiped Jesus only."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ed Bradley interviews Bob Dylan


About 3:07 into it:

EB: As you probably know, Rolling Stone magazine just named your song "Like a Rolling Stone" the number one song of all time. Twelve of your songs are in their list of the top 500. That must be good to have as a part of your legacy.

BD: Oh, maybe this week. But the list -- they change names quite frequently really. I don't really pay much attention to that.

EB: But it's a pat on the back, Bob.

BD: This week it is. But you know, who's to say how long that's gonna last?

Where's the wolf?


Where's the wolf? Right there, indistinguishable. Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15).

HT: David Roper blog.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The eyes of the reborn

"Suddenly to be caught up in the wonder of God's love flooding the universe, made aware of the stupendous creativity which animates all life, of our participation in it, every color brighter, every meaning clearer, every shape more shapely, every note more musical, every word written and spoken more explicit. . . . The animals too, flying, prowling, burrowing, all their diverse cries and grunts and bellowings, and the majestic hilltops, the gaunt rocks giving their blessed shade, the rivers faithfully making their way to the sea, all irradiated with this same glory for the eyes of the reborn."

Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom, pages 54-55.

Courage is infectious

"This morning I lingered over my breakfast, reading and re-reading the accounts of the Dunkirk evacuation. I felt as if deep inside me there was a harp that vibrated and sang . . . . I forgot I was a middle-aged woman who often got up tired and also had backache. . . . It was a very hot morning and work was slowed a little, but somehow I felt everything to be worthwhile, and I felt glad I was of the same race as the rescuers and the rescued."

From the diary of a working-class English woman, 5 June 1940, quoted in John Lukacs, Five Days In London: May 1940, pages 211-212

My civic duty


Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the malls, this happens. Your wife or child could have been in this Target. Think about it.

If you have access to deer hunting land in the Nashville area, remember that gun season opens this next Saturday. I am available to do my civic duty and help rid our fair land of this threat to public safety. Just call or email me.

This buck's story, of course, was that he was only shopping for camo. Hmmm.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Psalm 1


In this provocative blog post, C. J. Mahaney helps me ask a change-conducive question: "Am I deploying my daily life fruitfully or just racing through it busily?" I am drawn back to Psalm 1.

The psalm bristles with contrasts. Not nuances. Stark contrasts. And not because the psalm is simplistic but because it is so profound. In this world's Gadarene rush of ever-expanding options we need that blunt clarity. Psalm 1 calls us back to the one choice we all face every day: good versus evil. It's that profound. It's a choice between simple confidence in the Spirit-filled ways of God versus nervous, hyper-active, carnal worldliness.

Here are a couple of ways the psalm achieves that clarity. The word "not" occurs six times (in the Hebrew text), and the word "but" occurs three times. The logic embedded in Psalm 1 is "not this, but that." The wicked/sinners/scoffers in verse 1 are all actively busy, discussing their counsels and proceeding in their ways and ridiculing everything from their lofty seats. But is it getting them anywhere, really? Taking a closer look in verse 4, we discover that they are being blown along as chaff before the wind. By contrast, the blessed man is meditating on God's law, in verse 2. He is planted like a tree, in verse 3. And his life is really making a difference. It's a picture of impotent restlessness versus fruitful quietness. Wasn't it Pascal who said that all the world's troubles are due to men's inability to sit quietly in a room and read a book? Couldn't we make that case for The Book?

Busyness can be a drug. It makes us feel important and needed. Fruitfulness is another matter. It is a miracle of God's grace through his Word, imparted to a heart that stays quiet and low before him, set upon doing his will only.

I need this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Pulpit

The pulpit, therefore, (and I name it filled
with solemn awe, that bids me well beware
with what intent I touch that holy thing;)
the pulpit (when the satirist has at last,
strutting and vaporing in an empty school,
spent all his force, and made no proselyte;)
I say the pulpit (in the sober use
of its legitimate, peculiar powers)
must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand,
the most important and effectual guard,
support, and ornament of virtue's cause.
There stands the messenger of truth. There stands
the legate of the skies; his theme divine,
his office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him, the violated law speaks out
its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
as angels use, the gospel whispers peace.
He 'stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart,
and, armed himself in panoply complete
of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
bright as his own, and trains, by every rule
of holy discipline, to glorious war,
the sacramental host of God's elect.

William Cowper, 1731-1800.

The relevance of irrelevance

"I am doggedly sworn to irrelevance, insofar as relevance implies a corrupt indebtedness to modernity. . . . My deepest desire as a theologian is to be permitted to study the unchanging God without some pragmatic reason. I simply want to enjoy the study of God -- not write about it, not view it in relation to its political residue, or pretentiously imagine it will have some social effect. The joy of inquiry into God is a sufficient end in itself. . . .

I relish those times when there are no responsibilities but to engage in this quiet dialogue that is my vocation. Then, I readpray, studypray, workpray, thinkpray, because there is nothing I more want to do.

So when old activist friends ask why I'm not out there on the street working to change the world, I answer that I am out on the street in the most serious way by being here with my books, and if you see no connection there, you have not understood my vocation. I do not love the suffering poor less by offering them what they need more."

Thomas C. Oden, "Last Wednesday's Theology," Christianity Today, 10 February 1992, page 9.

"Come to me"


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus gets personal with us. There is Jesus, there is you and me, and he is inviting us over to him. We need no mediator. He is the mediator. We come to him personally, directly, immediately, as we are. He says, "Come to me." We say, "Here I come."

He gives incentives. One, the "me" we come to is Jesus himself. Nothing to fear there. Two, he will give us rest. We don't earn it. He gives it. He promises to give it. And deeply, too, right down to our souls. Three, his heart is gentle and lowly. The more we experience him, the more we experience this. His heart is not touchy, not sullen, not resentful, not haughty. The Son of God came down as an egoless nobody to make friends with self-important people like us, and he has not changed. Four, his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Jesus is the easiest person in the universe to get along with. He does not impose burdens; he lifts them away. We are the difficult ones, the tense ones, the prickly ones, the hard-to-please ones, the nothing-is-ever-good-enough ones. But Jesus -- he just melts in your mouth.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Church membership

"We have in our day started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting with the doctrine that every individual is 'of infinite value,' we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for square pegs. In fact, however, the value of the individual does not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it by union with Christ. There is no question of finding for the individual a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy. The place was there first. The individual was created for it. He will not be himself until he is there."

C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory, page 174.

Tour ancient Rome via your computer


The Times of London announces a computer-generated window into ancient Rome here.

How to be revival-ready


"At such a day as this, God especially calls his people to the exercise of extraordinary meekness and mutual forbearance. Christ appears as it were coming in his kingdom, which calls for great moderation in our behavior towards all men: 'Let your moderation be known unto all men; the Lord is at hand' (Phil. 4:5). The awe of the Divine Majesty that appears present or approaching should dispose us to it and deter us from the contrary.

For us to be judging one another and behaving with fierceness and bitterness one towards another, when he who is the Searcher of all hearts, to whom we must all give an account, appears so remarkably present, is exceeding unsuitable. Our business at such a time should be at home, searching and condemning ourselves and taking heed to our own behavior.

If there be glorious prosperity to the church of God approaching, those that are the most meek will have the largest share in it."

Jonathan Edwards, "Thoughts on the Revival," in Works, I:421.

". . . when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth." Psalm 76:9

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A profound ability to absorb adversity


They can keep their horse-drawn buggies, but I'll take "their strong sense of yieldedness to God" any day.

Apostolic tactics

"It is true that as Paul debated on Mars Hill or spoke to the gullible crowd in Lystra, he did not work from his Jewish Scriptures as he did in the synagogues. But this was a tactical device. He reduced the differences between himself and his audience almost to a vanishing point, but only so as to stress his distinctiveness more clearly once they had seen his point."

Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File, page 201.

Cal Thomas on the Religious Right

Cal Thomas wisely reflects upon the failure of the Religious Right here.

The church is the secret government of the world, not by bullying or plotting but by being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Our influence depends not on favorable historical trends but on our integrity before Christ. And unfavorable historical trends are an ideal setting for the display of Christ's glory, as he himself proved at his cross. No power on earth can withstand the weakness of the cross.

Regret turns to rejoicing

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

It isn't just that you and I have regrets as we look back over our lives. Sadly, we are our regrets. Terrifyingly, we are God's regrets.

As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:5

It isn't just that God forgives us our evil and stupidity. Surprisingly, he counts us righteous in Christ. Astonishingly, he will present us to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing and he will rejoice over us.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cowabunga, dude!


HT: The Times of London.

Promises

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change. Psalm 15:1, 4

A promise must be kept, even when it turns out to cost us more than we expected. Inconvenience does not dissolve obligation. Inconvenience makes promise-keeping all the more beautiful, even God-like.

God is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper. He made us covenantal beings living in a covenantal universe. Our lives unfold with his beauty as we receive, believe, make and keep promises. It costs us. But it cost God too. His cross inspires in us the depth of personal character that doesn't go with the flow but keeps a promise even when unforeseeable eventualities make it hard. The unforeseeableness of the future is the very reason why we make promises. It's why promises are valuable. In a world of contingencies, promise-keeping is the glue that holds us together.

If in the course of life we find a promise hard to keep, we must not think, "Hey wait a minute, this is costing me more than I bargained for. This can't be right. This makes me mad. There must be someone else to blame for this. Now, who can I dump on as my excuse to get out of this?" If we choose to make a promise, and the promise is morally legitimate -- like marriage vows, joining a church, and so forth -- then let's cheerfully and wholeheartedly keep our word, no matter what. It's the Christlike thing to do. It's a pathway into God's personal presence in his tent and on his holy hill. And if God feels remote and unreal, maybe there's a promise we have forsaken. Maybe the way to deeper enjoyment of God is to go back and fulfill that costly promise we've been ignoring.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The same swamp

"Who then can pride himself over against someone else and claim to be better than he? Especially in view of the fact that he is always capable of doing exactly the same as the other does and, indeed, that he does secretly in his heart before God what the other does openly before men. And so we must never despise anyone who sins but must generously bear with him as a companion in a common misery. We must help one another just as two people caught in the same swamp assist each other. Thus we must 'bear one another's burdens and fulfill the law of Christ' (Galatians 6:2). But if we despise the other, we shall both perish in the same swamp."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, page 115.

How does one give reasons for this?

"Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued and overtook him. Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed him. Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him. Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family. Paul was an enemy; Christ made him a friend. Paul was 'in the flesh'; Christ set him 'in the Spirit.' Paul was under the law; Christ set him in grace. Paul was dead; Christ made him alive to God. How does one give reasons for this? He does not give reasons; he sings, 'Blessed be God who blessed us . . . even as he chose us in him.'"

Lewis B. Smedes, Union With Christ, pages 86-87.

The most important word in the universe

What is the most important Book in the universe? The Bible. Which book within the Bible is the most important? Romans. Which chapter in Romans is the most important? Chapter 3. Which paragraph in Romans 3 is the most important? Verses 21-26. Which verse in that paragraph is the most important? Verse 25. Which word in verse 25 is the most important? Propitiation: ". . . whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."

Therefore, the most important word in the most important verse in the most important paragraph in the most important chapter in the most important book within the most important Book in the universe is propitiation. That word is worth studying, understanding, revering.

I thank Dr. Murray Harris for proposing this line of reasoning in a faculty devotional at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School some years ago.

The one essential condition

"The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and die of despair."

Dostoevsky, quoted in T. M. Kitwood, What is Human?, page 134.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Performance in Music City USA


Performance counts here in Music City USA. And why not? Everyone wants to shine, we do look for excellence, and there really is a lot of impressiveness around. In fact, the glory of God is shining through all this talent, whether or not the music is meant for him.

But there is a dark side to a culture of performance. The dark side is bondage to appearances -- smiling, beautiful, clever, attractive appearances. Nashville is a city of truly amazing people. But under the surface are also stories of unspoken disappointment, insecurity, heartache, loneliness, fear, regret, injury, even as the show must go on. And we may well wonder, "Does anyone care about my broken heart?"

The gospel opens a door to freedom of heart by telling the success story of Someone Else: "But now the applause of God is heard -- without our own hard-won performances" (Romans 3:21, paraphrased).

What difference would it make if we knew deep within that the only One whose opinion finally matters has already chosen us for a Lifetime Achievement Award because of his performance for us, in our place? Wouldn't we relax? Wouldn't it free our creativity to perform better on the stage of this life right now? Wouldn't it help us cheer for someone else's success too?

This freedom can be ours moment by moment, as we receive approval from God on terms of his perfect grace. Jesus said to everyone tired of keeping up the act, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Luke 1:37

A different man?


"What I want to ask you is: Would you help me become a different man?"

Ex-Nazi Albert Speer, to Pastor Georges Casalis, chaplain in Spandau Prison, the late 1940s, quoted in Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, page 23.

The cry of the heart, longing for a Redeemer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Billy Graham turns 90


In 1949, a movement of God began in Los Angeles that continues with force today. He set Billy Graham apart to himself for remarkable usefulness in the gospel. Many of us have been helped, directly and indirectly. This Friday, his ninetieth birthday, we thank the Lord for Dr. Billy Graham.

"Have you trusted Christ Jesus as Savior? Tonight I am glad to tell you as we close that the Lord Jesus Christ can be received, your sins forgiven, your burdens lifted, your problems solved, by turning your life over to him, repenting of your sins and turning to Jesus Christ as Savior. Shall we pray?"

I love this man dearly.

The gospel spirit

"The gospel spirit is a catholic spirit, a noble and unconfined benevolence, like unto that of our Creator, not confined to any particular part of mankind exclusive of others. . . . To make the wickedness of men the cause of contention and strife in us is to make one sin the cause of another. We cannot please the devil better than by hating men's persons under pretense of duty."

Jonathan Edwards, quoted in George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, page 97.

Not so long ago


So, what ideas that we hold onto today will look this dumb in fifty years? The only escape from the prison of our cultural moment is the eternal truth of the Word of God.

Freedom

"Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom."

Whittaker Chambers, Witness, page 16.

Election Day 2008

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing;
he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, "What have you done?"

Daniel 4:35