Thursday, May 31, 2012

True humility

From Humility, by Andrew Murray, ch. 6:

It is easy to think we humble ourselves before God.  Yet, humility toward men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real....

When in the presence of God lowliness of heart has become, not a posture we assume for a time when we think of Him, or pray to Him, but the very spirit of our life, it will manifest itself in all our bearing toward our brethren....

The humble man feels no jealousy or envy.  He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him.  He can bear to hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God's presence he has learned to say with Paul, "I am nothing" (2 Corinthians 12:11).

Amen.  I'm not there yet.  Lord, weave humility into my heart.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Christians deeply aware of sin within

Christian believers know they're sinners and are deeply aware of sin within.  So advocates Martyn Lloyd-Jones from 1 John 3:2, and he marshals the following support.
  • "Vile and full of sin I am."  (Charles Wesley)
  • "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing."  (Saint Paul, Romans 7:18)
  • "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of death?"  (Saint Paul, Romans 7:24)
  • "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"  (Jeremiah 17:9)
  • "I dare not trust the sweetest frame."  (Edward Mote)
Lloyd-Jones comments, "All these things are indications of the new nature--an awareness of sin and above all a desire to be rid of it.  If you are hating the sin within you and longing to be delivered and emancipated from it, I assure you, you are a child of God--it is one of the best signs."

--Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John 287-288

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to know if you're a true Christian

In his sermon on 1 John 3:2 Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers the question, "How can I know if I'm a child of God?  How can I know that I am saved?"  He gives the following evidences:
  • Awareness of new life within, a new nature.  You can say, "I live; yet not I" (Gal 2:20).
  • Awareness of sin within as well.  "The unregenerate, the natural men and women, are not aware of a sinful nature."
  • Desire for God and for the things of God and to walk in the ways of God.
  • Awareness that God is your Father, not just some great distant potentate; awareness that you're related to him in some way.
  • Love for other believers; an instinctive affinity with other believers who love the Lord.
--Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John 285-286

Monday, May 28, 2012

Will there be animals in heaven?

I think so, for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, consider God's original creation.  He filled the sky, seas, and land with animals (days 5 and 6).  If the original creation, why not the new heavens and new earth?  While there will be much discontinuity between the original and the new, the Scriptures give warrant to think there will also be a fair amount of continuity.

Further, animals not only filled the original creation, they also fill the pages of Scripture.  And not just as the props of the various historical accounts (Saul's lost donkeys, the lion Samson killed), but often as illustrations, similes, and metaphors of spiritual truths.  Proverbs would have us study the ant to learn industry.  Aspects of both the lion and the lamb are gateways into understanding the Lord Jesus better.  We are commanded to be as wise as serpents while at the same time being as innocent as doves.  That God filled both creation and the Scriptures with animals seems to indicate some sort of love for all these sub-human creatures of his.  Thus it is not unreasonable to think they might also populate eternity.

Finally, there seem to be specific indications of animals in the new heavens and the new earth, as for instance Isaiah 11:6-9:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
    and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.  (NIV 1984)

Will our specific pets be in heaven?  That I don't know--I'm not aware of specific Scriptural teaching on that--but others have answered more definitely.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Repent" the only biblical message to unbelievers

"To put it bluntly, the New Testament is not interested in the conduct of people who are not Christians.  It has nothing to tell them except that they are destined for hell and for perdition.  That is its only statement.  They must repent, and until they repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ it is not interested in their behaviour--that is its one message to them.  But the moment they become Christians, it is vitally interested in their conduct; it appeals to them because of what has happened."

--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Destined for Glory" (a sermon on 1 John 3:2), in Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, 284

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The truth about God

10 Lies about God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception10 Lies about God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception by Erwin W. Lutzer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I used this to teach my young adults Sunday School class. The lies Lutzer lists are, for the most part, the commonest ones:

God is whatever we want him to be.
Many paths lead into God's presence.
God is more tolerant than he used to be.
God has never personally suffered.
God is obligated to save followers of other religions.
God takes no responsibility for natural disasters.
God does not know our decisions before we make them.
The Fall ruined God's plan.
We must choose between God's pleasures and our own.
God helps those who help themselves.

Lutzer's responses are thoughtful and helpful. Scriptural support is marshalled and investigated. The epilogue, "Can We Trust Him?", though brief, is an excellent discussion of trusting God even though one may be mystified as to why he allows so much evil.

Note: Lutzer is Calvinist, and that's reflected strongly in some chapters.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Both pleasure and profit in Pilgrim's Progress

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The classic Christian allegory of the journey of Christian from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The second part details the journey of his wife Christiana and their four sons, a journey they refused to take with him, but later, after repenting, decide also to embark on.

Many have gleaned much from this book and been encouraged in the faith by it. Spurgeon testifies to having his wife read to him from it from time to time for the sheer pleasure of it.

Nonetheless, it is not my favorite book. There is much in there that is pleasurable and profitable to read. The types Bunyan uses cast truths and struggles in new light which prompts new reflection. At times, however, the book seems tedious, and the style of writing is archaic to modern ears and minds.

Recommendation: at least read the first half, the journey of Christian. It casts gospel truths in new light. If older language troubles you, try to find a modern-English version.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The emperor beaten for the servants' sins

In his book, 10 Lies about God, Erwin Lutzer references The Last Emperor, relating how the young child ruler of China lives a life of pleasure.  At one point in the movie the young emperor's brother asks him, "What happens when you do wrong?" 

"When I do wrong, someone else is punished," replies the emperor.  This he demonstrates by breaking a jar, for which a servant is beaten.

Lutzer draws an analogy with Christianity: "In Christian theology, Christ does one better than that.  In the movie, the emperor does wrong and a servant is beaten; in Christianity, the servants do wrong and the Emperor is beaten.  In the presence of God, we are always in the wrong, but thankfully, Christ puts us in the right.  That is grace" (p. 184; emphasis added).

Basic differences between Islam & Christianity

The Dark Side of IslamThe Dark Side of Islam by R. C. Sproul & Abdul Saleeb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A straight-forward book that highlights basic, fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity in 4 areas: the Bible, God, humanity, and Christ. The closing chapter highlights the fact that violent Muslims, while not the majority of Islam, are nonetheless acting in concert with the teachings of Islam and not against them. This is not true of Christianity, where violence in the name of Christianity is inconsistent with the clear teachings of Scripture. The authors close with encouragement, not to crusade against Muslims, but to lovingly witness to Muslims.

The Bible: Muslims believe the Bible has been valuable, but it has been corrupted by the Jews and Christians. The Qu'ran is the preeminent revelation.

God: Muslims see the notion of God as our Father as abhorrent, for the Qu'ran is clear that Allah has not children. Such is beneath him. Nonetheless, many ex-Muslim Christians came to Christ because of the intimacy offered by a Heavenly Father. Further, Muslims deny the doctrine of the Trinity, accusing Christians of blasphemy and of incoherence.

Humanity: Islam does not hold to the inherent sinfulness of human beings. Because sin is not emphasized in Islam, neither is salvation. One's eternal destiny essentially comes down to the scales of his life: Do his righteous deeds outweigh his wicked works, or vice versa? Another difference with Christianity is the lack of assurance of salvation. In Islam, there is no way to know whether one will be saved.

Christ: Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross. Prophets of God don't die in dishonorable ways, so the person who died many thought to be Jesus but in fact was another man. Neither do Muslims believe in the deity of Christ; indeed, he himself did not teach it or believe it.

This is not a profound read, but it is a good primer on the subject, and the authors combine to give a knowledgeable understanding of Islam (Abdul Saleeb) as well as an accessible understanding of specific points of Christian theology in response (Sproul). 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Earth out-of-step with the universe

"around the throne" (Revelation 4:4,6; 5:11)

The throne room scene pictured in Revelation 4-5 centers on the throne, the one who sits on it (God), and the Lamb who stands before it (Christ).

Ranged around the throne are the four living creatures (4:6), the 24 elders (4:4), and multitudes of angels (5:11).  These all sing constant praise to God and the Lamb (4:8,11; 5:9-12), the voices of "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them" joining in (5:13).

Both the layout of the throne room and the content of the songs focus on God and Christ, showing that the impulse of the universe is to praise God and the Lord Jesus.  The universe is God-centered.

This is good to remember as we walk in this world, for our world is out-of-step with the universe.  Walking in this world, one gets the impression that God is really struggling in the PR dept., that his polling numbers have dipped almost beyond recovery.

In his Space Trilogy, C. S. Lewis paints our planet as the silent planet.  The various guardian spirits of the other planets willingly and gladly submit to God, but Earth ("Thulcandra"), governed by a bent spirit, is the silent planet.  It is out-of-step with the universe.

Those who worship Christ today may seem out-of-step with the majority, but in truth they are in-step with the universe.  It is those who fail to have Christ at the center who are maladjusted.  Further, it follows that one cannot be in tune with the world and with the universe at the same time.  One must choose.

"Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed ..."  (Romans 12:2).
"The world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever" (1 John 2:17).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"The Church" alternately dense, practical

The Church (Contours of Christian Theology, #4)The Church by Edmund P. Clowney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This did not meet my hopes. While solidly biblical, it was quite dense at times. Clowney did do a good job of explaining differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. I'm sure it will serve as a handy reference in the future.

The last third of the book is more practical, dealing with such issues as the church's relations to politics (balanced, I thought), women in ministry (complementarian), the gifts of the Spirit (cessationist), Wayne Grudem's take on prophecy, (against it), and the sacraments (pro-infant baptism).

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 13, 2012

At least I enjoyed Mother's Day

This is sort of a "Dear Diary" post.  Started the day with a walk around the park, praying Ephesians 3:15ff. for my kids and me.  (How wonderful to have a park at the end of the block!)  Sunday School and church were good.  I particularly enjoyed the music during the worship service, and Pastor Ryan's sermon was good, too.  Had some good conversations with a couple of people.  (Lot of "goods," I guess.)

Took Sara and the kids out to Fazoli's for lunch.  My parents came along, too.  That was nice and relaxing.  My mom was easy to please.  She wanted hard copies of blog posts from this blog as a gift. 

Home, Sara took a nap, and I began outside/yard work, that took me about 3 hours total, including swing set maintenance, mowing and (hand) trimming, and talking with my nephew Calvin.

From there the day went downhill for Sara.  She had to catch up on grading the kids schoolwork, and in the process she discovered a lot of holes.  She took a good chunk of time with Anna going over work, and she had an unpleasant meeting of the minds with another child about school-related issues.  She was stuck in the basement most of the last half of the day on such a beautiful day.

Ran over to my in laws to take care of a couple things for them.  Caty went with me, and we had some good conversation.  Played some games involving a ball with Callie in the backyard; later played catch with Anna in the backyard--the freshly mowed backyard, I might add.  Also folded laundry, graded math, and made up Anna's next two Bible assignments.

Regret: very little reading done today.  Same with yesterday.

On top of Sara's frustrations with the kids, she had a long phone conversation with a client who is being a bit stubborn and unreasonable at the same time.  I hope she sleeps well tonight.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

There's a Someone for your no one situation

Perhaps you're familiar with the event in the life of Jesus where he was met by a demon possessed man who lived among the tombs.  In fact, this man was possessed by several demons.  Mark 5:3-4 notes twice that no one could control him: "no one could bind him anymore ...  No one had the strength to subdue him" (emphasis added).

But then the man met Jesus, and afterwards we read that he was "sitting there, clothed and in his right mind" (5:15; all quotes from ESV).  So, correction: there was One who could control him.

A few verses later we read of a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.  She had suffered much, spent all her money on physicians, and none of them were able to help her (5:25-26). 

But then she went to Jesus, and "immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease" (5:29).  She finally found the One who could help her.

Got a situation that no one can handle?  Maybe there is Someone after all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

True story

The church of a pastor friend of mine recently completed the floor of their new activity center.  The primary feature is a basketball court.

A week ago, as he was conducting staff meeting, my friend mentioned to his associates that he was thinking about playing basketball in the open gym that night.  Then he told them that his wife was nervous about him doing that, nervous that he might hurt himself.  In fact, she had had a dream about him getting hurt playing basketball.  His associates then warned him that he should listen to his wife, even as Pilate should have listened to his.

Then one of their interns accidentally dialled 911 while his phone was in his pocket.  All of a sudden they all heard, "This is 911.  What's the emergency?"  The associates then resumed warning him not to play that night.

You know where the story's going, don't you? 

My friend ignored the signs and played.  With five minutes left in the game, he fell, breaking his arm in two places, and bad enough to lose blood.  The funny thing is, no one was near him.  He passed the ball, lost his balance, and fell.

I guess the moral of the story might be, listen to wifey.

Monday, May 7, 2012

In to every life a little rain should fall

According to William Barclay, the following is an Arab proverb:

All sunshine makes a desert.

As in nature, so in life.  Suffering produces growth, maturity, and character.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Plans for greatness often diffused by life

MiddlemarchMiddlemarch by George Eliot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Middlemarch presents a couple of intertwined ideas. One is that there are many who strive to leave their mark on the world for good, crusaders ready to do justice on behalf of the wronged or oppressed, but the circumstances in which they personally find themselves provide no venue for fame (or sometimes even success) along those lines. The second is that even though such crusaders, or do-gooders, do not achieve the results they envision, they nonetheless impact positively many in their immediate circle. While life throws up hindrances to save the world, they still leave the village a much better place.

Both ideas are legitimate. Chance and providence play as much a role in public fame and notoriety as do ability and character, sometimes more so. Thus, in my own field, one entrusts himself to Providence as to whether he will have the fame of a Rick Warren or John Piper or the obscurity and 30-member congregation of an Ozark mountain church.

At almost 840 pages, at times the progress of the story seems slow to this 21st-century reader; but patience has its rewards in seeing the way the various lives and decisions of the people of Middlemarch impact one another as well as the future. Chance happenings at the right or wrong moment also have their play in future developments. Eliot doesn't name such happenings "Providence" (except through the eyes of Mr. Bulstrode--a man who is most ostentatiously Christian, and who, in the end, is seen as the biggest hypocrite, though not really a villain), but I would.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Yesterday was lovely

Yesterday was lovely. 

The weather was beautiful, and I accomplished things I wished to accomplish.  I ran 2.6 miles.  I attended the National Day of Prayer city prayer meeting at the Grand Wayne Center.  I talked some with my parents.  I resisted the temptation to seclude myself at lunch and ate at home with my girls.  I had some great conversations with various individuals at the funeral home.  I also worked through some math with Caty, got most of the grass mowed, read to Anna, and got some personal reading in as well.  On top of that Sara had a good business day, had a good time of exercise this morning, and prepared a delicious supper.  On top of that, my kids are all healthy and maturing.

I don't know if today will be lovely.

Yesterday, as I was driving Andrew home, I saw a younger man walking out of his garage, possibly to do some yard work.  He was many pounds overweight, and I thought, "He looks healthy and fine now, but some day he's going to find himself in bed, his body sick."  Then I thought about the human heart and what a fine piece of machinery that is that God made.  But it eventually gives out.  I have enjoyed good health all my 42 years of life, but it's quite likely that will change at some point. 

Many things could go wrong to mar today.  So 1) may God give me the grace to receive this day from his hand, however it's handed to me, in a manner that is consistent with my calling in Christ Jesus; and 2) praise the Lord for my inheritance in Christ Jesus, for while I know that perhaps many days yet await me that will be far from lovely, I also know that the end of my journey here, because of Christ, will issue forth in an eternity of lovely days.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I wonder if Walt's talked to Chuck yet

Shortly after I heard of Chuck Colson's death (a little over a week ago), I thought of my friend Walt Pflueger, who entered into Heaven a couple years before Chuck.

Walt was an elder in our church, and he loved to study the Bible and to read Christian literature.  One of his favorites authors was Chuck Colson.  He and I both enjoyed How Now Shall We Live? 

My mom and I were talking about Chuck Colson's death, and I mentioned to her, "When I first heard about Colson's death, I wondered how soon it would be before Walt got to talk to Chuck and tell him how much he appreciated his writings and his work."

What wonderful realities the Lord Jesus has made possible for us through his crucifixion and resurrection!  His crucifixion erases our condemnation, and his resurrection opens the way for our own.  Heaven, eternal life, and the fellowship of all who have submitted to Christ in faith--how bright is the future of each one who follows him!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


How different things look from different perspectives!  Day-in and day-out, everything seems the same.  Yet at different points we look back, and we see that everything has changed.

When I came to my current church where I am associate pastor, Don E. was a pillar of sorts in the church, physically solid and strong--his handshake grip was not for women!--and Head Trustee.  Retired, he was often at the church to oversee maintenance and improvement projects.  He loved to kid his grandkids, who were in my youth group, and he loved to kid me as well. 

But now he's gone.  He died Sunday.  He disappeared from the church several months ago when he went into a nursing home, against his will, but there was no other choice.

For some time in Bible study the same prayer requests have populated the whiteboard: one couple was looking to sell the farm they had inherited; another couple was agonizing over their son's poor choices and incarceration prospects; one single mother was overwhelmed with the several agonizing circumstances of her life, including a job that sometimes left her physically (literally) beat up.  These prayer concerns were on the board every Wednesday night.

But not now.  We're on the other side of all three of these things.  The farm has been sold.  The son has come through his detention, and in the process, he has been born again.  The single mother got some training and started a new job last week.  The day-in day-out has become what used to be. 

Sometimes we hate change, when the good seems to give way to the not-so-good or the downright evil.  Sometimes we long for change, for the current evil to be replaced by a hoped-for good.  God's work in our character and faith is sometimes slower than we would like.  God's work in our circumstances and in response to our prayers can also crawl at the same pace.  But then one day we turn around and realize, he's done it!  He's helped us conquer this, and he's brought us through that.

The longer I live in this world, the more I long for the next one, the new heavens and the new earth, where the only change that we'll experience will be from the really-good to the even-better.

Sometimes, when life is exceptionally tough, the best one can do is to simply hold on, hold on to the Lord Jesus by faith. 

The Wednesday night whiteboard is not blank.  We have new things we're praying through, as well as some old ones.  But the memory of what is no longer on the whiteboard gives us hope that maybe the current items will one day be erased as well.