Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Blessed are the peacemakers (shalombuilders)..."

‘Blessed are the peacemakers – the shalom-builders – for they bear the family resemblance of the Father.’ Blessed are those who make peace, the full-fledged kind of peace that the Bible describes (shalom). Shalom is the way things are supposed to be, that blessed blend of flourishing, security and righteousness that God created, Man vandalized, and God is re-creating again.

So, blessed are those who participate in God’s good program, making things better in whatever sphere or situation in which they find themselves – promoting solutions and outcomes marked by what’s right and wise and good – solutions that really work in a world where so much has gone wrong, and where many foolishly, lazily or rebelliously continue to sabotage the good God has intended. Ultimately, they are sure to fail, for God is determined to remake this cosmo into a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home (2 Pet. 3:13), at the time when God will vindicate, establish and reward all who have followed his lead.

No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [recognize as] sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


"Obedience to the will of God is the pathway to perpetual honor and everlasting joy!" -- Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Centering Your Life on God and His Love

...the alternative is idolatry...

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Bible's Purpose...

"The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome.

"Religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference."

— Tim Keller

The Curse or the Crown

"Behold, what manner of love is this, that Christ should be arraigned and we adorned, that the curse should be laid on His head and the crown set on ours." - Thomas Watson

Saturday, November 23, 2013


I should live joyfully, courageously and purposefully before God everyday as his loved child (being renewed in his image) in the obedience of faith, faith [belief that engenders vital confidence] in his contrary-to-what-I-deserve love/grace/goodness towards me in Christ my Savior/Mediator (by his atoning cross and victorious resurrection), in accordance with his Gospel-centered Word, empowered by His gracious Spirit, trusting in his loving fatherly Providence that extends to every detail of my life and situation now, and hoping in the perfect happiness and glory that he has promised me for eternity.

Friday, November 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis: "The Really Foolish Thing People Often Say About Christ"

On the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite quotes:

‎"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."

-- C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Devil Makes the Law Out of the Gospel

“It is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel.  If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside.  Even if I sinned I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospeI on this account?’ . . . Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished.  But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won.”

-- Martin Luther, quoted in Reinhard Slenczka, “Luther’s Care of Souls for Our Times,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003): 42.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

Today is the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Can Life Have Meaning without God?"

A fascinating discussion/debate focused on the question, "Can life have meaning without God?" -- featuring Tim Keller (author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of NYC) and Greg Epstein (humanist chaplain at Harvard).  This webcast begins with Max McLean presenting a compelling rendition of C.S. Lewis's essay, "On Living in an Atomic Age."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Functions of the Law and the Gospel

"The office [function] of the law is to show us the disease, in such a way as to show us, at the same time, no hope of cure: the office [function] of the gospel is, to bring a remedy to those that were past hope. For as the law leaves a man to himself, it condemns him, of necessity, to death; while the gospel, bringing him to Christ, opens the gate of life."

— John Calvin
Commentary on 2 Corinthians

Saturday, November 16, 2013

'Your sins move him to pity more than anger...'

"We may have the strongest consolations and encouragements against our sins. . . . There is comfort, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger. . . . Christ takes part with you, and is far from being provoked against you, as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease, or as one is to a member of his body that hath the 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. . . . The greater the misery is, the more is the pity when the party is beloved.

"Now of all miseries, sin is the greatest, and while you look at it as such, Christ will look upon it as such also. And he, loving your persons, and hating only the sin, his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his affections shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not."

-- Thomas Goodwin on Jeremiah 31:20 in "The Heart of Christ"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Jesus, I adore Thee"

The Latin text of “Adoro te devote” ("I Adore Thee Devoutly") is attributed to Thomas Aquinas (1227-74). The English underlay is adapted by Stephen Caracciolo, which at times is a loose translation of Aquinas’ text and at other points is a rhymed and metered interpretation of the prologue of John’s Gospel.

Jesus I adore thee, Word of truth and grace,
Who in glory shineth light upon our race.
Christ, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed.
Alpha and Omega, thou true Son of God.

Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail;
Faith that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told.
What the truth hath spoken that for truth I hold.

Word of God incarnate, Lord of life and light,
Teach me how to love and worship thee aright.
Holy Spirit, ever ’bide within my heart,
Speaking thy commandments, telling all thou art.

Wondrous revelation, verity and grace.
Lo, in glory’s heav’n I see thee face to face.
Light of endless light whom heav’n and earth adore,
Fill me with thy radiance, now and evermore.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"When believers handle suffering rightly, they are not merely glorifying God to God. They are showing the world something of the greatness of God— and perhaps nothing else can reveal him to people in quite the same way."

-- Timothy Keller,  "Walking with God"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

"Give me one more thing...."

"Thou who hast given so much to me, give me one more thing - a grateful heart!" -- George Herbert

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Beautiful Fear" (The Fear of the Lord)

This is one of the most important ideas/realities, too much missing from the contemporary evangelical church...

Mark Galli   “Christianity Today” online 11/9/13

"We are strangely attracted to the One we dread."

Between 10,000 and 2 million years ago, during an earlier global warming, glaciers moved through a mountain of granite nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, carving wonders through what is now Yosemite Valley in central California. Among the glaciers' wondrous work is the Half Dome, which rises nearly one mile above the Yosemite Valley floor.

From the valley you can gaze up at the bald rock, or, if you're a rock climber, you can scale its face. Many visitors climb a path that winds to the top. Or, as I am wont to do, you can drive to Glacier Point and behold Half Dome across the valley, face to face.

When visitors get out of the car and start walking toward Half Dome, they typically have two reactions: they grow afraid and awestruck. Or awestruck and afraid—it's hard to tell which comes first. It's a combination of the sheer size of the dome face combined with the dramatic drop to the valley below. They start walking more carefully as they approach the edge. Parents grab their children's hands; friends grasp each other's arms.

The view literally takes one's breath away, and visitors tend to start whispering. They dread falling into the abyss, and yet they want to get as close to the edge as they can.

Approaching the edge of death and wonder like this inevitably leads to silence. LA journalist Christopher Reynolds recently put it this way about Glacier Point's "jaw-dropping views": "The spectacle is an invitation to consider eternity and forget petty human affairs."

For the Christian, the experience may bring to mind the first line of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." It's that "almighty" part—and the human reaction that goes with it—that interests me here: fear. More precisely, the fear of the Lord.

Those of us in ministry circles today try to banish fear from our vocabulary. Fear is such a downer. Isn't ministry about helping people overcome their fears? Doesn't Jesus say, "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36, ESV)? Doesn't John say, "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18, ESV)? Perhaps the fear of the Lord is an Old Testament idea, a religious relic of a distant past when people thought the finest thing to say about God was that he was all-powerful. We on the other side of the Resurrection know that the greatest thing to be said about God is that he is love. Perfect love, in fact, that doesn't produce fear but instead banishes it.

And yet, when we go to places like Glacier Point, we find ourselves attracted to the very thing that makes us afraid. And rather than running from it, we want to get closer, at least as close as we can without getting killed. At such moments, we realize life is a little more complicated.

To Fear and Not to Fear

I can hardly count the number of times in the Bible that "the fear of the Lord" is extolled as a virtue, or when people meet God almighty and are left stammering. At the foot of Mount Sinai, "there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled" (Ex. 19:16, ESV). When Isaiah sees the glory of God in the temple, he thinks he's going to die: "Woe is me! For I am lost" (Isa. 6:5, ESV). We get the distinct impression that God wants us mostly to fear him:

Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the Lord your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
declares the Lord God of hosts. (Jer. 2:19, ESV)

When "gentle Jesus" shows up, things get worse. The disciples are frightened after Jesus stills the storm (Mark 4:35–41) and "terrified" at the Transfiguration (9:6). The woman healed of a blood flow is at first filled with "fear and trembling," and on the first Easter morning, the witnesses are seized with "trembling and astonishment . . . for they were afraid" (16:8).

When people witness the power and glory of almighty God, they are terrified. They think they are going to die. When we blithely sing to God to "show us your glory, Lord," we might as well be making a death wish. Or maybe we just want to get close to something that scares us to death.

Notice what the people of Israel do when they encounter God almighty. They don't run. They keep hanging around the mountain. Isaiah doesn't bolt from the temple.

Then again, notice what the people of Israel do when they encounter God almighty. They don't run. They keep hanging around the mountain. Isaiah doesn't bolt from the temple. The result of Jesus' terrorizing miracles is that more people than ever flocking to him. Yes, the women run from the tomb in fear. But they are not running from God as much as obeying the heavenly messenger to tell others something that may well scare the living daylights out of them: Jesus is alive and well.

Perhaps evangelism is not so much one hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread, as one terrified person telling others where they can go to experience this beautiful fear. It would appear that, at least initially, the Resurrection was not intended to bring witnesses a warm, fuzzy comfort that all will be well. Rather, the message seems to be, "Do not just believe, but also fear!"

And yet how many times in the Bible does almighty God tell people, "Fear not"? And this, just after he has scared the bejeebers out of them by displaying his might. This is a steady refrain in the opening chapters of Luke, when epiphany after epiphany begins with the angel telling the witnesses to fear not. Perhaps the best-known example—partly because it preaches so well—is Jesus' admonition to the ruler of the synagogue who has just learned his daughter has died: "Fear not, only believe" (Mark 5:36, ASV).

Of course, these repeated fear-nots are God's Twitter way of saying that "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38–39, ESV). In the end, there is nothing so big or ominous or powerful in this life that compares to God. There are many things that harm us, and some of them we could even call mighty. But they are only mighty. God is all-mighty. And if almighty God is for us, who can be against us? So chill out. Fear not. Or at least don't fear relatively petty things.

The Beginning of Wisdom

But God almighty? Yes, fear him.

Not respect him. There are plenty of good words in Hebrew and Greek that communicate honor and respect. But the biblical writers rarely use them when talking about God. Honor your father and mother (Ex. 20:12). Respect the emperor. But when it comes to God, they tell us to "fear" him (1 Pet. 2:17). When it comes to God, they keep using the word that scares us. (We may have nothing to fear but fear itself, but that seems to be what we fear.)

Like many biblical commands, the command to "fear not" comes with a promise: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). If we fear God, then we will become judicious, understanding, knowledgeable, and astute. Perhaps we have abandoned teaching about the fear of the Lord because, really, we no longer want to be wise. Loved, yes. Comforted, hopeful, forgiven—yes. But not wise.
Then again, the Lord is gracious, because the very mention of forgiveness suggests that he is opening a back door to let proper fear sneak in.

There's a surprising verse in the Psalms that points to this. The psalmist is meditating on his behavior as he prays in the presence of a holy God. He concludes that, all things being equal, things look pretty hopeless. He expresses it differently than Isaiah, but it amounts to the same thing: "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (130:3, ESV). If God's righteousness were the first and last word about God, we would be as good as dead. Then he continues, "But with you, there is forgiveness." Whew—we are not dead men walking. The kindling of our sinfulness and the fire of God's holiness are not going to touch. Instead, the mountain of sin is crushed and reshaped by the glacier of God's forgiveness.

What comes next may surprise the modern reader. The psalmist does not continue by saying, "And you've done this that we might sing your praises." One hopes that people will praise God for such a gift. But this is not what the psalmist says. Nor does he say, "And you've done this that we might love you forever." Nor, "And you've done this so that we will forgive others." Again, true enough, as far as it goes.
No, the psalmist says, "But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared."

It's hard for us to imagine what the psalmist is talking about. We expect him to suggest that we'll be thankful. Or joyful. Or relieved. But not fearful. There are many reasons for this, but I suspect one of them is this: we generally start talking of forgiveness way before we have seen and understood the utter devastation of sin and the magnificence of redemption.

Redemption is like that massive glacier, nearly a mile high, that shoved its way through the immense granite block, sweeping away mountains here and splitting others there. If we grasped the power that removed the granite mountain of sin and carved from it a scene of unimaginable beauty, I dare say we'd be inspired by a beautiful fear.

Beautiful because of the sheer glory of redemption, and yet filling us with a fear that attracts. We feel in our souls that if we get too close to the God who pulled this off, we will fall into an abyss. Yet we can hardly help edging closer and closer, with friends grabbing our arms telling us to be careful, to watch ourselves.

That's because our friends suspect something that we may have forgotten today: that to free fall into the hands of almighty God is a dreadful thing (Heb. 10:31).

It is also the most wonderful thing. Because to know this beautiful fear is to know grace, for "his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50, ESV). And to know beautiful fear is to become like Christ, who, according to Isaiah, is one whose "delight shall be in the fear of the Lord" (11:3, ESV).

-- Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today

The Direction of Grace

Alexander Whyte: “Grace has only one direction that it can take. Grace always flows down.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Love for Theology?...

"Love theology, of course: but love theology for no other reason than it is THEOLOGY—the knowledge of God—and because it is your meat and drink to know God, to know him truly, and as far as it is given to mortals, to know him whole." -- B. B. Warfield

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Joy of the Spirit

"O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams." ~ Augustine

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

If Christ is risen...

"If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen— nothing else matters."

— Jaroslav Pelikan
"The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine"

Friday, November 1, 2013