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Christian Living

December 01, 2011

This “occupy” movement has made headlines all over the world—far more headlines than it deserves based on the actual number of people participating. A little while ago I came across an interesting little video, a piece of street theater generated by some of the participants of Occupy Wall Street. They call it simply, “Life Under Capitalism.” Here it is:

Did you get that? From cradle to grave, from morning to night, capitalism demands that we work. Of course we all know that life under socialism (which is what many of the occupiers are advocating) is a life of luxury and ease, right? Neverminding the obvious, it struck me that what is depicted here is not so much life under capitalism, but life in this cursed and sin-stained world. Whether you live under capitalism or socialism or under the most rudimentary economy of hunting-gathering, the reality is much the same: you work and then you die. And it all goes back to man’s fall into sin.

After Adam sinned, God pronounced his judgment on him. Here is what he said:

November 28, 2011

The relationship of Christians to alcohol is one of those perennial issues. It has often been the source of heated disagreement and even separation. It is a particularly important topic in the United States, but, since much of the rest of the world is culturally downstream from the U.S., it effects every Christian to some degree. Today I want to discuss the issue of alcohol, or at least one component of it. (Parenthetically, many Americans may not know this, but alcohol is a non-issue for Christians in many other parts of the world.)

A Personal Perspective

For reasons that I will explain in a moment, I believe it would be useful to begin with a personal perspective. I was raised in a Christian home and I was raised around alcohol. While my parents (Christians, both) never drank to the point of drunkenness, or even close to it, there was often wine or beer in our home. My parents never hid this from us and they were never ashamed of enjoying a drink. When we were children and asked if we could have a sip of beer or wine, my parents would allow us (and enjoy our disgusted reaction to it). By the time I was a teen, alcohol had been thoroughly demystified.

There is another pertinent detail. A relative I love was an alcoholic and I saw, up close and personal, the danger excess could bring. The demystication of alcohol along with witnessing the effect of drunkenness left me with no desire to get drunk. I have never been drunk and have never even gotten close.

Even today I don’t really drink. It happens that I really dislike the taste of alcohol, so tend to abstain for reasons of preference. At a wedding I may have a sip or two of champagne with the toasts and perhaps once in the summer on a really hot day I will have a beer or half a beer. But that’s all. Aileen drinks a little bit, but barely more than I do. If you come to our home you’ll probably find a couple of bottles of beer in the fridge. They may well be there still the next time you visit.

Why am I telling you this? I say all this to show that I’ve really got no personal reason to defend the consumption of alcohol. I very happily live an alcohol-free life. Not that I intend to defend the consumption of alcohol, because that is not my purpose here.

November 21, 2011

AIDSIn 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta published a report saying that they had identified, without probable cause, five cases of a rare strain of pneumonia among men in Los Angeles. By the following July, this disease, now appearing in isolated pockets around the world, was given the name Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. Just two years later, proclaiming that we would soon be able to inoculate people against this disease, the United States Health and Human Services Secretary said, “yet another terrible disease is about to yield to patience, persistence and outright genius.” Almost twenty years later, we know a great deal more about the disease, but we still have no cure and no inoculation. Since its discovery AIDS has claimed over 25 million lives.

Yet AIDS has never killed anyone; not in the truest sense. As scientists researched AIDS in the months and years after its discovery, they came to see that it was not really a disease itself but was in fact a collection of symptoms and infections stemming from a common cause that they soon identified as what we now know as Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV.

But HIV does not kill people either. HIV is what is known as a retrovirus—a kind of virus that can insert its DNA into a host cell’s genome and then reside there indefinitely. Transferred through bodily fluids, HIV primarily attaches itself to important cells in the immune systems—cells that defend the body from infection and disease. As infection spreads to greater and greater numbers of certain types of these cells, the body becomes susceptible to infections, tumors and other life-threatening illnesses. Viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi that a healthy immune system can easily defeat soon rage unchecked by the weakened immune system. Eventually most HIV patients develop what we know as AIDS. While it typically takes nine or ten years for HIV to become AIDS, a person with AIDS has a life expectancy of less than one year.

November 16, 2011

I’ve had it on my heart this week to write about hope and joy. To do that I’ve gone looking for the hope that sustained the Apostle Paul as he endured trial after trial in his ministry. My logic here is simple: If Paul suffered greatly and found joy, those of us who suffer lightly in comparison should be able to find the same joy. A couple of days ago I showed that Paul found hope in the promise of resurrection and yesterday I showed that the resurrection was not an end in itself, but the means to the greater end of coming into the presence of God.

I want to wrap this up today and show how Paul progressed even from here. Even coming into the presence of God was the means to another end and here is why. With a resurrected body and in the presence of God he could now join in the most complete and heartfelt praise and worship of God. He knew that as he shared the gospel, the power of the gospel would continue to save souls. Each of these people would be added to the throng that would worship the Lord in that final day. Thinking about sharing the gospel despite pain and persecution he writes, “We speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving” (2 Corinthians 4:13). The math here is simple: the more people who hear the gospel, the more that can be saved. The more people who become Christians, the more people who can join with one voice in glorifying the Father for who he is and for what he has done. And some day all those who have been redeemed will gather together to praise the Lord.

Here is what the Apostle John wrote after seeing that day in a vision:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

There is a great throng, a huge crowd of people, so many that John couldn’t number them, people from all times and places, from all people and races, standing before the Lord and crying out together in praise to him. Paul knew of that day, he believed in that day, and he longed to participate in that great worship. 

What was pain, what was persecution, what was suffering and nakedness and sword and hunger and all the rest, in comparison to joining with all of these people, all of these Christians, and joining that congregation in praising the Lord?

There is just one more component: the promise of glory. Resurrection will bring us to God’s presence. God’s presence will cause us to break out in praise. Do you see how Paul builds this? Resurrection to presence to praise and finally to glory. All of this praise will bring glory to God. Again, in verse 13 says: “We speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” This is the ultimate goal, the ultimate end, in it all. We are justified to bring glory to God. We are resurrected to bring glory to God. We come to God’s presence to bring glory to God. We offer praise to bring glory to God. Paul’s ultimate hope was not in escaping pain or experiencing a new body; it was the opportunity to glorify God.

November 15, 2011

Yesterday I mentioned that I had gone looking for the source of the joy that seemed to mark the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Here is a man who suffered greatly in all the years he ministered for the Lord and yet a man who was full of joy, or at least a man who didn’t sink into the depths of despair. As I went looking for the source of his joy I found that it was grounded in hope—the hope of the ressurection. That was a great discovery to me and one that has genuinely changed the way I look at life and death and all the pain and difficulty and weariness that life brings.

But I found that there was more to his hope than only the promise of resurrection. Paul trusted in the sure promise of God’s presence. He knew that we who believe will be resurrected so we can come into the presence of God. And this, God’s presence, will be the greatest joy of heaven. He says in 2 Corinthians verse 13, “We speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” We will be raised and resurrected so we can be brought into the presence of God. The resurrection is not an end in itself, but the means to a greater end.

That is a great promise—the greatest promise of all—that we will experience the presence of God. What greater joy could we know? Some day, when we are given our resurrection bodies, when earth itself has been resurrected and renewed, we will experience the direct presence of the Lord.

There at last we will know the Father, we will experience the direct enjoyment of God. This is so great, it is so wonderful, that we cannot imagine all that it will mean. We will see face-to-face the Father, who has no body, who has no face. We will enjoy his presence in an unmediated way. We will experience the fullness of his presence. We will need no temple there to worship him, we will need no mediator to approach him, we will need no light to see him. We will see him face-to-face, there in his presence, experiencing all that he is in the deepest way. There are no words to adequately describe this reality, so we can only long for it as an experience we hope for and long for and dream of. It will be the fulfillment of every longing for every enjoyment.

November 14, 2011

Paul is not only the greatest theologian of the New Testament, but he is also a man whose life is worthy of emulation. He did not just know theology, but he also practiced it. What amazes me is that though the man endured an amazing amount of abuse and torment, he continued to be full of joy. I went looking for the source of Paul’s joy and found myself in 2 Corinthians 4. There I learned that Paul found joy in hope—hope in the future resurrection that had been guaranteed through Christ’s resurrection.

Paul knew that he had already been justified through the death of Christ, but that as a mortal man his body would eventually die, that his body was just temporary. He believed that in due time he would be given a resurrected body. He lived in that period between the accomplishment of Christ’s work of redemption and the final consummation of all that God has planned for his people. Paul found confidence, sure hope, in his knowledge of what would come.

As he considered speaking the gospel, as he considered the possibility of more danger, more beatings, more trouble, more toil, he said, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (verse 13). Paul knew that just as Jesus had been resurrected, he too would be resurrected. Paul never minimized the importance of having a body—he was the same guy who called the body the temple of the Holy Spirit and told people to take care of their bodies. And yet he knew that this body was only temporary and that even his body was to be used in service to the Lord. Paul would never purposely defile or deface his body. But he would take a beating, he would have other people leave scars on his body, he would let them destroy his body, if that was the cost of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Through the history of the church Christians have counted their bodies as less important than their faith, as less important than obedience. Countless Christians have suffered otherwise unbearable torment, always with the hope of resurrection, the sure promise that they will have new bodies, perfected bodies, no longer earthen vessels but bodies that will last forever. “You can throw me in the flames, but I know that Jesus lives and so shall I. You may destroy my body for a while, but when the Lord returns he will resurrect and perfect it.” This has been the hope of so many Christians who willingly laid down their lives in service to the Lord.

Helen Roseveare was a missionary to the Congo for twenty years and while serving the Lord there she endured a particular form of torture that in some ways must have been worse than death. In 1964 she was captured by rebel forces and held captive. Noel Piper has written a short biography of her life and here is one excruciating scene from that book.

November 09, 2011

Once again, don’t run away from this blog post just because it has a Puritan flavor to it. I mentioned last month that I’ve been running through John Owen’s 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. I recently summarized the first chapter, The Foundation of Mortification and then the second chapter, Daily Put Sin to Death.

Today I am offering up this short summary of chapter 3, “The Holy Spirit Puts Sin to Death.” This chapter was often focused rather narrowly on the Roman Catholic Church, so I passed quickly over those parts (not that they are any less true today). Here is what Owen says about the work of the Holy Spirit in mortifying sin.

“The next principle relates to the great sovereign cause of mortification. [The Holy Spirit] only is sufficient for this work; all ways and means without him are as a thing of naught; and he is the great efficient of it—he works in us as he pleases.”

Other Remedies Are Vain

In vain do men seek other remedies; they shall not be healed by them. … The reasons why [some] can never, with all their endeavors, truly mortify any one sin, among others, are:

Because many of the ways and means they use and insist upon for this end were never appointed of God for that purpose. (Now, there is nothing in religion than has any efficacy for compassing an end, but it has it from God’s appointment of it to that purpose.)

November 09, 2011

The fourth chapter of Ephesians deals primarily with 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 that 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, which brings emphasis to 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, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Among Jesus’ final words to his apostles is the beautiful and powerful prayer for unity which is recorded for us in John 17. Peter and other biblical writers discuss the subject as well. Unity is clearly an important component to the Christian life.

Perhaps the clearest 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).

November 02, 2011

The more I grow in my knowledge of the Lord (by his grace) the more I see the utter centrality of the church, the local church, in his plan for his people. The more I learn of him, the more I see what a jewel the church is—what a blessing, what an honor it is to be part of something so amazing, so other-worldly. This is something that has been brought home to me in recent years primarily by the joy and privilege of being part of a faithful local church. But it has also been emphasized through many of the books I’ve read.

A little while ago I read Ligon Duncan’s book Does Grace Grow Best in Winter?, a book that deals with suffering. There was something in there that really grabbed my attention in this context of the local church.

You may be familiar with these words from the first chapter of Colossians:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

These are words I’ve read many times over the years, and yet somehow Duncan’s application of them was entirely fresh. In the chapter that provides the context for these verses he is explaining what God may be accomplishing through suffering and one of the four points he brings up is this one: Suffering serves to build up the church. Have you ever considered that through your suffering God is strengthening your church? He says, “Our suffering aids the maturity of the whole body of believers. It is extraordinary that our suffering is designed not only to work godliness in us as individuals, causing us to prize Christ more, but also to work maturity within the whole church.” And this is exactly what Paul points to in the opening verses of Colossians. “Suffering is God’s instrument to bring about the maturity of the whole church. God ordains for our suffering, as a participation in the suffering of Christ’s body, to bring about in the church the purposes of Christ’s affliction. In other words, sometimes God appoints his children to suffer so that the whole body will become mature.” We all know that as members of the church we are to rejoice together and to mourn together, but do we understand that these occasions of mourning are given for our maturity? If we truly are a body, each part dependent on the other, then it cannot be any other way. One person’s suffering is every person’s suffering; one person’s maturing is every person’s maturing.

October 26, 2011

I had an unusual and unexpected experience on Sunday—one that struck me as rather significant. I have been doing quite a bit of preaching at Grace Fellowship Church and elsewhere and knew that Sunday marked the last time I would have to prepare a fresh sermon until the end of the calendar year. Somehow this made me feel like I would be crossing a finish line when the service came to a close. It was a milestone I was looking forward to as it will allow me to focus on some other things for a while (good things, ministry things, but not preaching things).

I finished the sermon—quite an emotional and difficult one for me—and, after the service, was greeting people and then doing whatever else needs to be done at the close of a service. Very suddenly, and very unexpectedly, I was faced with a temptation to sin—to commit a sin to which I am particularly prone. I will not tell you what that sin is because I fear it would detract from what I am writing here. It could be envy or lust or fear of man or idolatry or any of the sins we find ourselves particularly drawn to. It is a sin for which I have experienced the Lord’s grace so that I am usually able to redirect my heart, at least in the moments that I am eager to honor God. And that is what I did. I saw the temptation to sin and immediately directed my heart to something better. 

But then something happened. I don’t even know how this can happen, but in just a brief second, less than a second, a thought flashed through my mind. It was something like this: “Come on now. You’ve finished preaching, so go ahead and indulge. God won’t punish you now.” It stopped me dead in my tracks for a moment. It was an ugly thought and one that somehow seemed extrinisic to me. I truly don’t know where it came from. At least, I don’t think I’ve ever thought that before.

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