Monday, January 31, 2011

Bible Notes: Judges 13-14

"What a godly couple! Now this is the kind of leader we want--someone who will not only deliver us from our enemies but also lead us into spiritual renewal."

That's what one would be tempted to think as you read about Manoah and his wife in Judges 13. When it's announced to the woman that she, though barren, will conceive and bear a son, and that he will be dedicated to the Lord from birth (a Nazirite), and that he will begin to save Israel from the Philistines, one's hopes could potentially soar.

Then Manoah prays the Lord to send the mysterious messenger back. Why? For instructions on raising this deliverer. They want to make sure they raise him well! Surely God is good to Israel! And at the end of the chapter we read that the Manoahs did have a son, and he was healthy, and he was blessed by the Lord as he grew, and the Lord began to stir him.

But as the focus of the next chapter shifts from parents to son, the promised one, a muffled alarm begins to sound somewhere in our minds. In verses 1-2 Samson informs his parents he wants to marry a Philistine. In verse 3 they remonstrate with him (in vain), pleading with him to marry an Israelite. Good students of the Old Testament, we realize that he should marry within Israel. Hasn't God commanded Israel not to intermarry with the godless nations around them?

Then Samson's justification to his father sounds another warning, for he says, "She is right in my eyes." That's a problem. Are we not to live by what's right in God's eyes? Further, living right in their own eyes is the very moral snare Israel continues to indulge that continues to lead them into dire geo-political straits. In fact, the theme of Judges, of which Samson's very words are an echo, is sounded twice: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (17:6; 21:25).

As we continue to read of Samson, we become slightly less hopeful and a little wary ...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Answers to Yesterday's Quiz

2005 ... Condeleeza Rice
1986 ... Chicago Bears
1861 ... Louisiana
1980 ... Moscow
1788 ... Australia
1950 ... India
1962 ... Chubby Checker
1979 ... The Dukes of Hazzard

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quiz: This Date in History

On January 26,

2005, who was the first African-American woman appointed as Secretary of State?

1986, what NFL team won Super Bowl XX and gave to us the “Super Bowl Shuffle”?

1861, what Cajun state seceded from the Union?

1980, the U.S. Olympic Committee voted to ask the International Olympic Committee to move the 1980 Olympics from what city or risk U.S. non-participation?

1788, what country was founded by 800 British convicts?

1950, what country’s constitution took effect (after having shrugged off British rule), making it the most populous democracy in the world?

1962, whose song, “The Twist,” ended its record-setting run at #1?

1979, what southern sit-com premiered on TV, featuring the likes of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and a ‘69 Dodge Charger called the “General Lee”?

Monday, January 24, 2011

You're Not as Good as You Think

We have a tendency to think ourselves pretty decent individuals. We see the low-lifes who are paraded across newscasts, and we shake our head at the latest antics of our neighbors and relatives, and we move forward in the unconscious glow of our own decent living.

But the truth is, we are scoundrels before God, guilty of a thousand sins, and none of our "good works" can expunge our record of even one of those sins.

Our tendency toward self-delusion in this area is comparable to the brilliance of the stars vs. the brilliance of the sun. John Calvin writes: "For if the stars, which seem so very bright at night, lose their brilliance in the sight of the sun, what do we think will happen even to the rarest innocence of man when it is compared with God's purity?" (Institutes 3.12.4)

To use another illustration, we easily, almost automatically, construct a pleasant and peaceful--yet empty--righteousness for ourselves that God's judgment will soon shake from us, "just as great riches heaped up in a dream vanish upon awakening." (Ibid.)

Our only hope is Christ. Our only firm ground is before the cross. We have no hope in the Judgment unless we have Christ's righteousness.

Abandon all hope of making yourself look good before God. Trust Christ, cling to him, and put your faith in his wounds.

Bernard of Clairvaux: "Where, in fact, are safe and firm rest and security for the weak but in the Savior's wounds? The mightier he is to save, the more securely I dwell there.... I have sinned a grave sin. My conscience is disturbed, but it will not be perturbed because I shall remember the Lord's wounds." (quoted in Calvin's Institutes 3.12.3)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Clarifying God's Great Love

Excerpt from "This Is Love," a sermon on 1 John 4:7-11 I preached Aug 15, 2010

“God is love.” He is loving by nature. So let’s flesh that out. What does that mean? That’s just kind of a fuzzy thought right now.

We can sharpen that picture by coupling it with some of God’s other attributes or perfections. One of the things that A. W. Tozer emphasizes in his book on God, and one of the things that Pastor Ryan has stressed in this sermon series, is that God’s attributes do not compete with another. They work in perfect unity.

So let’s look at God’s love in light of some of his other attributes.

It’s a holy love.
A lot of people believe that God’s love makes him a sweet old grandfather in the sky who winks at sin and says, “Boys will be boys.” Do whatever you want; he’ll let you into his heaven. No big deal.

That’s a false view of God’s love. For not only is God loving, but he is also holy. So his love is a holy love.

A full understanding of love needs to reckon with verses like these:

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (1 Cor 13:6 NIV)
The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (Heb 12:6 NIV)

God doesn’t wink at sin.

God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.

Parents love their little babies, even when they have more food on their face & clothes than in their tummy, and even when they leave presents in their diapers. But does parental love mean that they will continue to allow their children to be messy and diapered? No, because parents love their children they train their children in neatness and manners, and they take their children through potty-training. It may not be fun, but it’s still a manifestation of love.

Loving parents often push their children, many times against their kids’ wills, in order to help them succeed in life.

“God is love” doesn’t mean that God’s never stern, that he’s never harsh; he certainly can be.

Jesus loved Peter, but he rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

A lady in our church, Sharon, told me recently that when she saw Callie’s fingers reaching for the fan, she was quite firm with her. Was that because Sharon is mean-spirited? No, she did it because she loves Callie. Love sometimes wears a stern face.

That God’s love is a holy love means it’s a pure love, and it doesn’t tolerate impurity, either, in its objects. But because it’s love, that means that God does all he can to satisfy his holiness in a way that also promotes the welfare of the person he loves.

Love found a way, to redeem my soul,
Love found a way, that could make me whole.
Love sent my Lord to the cross of shame,
Love found a way, O praise His holy Name!
(Avis M. Christiansen)

It’s a faithful love.
God’s love never falters. Human love falters. We drop the ball, so to speak.

I love my wife, Sara. Pastor Ryan in his last few sermons mentioned his 36th wedding anniversary. So now I’ll mention mine. On Tuesday Sara and I celebrate 19 years of marriage. And I do mean “celebrate.” She is my delight, God’s very good gift to me. I love her. But my love falters. There are times when what I do is not in her best interests.

But God’s love never falters. He never drops the ball. Everything he does for you is always, always, always for your good. He is never malicious toward you. He doesn’t ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed and take it out on you. That’s human love; but that’s not God’s love.

It’s an eternal love.
God’s love will never quit.

I’ve said it before. When we’ve been in heaven for 10,000 years, we’re not going to wake up some day to hear God say, “That’s it! I’ve changed my mind. I’m sending you all to hell. You people are driving me nuts!”

It’s a wise love.
Our love isn’t always a wise love.

Sometimes, out of love for someone, we do something stupid that doesn’t really help them at all. Like the little boy who brings his mommy a bouquet of flowers, flowers he picked from her flower garden.

And sometimes we’re concerned about someone, and they’re in trouble, and we don’t know how to help them. We love them, but we don’t know how to help them.

But God’s love is a wise love. God is never stumped on how to love you. He always knows precisely what you need. Many times, you don’t know what you need. But God does.

It’s a truthful love.
God is truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
God does not tolerate deception or lies. The devil is the father of lies, according to John 8:44.

Some people think that love involves lying to people in order not to hurt them. That’s not love.
Some people think that love sometimes means allowing people to continue to believe the lies they’re living. That’s not love.

On some occasions, Jesus told the truth and lost would-be followers. Did he love them? Yes. Did he lie in order to keep them? No. Did he soften the gospel by telling them something that was more palatable? No.

Consider this exchange between Jesus and the rich young ruler in Mark 10:

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

How wonderful is God's love for us!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Doctrinal Books Lead to Devotion Better Than Devotional Books

C. S. Lewis:
"For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."

B. B. Warfield:
"Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. What! Than ten hours over your books on your knees?”

This is a shameless copy and paste of Justin Taylor's fine post. Click here if you want to read the same thing on his blog.

She Who Has Ears to Pull

Sure Alaska has Sarah Palin, but it also has ear-pulling!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Bible Put Together and Explained in a Delightful Way

Want a book that explains the main storyline of the Bible in a concise, understandable way, and that shows how all the main sections of Scripture relate to that storyline? Have I got a book for you!

The God Who Is There is a perfect introduction to the Bible for those who have little Scriptural knowledge. Starting with Genesis 1-2, D. A. Carson explains key passages of Scripture, highlighting developments in the Bible’s message and history.

But this is not just for Bible novices; seasoned Scripture readers will find much treasure here, too. D. A. Carson is both a top-notch scholar and an articulate preacher, and his wisdom and insight delights the serious student of Scripture all throughout the book as he unpacks in fresh ways such familiar passages as Genesis 3, Psalm 1, John 3, Romans 3, and Revelation 21-22.

Some of my favorite expositions came in ch. 3, “The God Who Writes His Own Agreements,” where Carson unpacks Genesis 17, 15, and 22 in ways I had not considered. I also enjoyed his summary of the book of Job.

Other intriguing topics that arise throughout the book include hell, the love of God—why it’s both conditional and unconditional, the Gospel of Thomas—why it doesn’t belong in the Bible, the relationship between the old and new covenants, God’s anger, and the new heavens and new earth.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It fosters both understanding of God and love for him.

Fourteen chapters, 224 pages, ©2010 Baker Books

My rating (on a 5-point scale): 5

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The New 'True Grit' a Great Movie

Andrew and I saw True Grit last night at the Rave, and what a treat it was. We had been looking forward to this. I re-watched the original 1969 version a few weeks ago just to remind myself of the story.

Jeff Bridges plays the one-eyed, whiskey-indulging, cantankerous Marshal Rooster Cogburn, who was played by John Wayne in the original. Matt Damon plays the supporting role of the Texas Ranger La Boeuf, originally played by equally as well by Glen Campbell.

What surprised me the most was how similar the new movie was to the original. The storyline was virtually the same. The characters were very similar. Even much of the dialogue remained close. I expected much more of a re-vamping. The similarities, however, do not dampen the new Grit. A good story is a good story, whether told in 1969 or 2010.

Curiously, the movie opens with a printed word from Proverbs 28:1: "The wicked flee when none pursueth." It's a bit of a mystery until one realizes the emphasis of the movie falls on "none pursueth" instead of "the wicked flee." The comment is made that Tom Chaney, even though he fled on horseback after killing a man, could just as easily have walked out of town and still gotten away. It is the victim's daughter, 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who gets anyone to pursue at all.

Comparing actors, I like Jeff Bridges better than John Wayne--and I really liked John Wayne. He’s coarse and funny, gruff and soft-hearted, a law-breaker and a law enforcer. As for the main character, the 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who is out to avenge her father’s death, whether Marshal Cogburn will accommodate her or not, I much preferred Hailee Steinfeld over the 1969 Kim Darby. Both characters were remarkably similar--confident, saucy, accepting adults as peers and expecting to be treated the same. But while I grudgingly admit the quality of Kim Darby's performance, her character, for me, crosses the “annoying” line. There is something endearing about Steinfeld’s performance.

The movie opens with an old piano playing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which turns out to be a theme song that recurs in variations throughout the movie. It is an appropriate theme song. The movie is populated with characters who display fierce independence, but in the end, they all need help. Mattie Ross needs Rooster to get the murderer Tom Chaney, and when he appears to fail, she swallows her pride and appeals to La Boeuf. Rooster needs no one, but his hide is saved by a crack shot from La Boeuf, a man he derides as contributing nothing to the manhunt. And neither La Boeuf nor Rooster find Tom Chaney. It’s Mattie who stumbles upon him after the two men have called it quits. Mattie’s life is saved twice, once by the marshal and once by the Texas ranger. Even Mattie and the marshal together cannot save Mattie’s life; a horse gives his life to get her to a doctor.

The sets and scenery are stunning. The soundtrack is effectively minimal.

The only thing I don't like about the new Grit is the ending. The original ended with the young Mattie Ross and the marshal standing by her father’s grave. The new one has a spinster-esque 40-year-old Mattie Ross standing by the marshal’s grave. She’s severe, austere, and sharp-tongued. I prefer being left with the image of the young Ross and the live marshal.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bible Notes: Josh 2

Hebrews 11:31 says, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (NIV).

Joshua 2 records the incident. What strikes me in this chapter is the knowledge of her faith. She has presumably the same intel that her fellow citizens have, but she has put two and two together in a way that no one else in Jericho seems to have, and it has led her to “faith,” as Heb 11 puts it.

Rahab mentions the data: they’ve all heard about the Red Sea and about the deliverance from Egypt, and they’ve all heard about Israel’s triumph over King Sihon and King Og (verse 10).

She mentions the chilling effect of that intel: fear has fallen on them, their hearts melted, and no spirit was left in them (9,11).

But only she, it seems, understands the implications: “I know that the LORD has given you the land” (8, ESV). Why? Because--and here is a remarkable confession for a polytheistic people--“the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (11).

Thus she pleads for the deliverance of her and her family, to which Joshua's spies agree.

Later we read of the outcome: “And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it…. But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive” (Josh 6:24-25).

I find it remarkable that the only one wise enough to understand the truth of the situation was a woman that probably no one considered wise at all, a prostitute.

I also find it remarkable that a prostitute is saved and welcomed into Israel. The king of Jericho was saved momentarily, but only to be hanged. But one of Jericho’s prostitutes was saved, “and she has lived in Israel to this day” (6:25).

But salvation is for those who believe, who look to the Lord in faith; not for the rich, not for the powerful, not for the smart and savvy, not for the respectable businessman or businesswoman. The condition of salvation is faith, looking unto Jesus for salvation; anyone who exercises it will be saved.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

An Opinion on Resolutions

It seems everyone has an opinion on New Year's Resolutions.

Some think they are a wonderful thing, and everyone should make them. Others are dead set against them and mock those who even bring up the subject.

I think New Year's resolutions can be a good thing. Because of past resolutions, my marriage has been enhanced, my family life has been enhanced, my relationship with the Lord has been improved, my health has benefited, and my mind has been exercised. I don't make resolutions every year, but on the spectrum of opinions, I certainly fall closer to the "resolutions are wonderful" side of things than the "resolutions are a waste of time" side.

One of the arguments against resolutions is that resolutions are soon broken. An example frequently pointed out to me is that YMCA memberships and gym populations swell in January but taper off soon after. Many have resolved to exercise in the new year, but few make it past Martin Luther King Day.

BUT, some do persist. I have not kept all the resolutions (I call them "goals") I have made, but I have kept some, which is more than I would have kept had I not made any goals. Further, even with some of the goals I have not fully kept, I have partially kept them. Goals have set me on the right direction and helped me to make effort where no effort was made before.

For example, if I set a goal to read the Bible through in a year, if I only make it through Romans, will I have wasted my time? Or Jeremiah? Or 2 Kings? No.

Before the Internet, I made resolutions about letter writing. I was not writing letters to grandparents. I decided I should write letters to them, and I set a goal of how often I would write. Even if I did not write as many letters as I intended, the grandparents still received from me some letters instead of no letters.

Resolutions help establish a path, a trajectory, and aid in channeling resources toward a positive end. If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time.

Another argument against New Year's resolutions is that we as Christians shouldn't wait until New Year's to change something. If you see something needs to be changed, change it.

I would agree with that, but New Year's resolutions aren't just about making changes, they're about seeing the changes that need to be made. When I make New Year's goals, I don't just sit down and jot down a list. No, I need to reflect first. I need to slow down and examine my life. We don't do that a lot. And the beginning of a new year seems a natural time to do it.

At Northside, the pastors are evaluated every February. Why doesn't the Church Board just suggest changes when changes need to be made instead of waiting until February? Because the Board doesn't even stop to consider if changes need to be made unless forced to do so by the bylaws.

Absolutely make changes whenever they need to be made, but if you never slow down enough to actually examine and evaluate your life, having a time once a year when you do that is better than never doing it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Recollections of My 2010 Reading (Part 2)

Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, Sara and I read together. Together they tell the story of their unlikely friendship and the remarkable woman who brought them together. A modern-day true story of the hand of God at work in miraculous ways. See my review.

The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, edited by Robert G. Clouse, is a somewhat uneven presentation of the post-mil, amil, pre-mil pre-trib, and pre-mil post-trib views of the end times. Overall good in giving one an idea of some of the interpretive issues that divide. Other comments here.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible is a decent translation, more literal than the NIV, and therefore better, in my mind.

Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative: Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville is considered a classic. Too much detail for me, although Foote's writing style, filled with anecdote, is entertaining at many points. Read my review.

Edward L. Beach's Run Silent, Run Deep is forgettable.

Donald W. McCullough's The Trivialization of God is good theology, especially on God's holiness. See my comments.

Jungle Sunrise, the first novel of pastor Jonathan Williams, is a riveting missionary tale. Read my review.

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, is an original tale that certainly captures one's imagination, and the characters are well-developed. Worth reading.

I re-read Joseph J. Ellis's Founding Brothers this past year, and I enjoyed it even more this second time through. Ellis is a tremendous teacher about a tremendous time that involved tremendous personages. Read my praise.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, is a good read; good for the story and good for the insight into the terror of the French Revolution.

Andy Andrews' The Lost Choice? I'd rather read Run Silent, Run Deep again. I don't like novels that preach to me, at least overtly.

Mark Twain's The Diaries of Adam and Eve are entertaining, especially Adam's, the shorter diary. My wife and kids were laughing out loud as I read it to them, especially as he was trying to determine what species Cain was.