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October 2007

October 26, 2007

It looks like Westminster Books is the first to receive copies of what is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated books this fall: Pierced For Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. The book was previously available only in Europe, but Crossway secured the North American rights and has just published it. You can read my review of it here: Pierced for Our Transgressions.

For just one week the book is available at 40% off…so get it now while it’s cheap!

Reformation Day Symposium

I’d like to remind my fellow bloggers about this year’s Reformation Day Symposium. You can get the details simply by visiting that link. I hope you’ll participate!

Reformation Day Deal

I received an interesting note from Ligonier Ministries announcing a great deal on the Reformation Study Bible—the best Study Bible I’ve ever used.

A few of us spoke with RC recently and talked about a way to commemorate Reformation Day. We have decided to offer something special. Next Wednesday, Ligonier Ministries will offer the Reformation Study Bible for $15.17. This is the ESV, hardback edition. It’s a 1 day only sale and I thought you should know.

To quote Stephen Nichols, it’s been 490 years since “a monk with a mallet” nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. God used Luther to start the greatest revival the world has seen. Though there were many benefits to the Protestant Reformation, the publishing of God’s Word in common languages was united to a hunger for the right understanding of that Word. The year 1517 saw a display of God’s grace in human history and every year since we have the opportunity to remember. Let us redouble our efforts to be faithful to the historic Christian faith.

To this end they are offering the Reformation Study Bible on October 31 (Reformation Day) for only $15.17. You can order as many copies as you like at that price, provided you do not resell it. You can get details here: reformationstudybible.com.

October 26, 2007

Lessons from an infant…

Michaela, my youngest daughter, is just about eighteen months old. She’s at the stage of infancy I enjoy the most—she is just starting to figure out how the world works and is just learning how to communicate. Her vocabulary is increasing by the day and so many of her attempts to use these new words leave us howling with laughter. A couple of times a week Aileen “puppysits” for some neighbors who just got a new puppy. Michaela likes to look at the puppy, but hates it when the dog comes over to her and tries to play with her or, even worse, lick her. So Michaela sticks her little finger in the air, waves it at the dog, and says with all the authority she can muster, “No, no!” Needless to say, the puppy couldn’t care less and continues to pounce and to play.

This morning Aileen was trying to get Michaela dressed and that little girl just wouldn’t play nice. She squirmed and wiggled and screeched, but refused to submit to having her little pink pants put on. It’s not that there was something else she wanted to wear, or not that we could tell. She just did not want to be jostled and cajoled. At eighteen months she was already demanding autonomy. Then, when it came time to get her out the door to walk the other children to school, she flopped to the ground, unwilling to have me help her put her coat on. Never mind that she loves the pink coat with the flowers on it, and never mind that it’s only ten degrees above freezing out there—she didn’t think she needed that coat and was not going to go down without a fight.

It was amazing to me to see this little red-headed, pig-tailed baby fighting for nothing more than her right to autonomy. I’m convinced that she did not really want to go out this morning wearing only her pajamas, a dirty diaper and no coat. The issue is that she did not want us, her mother and father, forcing her to do anything. And so she rebelled against our authority, preferring to think that she would be happier if she did things her own way. And she’s not even two years old.

Somehow this rebellion against authority is one of humanity’s besetting sins. When even the babies are doing it—the infants who can barely express themselves verbally—we know it has deep roots.

Of course I’m far from immune to this sin. I rebel all the time. I may not flop to the ground when it comes time to getting dressed, but I see these same seeds of rebellion in my heart. I see the same desire to be autonomous and to do the things I want to do, regardless of what I’m told by those who have authority over me.

Matthias Media’s “Two Ways to Live” presentation covers this well:

The sad truth is that, from the very beginning, men and women everywhere have rejected God by doing things their own way. We all do this. We don’t like someone telling us what to do or how to live—least of all God—and so we rebel against him in lots of different ways. We ignore him and just get on with our own lives; or we disobey his instructions for living in his world; or we shake our puny fists in his face and tell him to get lost.

How ever we do it, we are all rebels, because we don’t live God’s way. We prefer to follow our own desires, and to run things our own way, without God. This rebellious, self-sufficient attitude is what the Bible calls ‘sin’.

And what does God do about this sin and rebellion?

God cares enough about humanity to take our rebellion seriously. He calls us to account for our actions, because it matters to him that we treat him, and other people, so poorly. In other words, he won’t let the rebellion go on forever.

The sentence God passes against us is entirely just, because he gives us exactly what we ask for. In rebelling against God, we are saying to him, “Go away. I don’t want you telling me what to do. Leave me alone.” And this is precisely what God does. His judgement on rebels is to withdraw from them, to cut them off from himself—permanently. But since God is the source of life and all good things, being cut off from him means death and hell. God’s judgement against rebels is an everlasting, God-less death.

In my daughter’s rebellion against me I see just a shadow of her rebellion against God and from there, a glimpse of my own rebellion against Him. Some day my daughter will be glad that I did not say to her, “I will give you what you desire” and leave her to her own devices. She would not last a day. And I pray that she also sees in herself that the desire for autonomy is a desire for a Godless, rebellious existence at emnity with God. May she come to see the joy and the utter necessity of submitting to authority.

October 26, 2007
Friday October 26, 2007 Adrian Writes About My Book
Adrian Warnock has read my book and offers a few encouraging thoughts and his endorsement of it.
Max McLean as Screwtape
Anyone in the New York area will want to check out Max McLean’s production of The Screwtape Letters.
Reinke on Reviewing
Tony Reinke offers some good advice on writing book reviews.
A Blogging Shirt
David posted a link to a great shirt for bloggers.
October 25, 2007

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you…”

One of my favorite television programs is Antiques Roadshow. The program affords people the opportunity to present their antique possessions—whether furniture, paintings, toys, or anything else— and to have them appraised by some of the world’s foremost experts in antiquities. For every episode the producers single out ten or fifteen items and show an expert providing a detailed description and valuation of the item. Each section closes with the expert telling the owner just what the item is worth. It is always amusing to see eyes pop out or to see people jump up and down with excitement as they realize that they have in their possession an item worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. During every episode the viewer has opportunity to see “junk” transformed to treasure.

There is one segment from a particular episode that stands out in my mind, because it featured the most valuable item they had appraised to that point. An elderly gentleman from Tucson, Arizona, brought in an old blanket he had inherited several years before. He knew it was old and believed it had a little bit of value, perhaps a few hundred or even a couple of thousand dollars. After inheriting this blanket he had thrown it over the back of a rocking chair in his bedroom and had not often thought about it until presented with opportunity to take it to the Roadshow.

With the blanket hanging on a rack behind them, the expert appraiser told the old man that his heart had stopped when he first saw it. As I watched the show, I could see the excitement written all over the expert’s face and extending throughout his body. He could not stand still. He began to explain that the item was a Navajo chief’s blanket that had been woven in the 1840s. In wonderful condition, it was one of the oldest, intact Navajo weaves to survive to the twenty-first century, and certainly one of only a tiny handful to exist outside of museum collections. He showed the fine detail of the weaving and even showed where it had been torn and repaired shortly after it was first made. I could see the excitement in his eyes as he looked at something he knew was extremely valuable. He knew that sitting before him was something more than a blanket—it was a rare national treasure of incredible value and historical significance.

The appraiser seemed to have trouble even beginning to convey to the audience the importance of this blanket. He left no doubt, though, when he told of its value. Because of its rarity and significance, he had no trouble assigning a value of somewhere between 350,000 and 500,000 dollars. This elderly gentleman had come to the show carrying a blanket worth almost a half-million dollars. He simply could not believe what he was hearing. Choked up and with tears pouring from his eyes he asked to hear the amount again. He looked as if he might pass out.

As the man walked out of the convention center where the show had been held, the blanket he had cavalierly carried in with him was now cradled carefully in his arms. He walked out of the building with security guards on either side of him, drove straight to a bank, and placed the blanket in a safe deposit box. What had been “junk,” a mere accent to an old rocking chair, had been instantly transformed into a precious treasure.

When God saves his people, bringing us from death to life, he opens our eyes to love and appreciate the supreme treasure that is Jesus Christ. What had once been of little interest or significance is suddenly transformed into something of inestimable value and worth. The gospel message—the news of Jesus’ miraculous birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, and glorious resurrection—is great and joyous news, and yet, for this very reason, it is under attack by the forces of evil. The eminent nineteenth-century pastor and author J.C. Ryle wrote of just some of the ways the gospel can be spoiled to us:

You may spoil the Gospel by substitution. You have only to withdraw from the eyes of the sinner the grand object which the Bible proposes to faith,—Jesus Christ; and to substitute another object in His place … and the mischief is done. Substitute anything for Christ, and the Gospel is totally spoiled!

You may spoil the Gospel by addition. You have only to add to Christ, the grand object of faith, some other objects as equally worthy of honour, and the mischief is done. Add anything to Christ, and the Gospel ceases to be a pure Gospel!

You may spoil the Gospel by interposition. You have only to push something between Christ and the eye of the soul, to draw away the sinner’s attention from the Saviour, and the mischief is done.

You may spoil the Gospel by disproportion. You have only to attach an exaggerated importance to the secondary things of Christianity, and a diminished importance to the first things, and the mischief is done. Once alter the proportion of the parts of truth, and truth soon becomes downright error!

You may completely spoil the Gospel by confused and contradictory directions. Complicated and obscure statements about faith, baptism, Church privileges, and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper…are almost as bad as no statement at all!

The gospel can be spoiled, though not objectively, for it is an objective reality. Yet it can be spoiled by us and to us. We can modify the gospel, either deliberately or inadvertently, stripping it of its power and its glory. We can bring to people a counterfeit gospel that is no gospel at all. It is the discipline of discernment that God has provided us to guard the purity of the gospel.

Discernment, then, is not an end in itself. Rather, discernment is the means to a far greater and nobler end. By practicing spiritual discernment we guard the gospel, the message of eternal life. The apostle Paul, writing to his young protege Timothy, called him to do just this in both of the letters to Timothy recorded in Scripture. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:20. In his next letter he reiterates, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:14). Through the power of the Spirit, Timothy was to guard the gospel.

This word deposit is taken from the ancient world. In the age before personal safes and safe deposit boxes, a person who was going to be away for some time might ask another to care for a treasured possession. He would entrust this possession to another, depositing it to him, and this person was bound by a sacred oath to protect it. In his letters to Timothy, Paul, who knows that he will not always be able to encourage and mentor Timothy, entrusts to him the gospel message. Timothy would be expected to guard this message and to find worthy, godly Christians to whom he could in turn entrust it. And so the gospel has been protected and has carried from one generation to the next through the long, storied history of the church. And so it has been handed in trust to you and to me and to all who believe.

John Stott, in his introduction to his commentary on 2 Timothy, says this:

The church of our day urgently needs to heed the message of this second letter of Paul to Timothy. For all around us we see Christians and churches relaxing their grasp of the gospel, fumbling it, in danger of letting it drop from their hands altogether. A new generation of young Timothys is needed, who will guard the sacred deposit of the gospel, who are determined to proclaim it and are prepared to suffer for it, and who will pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the generation which in due course will rise up to follow them.

God has given us the gospel in trust. He has deposited it to our account and expects that we will guard this priceless, precious treasure. God has entrusted to us something of infinite worth and unsurpassed beauty. He has not left us to our own devices, but he has provided for us the Holy Spirit, that with his help we may be faithful in guarding the gospel of Jesus Christ. Spiritual discernment allows us to keep the gospel central and allows us to see and guard against error. Spiritual discernment is absolutely crucial to the one who would understand and heed the gospel. Nothing less than the gospel is at stake.

This is a brief excerpt drawn from my upcoming book “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.” This subject of guarding the deposit has been much on my mind lately so I thought it would be appropriate to share with you this small portion of the book.

October 25, 2007
Thursday October 26, 2007 The Most Watched User Generated Video
The most watched user generated video on the internet is, surprisingly enough, not one from YouTube. In fact, it’s a little girl reciting Scripture.
Twelve Literary Features of the Bible
Adrian writes about twelve literary features you’ll find in the Bible.
Springsteen on Meaning and Purpose
Bob Kauflin writes on Bruce Springsteen’s understanding of meaning and purpose.
Sin and Temptation
Monergism has done a major overhaul of their section on sin and temptation. There are lots of great resources there for you.
Explaining Blogging to Granny
Performancing offers a couple of tips to explain blogging to your grandmother…
October 24, 2007

Will you participate in Halloween this year?

Halloween is once again nearly upon us. Articles about the occasion are beginning to make their way into my RSS reader and I thought I’d keep up with one of this site’s few traditions and write an article on the subject. My thoughts on the subject continue to develop as perhaps long-time readers will notice.

Just this morning Pulpit Magazine linked to a great article courtesy of Grace to You. The article deals well with the subject, seeking to answer these questions: “How should Christians respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season—are they overreacting?”

The article spells out several legitimate ways Christians will react to Halloween this year:

  • Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities—listening to ghost stories and coloring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives.
  • Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals”—the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. It’s ironic when you consider Halloween’s beginning as an alternative, but it can be an effective means of reaching out to neighborhood families with the gospel. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.
  • There’s another option open to Christians: limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. There’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbors. Even handing out candy to neighborhood children—provided you’re not stingy—can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behavior does not dishonor Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

I appreciate the sensitivity the authors display in dealing with what is a difficult topic. It is my conviction that this is, in many ways, an issue of conscience. I do not believe there is absolute right and wrong here—we can’t be too dogmatic about it. Each person (and, in particular, I believe, each father) must examine the Bible and his conscience to see where that leads him. It may lead him to any of these options, each of which can be legitimate. The Bible says nothing about Halloween, though certainly there are principles we can find that will help guide us. But ultimately I believe we have to trust our biblically-informed consciences and our sanctified reasoning to guide us. Let me share where this has led me.

My conviction has long been that it would be a poor witness to the neighbors if my family were to refuse to participate in Halloween; it would be inconsistent with the way Aileen and I feel we are to live within this neighborhood. This day provides a unique opportunity to interact with neighbors, to enjoy their children and to prove that Christians are part of the community and not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends or to only interact in our own way and on our own terms. Aileen and I are fully part of the community around us and look forward to being part of the community events that happen here. And so we allow our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It still feels like a bit of a compromise, and admittedly one with which I am not entirely comfortable. Yet I would struggle far more with turning out the lights or finding something else to do that evening.

The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters or otherwise glory in evil. But I am also convicted that it is a poor witness to have a darkened house, especially in a neighborhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and assume that we feel somehow above them for not participating (and that we are judging them for their participation). We have nothing to fear from our neighbors or from their children, no matter how they choose to dress for an evening. So my children will dress up (my son as a soldier and my daughters as a ballerina and a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbors, knocking on their doors and accepting their fistfuls of candy. Either my wife or I (I think it’s my turn this year) will remain at home, greeting people at our door with a smile and a handful of something tasty. If the kids are deemed too old to trick-or-treat, they’ll be forced to sing a song to merit any handouts. Our door will be open and the light will be on. A contributor to an email list I participate in once concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.” That analogy seems particularly appropriate.

This year we’re doing something else. We’ve invited all of the neighbors over for dinner before the festivities begin. We’ve got at least 40 or 50 people who are planning on coming by for a barbeque. We’re doing this simply because we enjoy our neighbors and love to spend time with them. Halloween evening can be hectic, with parents getting home from work and then rushing to prepare their children, so we thought we’d attempt to relieve one burden by taking care of dinner for everyone. It should be fun and we’re looking forward to it.

My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue so that you can do what your conscience dictates for that day. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion and this is where some of my thought on the issue has probably developed most. In the past I may have tried to convince myself that Halloween would offer occasions to share the gospel, but I don’t think this is usually the case. Nor does it have to be. I think Halloween is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Aileen and I feel that God has deliberately placed us here and among these people. We want to celebrate with them, even on an occasion of such dubious importance as Halloween.

Addendum - Let me add just one thing here. This year Halloween is on a Wednesday which means it will conflict with many mid-week church services. We did not realize that the two conflicted until after we had already made and spread our plans for the evening. I am generally convicted that we need to be at church when the doors are open. If you are of the same mind, this article may be more theory than practice, at least for this year. We unwittingly made an exception this year, but probably would not have if we had not already invited the neighborhood to our home that night. And yes, we feel a bit guilty about it. My pastor offered this advice for next time: “Get a calendar!” That’s not a bad plan…

October 24, 2007
Wednesday October 24, 2007 Do You Heart Huckabee?
My friend Jesse does, and he’s started a site to keep up with everything Huckabee.
California Fire Prayer
Lydia shares an urgent prayer request from Elyse Fitzpatrick. “She and her family are smack in the middle of the Santa Ana fire zone. Lives and homes are at stake.”
More About the Fires
Mark Lauterbach is near the evacuation area and is posting updates.
Free Music that Saves Lives
Matthew Smith is offering a track from his latest album and will donate to Blood:Water Mission to provide clean water to 1 person in Africa for 1 week to anyone who downloads it.
Elephants Electrocuted in Drunken Rampage
It’s amazing what you come across on the internet—such important news that, without the net, we all would have missed.
October 23, 2007

Though Satan makes his claim on my life…

Studying European history can be both fascinating and frustrating. Understanding the intricacies of nations, borders and rulers could easily be a life-long pursuit. The history of the continent is filled with claims, and counterclaims as one person sought to prove himself the legitimate heir to one of its many kingdoms. There were many who sought to claim thrones and kingdoms and these claims had to be settled through lengthy and detailed examination. Generations, kingdoms, marriages, and thrones had to be examined to understand who had the rightful claim to a throne.

I once found a similar concept of “claiming” in the Bible and it struck me as one of the most terrifying passages of Scripture I’ve ever read. I remember as a child finding Revelation to be a dark and scary book. Visions of beasts and persecution, wrath and disaster gave my imagination much fodder to create terrifying scenarios that played out in my mind as I tried to sleep. But I can’t call to mind anything that has struck my heart with such a pure and informed terror as this verse I read.

It comes as Jesus is preparing to leave His disciples for the last time. They are in the upper room together celebrating the last Passover and the first Lord’s Supper. Jesus is giving his disciples their final instructions, telling them that all He has taught them is about to be fulfilled. He is gentle with them, knowing that they are blinded to the reality of what is about to happen. He is kind to promise that He will send His Spirit to indwell and guide and teach them. And then He tells them that it is time to leave.

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me…” Jesus knew that Satan was about to unleash his full fury upon Him. And far, far worse, He knew that Satan’s wrath was as nothing compared to the wrath of God that He would soon have to face. Satan, the ruler of this world, was coming. He was going to drag Jesus, like a helpless, hopeless lamb, through the streets, through the courts, and to the cross where He would be tortured and nailed and pierced in utter agony. Satan was going to do his worst. But Satan would not accomplish what he had hoped. In fact, he would accomplish the very opposite of what he had intended. By inciting the masses to drag Jesus to that tree, Satan would make sure his own doom and ensure the salvation of multitudes of God’s people. Satan could do nothing to Jesus beyond the physical, for he had no claim on Him. He had no claim on the Son of God.

The Bible calls Satan the accuser for that is how he does his work. In Revelation 12 we read of a voice that cries out, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.” Satan delights in accusing God’s children of sin. Before the throne of God he tells of our sin and our failure. He tells of his reign in the hearts of all who have sinned. He tells of his rightful claim to the souls of all who have sinned against the Creator.

But he had no claim on Jesus. Satan could not whisper in Jesus’ ear that He was unloving or unworthy or sinful. He could not remind Jesus of sins He had committed, people he had shunned or offenses against God. He could not remind Jesus of impure motives or impure thoughts. Satan was powerless to accuse Jesus. He had no claim against Him. In John 8:46 Jesus asked the Pharisees a rhetorical question after they accused Him of being in league with Satan. “Which one of you convicts me of sin?,” he asked them. And none of them could answer. They were silent. Satan is likewise unable to convict Jesus of sin. He has no claim. He must stand in silence before the perfection of Jesus.

But not so with us. Satan has a legitimate claim to my soul and yours. Satan can recount endless lists of offenses against God. You and I have committed grevious offenses against God. We have done so joyfully, willingly, deliberately. We have done so as a show of our rebellion against God. We have enjoyed being sinful. We have enjoyed giving Satan a claim on our souls. In a time of judgment there is no doubt that Satan can produce a list of offenses more than sufficient to prove his claim on us. It is a legitimate claim. He has ruled us and we have allowed ourselves to be ruled by him.

Terror should fill the hearts of all who ponder Satan’s claims on their souls. And how could it not? Satan, the accuser, the evil one, wants my soul as his own possession. He has a claim on it. He has a claim on you. How can you not fear as you read those words?

But praise be to God, there is more. When Satan flung Jesus upon that cross, he was unwittingly bringing about his own destruction. When Jesus’ time on the cross was complete, He cried out, “It is finished!” It was a cry of triumph - a cry whose fullest meaning we can never know. It was a cry that pierced history - it divided the history of humanity. It was the greatest, purest, most meaningful utterance the world can know. In His death Christ took our sin upon Himself. He took the accusations of Satan and bore them on our behalf. As God turned His back on Jesus, while at the same time pouring out His wrath upon Him, Jesus atoned for our sins. He entered a claim of His own in the lives of His children. My sin became His and His righteousness became mine.

The accuser lost his claim. When Satan accuses me now I am able to know, to believe, to trust and to affirm that his claim is null and void. I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness. My sin has been removed. My guilt has been taken away. I have been redeemed. And, as the climber in triumph leaves a flag at the peak of a mountain, Jesus Christ has sent His Spirit to live within me and to mark me as His own possession.

Satan may still accuse me. He may still seek to convince me that I am his. But he has lost his claim. Jesus has washed me with His blood. He has set His Spirit within me. Jesus Christ has claimed me as His own. The terror fades as love and praise well up within my heart. Tears fall from my eyes as I know and believe that I have been claimed by God Himself.

Yes, I wrote something like this once before, though quite some time ago. I was revisiting this topic and was once again reflecting on Christ’s claim. It was good to do so.