A Book on The Book

Spine of a BibleLet me start by saying this is something of a review of Kevin DeYoung’s new book Taking God at His Word (Crossway, 2014).  He begins with a good sound premise.  That being that Psalm 119 shows us what to believe about the Word of God, what to feel about the Word of God, and what to do with the Word of God.

How does that happen?  Ultimately, as with a heartfelt conviction about any biblical doctrine, it has to be by the work of Spirit of God in the depths of our hearts.  Let that be understood from the outset.  But what are the means by which God often presses these particular convictions – the believing, feeling, and doing as related to the Word of God – into that stubborn soil?  A growing understanding and appreciation of the sufficiency, authority, clarity, and necessity of Scripture.  And as those things take root, the fruit of this is a growing agreement with the expressions of Psalm 119.  This is DeYoung’s argument.  It is a good approach and he makes for a winsome guide on the path.  NOTE:  I should add that the first chapter of The Westminster Confession of Faith does an admirable job of presenting this very point.

So does DeYoung offer an apologetic for the skeptic challenging the authority of the Bible, the history of the canon, the reliability of the manuscripts, etc.?  In a word, no.  That’s not his aim here.  Other works have that as their goal and DeYoung does offer an appendix listing some of those (though I think that list could be augmented).  As he notes in the early goings, when it comes to first principles, a certain form of circularity in your arguments is simply inevitable.  That’s just the way it is with any worldview – secular or biblical.  “You can’t establish the supreme authority of your supreme authority by going to some other lesser authority.”  Put another way, you simply have to begin somewhere.

So is this worth a read?  Based on what I’ve seen thus far (disclaimer – as of this writing, I haven’t finished it), absolutely.  It’s good to know what a treasure we have.  Especially since there is such confusion on this point.  It makes for a good book on The Book.

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Hope for Our Doubts

jesusresurrection_2Have you ever had questions about faith and eternal matters?  Have you ever been treated in a way that didn’t honor your questions?  “You just go out and play.  You’ll understand when you’re older.”  “You think too much.  You don’t have to understand.  Just believe.”  What should we make of this?  And what if we could know how God deals with us in our doubts?  The account of Thomas’ initial response to Jesus’ resurrection is helpful here.

A quick recap of the events that first Easter Sunday.  The tomb was empty.  The body was missing.  Mary Magdalene then meets the risen Jesus.  She tells the disciples.  They don’t know what to make of it.  Jesus then comes to them pronouncing “peace” and shows them the wounds that have brought that peace.  A week later, He shows Himself to Thomas.  Thomas then responds with the great profession of faith – “My Lord and my God!

But that’s not the first thing we hear from Thomas.  Prior to that great profession, Thomas had wrestled with great doubt.  But what is doubt?  It’s not the opposite of faith.  Unbelief is the opposite of faith.  Doubt is the halfway house between the two – a divided heart, torn between what we want to believe and what we see.  Now what we see with Thomas is a surprising thing.  God loves even the doubter.  And we need to take that to heart in facing our own doubts and the doubts of others.

Consider what Thomas said, these words from a divided heart.  We read in John 20:24-25 (ESV), “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  This is a refusal to believe that Jesus is alive, a refusal that will yield on only one condition – clear physical proof.

Why would Thomas have said this?  It’s hard for us to know.  J. I. Packer in his book, Never Beyond Hope, notes four possibilities – temperament, stress, pride, and resentment – any of which could have been true of Thomas and at the root of his doubt.  Any of which any of us could fall prey to as well.  Which has two implications.  First, in how we come alongside others in their struggles with doubt.  We need to consider the possibility of such factors at work and have mercy on each other.  The second thing has to do with our own questions.  Could temperament, stress, pride, or resentment be at the root of our struggle?  And could that be fueling our doubts?  Considering Thomas’ experience, it’s worth considering.

All that said, how then does Jesus respond?  What do we learn here?  Appearing again to the disciples, we read in John 20:27 these words of Jesus (ESV), “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Jesus doesn’t dismiss Thomas as being too much trouble.  He pursues him.  Jesus took Thomas’ doubt as an invitation to approach him, come alongside, and walk him through this struggle.  But to challenge him as well.  The depth of Jesus’ love drove Him both to pursue and to challenge.  And that should be of great encouragement to us in our own times of doubt.

Let me leave you with this.  I realize this is spring but let me use a football analogy for a moment.  Just because a particular play doesn’t gain big yards doesn’t mean you’ve lost.  Even a play for a loss may not be so bad.  Each play, especially early in the game, is a fact-finding mission.  You learn about the tendencies and responses of the other team.  A failed play can tell you a lot.  Which might even lead to a score.

It’s something like that with doubt.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lost.  It may well mean you are growing.  To doubt is not to say your faith is dead.  Yes, it may be a warning sign.  But it may be a hopeful sign – not of faith on its last legs but alive, kicking, on the verge of being stronger than before. Having faith does not eliminate the possibility of having doubt.  In fact, every believer in Jesus is sure to have such struggles.  But strength then comes as we come out on the other side.  So question your questions.  Examine the evidence.  Consider the significance.  And believe.

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Disappointed with God

What causes disappointment?  Basically, it stems from expectations not being met and Disappointment1hopes not being realized.  We had in mind one outcome but find ourselves being confronted with another.  It may not necessarily be because we were not being realistic.  It’s just that reality brought something other than what we assumed was coming.

That said, it’s quite possible to be disappointed with God.  Or, to put it another and better way, it’s quite possible to be disappointed with who we thought God to be.  It’s possible for our false picture of who He is to have set us up for dashed expectations.  And that can be painful.  It can be numbing for awhile, like someone has hit us with a 2 x 4.   But, agonizing as that can be, such false images need to be exposed that we might see the living God for who He really is.

Let me come at this another way.  Jesus’ name means “Savior”.  Most folks today hear that, politely nod, and assume that means He came to make life better for us, to make us happier, to help us get what we want, to help us be all we can be.  But Jesus made it very clear from the beginning to those who would have ears to hear that following Him would not make life easier for us but harder.  To follow Jesus means putting aside what we want and choose the harder things instead.  He said in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  This is a shocking statement we need to hear again and again.  To “take up the cross” in that time was to pick up and carry the wooden beams upon which you would be crucified.

Jesus was clear as to why He came.  Indeed, He did come to make our lives better.  But in order to grapple with that rightly, we have to re-calibrate what “better” actually means.  He came to save us from our sin – its penalty, power, and one day its very presence.  He lived and died in our place to bring this about.  And was raised to prove the work was done.  Ours is now to repent and entrust ourselves completely to Him.

Questions then to consider.  (1) If I find myself disappointed with God and His dealings with me, what false ideas of Him has this exposed?  Where do I need to grow?  What basics do I need to recover?  (2) Is it enough for me that Jesus has saved, is saving, and will save me from sin?  Do I really believe that is my worst problem and greatest concern?  What is it that has somehow eclipsed that?

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Spring Is in the Air…

 

daffodilsAh, spring is in the air.  The time when a (young) man’s fancy turns to love.  Even husbands.  But what shape should the expression of that love take?

Consider the Apostle Peter’s words from 1 Peter 3:17, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Do these things,” Peter says.  What things?

Live with her in “an understanding way,” according to knowledge.  According to the knowledge of God, the faith, women in general, and this woman in particular.  Don’t assume you know it all about any of these things – including her!  It’s a lifetime pursuit.

Live with her in an understanding way.  And show her honor.  Husband, you claim you are a follower of Christ.  Then treat her as one highly valued, precious, of great worth.

Do these things,” Peter says.  “With this in view.  She is different.”

She is “the weaker vessel.”  Not weaker morally, mentally, or spiritually.  Though possibly physically.  More likely that she is in a vulnerable position since she has voluntarily placed herself under her husband’s leadership.  So, with that, put her interests ahead of your own.  She is “the weaker vessel” and an heir with you of the grace of life.

Which takes us to the second thing in view – your relationship with Christ is at stake.  Not just your relationship with her but with Him.  Not just prayers with her but prayer to Him.  Note this word “hinder.”  In the ancient world, it was used in reference to the practice of impeding someone’s journey by breaking up the road or by placing an obstacle in their path.  Their progress was then “hindered.”  They couldn’t go forward.

Now we know prayer affects how we live.  But Peter is saying that how we live also affects prayer.  Jesus speaks to this in the Sermon on the Mount.  We read in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus is saying, “You’ve got to be kidding.  You’re coming to me like this?”  Not to say we have to have it all together in order to pray.  In fact, often times the very reason we’re there is precisely because we don’t have it all together.  But we are being pressed here to examine our hearts.

The reality is that our prayers can be hindered, blocked.  And what hinders our prayers is often our lives – the way we live, how we relate to others, especially those closest to us.  And for husbands, that’s our wives.  Prayer is a means of grace, one of the God-given ways in which we can grow in our relationship with Him.  And Peter is telling us that there are means to the means of grace.  And so a call to self-examination.

A call to examine our lives, our marriages, our relationships with our wives.  To ask the Lord to show us, perhaps through another brother (and perhaps through our wives) the answers to questions like “Where am I ignoring or neglecting her?  In what ways am I acting as though I’ve learned all there is to learn of her?  How can I study her?  In what ways can I honor her?  In what ways do I need to learn her language?

Think with me here.  She doesn’t always mean what you think she does.  Case in point, “We never go out.”  Now, that could be true and is something you need to address.  But it could also be a cry of longing.  “I miss you.  I don’t feel connected with you.  Can we spend some time together?”  Which means, when she says, “We never go out,” you don’t have to take it as an attack.  She’s not saying, “You’re a failure.  You’re inadequate.  My mother said…”  That’s not what she’s saying.  She saying she wants to be with you!  You need to learn her language.  God gave you that woman.  Live with her according to knowledge.

Spring is in the air.  May our hearts indeed be turned to love.

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Following Up – More on “Why Didn’t You Tell Me?”

In my post from 12/11/13, “Why Didn’t You Tell Me?,” I made reference to an article in byFaith magazine entitled, “Kids, Porn, and the Heart.”  Here’s a link to that piece – http://byfaithonline.com/kids-porn-and-the-heart/

It’s definitely worth reading and discussing.

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A Prayer for the New Year – Adapted from Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions

Lord God Almighty,
I understand that I am unable to do anything without your help,
so I ask you to enable me by your grace to fulfill your will.

Give me grace to do whatever brings most glory and honor to you,
pleasure and profit to me,
and life and love to others.

Help me to number my days,
spending my time wisely,
living my life with all my might while I still have breath.

Humble me in the knowledge that I am chief of sinners;
when I hear of the sins of others,
help me to not look upon them with pride,
but to look upon myself with shame,
confessing my own sins to you.

When I go through difficulties and trials,
remind me of the pains of hell
from which you have already delivered me.

Place people in my path who need my help,
and give me a compassionate and generous spirit.

Fill my heart with such love
that I would never do anything out of a spirit of revenge,
nor lose my temper with those around me.
Hold my tongue when I am tempted to speak evil of others.

Thank you for the gospel and for the hope of glory.
Help me to live in light of these truths every day of my life,
so that when the time of my death arrives,
I will rest assuredly in you,
and you will be most glorified in me.

In Christ’s name…

Full disclosure – this is taken from Trevin Wax’s fine adaptation of the first 21 of Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions.  See http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2010/01/03/a-prayer-for-the-new-year-adapted-from-jonathan-edwards-resolutions/

If you’d like to read through the original list, go to http://www.apuritansmind.com/the-christian-walk/jonathan-edwards-resolutions/

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2013 Book List – Part Three

Private-libraryDo We Know Jesus?  Daily Insights for the Mind and Soul (Adolf Schlatter) – This was my main source of devotional reading this past year.  Schlatter (1852-1938) was a German theological professor, writer, pastor, and speaker well known in his day but sadly underappreciated in our times.  His insights were thoughtful and challenging – especially to readers far removed by time and culture.  Worth the effort.

Admission Matters:  What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting into College (Springer, Reider, and Franck) – The title doesn’t really do the book justice.  This is written by a college admissions officer, a high school counselor, and the parent of college-bound students.  Together, they seamlessly walk you through the various stages and give the reader an insightful perspective from the other side.

People My Teachers:  Around the World in Eighty Years (John Stott) – I’ve enjoyed and profited from the writings of the late John Stott for some years.  This is a bit different than his commentaries or more theological reflections.  Here he writes of sixteen remarkable individuals who both impacted the world and changed his own life in some way.

Dangerous Calling:  Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Paul David Tripp) – For a variety of reasons, the spiritual culture surrounding pastors tends to be profoundly unhealthy.  The fact is that we need the same gospel message we proclaim applied to our poor hearts on a day-by-day issue-by-issue basis.  I hope this becomes required reading at many seminaries and among a multitude of church staff.

Finally Free (Michael Vick) – For those of you who don’t know, I’m a Virginia Tech grad.  My favorite colors are Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange.  Michael Vick’s story is not nearly as simple as some in the media made it out to be a few years ago.  His has truly been rags to riches to rags to riches.  And, if we will have ears to hear, one of brokenness and grace as well.

How to Pray for Your Wife (Mark Weathers) – I’ve given copies of this book to no few men in our church and read through it again this past fall.  It’s something of an interactive prayer journal that goes through Proverbs 31, verse by verse, helping husbands to understand not just the profound message of that text but their role in how to pray accordingly for their wives.  I never tire of coming back to it.

Government of Wolves:  The Emerging Police State (John Whitehead) – John Whitehead is a constitutional attorney deeply concerned about government overreach and the loss of liberty.  He calls attention to our quiet acceptance of surveillance cameras, police tactics, national databases that track our activities, unwarranted searches, and certain anti-terrorism laws. Some may find his warnings to be alarmist.  But his findings are well documented and worth considering.

Grace in Addiction:  The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody (John Z.) – Wanting to learn more about how to counsel those wrestling with addiction problems and just having heard an interview with someone familiar with this book, I picked up a copy and devoured it.  It gives the true story of the Christian underpinnings of AA and explains how that impacts the 12 Steps still today.  I came away impressed and supportive of this ministry.

Well, there you have it.  Another eclectic reading list compiled over the course of a twelve month period.  I’d stay and write some more about that but I already have a daunting “to read” list for 2014.  So I’d better get cracking.

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2013 Book List – Part Two

Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Archive_Miscellaneous_Private_Library_025201_Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro) – My wife and I have been using this in our devotionals together in the mornings.  Not that we actually do that every morning but, when we do, this is what we have used over the last several months.  The Creed reminds us we are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.  Meaning, among other things, that we have much to learn from the various traditions in Christendom.  This prayer guide reflects that nicely, often challenging my own leanings.

Just Do Something:  A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Kevin DeYoung) – I’ve read quite a bit over the years on the topic of decision making and God’s will.  DeYoung’s short book is likely one of the best I’ve come across.  He does an admirable job of debunking the “hyper-spiritual” approaches too many Christians fall into and sets forth what the Bible actually teaches in this important area.  And, in doing so, shows us the freedom God intends for us to enjoy.

American Rebel:  The Life of Clint Eastwood (Mark Eliot) – I’ve enjoyed Clint Eastwood movies for years.  So when I heard this book was the most complete biography of one of Hollywood’s truly respected and beloved stars, I was glad to get my hands on a copy.  It was hard to read.  Not because of the style or format but the content.  Based on this book, one would have to say that Eastwood has rightly been nicknamed by those who know his story “the man with no shame” – both professionally and personally.  Still, I would say we can enjoy the films.  But as yet another testimony to common grace.

Crazy U (Andrew Ferguson) – Another of the college search related rereads.  This is the humorous telling of a family going through the admissions and decision making process for their oldest child.  Read in conjunction with other more information based sources, it can be helpful.

The Genius of Robert E. Lee (Al Kaltman) – This was part of my Civil War Sesquicentennial reading for the year.  As an aside, in looking over this list, I was surprised to see how few other such works I had completed.  Anyway, Lee clearly ranks among history’s truly great leaders.  Kaltman takes a look at Lee’s life, shines light on numerous incidents, and brings out lessons for today.  Informative and helpful.

Song of the Stars:  A Christmas Story (Sally Lloyd-Jones) – Fans of The Jesus Storybook Bible (and if you’re not, I can only assume you haven’t read it) appreciate the author’s gift in faithfully capturing the cadence of the gospel in the biblical texts.  Here she turns her attention to the birth of the Savior seen and experienced especially through creation and the animals.  Keep in mind, after all, that they have a stake in this too.  A beautifully illustrated book intended for children of all ages.

The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin (Kris Lundgaard) – Drawing from the Puritan works of John Owen, Lungaard offers great insight, true encouragement, and gospel-driven hope for the battle with our indwelling sin.

Seven Men:  And the Story of Their Greatness (Eric Metaxas) – One of two books by Eric Metaxas I read on vacation this past year.  Here he gives seven short biographies showing how each man serves as a testimony to the gospel.  Those included are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson.  I hope there’s a sequel.

Socrates in the City:  Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” (Eric Metaxas) – This is a collection of manuscripts from talks given to standing-room only crowds in New York City.  Each speaker is an expert in their field addressing how the Christian faith speaks to certain topics of our day (e.g., suffering, evil, and science).  Each address also includes the Q and A that followed.

Wesley the Owl:  The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl (Stacey O’Brien) – I picked this up at the library on a lark.  It’s the story of a biologist, Stacey O’Brien, who adopts a baby barn owl with an injured wing.  Over the course of the next nineteen years, Wesley’s strange habits are studied with both a tender heart and a scientist’s eye.  That said, this book makes for an interesting study not just in a fascinating creature but we humans and our fascination with said creatures.

Behold the Lamb of God (Russ Ramsey) – Another book I was again able to work into my Advent reading time this year.  Ramsey is a PCA pastor here in the Nashville Presbytery and a friend of Andrew Peterson.  Inspired by Peterson’s wonderful Christmas album, “Behold the Lamb of God” (and the tour by that same name), the book traces the promise of the Redeemer from beginning to end.  Each day’s selection focuses on one key event or period, showing how the Bible is really the one story of the Savior, Jesus.

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2013 Book List – Part One

The Library of the Abbey of Melk

The Library of the Abbey of Melk

As has been the case these last few years, I’ve pulled together a list of the books I’ve read over the last twelve months.  That is, books that were not related to sermon preparations and such.  Perhaps if you got some gift cards for Christmas, you might get some inspiration as to how to use them from this list.

How Children Raise Parents:  The Art of Listening to Your Family (Dan Allender) – Don’t let the title fool you.  This isn’t some sort of child-centered parenting foolishness.  Allender is simply (and vulnerably) pointing out that the task of child-rearing is a learning experience.  That is, rightly understood, as our children grow and go through various stages, we should be growing as well.

A Century Turns:  New Hopes, New Fears (William Bennett) – Something of a third volume to follow up his two volume America:  The Last Best Hope, the author picks up where he left off with an overview of the events in the late 1980’s and up through 2008.  Bennett has a writing style that is engaging and informative.  Recommended for students of many generations.

The True Saint Nicholas:  Why He Matters to Christmas (William Bennett) – A great book for December reading.  Who was Saint Nicholas?  To get at that, this book is broken down into three parts.  First, the historical data of his actual life.  Second, his legacy in the centuries following his death.  Third, the legends that transformed his story into the contemporary Santa Claus.  A story worth knowing and telling.

The Book of Man:  Readings on the Path to Manhood (William Bennett) – I gave a copy of this to my son back on his 16th birthday and decided I needed to read it for myself as well.  Males of all ages need models that embody genuine manhood.  Much like he did in The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, Bennett uses profiles, stories, letters, poems, essays, and myths to spark the imagination.

God is in the Manger (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – I was able to work this into my Advent reading again this year and was all the more glad for it.  Actually, since the readings go into the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas,” I’m still working through it even now.  The editors have selected excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s letters and Christmas sermons.  Given that much of this was written while he was in prison, it lends towards a sharp edge in the “waiting” of Advent.

An Educated Choice (Frank Brock) – This was one of several “rereads” for this year.  The premise is simple.  There are over four thousand colleges and universities in the United States alone.  How can parents assist their children in making the right decisions?  Brock, a former president of Covenant College, does a good job of helping the reader take a step back and ask some big picture questions.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (John Bunyan) – This was John Bunyan’s spiritual autobiography.  By that, I mean it is not the story of names, places, and dates.  Rather, it is his own candid account and personal reflections of his conversion, his imprisonment, and the early years of his pastoral ministry.

The Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan) – While Bunyan was a prolific writer, this is certainly the book for which he is best known.  There are many editions available.  If you can, get one in the original language with notes to help clarify the vocabulary and historical context.  Truly a classic.

Grace Abounding:  The Life, Books, and Influence of John Bunyan (David Calhoun) – David Calhoun was my Church History professor at Covenant Seminary.  He has written a really helpful book here that is part biography and part thematic overview of Bunyan’s works (with special attention given to The Pilgrim’s Progress, parts one and two).

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Where Has Jesus Been?

Where have you been?”  Parents can often find themselves asking their children that melting_snowquestion.  The child has come in from outside showing telltale signs of playing in something that has now attached itself to various parts of their body.  It doesn’t take much to recognize they’ve been somewhere that has marked them.

Where has Jesus been?”  That is a question that struck me as I’ve been thinking back over this Christmas celebration.  By that, I don’t mean I’ve necessarily felt nothing but His absence.  What I mean is that there have been certain places and events marked by telltale signs of something different, something higher and deeper and sweeter than the norm.  And that’s where Jesus has been.

I’ve been going through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger this Advent.  This was in today’s reading:

With the birth of Jesus, the great kingdom of peace has begun.  Is it not a miracle that where Jesus has really become Lord over people, peace reigns?  That there is one Christendom on the whole earth, in which there is peace in the midst of the world?  Only where Jesus is not allowed to reign – where human stubbornness, defiance, hate, and avarice are allowed to live on unbroken – can there be no peace.  Jesus does not want to set up his kingdom of peace by force, but where people willingly submit themselves to him and let him rule over them, he will give them his wonderful peace.

Where has Jesus been?”  That’s a question I need to continually keep before me.  Where have I allowed Him to reign?  And where have I tried to reign instead?  Both will show certain telltale signs.

Pushing this into some specifics, ask yourself a question as you think back over the holiday celebrations and gatherings.  “Why did that go that way?”  Why did this one thing seem to have a spirit of joy and wonder about it?  And why did that other thing leave me with a feeling of conviction and the need to confess?  Because Jesus was in the one place and not the other.  The King was allowed to reign in one encounter and not the other.  And each bears the telltale signs.

All of which is but another reminder of the reality of what we’re celebrating.  The accounts of a baby in a manger, angels appearing over fields, shepherds heading into town – they’re all true.  Christmas isn’t theoretical.  It’s real.  And to the extent we’ll let it, its reality will break into our lives and shine into others’.

Joy to the world!  The Lord has come!  Let earth receive her king!  Let every heart prepare Him room…

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An Advent Prayer

adventThe Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for all seasons and circumstances.  But perhaps most especially during the season of Advent, the time of waiting for the coming of the King…

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—hallowed be your name.

Christ our Lord, you descended to earth, to a lowly manger
to bring all nations under your rule and draw us into your holy and perfect presence.
We bow at your manger in awe of your might.
Immanuel, God with us—hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Prince of Peace, make your kingdom complete.
May we prepare a way for your kingdom
wherever there is violence and hatred
wherever there is oppression and injustice
wherever there is quarreling and alienation.

May we prepare a way for your kingdom of peace,
where the wolf will live with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid.
In us, through us, and around us, your kingdom come.

Give us today our daily bread.
Bread of life, feed us with your truth.
In a season of greed and selfish desires
may we see that we are sustained only by your providence.
May our eagerness to open our gifts
Pale in comparison to our joy to receive the gift of the Savior.
May our discontent disappear as we approach the day of your coming.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lord God, our lives are filled with sin.
We need a Savior to come to us.

For our worry and our scurrying this Advent season, forgive us.
For the way we make this a season of shopping rather than waiting, forgive us.
For the security and comfort we seek from sources other than you, forgive us.
For our indifference to the wonder of your coming, forgive us.
Come to us, Savior of the world.

Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.
Protect us from the constant dangers and enticing temptations we face each day.
Deliver us from the oppressive evils of apathy, addiction, and abuse.
Strengthen your church when it faces persecution
for announcing the coming of your kingdom.
Comfort all who are suffering in their hearts or in their bodies;
give them health and peace to sing of your power.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.
Word who became flesh and lived among us,
we have seen your glory, full of grace and truth.

You come to us now, and you will come to us again in glory,
when we will join all heaven and earth in giving you blessing
and honor and glory and might forever!
Until that glorious day, we praise you for becoming one of us,
And we long for your glory to be fully revealed.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

-from Matthew 6:9-13; English translation of the Lord’s Prayer copyright © 1988 by the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC).  Adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, 2nd Edition.

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How Far Does It Go? Far As the Curse Is Found!

The Apostle John wrote these sobering words in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are fromGinger shoot God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

That’s a pretty stark contrast.  What does this description of the world mean?  Reflecting on this text, Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938) wrote in his book Do We Know Jesus?:

There is no situation in the world that can be entirely in keeping with God’s being, and no event transpires that actualizes the pure and unadulterated will of God.  Nowhere do we find anything that could not possibly put us in danger.  Nowhere is there a place where we might not be subject to falling, as if the one part of the world were dangerous, the other, in contrast, not dangerous, so that we, for example, are on the safe side of danger in the church but are near to danger in drinking establishments.  Or is it the case that one vocation is dangerous, but the other is free of harm?  No, there is no place where satanic ideas are not able to penetrate, and there is no person incapable of bringing us into contact with evil.

This, of course, explains a lot in terms of why things are as twisted and crooked as they are.  For the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  But it should also give us pause.  Given what John is saying, it’s not just that things are bad.  There is also a sense in which things are never as good as they seem.

There is always something.  Every supply threatens to run low.  If we open our eyes wide enough and dare to look hard enough, even the brightest of days has its stain.  The best of intentions are never entirely pure.  The virus lurks.  The snake lies in the grass.  The curse reaches into everything.

Is there any good news to counter this?  Indeed, there is.  For John writes elsewhere in Revelation 21:5, “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'”  The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  But all things are being made new.  All things.  Made new.  That is good news.  Really good news.

This means we can sing all the louder this old song by Isaac Watts (1674-1748):

No more let sins and sorrows grow,

nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make his blessing flow

Far as the curse is found…

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Why Didn’t You Tell Me?

man weepingDads, imagine a visitor comes to your door, a young man in his 20’s who looks somewhat familiar to you.  Introductions are made.  He is your adult son, somehow come to visit you from the future.

He is tired, worn out.  You can see something is deeply troubling him.  So you ask.

“Son, what’s wrong?”

“Everything.  My marriage.  My job.  It’s all coming apart,” he replies.

“What’s happened?” you say.

He starts to answer but pauses.  Then he tells you.  “Dad, why didn’t you tell me?  Why didn’t you stop me?  Didn’t you know?”

Puzzled and alarmed, you ask, “Know what?  I don’t understand.”

He begins to unload.  “Didn’t you know about how hard it was, about what it would do to me?  The porn – didn’t you know it would capture my mind and heart…set me up for years of turmoil…stain my thoughts…send me hiding and lying…leave me sexually broken?”

You hardly know what to say.  “I…no, but…”

“Dad, I was so young!  You would never have left me alone in the city or in some wilderness to find my way on my own.  Why did you leave things wide open with the computer and the phones?  Didn’t you know?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

The pain in his eyes is obvious and hard for you to see.  All the harder is what you hear next.  “You had to have known I’d be tempted and lured.  I know all the gadgets overwhelm you but you had to have known.  And we never talked.  Not about this.  You never raised the issues with me.  We never went there.”

“Son, I don’t know what to say.  I’m so sorry.”  You’re numb by this point.  It’s all you have.

And then you wake up.  There was no visitor.  This was just a dream.  A terrible dream.  Or was it a gracious warning?

Here’s the thing.  Dads, your sons need you to do two things when it comes to training them in this war for their sexual purity and integrity.  First, you need to go about this in a way that reaches the heart, an application of the gospel to you both.  Second, you need to get a handle on the technological challenges out there and be wise about what every male in this twisted culture faces every day – including you and that boy.

On the second point, let’s think just in terms of your gift buying this holiday season.  If that shiny device has the ability to get internet access, you have three options.  You can block it, filter it, or monitor it.  Full unfettered access is not an option that could be called reasonable, sane, wise, or loving in any way whatsoever.  If you need resources there, check out either Safe Eyes (http://www.internetsafety.com/safe-eyes-parental-control-software.php) or Covenant Eyes (http://www.covenanteyes.com/).  Yes, there’s a cost involved in signing up for such services.  But such amounts are really nothing compared to the ultimate savings.

On the first point, reaching the heart, let me encourage you to go to get a copy of the most recent issue of byFaith (Q4.13 No.42) and read the article, “Kids, Porn, and the Heart” by Nicholas Black at Harvest USA.  Key points – (1) Control your anger; (2) Go after the heart, not the behavior; (3) Maintain an ongoing discussion about sex; (4) Examine your own heart; (5) Block the door.

Not convinced?  Consider these statistics.  Nine out of 10 children between ages 8 and 16 have viewed pornography on the internet.  In most cases, the sex sites were accessed unintentionally by a child, often in the process of doing homework.  The largest group of viewers of internet porn is children ages 12-17.  More than one-third of 16-and 17-year-old boys surveyed have said they intentionally visited X-rated sites in the past year.  Sixty-five percent of high school students admit to unsafe, inappropriate, or illegal activities online.  Thirty-eight percent of high school students admitted to sometimes hiding their online activities from their parents.  And 79% of youth say unwanted exposure to porn occurs at home.

Don’t be passive or naive.  You can’t afford to be.  There is an enemy on the prowl, looking to devour.  That adult son of yours may thank you one day.  And so might his family.

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Walking the Tightrope

There are theological tensions to the Christian faith that must be taken seriously.  And they demand the walking of a tightrope.

Nick Vallenda tightrope walking over Niagara Falls

Nick Vallenda tightrope walking over Niagara Falls

That’s apparent during the Advent season as we celebrate the coming of the Christ, whose dual nature is somehow both fully human and fully God.  As Bede (673-735), the English historian, said in a sermon, “In a wonderful manner he began to be what we are, while continuing to be what he had been, assuming our nature in such a way that he himself would not lose what he had been.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) put it this way, “God is in the manger.”

But it’s not just the season that has reminded me of this as of late.  I’ve also had conversations recently with folks grappling with significant questions.  “If God is so great and so good, why is there such suffering?”  There is tension here as well.   Reasonable answers to that good question include the sins of others, our own folly, the fall of Adam, the schemes of Satan, and the providence of God.  It’s fair to say that, in any situation we may think of, there will be more than one of those answers involved.  And not one to the exclusion of the others.  Again, tension.

Another question.  “What happened with (fill-in-blank-with-name)?  What would make them do such a thing?  How can a Christian falter like that?”  As Martin Luther said, we are saints yet sinners.  So we should look to one another (and ourselves!) with sympathy and patience (because we are sinners) but also with some level of hope and expectation (because we are redeemed sinners).  For the Christian has been made truly new but not fully renewed.  The kingdom has come but not yet fully come.  That applies at both the cosmic and individual level.  Both aspects true at the same time and, again, both sides needing be held in tension.

The interesting thing is how each of us tends to stress one side or component of these tensions over another.  For example, I may tend to see more the humanity of Jesus.  You may tend to see more the divinity.  Why is that?  Well, one answer has to be that we are each finite creatures and just can’t take in but so much.  The peripheral vision of our spiritual sight only goes but so far.  And so we lean towards one side simply because we can’t help it.

Perhaps another reason we trend more in one direction as opposed to another involves how we’re wired.  That is, it has to do with our personality.  Or perhaps the family we came from or the experiences we’ve had.  Those answers, in themselves, are all neutral.

But another answer has to do with our being fallen, broken people who hurt and have been hurt.  And so the way we respond to situations – situations that are too complicated to respond simplistically without balance – is to create coping strategies that play down the side of the tension we don’t want to deal with.  Case in point, I know that my own covetous desires played into the mess I’m in but I choose to stress another’s betrayal of my trust.  Or perhaps I insist that it was all demonic forces at play.  Why?  It’s easier that way, you see.

My point being that these theological tensions (and their practical implications) demand walking a tightrope.  That is, we need to give equal time to all sides of what the Bible says on a particular issue and not just camp out on the part we’re more comfortable with.  Eternal truth is far too nuanced for that.

Put another way, take a look at your Bible and all the places you’ve been underlining.  It might be good to start reading the unmarked parts.  Or consider reading authors not just that you know but those from another time and place (assuming, of course, they’re theologically orthodox).  We need that, lest we lean too far in one direction.

It’s not easy walking the tightrope.  We need to know that and work at it together.

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Exmas in Niatirb

london-christmas-partyI don’t usually include long quotes here but I’ll make an exception in this case.  In God in the Dock, a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, there is an entry entitled “Xmas and Christmas:  A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.”  Read, enjoy, and find yourself provoked.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas, and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush .

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.”

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket,” using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

By the way, in case you’re wondering where Niatirb is located, consider how “Britain” would look spelled backwards.  And then ask yourself, “I wonder how things are faring in Acirema?”

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Who Is Christmas For?

Who is Christmas for?  happy-black-friday

It is not for the rich of this world who believe themselves to have much to offer.  Christmas is for the poor of this world who know themselves to have nothing to give.

Christmas is not for those who have found peace on earth.  Christmas is for the restless who are seeing that peace cannot be found on earth.  It is not for those who feel complete.  It is for those who feel the gaping hole of an incompleteness within them, a gnawing emptiness that begs to be filled.

I was reminded of this as I was meditating recently on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words in God Is in the Manger.  It was an excerpt from a letter he wrote from prison in December 1943 to his fiance, Maria von Wedmeyer.  Listen to what he said:

I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas.  The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential.  I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words:  “We’re beggars; it’s true.”  The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.

This is so counter to my tendency and temptations towards a Christ-less Christmas.  But consider Jesus’ words in Luke 6:20-23:

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

 “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

He continues in vv.24-26:

“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”

So, who is Christmas for?  May it be for you and me.

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Post-Holiday Peacemaking

“Well, that didn’t go quite like I’d hoped.”

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

How many times have you found yourself saying that after a holiday gathering?  And, should I add, who comes to mind even now as I raise that question?

All may not be lost if we will look to the Lord Jesus for wisdom from His Word and strength from His Spirit as we negotiate the waters of the conflict before us.

And the place to begin is on our knees before Him.  Ken Sande offers this prayer in his book, The Peacemaker.  It’s well worth careful consideration (as is, I should add, the whole book).

O Lord, you are so amazingly good to me! You sent your only Son to die for my sins, including those I have committed in this conflict. Because of Jesus I am forgiven, and my name is written in the Book of Life! You do not treat me as I deserve, but you are patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving with me. Please help me to do the same to others.

In your great mercy, you are also kind to my opponent. Although he has wronged me repeatedly, you hold out your forgiveness to him as you do to me. Even if he and I never reconcile in this life, which I still hope we will, you have already done the work to reconcile us forever in heaven. This conflict is so insignificant compared to the wonderful hope we have in you!

This conflict is so small compared to the many other things you are watching over at this moment, yet you still want to walk beside me as I seek to resolve it. Why would you stoop down to pay such attention to me? It is too wonderful for me to understand. You are extravagant in your gifts to me. You offer me the comfort of your Spirit, the wisdom of your Word, and the support of your church. Forgive me for neglecting these powerful treasures until now, and help me to use them to please and honor you.

I rejoice that these same resources are available to my opponent. Please enable us to draw on them together so that we see our own sins, remember the gospel, find common ground in the light of your truth, come to one mind with you and each other, and restore peace and unity between us.

Finally, Lord, I rejoice that this conflict has not happened by accident. You are sovereign and good, so I know that you are working through this situation for your glory and my good. No matter what my opponent does, you are working to conform me to the likeness of your Son. Please help me cooperate with you in every possible way and give you glory for what you have done and are doing. 

Again, who comes to mind?  And whose name can you substitute for “my opponent” in this prayer that you might really entrust this conflict to the Prince of Peace?  Don’t despair.  For the Christian, there is never cause to despair.  Give that mess to Him and follow Him as He leads.

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The Place for Thanksgiving

An update to the first Thanksgiving

An update to the first Thanksgiving

So what would make us join the poor man at the table?  Related to that, what is the connection between a heart of thanks and how we view God?  The two have more in common that we may think.

How we see God drives how we serve God.  If we see Him primarily as our Sugar Daddy, a cosmic vending machine, then the primary reason we “serve the Lord” will be to get things from Him.  Seemingly on the opposite end of the motivation spectrum is the desire to avoid His anger.  That is, if we see Him primarily as our Judge, as One with a frowning scowl looking down over us, we will want to please Him so as not to displease Him.

Note I said “seemingly” on the opposite end of the motivation spectrum.  Because the reality is that both of these motivations – the desire to gain or the desire to avoid – are rooted in the same thing.  And that is a concern for ourselves.  Neither has anything to do with actually serving God.  Both have to do with serving ourselves.

The thing is that we are indeed called to serve God.  We are called to lives of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  And the Scriptures also speak to the blessings that come even in this life to those who live in accord to God’s commands.  But we are called to do so not out of a sanctified selfishness but heartfelt gratitude.  Listen to Paul’s words in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Our primary and deepest motivation for serving God is to be thankfulness not for what we think to gain by our feeble works but what has already been gained for us by Jesus’ finished work.  It is not to avoid God’s anger for that anger has already been poured out in full at the cross.

As we consider these things and embrace them in our hearts, our hearts will then be all the more warmed towards our Savior.  And we just might find ourselves sitting down at that table.

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It’s Been 50 Years…

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963)

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963)

…since the death of C. S. Lewis on November 22, 1963.  That, of course, is not the death that is getting the most press these days.  The attention has been nearly exclusively on President John F. Kennedy and his assassination that sad day in Dallas, TX.  And it was a sad day.  But there are times I can’t help but wonder how much of the fascination and adulation of the man in the years since has been because of a perceived loss of promise, the death of a (now) legend.  But I’ll leave that point for real historians to debate.

Regarding C. S. Lewis, there is no question the world was a poorer place with his passing.   His many books continue to sell and the number of people whose lives have been changed by his writing grows with each passing year.  But it isn’t just the number of books but the variety as well.  The seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, The Abolition of Man, The Great Divorce, Mere Christianity – those alone are an impressive array.  His imagination soared.  And his logic and power of persuasion held and took ground.

Consider this quite from Mere Christianity, perhaps the best known of his books:

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 patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

This is the formidable “lunatic, liar, or lord” argument.  A quick aside here.  In recent years, it’s become clear there is a fourth that needs to be included – that of “legend.”  By that, I mean that the entire “lunatic, liar, or lord” argument presupposes that the New Testament isn’t legend.  It has to be historically true for that approach to work.  Properly examined, that can be demonstrated in no few ways to the honest inquirer.  Which then clears the way for Lewis’ argument.

Back to November 22nd.  How can one rightly observe the 50th anniversary of the passing of such a man?  Commit to thinking.  Lewis helped us to better love the Lord our God with all our mind.  So pick up one of his works.  Find someone with which to dialogue about the riches that you will find.  And thank the Giver of all good gifts for His work in and through the life of C. S. Lewis.

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Letting Nothing Come Between Us

The fall of the Berlin Wall

The fall of the Berlin Wall

I was reading in Romans 3:21-31 this morning, meditating on the righteousness that comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Connected to that, I’ve going through Adolf Schlatter’s Do We Know Jesus? this year in my devotional reading.  NOTE:  Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938) taught for over 50 years in Germany’s most prestigious universities and, though unknown to most Americans, he was one of the brightest minds in Church History.  Only a few of his many works have been translated into English.  Anyway, reflecting on this passage, he wrote the following:

The Law consistently proved insufficient to bring about what it commanded.  It always ran up against the opposition of our natural desire.  It never arrived at the untrammeled expression of blessing that it promised.  For against it stood the natural human condition.  Accordingly, the Law also could not remove from man the sentence of death nor convey to him eternal life.  For that reason, law tended to get in the way of faith, for it stood between the guilty person and God.  But now, because Christ stood where the Law had formerly loomed, the unholy effect of the Law was abolished.  And what it made known as the will of God was fulfilled.

What struck me anew this morning was how God will let nothing come between us, nothing get in the way of our relationship with Him.  There are many things in this life that surely do get in the way here, things that are good in themselves but that we desire too much.  That is the stuff of idolatry – comfort, control, approval, etc.  But the Law itself can get in the way as well.  As a reflection of God’s heart, His commands are intended to guide us through life.  And to the Life Himself. But they are not meant in themselves to bring us life.

How does the Law get in the way?  When we wrongly view its role in our lives, thinking our obedience to it to be a way to secure our standing with God instead of a reflection and expression of the standing we already have.  When we think it is our efforts and obedience that save us instead of Jesus.

The sad results and signs we’ve fallen into this?  We begin comparing ourselves to others, losing all desire for real fellowship.  Prayer and communion with God becomes a forced obligation instead of an inward compulsion of the heart.  And that obedience we make so much of starts to feel more like drudgery than delight.

But He will let nothing stand between us.  Christ stands where the Law formerly loomed.  He loved us such that He has cleared everything out of the way.  And He loves us such that He continues to press that upon us.  And upon even me.

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