Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For your attention

1. Opting out of the same-sex marriage debate is no option – Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., writes in a column republished by Baptist Press there is no opt-out for Christians on the issue of same-sex marriage. He says, “Get ready to feel lonely, Christian, and to be unliked. It's unavoidable for ethical, Gospel-driven evangelicals who know that they cannot sit this one out.”

2. Porn invades the public square – Joe Carter, an editor for The Gospel Coalition, reviews on TGC’s blog a news article about the growing reality of people viewing pornography in public venues and thereby invading the privacy of those who are seeking to avoid it. He writes, “In an age when so many Christian men have succumbed, and when Christian women brag on Facebook about reading Fifty Shades of Grey, why are we shocked to find nonbelievers bringing filth into the public square?”

3. The page that changed her life – In an ongoing series titled “The page that changed my life” on The Gospel Coalition blog, Gloria Furman, a pastor’s wife in Dubai, shares how a paragraph in the book A Gospel Primer changed hers.

4.The redefinition of religious liberty – Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, explains how Western elites are minimizing true religious freedom – with the Chick-fil-A controversy and Obama administration’s contraceptive/abortion mandate two of the examples.

5. The gospel is at stake in a Mississippi Baptist church – Russell Moore, theology dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes eloquently about the gospel repercussions of a black couple’s wedding being moved from a Mississippi Baptist church’s building because of the complaints of some white members. This is an important statement about the centrality of the gospel in the life of a church.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Come Christians Join to Sing'

St. Andrews Hymns is the name of a collection of musicians out of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Midland, Ga. The group recently released its first album, "Safely Home," which consists of old hymns to new tunes. This video of "Come Christians Join to Sing" was filmed during the group's recording session in January on a Georgia farm. (HT: Tim Challies)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship: The joy of the gospel

One of the many joyous passages in the New Testament comes in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are in Pisidian Antioch a week after Paul preached the gospel in the synagogue there. God granted a great response, and they return to the synagogue the next week to proclaim the same truth again. Nearly the whole city gathers, but the Jews – apparently the leaders at least – oppose the gospel message and blaspheme. Luke describes what happens next beginning in verse 46:
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, that You may bring salvation to the end of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. (Acts 13:46-49)
Wow! You can picture the Gentiles’ exuberant, overwhelming joy at the realization the gospel is for them as well – Jesus is the Savior for the world, not just Israel. That gospel never becomes outdated or ineffective. It is simple, yet profound. Children can grasp it, while intellectuals stumble over it. It is all of God’s grace. The simplicity of the gospel is expressed in a song by Bob Kauflin and Drew Jones of Sovereign Grace Ministries we as a church have sung in recent months. It is simply “The Gospel Song:”
Holy God in love became
Perfect Man to bear my blame;
On the cross He took my sin;
By His death I live again.
We will rejoice in the gospel of Jesus again this Sunday. We will gather because it is true. We will gather because He is the only Savior. We will gather because He has saved us, sinners undeserving but sinners rescued. May we all come prepared to glorify God for His grace, exalt Christ our Redeemer, remind each other and ourselves of the gospel, and humble ourselves before Him and with one another.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Giving God glory for striking the One who gave Him glory

One of the more attention-grabbing passages in the Bible can be found near the close of Acts 12. King Herod has decided to persecute members of the church, according to the first verse of the chapter. He has James, one of the 12 and the brother of the apostle John, executed, and he has Peter arrested and imprisoned with the apparent intention of executing him as well. God rescues Peter. Displeased with Peter’s escape, Herod seemingly has the prison guards through whom the angel of the Lord delivered Peter led away to execution before he leaves Judea for Caesarea.

Verses 20-23 explain what happens next in Herod’s life:
Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.
It is difficult to imagine many things more revolting than someone being “eaten by worms.” The phrase at the heart of this passage, however, precedes that description of the nature of Herod’s death: “[A]n angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory.” As God’s Word clearly demonstrates, Herod deserved to die for this. He not only set out to destroy God’s elect, but -- in an even more grievous action -- he embraced the people’s apparently insincere praises declaring him to be a god. We read this passage and have reason to think this of Herod: “He got what he deserved.”

Yet, as I read this in my daily Bible reading yesterday, it struck me that Herod’s fate is what mine should be. It is what yours should be as well. His refusal to give God the glory may differ in degree from yours and mine, but it doesn’t differ in substance. We have all sought our own glory, and we still do so even as those upon whom He has showered His saving grace. The reason we don’t face such judgment for every time we refuse to give Him glory, every time we seek our own glory, every time we think proudly of ourselves is because Someone Else has been struck in our place.

The prophet wrote in Isaiah 53 about this substitutionary event hundreds of years before it occurred. We now know the Suffering Servant described in that passage is Jesus of Nazareth. Here are portions of that chapter that depict how the One was struck for the many:
But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. . . . By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? . . . But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. . . . Yet he Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
May we continuously give God the glory for bringing glory to Himself by striking the One who sought His glory above all instead of striking those who refused to give Him glory.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Something to think about: 'Missions exists because worship doesn't'

Here are the opening paragraphs of the first chapter of Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1). “Let the peoples praise [T]hee, O God; let all the peoples praise [T]hee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Psalm 67:3-4).

But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!”, who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord. . . . I will be glad and exult in [T]hee, I will sing praise to [T]hy name, O Most High” (Psalm 104:34; 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.

If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be well served and God will not be duly honored. I am not pleading for a diminishing of missions but for a magnifying of God. When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God’s true worth, the light of missions will shine to the most remote peoples on earth. And I long for that day to come!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mondays are for music: Trip Lee & the gospel in 2 minutes

A solid group of rap musicians -- featuring artists such as Lecrae, Trip Lee and Shai Linne -- is creating a body of work intended to glorify God and proclaim the gospel of Jesus. These artists' lyrics are God-centered, theologically strong, gospel-focused and Christ exalting.

The video below features Trip Lee. I don't know if what he does here is a song per se. It doesn't have a title, at least in this video. Yet, it provides an idea of what he and others are doing in verse to make Christ known. Here, he explains the gospel in less than two minutes during an interview with Desiring God.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship: Tim Challies to preach

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:14-15). We will gather this Sunday as fellow adoptees. As I understand it, Paul uses the word “sons” here to refer not to males but to Christians who have an inheritance like sons at this time. We are all adopted, and yet we all have an inheritance. We have all the riches by virtue of a Sovereign God choosing to adopt us into His family and become a tenderly loving and dear Father to us. From what I understand, “Abba” was the name a small child in this part of the world called his father. It would be like us saying, “Daddy.” May we recognize as we meet together this Sunday we were all spiritual orphans who were rescued by the eternal Father, and may we give Him the glory in adoration, thanksgiving, humble confession of sin, and intercession for one another.

In corporate worship this Sunday, we will have the privilege of hearing Tim Challies preach. His family and he plan to worship with us Sunday, and he was kind enough to agree to preach.

Tim is associate pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, an author of three books, co-founder of a Christian publishing company, editor of a book review website for Christians, and a greatly respected blogger. In fact, his blog is one of the most influential on the web for evangelical Christians. I have checked on it regularly, usually daily, in recent years. His spiritual discernment is a great aid to many. You may access his blog here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Something to think about: Our 'insidious prosperity gospel'

"We carry an insidious prosperity gospel around in our dark, little, entitled hearts." — Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Dallas (HT: Tim Challies)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

For your attention

1. Responding to charges of inconsistency -- Tim Keller, author and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, provides an excellent response to those who charge Bible-believing Christians with inconsistency in applying some Old Testament scriptures and not others. He concludes with this: "One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question: 'Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?' If you are asked, 'Why do you say that?' you could respond, 'If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can't follow all the "clean laws" of diet and practice, and I can't offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ's death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.'"

2. Evangelicalism is flourishing, not dying, in France -- For years, we have heard about the dominance of secularism in France, then the inroads made by Islam. The Christian Science Monitor reports evangelical Christianity has been growing in that country for decades. (HT: James Rogers at First Thoughts)

3. Reversing the move from we to me -- Tony Reinke at the Desiring God blog quotes from a new book about the unhelpful move from community to individualism among Christians that dates not just to the 1960s but to the 1600s, Michael Svigel says. Svigel writes, "The balanced Christian life cannot stay in the extreme of corporate spirituality, nor retreat into a radically individual spirituality. Rather, a balanced, stable approach to spirituality must simultaneously embrace both corporate and individual means of sanctification."

4. Why are there 600 million disabled people? -- David Murray, a professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, writes with insight about God's purpose in disabilities. (HT: Tim Challies)

5. Your Leviathan is God's Leviathan -- Ray Ortlund, lead pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tenn., writes on his blog at The Gospel Coalition site about God's comments on Leviathan to Job -- and how it applies to us. He says, "Something will be your Leviathan. And God will not explain it to you — not in this life. What [H]e will do, at the right time, is disclose [H]imself to you in a deeper way than you’ve ever known before."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why preach the gospel to yourself (No. 11)

'martino vs martinus' photo (c) 2007, spike - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Here is another reason -- "Cultivating Humility" -- to preach the gospel to yourself as provided by Milton Vincent in his book A Gospel Primer for Christians.
According to Scripture, God deliberately designed the gospel in such a way so as to strip me of pride and leave me without any grounds for boasting in myself whatsoever. This is actually a wonderful mercy from God, for pride is at the root of all my sin. Pride produced the first sin in the Garden, and pride always precedes every sinful stumbling in my life. Therefore, if I am to experience deliverance from sin, I must be delivered from the pride that produces it. Thankfully, the gospel is engineered to accomplish this deliverance.

Preaching the gospel to myself each day mounts a powerful assault against my pride and serves to establish humility in its place. Nothing suffocates my pride more than daily reminders regarding the glory of my God, the gravity of my sins, and the crucifixion of God's own Son in my place. Also, the gracious love of God, lavished on me because of Christ's death, is always humbling to remember, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the Hell I deserve.

Pride wilts in the atmosphere of the gospel; and the more pride is mortified within me, the less frequent are my moments of sinful contention with God and with others. Conversely, humility grows lushly in the atmosphere of the gospel, and the more humility flourishes within me, the more I experience God's grace along with the strengthening His grace provides. Additionally, such humility intensifies my passion for God and causes my heart increasingly to thrill whenever He is praised.

(Scriptures cited: Eph. 2:8-9; I Cor. 1:27-29; Gen. 3:4-6; Prov. 13:10, 16:18; James 4:6; Heb. 13:9; Ps. 34:2.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Abide'

Jenny and Tyler is the name of the young, married, musical duo of Tyler and Jennifer Somers. They are Nashville-based, but they met at the University of Delaware. They led worship music for a campus ministry, and God brought them together as husband and wife. Some of the time they do "house shows," concerts in homes. This song, "Abide," is on their fourth and most recent album, "Open Your Doors."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7b). Paul offers this exact blessing to readers early in seven of his 13 letters in the New Testament, and his other six letters include similarly worded blessings. A few observations regarding this blessing are in order, I think, as we prepare for corporate worship this Sunday. First, notice the word order. Grace precedes peace. There is no peace for us without grace. Second, this grace and this peace are divine in their source. They are from the Father and the Son. The Father and the Son both sacrificed deeply for undeserving sinners. We received grace – unmerited favor – as a result. Third, one Christian is extending grace to other Christians. When Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters in Christ, he never lost sight of the reality he was a recipient of God’s grace and so were they. On the basis of God’s grace toward him, he was free and compelled to offer grace to others. As we gather this Sunday, may we be aware of God’s grace toward us and our fellow worshipers, and may we extend it to one another with that awareness and with the glory of God as our goal.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Worshiping as a church: Preparing as if it is the priority it is (Third in a series)

'St Ebbes 11:45 Service' photo (c) 2011, Jimmy and Sasha Reade - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/One of the more difficult challenges regarding corporate worship seems to be actually getting ready for it. I’m not so much speaking of eating breakfast and getting dressed on Sunday morning, although when and how we do those activities can be a part of this topic.

I’m thinking more about how we prepare physically, mentally and spiritually for worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ – especially during the previous week.

One reality in our way of life that seems to mitigate against preparation for corporate worship is how we treat the days of the week. Functionally, Monday is the first day of the week for many people. Some calendars even begin with Monday. As faithful members of a church, even we can think this way. We treat Sunday as part of the weekend, in essence the last day of the weekend and week.

If we’re not careful, we pour our energies into activities on Friday night and Saturday, and we have little left for Sunday. The Lord’s Day gets the dregs. We are tempted to treat Sunday as a day to recover before the “real” week begins anew.

I know. I sometimes have to remind myself Sunday is the first day of the week. That’s why – when I lead in worship -- it’s good for me to thank the congregation for gathering on the morning of the first day of the week to worship God.

So, it may be you need to reorient yourself – and your family, if you are the head of a household – to this reality. Sunday is the first day of the week. Worship of and through the Resurrected Lord, who was raised on the first day of the week, calls for our best. It calls for us to be rested physically and focused mentally and spiritually.

This post, like the previous one, is written with the belief the Bible shows corporate worship to be a priority for New Testament believers, that indeed we are to be “not forsaking our own assembling together” (Heb. 10:25) and we are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb. 13:15).

Here are some practical suggestions intended to help you in preparing for corporate worship:

-- Think ahead during the week before. Take mental note of God’s work in your life and of what attributes of His were manifested in that work. If you are the head of a household, lead your family to do this at least once during the week. On Saturday night or another appropriate time, consider what attributes you have to praise God for the next day during corporate worship. Think about how He has demonstrated those attributes in His works regarding you during the week. Ponder also what thanksgivings you will have to offer God in corporate worship for those works of His. Discuss these with your spouse. Lead your children to reflect on and prepare for praise and thanksgiving.

-- Read the “Preparing for corporate worship” item I post on this blog normally on Friday of each week. It certainly is not indispensable to preparation, but I write it each week with Covenant Community Church, in particular, in mind as our worship time together nears.

-- Read and think about the passage to be preached on in corporate worship. Normally I preach through a book of the Bible, so our church knows where I am going next. I usually send out an email on Friday about the coming Sunday’s worship and mention the specific passage I plan to cover.

-- Spend time considering if there are sins against God and offenses against others – especially those you will be worshiping with the next day – you need to agree with Him about, repent of, trust in Christ’s atoning work as payment for, receive His restoration to fellowship, and make right with another against whom you have transgressed.

-- Plan to get to bed early enough Saturday evening to get the rest you need to be an active, intentional and focused participant in corporate worship the next morning. The amount of rest needed varies by individual, but you know what that is for you.

-- Think about what you will consume in terms of entertainment on Saturday evening. Will you be able to make the transition from dwelling on trivial, sensual or violent material the night before to consideration of the holy God and His perfect Word the following morning? (Thanks to John Piper for this important consideration.)

-- Remind yourself – and those in your charge – of the basis upon which you will gather with other Christians for worship: The perfect righteousness and fully sufficient sacrifice of Jesus. We will come together as one body created by His cross-work.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A barbaric violation: Forced abortion in China

'on the bridge' photo (c) 2006, J B - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/What may be the world’s most grievous, government-enforced program has been in the news lately because of the faithful reporting of bold and burdened people inside and outside China.

There have been timely accounts of unborn babies being aborted against their mother’s wills in the last few weeks, revealing the personal pain that is rampant under China’s massive, “one-child,” population control policy that has been in force for more than three decades. Victims and their advocates have told of government officials kidnapping in their final trimesters of pregnancy women who do not have birth permits, forcibly holding them down, killing their babies with injections and leaving the devastated mothers to await the delivery of their dead children.

Here are some recently reported cases:

-- The case of Feng Jianmei began receiving worldwide attention after her seven-month-old unborn daughter was forcibly aborted June 2 in Shaanxi Province. Her beautifully formed – though dead -- baby girl was placed next to her in bed. Her husband, Deng Jiyuan, posted a photo online of his dead daughter next to his grieving wife, and the story and photo went viral after the news broke June 12 in the West.

-- Hu Jia’s baby was forcibly aborted at nearly eight months June 19 in Hubei Province, according to a major Chinese newspaper, the Southern Metropolis Daily.

-- Zhan Wen Fang, also of Hubei Province, came forward to report her baby was forcibly aborted at nine months in 2008.

-- Cao Ruyi of Hunan Province was taken June 6 by family planning officials in an attempt to abort her five-month-old unborn child. International pressure helped bring about a reduction in the fine officials were seeking for her unpermitted pregnancy, enabling her to leave the hospital where her baby was to be aborted. Yet, the threat to her unborn child continues.

Reggie Littlejohn, an advocate for Chinese women and their unborn children, and other witnesses reported on these cases, some already widely known, during a hearing Monday, July 9, before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee.

At that hearing, Bob Fu, a Christian and president of the China Aid Association, told representatives these incidents are “only the tip of the iceberg.” He said, “Feng Jianmei’s tragedy is repeated hundreds and thousands of times each day in China.”

China’s coercive, population control program – and its implementation in the provinces – is a barbaric violation of the image of God, the sanctity of human life and the rights of millions upon millions of Chinese people.

Abortion is a sin against God and a crime against humanity. America has a wicked, legal abortion regime that is propped up by clinics that appear far more interested in making money than in giving women a truly informed choice. China takes it to another level by eliminating the pretense of choice.

These are not only our fellow image-bearers who are victims of horrible injustice in China, but some are our sisters and brothers in Christ. Feng and Deng are both followers of Christ, Fu told the subcommittee. Zhang Kai, a young Christian lawyer, has agreed to take on Feng’s case, Fu said.

At the same hearing, another Christian, Guo Yanling, shared about the forced abortion she underwent in 1995 when her unborn son was eight months old. You may read the written testimony describing what happened to her here. Be forewarned, it is hard to read and likely is not for everyone. Recognize, however, something similar has happened millions of times in China.

The devastation to China’s people, especially its women, is difficult to fathom. Many people believe the forced abortion program is one reason China has nearly 56 percent of the world’s female suicides. The fathers, who are unable to protect their wives and babies, also suffer.

As followers of Christ, may we not turn blind eyes to our suffering sisters and brothers or our suffering fellow image-bearers. May we pray for them and long for as much justice as possible in this lifetime in China – recognizing God can move to provide it while also acknowledging true justice will arrive only with the unveiling of His eternal kingdom. And may we pray for the light of the gospel to chase the darkness out of the lives of these who have suffered such violence at the hand of their government.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

For your attention

1. Why is Jerry Sandusky guilty? -- In a post at The Gospel Coalition blog, Joe Carter summarizes an article explaining why the former Penn State assistant football coach who preyed on boys is guilty and why he would not be without the rise of Christianity nearly 2,000 years ago.

2. God's mercy in not telling us everything -- Desiring God President Jon Bloom writes about the mercy of God in not revealing all to His children. It includes a wonderful illustration from Corrie ten Boom's life.

3. Celebrating biblical, gospel-centered masculinity -- Gloria Furman writes at the Desiring God blog about true, God-ordained masculinity and how her husband demonstrates it. Her husband is a pastor, and they and their children live and minister in a culture where a different kind of masculinity is promoted.

4. Egyptian Christians concerned about future under Islamist leader -- Christians in Egypt express uncertainty about their future after a Muslim Brotherhood candidate is elected president, World magazine reports in an article republished in Baptist Press.

5. God desires all to be saved and grants repentance to some -- In a post at the Desiring God blog, John Piper explains from two verses in the letters to Timothy how God can desire all to be saved but grants repentance to only some.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Farther Along'

Josh Garrels, who lives in Portland, Ore., is a musician who has developed a "genre-blending mix of folk and hip hop," according to a bio on his website. In this video, you can hear something of that musical flavoring as he uses the chorus of an old hymn, "Farther Along," as part of his original composition.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Preparing for corporate worship

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,’ declares the Lord. ‘But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word’” (Is. 66:1-2). More could be said about this passage, but I will focus on only a couple of things here. These words from God prompt me to recognize anew we don’t go to the house of God to worship this Sovereign Lord who is the Maker of everything. No church building or, in our church’s case, school building is the house of God. He certainly is not limited to any building. Also, the New Testament says each of us is, in essence, the house of God by virtue of each of us being a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 6:19). These words from the Lord also tell us something about what God looks for in His worshipers – “him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” When we gather this Sunday as temples of God, may we do so humbly before the only One worthy of worship, and may we yield ourselves to the Word of God as we read it, sing it, hear it read and listen to it proclaimed. May God be glorified, Jesus be magnified, and the gospel be enunciated.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My favorite idol

I am my favorite idol.

And likely you are your favorite idol.

Let me explain why I even decided to write such things in a blog post. It began yesterday morning.

It is an interesting phenomenon -- though it should not be a surprising one -- that a five-minute walk from Washington's Union Station to the office at which I work can provide insights into sin and the gospel. As I normally do, I was walking on a sidewalk past a federal judiciary building. It is a wide sidewalk, but it is not wide enough for four people to walk side by side or pass each other.

Two young ladies were walking toward me, still giving me enough room to pass them without stepping onto the dirt or grass. Another young lady decided to pass them as I approached. She was in a hurry. She had her ear buds in and was paying attention to her phone. She seemed determined to get around them at that moment and appeared convinced someone would yield to her. I did -- stepping onto the dirt to my right.

Now, I have yielded to numerous people before -- both males and females -- on the sidewalk around that building when it was necessary. And I certainly believe men should put ladies before themselves. Yesterday morning, however, I was struck by the sheer self-centeredness of what I had just observed.

For this young lady, it was all about her. Her needs -- or desires -- were uppermost in her mind, and the world at that moment was to bend to her. She was both an idol and an idol worshiper in one package.

Yet, I realized quickly, the same is true of me -- and of you. It may not be manifested in the same way or to the same degree, but it is in us. We inherited this "it's-all-about-me" spirit from our father, Adam. Afflicted with this common heritage, we are absorbed with idol worship. By nature, we do not humble ourselves before the one true God. Instead, we genuflect most often before ourselves -- worshiping ourselves and placing our desires at the center of the universe.

Wonderfully and stunningly, God extends grace to idol worshipers. He saves them from their self-centeredness, self-importance and self-worship -- making them true worshipers of the only One worthy of worship. He does this by mercifully opening our eyes to who He is and who we are, then enabling us to cast ourselves upon the Savior from sin.

Sadly, we still can be self-centered self-worshipers at times, even as those who have tasted of the greatness and glory of knowing the only God.

What is the remedy to self-worship? A major part is reminding ourselves of the gospel.

How do we do that? We look at God. We look at ourselves. We look at what He has done.

We remind ourselves of the greatness, glory and holiness of God. We remember the sin nature that indwells us. We proclaim to ourselves the unmerited favor we have received. We preach to ourselves the perfect life and totally acceptable death of Jesus in which is our only hope. We declare to ourselves His righteousness – and no merit of our own -- is our ground of acceptance before the Holy Judge. We profess Christ’s sacrifice is completely sufficient to pardon us of all our sins. We humble ourselves before the God who has humbled Himself to rescue us from a fully deserved condemnation.

In preaching the gospel to ourselves, we also see others – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ – in the correct light. We remember that we, as recipients of grace, are to be bestowers of grace to others. We love them, particularly other Christians, in a way that shows their interests are more important to us than our own. We dwell not on their shortcomings but on the demonstrations of grace in their lives. We rejoice in what God has done and is doing in their lives.

We turn away from our “it’s-all-about-me” idol worship to worship the One who put our interests before His own, and we sacrificially serve others made in His image.

We will still encounter self-worshipers on the sidewalks of life, but hopefully they will decreasingly be us.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Being enthralled with 'sacrificial love for the undeserving'

Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., recently posted an entry on The Gospel Coalition Website titled "The page that changed my life."

The page he chose was the final page -- No. 505 to be exact -- of George Marsden's 2003 biography Jonathan Edwards: A Life. What Marsden said in conclusion regarding the still influential 18th Century theologian and pastor made a profound impact on Strachan.

It is a powerful summary of not only Edwards' understanding of Scripture and God's purpose but also of our purpose in life. Here is that statement for you to dwell on:
Yet Edwards's solution -- a post-Newtonian statement of classic Augustinian themes -- can be breathtaking. God's Trinitarian essence is love. God's purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures. The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those . . . who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it. They will see the beauty of a universe in which unsentimental love triumphs over real evil. They will not be able to view Christ's love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections. Truly seeing such good they will have no choice but to love it. Glimpsing such love, they will be drawn away from their preoccupations with the gratifications of their most immediate sensations. They will be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ is the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created (505).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mondays are for music: 'Lay Me Down'

Andrew Peterson is a gifted storyteller. He is able to express theological truth in an arresting and inviting way. His unique voice is a blessing to the ears -- my ears anyway. He has many worthwhile songs, including several on his wonderful Christmas album, "Behold the Lamb of God." In this video, his band and he perform "Lay Me Down" -- a song about death and life -- at a coffeehouse in Connecticut.