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March 2009

March 31, 2009

The Bookends of the Christian LifeI met Bob Bevington a couple of years ago. He and I both somehow ended up at a youth conference and we began to chat while walking from the venue to a nearby hotel; we were the only adults around so we must have naturally gravitated toward one another. We were surprised to learn that we were both under contract to write a book—I was writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment while he was working with Jerry Bridges on a book they were to co-author. Since that time he and Bridges have written two books together, the second of which is The Bookends of the Christian Life.

March 31, 2009

This is the third day of our thirteen days spent reading The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Today’s text is from Luke 22:43: “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”

In this chapter Leahy writes about the angel who comforted Christ and shows that the angel not only brought comfort, but that he strengthened Christ for the greater pain and torment he was about to endure. “The angel’s presence served to aggravate his suffering.” Here is a passage that stood out to me:

*****

There was an outstretched hand, his Father’s hand—even in the darkness—and Christ knew it. Initially the presence of the angel must have brought some modicum of comfort to the Sufferer. It came at a moment when unaided human nature could no longer take the strain. It was a critical moment. Christ knew that his sorrow was “unto death” and as Dr Frederick Godet remarks, this was “no figure of rhetoric.” But it was not the Father’s will that the Saviour should die in the garden, and just as after the temptation in the wilderness angels ministered to him (Matt. 4:11), so now he was strengthened by an angel. How strange is the sight! A creature sent to minister to the Creator! But then, as man he “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9). Here the theologians run out of answers. Mercifully so! There is a place for mystery. There is need for ground on which, in a unique sense, one walks by faith and not by sight. Bishop Ryle says well of Christ’s experience in Gethsemane, “It is a depth which we have no line to fathom.”

For one fleeting moment immense joy must have leaped within Christ’s soul as the Father’s hand touched him. This was a message from home. Heaven was behind him. He was forsaken, but not disowned. His Father was there, somewhere in the darkness. His loud cries and tears had not been unnoticed.

March 31, 2009
Doug Wilson on Fireproof
“If I set myself to think of couples in marriages that I think would be greatly helped by watching this movie, I would run out of fingers inside of a minute. I can also think of Christians who would be offended by the schlock, but many of them would be those who know more about how a movie ought to be made than about how a woman ought to be treated. And they would rather watch a movie about a woman being abused so long as the movie was made right than to have the woman treated right in a movie that offended their refined sensibilities.”
CT Reviews Death by Love
“Sadly, Driscoll and Breshears too often become mired in relentless proof-texting, cheap shots against “flaccid church guys,” and obsessive branding of non-Reformed theologians as heretics. Yet even so, they bravely follow Christ in his descent to hell to preach to those who are held captive by sin and death. Despite their faults, the authors take their stand at the foot of the cross as witnesses to the power of the gospel in a dark, despairing world.”
Tales of Christian Tailgaters
A little tale or parable from Ben Witherington.
Earth Hour Pictures
You don’t have to have celebrated Earth Hour to enjoy this pictures of various public locations going dark. Be sure to click the photos…
Pupils Will be Taught to Twitter
The fun in this article is in the sidebar where they have condensed many subjects into Twitter format (i.e. human reproduction or World War II in 140 characters or less).
Deal of the Day: Wii Games
Amazon is offering various Wii games at a steep discount today.
March 30, 2009

According to a new “Video Consumer Mapping” study by Ball State University, Americans aged 65 and older spend an average of 420 minutes per day in front of a television screen. 420 minutes per day. Let that sink in for just a moment. That is seven hours; seven full hours. Every day. On average. That means that half of the days it would be more than seven hours. Is that three hours in the morning, perhaps 8 until 11 and then four more in the evening, maybe 7 until 11 PM? How is it even possible? It is unbelievable. And it does not even include time spent watching DVDs or Tivo.

But perhaps it should not be that surprising considering that the average American of any age spends just over five hours per day watching TV. Older Americans, those who have retired, simply add a couple of extra hours onto the television they have already been consuming. America is obsessed.

I read this study and had to think about my life and whether I am on the kind of trajectory that will lead me to a useful, profitable, godly “retirement,” or the kind of retirement that will leave me spending endless hours in front of the tube. Some day I do hope to retire from the day-to-day money-earning responsibilities I have now. If God wills it, a time may come when I can dedicate more time to other things. But I hope and pray that it is something better, more spiritually-profitable, than television.

This was on my mind as I went to church yesterday. At Grace Fellowship Church we had the privilege of recognizing the hand of God in the life of one of our brothers as he was set apart as a pastor and elder. He is a man I’ve come to know well in the past few months and one I’ve come to respect a great deal. The gifting and call of God on his life is so clear, so obvious, that it was a joy to recognize it and to celebrate it together. Our pastor preached a sermon that, while it was directed specifically at this new elder, had application to all of us. He preached from 1 Timothy 4. There were a few words from that passage that stood out to me and resounded in my mind. “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” The pastors’ charge revolved around this: “The greatest gift you can be to our church is to be full of God.” In other words, “Be godly!”

“Godliness is of value in every way,” said the Apostle, “as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” And surely if it has value for now and value for eternity, it also has value for the time between now and eternity! So it must be that godliness will protect me from being a senior Christian, a gray-haired retired old man, who has nothing more to do with my time than to spend seven or eight hours of every day in front of the television screen. This passage was speaking to me, challenging me to be a godly man, a godly Christian. In his commentary on these verses, Philip Ryken says, “The word “godliness” (eusebeia) occurs fifteen times in the New Testament, but nine of them are in this epistle. If someone had asked Timothy what Paul’s letter was about, he might well have said, ‘Well, I suppose it was mostly about the life in God’s household, but the thing that impressed me was my personal need for godliness.’” And like that Timothy of so many years ago, I want to be godly.

Ryken says as well, “Above all else, God wants his people and his ministers to be godly. This is why Paul did not give Timothy seven steps to boost church attendance, or helpful tips about becoming a better administrator, or a thorough critique of his preaching style. Instead, he gave him the most practical instruction of all: a good minister is a godly minister.” And, of course, a good Christian is a godly Christian. Though this letter is directed at Timothy as a pastor, it is directed as well at all of us as believers. “When it comes to physical conditioning, it usually helps to have a trainer. These days, if people want to get their bodies in top condition, they hire a personal trainer. The trainer’s job is to set up a schedule of exercises to get the client into shape. There is a sense in which every Christian has a personal trainer: the Holy Spirit, speaking in Scripture. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to produce the life of God in the soul. What makes people godly is reading, hearing, studying, and meditating on the Bible. As John Stott points out, ‘We cannot become familiar with this godly book without becoming godly ourselves.’”

John Piper has recently released a little booklet called Rethinking Retirement. This is what he says about finishing life to God’s glory: “So finishing life to the glory of Christ means using whatever strength and eyesight and hearing and mobility and resources we have left to treasure Christ and in that joy to serve people—that is, to seek to bring them with us into the everlasting enjoyment of Christ. Serving people, and not ourselves, as the overflow of treasuring Christ makes Christ look great.” I suppose it is obvious that taking eight hours of every day to watch television would radically reduce a Christian’s ability to live that kind of a life. It is difficult to make Christ look great while basking endlessly in the glow of a flickering 37-inch rectangle.

In Piper’s booklet he quotes Ralph Winters of the U.S. Center for World Missions who says this: “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a blessing… .Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?” Piper says, “millions of Christian men and women are finishing their formal careers in their fifties and sixties, and for most of them there will be a good twenty years before their physical and mental powers fail. What will it mean to live those final years for the glory of Christ? How will we live them in such a way as to show that Christ is our highest Treasure?” Will that involve seven or eight hours of television every day?

Just a few more words from Piper: “When I heard J. Oswald Sanders at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School chapel speaking at the age of eighty-nine say that he had written a book a year for Christ since he was seventy, everything in me said, ‘O God, don’t let me waste my final years! Don’t let me buy the American dream of retirement—month after month of leisure and play and hobbies and putzing around in the garage and rearranging the furniture and golfing and fishing and sitting and watching television. Lord, please have mercy on me. Spare me this curse.’”

I was convicted yesterday that to avoid this kind of a retirement, this kind of a curse, I need to be and to become a godly man. I need to continually recommit to godliness, knowing that godliness will profit me now and in eternity, but also in all of those periods of time between now and eternity—and perhaps especially in those years when so much else is being taken away. Godliness is of value in every way.

March 30, 2009
Al Gore’s Earth Hour
“President of the Tennessee Center For Policy Research Drew Johnson takes a Saturday drive by Al Gore’s during the time most environmentalists went dark. … The kicker, though, were the dozen or so floodlights grandly highlighting several trees and illuminating the driveway entrance of Gore’s mansion.”
Shaun Groves on Life in the Speck
“On your first day on the other side of the grave, do you think you’ll look back on this life and be flooded with gratitude for hours spent watching episodes of American Idol and Lost? Will you wish you’d done more of that? Do you think you’ll look back fondly on the effort and money spent remodeling the kitchen? Will you wish you’d had a nicer home?…”
Challies’ Path to Family
That’s the title of an interview Aileen and I completed with Steve and Candice Watters who interviewed us on starting our family.
Totally Looks Like
I got a laugh from this.
Deal of the Day: Reformed Expository Commentaries
Monergism Books is offering a 50% discount on all of the books in the Reformed Expository Commentaries series. This is a limited time offer, while supplies last. One each per customer.” The 50% discount applies to any of the 10 titles. This is a great time to get started on your collection of this set!
March 30, 2009

This is day two of our thirteen-day trek through Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. Today Leahy looks to Jesus’ words of submission to the Father. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).

Here is a favorite quote:

*****

How clearly the true humanity of Christ is seen in Gethsemane, more so than in much of our standard dogmatics! For evangelicals are so concerned to defend the deity of Christ, and rightly so, that often they hardly know how to handle his humanity! Here, in Gethsemane, we see the sinless, finite humanity of Christ in deep and terrible distress. Calvin said that Christ had horror at the prospect of death because “he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented him grievously with fear and anguish.” Yes, fear and anguish; but, unlike the experience of all others, it was fear untainted by sin. It was Ambrose who said, “He grieved for me, who had no cause of grief for himself; and, laying aside the delights of the eternal Godhead, he experiences the affliction of my weakness.”

In Gethsemane it was never a question whether the Saviour would obey or disobey. In Eden God asked, “Adam, where are you?” In a sense the question was repeated in Gethsemane and this Adam did not try to hide; he had no need to; his whole response was clearly, “Here am I!”

March 29, 2009

Over the next thirteen days, I will be reading one chapter each day of Frederick Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer. I know that many of you will be reading along as well. My plan is simply to post a favorite quote or two, or perhaps a small reflection on the chapter. I will then open it up for discussion if you have something you’d like to add. This will culminate on Good Friday with the book’s final chapter.

The first chapter takes us to Gethsemane where Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled.” Leahy looks to these words.

*****

Gethsemane means “the oil press.” David could say, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8). Israel in her long history could say the same. But the suffering Savior could say it best of all, for there in Gethsemane—the oil press—he was crushed and bruised without mercy. But how and why? How is the sudden and dramatic change of atmosphere to be explained, even in a measure? Christ knew all along the death that awaited him. He had grappled with Satan and his legions more than once. He had repeatedly spoken of his death to his disciples, telling them what that death would accomplish. He had prayed with the utmost confidence in his high priestly prayer (John 17). Why, then, is there this sudden plunge into such awful agony, why this shuddering horror? Why is this fruit of the olive tree so severely crushed? Why does the divine record say that in Gethsemane our Lord BEGAN to be sorrowful, sorrowful in a new and terrible way? Was it not because God began forsaking him then? How else is this sorrow unto death to be understood?

“Jesus wept,” but never like this. No previous sorrow of his could match this. At the time of his arrest he declared, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). That cup was constantly in view as he prayed in Gethsemane. What cup? “THIS CUP“—not some future cup. The cup that was symbolized in the feast (Matt. 26:27,28) was now actual: God was placing it in the Savior’s hands and it carried the stench of hell. But stop!

Schilder is right. “Gethsemane is not a field of study for our intellect. It is a sanctuary for our faith.” Lord, forgive us for the times we have read about Gethsemane with dry eyes.

March 28, 2009

I’ve been reading a new book by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. It is titled The Bookends of the Christian Life. I read it some time ago when it was in manuscript form (as I was asked to write a blurb for it) but I am reading it again for review purposes, now that I’ve received a printed copy. I should have a review of the book ready to go for Tuesday. For now, though, I wanted to share with you what I’ve found one of the most comforting statements I’ve read in a long time. In the book’s early pages the authors describe Christ’s righteousness and the present reality of our justification. And here they offer some words that we all know, and yet somehow we tend to lose track of. They remind us that as sinful human beings, even as Christians, we are tempted to rely on our good deeds to save us but also on our bad deeds to condemn us. Here is what they say:

“Faith involves both a renunciation and a reliance. First, we must renounce any trust in our own performance as the basis of our acceptance before God. We trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve earned God’s acceptance by our own good works. But we also trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve lost God’s acceptance by our bad works—by our sin. So we must renounce any consideration of either our bad works or our good works as the means of relating to God.

Second, we must place our reliance entirely on the perfect obedience of the sin-bearing death of Christ as the sole basis of our standing before God—on our best days as well as our worst.

What a blessing it is that as Christians we relate to God only and always through the mediation of Christ. What a joy that we can renounce our works, whether good or bad, as our means of relating to God. What comfort!