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July 2009

July 31, 2009

Planet Earth is widely regarded as the greatest nature or wildlife series ever produced. Says David Attenborough in the opening moments, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.” And it proceeds to do just that, finding and filming some of the most exquisitely beautiful locations on the planet. The scenery, the panoramas, the creatures are absolutely breathtaking.

While the producers of the series are not Christians (or do not claim to be Christians) and while the films were not meant to draw attention to God, as I watched them I was continually drawn to marvel in the greatness of the Lord. As the films provided a tour of so many beautiful locations and as they gave close-up shots of such incredible creatures, I saw the hand of a Creator. I saw it everywhere.

I’ve since often reflected on what I saw in the series and eventually wrote down a list of some of the things I learned about God through Planet Earth. And today I’ll share that list with you.

I learned that our God is…

…A God of Variety

jungle.jpgAs a web designer I know a thing or two about design. I know about the demands placed upon those who seek to design. I know that it is not nearly as easy as it may appear. Sometimes creating even just two or three variations on a similar theme taxes my creative abilities to the max. A few hours of design work on a theme can leave me tired and burned out. Design inspiration can go missing for long periods and may show up only in isolated bursts.

But God is not so limited. In Planet Earth we see stunning variety in plants, animals, and landscapes. There are animals we’ve grown accustomed to—the ones we see around us every day—and there are animals the likes of which we can barely even imagine. There are plants of every kind, every color, every size. From beginning to end, this series showcases diversity. It shows God as a lover of variety. God could easily have created just a few animals or a even just a few types of animals. But He went far beyond, creating far more creatures and plants than anyone has ever been able to count. The diversity is almost unimaginable.

God’s emphasis on variety in what He has created teaches me that He also loves variety in other areas. God has not created humans to resemble one another in gifts and talents any more than He has created all of us to look the same. God is pleased with who He has made us to be.

…A God of Beauty

God did not make a world that is drab and uninteresting. Instead He made a world that is dazzling in its beauty. Plants, animals, and landscapes can cause us to gasp in wonder. Who but God could have created such beauty? He created a world of untold beauty and created us so we could enjoy it with Him. He created this world and declared that it was very good. Planet Earth shows us the world’s beauty in ways that were previously impossible and unimaginable.

Humans are drawn to beauty, and little wonder as we are created in the image of the one who designed beauty. Beauty is something that flows from the character of God and in pursuing and enjoying beauty, we imitate the One who made us.

…A God of Detail

God overlooked no detail in creating this world. While humans like to declare that certain parts of our bodies are unnecessary or left over from some far-off evolutionary process, nature offers us no such hints. In Planet Earth we cannot help but see the beauty of God in the details—in the tiniest microbes and the largest mammals. God created this world to function perfectly, down to its tiniest and seemingly least significant parts.

whale.jpgIf God has seen fit to be involved in the tiniest details of the tiniest creatures He has made, how much more can we trust Him in the details of our lives. The same God who sees the sparrow fall is the God who is present with us as we seek to live our lives in accordance with His will. The God who has woven together this world is the same God who weaves together providence for our good and for His glory.

…A God of the Big Picture

While God has overlooked no detail, he has not done so at the expense of the big picture. The way the world works is so clearly seen as the tiniest creatures in the ocean become food for the larger creatures, who in turn become food for larger creatures still. Life begins in the oceans and filters out throughout the earth. Even with the advent of sin into the world, everything functions so well in the big picture. Planet Earth shows us the big picture in action.

As God watches over the sparrow and even the smallest details of our lives, so He weaves together the big picture. The big picture of creation and of history shows us a God who created us and, despite our sin, has redeemed a people for Himself. The big picture shows that everything in the world is unfolding exactly as God planned for it to. In the big picture as much as the small God will be glorified.

…A God of Pleasure

God takes pleasure in His creation; He takes pleasure in beauty. There are some places in the world and some plants and creatures that seem to exist primarily to display their beauty. Planet Earth takes the viewer to the deepest recesses of the world and there shows beauty almost unmatched in the world above. What purpose does such beauty serve except to allow God to reflect His glory through what He has made. The beauty is unmatched.

God is not a cruel taskmaster who wants only to push His people to do things they do not want to do. On the contrary, God takes pleasure in what He has made and He wants us to take pleasure in it as well. As we look at the world He has made, we can stop and look and ponder and delight in what He has done. We find pleasure in creation and ultimately in the One who made it all.

…A God of Laughter

Bird of ParadiseGod takes pleasure in His creation, to be sure. But He must also sometimes enjoy what He has made for the humor it displays. Who can but laugh as he watches Planet Earth and sees the bizarre and hilarious mating displays of the ridiculous birds of paradise? Surely God must have a sense of humor to create something so entertaining and something so funny.

God does not wish for His people to go through life solemn and sour. Laughter is a gift from God and when we laugh at the sublime and the ridiculous we honor the God who made us to be people who laugh. And He made certain aspects of His creation funny so that we could join Him in laughter and delight.

…A God of His Word

The Bible tells us that God reveals Himself in what He has made. He reveals His existence, His power, His authority. He also reveals His wrath. In nature we see glimpses of what God created this world to be and glimpses of what it has since become. And we learn that God is a God of His Word. As Tennyson wrote so long ago, nature is red in tooth and claw. In Planet Earth we see the results of the fall into sin. We see animals destroying one another; we see humans destroying the creation. We see that God is not One to be trifled with. What He says is true. What He says will come to pass. God warned man of the consequences of sin, and man ignored the Creator. The world has been suffering ever since.

seal-shark.jpgCreation testifies to the truth of what God tells us about sin and its consequences. If this is the case, we can also trust God when He tells us how we can avoid the eternal consequences of sin. The same God who saw man plunge this world into sin is the God who has provided salvation to those who would believe in Him. He is a good and a kind and a trustworthy God. He is worthy of our trust.

…A God of Redemption

Nature cries out for redemption—for release from its bondage. We cannot even begin to fathom the amount of death and destruction upon this planet—this planet where death was once entirely foreign and unnatural. Every day countless millions of animals are torn apart, suffering in agony as they fall prey to one creature or another. No creature is immune. Some may live for centuries, but sooner or later they go the way of all the earth; they die and decay and pass away. In every glimpse of a baby animal being torn to pieces and in every scene of terror and bloodshed our hearts cry out that this is wrong, this is unnatural. Somehow we know that death is a foreign state. And we ask, “when will the last drop of blood be shed?” We long for the final redemption of this world and its return to a state of perfection. Nature attests to the fact that death is wrong; and it testifies to the end of all that is unnatural.

cave.jpgPlanet Earth vividly shows that the world groans as it awaits redemption. And as we watch we, too, cry out for someone who can stop all of the suffering and destruction. Our hearts long for a redeemer!

…A God of Adventure

This world will be fully and finally redeemed. And when that time comes, we will have the inestimable privilege of enjoying an eternity exploring the wonders of the world He has made for us. The wonders will only increase as the sin is removed from us and as we enjoy access to every part of this planet. We will enjoy eternal adventures exploring the deepest depths and the highest heights of this amazing planet.

While we may love to explore even today, we know that even the most committed explorers can catch only a glimpse of the world’s wonders. But the time is coming when we will have unending opportunities to see the hand of a loving creator in every part of this world. But even now we can praise Him for what He has made and what He has done.


Some time ago I reviewed Planet Earth and its predecessor Blue Planet. Click here if you want to read that.

July 30, 2009

My morning reading today took me to the fourth chapter of Ephesians. This is a chapter that deals primarily with the topic of unity within the body of Christ. Through the first three chapters of the book Paul has been laying the theological framework for the life of good works he describes in the final three chapters. The first topic he discusses in this regard is unity. He encourages believers to live together in humility and patience, bearing with one another and maintaining the unity of the Spirit. The word “one” appears seven times in only three verses, emphasizing the oneness the Lord expects of his family. Having discussed the importance of unity, Paul goes on to show how this unity will be formed and maintained.

Unity is a common theme in the New Testament, isn’t it?. Paul spoke of it in 1 Corinthians 1:10 where we read, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Among Jesus’ final words to His apostles was a beautiful, powerful prayer for unity which is recorded for us in John 17. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17: 20-23). Peter and other biblical writers discuss the subject as well. Unity is clearly an important component to the Christian life.

Perhaps the most clear example of this type of unity is shown to us in the book of Acts. We read in Acts 5, “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (Acts 5:12-14). This unity was based on unity of doctrine, and that asserted itself in practice. In the previous chapter Luke writes, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32-35).

Of course there are two types of unity. There is the unity from one Christian to another and there is unity from one group of professing Christians to another. While it seems clear that the biblical writers were speaking primarily of interpersonal relationships their words are surely valid as well to larger relationships between groups. Baptist and Presbyterian denominations can learn as much from Paul’s words in their relationships to each other as can two individual members of a local church who are experiencing conflict in their relationship.

Sadly in our day it seems that unity, and especially unity from one group of professed Christians to another, often comes at the cost of theology. In his masterpiece Evangelicalism Divided Iain Murray says “The ecumenical call [in the mid-20th century] was not for truth and salt; it was supremely for oneness: the greater the unity of ‘the Church’, it was confidently asserted, the stronger would be the impression made upon the world; and to attain that end churches should be inclusive and tolerant. But it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world. At no point in church history has the mere unity of numbers ever made a transforming spiritual impression upon others. On the contrary, it was the very period known as ‘the dark ages’ that the Papacy could claim her greatest unity in western Europe.”

The ecumenical movement of our day continues to downplay theology. Of course none of the major players in the movement would admit this, but if we are to have unity with the Roman Catholic Church we must be willing to let go of those pesky little solas that so often get in the way. If we are to have unity with Mormons we must be willing to allow some leeway on the divinity of Jesus. And so on. But the unity that Christ prays for us to attain and that Paul exhorts us to model is not a unity based on forsaking doctrinal differences so that we can meet at the lowest common denominator. It is not a unity based on mixing “churches” with one another. The unity Christ pleaded for on our behalf is a unity of people who know and trust Christ. It is a unity in the truths of the Scripture, truths despised by the world, but loved and treasured by believers. It is a unity which, as Murray says, “binds his [Christ’s] members together in love” (Evangelicalism Divided, page 291). This truth became particularly clear to me this morning as I read Ephesians 4. In verses eleven to sixteen Paul describes the means of attaining unity. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

And this morning I realize that the teaching ministry, carried on today by the pastors of local churches, is a ministry of unity. As if the pastoral ministry was not already difficult enough! Pastors are to teach their people sound doctrine which in turn will inspire unity among true believers. The solid foundation of sound doctrine will prevent people from being tossed to and fro and being carried about by every wind of doctrine. It is a lack of doctrine that promotes false unity and a strong, biblical theology that promotes true unity. Our pastors are called to help us “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” It is from Christ that the body is joined, knit together in true unity.

So if we would have unity, we must have theology. We are to share, profess and enjoy unity with other believers, even those who do not share certain “lesser” doctrines. This is not to imply that any doctrine is unimportant, yet some are more important than others. J.C. Ryle wisely observed that believers should “keep the walls of separation as low as possible, and shake hands over them as often as you can.” But there are times when we must reject unity because of the higher importance of truth and sound doctrine. To repeat Murray’s words, “it has never been by putting unity first that the church has changed the world.” Nor will it ever be.

July 29, 2009

“The moment a person forms a theory his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.” (Thomas Jefferson)

Last night a reader of this site took the time to send me a link to an article I had somehow missed reading. It was written by Dr. Albert Mohler and discussed the subject of “confirmation bias.” Dr. Mohler traces an article written by Michael Shermer of Scientific American as he discusses a study based on this topic. Schermer discusses “A recent brain-imaging study [that] shows that our political predilections are a product of unconscious confirmation bias.”

As a fiscal conservative and social liberal, I have found at least something to like about each Republican or Democrat I have met. I have close friends in both camps, in which I have observed the following: no matter the issue under discussion, both sides are equally convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position.

This surety is called the confirmation bias, whereby we seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirmatory evidence. Now a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study shows where in the brain the confirmation bias arises and how it is unconscious and driven by emotions. Psychologist Drew Westen led the study, conducted at Emory University, and the team presented the results at the 2006 annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men—half self-described as “strong” Republicans and half as “strong” Democrats—were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.

This is no great surprise, as experience shows all of us that we are much more willing to grant clemency to people whom we like and support than those with whom we disagree. What is particularly interesting about this study, though, is the source of the brain activity that formed these judgments. “The neuroimaging results, however, revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning—the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgments about moral accountability; and—once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable—the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure.” What the researchers saw “was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.” In other words, when people assessed the statements made by President Bush and John Kerry, they reacted with emotion rather than reason.

Like Dr. Mohler, I am “suspicious of all efforts to reduce human consciousness and cognitive activity to measurable or observable studies of the brain. There is a connection there, no doubt, but biological reductionism (and its close cousin, biological determinism) is a woefully inadequate explanation for human thinking and behavior.” To reduce human cognitive function, thinking, feeling and believing to mere imaging results is clearly inadequate in explaining the intricacies of the brain, the will and the heart. I don’t believe that we can ever neatly map out human reason or that we can ever solve how and why humans love, feel and believe. And yet there is likely some truth in the results of this study, for we are no doubt prone to make judgments based more on emotion than reason. Michael Shermer says, “The implications of the findings reach far beyond politics. A jury assessing evidence against a defendant, a CEO evaluating information about a company or a scientist weighing data in favor of a theory will undergo the same cognitive process.” In other words, confirmation bias can show itself in any number of situations.

Dr. Mohler writes, “We are unquestionably inclined to seek evidence that confirms our bias and to discard or discount evidence to the contrary. There may be biological evidence of this fact (indeed I assume there must be such evidence), but the main factor behind this problem, from a human perspective, is the Fall. The corruption of the race involves the corruption of our cognitive abilities. Confirmation bias is just one more evidence of the Fall; one more reminder that we are fallen creatures whose minds are not only finite, but corrupted. The human mind is truly amazing, but we all have to deal with conflicted thinking, limited knowledge, fragile memory, and emotional influences.”

When we affirm the doctrine of the fallenness of man, we affirm that through the Fall we have been corrupted in every way. The depravity of man extends to every area of his being so that nothing remains untouched. We are unable to use our minds without allowing emotion to interfere with reason. Clearly this poses a threat to intellectual integrity. “The reality of confirmation bias and its threat to intellectual integrity is one reason that Christian thinkers must read widely and think carefully.” Christians bear the responsibility of knowing their sin and thus knowing their proclivity for all manner of sin—even the sin of confirmation bias. For if we are able to admit that confirmation bias is a result of the Fall, we must also admit that it likely comes naturally to fallen men and women and that we are all likely to slip into it from time to time. I did not have to think long or hard before seeing areas where I am prone to make snap judgments and to allow emotion to override more measured reason. And, as the subject of discernment has been much on my mind in recent days, I also see how people to seek to be discerning may be particularly prone to this bias.

Here is an application Dr. Mohler drew from his reflections on the subject: In order to avoid confirmation bias “We must not limit ourselves to reading material from those who agree with us, fellow Christians who share a common worldview and perspective. Instead, we have to ‘read the opposition’ as well — and read opposing viewpoints with fairness and care.” If we are to avoid this bias, we must deliberately stretch ourselves. As I read this I thought back to the review I posted just a couple of weeks ago about the book While Europe Slept which was written by a homosexual. When I posted that review, several people questioned the validity of reading and reviewing such a book. These questions arise often when I read and review books that are written by unbelievers or by those who write from a liberal Christian perspective. Yet I think these books are important, for it is all too easy to delude ourselves, sometimes deliberately and sometimes inadvertently, into thinking that we are fair and unbiased when the reality may be far different. I believe, like Dr. Mohler, that it is important that we read the opposition. I believe that there is nothing to fear in doing so, provided that a person is well-grounded in the truths of Scripture.

John Calvin, in his Institutes wrote “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God.” We can look outside the Christian bookstores for truth. We would not look outside a Christian worldview to find eternal truths, but we may still find truths outside the church and perhaps even truths to which Christians are oblivious. To ignore or to reject these truths, especially on the basis of confirmation bias, would be to dishonor God, the very source, the fountain, of truth.

July 28, 2009

Mark Tubbs is a good friend and my co-laborer over at Discerning Reader. If you have enjoyed that site recently, thank Mark more than me. As Managing Editor, he is heavily involved in the day-to-day management of all that happens there. Because I am on vacation this week, I asked if he would mind if I borrowed a review he had published at Discerning Reader. It is for Paul David Tripp’s brand new Broken-Down House. I trust you’ll enjoy the review and consider purchasing the book!


Broken-Down HouseUsing the concept of the house as a metaphor for life isn’t a novel idea. In Scripture, both the psalmist and Christ himself employ the metaphor. More recently, author William Paul Young situated the majority of the action of The Shack in a ramshackle structure in which the Trinity helps the main character to process the tragic events of his life. Even the secular world has employed the metaphor, such as in the 2001 film Life as a House.

July 27, 2009

The first week of my summer vacation has come and gone. It was excellent. This week, week two of vacation, I am going to be a little busier with family stuff. Therefore I will not be much in the way of original content on the blog. I should have a book review or two along the way, but do not intend to spend a lot of other time writing. Therefore I am queuing up a few things I’ve written in years past and hope you’ll enjoy reading them (or reading them again if you’ve been around that long). I was rooting around this morning and found this great quote from Kevin DeYoung (and man, that guy can turn a phrase!). I thought it was worth posting again…

Have you ever wondered if you are emergent? I know I have! Here is Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) on how you might know if you are emergent…

*****

After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian: if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem; if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found; if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian.

July 26, 2009

In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges writes about the important discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. Realizing that many people have heard of this discipline but do not know how to practice it, he provides an overview of how he does so. I found it helpful and trust you will too. What could be more important than beginning each day with a fresh understanding of the great work of the gospel and its application to your life?

*****

Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

July 25, 2009

As George Whitefield sailed from his native England to Georgia where he was to be a missionary, he ministered to those on board the ship. Here is an excerpt from his journal where he discusses a ministry encounter with a particularly willful child:

Had a good instance of the benefit of breaking children’s wills betimes. Last night, going between decks (as I do every night) to visit the sick and to examine my people, I asked one of the women to bid her little boy say his prayers. She answered his elder sister would, but she could not make him. Upon this I bid the child kneel down before me, but he would not till I took hold of his two feet and forced him down. I then bid him say the Lord’s prayer (being informed by his mother he could say it if he would), but he obstinately refused, till at last, after I had given him several blows, he said his prayer as well as could be expected and I gave him some figs for a reward.

Commenting on this, Arnold Dallimore says (quite rightly) “this action seems both foolish and cruel by today’s standards and it is not in any attempt to excuse it that we notice that it was in keeping with the customs of those times. … We must deplore both the custom [of attempting to conquer a child’s will] and Whitefield’s action on the basis of it.”

This brief encounter aside, Whitefield’s period of ministry upon the boat is remarkable and this brief journey was used by God to call many to Himself through His humble but flawed servant.

July 24, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

modern-parables.jpgThough I’m on vacation this week, I’ve got a Free Stuff Fridays ready to go. This week’s sponsor is Modern Parables (modernparables.com). “Modern Parables is an original film-based Bible study curriculum on Jesus’ parables. It uses short films of the parables combined with teaching by pastors and in-depth study materials to create an entirely new learning experience. Modern Parables seeks to re-create the emotional immediacy that Jesus’ 1st-century audience felt when hearing the parables. It does this by using some of the best parable scholarship and exploring it through creative filmmaking. The gut-level understanding made possible by the films is intended to drive listeners into a deeper understanding of the Bible.” The films are fun to watch (especially as a family) and are useful for small group studies. I have taught through these films a couple of times now and have found it very beneficial to do so.

I’ve also reviewed the films and if you’d like to read that review you can do so here. And here is a trailer for “Prodigal Sons,” my favorite of the films:

Modern Parables is offering a total of six prizes. Three winners will receive their choice of a set of all six films on DVD (or, if they prefer, they may take digital downloads instead). Three other winners will receive a digital download of the films.

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.