Saturday, May 30, 2015

Headed Back Into Exile?

A compelling article that looks to the likely future of the Church in an increasingly hostile America, and also calls attention to the theological naivete towards the culture ("world") that has hobbled much of the church in the last several decades:  "Christian: Are You Ready for Exile Stage Two?"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

True Faith Bears Fruit

"...Thus of all the truths in the Word of God, it may be said, that so far as they are believed in virtue of this spiritual apprehension, they will exert their appropriate influence upon the heart and consequently upon the life. That such a faith should not produce good fruits is as impossible as that the sun should give light without heat.

"This faith is the living head of all right affections and of all holy living; without it all religion is a dull formality, a slavish drudgery, or at best a rationalistic homage. Hence we are said to live by faith, to walk by faith, to be sanctified by faith, to overcome by faith, to be saved by faith. And the grand characteristic of the people of God is that they are BELIEVERS...."

-- Charles Hodge, "The Way of Life"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015

Why a True Soldier Fights

"The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

-- G.K. Chesterton

A Prayer for Pentecost Sunday

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

God's Kingdom Isn't a Democracy

The kingdom of God is not a democracy (thankfully). "...the way to shalom they do not know." -- Romans 3:17

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why is Christianity in Decline in America?

A provocative article from Matt Walsh:

"....And that’s been the strategy of the American church for decades: just try not to scare people. They put on this milquetoast, tedious, effeminate charade, feigning hipness and relevance, aping secular culture in a manner about as cool and current as your science teacher retelling a Dane Cook joke from nine years ago, and then furrow their brows and shake their heads in bewilderment when everyone gets bored and walks away.

"Christianity is fading because more and more of our leaders want to steal people from the true faith and deliver them to this convenient version. But that isn’t what actual Christians want, and the Christians who do, only want it because it doesn’t much resemble Christianity at all. Those folks eventually figure out that the only thing more secular than Christian secularism is secular secularism, and there’s really no reason to choose the former over the latter. The transition from Convenientism to agnosticism continues unabated...."

For the entire article, click here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why do I believe?

Why am I a Christian?

The answer to that is multi-faceted, but it includes:

-- the evidence regarding the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and especially regarding the reality of his Resurrection (from trustworthy eyewitnesses)
-- the impact of the preaching of the Word of God on me
-- significant times of engaging with God in prayer, worship, contemplation
-- my most ennobling experiences in life have been connected to the times when I’m most in line with his good will
-- the testimony and example of believers who have been formed by His Spirit and Word
-- the times when I engage in preaching and teaching God’s Word, true to my calling and gifts (I believe) have been the times when I feel most fully human and most fully alive.

There is much more that could be said, and I know there are doubters and detractors, but I have come to realize more clearly than ever, in recent days, that I am, bottom line (and in spite of all my failings, weaknesses and backslidings), a believer in Jesus Christ, dedicated to being one of his faithful followers.

To God alone be the glory. (Eph. 2:8-10)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Does Anyone Care About Theology?

"When the church loses its capacity to interact with the God of the Holy Scriptures, we are dangerously close to becoming little more than an old civic organization with fancy buildings who does kind things...." -- Rob Bentz, from this article, "Does Anyone Care About Theology Anymore?"

Monday, May 18, 2015

"The Bloody Business of Killing Sin"

/An excellent post from Jen Pollock Michel:

Sin is a bloody business. In the book of Leviticus, the sacrificial system is described in gruesome detail, including what must be done with the blood, fat, and entrails of each animal slaughtered for human sin. It's a book filled with smoke and scent, and a river of blood runs through it: drained, collected, and spattered for the purposes of consecration and purification.

We don't immediately see the relevance of the gore. But maybe the guts are the material point.

Scene of the Crime

When the worshipper brought his burnt offering to the tabernacle (a bull, sheep, or goat if he could afford it, a bird if he could not), he, not the priest, was responsible to slaughter it. He was implicated physically in the bloody business of sin and atonement. He was, quite literally, at the scene of human crime.

In truth, I do not understand the severity of sin. I appreciate little the holiness of God. Days, like the tide, roll in and out, and I float above the material weight of the gospel: blood was spilled.

Earlier this year I was praying for a renewed sensitivity toward sin—and a deepened appreciation for the Savior. And providentially, I happened upon a book by Puritan preacher John Owen, whose three classic works on sin and temptation have been modernized by Crossway and published under the title Overcoming Sin and Temptation. In Owen, I found language for the Christian's bloody business of killing sin: mortification. It is also the language of the apostle Paul.

Kill or Be Killed

If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (Rom. 8:13, KJV)

Owen provides much practical wisdom on how to “mortify,” or put to death, the deeds of the flesh. Here are a few points that stuck with me.

Be killing sin, or it will be killing you. Owen warns there is no neutrality in our spiritual lives. If there is not advancement against the enemy, there is retreat: “Let no man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts.” Owen takes pains to expose the ways in which sin is deceitful (Heb. 3:13). As an example, sin will always be “modest . . . in its first motions and proposals.” We are easily duped into believing that our sins are only small infractions, slight indiscretions. But this deception permits greater compromise: “Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head.”

There is nothing benign about sin, no matter how small or slight it might initially seem; every sin is a cancer that will multiply and kill. Be killing it instead.

Lay your axe at the root, drive still at the heart. The sin, with which we should be must troubled, is not the sin of evil behavior, but the sin of disordered desire. It is a futile and foolish exercise to pluck the fruit of sin without excavating the root. Such measures grant temporary change, but they do not sustain lifelong transformation: “He that changes pride for worldliness, sensuality for Pharisaism, vanity in himself to the contempt of others, let him not think that he has mortified the sin that he seems to have left. He has changed his master, but is a servant still.” Our fight against sin must be leveled at the heart, whose plague, Owen calls it, we must know (1 Kings 8:38).

As Jesus said, we must be as serious about hatred as we are with murder, as diligent about lust as we are with adultery. Without attentiveness to the sins of the heart, we are in danger of becoming whitewashed tombs (Matt. 5:21-30, 23:25-28). Only redeemed desire seeds true holiness.

Hatred of sin as sin lies at the bottom of all true spiritual mortification. Owen challenges us to hate sin universally—not simply the sin that troubles us. It is easy to hate the sin that causes pain. We want to be rid of our anger for the health of our family. We want be rid of our laziness for the sake of godly productivity. We want to be rid of our gluttony for the sake of our waistline. But what about the sin that fails to trouble us? What about the sin whose patterns have become so convenient, whose outcomes have become so reliably comforting? What about the pleasures we find in our lust and greed? “He, then, that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all parts of obedience, and know that every lust, every omission of duty, is burdensome to God (Isa. 43:24), though but one is so to him.”

We must hate sin as sin because “[God] is grieved by our harboring his enemies.”

There is no death of sin without the death of Christ. In our fight to mortify the flesh, we can attempt measures of self-control—“vows, penances,” as Owen refers to them—but sin does not die apart from the cross of Jesus Christ. Sin is a bloody business, and it is Jesus's blood, not the blood of bulls and goats, that has made the perfect sacrifice for its remission. We mortify our flesh when we remember his sacrifice. The book of Hebrews makes explicit connection between the ministry of Jesus and the Old Testament sacrificial system as described in Leviticus. Jesus is the priest (Heb. 2:17), and Jesus is the sacrifice (Heb. 9:12). As he stood at the entrance of the heavenly tabernacle, he did not bring a bull or goat. Though morally guiltless, he offered himself. It was the innocent blood of Jesus that was drained, collected, and spattered for the final work of atonement.

Even after more than a month of dedicated mortification, I fear I yet suffer the condition, which Owen calls “inveterateness.” I am easily deceived by sin. I am hardened to its seriousness. But perhaps daily, as a lifelong practice, I can preach this material gospel of guts and thank God for his indescribable gift (2 Cor. 9:15).

​Jen Pollock Michel lives in Toronto with her family. She’s the author of Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith. She also regularly contributes to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and Today in the Word, a devotional publication of Moody Bible Institute. You can follow her on Twitter: @jenpmichel.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Our Focus in Worship

"...our focus should not be self-consciously preoccupied with how we’re being strengthened or what grace we’re receiving. Rather, our focus together is the crucified and risen Christ, and the incomparable excellencies of his person and work. Which illumines all the various spiritual disciplines. Corporate worship is a means of grace not when we’re caught up with what we’re doing, but when we experience the secret of worship — the joy of self-forgetfulness — as we become preoccupied together with Jesus and his manifold perfections." -- David Mathis

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What is an idol?

"What is an idol? It is anything 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: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters"

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cleansed by His blood....

“I do believe and confess that Christ’s condemnation is my absolution, that his crucifying is my deliverance, his descending into hell is my ascending into heaven, his death is my life, his blood is my cleansing and purging, by whom only I am washed, purified and cleansed from all my sins, so that I neither receive nor believe any other purgatory, either in this world or in the other, whereby I am purged, but only the blood of Jesus Christ, by which all are purged and made clean forever.”

-- Bishop John Hooper, quoted in Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Theology of the English Reformers (London, 1965), page 65, style updated.

"Self-invented punishment does not cleanse.  Christ alone cleanses.  Christ all by himself.  Now and forever.  And on terms of grace." -- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On Being Good

"The Christian does not think that God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us."  --  C.S. Lewis

Thursday, May 7, 2015

On my 55th birthday: Put God First

Yesterday was my 55th birthday, and I truly was touched and encouraged by all the greetings, cards, gifts and digs I received. Now I ask one more favor – hear me out very briefly. At this stage of my life, I am absolutely sure of this (and I can’t help it if it sounds trite or basic): life only works if you put God first. Human life (being human, I mean) only works if you put God – the true and living God – first. Human life – individual, a couple, a family, a congregation, a culture or society – only works (thrives, flourishes, brings real happiness and meaning) if you put God first. And by “first” I mean first.

Putting Him second might seem, to us, that we’re doing Him quite a favor, all in all, but for all practical purposes we might as well put Him fifth, fifteenth or fiftieth. First is the only proper place for God to be.

Why all this is true is a second, closely-related question – it’s just the nature of things as created, in relation to the Creator, etc. But for now, I just want to strongly affirm, admonish, remind, proclaim what some have never acknowledged (although we all know it, deep, deep down), and what some used to know, but seem to have forgotten, and what everyone needs to know: putting God first is the only way life works. (My Biblical support for this assertion is…well…the entire Bible. Corroborating evidence comes, constantly, from the daily news.)

One more thought: you can't skip this (this question of whether you put God first), and then try to go on to the rest of the equation, to hope it all comes out right. Start out wrong, here, and nothing that follows can get it right. Deepest reverence for God is where figuring out how to be human starts (Prov. 9:10).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Headed the right direction?

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, May 2, 2015

George Washington on the Necessity of Religion

George Washington on the absolute necessity of religion for the success of the American experiment: 

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness—these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.

"Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle...."

-- "Farewell Address"