Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Sluggard" by Isaac Watts

a poem by Isaac Watts based on Proverbs 24:30-34.

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,
"This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading."

-- HT: Josh Harris

It is worth noting how song/hymn-writers of the past worked very hard at 'paraphrasing' Scripture in the composing of their lyrics. They took the responsibility to be faithful to Scripture very seriously, recognizing that it's no better to sing an unbiblical idea than it is to preach one.

Gospel-inspired Generosity

Tim Keller on 2 Corinthians 8:9 -- "Jesus gave up all his treasure in heaven, in order to make you his treasure -- for you are a treasured people (1 Peter 2:9-10). When you see him dying to make you his treasure, that will make him yours. Money will cease to be the currency of your significance and security, and you will want to bless others with what you have.

"To the degree that you grasp the gospel, money will have no dominion over you. Think on his costly grace until it changes you into a generous people."

-- Timothy Keller, "Counterfeit Gods" pp.67-68 (Dutton 2009)

Friday, October 30, 2009

"Every human being must live for something...."

"[In Romans 1] Paul summarized the history of the human race in one sentence: 'They worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart's fundamental allegiance and hope. But, the Bible tells us, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that object will never be God himself.

"If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts...."

"Two Jewish philosophers who knew the Scriptures intimately concluded: 'The central ... principle of the Bible is the rejection of idolatry.'...."

-- Timothy Keller, "Counterfeit Gods" pp.4-5 (Dutton 2009)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Is Providence?

from the Heidelberg Catechism:

27 Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-28; Heb 1:3; 3 Jer 5:24; 4 Acts 14:15-17; Jn 9:3; 6 Job 1:21; Ps 103:19; Prov 22:2; Rom 5:3-5; Prov 16:33; Mt 10:29; Eph 1:1

28 Q. How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?

A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.

Job 1:21-22; Ps 39:10; Rom 5:3; Jas 1:3; Deut 8:10; 1 Thes 5:18; Ps 55:22; Rom 5:3-5, 8:35, 38-39; Job 1:12, 2:6; Ps 71:7; Prov 21:1; Acts 17:24-28; 2 Cor 1:10

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tim Keller on Hell and the Love of God

Here are some excerpts from Tim Keller's article "The Importance of Hell."

'Unless we come to grips with this "terrible" doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him he was experiencing hell itself. But consider--if our debt for sin is so great that it is never paid off there, but our hell stretches on for eternity, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Jesus said the payment was "finished" (John 19:30) after only three hours? We learn that what he felt on the cross was far worse and deeper than all of our deserved hells put together.

'And this makes emotional sense when we consider the relationship he lost. If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you--that hurts. If a good friend does the same--that hurts far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you saying, "I never want to see you again," that is far more devastating still.

'The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more tortuous is any separation. But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginningless and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship.

'When Jesus was cut off from God he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. He experienced the full wrath of the Father. And he did it voluntarily, for us.

'Fairly often I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all." Why, I ask? "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin." But this shows a deep misunderstanding of both God and the cross. On the cross, God HIMSELF, incarnated as Jesus, took the punishment. He didn't visit it on a third party, however willing.

'So the question becomes: what did it cost your kind of god to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this god agonize, cry out, and where were his nails and thorns? The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary."

'But then ironically, in our effort to make God more loving, we have made him less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all.

'The worship of a god like this will be at most impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We could not sing to him "love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."

'Only through the cross could our separation from God be removed, and we will spend all eternity loving and praising God for what he has done (Rev 5:9-14.)

And if Jesus did not experience hell itself for us, then we ourselves are devalued. In Isaiah, we are told, "The results of his suffering he shall see, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). This is a stupendous thought. Jesus suffered infinitely more than any human soul in eternal hell, yet he looks at us and says, "It was worth it." What could make us feel more loved and valued than that?

'The Savior presented in the gospel waded through hell itself rather than lose us, and no other savior ever depicted has loved us at such a cost.'

You can read the whole thing here.

HT: Martin Downes "Against Heresies"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Nature of Idolatry

"Granting something ultimate value does not necessarily mean attributing a set of metaphysical divine attributes; the act of granting ultimate value involves a life of devotion and ultimate commitment to something or someone.

"Absolute value can be conferred on many things... In this extension of worship, religious attitude is perceived not as part of metaphysics or as an expression of customary rituals, but as a form of absolute devotion, an attitude that makes something into a godlike being.

"What makes something into an absolute is that it is both overriding and demanding. It claims to stand superior to any competing claim.... Any nonabsolute value that is made absolute and demands to be the center of dedicated life is idolatry."

-- "Idolatry" by Moshe Halbertal and Avishai Margalit (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp.245-246. (in a footnote, p. 181, of Tim Keller's "Counterfeit Gods")

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Make a God

"What is an idol? It is anything [or anyone] more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give."

-- Timothy Keller, "Counterfeit Gods" p. xvii (Dutton)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beholding Christ as the Key to Growing in Holiness

John Owen on the effects of seeing Christ’s glory:

"It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith.

"In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy."

–The Glory of Christ (1684)
HT: Gospel Coalition blog

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Way of Simplicity

"If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers himself to ‘babes’ and hides himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to him. We must strip down to essentials, and they will be found to be blessedly few. We must put away all effort to impress and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond."

--A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, page 18

HT: The Gospel Coalition blog

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What is faith?

"True faith is not only a sure knowlede whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us by his Word, but also a firm confidence which the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel that not only to others but to me also, remission [forgiveness] of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits."

-- Heidelberg Catechism

The Danger of Drifting from Being Authentically Evangelical

"... David Gibson said in a classic essay, Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections en route to Denying the Gospel, movements begin by proclaiming the gospel, pass through a phase of assuming it but not making it central, and end by rejecting and denying it. All Gibson is really saying is that draft happens, especially generational drift. But he’s such a great worrier that he says it very well:
Assumed evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus, and direction, assumed evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day."

-- excerpt from a blog post by Fred Sanders

"We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." -- Heb. 2:1

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Idols of the Heart...."

Another helpful notice from Justin Taylor about a penetrating essay from David Powlison (and essay that has been crucial for the thinking of Tim Keller) on the crucial issue of identifying and overcoming our idolatries of the heart.

I think Powlison is one of the best when it comes to integrating Biblical truth and authentic pastoral/psychological counseling.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weak Believers Are Believers Still

"Let us never set down men in a low place, as graceless and godless, because their faith is feeble and their love is cold. Let us remember the case of Thomas, and be very pitiful and of tender mercy. Our Lord has many weak children in His family, many dull pupils in His school, many raw soldiers in His army, many lame sheep in His school. Yet He bears with them all, and casts none away.

“Happy is that Christian who has learned to deal likewise with his brethren. There are many in the Church, who, like Thomas, are dull and slow, but for all that, like Thomas, are real and true believers.”

~ J.C. Ryle Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, volume 3, 456, 457.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Dug Down Deep"

Justin Taylor's blog gives a helpful introduction to what looks like a very, very good book from Josh Harris with the theme "unearthing what I believe and why it matters." You can read the first chapter online.

One of my favorite quotes from the book: "We are all theologians. The question is whether what we know [or, think] about God is true."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Legalism or the Pursuit of Holiness?

Is striving to live carefully so as to please the Lord in every aspect of your life and to obey everything he has commanded legalistic?

Or is that just basic, essential Christian living?

(See Col. 1:10; Matt.28:18ff.; 2 Cor. 7:1; Eph.5:15-17; Heb.12:14; 1 Jn.2:3-6)

Friday, October 16, 2009

True and Ongoing Repentance

“Repentance is that which describes the response of turning from sin unto God. This is its specific character just as the specific character of faith is to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.

“Repentance reminds us that if the faith we profess is a faith that allows us to walk in the ways of this present evil world, in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, in the fellowship of the works of darkness, then our faith is but mockery and deception. True faith is suffused with penitence.

“And just as faith is not only a momentary act but an abiding attitude of trust and confidence directed to the Savior, so repentance results in constant contrition. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are abiding marks of the believing soul….

“Christ’s blood is the laver of initial cleansing but it is also the fountain to which the believer must continuously repair [return]. It is at the cross of Christ that repentance has its beginning; it is at the cross of Christ that it must continue to pour out its heart in the tears of confessions and contrition. The way of sanctification is the way of contrition for the sin of the past and of the present….”

-- John Murray “Redemption Accomplished and Applied” (Eerdmans) p. 116

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Centering Our Lives on God and His Love

“Centering Our Lives on God and His Love"

"You shall have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3)

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matt.6:24)

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me….” (Matt.10:37)

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:36f.)

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph.5:5)

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, …lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power….” (2 Tim.3:1ff.)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn.2:15)

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)

'Most people think of sin primarily as breaking divine commandments, but the very first commandment is to “have no other gods before me.”

'So, according to the Bible, the primary way to understand sin is not just the doing of bad things, the making of even good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose and happiness than your relationship to God.

'Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.' (Tim Keller)

The Alternative?: Living in Idolatry (‘God-substitutes’)

Here is a list of various ‘god-substitutes’ and the particular kinds of brokenness and damage that each one brings into a life:

· If you center your life and identity on your spouse, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.

· If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

· If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

· If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

· If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the ‘escape strategies’ by which you try to avoid the hardness of life.

· If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

· If you center your life and identity on a ‘noble cause,’ you will divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

· If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, you guilt will be devastating.

In pride we become obsessed with whatever interferes with people making much of us.

Our besetting sins are warning signs that our characteristic idolatry is at work.

‘Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.’

-- based on chapter 10 (“The Problem of Sin”) of Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” (Dutton)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Kingdom of God and the New Birth

Here are the notes and discussion questions from last Sunday's lesson on 'the kingdom of God and the new birth'....

Lesson summary: The kingdom of God is the realm where God rules over his people (those who have turned to Him in repentance and faith, submitting to His rule) in saving grace and power, with kingdom blessings (forgiveness, new life, peace, provision, empowering for obedience, service, witness).

All people are born, by nature, into the ‘kingdom of darkness’ and are “children of disobedience” (Col. 1:13; Eph.2:2).

To enter God’s kingdom, we just be saved/rescued by God’s grace and power (Col.1:13).

Q. In order to see (understand, comprehend) and enter the kingdom of God, what must happen to a person?
A: He or she must be 'born again.' (Jn. 3:35) The divine side of salvation is ‘regeneration’ – God’s Spirit causes us to be ‘born again.’ On the human side, we repent and believe the Gospel. (Jn. 3:16; Acts 16:31; 20:21; 1 Pet. 1:22-25)

Along with ‘new birth,’ the Bible describes becoming a Christian in terms of new creation, passing from death to life, receiving a new heart and a new spirit, being renewed, changing from being in the ‘flesh’ to being in the Spirit, being transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, etc. What do all these metaphors and descriptions have in common?

Q. What are the characteristics of a person who has truly been born again?

--Love for God (Rom. 8:28; Eph.6:24)
--Love for God’s people (1 Jn. 3:14-18; 1 Pet.1:22-23

--Love for God’s Word (Ps. 119:97; 1 Pet. 2:2)
--Love for the Lord’s return (2 Tim.4:8, where the Greek word for ‘long for’ is the word normally translated ‘love’) What does it mean to love the appearing (second coming) of Christ?
--No longer loving the world and worldly things (1 Jn.2:15f.)
--Obedience – 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:9-10
--Believing the truth (1 Jn.5:1; 2 Thess.2:13)
--Commitment to calling on God as Father in prayer (Rom.8:15-16)
--Bearing “fruit” – e.g., the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22ff.; Jn.15:1-17)

What is a person’s spiritual condition before being born again? (Eph.2:1; 2 Tim.3:2-4; Rom.1:30; 8:7-8; Col.1:13)

Why, then, is it so important that a church’s membership only include born-again people? What would happen to a church influenced by a lot of ‘unregenerate’ (= not born again) people?

What does it mean for a church to require ‘evidence of having been born again’ as a requirement for membership? What would count as ‘evidence’?

For further study: recommended ready -- "Finally Alive" by John Piper

"People aren't persecuted for having an invisible friend..."

"As the apostles were brought before Roman authorities, they said nothing about how Jesus had helped them put their marrages back together or how they found the gospel helpful and useful in daily living. There may well have been stories like that to report. However, that was not their gospel.

"Rather, they testified to datable events, which they assumed to have been well-known to their judges. It was not a 'religious story,' but an international headline of immense world historical significance. (People aren't persecuted for having an invisible friend who helps them through personal crises.)

"They referrred the secular rulers to eyewitnesses who were still living to back up their claim. If the witnesses only offered good advice, spiritual and moral therapy, or defended their 'product' for its pragmatic usefulness, Rome would have had no trouble adding another cult to the soup of imperial religion.

"However the claim was that Jesus alone is Lord of the cosmos and Savior of the world (both titles that Caesar claimed for himself)."

-- Michael Horton, "The Gospel-Driven Life" p.69 (Baker Books 2009)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Leadership Lessons from Chuck Swindoll

Chuck Swindoll, accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at Catalyst 09, offered the following lessons he has learned:

1. It’s lonely to lead. Leadership involves tough decisions. The tougher the decision, the lonelier it is.
2. It’s dangerous to succeed. I’m most concerned for those who aren’t even 30 and are very gifted and successful. Sometimes God uses someone right out of youth, but usually he uses leaders who have been crushed.
3. It’s hardest at home. No one ever told me this in Seminary.
4. It’s essential to be real. If there’s one realm where phoniness is common, it’s among leaders. Stay real.
5. It’s painful to obey. The Lord will direct you to do some things that won’t be your choice. Invariably you will give up what you want to do for the cross.
6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.
7. Attitude is more important than actions. Your family may not have told you: some of you are hard to be around. A bad attitude overshadows good actions.
8. Integrity eclipses image. Today we highlight image. But it’s what you’re doing behind the scenes.
9. God’s way is better than my way.
10. Christlikeness begins and ends with humility.

HT: Z; Justin Taylor

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Beholding Glory and Becoming Whole....."

In this powerful message, John Piper asks the question, 'Do we believe that our salvation is ultimately about God (and others) making much of us, or of us making much of God “to the praise of the glory of his grace…and….to the praise of his glory….” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14)?'

Another key insight: “No one has to be born again to believe in a ‘God’ who simply endorses their passion to be made much of.”

I encourage you to listen to the entire message.

(Note: At the beginning of the message, it's kind of bizarre and awkward, because Dr. Piper is speaking seriously but most of his audience, a conference of Christian counselors, mistakenly think that he's being humorous! What does that say?)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"All I Have Is Christ"

This song by Jordan Kauflin is the spiritual autobiography of every Christian...

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way;
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will,
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost,
You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed,
You suffered in my place;
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life.

Now, Lord, I would be Yours alone,
And live so all might see
The strength to follow Your commands
Could never come from me.
Oh Father, use my ransomed life
In any way You choose,
And let my song forever be
'My only boast is You.'

© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI), by Jordan Kauflin