Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Going into 2009

Going into this new year of grace 2009, I am thankful for four things and concerned about four things.

Thankful:

1. The gospel is being rediscovered and rejoiced over and ransacked in a fresh way, as evidenced by Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, etc. God seems to be creating new conditions for revival in the future. I hope I see some of it in my lifetime.

2. The rising generation, now in their 20s and 30s, are both theologically-minded and emotionally-intense toward the Lord. This is a powerful mix. If they will stay focused, we're in for some good days. Future buffetings will test us, and we are all weak. But the race of Hebrews 12:1-2 is always runnable, if we will keep our eyes on Jesus.

3. The age of parachurch usurpation seems to be ending, and the rightful, biblical dignity and authority of the church are being re-asserted. Since the church is where God locates his power (Ephesians 3:20-21), again, it looks to me like the preconditions of revival.

4. The Bible is the focus of renewed fascination and serious study. I see the success of the ESV Study Bible as one evidence here. Pragmatism is less acceptable as a form of validation, and biblical authority is increasingly required. This is the Lord Jesus himself touching us with his royal scepter, asserting his authority, for his greater glory and our greater power.

Concerned:

1. Too many churches remain uninvolved in and even unaware of the new things God is doing. They seem stuck in old patterns of dysfunction. Will they be left behind and lost to tragic inconsequentiality?

2. A tsunami of sin has been slamming us for years now, especially through the internet and increasingly filthy "entertainment." When will we get sick to our stomachs, sick of ourselves, sick enough to cry out to God for the massive cleansing only he can give? We tolerate sins that put our Savior on the cross. When will we become indignant enough to change?

3. Even in churches and movements that God is blessing, still, prayer can appear to be perfunctory at times. What is our confidence -- our cool personalities, or the power of the Holy Spirit in our weakness?

4. My generation and above has most of the money. What are we doing with it? Padding our comfortable lives, or plowing it into the cause of Christ? Lazy self-indulgence is a huge temptation for older people. But the next decade can be the greatest season of our entire lives, if we will invest our historically unprecedented wealth in the rising generations of Christ's soldiers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Our intuitive theology

An atheist believes

A fascinating Times article by an atheist makes the case for Christian worldview change as essential to Africa's future here.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What we can expect in 2009


The hallelujah chorus that Christ has been stirring in our hearts throughout 2008 he will sustain and intensify and deepen throughout 2009, to the praise of the glory of his grace.

Thank you for checking into the blog this year. I'm taking a break now. God bless you.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The gospel


HT: Pure Church.

One of the Bible's surprising words

"I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs." Luke 11:8

"Impudence" is the key. Other versions show "importunity," "persistence," "boldness," "shamelessness," and "brazen insistence." All good translations.

The word is anaideia. That's the negative prefix an + aideia ("shame, respect, modesty"). The ESV renders it "impudence." More casually, we call it "nerve."

If you think prayer is boring, look at it from God's perspective. How many boring, predictably flat, way-too-polite prayers must he have to put up with! Jesus is commanding us to pray nervy prayers, because that's when we start getting serious with God. And he likes that. It's when doors start opening up.

Matthew Henry: "We prevail with men by impudence because they are displeased with it, but with God because he is pleased with it."

As you go into 2009, how are you praying? Got the nerve yet to ask God for what you really need and really long for and what would really display his glory in this God-denying world? Or are you settling for polite prayers that bore you and bore God and change nothing?

That was a good man


HT: Vitamin Z.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We couldn't help it

"The evening meeting connected with the Bible conference began January 6th, in the Central Church [in Pyungyang], with more than 1500 men present. . . . After a short sermon, . . . man after man would rise, confess his sin, break down and weep, and then throw himself on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in a perfect agony of conviction. . . . Sometimes, after a confession, the whole audience would break out into audible prayer, and the effect of that audience of hundreds of men praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable. Again, after another confession, they would break out into uncontrollable weeping and we would all weep together. We couldn't help it. And so the meeting went on until 2 A.M., with confession and weeping and praying. . . . We had prayed to God for an outpouring of his Holy Spirit upon the people, and it had come."

Eyewitness account, quoted in Young-Hoon Lee, "Korean Pentecost: The Great Revival of 1907," AJPS 4 (2001): 77.

37 years today


Today is our 37th wedding anniversary. I loved her then, I love her far more now. God has smiled on me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheapening forgiveness

Justin Taylor recounts one couple's struggle with the meaning of forgiveness here.

Commenting on Luke 17:3 ("If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him"), John Stott, Confess Your Sins: The Way of Reconciliation, page 35, writes:

"We are to rebuke a brother if he sins against us; we are to forgive him if he repents -- and only if he repents. We must beware of cheapening forgiveness. . . . If a brother who has sinned against us refuses to repent, we should not forgive him. Does this startle you? It is what Jesus taught. . . . 'Forgiveness' includes restoration to fellowship. If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love but its shallowness."

May the Holy Spirit come down on us all, such that true repentance finds true reconciliation. We need a massive cleansing only God can give.

What was so great about 2008?

What was so great about 2008 that I would cling to it as I go into 2009? Some things. But not many.

What was so great about me in 2008 that I would cling to it as I go into 2009? Sheesh.

What was so great about my habits and patterns and priorities and time allocations in 2008 that I would cling to them as I go into 2009? I'm seeing a pattern here.

What is it going to take for me to change in 2009? Are prayer and fasting too high a price to pay? Is risk too high a price to pay? How about scariness? How about untried newness? Are they really that bad?

Is there any law, at the federal or state or local level, that forbids me to become a new man in 2009? Any verse in the Bible? Anything in my church's by-laws? Anything of any authority anywhere?

Why stay the way we are? The power of the resurrection is in the world today. We don't have to die before we die.

In 2009, Christ welcomes all who want to live again.

Audacious idea for 2009


Ligon Duncan lists ten reasons for reading Calvin's Institutes in 2009 here.

Christmas Eve 40 years ago


On Christmas Eve 1968 Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, astronauts aboard Apollo 8 circling the moon, drew us into their experience by televising what they saw back to earth. In the most watched television event up to that time, they celebrated God's good creation. We rejoiced with them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So that they could breathe again


CT: What is the East African revival, and why has it lasted over forty years?

Bishop Festo Kivengere: Can I explain? This is a question I have been asked repeatedly for over twenty-five years, and all I have ever been able to do is to share what I have seen. The only explanation I can give is that it is God's work. It is not a technique. It is a movement that cannot be contained. It is renewal within renewal. It is an attitude toward the Lord, toward the Bible, toward the fellowship, and toward the Spirit. It has always been open to a fresh touch.

CT: What does this revival mean to the people involved in it?

FK: It is when Christ becomes a living, risen Lord in the life of a believer. For the non-believer, it is when he is brought into a confrontation with Christ and accepts him as Savior, thus completely changing his life morally and socially. In other words, revival is when Christ becomes alive in a life, changing that life. The person is born again, and if he has previously had that experience, then his life is changed in such a way that it affects all his relationships.

CT: Is it visible to an outsider?

FK: Absolutely! Go back to a village a week after a man comes to the Lord in a meeting in the market. The whole village knows something about it. He has paid the debts he owes. He has gone to people he hated and said, "I'm sorry. I'm a changed man." He has apologized or asked for forgiveness. He's now telling them what Christ means to him. He has carried his new belief into his business practices. In other words, it isn't something he sits on as a comfortable experience. If anything, it is terribly uncomfortable.

CT: How has this differed from other revivals in history?

FK: It may be the continued willingness of those who have been revived to be renewed by the Spirit of God. At the Kabale convention last year, celebrating the fortieth year of the revival in that area, we heard up-to-date testimonies from people who were brought to Christ as early as 1930. They had tremendous freshness; yet they had been winning souls for thirty-five or forty years. They have remained open to what the Spirit may want to say to them in the present situation. They learned that when they got into a rut God had to turn them out of it so that they could breathe again. The tendency to get into certain patterns can stifle the work of the Spirit and create pockets of hardness. Continued breaking and bringing new streams of life have been the means God has used.

"The Revival that was and is: an interview with Festo Kivengere," Christianity Today, 21 May 1976, pages 10-11.

Bishop Kivengere was, after my own dad, the most beautiful Christian man I have ever known.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Infinite Mercy

"Well, what happened to me on that Sunday that I returned to faith was this: I received a glimpse into what I can only call the Infinite Mercy of God. It worked something like this. I realized that none of my theological or social questions really made any difference. I didn't have to know the answers to these questions precisely because God did. He was the God who made the universe in which I existed. That meant He had made the Big Bang, He had made DNA, He had made the Black Holes in space, and the wind and the rain and the individual snowflakes that fall from the sky. He had done all that. So surely He could do virtually anything and He could solve virtually everything. And how could I possibly know what He knew? And why should I remain apart from Him because I could not grasp all that He could grasp? What came over me then was an infinite trust, trust in His power and His love."

Anne Rice, in the author's notes to her novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

HT: Erin Ortlund.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Robot chick


Unable to find the perfect girlfriend, a man has built a robot girlfriend for himself. The story is here.

She even says no. But then he programmed her to do that too, which means total control.

We all face two possibilities -- real relationships, in which we become vulnerable, versus fake relationships, in which we set the preconditions and retain control. We can do this, or try to do this, even with God.

Robotics versus relationships. Dominance versus surrender. "I will never be hurt again" versus "If Christ died for me, then pain must be the price of love. So okay."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

But Mary

"And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." Luke 2:18-19

There was quite a buzz going around about Jesus' birth. When the angels appeared and the glory of the Lord shone down, the shepherds found the Baby in Bethlehem and it all checked out. They spread the word, and people were blown away.

Years later, when the adult Jesus went public with his ministry, the response was not, "We've been waiting for you." The response was, "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22). They had forgotten.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. "Treasured up" means that she prized and guarded and preserved in her thoughts everything that happened. "Pondering" means that she began connecting the dots between the Old Testament prophecies and now these astounding events, reaching by faith for what it all meant.

The crowds were fascinated. That was not wrong. It was right. But it didn't last. And it didn't change them. But Mary went into sustained reflection and meditation and growing understanding.

Real faith?


"My fear is that the modern conception of faith is not the biblical one, that when the teachers of our day use the word they do not mean what the Bible writers meant when they used it. The causes of my uneasiness are these:

1. The lack of spiritual fruit in the lives of so many who claim to have faith.

2. The rarity of a radical change in the conduct and general outlook of persons professing their new faith in Christ as their personal Savior.

3. The failure of our teachers to define or even describe the thing to which the word 'faith' is supposed to refer.

4. The heartbreaking failure of multitudes of seekers, be they ever so earnest, to make anything out of the doctrine [of faith] or to receive any satisfying experience through it.

5. The real danger that a doctrine that is parroted so widely and received so uncritically by so many is false as understood by them.

6. I have seen faith put forward as a substitute for obedience, an escape from reality, a refuge from the necessity of hard thinking, a hiding place for weak character. I have known people to miscall by the name of faith high animal spirits, natural optimism, emotional thrills and nervous tics.

7. Plain horse sense ought to tell us that anything that makes no change in the man who professes it makes no difference to God either, and it is an easily observable fact that for countless numbers of persons the change from no-faith to faith makes no actual difference in the life."

A. W. Tozer, "Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine," in Man the Dwelling Place of God, pages 30-31.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You do matter


"His view of death and his own death was having confidence that life matters and that the world matters. . . . Because of that you fight to live, and because of that you need to go out and carry on the good fight. You do matter, and God does exist. So you put your hand to the plow, you work and you struggle -- you do what you can in all different areas, with passion. You don't sit in a corner somewhere and wait to die. . . . What you look forward to is not death but the Second Coming. You are longing and working for that. Contrary to what people say -- that you can't take anything with you -- yes, you do take your work with you. It's a biblical teaching, that what you do matters and will continue on into eternity."

Deborah Schaeffer Middelmann, regarding her father Francis Schaeffer, quoted in Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, page 203.

How much capacity for pleasure


"Once I walked beside a river bank in another flat part of the world -- northern Illinois in the US. It was autumn. The leaves were mostly still on the trees. But they were changing colour. Not many were green any more. Their pigmentation was transforming into gold and orange and vermilion and ruby and lemon and primrose. The sun was out. Its rays shone through the trees, sometimes through the bright leaves so they shone like fairy lights. The effect was dazzling. It filled my soul with a sense of overpowering beauty.

Then I realized that God could see it too. And I remembered that God would be enjoying it too: 'May the Lord rejoice in his works' (Psalm 104:31). Not less than me but more than me because he could enjoy it perfectly. I started making some calculations. I tried to count the number of leaves on one branch, then the number of branches, then the number of trees in the wood. It was a few billion I think.

I thought how much sheer pleasure I got from looking at one tree and one lot of leaves from one angle. But God could see every leaf from every possible angle and see all the leaves from all the angles at the same time. I felt like my computer when the CPU is 100% loaded.

How much joy God must get from looking at these billions of leaves from all possible angles all at the same time, if I felt this good looking at a few of them from one angle! It made me realize just how great he is and how much capacity for pleasure he has."

Julian Hardyman, Glory Days, pages 145-146.

Let men or devils do their worst

"You know, sir, what a design I am going upon and what a stripling I am for so great a work; but I stand forth as David against Goliath in the name of the Lord of Hosts and I doubt not but that he that has and does will still deliver unto the end. God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst."

George Whitefield, in a letter, 9 January 1738, published in Letters of George Whitefield, page 33.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Romans 8:1

John Milton, 1608-1674


Prof. Leland Ryken of Wheaton College comments on "Paradise Lost" by John Milton on this his birthday.

Does your church still exist?

"Jesus Christ warns them that if they disobey his commands, and do not repent, their church's existence will be ignominiously terminated. 'I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent' (Revelation 2:5). No church has a secure and permanent place in the world. It is continuously on trial. . . . Many churches all over the world today have ceased truly to exist. Their buildings remain intact, their ministers minister and their congregations congregate, but their lampstand has been removed."

John R. W. Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, page 33.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ten reasons for humility about music

Bob Kauflin guides us wisely toward moderation in our otherwise intense opinions about church music here.

HT: Vitamin Z.

A true theologian


"Augustine expressed his faith not with his heart alone, for the heart does not think . . . nor with his mind alone, for he never grasps truth in the abstract, as if it were dead. Rather, to his task as a theologian he brought emotional tenacity, immense intellectual power, purpose of will, deep spirituality and heroic sanctity."

"The Significance of Augustine," Christianity Today, 11 December 1987, page 22.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

All right

Kingdom preachers or power preachers?

"They asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, . . . 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.'" Acts 1:6, 8

The disciples could have made a biblical case for their kingdom scenario. But their question "must have filled Jesus with dismay" (Stott, Acts, page 41). They wanted to regain something they had lost (note "restore"). God's purpose all along and his next step now were both better than they thought. His true kingdom had always been spiritual, and the Holy Spirit was about to come down in unprecedented power.

We long for our kingdoms. We see them in the Bible and tell ourselves they are God's kingdom. But he has a better way -- the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are we smarter than the disciples back then? Shouldn't we bring our enthusiasms under the judgment of "Not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42)? What if we actually got our way?

For example, some of us would like to be the next John Piper or Tim Keller or Mark Driscoll or whoever -- a very personal kingdom dream -- the way I've always wanted to be the next Billy Graham. But God's plan for you is better. It's you, the real you, clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:48). The you that you are by creation and redemption is not fundamentally a problem you have to work around but fundamentally a strategy God wants to work through.

May all our kingdoms fall away. May his power come down on us all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How much should we give?

"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them."

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 67.

Maleness


"The book's most pleasant surprise is her casual and unselfconscious repudiation of radical feminism as she watches a horse [at her farm]: 'Suddenly the maleness, the majesty of its maleness, opens itself to me and I love it, revere it. Remember in a burst how I have always loved it, maleness, men themselves, all things masculine. . . . I had forgotten, too, its place in things, its half of the universe. As if in the years of feminism and the need to square imbalance it had seemed necessary to negate what claimed too much for itself.'"

Florence King, reviewing The Loony Bin Trip by Kate Millett, in Chronicles, June 1990, page 44.

Med school discussion

"One way of catching class attention is to ask what advice [medical] students would give when presented with the following family history. The father has syphilis, the mother tuberculosis; they have already had four children -- the first is blind, the second died, the third is deaf and dumb, and the fourth has tuberculosis. The mother is pregnant with her fifth child, and the parents are willing to have an abortion, should you so decide.

Assuming there aren't too many Catholics in the class, you will usually find a majority in favor of abortion. You congratulate the class on their decision to abort -- and then you tell them they have just murdered Beethoven."

L. R. C. Agnew of the University of California School of Medicine at Los Angeles, quoted in "A gripping lesson on abortion," The Palo Alto Times, 27 September 1977.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What scares you?


Two weeks ago Jani and I were in Dallas. On a free afternoon we drove over to Dallas Seminary and noticed a display honoring Dr. Howard Hendricks. Below his photograph was this quotation, etched in glass:

"I live with the dread of tame, domesticated Christianity. I fear for my students that they will chase after what they want -- and therefore miss what God wants."

Interesting. The single statement this man is to be remembered for highlights what scares him. Notice the operative words "dread" and "fear."

What scares you? Does getting what you want scare you? Or does missing what God wants scare you?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Freedom: walking in the light

I think it was Bonhoeffer who said that when a man is alone with his sin, he is terribly alone. Some men live their whole lives in this isolation, while outwardly role-playing relationships. The way to freedom is to come out into the light before God and before our wives (and probably before one other Christian man too), admit the truth and be surprised by the liberating power of James 5:16 confession. This video of one man's story illustrates the freedom of walking in the light.

HT: Jared Wilson.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The atheists have a point



This display at the capitol in Olympia, Washington, states, "At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Yes, it's loony. But there is a reason why atheists say things like this. The reason is, they're right. Not as right as they think they are, but right in a way. Religion does harden hearts. Personally, the worst people I've ever known have been church-going people. A few have been downright sociopathic. But the Bible itself says, "Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes" (Isaiah 6:10). The New Testament writers quoted that passage to explain why some people reacted so negatively to the Good News of Jesus.

The gospel softens and illuminates some people, and it hardens and blinds others. With every exposure, we are all different, either a little closer to God or a little further away. But it never just leaves us as we were.

Let's be careful how we hear the Word of God. If we bring to it a humble, honest heart, we will change for the better. But if we come to reinforce our own self-exalting status quo, the atheists, at least, will have eyes to see it.

The Gospel

What happy people don't do

Roni Caryn Rabin reports in The New York Times what happy people don't do.

2009


As a son of Sweden, my eye was caught by Vilhelm Moberg's The Emigrants, a novel of Swedish migration to this nation in the nineteenth century. He describes the landless, the debtbound, the discontented, the oppressed, confined to a centuries-old, unchanging pattern of life, hearing of a new land far away, a land opened invitingly, even temptingly, for those who longed for a freedom denied them at home. They were stirred. Eventually, one-fourth of all Swedes in the world lived not in Sweden but in America.

The emigrants knew little of the country awaiting them, but they risked everything and went. The enterprising, the bold, the courageous, the aggressive were dismissed as daredevils by some. But their groping, daring undertaking, ridiculed by the unimaginative, with every appearance of foolhardiness, gained for them a larger cultivated land than their entire homeland.

I wonder how many of us need to emigrate today. I mean, from ourselves and the lives we've been living for too long, with too little freshness, too little risk, too little thrill and way too much predictability and self-pity and unbelief and fruitless busyness. But check this out. Your life right now is usable in God's hands for new things. Jesus said to some fishermen, "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people" (Mark 1:17).

If you are following Jesus, well, have you led anyone to Christ in 2008? You don't have to change your job, but you might have to change your purpose.

If we go into 2009 with the same purposes, the same priorities, the same schedule, the same patterns, the same circle of friends as 2008, nothing will change. But a new land of freedom and opportunity, as it were, awaits us. Let's go there. God will help us get there. But we do have to leave some things behind and make new risks a priority.

Please pray for me, that people who know me will be surprised at what they see as 2009 plays out. And I will pray for you.