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March 2008

March 21, 2008

I was in a bad mood yesterday. For weeks now I’ve been trying to figure out something simple with a nearby bank—or something that should be simple. It has been a comedy of errors, really. Every time I try to do something (anything!), it seems that their incompetence or ignorance is working against me. I’ll receive a phone call telling me to come in and sign papers, but when I get there I’m told that the papers are actually still at the head office. “We didn’t call you!” they’ll insist. Was the phone call a figment of my imagination, then? No, I guess it just turns out that the call center and the branch don’t have the best communication. The next time I went to the bank they ran around the branch scraping together some paperwork, all the while calling across the branch with personal details of my account and its contents (despite all kinds of other customers milling about). After a couple of weeks of this I had to admit that I had been holding on just to satisfy my own morbid curiosity as to whether they could actually follow through on any of their promises.

Yesterday I was told I could drop by to fill out the paperwork for a safe deposit box they had reserved for me. I took a few minutes around lunch time and drove up there. When I arrived at the branch I was told that all of the boxes were already spoken for. A little vein in my forehead started throbbing. I tried to explain with decreasing self-control that every time they called me to the branch I took time out of my day only to find that they had been wrong. The girl behind the counter explained that her manager and all other superiors were out at the moment but that they would call me when they arrived later. Of course I could also wait at the bank if I preferred. Well, I am a busy guy and can’t be waiting at a bank for a manager to arrive, so I rolled my eyes, barked something grumpy and stormed away with a black rain cloud over my head.

Fifteen minutes after getting home the branch called and left a message to say that there was a safe deposit box for me after all. Later that afternoon, when I had put aside work for the day, I headed back to the branch. I was just hoping that I’d be able to get in a word or two with that manager. There was so much I wanted to say. “I’d keep my money in a sock under my mattress before I’d open another account in your half-rate, two-bit institution!” I was ready. I was prepped.

I got to the bank and stood in line. In just a few seconds it was my turn and I marched up to the wicket to see the same girl there that I had spoken to that morning. This was going to be good. It was time for some justice.

And right then and there, God whacked me on the chest with a two-by-four. Or if felt like it, anyways. It was like my conscience was something physical, something palpable and something that was anxious to pull out of my chest. Suddenly I didn’t feel like fighting. All I could say was, “I’m sorry I was a jerk this morning.” She replied as people always seem to: “That’s okay!” And I said, “No, it isn’t okay. I shouldn’t have acted like that and I’m sorry.” And then, after many more delays, we opened my safe deposit box.

As humbling and humiliating as this was, I’m grateful to the Spirit that He struck my conscience in the way He did. I need His help. I’ve been trying to become a better apologizer. I’ve been trying to take the initiative, as the leader of my household, in apologizing. Too often I’ve seen apologizing as weakness—that a real man never apologizes. What will my wife and children think of me if I’m always apologizing to them? They’ll catch on that I’m pretty well a jerk and that I sin, you know, at least occasionally. But God has really helped me to understand that taking initiative in apologizing is the mark of a leader, not the mark of someone who is weak. God knows how many opportunities I have to practice apologizing. And He is showing me how important it is that I take them.

As I’ve been working on becoming a better apologizer, I’ve come up with just a short list of tips. I’ll post them in the hope that maybe they can help you, too.

Just Do It

Just apologize. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Don’t let bitterness take root. Don’t let pride sever your relationships. If there is anything that will keep you from apologizing, it is pride. Your pride will rebel against humbling yourself before God and before another person. Don’t trust your pride. Just apologize. When you offend someone, just apologize. If you’re anything like me, you won’t ever lack for opportunities to practice apologizing. As times goes on it may not get any easier or any less humbling, but it will become something you do sincerely and out of a desire to please God and to honor people created in His image.

Ask for Forgiveness

It is easy enough to say, “I’m sorry, ” But far more difficult to ask, “Do you forgive me?” Asking forgiveness allows both you and the offend party to understand that you are not merely seeking to salve your conscience by apologizing, but that you are seeking true reconciliation. Forgiveness is something that needs to be both given and received.There may be times when actually asking for forgiveness will be very awkward and there may be times you will choose not to actually force the question (as I did yesterday. The girl at the bank was already looking at me funny. I was worried she’d hit the panic button if I pressed much more). But you will generally want to ask for forgiveness.

Don’t Rationalize Your Sin

I try to teach my children that an apology does not include the words “but” or “if.” We do not say, “I’m sorry if I offended you.” We do not say, “I’m sorry I did it, but if you hadn’t…” We apologize sincerely and from the heart. If we cannot apologize without rationalizing our own sin, we are not truly apologizing. We will want to examine our hearts before attempting to make a true and sincere apology. We cannot make apologies that are really our attempts to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we’ve committed. So apologize sincerely and apologize from the heart, not as an attempt to clear your own record but as a step of love and obedience.

Learn to Forgive

And finally, learn how to forgive. As difficult as I find it to be the one asking forgiveness, I find it even more difficult and even more awkward being on the giving end of forgiveness. You may well feel the same. Far too often, when someone apologizes to us, we are embarrassed and inadvertently excuse their sin. “That’s okay! It didn’t bother me…” we may reply. But it is not okay; sin is never okay. So learn how to forgive.

If God grants me my three score and ten, I’m not even halfway through life yet. And while he has certainly been gracious in helping me overcome sin, plenty remains. I’m still a committed sinner. Dave Harvey, in his book When Sinners Say ‘I Do’ said something I love—that the more you get to know him, the more respect you’ll have for his wife. The same is certainly true of me and of my wife. Get to know me and you’ll soon see the kind of person that Aileen is. It’s not always an easy calling for her to be my wife. But even more, the same is true of me and my God. Get to know me and you’ll learn just how gracious and loving a God I serve that He would be willing to forgive a jerk like me.

Postscript

I was wrong to bark at the girl at the bank. There’s no doubt. And I truly am sorry. But the fact remains that the bank really is a half-rate, two-bit institution and I really do think I’d keep my savings in a sock under my mattress before I entrusted them to this particular branch. Then again, they now have a safe deposit box in my name. Dare I entrust them with whatever I might want to stuff in there?

March 21, 2008
Friday March 21, 2008 Arcing and Tracing
My brain hurts when I try to figure this stuff out. But Doug has some good information (and good links) about arcing and tracing passages of the Bible.
Pastor Killed by Goat
This is probably the oddest story you’re going to hear all day. “It was a very angry, belligerent, mean-spirited goat.”
His Last Friday Was His Best
Mark Altrogge explains.
Spontaneous Musical
Improv Everywhere does it again, this time with a spontaneous musical in a food court.
Has the Notion of Sin Been Lost?
USA Today asks the question in a recent article.
March 20, 2008

Today I am posting something rare—a guest post. This article was written by John Ensor, whom you may know as the author of The Great Work of the Gospel and Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart. In this article he takes on what he considers a popular Palm Sunday myth. Read it and let me know what you think. Is he right? Were the crowds really as fickle as we often think? Or have we got this all wrong?


It is a theological myth that gets restated every Palm Sunday. I heard it again this past week and it grieves my spirit deeply; that the cheering crowd that lauded Jesus with sweet “Hosannas,” later cried “Crucify him!” Such is the fickle nature of man it is said.

I say it is not true. The people were not fickle. Apart from the fact that the word “crowd” is used in both contexts, there is no evidence to assert that it is the same crowd and lots of evidence that it is not. The evidence suggests that the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” was a crowd of chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Sadducees and “conscripted” false witnesses (by threat or bribe most likely).

Using Matthew’s gospel, the crowd shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (21:9) are referred to collectively as the “daughter of Zion” (21:5) and later referred to simply as “the people” (26:5). They are the regular, average citizens, the “folks” as opposed to the power-protecting religious leaders. The people perceived that someone great and glorious, in deed, heaven-sent, was arriving. They burst forth with due praise. Included in this crowd were children who continued shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” when he arrived at the temple (21:15). The sick, blind and the lame were also part of this crowd and they too followed Jesus to the temple (21:14). They believed that Jesus could heal them. They were not disappointed (21:14). Before we say that this crowd turned on him, we ought to check. Most likely they neither understood his fullness nor his purpose. Not even his disciples grasped that. But they at least understood him as “a prophet sent from God” (21:11). There is no evidence that these people, just a week later, screamed and rioted in demand of his execution.

But even before I trace this out in the gospels, I submit that people, in general, are not fickle like this. They do not swing from rapid popular acclaim to hatred in a few days for no reason other than that they are fickle in nature. People generally change their opinion about leaders, from initial great enthusiasm to deep disappointment and bitterness slowly, over time (months and years), based on the disappointing actions of those leaders; not group “mood swings.” We do well to remember Psalm 146:3 when watching cheering crowds swoon before any political leader. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” All people, being sinners, make horrible Saviors, spiritual, political or otherwise.

That is why the Triumphal Entry of Christ is so great that the rocks were tempted to break the rules of nature (Lk 19:40). For this was the Son of Man arriving on a colt. Shout aloud! O Church! Or stand aside and let the trees clap their hands!

But even within this greater crowd of everyday people, the seeds of another crowd were present. “And some of the Pharisees were in the crowd” (Lk 19:39). They immediately attempted to suppress the glory, laud and honor to our redeemer King. But it could not be done. In fact, the children carried over the very praises they heard during this march to the temple when Jesus arrived there. The blind and the lame also showed up at the temple, hoping that this man sent from God might heal them. They were not disappointed. But the other crowd was also milling at the temple. “When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things [Jesus] did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant” (21:15). They challenged Jesus to stop the crowd from acclaiming him. Jesus said their praise was only natural (21:16).

Next we read that “the chief priests and the elders” arrived at the temple and attempted to question Jesus’ authority (21:23). Their goal was to take him down a notch in the eyes of the people (who still loved him). Jesus returned their question with a question about John the Baptist: was he sent from God or was he a human invention? They were stuck. “If we say ‘From man’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet” (21:26). Here is confirmation that the crowd remained enthralled of Jesus and saw him in the same way they saw John the Baptist, as a prophet sent from God. The chief priests and elders left unsatisfied and growing in their anger.

Next we read in 21:45 that “the chief priest and the Pharisees” witnessed Jesus teaching parables. They wanted to arrest him, but “they feared the crowds” (21:46). This is the second reference about fearing the crowd. The problem they faced in bringing down Jesus was the continuing popularity of Jesus by the “folks.” They were not fickle. They were consistent. The religious elites needed to figure a way to break the popularity of Jesus in order to destroy him. .

Taxes are always a good wedge issue. In 22:15-16, we read that the Pharisees “plotted” to entrap Jesus into taking an unpopular position regarding taxes. They expected him to try to slip out of it so they began by praising his honestly and integrity. This would force him to speak in a way that would make the crowd think again about Jesus. “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and that you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (21:16-17). It didn’t work, and his popularity with the crowd of regular folk only intensified, even as the other crowd’s anger deepened (21:22).

Next the Sadducees took a turn (22:23-8). They raised a disputatious matter of theology concerning resurrection, trying to show the irrationality of it and thus peel off a chunk of his popularity by forcing Jesus to choose sides in a matter that divided the people already. Jesus’ answer did take a side (for resurrection!) and made a persuasive case of it as well. The result? “And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching” (22:33).

Here we see the crowd of “folks” growing in their joy over Christ, not diminishing; and certainly not fickle. But the crowd of leaders opposing him was also growing. The Pharisees and the Sadducees joined together to thwart a common enemy (22:34). This crowd plotted and planned. Meanwhile, we read, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to the disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you- but not what they do” (23:1-3). Jesus is teaching and building up the faith of the “folks”. Here he is warning them to follow the teaching of the law, but not the lifestyle of the teachers (the scribes, Pharisees, elders, priests etc.). Are we to believe that those who lauded Jesus’ arrival, and witnessed his healing power, and who were taught parables about the Messiah’s reception and were explicitly warned not to follow the behavior of the religious elites were not impacted by it in any way and subject to fickleness of allegiance? (If we do, then it is worse than the myth says. For the fickleness must have erupted not over a week, but over a few days.) Or should we acknowledge that this crowd continued to hunger to be in Jesus’ presence in the days that followed his entry, and deepened their hope in him throughout the week, as they were taught by him? This crowd’s open embrace of Jesus was growing and it served as his protection from the growing crowd of plotters.

In 26:3-4 we read that the chief priests and elders gathered together and “plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.” Why the stealth? Because this crowd of plotters feared upsetting the other crowd of folks. Since their attempts to turn the crowd’s opinion against Jesus failed, their only option was to go around the crowd. We may be sure of this because 26:4-5 makes it explicit. “[They] plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Praise God, the people, the same people who cried “hosanna!” a week before, were still standing firm even at this last hour!

And so the plot unfolded at night and throughout the night, when the people were largely asleep and unaware of the unfolding events. By the time they awoke the next morning, the arrest and trial was done. Jesus was crucified at 9 AM (Mk 15:25) ―before the crowd would have come looking for Jesus to see and learn more as was their daily habit now, or react defensively on his behalf, or to provide their own testimony of his healings and teachings, the deed was done.

It began, according to Mt 26:47 when Judas arrived and “with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.” This is the crowd that would push for crucifixion-a crowd consisting of chief priests and elders and their cronies, armed with clubs. They expected that those gathered around Jesus would fight to defend him (they suffered from sleepiness; but not fickleness). At least one rose up fighting and cut off the ear of one of the chief priests. Jesus heals him. “At that hour, Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out as against a robber…” (26:55). Again the evidence is building that two crowds are at work here: one that was growing more passionate in their intent to murder Jesus and one growing more determined to defend him. Fickleness is not in the picture.

Continuing on, the crowd of high priests and elders took Jesus to Caiaphas, another high priest, where still more of their kind had assembled; “where the scribes and the elders had gathered” (26:57). This group is now called “the whole Council,” or the Sanhedrin (26:59) and they sought out “false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death” (26:60). It is possible that they sought these out from among the healed or from the people in general. But this would be reading into the text. More likely they sought these ought from among the chief priests, elders, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees that had tracked him all week and grew blood thirsty with each passing day. What is clear is that there is still no sign of fickleness here.

In the early hours of the morning, this same crowd of “chief priests and elders of the people” (27:1), led Jesus to the governor, Pilate. Again in 27:12, it is this crowd of chief priests and elders who accused him before Pilot. It was before this same crowd that Pilate looks for a way out. “Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted” (27:15). This makes sense, politically. Pilate benefited by appeasing this crowd of religious leaders from time to time. He did not need to curry support from the children, the lame, the blind, and the every day folks of Jerusalem. And it was this crowd that finally got what they had wanted since Jesus first arrived on a donkey; they found a way to kill him.

When we read in 27:20, “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” All the indications are that this refers to the crowd of fellow elders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees that the narrative indicates had been gathering and assembling and moving about all night. “They all said, ‘Let him be crucified!’” (27:22). Still Pilate was reluctant. But this crowd knew they had their man cornered. Just a little protest now was all that was needed. They screamed, shouted, threatened, perhaps ripped their clothes or threw a few chairs. Hard to know. But whatever it was, it equaled the first stages of social unrest. Pilate saw “that a riot was beginning” (27:24). He was now left with little choice but to slake their thirst for the blood of Jesus and thus purchase his own peace with this crowd.

It was morning now and people were out and about. This same crowd conscripted a by-stander, Simon, a Cyrene, to carry his cross (27:32). By noon, other bystanders were around watching. Hearing Jesus’ cries, they said, “Truly this man is calling Elijah.” They were confused. But they were never fickle. They still believed that Jesus was sent from God and even at this final hour, expected God to come to his defense (27:49).

So let the joyous news be spread! The crowd was not fickle. And did not praise him one day and cry out for his murder another. Two crowds were coming and going all week. Both grew stronger in their conviction as the week went along. The sheep grew sheepier. And the goats grew goatier. The later group conspired to work around the former. Later on, Peter referred to this group as “lawless men” (Acts 2:23). This better fits the crowd of chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, who could act against the law and above the law, and get away with it. Regular folk lack such power in general.

So let us join in the singing; and stand with the blind, the lame, the disciples, the children, the Cyrene, the women who later stood at a distance and look bewildered at the cross, and the general populace, who at this moment saw the truth, at least in part. “All glory laud and honor to thee, Redeemer King. To whom the lips of children make sweet hosannas ring.” Sing with them and do not diminish their child-like faith with talk of fickleness.

John Ensor is the Executive Director of Urban Initiatives for Heartbeat International and author of “The Great Work of the Gospel” (Crossway, 2006).

March 20, 2008
Thursday March 20, 2008 T4G - Final Call
Though registration for Together for the Gospel does not officially end for another ten days, spots are filling fast and only a few hundred are left. If you’ve been procrastinating, it’s time to get registered.
Tim Keller at Google
Justin has a link to Keller’s recent talk (and the subsequent Q&A) at Google.
Toddlers and Worldview
At the Shepherd Press blog, Jay Younts is in the midst of a series dealing with worldview in children.
Mystery of the Missing Heat
“Some 3,000 scientific robots that are plying the ocean have sent home a puzzling message. These diving instruments suggest that the oceans have not warmed up at all over the past four or five years.”
March 19, 2008

I wanted to draw your attention to a few albums that I’ve been enjoying recently. Each of these albums features music that is appropriate for corporate worship and each features selections of modern or ancient hymns. Each of them is worth buying and listening to. All of the albums are available through iTunes (where I generally purchase my music these days) but they should also be available elsewhere.

In Christ Alone: Modern Hymns Of Worship

In Christ AloneIn Christ Alone: Modern Hymns Of Worship is a brand new album by Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammitt (whom you may know as the lead vocalist of the band Sanctus Real). The album offers exactly what you’d expect if judging by the title: a selection of modern hymns. These are not just straightforward recitations of the songs, though, but are what could best be described as alt-pop adaptations. The artists come through with several different musical styles and each takes turns singing lead. Somehow it combines to make a great album. A reviewer at Christianity Today says, “those looking for more originality and lyrical depth in modern worship might enjoy this unusually crafted collection of modern hymns set to alternative pop arrangements and sung by Bethany Dillon and Matt Hammitt.”

You are probably familiar with most of the songs. The album features several tracks by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (including, of course, the title track) along with selections by Martin Smith (of Delirious fame), Tim Hughes, Vicky Beeching and a couple of others. The songs focus primarily on the person and work of Jesus Christ, making this an ideal selection for listening to this week as we prepare for Easter.

Here is the song list:

  1. Clinging to the Cross
  2. In Christ Alone
  3. Jesus Is Lord
  4. Joy Has Dawned
  5. O Church Arise
  6. God Of Justice
  7. On The Third Day
  8. The Power Of The Cross
  9. Adoration
  10. How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
  11. In The Cross Alone I Glory
  12. The Wonder Of The Cross

I quickly fell for their arrangements of “Jesus is Lord,” “Joy Has Dawned,” “On the Third Day” and “In the Cross Alone I Glory.” But truly, there isn’t a rotten selection among them. I hadn’t anticipated enjoying this album but was glad I picked it up. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Here is the Amazon link if you are interested in listening to clips of the various songs.

Adore And Tremble

Adore and TrembleThis is an album by Daniel Renstrom, whom you probably don’t know as well as Bethany Dillon or Matt Hammitt. Matt was kind enough to send me his album a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. Daniel, who has a voice that reminds me a lot of Derek Webb’s, is lead worshiper for a ministry of Providence Baptist church in Raleigh North Carolina. This EP, his first, is a combination of new versions of old hymns and some original titles. All are written and performed with corporate worship in view. It was produced by Nathan Nockels (of the band Watermark).

You can find more information about the man and the album at his website, danielrenstrom.com. Here is the Amazon link if you are interested in listening to clips of the various songs.

Here is the album’s track list:

  1. Quietly
  2. Let Us Love And Sing And Wonder
  3. At The Cross
  4. Broken Cisterns
  5. Adore And Tremble
  6. Where Could I Go

See What A Morning

The MandateSee What A Morning is listed as being by “The Mandate,” whatever that is. But really, it is Stuart Townend singing a selection of his hymns and some other favorites. I guess it is drawn from a conference. Whatever the case, it has quickly become a favorite album of mine, though this may be primarily because I love the first track so much. I’ve heard several versions of “See What a Morning” but this is the best! I wish he had included a rendition of his version of Psalm 23 (easily one of his best songs but one we don’t hear often enough) but even without that it remains a very enjoyable album.

Here is the song list:

  1. See What A Morning
  2. There Is A Redeemer
  3. My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness
  4. In Christ Alone
  5. Stand Up Stand Up For Jesus
  6. Lord I Lift Your Name On High/O Come Let Us Adore
  7. How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
  8. All My Days
  9. Jesus Be The Centre
  10. Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart
  11. Who Is There Like You/I Love You Lord
  12. Your Love

Here is the Amazon link if you are interested in listening to clips of the various songs.

March 19, 2008
Wednesday March 19, 2008 Kidzui
I haven’t had time to look at it thoroughly, but Kidzui looks like an interesting program. It is essentially an internet browser for children and one that blocks unsafe content.
The Reformation and Mysticism
Here is a short but good essay on the Reformation and mysticism.
The Liberation of Restraint
Paul writes about the liberation of restraint that is evident not only in society but also in our own hearts.
March 18, 2008

Gods Problem by Bart EhrmanBart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has both an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied under the renowned scholar Bruce Metzger. Though he formerly considered himself a Christian and even pastored a church, he is now an avowed agnostic. Much of Ehrman’s career has been dedicated to attempting to prove that history has been incorrect in suggesting that it was heretics such as Marcion who were responsible for tampering with the original texts of the Bible. He suggests and attempts to prove that it was those who professed faith in Christ who sought to change the Scripture to force it to adapt to their beliefs.

March 18, 2008
Tuesday March 18, 2008 Keller the Bestseller
Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God” has made it all the way to #7 on the New York Times list of bestsellers—quite an accomplishment for this kind of book! Don’t you think it’s time to read it?
Associating with Apostasy
Joe Carter says Obama’s biggest problem isn’t associating with his pastor but with his church’s awful theology.
In His Strength
Trillia has lowered the price on her “In His Strength” exercise CD (that features Sovereign Grace music totally remixed).
A Prayer to a Sovereign Lord
At Reformation21 is a beautiful prayer by John Leonard.