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Christian Living

March 22, 2012

The more I learn of God, the more I marvel at the complexity of his being and purpose—the sheer eternality of it, the otherness of it. He is knowable, but knowable only in the smallest part, he reveals himself to us, but does not reveal all of himself to us; not even close. He truly is transcendent, so far beyond us. His revelation of himself in such that a man may spend his entire life reading it, studying it, pondering it, and uncovering its treasures. He may earn postgraduate degrees and teach systematic theology and lead Bible studies and preach every Sunday for his entire life and still not come close to knowing all there is to know about this God.

And yet that is not the whole story. What God reveals about himself is such that a mere child may know it and believe it and grasp it with childlike hope and confidence. Even a child really can know this God and really can have genuine faith in him.

I find it a strange thing and even an alarming thing that the more I know of God, or the more I think I know of God, the more I am prone to forget the utter simplicity of this message. In the midst of my delight in his complexity, I can so easily forget the simple heart of it all. This matters. This ought to matter.

Sometimes I need to be reminded of the power of the Bible, the simple power of the Bible. I need to be reminded that there have been so many people who have come to faith simply by reading God’s Word. There has been no preacher but the Author, no sermon but the pages of the Bible, and yet many a person has read and seen and understood and trusted and been transformed. No wonder that organizations labor to translate the Bible—or at least parts of the Bible—into every known language and to send these pages into all the world. Every Bible or piece of the Bible goes into the world as a missionary, taking hope, taking life, taking that oh-so-simple message.

March 19, 2012

Sin is inherently anti-God, inherently pro-self. Each time I sin I make a statement about myself and a statement about (and against) God. Each time I sin, I declare my own independence, my own desire to be rid of God; I declare that I can do better than God, that I can be a better god than God. Recently I took some time to think about how life changes when I am god. The results were not pretty.

When I am god, it is against me, me only, that you may sin and do evil in my sight. This world exists for my pleasure, for my glory, and the gravity of your sin is measured according to how badly it interferes with my sovereign will. My wrath falls upon those who do their will instead of mine.

When God is God, your sin against me is light when weighed against its offense to God. This is the Father’s world and it exists to bring glory to him. Sin is any lack of obedience to God or any lack of conformity to his just and holy ways. For such sinners I have sympathy, and love, and hope in the gospel.

When I am god, worship of God interferes with my plans, with my slumber, with my loyalty to pleasure, to socializing, to sport, to amusement. I hate the thought of worshipping another, but long to worship myself or have others worship me.

When God is God, worship is joy, it is nourishment, it is life. There is no greater joy than to gather with God’s people to bring glory to the Creator, to give thanks to the Redeemer.

 

When I am god, sexual fulfillment is my right; sex exists to bring me pleasure and the value of other people is measured only in their ability to fulfill what I am convinced that I need.

March 16, 2012

Paul was a humble man. To read of his life and to read his letters is to encounter the testimony of a man who had been utterly captured by pride until the Lord set him free. Free from the captivity of pride he could now say, “Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” He spent his life among sinners, he labored to convince sinners of grace, he turned men over to Satan so they would learn not to blaspheme, and still he could say that he, he himself, was the chief of sinners. He looked to his own heart, to his own life, and declared, I am the greatest sinner I know.

It takes humility to say those words without a shred of pride, but those are not his humblest words. Paul’s humblest words were written to the Christians in Corinth. To them he said, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

“Be like me.” Those are words that may come from the proudest of hearts and, indeed, we all long for others to be like we are. Sin is inherently narcissistic and the cure we propose for most of the world’s ills is for others to be more like us. “If only she saw things my way.” “If only he did it like I want him to.” To sin is to put yourself in the place of God, to declare that your will ought to be done. Adam and Eve wanted their will to be done even if that came at the expense of God’s; you and I are no more sophisticated than they were.

“Be like me.” Those words may also come from the humblest of hearts. They may come from a heart that has been utterly transformed and that is now utterly transfixed. “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” Paul wanted others to imitate him only because he himself was imitating Jesus Christ. Paul had a realistic assessment of who he had been—a proud Pharisee, a religious authority, a man whose academic credentials were unparalleled, whose curriculum vitae was matchless. Yet for all of that his heart had been infinitely distant from God’s. He had hated God and persecuted his people, seeking to destroy his bride.

March 15, 2012

This is my once-monthly post on the Puritan John Owen. In this series of posts I am sharing some of what John Owen says about putting sin to death, or what he calls mortification. I have been going through John Owen’s book Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate.

So far we’ve looked at The Foundation of Mortification, we’ve been encouraged to Daily Put Sin to Death, to understand that It Is the Holy Spirit Who Puts Sin to Death and to acknowledge that Your Spiritual Life Depends Upon Killing Sin. Then we saw What It Is Not to Put Sin to Death and What It Is to Put Sin to Death. He now moves on to the actual directions for how to put sin to death; first he deals with a couple of foundational issue (which is what I’m looking at today) and in the months that follow he’ll move on to very specific instructions.

#1 - There Will Be No Mortification Unless a Man Be a Believer

Unless a man be a believer—that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ—he can never mortify any one sin; I do not say, unless he know himself to be so, but unless indeed he be so. … There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.

There’s a Tweet-worthy phrase: There is no death of sin without the death of Christ. That’s a compact summary of a whole lot of theology! Though it is somewhat obvious, he wants us to know that only Christians, only those who have the Holy Spirit to help them, can put sin to death. Here are a few more helpful quotes.

A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.

Mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work—the conversion of the whole soul—not the mortification of this or that particular lust. … Let the soul be first thoroughly converted, and then, ‘looking on him whom they had pierced,’ humiliation and mortification will ensue.

This is the usual issue with persons attempting the mortification of sin without an interest in Christ first obtained. It deludes them, hardens them—destroys them.

In classic Puritan fashion, Owen now anticipates and answers an objection: “Shall [unregenerate men] cease striving against sin, live dissolutely, give their lusts their swing, and be as bad as the worst of men?” Here is his answer:

March 14, 2012

Wayne Gretzky is generally considered the greatest athlete to ever lace up a pair of skates. In twenty seasons of professional hockey he dominated the league, redefined the game and tallied an astounding number of records and awards. An outstanding goal-scorer and play-maker, he was also a great sportsman. Five times in his career he was awarded the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, presented every season to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” He was a true superstar.

Sportsmanship is an interesting concept in sport and one whose meaning seems to have morphed over the years. Once held up as a virtue that emphasized respect for the game and grace toward an opponent in both victory or defeat, it now seems to speak to the misguided ethos that it doesn’t really matter who wins, as long as we all try our hardest and have fun. I prefer the original concept and have tried to instill this in my son; I want him to be a good sportsman who honors the game and respects his opponents, even while seeking victory. This kind of sportsmanship is worth recovering where it has been lost and worth maintaining where it still exists.

There is another idea, a similar one, that has been much on my mind recently. Churchmanship is a virtue that may also be fading into history. We all lead busy and multi-faceted lives. We have obligations at home and at work and we have relationships to nurture with family, extended family, neighbors, friends. Somewhere in that mix is commitment to a local church. For some people church ranks so highly that ministry always comes first, even at the expense of everything and everyone else; for some people church barely ranks at all and receives only the few moments that are left over when everything else has been taken care of.

Between these extremes is the virtue of good churchmanship. The good churchman is a Christian who truly and wholeheartedly dedicates himself to his local church, to the community of believers he loves. This is the Christian who who loves those people, who serves them, and who prioritizes them. This is a fading virtue we would do well to recover and to call one another to.

Here are some of the ways a Christian can face particular challenges in our time and in our churches and excel at churchmanship.

March 05, 2012

This is now the second of two articles I am writing on the subject of birth control. In the last article I first said that the Bible neither allows nor forbids birth control, I offered two thoughts on what God forbids when it comes to birth control (abortion and abstinence) and then went looking for a series of principles that would be helpful in guiding a discussion on the subject.

Christian Freedom

We need to begin the second part of this discussion with what I see as an inescapable conclusion. If it is true that the Bible neither forbids nor explicitly commands birth control, this places it within the realm of Christian freedom. This is not to say we are just free to do whatever we want. Rather, we are use the resources God gives us in Scripture, in conscience, in wisdom, in Christian community, and come to what we then trust is a God-honoring conclusion. As we do this we must acknowledge that other Christians may come to different conclusions and we must be prepared not to attack them or do battle with them.

February 29, 2012

I have been asked to write about the Christian position on birth control. This is something I have discussed in the past, but there are many ways to approach the topic and this time I would like to approach it from a bit of a different angle. I intend to share how I have gone about arriving at my own position. I will begin by immediately stating what the Bible clearly forbids when it comes to birth control. From there I will survey the Bible to find principles that are helpful in the discussion. That will take us to the end of this article, leaving me to say more another day.

We begin here: The Bible is silent on any explicit discussion of the subject of birth control. (If you are wondering about Onan, feel free to scroll to the bottom of this article.) Nowhere in the Bible does God command that a couple must or should use birth control at any stage in their marriage. Likewise, nowhere in the Bible does God explicitly forbid the use of birth control. It’s not that birth control did not exist in the day the Bible was written, but simply that God, for his own good purposes, chose not to give us explicit direction. However, the Bible has so much to say about marriage and sexuality and family and human life that we are not simply left guessing and hoping for the best.

What God Forbids

From what the Bible teaches about life and marriage, we can all affirm that two methods of birth control are clearly forbidden by Scripture.

God Forbids Abstinence. The Bible tells us that spouses are not to deprive one another but, rather, are to regularly enjoy the sexual relationship. The only exception is given by the Apostle Paul who says that a couple may abstain for a short time in order to devote themselves to prayer. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Long-term abstinence within marriage is not to be used as a method of birth control.

February 27, 2012

I am better at sinning than asking forgiveness. This morning, as if to prove this, I found myself thinking about a situation that came up a couple of years ago. For weeks I had been trying to figure out something with a nearby bank—something that should have been simple. It had been a comedy of errors. Every time I tried to do something (anything!), it seemed that their incompetence or ignorance conspired against me. I would receive a phone call telling me to come in and sign papers, but when I got there I would be told that the papers were actually still at the head office. 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.

Finally I was told I could drop by to fill out the paperwork for a safe deposit box they had reserved for me. 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. I rolled my eyes, barked something grumpy and stormed away with a black rain cloud over my head.

Fifteen minutes after I got home the branch called and left a message to say that there was a safe deposit box for me after all. Once again I headed back to the branch 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 was ready. I was prepped.

February 20, 2012

My recent studies of Ephesians have marked me deeply. It may be that the most important application to my life has been in the awareness of Satan’s work around me and, on that basis, learning how to stand firm. Ephesians 6 is a powerful call to be aware of the enemy and his army; it teaches that there is an enemy who devotes his entire existence to the destruction of God’s work and God’s people. Every Christian is engaged in battle against him.

In his grace the Lord gives spiritual armor to equip us to fight this spiritual battle. What is God’s armor? Paul lists six things, six pieces of armor that allow you to stand in this battle.

Stand by arming yourself with truth. You arm yourself by fastening on the belt of truth. You arm yourself with truth by knowing the facts of what is true, by confessing the doctrine of the Bible. Once you know what is true and are growing in your knowledge of it, you practice the truth. You live your life in a way that shows that you actually believe these things and that they really do matter. Truth is not merely abstract facts, but the way we live our lives. If you don’t live like it’s true, you don’t really believe that it’s true! So arm yourself for battle, arm yourself to defeat Satan, by knowing what is true and living out that truth.

Stand by arming yourself with righteousness. You arm yourself by fastening on the breastplate, the body armor, of righteousness. You put on righteousness when you put on your new identity in Christ. You put on righteousness when you know and believe and proclaim that you are no longer a slave to sin, you are no longer dead in sin, but are now alive in Christ. When you became a Christian you were given a whole new identity and now you are now constantly battling to be who you are, to put on this new identity. Satan often calls this identity into question, trying to convince you that you still belong to him. But you can turn back his attacks by embracing and believing the truth that you belong to Christ.

February 08, 2012

The Prius Fallacy: “a belief that switching to an ostensibly more benign form of consumption turns consumption itself into a boon for the environment.” That’s how David Owen, in his recent Wall Street Journal article, “It’s Too Easy Being Green,” defines the Prius Fallacy. Here’s how he illustrates it in action:

A favorite trick of people who consider themselves friends of the environment is reframing luxury consumption preferences as gifts to humanity. A new car, a solar-powered swimming-pool heater, a 200-mile-an-hour train that makes intercity travel more pleasant and less expensive, better-tasting tomatoes—these are the sacrifices we’re prepared to make for the future of the planet.

He lays on the sarcasm pretty thick in that last sentence, but in case you don’t catch it in the article he finishes with the clarification, “Our capacity for self-deception can be breathtaking.”

Owen’s article is insightful and rather humorous as he considers what many of us find ourselves thinking about consumption: that by substituting what we would ordinarily consume with a different product (which, typically, also happens to be nicer, more expensive and “greener”) we’re somehow consuming less. But that’s not true. The result is that we actually end up consuming more, and justifying it more.

Even when we act with what we believe to be the best of intentions, our efforts are often at cross-purposes with our goals. Increasing the efficiency of lighting encourages us to illuminate more. Relieving traffic congestion reduces the appeal of public transit and fuels the growth of suburban sprawl. A robust market for ethanol exacerbates global hunger by diverting cropland from the production of food.

Near the end of the article he gets at the heart of what is going on:

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