Thursday, November 27, 2014

"The Healthiest People Are the Ones Who Praise the Most"

They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.Psalm 145:6-7

"Some people are never satisfied. They think others drive too slow and eat too fast. They're convinced government is crooked, the schools are worthless, and the church is full of hypocrites. Something is wrong with every sermon these people hear, every program they see, every dish of food they are willing to try.

"Such people seem to spend the whole of their sour little lives in front of a complaint window. They are like the pessimistic farmer who had six chickens hatch one morning. He was inconsolable. When someone asked him what was wrong, he replied bitterly: 'I had six chickens hatch this morning, and now all of 'em have died but five.'

"Open, grateful human life resounds not with complaints but with praise. The healthiest people are the ones who praise the most. Family, friends, books, sports, music, nature --all these draw praise from healthy people. 'Did you see that? Wasn't it great!' 'Did you hear what he did for her sister? Isn't she a generous person?'

"But Christians reserve their highest praise for the goodness and greatness of God. The psalms ring with it: 'The Lord is great and greatly to be praised! Praise the Lord!' At creation, says the Book of Job, 'the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy.'

"Praise is a way of expressing awe and admiration for the stunning greatness of God and his deeds, and for the ingenious ways in which God keeps fitting his help to our need. Our prayers ought to include some hearty praise. But whether in prayer or other speech, our praise of God may never be glib. Some people say 'Praise the Lord!' with no more reverence than they lavish on 'Have a nice day!'

"Not that. Our praise of God must be both candid and thoughtful. For praise of God is the very music of heaven...."

-- Cornelius Plantinga, "Assurances of the Heart" (pp. 66-67, Zondervan: 1993)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

President George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

THANKSGIVING DAY 1789
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - A PROCLAMATION

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

-- Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
GEO. WASHINGTON.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What does repentance look like today?

"Repentance is the step-by-step walking out of our redemption, the bit-by-bit turning of our hearts from the corruption of idolatry to the sweetness and rest in treasuring God above all."

-- Mike Wilkerson,  "Redemption"

Grown-up Thinking About What the Bible Teaches

"There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them."


~C S Lewis

Monday, November 24, 2014

Holy Ambition

'No life can surpass that of a man who quietly continues to serve God in the place where providence has placed him.' -C.H. Spurgeon

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Longing for the Kingdom

"For just as spring break is a taste of summer time in the midst of the semester, so also the kingdom of God is present in the midst of history, as we taste of its blessings now, and look forward to the summer time of God’s kingdom when Christ returns, the Holy City the New Jerusalem descends, and the whole creation is restored in new heavens and the new earth. Amen, come Lord Jesus."

— David Naugle
"The Gospel of the Kingdom of God"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Focused Vision of Spiritual Maturity


“I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity — the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it.  That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

-- J. I. Packer, quoted in Christianity Today, 6 April 1998, page 40

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Gospel Mystery

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours.  He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”

“Learn Christ and him crucified.  Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say, ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin.  Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine.  Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.'”

-- Martin Luther

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The First and Last Adam

'As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face may the last Adam's blood my soul embrace'

-- John Donne

Friday, November 14, 2014

Putting First Things First

"The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping. The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

"It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman— glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

"Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. . . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first."

-- C.S. Lewis

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Empowered for the Struggle

"Gospel freedom does not mean there is no struggle. It means you engage in a struggle you can win." - D.A. Carson

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelical Christians Can Worship Idols"



For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.
That’s just who I am.
For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.
I wanted it to, but it didn’t.
So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.
I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I am an evangelical, and I have a very high view of the Bible – I am currently studying for a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree – as well as knowing both the ancient languages and the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I have discovered the liberating truth that it is possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.
Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness and inclusion towards our idolatrous brothers and sisters.
Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out. Firstly, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.
Secondly, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus-person: one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those people that the (one-God worshipping) religious leaders rejected – and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but for those who love Jesus, it should be at the very heart of the discussion.
Jesus had no problem with idolatry.
He included everyone, however many gods they worshipped.
If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.
We should also remember that, as we have discovered more about the human brain, we have found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply did not know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea that some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we have learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones and so on, we have come to realise that some tendencies - alcoholism, for example - scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist that the world is flat.
With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Romans 1, the problem isn’t really idol-worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He is talking about people who were naturally worshippers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?
Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities – statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone – and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first century Jew, to honour the Ten Commandments.)
In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he is not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves, and women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.
Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh - and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.

[I really hope it's obvious that this is a parody, but if not: it is.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

To see Thee more clearly...

"Our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen." -- Augustine

Monday, November 10, 2014

What it means to be a preacher of the Gospel...

"Preachers of the gospel are heralds of another world, charged to deliver a message they did not invent, a message of great urgency addressed to every single person in the world."

-- Timothy George

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Bible Is to Bring Us to God

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative ‘must’ in the church of the living God.  Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term.  But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever.  For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.”

-- A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (London, 1967), pages 9-10.