Wednesday, December 30, 2020

12 from '20

'Tis the season for "Best of" articles, and since I don't do links very often, I wanted to share some of my favorite posts from other sites. In approximately chronological order:

5 Ways to Love God with All Your Mind
"As our minds master truth – and are in turn mastered by it – the rest of our being inevitably follows. Hence we find ourselves experiencing greater love for God as we hear, sing and speak of the truths we know. Truths grasped in your mind can be tasted and savoured."

Seven Apologetics Books Every Teen Should Read
These books offer a good starting place for anyone of any age, but these would be a great foundation for someone who will be heading off to college.

It’s Time for a New Culture War Strategy
"[W]e must recommit ourselves to strengthening alternative institutions, investing in counter-cultural church communities, and catechizing our own children. Let me underscore the last item. ...

Here’s a culture war strategy conservative Christians should get behind: have more children and disciple them like crazy."

Why Read Early Christian Authors?
"The truth of the matter is that far too many modern-day Evangelicals are either ignorant of or quite uncomfortable with the Church Fathers. ... Well did Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–92)—a man who certainly could not be accused of elevating tradition to the level of, let alone over, Scripture—once note: 'It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.'"

The Fear of the Lord ... for today?
"[T]he fear of the Lord remains unclear for most of us, and it is critical to embrace it if we are to grow in wisdom (Pro 1:7). Let’s assume that we benefit from understanding it, and we could use more of it."

Not White Fragility, Mutual Responsibility
"Watching a country tear itself apart is quite a spectacle. This is the cycle I have come to expect when we have a national racial incident. We have the racial incident, the protest and the backlash. Is it a cycle that we can break? Not if we keep doing what we have done before. So here is my attempt to move away from that cycle and to encourage us to think about a mutual accountability approach."

Let's Think About This For a Moment
"If you read every day about every bad and evil thing that has happened over the last 24 hours in every part of the world, you shouldn't be surprised if you are constantly dwelling on those things and struggling with depression and anxiety. If you listen to songs with sexually explicit lyrics and watch movies, television shows, and videos with sexually explicit images, you shouldn't be surprised if you are constantly dwelling on those things and struggling with lust. ... If you choose to drink from a sewer rather than from a clear spring, don't be surprised if you get sick. "

How to Prepare for the Next Cultural Revolution
"[W]e need to be ready for the next false philosophy—in a year, in five years, or in a decade—that will spawn the next cultural revolution. I can’t predict what it will be, but I know it will happen. I also know what we can do to be ready, prevent Christian defectors, and answer the challenge when it arrives. Here are two ways to prepare for the next revolution..."

We disagree over how to help people, not whether to help them
"[Pro-lifers] do want to care for people, including after they are born, and many of us are actively involved in doing so. We just don’t think it should necessarily be done by big government programs. ... Today, I want to relate a bit of my experience through my church in Louisiana to illustrate this point."

Teaching Politics at Belmont Has Me Worried About the State of Debate
"[O]ur classrooms have not escaped the tribal nature of our politics. Conversations are often strident, and it is a challenge to rein in disputes before they turn into full-fledged shouting matches. Students find it harder to come to grips with what Jonathan Haidt labels the “moral matrices” that underpin our political commitments and are hesitant to recognize the sacred values that “bind and blind” political choices, both ours and those of our opponents. The same sources that spur these novel conversations can create inflexible ideological camps."

A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory
This is part of a series of long-form articles by Tim Keller. They'll take a while to read, but they're worth the time investment.

"Which justice? There have never been stronger calls for justice than those we are hearing today. But seldom do those issuing the calls acknowledge that currently there are competing visions of justice, often at sharp variance, and that none of them have achieved anything like a cultural consensus, not even in a single country like the US."

Refugee? Mixed-Race? Please stop co-opting Christ
"Any time we make Jesus’s ministry about anything other than fulfilling His mission of being the perfect lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) we are in danger of at least distorting the Gospel if not even teaching a false one (Gal. 1:8-9)."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Resolving to be Holy

(The following is an updated encore presentation of a previous post.)

It's New Year's resolution season. This year instead of resolving to lose weight or quit clipping your toenails in the living room (not that those aren't good resolutions), let's try for something more substantive.

We all say, I want to be more like Jesus. But how do we do that? It's easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing. We need to get specific.

Identify the problem
Everyone commits the "little" sins — things like lying or selfishness — and we should fight against those, but we also all have one or two sins that are a particular problem for us. Some might call it your favorite sin, but more likely it's the one you feel is kicking your butt. It's time to do something about that. The sin that so easily entangles has to go.

We say that we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The flesh is usually our biggest problem, but the world definitely teams up with it, feeding and encouraging our worst impulses.

You may have heard the analogy that the flesh warring with the spirit is like two dogs fighting, and the one you feed will win. We need to cut off the flesh's food supply.

Identify the source
Here's an example: Covetousness. At it's core, coveting is about being dissatisfied with what you have. But you can't be dissatisfied with your lot unless you're aware of the options. You feed your covetousness every time you take in all the things you don't have — whether it's window shopping at the mall or driving by the new car lots or simply browsing the sale ads in the newspaper.

You're fine with your coffee maker until you see the one that will get up off the counter and gently shake your arm to wake you while percolating coffee to a jazzy tune. You're fine with your car until you start contemplating the unending comforts of "rich Corinthian leather."

You can cut off the food to your covetous heart by cutting off the flow of information about things you don't need. Don't look at sales ads to see what's out there. Check out the new coffee pots only after yours dies. Stay away from car lots until it's actually time to replace your car. By removing the things you don't have from your mind, you give yourself fewer things to be unsatisfied about.

Oh, covetousness isn't your problem? How about lust? Cut off the supply. No, I'm not talking about pornography. That's an effect, not the cause. Our society loves to feed our lust — on billboards, on tv, and, even as we walk down the street. Guys, if that's your problem, you might need to cancel some magazines or cable channels. Ladies, perhaps you need to change the books you read.

Maybe it's cursing. How do the people you spend your time with talk? What about your entertainment choices?

Make a specific plan
Whatever it is, figure out the sources of the food and cut them off.

Make a plan. A specific plan. "I will covet less" will get you nowhere. "I will stop driving by the car lot" is specific, and it's easy to tell how you're doing.

Figure out how you can stop feeding the flesh: "I will stop loitering outside the aerobics class." "I will stop watching movies with bad language." Whatever it is, do something concrete.

Keep it going
Then do something else concrete. Whatever change you make is just a drop in the bucket. You stopped driving by the car lot; now excuse yourself when your friend starts talking about his new car. You stopped hanging out watching women in spandex; now stop reading the SI Swimsuit Edition.

Then continue. This is a process. Keep looking for things you can change, ways to cut off the food. As you progress, hopefully the beast will get weaker. 

I suggest making a list. I'll bet you can think of five things you do that feed your problem. Surely you can name three. In Dave Ramsey style, start with the easiest one to cut out. Then move down the list. By the time you've finished the list you should be able to name other habits that contribute to your problem. Make a new list and start down it.

Watch out
Back to the world, the flesh, and the devil: Most of the time I think the devil is the least of our problems — until you try to make some real changes. This is spiritual warfare. Expect to be attacked. Look for it. Plan on it. Be on your guard.

A lot of times we should resist the devil. We need to fight and we can win. But not in this. If you were any good at fighting on this issue, it wouldn't be an issue. Run. When temptation springs up, head for the hills.

It's going to be a long road. But by this time next year you will hopefully be a lot more like Jesus than you are today. And hopefully I'll be there with you.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Work of Christ in the Present

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb 1:3).

After Jesus’ resurrection, he visited with his disciples off and on for 40 days. Then “he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of his Father (Heb 1:3).

So what is he doing now? Is he retired? Is he just killing time until the Father sends him back? No, Christ has a very active role. Let’s look at three things he is doing right now.

First and foremost, Christ is reigning with his Father.
God has “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20-21). Being seated at the right hand is a position of authority.1 The Son now shares in the Father’s rule. “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him (Matt 28:18). That little word “all” is very interesting. It means ... all. Everything in the universe is under his control just as it was before his incarnation. There is no part of his creation that is out of his control -- not hurricanes, nor viruses, nor demons. And everything is dependent on him; he sustains all things by his powerful word (Heb 1:3, Col 1:17). Everything continues to exist only because Christ wills it. My Savior, the one who loved me and gave himself for me is running the universe. What have I to fear?

And one day, we will reign with him. The scriptures say that we have been “seated ... with him in the heavenly places” (Eph 2:6). God’s plan is that we should rule with our elder brother to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph 2:7).

Second, Christ is representing us to his Father. Christ is our mediator with God (1Tim 2:5). He intercedes for us to his Father (Heb 7:25, Rom 8:34). He is our advocate with the Father (1John 2:1). The one who became a man, who was tempted as we are, who then covered our sins with his blood stands between God and man as our great High Priest.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:14-16).

Third, Christ is preparing a place for us. The night that he was betrayed, the Lord told his disciples, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).

Tony Evans says, “The ascension is vitally important to our hope for tomorrow and for eternity. ... Because Jesus went somewhere, we have somewhere to go. And just as Christ ascended to heaven, you and I will leave this earth someday and ascend to heaven because Jesus is coming back for us. If the ascension is true, then heaven is true.”2 Heaven is real, and Jesus wants us to be with him. And Jesus is going to come set everything right. But that’s a topic for another time.

James Montgomery Boice says, “It is always difficult to measure one’s own spiritual maturity. But there is a sense in which one can assess it generally by the dominant image one has of Jesus Christ.”3 He is no longer the baby in the manger; he’s not still hanging on the cross. Christ is now the ruling and reigning Lord. Live like he’s the King of the universe. Pray like he’s interceding for you. Hope like you have been promised an eternal home. “Our destiny has been secured by our conquering hero, the ascended Christ, seated at God’s right hand.”4

There’s so much more that could be said. I recommend “The Uniqueness of Christ in His Ascension and Present Ministry” in Tony Evans’ Theology You Can Count On.

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
2 Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On
3 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith
4 Rick Cornish, 5 Minute Theologian

Image credit: Ronny Overhate from Pixabay

Part of Christianity 101

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Peering into the Heart of Christ

Gentle and Lowly
When we say Jesus loves us, is it a generic love like a love for puppies? Is it a formal, distant, (dare we say it?) because-I-have-to kind of love like you have for your second cousin twice removed? No. Dane Ortlund wants you to know that Jesus really love you — passionately, exuberantly, deeply. 

Ortlund's book Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers came out this year, and it was well timed for the year we've had. This isn't another book where the author relies on his own ideas of what God ought to be like. Ortlund shows from scripture how Jesus really feels about his people:

"What keeps [Christ] from growing cold [toward us]? The answer is, his heart. The atoning work of the Son, decreed by the Father and applied by the Spirit, ensures that we are safe eternally. But a text such as John 6:37 reassures us that this is not only a matter of divine decree but divine desire. This is heaven's delight."

Do you wonder if Christ is put out with you when you come to him with yet more sins? "When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the flow of his own deepest wishes, not against them."

In something that may surprise those who only them by our society's caricature, Ortlund also draws from Puritan writers of the past to show how thoroughly Jesus loves his people. A passage from Thomas Goodwin says:

"Christ takes part with you, and is so far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yes, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that has some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that has leprosy, he hates not the member, for it is his flesh, but the disease, and that provokes him to pity the part affected the more."

He wants you to know that God's love will never leave his children. "Nothing can un-child you. Not even you. Those in Christ are eternally imprisoned within the tender heart of God. We will be less sinful in the next life than we are now, but we will not be any more secure in the next life than we are now. If you are united to Christ, you are as good as in heaven already."

In 23 short chapters, you will be reminded that Christ is our advocate, that wrath is not God's default mood, and that his glory is his goodness. You will see "his deepest heart for his people, weary and faltering on their journey toward heaven."

I may be an oddball, but when I want to reflect on the love of God, I generally turn to the Psalms, the prophets, or the epistles rather than the gospels. It's easy for me to get more caught up in the storyline, the rules, or the clashes with the Pharisees when I read the gospels. It was wonderful to me to have someone take me there and make me see the love of Jesus again.

Who is this book for? It's for anyone who wonders if God is tired of them. It's for anyone who wonders if Jesus was just doing what he was told. It's for people who need to be reminded that their Savior loves them like a cherished child rather than a misbehaving pet or a distant friend. In short, everyone at some time in their life could use to hear these things.

No book is solid gold, but I highlighted an awful lot of this. Crossway was giving the electronic version away for free during the spring. About halfway through I bought a hardcopy. This is one I'll be re-reading. And re-reading. I really cannot recommend it highly enough. You will not be disappointed by this book.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Aside: The Odds of Jesus

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled’” (Luke 18:31).

Everyone is the product of a unique combination of improbable events. But Jesus is special: Those improbable events were foretold hundreds of years before his birth.

The New Testament writers had a broader view of the term “prophecy” than we tend to. They included what theologians called types, similar to foreshadowing in literature. So the apostles saw hints of Christ throughout the scriptures. Sometimes they are things that happened to other people in the scriptures but that still point to Christ. Theologians identify about 200 prophecies about Jesus using this broader sense of the word.

But some prophecies are clear and specific and fulfilled only in Christ. There are prophecies that he chose to fulfill, such as riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, that demonstrate how Jesus saw himself and his mission. But there are others that no man could have chosen to fulfill.

Pick any eight such prophecies:
  • Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
  • Rejected by his people (Is 53:3, Psalm 22:6-8)
  • Abandoned by his followers (Zech 13:7)
  • Badly beaten (Is 52:14)
  • Death by crucifixion (Psalm 22:16-17)
  • Killed with criminals (Is 53:9)
  • Lots cast for his clothes (Psalm 22:18)
  • Buried with the rich (Is 53:9)
The odds of Christ’s fulfilling these eight prophecies are 1 in 1017 or 1 in one hundred million billion; that is a huge number, so an illustration can help make it a little clearer. This is one by Peter Stoner that Josh McDowell uses1:

Suppose you cover the entire state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep – that takes about 1017 silver dollars. Paint one of them red and mix it in good. Now send a blindfolded friend to go anywhere in the state he wishes and randomly pick up one dollar. The odds that he’d get the red one are 1 in 1017. That is how likely it is for one person to fulfill eight prophecies.

And that doesn’t even consider how his ministry (Is 9:1-2, 61:1-2), miracles (Is 35:5-6), and resurrection (Is 53:10, Ps 16:8-10) were predicted.

The life, death, and life of Jesus were uniquely foretold in detail hundreds of years before he was born, demonstrating that he was no mere man and that the death he died was according to the plan of God.

To get the full effect, read what is sometimes called the gospel according to Isaiah, Is 52:13-53:12, and reflect on how closely this passage written 700 years before Christ describes the death of the savior.

1 Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict

image credit: M&R Glasgow, via Creative Commons 

Part of Christianity 101

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Christian Giving

'Tis the season for giving. Not only do we give to those we love, but many choose this time of year to donate to various charities. I want to encourage us all to emulate the Macedonian model.

"And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people" (2Cor 8:1-4).

We live in a world in which most people don't give or give just enough to assuage their guilt.

We also live in a world with great need. Even before the pandemic, there were hundreds of millions who lack medicine or food or even clean water. Now, millions have lost their jobs and exhausted their meager savings.

Christians ought to be people who give 'til it hurts. Everyone has a different pain point, but we should all find ours. In a world in which too many think they've done their duty by dropping a five in the red kettle, the world needs people who give "as much as they [are] able." Paul told the Corinthians, "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality" (2Cor 8:13). He did not want them to make others rich by becoming poor, but he did want them to share of their riches. By the standards of the rest of the world, we are very rich.

Paul wants us to imitate Christ: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2Cor 8:9).

He also told them, "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2Cor 9:7-8). There is no fixed amount or percentage we're expected to give. God does not want us to give more than we can give with a smile. But he is ready to increase the amount we can give with a smile.

Let's be honest: Giving can be scary. There is always, lurking in the back of our minds, the question, "What if I need this later?" After all, we can get sick. We can lose jobs. The engine can fall out of our cars, too. Giving always requires a certain amount of trust in God. So we should give as much as we can trust God for. And then maybe we can step out a little farther and let God prove himself faithful.

"But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving" (2Cor 8:7).