Friday, January 29, 2010

Remembering the Future

Is the kingdom of God advancing? It is, but sometimes it's difficult to see. Nonetheless, we do well to remember that Christ will return at some moment in the future, in a particular year (maybe this one), on a particular day (maybe this one).

John Calvin comments:

Christ gives to his own people clear testimonies of his very present power. Yet his Kingdom lies hidden in the earth, so to speak, under the lowness of the flesh. It is right, therefore, that faith be called to ponder that visible presence of Christ which he will manifest on the Last Day. For he will come down from heaven in the same visible form in which he was seen to ascend. And he will appear to all with the ineffable majesty of his Kingdom, with the glow of immortality, with the boundless power of divinity, with a guard of angels. From thence we are commanded to await him as our Redeemer on that day when he will separate the lambs from the goats, the elect from the reprobate. No one--living or dead--shall escape his judgment. The sound of the trumpet will be heard from the ends of the earth, and by it all will be summoned before his judgment seat …

--Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.16.17)

Intellectuals Are the Problem

A recent post by Justin Taylor links to five 7-minute interviews with Thomas Sowell on his insightful book, Intellectuals and Society. It is enlightening. (Interview conducted by Peter Robinson)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Looking for Ideas to Blog about

Got any?

I've thought of some, but none really grab me.

Is it sad that there was more passion than usual in church last Sunday, but it was because the Colts were playing later that day?

Or

Are faux hawks in style, b/c I saw two tellers sporting faux hawks today? At two different banks!

Or

... I don't know. Got any ideas?

I'm sure something will come to me eventually.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

4 Curiosities in Ezekiel 20

1. Did you know that the Israelites practiced idolatry when they were slaves in Egypt?

On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. And I said to them, "Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (6-7, NIV)

Did you know their idolatry was so bad in Egypt God considered extensive judgment against them while they were still in Egypt?

But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations they lived among and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites by bringing them out of Egypt. (8-9)

That certainly highlights even more God’s mercy and love in shielding the Hebrews from the plagues and in delivering them from their slavery.

It also pictures more fully our salvation. God gave his Son while we were still in rebellion against him, while we were still his active enemies (Rom 5:8).

2. The chapter highlights God’s mercy and love in two other ways. First, he highlights various times he should have just wiped out the Israelites for their rebellion, but he didn’t.

He should have wiped them out while they were still in Egypt (as mentioned above, 5-9), but he didn’t.

He should have wiped the original generation out in the wilderness, but he didn’t (10-17).

He should have wiped out the next generation in the wilderness, but he didn’t (18-26).

3. A second instance of God’s mercy: The Israelites want to be good pagans like the rest of the world? Too bad. He’s going to make them good Christians. That’s really the tone of 32-44. Let me summarize that passage:

You want to be like the other nations? Too bad!
I will forcibly separate you from the other nations.
I will judge you and purge you.
Go and ahead and serve your idols, but when you’re done, you will come to me.
I will accept you, and you will be holy.

Again a picture of our redemption (see Rom 5:8; Col 1:21-22).

4. Finally, what exactly does verse 25 mean?

I also gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances that did not bring them life. (HCSB)

Friday, January 22, 2010

God's Love Figures Out How to Remove God's Hatred

Reading Calvin’s Institutes the other day (no, I haven’t finished them), I came across a bit of logic I hadn’t heard in this particular way before.

Because God is wholly righteous and we are unrighteous, we all “have in ourselves something deserving of God’s hatred.”

But God has invested in us (i.e, he created us); thus because he doesn’t want to scrap the project AND “out of his own kindness he still finds something to love.”

Thus he is ready to receive us into grace, but the unrighteousness in us must be dealt with, because a wholly righteous God cannot dwell with unrighteousness.

Thus he “wipes out all evil in us” by means of the death of Christ.

This gives new meaning to 1 Jn 4:19’s “because he first loved us.” As Calvin puts it, “Indeed, ‘because he first love us,’ he afterward reconciles us to himself.”

Calvin quotes Augustine: “Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made.” (2.16.4)

Note: As some of you know, it was my goal to read through the Institutes last year along with many other believers. But I didn’t follow through, only making it about 1/3 of the way through. I have recently picked up where I left off.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Learning Praying

I find prayer difficult. It has been my prayer that I wouldn’t.

I try to read regularly about prayer to continue to motivate me to pray, but I struggle with doubts from time to time.

  • “Are my prayers getting through?”
  • “Am I praying correctly?”
  • “Are my sins preventing my prayers to be effective? After all, don’t I more resemble the cherishing-sin-in-his-heart guy of Psalm 66:18 than the righteous man of James 5:16?"

I use certain aids in my prayer time to help me worship, and they work some of the time. I have different prayer lists, and I think I need those. But not all the time. But when do I use the aids and the lists, and when don’t I?

I want prayer to flow naturally. I want to want to pray, but many times, I force myself to my prayer closet.

What a breath of fresh air is Paul Miller’s A Praying Life. I’m only 3 chapters in, but I have already felt the grace of Christ in my reading.

Start where you’re at, Miller says. No pretense, Miller says. God is interested in the real you. Your life is messy, complicated, dirty in some respects. So come to Christ messy, complicated, and dirty.

Come like a child. A child blurts things out, and parents “ooh” and “aah.” A child is sometimes absorbed with his own problems. Come to Christ even when you are absorbed with your own problems. He wants to hear about them.

Fundamental is that God is a person. We often forget that in prayer, says Miller. Also fundamental is that that person is our Father. Assuming your relationship with your father was/is a good one, how do you talk with your Father?

Even as was I reading these things, the Lord seem to say to me, “Amen.”

PS God uses our conversation with him to change us, but over time, not instantaneously. A person doesn’t grow up in a day. A husband doesn’t learn how to perfectly love his wife in a day. It takes a lifetime. God works in us over time, and as he does, our conversation with him (prayer life) will improve. But not in a day. Right now, come to him as you are.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Was Jesus Ever Uncertain?

Paul Miller, in A Praying Life, states that Jesus was the most dependent man who ever lived. He prayed about everything.

This morning my friend Tom Swank suggested that while the disciples struggled with Jesus' deity, we today struggle with his humanity.

What did that humanity entail? I know what it entails--he experienced fatigue and hunger and thirst and difficult people--friend, family, and enemies.

But what about at the emotional level? How did he feel when many of his disciples stopped following him (Jn 6:66)? How did he feel when he was unable to persuade the rich young ruler to sell all and follow him?

And most intriguing to me: did he often experience uncertainty? He prayed all night long before he chose the Twelve. Why? Uncertain who to pick?

He spent much time in prayer. Was he praying for guidance? Did he often wonder what to do next? (That would certainly make his humanity much more accessible to me, but what is the truth in this area?)

We know that he had supernatural knowledge while on earth, but we also know that there were some things he did not know--part of his self-limiting (cf. Mt 24:36).

The various Jesus movies (like Jesus of Nazareth) picture Jesus as always in control, seemingly knowing what was going to happen next. Always certain. But was he often uncertain, and that's one of the reasons why he was so often alone in prayer?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Personal TV Fads

Fad: "a temporary fashion, manner of conduct"

Sara and I were reminiscing the other day about our TV viewing fads during the course of our marriage. It’s the stuff blog posts are made of. Well, at least for a blog like this one. (There are some really good blogs out there, but since you haven’t found those yet, enjoy this fare.)

When we lived in Mundelein, IL, we used to watch Matlock every night. It came on after our supper. We usually to put fudge syrup in bowls, microwave it, spoon a couple dips of vanilla ice cream on top of the fudge, and then sit and watch attorney Andy Griffith (Ben Matlock) in his light blue suit go to work.

After Andrew was born we unwittingly began another TV ritual that lasted 2 ½ hours each night. Rocking Andrew to sleep was often a long process, but it was okay with us because we found a sequence of programs that worked for us after tiring days as apt. manager/new mom (Sara) and as seminarian (me). As Sara remembers it, In the Heat of the Night came on at 9:00, followed by Leave It to Beaver at 10:00, followed by The Rockford Files at 10:30.

When we first came to Northside in ‘95 we enjoyed watching The New Adventures of Lois and Clark on Sunday nights after the evening service. Sometimes we would go over to the Ryans’ (our senior pastor) and watch it at their house.

I think Law & Order is the longest-running TV series ever (apart from stuff like the nightly news). Sara and I became fans a few years after it had been on but long before all the spin-offs (Law & Order: SVU; Law & Order: Criminal Intent; Law & Order: Trial by Jury; Law & Order: Parking Violations Unit; etc.) On any given Wednesday night we would lead youth group, then go up to the Ryans’ for an informal time of popcorn and conversation, then hurry home, put Caty and Andrew to bed, and plop ourselves down in front of the tube to watch the likes of Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt and the rest run down the leads, make the arrests, and prosecute the cases. One of the things we really liked about Law & Order was that more than once, the bad guys got off. Incredibly frustrating, but realistic. But that was a fad, and we don’t watch Law & Order much anymore.

For the first, second, and maybe third season of CSI we were riveted to the TV on Thursday nights. Our adrenaline was up when we heard the opening Whooooooo are you? Who? Who? Who, who?” But eventually the show got too graphic and explicit--in more ways than one--for me.

PBS produced several two-hour episodes of Foyle’s War over several seasons. Set in England during WWII, where wartime, Nazis, and crime all mix, Foyle, played by Michael Kitchen, is a police detective who solves crimes, often war-related. Kitchen’s reserved and conservative nature was appealing. We started during the middle of the series and picked up other episodes from the library. We stopped watching when the series ended.

Well, this is already running too long. I’ll just mention other fads briefly.
--Homicide: Life in the Streets
--The kids and I always try to watch the holiday Charlie Brown specials (like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc.).
--The Olympics are rarely missed at our house. Sara’s the biggest fan, I’m the smallest fan, and the kids fall in between.
--We watched some ER in its early years with interest. But then, because of increasingly bizarre plots and twists, we began rooting against the show, hoping it would be cancelled. We started that rooting several years before it finally died. I guess that might be our one anti-fad.

I’d love to hear about your TV watching fads, but am realistic to know that maybe only 1 or 2 of you will actually comment.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Taking a Negative Approach to God

A. W. Tozer suggests a negative approach to thinking accurately about God. He writes in The Knowledge of the Holy,

"Since our intellectual knolwedge of God is so small and obscure, we can sometimes gain considerable advantage in our struggle to understand what God is like by the simple expedient of thinking what He is not like" (55).

He cites some Scriptural examples, like
  • He will not grow tired or weary (Isa 40:28). --He is omnipotent.
  • I the LORD do not change (Mal 3:6). --He is immutable.
  • God, who does not lie (Titus 1:2) --He is wholly righteous.
  • For nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1:37). --His omnipotence again
Another one that comes to my mind often is
  • ...there is no wickedness in him (Ps 92:15). --His holiness
I have found the negative approach helpful in appreciating God.

God doesn't have a bad day. He doesn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed and take it out on us. --God's goodness to us

God isn't unaware of what's going on in our lives. He's not so engrossed in something else going on or something (or someone) more important that our problems and concerns aren't at the forefront of his mind. --God's compassion and omniscience

God is never caught by surprise with world events or with circumstances in my life. God never wrings his hands with anxiety, "Oh, what I am going to do? How can I fix this mess?" --God's omniscience, wisdom, omnipotence

God isn't going to surprise us some day in Heaven with the announcement, "You know what? I changed my mind. Everybody to Hell." --God's love and faithfulness

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don't Do What's Natural

The Message:

I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.

--Matthew 5:44

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is it okay to acknowledge our righteous behavior?

We are sinners. We mess up. Even as believers, we are not yet completely free from sin. Our confirmation in righteousness doesn’t happen this side of heaven.

Even John Wesley, who believed that perfection was possible here on earth, never claimed that he himself had obtained it.

Humility is always appropriate. Acknowledge your weakness, your sinfulness. Confess your sins.

But what about when you do what is right? 1 John 2:29 says, “you know that everyone who does what is right is born of him.” I think one of the functions of this verse is to assure believers that they are born of God. How do they know they’re born of God? Because they are doing what is right.

John also writes, "This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 Jn 2:5-6). So to have some assurance that we are in Christ, we must see in ourselves that we are walking as Jesus did.

Some people are so accustomed to dancing the humble hop that noticing right behavior in their lives doesn’t feel right.

The truth is we should be growing in righteousness, right behavior. Obedience should be evident in our lives, not only to those around us, but to us as well.

Now we need to guard against pride and recognize right behavior is the result of the Spirit’s work in our lives (not our own independent efforts). Increasing obedience shouldn’t produce pride, but it should produce gratitude and joy at what Christ is accomplishing in our lives.

Even that is a humble response. “I was never that patient in a traffic jam before Christ saved me. But this time, I didn’t even think to swear. Jesus really is changing my heart! Thank you, Lord.”

The bottom line is we are to have a sober opinion of ourselves (Rom 12:3); that is, we are to see the truth about ourselves, both our sin and our good behavior, confessing the former and praising the Lord for his work in producing the latter.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Applause for Brit Hume

Brit Hume, Fox News, commented recently that Tiger Woods should switch from Buddhism to Christianity because it offers forgiveness and redemption. Hume, apparently a believer, was sincere, and he's taking a lot of heat for his comments.

Go to this link and watch a follow-up interview with O'Reilly.

It Isn't So Much

Some friends and relatives marvel at my reading. “How do you read so much?”

But I don’t, comparatively speaking.

I have a pastor friend who reads a book a week. That’s 52 books a year. The most I’ve read in one year in the last decade-and-a-half is 41, and that was an anomaly.

I remember a couple years ago hearing my congressman review some books he had read that particular year, and he had read 50 that year.

President Bush during his days in the White House disciplined himself to annually read many more books than I do. (See my admiring posts here and here.)

My goal has been 20 a year for the last several years. This year it was 30, but I’m revising it back down to 20 in 2010. I felt rushed.

PS I found I posted on this once before.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Out of the Overflow of the Heart

From The Message:

You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It's your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.

Matthew 12:34

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Trouble with Christian Telemarketers

I find telemarketers frustrating. I don't want to be rude, but neither do I want to listen to their spiel. So I generally politely interrupt and tell them I'm not interested.

But I struggle more with Christian telemarketing calls I get at the church.

It seems rude even to interrupt them to tell them I'm not interested in their new Bible study, their new Christian video series, their new kids devotional.

But I’m beginning to interrupt them.

Yesterday morning I was working on a message for a 1:30pm speaking engagement. Time was a bit critical. And I got three telemarketing calls.

I don’t want to be rude to my brother or sister in Christ (if they are believers), but, man, these spiels take time, and I never buy anything or allow them to send me anything anyway.

I think my time’s too short as it is, so “Christian” telemarketers probably are going to find me less willing to sit through their attempts to sell products that will enhance my ministry, make it easier, and increase attendance.

Monday, January 4, 2010

9 Things I Don't Understand

  1. Why chronically late people are that way
  2. The relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s will
  3. How Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, who accomplished so much, was able to also write on average 500 letters a week by hand (Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography 169, 197)
  4. Why the Senate, when the will of the populace is obviously and overwhelmingly against nationalized health care, passed it anyway
  5. How and why the very first person who thought of building a ship in a bottle first conceived the idea
  6. Why, when the evidence of the harm that legalized gambling brings to a community has been clearly demonstrated, our mayor is doing all he can to get a casino in Fort Wayne
  7. How mystery writers go about laying out a novel
  8. Why Callie usually--not just 50% of the time--puts her shoes on the wrong feet
  9. What exactly we are to take away from 1 Cor 11:2-16 (the passage about men, women, their hair, and head coverings) and what we aren’t to take away from it