Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Unconsciously Looking for God

"...the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
'[This  quote] comes from a small and positively delightful 1945 novel, The World, the Flesh and Father Smith written by a lesser-known, mid-twentieth century Scottish writer, Bruce Marshall. His style reminds one of Flannery O'Connor in her hilariously biting sarcasm, coloring for her reader serious spiritual truths in the lives of her larger-than-life idiotic characters.
'Our quote appears in a conversation between the book's protagonist, the dutiful Father Smith, while walking home one day, encounters a beautiful, seductive young woman standing on her front stoop. Miss Dana Agdala is provocatively accented by her “frock blowing all around her lovely legs.” She introduces herself to Father Smith as the author of the scintillating and best-selling Naked and Unashamed, “but perhaps you haven't read me.”
'She asks the priest, “Tell me, do you get much response to the old, old story these days?” She, a modernist had long rejected “[a]ll that poppycock about baptism, and purity and the Virgin Birth…” because, of course, “it's against all modern science and obstetrics.”
'She explains to our cleric that she'd, “been dying for years to meet a Catholic priest, but somehow there never seems to be any at any of the parties I go to.” She had “oodles and oodles to ask you about that I don't know if I'll ever have time.”
'He invited her to walk along to his next appointment and ask away. Among many questions, built upon her judgment of the silliness of his faith, she asked about his own sexuality and how he manages to, as she put it, “live without us?”
'Easily and confidently, Fr. Smith answers that, in his view, “women's bodies are rarely perfect; they soon grow old and sag, and always the contemplation of them even at their best is a poor and boring substitute for walking with God in His House as a friend . . .”
'Miss Agdala judges that Fr. Smith's answer proves what she had always maintained about Christians, “that religion is only a substitute for sex.”
'Fr. Smith counters roundly, “I still prefer to believe that sex is a substitute for religion and that the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”'

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"Preach the Word" at Christmas Too

“Preach the Word….”  (2 Tim. 4:2).  That exhortation to Timothy (and to the Church) from the apostle Paul applies just as much at Christmas time too – in fact in some ways, the joyfully serious task of proclaiming the true Gospel applies especially to Christmas.  For it is possible that, during the very time when unbelievers are most likely to show up at church for our special concerts and programs, Christians (for a whole host of reasons) might be tempted to hollow out the very heart of the greatest story every told.

Make no mistake – the early chapters of the Gospels, echoing the ancient prophets, are very clear what is really going on with the birth of the ‘Christ child’.  For that world ‘Christ’ means – ‘God’s end-time King’ (e.g., Psalm 2 and Isaiah 9:6f.).   Christmas means this rebellious, prodigal planet’s rightful Ruler has come to re-assert the reign of God, for the glory of God.  And yes, wondrously, the kingdom of God will mean salvation and peace for all those who repent and believe, but it will mean judgment and wrath for those who refuse (compare John 3:16 with John 3:36).

The Christmas Story includes exultant angels and kneeling shepherds, yes; but it also includes a murderous king and ‘Rachel weeping for her children.’

Christmas is all about an unavoidable choice; we must all choose sides.  Will we repent and bow the knee to the gracious King who saves, or will we persist in our rebellion, even if our unbelief bears all the trappings of religiousness that marked the Pharisees and Sadducees before us?

“Glory to the newborn King” we sing, and we are right to do so.  But when this newborn grows up to be a man, he begins his ministry by preaching:  “Repent; for the kingdom of heaven has come near”  (Matt. 4:19).  Is THIS the message that non-believers will hear clearly proclaimed from our churches when they gather with us for our programs and pageants, concerts and services this Christmas season?

Will we faithfully “preach the Word” – teaching them that, indeed “in the  town of David a Savior has been born to you”, but telling them too that this Savior is the “Christ  (God’s end-time King), the Lord” who summons all people everywhere to repentance, and to a whole-souled obedience.   (Luke 2:11;  Matt. 28:18ff.; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 10:9)?   God help us to be faithful heralds of the true and saving message of our glorious and gracious King.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Divine Providence versus Our Fears

"We are superstitiously timid...if whenever creatures [some created thing] threaten us or forcibly terrorize us we become as fearful as if they had some intrinsic power to harm us, or might wound us inadvertently and accidentally, or [as if] there were not enough help in God against their harmful acts."

-- John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion" (I, XVI, 4)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lincoln on Thanksgiving


From Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
"...The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People."

God's Good and Perfect Will

"The Lord is the master of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives.  The pieces may be strangely shaped; often we cannot see how they fit together; but eventually when the big picture is complete we sill see that each piece as perfectly shaped.  He leads us by ways we could not have guessed, into situations we never expected, to fulfill purposes we never could have imagined."


-- Sinclair Ferguson, "Devoted to God" p. 52

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Gospel and the Kingdom

The Gospel is just as much about how to enter into and live in the kingdom of God before you die as it is about how to get into the kingdom of heaven after you die.
(adapted from a statement by Dallas Willard)

The Word of God Already Spoken (and Written Down)

This is so important, and is in opposition to the perspective and practices related to a book like 'Jesus Calling': “If we don’t like Joshua 1:7-8 [quoted below], we still have to face Psalm 1:2, which describes what should be true of every godly believer (i.e. ‘but his delight is in Yahweh’s torah, and in his torah he meditates day and night’). There is no escape! Indeed, the torah should be our delight. Life in the kingdom of God must be lived out of the Word of God.
"Joshua 1 and Psalm 1 alike tell us that a life pleasing to God does not arise from mystical experiences or warm feelings or from a new gimmick advocated in a current release from one of our evangelical publishers; no, it comes from the word God has already spoken and from obedience to that word.”
"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." -- Joshua 1:7-8
-- Ralph Davis in “Joshua—No Falling Words”

Monday, September 5, 2016

The More Scriptural, the More Spiritual

Crucial principle for life and ministry: the more Scriptural something (a belief, a practice, a method or way of doing ministry) is, the more spiritual and God-pleasing it is. (And the reverse is therefore true too.)
Elaboration: If something is Scriptural it is spiritual and God-pleasing (because 'Scriptural' = defined by God Himself through His Word). If it is unscriptural it is unspiritual and dis-pleasing to God.
The more Scriptural something is the more spiritual and pleasing to God it is.
The more unscriptural something is the more unspiritual and displeasing to God it is. I'm not saying 'more strict' I'm saying more Scriptural. (The Pharisees were stricter than Jesus, but not more spiritual and God-pleasing.)
Paul says he prays that the Colossian believers will be filled with the knowledge of God's will or purpose (Col. 1:9ff.). Well, that knowledge comes through God's inscripturated word.
So if we really want to live a God-pleasing life and carry out God-pleasing ministry, we will live a life, and do ministry, shaped by the fullness of the knowledge of God's will and the knowledge of God himself -- realizing that comes through God's word and that God’s Word is available to us through Scripture.
And what is the Biblical basis for all this? ...the fact that God gave us the Bible.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Word of God and the Hand of God

We live our lives constantly addressed by the Word of God (via Scripture) and continually guided by the hand of God (via Providence).  Our part is to say 'yes' to both.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Learning from the Venerable Dead

“The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.” -Samuel Davies

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A True Friendship with God


A right and good and vital relationship with God (in all its many dimensions) is the primary point/purpose of true Christianity (the Gospel, salvation).  That means a right and good and vital way of habitually relating to God in trust, repentance, dependence, allegiance, love and obedience.

John 14:21, 23-24a; 15:14

"Christ is our best friend, and ere long will be our only friend. I pray God with all my heart that I may be weary of everything else but converse and communion with him." -- John Owen

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Christian and His Hope (and Hoping)

'Christian hope cuts against the twin temptations of distraction and despair by grounding us in another time and place.

'Take, for example, Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. These letters show how the gospel of hope can enable us to live as an alternative society, a contrasting community that stands out by living according to the values grounded in God’s work of redemption. Christian hope lifts our eyes, not as an excuse for passivity or fatalistic resignation, but rather as an exhortation toward pursuing the day when the Lord will come. Christian hope helps us fight evil without the fear of ultimate failure.

'Oliver O’Donovan describes hope as a willingness to wait attentively “. . . attending wholly and with concentration focused on what is not yet happening, so that whatever is happening is handled with a mind supremely bent on something else.”...'

-- excerpt from Trevin Wax's post, "Can We Hope Again?"

Only One Way to Shalom

Here's what every human being needs to realize: we only find rest for our souls (true peace/shalom) when we are living under the 'easy yoke' (authoritative teaching) of Jesus Christ -- a life that puts God first, living for His glory, trusting Him for our true good. There is simply no other way to peace.

The Loss of a Transcendent, Great and Glorious Deity

And here is what I think, in many ways, is our fundamental problem: in the past human beings, for a number of reasons, had a profound sense that there was a transcendent Deity (or deities) to which, one way or another, we were accountable. Philosophers had their names for it (e.g., the numinous) -- the Bible calls it "the fear of God' -- a powerfully profound awareness (often almost sub-conscious and nearly always suppressed) that God was indeed the Supreme Being, the One "with whom we have to do."

But now, in the West at least, in the 'first world', secularizing influences have gained such a momentum and have had such a pervasive effect, that this sense of the divine and transcendent seems all but extinguished (publicly, at least) -- and the result: a hollowed out, hopeless society of men and women who spend almost all their time in superficial strategies of strenuously hiding from the hopelessness (and calling it play or entertainment) and self-medicating the meaninglessness (including via our self-styled spiritualities, aka, idolatries). Claiming to be wise, we've become miserable fools.

And, worst of all, even when we occasionally still talk about 'God', we no longer seem to have a clue as to the great and terrible and awe-ful Being of whom we speak.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Conversion is...

"However this relationship [with God, through Christ] is initiated -- quietly or dramatically, over a long or over a short period of time -- it inaugurates a life devoted to serving God.

"Conversion is not an isolated event but is related to the entire life of faith that follows from it. It is the moment of birth into a new life. It is like a doorway into a room. A person is born to live, not to linger on the edge of the womb in a time limbo. A person opens a door not for the pleasure of standing forever on the threshold but to enter the room. The evangelical worlds has strangely perverted this truth.

"Evangelicals often make the test of spiritual life one's willingness to testify about the moment of birth. Describing one's sensations in passing through the doorway is considered proof that one is in the room! This shifts the focus from where it ought to be -- the evidence of the Spirit's renewing work in producing a God-centered life, a God-fearing heart, and God-honoring character and witness -- and places it on a person's autobiographical account of the conversion crisis.

"The only real proof of conversion is an obedient and fruitful life."

-- David Wells, "Turning to God" (cp. Matt. 7:21-23; 28:18-19; John 8:31; 14:15; Acts 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 6:4,17ff.; Eph. 4:17-24; 5:5-6; 1 Thess. 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; James 2:14-26; 1 Pet. 1:2,22; 2 Pet. 1:5-11; 1 Jn. 2:3-6)