Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Good Advice for Slow Readers

Like to read?
Wish you could read faster while retaining comprehension?
Wish you could get through more books than what you do?

Me, too.

Here's some advice on how to get through more books as a slow reader.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Parade Day

I enjoyed the Memorial Day parade.  Photos at my other blog.

The Trinity & the Christian 4

Relationship Dynamics between the Triune God and the Christian (John 14:15-24)

Dynamic #4: Christian experience God; the world does not.

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
 22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
 23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (21-24)

  • We learn in this passage that the Father loves the Christian.  And we feel that; we benefit from that.
  • We learn that Jesus loves the Christian.  And we feel that; we benefit from that.
  • We learn that Jesus shows himself to the Christian.  Not in the physical sense.  We don’t see him with our eyes.  But somehow his person is brought to bear upon our person; his heart on our heart.  There is a connecting of the two personalities—Jesus’s and the Christian’s.
  • We also learn that the Father and the Son come to the Christian and make their home with him or her.  This means that in some way or other the Father and Son are relationally much closer to the Christian than they had been, and the Christian experiences in some way God’s presence to bless.
The world on the other hand does not experience God.  And it’s ironic, in a sense, because the world clamors after the experience of the divine many different ways. 
  • by pursuing Eastern religions. 
  • fascination with spiritual things, and people get into angels, or into spiritism, or into New Age thinking and all of its many branches and spin-offs 
  • fascination with Jesus, but they revise him, denying the things they find offensive and painting him in their own image
The world wants to experience God, but unless they repent, the only experience with God they will have will be at the judgment, and it won’t be pleasant.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Piper Interviews Warren on Doctrine

This is good stuff.  Interesting both in the way Piper conducts the interview and the way Warren answers the questions.

The Trinity & the Christian 3

Relationship Dynamics between the Triune God and the Christian (John 14:15-24)

Dynamic #3: Christians know Jesus; the world does not.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  (18-20)

18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Here we see again Jesus’ concern for his disciples’ sense of loss. 

19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.
He’s talking about his crucifixion and burial.  The world will not see him after that.  But the disciples will.  First, in the sense that Jesus appeared multiple times to his disciples after his resurrection.  But he did not appear to those who did not believe, only to believers.

Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
This means that they will not only see him physically, but they will also perceive clearly who he is, his relationship to the Father, and his relationship to them.  They will understand this because they will be intimate with him.

Jesus said, “You are in me, and I am in you.”

With the death and resurrection came close communion with Christ and a resultant understanding of who Christ really was and is.

True Christians know Jesus.  They know who he is.  And they know him.

Not so the world.  Verse 18: “The world will not see me anymore.”

And they don’t.  They don’t get him. 

The world is fascinated with the search for “the historical Jesus.”  “What was he really like?”  And all along, we know him!

It’s like the world becoming fascinated with a friend of yours; we'll call him Marv Smith.  Scholars and reporters around the globe are caught up in the search for the historical Marv Smith.  In their journeys they come to your hometown, and they hold a press conference to announce their findings thus far.  And in the middle of the press conference you stand up and ask, “So you want to know about Marv Smith?”


         “Well, what do you want to know?  Maybe I can help.”

The scholars wink at one another and take a fatherly, condescending tone with you, explaining all the research they’ve done.
But you say, “Yeah, but I know him.  We go to church together.  He lives on Maple Street just off Vine Avenue ...”

And that’s the situation with the world.  They want to find out all about Jesus, and we already know him. 

But they don’t.  They don’t see Jesus.  They don’t know him.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Trinity & the Christian 2

Relationship Dynamics between the Triune God and the Christian (John 14:15-24)

Dynamic #2: Christians are indwelt by the Spirit; the world is not. 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  (16-17)

Look at the relationship of the Spirit of God, this third person of the Trinity, to the Christian. At the end of verse 17 we read that he lives with us and in us. How long is he with us? Forever.

This is significant. In other places in Scripture we read of the Spirit’s work in the lives of Christians.
  • He regenerates us; it is he who is responsible for making us new creations in Christ. (John 3) 
  • He empowers us to witness on behalf of Christ. (Acts 1:8)
  • He equips us with the spiritual gifts and abilities he wants each of us to have. (1 Corinthians 12)
  • He reminds us that we are loved by God. (Romans 5)
  • He reminds us that we are God’s very children. (Romans 8)
  • He intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray. (Romans 8)
  • He produces godly virtues in our lives. (Galatians 5)
  • He enables us to know God better and understand the things of God. (1 Corinthians 2)
  • Etc.
But this is not the case with the world. Verse 17 makes three statements with regards to the world.
1. They do not accept the Spirit.
2. They do not see the Spirit; that is, perceive him.
3. They do not know the Spirit.

There is no intimacy there, no connection with God's Spirit whatsoever.

Quite a contrast with the Christian who is indwelt by the very Spirit of God. Think of it. God is with you always; he never leaves your side. Further, he dwells within you. Jesus took up residence among us. The Holy Spirit takes up residence within us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Trinity & the Christian

Relationship Dynamics between the Triune God and the Christian (John 14:15-24)

Dynamic #1: Christians love and obey Jesus; the world does not. 

"If you love me, you will obey what I command....  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me....  If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching....  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." (15,21a,23a,24a)

This isn’t a command. It’s just a simple, straight-forward fact. True Christians, real Christians, love Jesus Christ, and they obey Jesus Christ. Those who aren’t truly Christian do not.

This is not something that Christians muster up, something they find distasteful or difficult, but something that naturally flows from the fact that they have received Christ’s salvation and their hearts have been changed and reoriented towards God.

Does this mean that the Christian’s love for God is perfect? No.
That his obedience is perfect? No.

But it does mean that the love is genuine and growing and the obedience is continually improving.

In all four instances, Jesus is specifically talking about himself, not the Father or the Spirit.

This does not mean we are not to obey the Father or the Spirit. Clearly we are. But here Jesus refers to himself. And if the world has a hang-up with any particular person of the Trinity, it’s Jesus.

TV shows talk about God, but not Jesus. Jesus is not a name you should mention in public settings. It’s too polarizing. And now our military chaplains are told they can’t even pray in Jesus’ name.

There is certainly a vast difference between the world and the Christian here. The Christian loves and obeys Jesus; the world does not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Well-Written Sentence

Patrick O’Brian, author of the Master and Commander naval novels, a 20+ volume series featuring Capt. Jack Aubrey, wrote good literature.  This opening sentence of ch. 5 in H.M.S. Surprise caught my attention for its imaginative phrasing.

“The sun beat down from its noon-day height upon Bombay, imposing a silence upon that teeming city, so that even in the deepest bazaars the steady beat of the surf could be heard—the panting of the Indian Ocean, dull ochre under a sky too hot to be blue, a sky waiting for the south-west monsoon …”

“imposing a silence” … "the panting of the Indian Ocean" ... “a sky too hot to be blue” 

Very suggestive, picturesque.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Earthling Chronicles

An article I read recently suggested a few authors to read as examples of good writing; i.e., well-written sentences and paragraphs.  Ray Bradbury was mentioned.  So I picked up The Martian Chronicles and read it. 

Good stuff. 

Imaginative, yet realistic, stuff.  Imaginative in terms of the Martians and the progress of the settlement of Mars.  Realistic in terms of human nature.

The Martian Chronicles covers a period of about 28 years and is really a collection of short stories.  Very few charactes appear in more than one story.  The theme that ties the stories together is the settlement of Mars.  In the background are the mounting international tensions back on Earth, tensions that are exponentially heightened by nuclear armaments.

The settlement of Mars reminds me of the settlement of the West.  The first pioneers pushed into the West and experienced hard times, many of them losing their lives.  But they blazed a trail, and others inevitably followed, and in greater numbers, until the West became settled and "civilized."  So with Mars.  The first few expeditions to Mars end in death at the imaginative hands of Martians with some skills in mental telepathy.  But eventually, not all die who come.  And the population of Mars, growing slow at first, begins to swell.

At its height the population amounts to about 30 cities around the planet, but then the population diminishes to near desolation as the nuclear hostilities curiously draw most of the people back home.

That's the settlement arc.  What are entertaining and fascinating are the individual stories Bradbury tells:
  • of the Martian woman who has specific premonitions of a strange man greeting her from the third planet and calling himself Nathaniel York;
  • of the men of one expedition who cannot get one single Martian to even acknowledge the significance of their arrival, let alone celebrate it;
  • of the priests who come to bring salvation to the Martians;
  • of the maniac who rebuilds Poe's House of Usher on Mars;
  • of the Martians who hunt down a man in order to give him deed to half the planet.
The picture of humanity is a realistic one: people are smart, but often too smart for their own good, and often not smart enough to recognize they carry the seeds of their own destruction within them.

First line: "One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets."

Last line: "The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water...."

My rating (out of 5): 4

Monday, May 23, 2011

Longing for God, Heaven

Justin Taylor notes in his blog a line from Bruce Marshall’s novel The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith (1944):
The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.

This ties in with Randy Alcorn's statement in Heaven (p. 160):

Nothing is more often misdiagnosed than our homesickness for Heaven.  We think that what we want is sex, drugs, alcohol, a new job, a raise, a doctorate, a spouse, a large-screen television, a new car, a cabin in the woods, a condo in Hawaii.  What we really want is the person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for, Heaven.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A More Honest Prayer

Some typical prayers I have to back up a notch in order to make them more honest.
  • "Lord, I want to know you more."
  • "Lord, I want to magnify you in everything you do."
  • "Lord, I want to know you and the power of your resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in your sufferings."
Sometimes, I need to add a prior "I want."
  • "Lord, I want to want to know you more."
  • "Lord, I want to want to know you and the power of your resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in your sufferings."
Sometimes--many times--I have to pray for my desires, that they would be directed toward godly objectives.

A. W. Tozer taught me this several years ago when I first read The Pursuit of God.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The World Ends at 6:00 Today! (Story at 11:00)

Harold Camping, wrong about Sept 6, 1994, says he's serious this time: Jesus is coming back at 6pm today.

The problem was he wasn't as studied in the Bible as he now is.  The logic goes something like this:

Today is exactly 722,500 days after Christ was crucified (4/1/0033). 

And 722,500 is the product of 5 x 5 x 10 x 10 x 17 x 17 x 2.  (Five, 10, and 17 are "holy numbers.")

Voila!  Today's the day.

If you want to get a somewhat fuller picture, go here.

I guess this will be my last blog post.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24:36 NIV)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Righteous? Persecuted.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:10 ESV)

An outline of a sermon by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitle, "The Christian and Persecution" (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)

1. What it doesn't mean
    a. Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are objectionable.
    b. Blessed are the persecuted because they are fanatical.
    c. Blessed are they that are persecuted for a cause.
    d. Blessed are they that are persecuted for religio-political reasons.
    e. Blessed are they that are persecuted for being good, or noble, or self-sacrificing.

2. What it does mean
    a. The teaching is this: if you are like Jesus Christ, you will be persecuted.
    b. This teaching is illustrated throughout the Bible and church history.
    c. The righteous are not only persecuted by the world, but often by the formal Church.
    d. The righteous are persecuted not because they are simply good, but because they are different.

3. Conclusions
    a. If our conception of Jesus is one that can be admired and applauded by the world, we have a wrong view of him.
    b. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!  For so did their fathers to the false prophets.  (Lk 6:26)
    c. The natural man hates God.
    d. The new birth is an absolute necessity before anybody can become a Christian.

4. A final question: Do we know what it is to be persecuted for righteousness' sake?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Not All Christian Persecution Is Blessed

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on Matthew 5:10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10 ESV).

"It does not say, 'Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are objectionable.'  It does not say, 'Blessed are those who are having a hard time in their Christian life because they are being difficult.'  It does not say, 'Blessed are those who are being persecuted as Christians because they are seriously lacking in wisdom and are really foolish and unwise in what they regard as being their testimony.'  ... It is for righteousness' sake."

--Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Instantaneous Maturity?

How fast do Christians grow? How do they grow?

These are related questions. If they grow quickly, instantaneously, in spurts, then our focus as pastors and churches should be on the special events, revivals, special conferences, and the like. But if Christians grow regularly, steadily, incrementally, over time, then our focus needs to be on the weekly worship service, the weekly sermon, the weekly Bible study, the weekly prayer meeting, the regular calling or one-on-one interaction, and the like.

Both types of growth stimulants are important, but which type should get our focus?

Even more significant in answering these two questions are the implications for the individual Christian. Should his focus be on the annual spiritual conference, or the weekly worship service and the weekly Bible study, or the daily time in the Word and prayer?

In terms of rate, spiritual growth seems to be similar to physical growth. Children grow gradually so that those who don’t see kids on a regular basis are more quickly to recognize growth than, say, their parents, who are with them every day. Are there growth spurts? Of course. A boy can grow gradually from Day One, and then all of a sudden grow eight inches during his freshman year of high school.

In the same way, believers grow gradually so that their growth is not immediately obvious to those around them. But there also occurs the occasional growth spurt, where God opens eyes, or special consecration is made, etc., and “eight inches” of spiritual height is quickly attained.

To me, then, two implications follow:

The pastor must take seriously the regular duties that at times may seem monotonous or pointless. If they seem monotonous, they are not, however, pointless. Bless my wife, who week after week stocks our fridge, freezer, and pantry, and who day after day prepares meals for us to eat. No doubt it seems monotonous to her, but it is not pointless. How we are nourished because of her daily hours logged in the kitchen!  Here then is a word for me at this time as I struggle to decide on the next series to begin with my Wednesday night Adult Bible study.

The second implication is that Christians who do not spend daily time with the Lord do not mature as they should; they stunt their own growth by their failure to feed themselves regularly. After all, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4). Christ is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him and he in us, we will bear much fruit (i.e., mature); but apart from him we can do nothing (Jn15:5).

Monday, May 16, 2011

John Wesley to a Younger Minister: Quit Starving Yourself

Here is John Wesley writing to John Trembath (August 17, 1760), a young minister who was a poor preacher:

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading.

I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little.

And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it.

Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought.

Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer.

You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this.

You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.

Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant.

Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily.

It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher.

Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow.

Do not starve yourself any longer.

Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether.

Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you, and in particular yours.

HT: Justin Taylor

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jesus: "You don't know the first thing about me"

"The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires your total attention. A lot of you are going to assume that you'll sit down to God's salvation banquet just because you've been hanging around the neighborhood all your lives. Well, one day you're going to be banging on the door, wanting to get in, but you'll find the door locked and the Master saying, 'Sorry, you're not on my guest list.'

"You'll protest, 'But we've known you all our lives!' only to be interrupted with his abrupt, 'Your kind of knowing can hardly be called knowing. You don't know the first thing about me.'"

--Luke 13:24-27 The Message

Saturday, May 14, 2011

No Fear of Death for the Christian

"But monstrous it is that many who boast themselves Christians are gripped by … a fear of death, rather than a desire for it …  For if we deem this unstable, defective, corruptible, fleeting, wasting, rotting tabernacle of our body to be so dissolved that it is soon renewed unto a firm, perfect, incorruptible, and finally, heavenly glory, will not faith compel us ardently to seek what nature dreads?  If we should think that through death we are recalled from exile to dwell in the fatherland, in the heavenly fatherland, would we get no comfort from this fact?" 

--John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.9.5

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Paid to Sit and Think

I don’t know what you think your church pays your pastor to do every week, but if you pay him to preach and teach, you are paying him to think. And if you are paying him to think, you are paying him to take time to think. That means taking time not to be engaged in other ministry activities and instead using it to think.

Sermons don’t write themselves. A pastor doesn’t just sit down at 9:00 a.m., open his Bible, read a passage, turn to his computer, and crank out a sermon.

The Scriptures are wonderful. There are things to be learned quickly on the surface, and there is far more to be learned beneath the surface.  But the things beneath the surface are not learned quickly.

The Scriptures do not yield up its treasures to cursory readings. As it takes work—long, hard, sacrificial work—to mine valuable minerals out of the earth, so it takes work to discover and bring out the Bible’s treasures.

Sermon prep for me starts with reading the passage a few times, slowly and closely. Then I jot down notes about the passage. Writing/typing up my observations and questions help engage my mind with the passage. Then I consult others (commentaries, for instance) for their insights.

At this point I’ve been flooded with a wealth of information (the combination of my observations and the observations of others), and I need time to sort it out in my mind. Were I to write my sermon now, it would be heavy on information, but light on organization and application.

My mind is not ready to preach. It hasn’t processed all the data it’s taken in. At this point my mind needs to marinate in the text and its implications. That’s where thinking comes in—thinking in my office, thinking while I’m driving, thinking during and after visitation. Sometimes I need to walk out of my office and down the hall to my “prayer closet” at the church, and I need to talk to the Lord about the passage and ask him questions about it.

What do I need to process? I need to process what the main burden of the text is and what the relevance of the text is to me and the congregation. I often need to know the true significance and importance of the text. Many times have I wrestled with the “Who cares?” factor, so knowing the true weight of the Scripture—and I often discover this in prayer—is very helpful to me in terms of the unction of my preaching.

I can preach without time to think, but I can’t preach well. (Some might say I don’t preach well now. All I can say is, it would be a lot worse if you didn’t give me time to think.)

There are exceptions. Charles Spurgeon, I believe, often composed his outline the night before, and I don’t gather that D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spent a great deal of sermon prep. But both of these men nonetheless spent a great deal of time in mind prep. They read all the time, and not the latest inspirational Family Christian Bookstore book; they read theology. The minds of these preaching giants were constantly soaking in the teachings of Scripture. There are capacious minds like theirs out there.

But the exceptions only prove the rule. Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were both great thinkers; the rest of us slower thinkers need more time for it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Dubious Tie between Wealth and Happiness

Patrick O'Brian often displays a wonderful turn of phrase.  Here are a couple examples from H. M. S. Surprise that made me smile.

"Stephen had spared no expense in making himself more unhappy."  (page 16)

"For although wealth may not bring happiness, the immediate prospect of it provides a wonderfully close imitation."  (page 30)

It's Disney


HT: The Meta Picture