Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dail Devo: Thursday, Sept 25, 2008

“A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light,

so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”

John 1:6-8 (NKJV)

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul calls believers “children of the light”. We were once darkness, he states, but now we are light (Eph 5:8). A lighthouse is intended to save lives and protect others from danger. A torch is intended to help one avoid the danger of a darkened path. Headlights on an automobile allow the driver to maneuver safely on the roadway. Light brings hope and freedom. It also alerts those in darkness that hope and freedom are possible. It is one of the great privileges of a believer to be God’s “instrument of light” for bringing someone to salvation. From the very lips of Christ we hear our profound calling: “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

Even so, scripture does not want us to be ignorant of the true source of our light.
In Ephesians 5:8 Paul does not say simply that we are the light, but rather we are light “in Christ”. John Locke brings out the centrality of Christ in his paraphrase of this verse. He writes: “For ye were heretofore, in your Gentile state, perfectly in the dark; but now, by believing in Christ, and receiving the Gospel, light and knowledge is given to you.” We offer nothing to our salvation, and of ourselves there is nothing redeemable. “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Psalm 3:8). As the contemporary song truthfully proclaims, “the only thing good in me is Jesus”. John Calvin once warned his congregation by saying, “let us learn to distrust ourselves, knowing that all we can ever bring of our own will does nothing else than turn us away from salvation.” As believers, we are the light of the world—but only because the perfect light of Jesus shines brightly in us.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Daily Devo: Wednesday, Sept 24, 2008

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”
Phil 4:4 (NKJV)

In Sunday messages we often hear the word “grace”. Most pastors define grace as “unmerited favor”—when we get something good we do not deserve. This certainly is a correct and excellent definition, but its meaning is much bigger. Contained here is the idea of absolute joy, unparalleled happiness, and ultimate merriment. In ancient times, it was used by Greeks as a morning greeting. One would greet family members and friends by saying “grace to you”, a phrase meaning something like “be merry”. This was no half-hearted way of saying ‘hello’. In fact, this expression was used in pagan worship ceremonies to summon the attention of the gods. The devotee would begin worship by declaring he wished his god merriment and joy. The word for “rejoice” (chaéŒroµ) in the New Testament is actually a form of the Greek word for grace (chaŒris). Deep inside everyone desires to be filled with joy and happiness. We fill our lives with celebrations, holidays, birthdays, banquets, and back-yard barbecues because these moments offer us the (all too brief and incomplete) experience of a merry heart. For the Greek citizen to wish another to “be merry” (“grace to you”) was the wish of every person.

Scripture never asks us to follow after God slavishly without the hope of reward. Our Father is not an angry task-master who beats his servants into submission and demands we serve him joylessly. Likewise, salvation is not the promise of getting “stuff” that will make us happy. Though many peddle a gospel that defines happiness as attaining wealth, health or even heaven; the true Gospel defines happiness as something that originates from being in the presence of God. Biblically speaking, true joy is only possible when we are “in Christ”. Left to ourselves, we turn inward for joy. It is in that fallible source where we try to find self-worth and happiness, but are only left with emptiness and disillusionment. However, those who live in the light of Christ recognize that he alone is infallibly truthful and perfect. They experience an everlasting satisfaction and a true sense of worth. Grace certainly is unmerited favor. It is the gift of Christ, which we do not deserve, yet which offers us joy without end.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Daily Devo: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“And God separated the light from the darkness”

Genesis 1:4 (ESV)

The words ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ serve as powerful metaphors in the Bible. ‘Darkness’ often referred to ‘obscurity, gloom’ and was used in the ancient Greek world to describe the darkness that surrounds death. It came to be seen as something that obscures and consumes. The ‘darkness of death’ was a fate from which no one could escape, and no one can ever return. Quite fittingly, in the Old Testament it could be used to refer to God’s judgment. The word ‘light’, on the other hand, was often a metaphor for “happiness, victory, and glory”. In the Bible it is often used to signify God’s presence. Over and over Scripture uses this image to describe our new nature as believers. A true believer, properly understood, is one who has been called “out of darkness into [Christ’s] marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

One of my favorite ancient tales was Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In the story, a prisoner was chained in a dark cave with his back to the entrance. As humans and animals passed in front of the cave, the shaft of light penetrating its entrance formed shadows of the reality outside the cave. He mistook the shadows for reality, though in actuality reality was obscured and remained hidden. The book of Job tells us that “there are those who rebel against the light, who are not acquainted with its ways” (24:13). Jesus states that those who are evil hate the light (John 3:20). Darkness only hides and silently destroys, whereas light brings truth and life.

Just like their physical cousins, spiritual light and spiritual darkness are mutually exclusive. When Paul asks “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14) the answer, clearly, is nothing. For believers, this means that the values we cherish and live by will be diametrically opposed to those of our surrounding culture. Christians, we must remember who we are! The world desperately needs the life-giving light of Christ, and he has placed us as the beaming lanterns of hope in a world obscured in destructive darkness. Each evening we should ask God’s forgiveness for failing to brightly display the light of his glory, but also ask him for the strength to be such a light tomorrow.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Daily Devo: Monday, Sept 22, 2008

“How can two walk together that are not agreed?”
Amos 3:3

There is an old hymn of the faith that begins “Blest be the ties that bind”. Humans have a remarkable capacity to search and find other individuals with whom they hold things in common. Cultures, sub-cultures, tribes, clans, dialects, and accents set people apart, but also brings them together. I remember once while traveling in the remote mountain regions of northeast India we entered a sizeable village. Traveling with locals, I was the only white-skinned man in the entire region. Yet as we walked through the marketplace I heard someone calling in perfect English. Turning, a man with a distinctively British accent was running up and calling for me to stop. As he approached he thrust out his hand, “Good morning, Yank, what brings you to India?” After this comical introduction we conversed for almost an hour, our language (and skin color) bringing about some semblance of familiarity. However, it was this same language (and yes, also skin color) that brought about a profound unfamiliarity with everything else that surrounded me. While I came to love and cherish the hill tribes of northeast India these attributes guaranteed that I will forever remain distinct from them.

In his first letter to the Thessalonians the apostle Paul tells the believers that they are “sons of light”. Yet he doesn’t stop there. He quickly adds that they are “not of the night or of darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). Scripture repeatedly reminds us that followers of Christ are distinct from the world around us. The repeated Old Testament refrain was “come out from among them”. The ways of the world are not the ways of the Christian. Just as the sun cannot caste forth rays of darkness, neither can the true believer live as an unbeliever. Oil poured into water immediately separates as its very properties refuse to allow the two liquids to have anything in common. As believers, we are the very stars of God, and we must “come out from among” the non-believing world and shine our distinctive light.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Evangelicalism: a "tool" of the Republican Party

On this blog I am decidedly non-political. This is partly because the subject annoys me, and partly because of self-preservation (lest my Democratic friends discover my subtle Republican leanings or my Republican friends catch wind of my Democratic tendencies).

Despite my avoidance of the subject publicly, I am aggressively political privately. Had it not been for a clear call into ministry I could have easily moved into the political arena. My personal passions are faith and culture (which includes politics). As such, any place where faith and politics connect fascinates me. Recently, much conversation has taken place over the role of Evangelicals in politics. The newer, "emerging" version of Evangelicalism has been quick to accuse the more conservative section of being a "tool" of the Republican party. They maintain we are simply being used by the Republicans, and in response claim their own freedom from this self-imposed political slavery.

It is interesting to watch this supposed freedom as it plays out. Recently, Donald Miller offered the closing prayer at the Democratic Convention. In that prayer, he asks for forgiveness for our human weaknesses. Sounds good, but then he defined this weakness as a tendency towards 'apathy'. Certainly apathy is contrary to a robust Christianity, but then one realizes that apathy, in the prayer, is defined as disagreement with the Democratic Party platform. There are no appeals in the prayer for the protection of the unborn, or for government to honor the place and rights of families. Instead we hear Miller appealing to the sovereign God for teachers to get pay raises and help in getting our country to embrace the DNP's plan of diplomacy.

Other "emerging" Evangelical leaders are doing similar things. Jim Wallis, the outspoken liberal-version of James Dobson, has fully aligned himself with the Democratic party, as has the self-promoted cultural prophet Tony Campollo. In a recent video ad, Brian McClaren endorsed Obama for President because of his "strong Christian faith". He assures his viewers that Obama will "stand by" our families.

I have much sympathy for Evangelicals who are drawn to the democratic party. There should be room for honest differences of opinion regarding big vs small government, militarism vs diplomacy, free market vs governmental-controlled economy, wealth redistribution vs trickle-down economics, industrialization vs environmentalism, etc. Faithful Christians may legitimately opt for membership in the Democratic party, correctly recognizing that abortion and homosexuality are not the only moral issues facing this country (for example, the issues of poverty, sexism, and racism).

It is not my point here to discuss the propiety of a Christian choosing a particular political stance. My interest lies in the refusal to be a "tool" to any political party. It is claimed that the Republican side has used the Evangelicals, while not producing results for Evangelicals (abortion being a chief example). Frankly, I am curious as to how things will be different on the other side. Do these emerging and left-leaning Evangelicals truly believe they are not being used by the Democratic party?

Miller evokes a prayer to the very Sovereign at whom Democrats sneer while murdering innocents. McClaren promises us that Obama will 'stand by' our families even as the candidate zealously rejects the historic meaning of the word 'family'. Campolo berates Christians for our stance towards homosexuality while being seemingly obliously towards Democrats stance towards Christianity. Wallis rightly promotes the need for justice and peace while wrongly ignoring the pre-natal baby's need for those very things.

Such Evangelicals have not ceased being tools, they have merely swithced hands.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bavinckian Delight

Fans of Herman Bavinck apparently can have their cake and eat it too! The last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in the Dutch theologian with the crowning achievement being the translation and publication of his four volume Reformed Dogmatics by Baker Books.

A new volume on the Holy Spirit is being issued. This is not an extraction from his larger Dogmatics, but rather a distinct work altogether. I have one on order, and look forward to providing a full review.

Christianity without Chapter 3

This past week Ray Boltz, the celebrated CCM artist, announced his life long secret of homosexuality. Boltz choose to make his announcement through the gay magazine The Washington Blade.

“I’d denied it ever since I was a kid," Boltz, now 55, told the magazine. "I became a Christian, I thought that was the way to deal with this and I prayed hard and tried for 30-some years and then at the end, I was just going, ‘I’m still gay. I know I am.’ And I just got to the place where I couldn’t take it anymore … when I was going through all this darkness, I thought, ‘Just end this.’”

Things had not always been so dark for Boltz. Early in his life, after a tragic accident, Boltz committed his life to Christ at a Southern Gospel concert. “That evening had a profound impact on my life,” he says. “I realized that this was the truth and that Jesus was alive … that’s really where I made a commitment to Christ. I decided I could be born again and all of the things I was feeling in the past would fall away and I would have this new life.”

However, the struggle continued. Though married for over 30 years, and the father of four grown children, Boltz finally made the decision to cease his struggles against homosexual desire. In 2004 he announced the decision to the family, but only recently came forward publically.

“This is what it really comes down to,” he says. “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”

Boltz says he has been dating and lives “a normal gay life” now.

It is interesting that Boltz so readily appeals to God as creator. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 record the creative genius and power of God as he formed not only the universe and this world, but also the human beings who now live in it. For Boltz, accepting his homosexuality is tantamount to accepting the Creator's design for his life. Such biblical appeal seems powerful and faithful, but it is important to notice the theological slight-of-hand that has taken place. Boltz can only arrive at such a conclusion by ignoring Genesis 3.

In that chapter, God reveals to us our fall from holiness into sin. A Christianity without chapter 3 can never understand the seriousness of sin, and therefore can never understand the atonement which Christ offers. Instead of continuing to lay his sins at the feet of the Lamb (whom he wrote so much about), Boltz simply relabeled them. We will never feel compelled to atone for something we do not consider wrong in the first place. "Salvation", in such a system of thought" is not acheived by conformity to God's law (through Christ), but rather by being "true to ourselves".

We need to pray for Boltz, and we must pray for the Evangelical church which has lost its theological & biblical bearings.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Faithlessness and Politics

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press recently published the results of a survey suggesting that “a narrow majority of the public [believes] that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters and not express their views on day-to-day social and political matters.”

I have the same opinion regarding the non-religious. How nice would it be if only they would keep out of political matters and refrain from expressing their views on day-to-day social matters! Who do they think they are?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Piper's Preaching Pickle

On Sunday evenings I've been preaching through the Gospel of Matthew for over a year and a half. Occasionally I get asked "why is this taking so long?" I usually have pointed to the story of Joseph Caryl, the puritan preacher who supposedly preached through the book of Job verse by verse for over 17 years (fyi, I have his 12-volume series on my bookshelf just to drive my point home).

The other day I noticed the following post by John Piper on the Desiring God blog:

"God willing, this Fall I will begin a new extended series of sermons on the Gospel of John. When Jon Bloom, the Executive Director of Desiring God, heard this, he wrote me a note. He was both thrilled and curious:

I’m thrilled that you will be preaching through the Gospel of John! It is my favorite Gospel. Over the last two years, 2006-2007, I memorized it, and it was so rich. To have you preach through it will be a great joy! Hebrews has 303 verses: You preached 52 sermons. Romans has 433 verses: You preached 224 messages. John has 879 verses...

He left the sentence dangling. The curiosity is: How long will this series of messages on the Gospel of John last? Romans took eight years. John is twice as long..."

In the longer version of that post (found here), Piper perhaps threatens a little when he writes:

"I am 62 as we begin. So someone may ask, “Why start a series of messages on the fourth-longest book in the New Testament? Do you want to die in this book?” I cannot think of a better place to die."

Looks like I'll have another 12-volume series to put on the shelf next to Caryl. I better add reinforcing brackets to the wall.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Michigan Seeks Forced Registration of Homseschoolers

According to a recent Detroit News article, a bill pending in Michigan House of Representatives would require Michigan families, for the first time, to register their homeschooled children with the local district's superintendent. Required information would be name, age, and grade level. Rep. Brenda Clack (D-Flint), a former educator for 32 years, authored the bill earlier this year.

Clack writes: Many children who are homeschooled in their elementary years transfer to public schools in middle or high school "because they want to be mainstreamed with everyone else," Clack said. But without any accountability as to the "number of students that are being homeschooled, it could pose a problem in the future. (Registering) gives information for districts to plan in the future, even the building of new schools."

Responding to fears of governmental infringement, she states: "There's this fear out there from especially those that are homeschooling that there is going to be an infringement, that this will lead to something else," she said. "As a former educator, all I need is accountability in terms of numbers of students being educated."

As an elected official on my local school district's Board of Education, I sympathize with the need for strategic planning. Many fail to realize that school's board must not only concentrate on the present needs of the district (e.g. settling union contracts, creating reasonable class sizes, maintaining and enhancing current programs, etc), but also must continually think about the long-term viability of the district. Thus, when attempting to settle on a fair and equitable contract with the teacher's union, we must also consider how this impacts the district 15 years from now. I fully understand Clack's desire for information that would be valuable to such planning.

Furthermore, a public school has two basic mandates from the people of Michigan: (1) produce an adequately educated young adult, and (2) produce a responsible citizen. One of the helpful ingredients of a democratic government is an educated, informed, and responsible citizenry. It is thus in the government's best interest to ensure that a child is adequately educated.

If these were the only issues at hand, then I would firmly support the government's right to require homeschool registration (and perhaps even oversight of homeschool curriculum). However, there is a deeper principle that forms the fabric of this nation--personal liberty. Thus, while the it is in the government's best interest to ensure a responsible citizenry, it is in the citizen's best interest to ensure limited governmental influence over their lives.

Clack's proposal is typical of lawmakers. Simply put, they do not trust the public. Government then becomes the 'Fatherland' and the public assumes the role of naive child. A child, it is understood, cannot make their own decisions; and, even if they do, those decisions require parental oversight. The citizens of the United States are not children, and the government was not intended to play the role of a parent.

Requiring parents to register their children is an infringement of parental rights. While schools understandably desire this information, it is a betrayal of liberty to require parents to provide it. As a school board member, I would like to know how many school age children live in our district. As a parent, the number of school age children living in my home is not the business of the state. Where, and how, I choose to educate my children is a confidential matter between my wife and I. The principle of personal liberty also means that I do not have to report our decisions to any local authority, any superintendent, or even a representative from the city of Flint

HT: Artur Sido

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Can a Woman Really Led Our Nation?

To those who think the "weaker sex" is incapable of leading and protecting this nation, might I remind you that a 'picture is worth a thousand words'.

Introducing Next Week's Special Music

Of course, I am only joking about having this group sing. Regardless of the decade, this is just plain bad.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A New (Biblical?) Breed of Feminism

A New (Biblical?) Breed of Feminism

Conservative Evangelicals have instinctively abhorred the feminist movement, though perhaps the more Hellenistic variety of Evangelicalism has been deeply influenced by its central message. Perhaps this divergence can be best seen in two Evangelical societies, both with large constituencies. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood represents a more historic (er, I mean Conservative) interpretation of Biblical teaching whereas Christians for Biblical Equality represents a decidedly non-patriarchal approach. Underlying both is a major cultural force: radical atheistic feminism. In many ways, both societies are a reaction against as well as an accomodation to this pervasive ideaology--though in diverse ways to to differing degrees. CBMW seeks to recognize the mistakes of traditionalistic patriarchalism, which they say radical feminism rightly hated, even while attempting to embrace a softened, biblical form of gender role distinctions. CBE, conversely, admits that radical feminism has gone too far, but affirms its core message which denies any natural distinction in gender roles. It seems these two Evangelical groups are in a deadlocked war, entrenched with neither side being able to retreat nor claim victory.

Perhaps Sarah Palin can come to our rescue! (Yes, that is partially tongue-in-cheek). I came across this article by Camille Paglia on Palin's version of feminism. I'm not sure which society Mrs. Palin would join if given the chance. If what Camille describes is truly feminism, it is a feminism I can live with. Camille Paglia writes:

Here’s one episode. My father and his visiting brother, a dapper barber by trade, were standing outside having a smoke when a great noise came from the nearby barn. A calf had escaped. Our landlady yelled, “Stop her!” as the calf came careening at full speed toward my father and uncle, who both instinctively stepped back as the calf galloped through the mud between them. Irate, our landlady trudged past them to the upper pasture, cornered the calf, and carried that massive animal back to the barn in her arms. As she walked by my father and uncle, she exclaimed in amused disgust, “Men!”

Now that’s the Sarah Palin brand of can-do, no-excuses, moose-hunting feminism–a world away from the whining, sniping, wearily ironic mode of the establishment feminism represented by Gloria Steinem, a Hillary Clinton supporter whose shameless Democratic partisanship over the past four decades has severely limited American feminism and not allowed it to become the big tent it can and should be. Sarah Palin, if her reputation survives the punishing next two months, may be breaking down those barriers. Feminism, which should be about equal rights and equal opportunity, should not be a closed club requiring an ideological litmus test for membership.

Daily Devos - Wednesday AM, September 10, 2008

A fool’s wrath is known at once, But a prudent man covers shame.
Proverbs 12:16 (NKJV)

Vedius Pollio isn’t exactly a household name. He would be found in few history books, and then possibly appearing only in the footnotes. He was a rather obscure wealthy landowner in ancient Rome. For what we can gather, he had a fairly remarkable success story. He had been a slave and was eventually granted his freedom, presumably for serving his master well. He quickly demonstrated business and financial skills and after some time became quite wealthy. He eventually grew so rich that when he held banquets the elites of Roman society would attend. As he grew in prominence he made important personal connections with the business and political leaders within the Roman Empire. These relationships succeeded in winning him personal acquaintance with Emperor Augustus—at that time the single most politically powerful human being on the planet. The day finally arrived when the emperor himself would grace one of Vedius’ magnificent celebrations.

However, Vedius is not remembered for his wealth, or his banquets, or even his “pulled-up-by-the-boot-straps” success story. He is only known for his cruelty. When the meal was being served, one of Vedius’ slaves shattered a crystal vessel in front of the guests. Enraged, the host ordered (as he had done before) the negligent slave to be thrown into his garden pool filled with deadly lampreys—certainly an excruciatingly painful death. Breaking free from his fellow slaves (now serving as his executioners), he fell before the feet of the emperor and implored not to be killed in such a gruesome manner. As the story goes, Augustus saved the slave’s life by ordering all the crystal in the house to be smashed and fed to the lampreys.

How often do we overreact to situations? Granted, perhaps in our anger we have not ordered someone’s execution (though at times the only thing that retrains us is our lack of legal authority to do so). The principle here is the all-too-human tendency to respond to our irritations with fierce, unforgiving wrath. Our children disobey so we launch into a verbal tirade. Our spouses annoy so we abuse them with our tongues. At work we demean a fellow worker behind his back for a perceived insult. When we sense a betrayal or an offense our hearts darken against the individual and we smother any trace of love of compassion for them.

For Christ followers, our response is to be love mixed with wisdom—and it is only in Christ that these two things collide together. We are commanded to forgive, but we are also commanded to wisely implement that forgiveness. It is not enough to simply forgive a wrongdoing; our hearts should also yearn to protect the wrongdoer if we can. Instead of showing them our anger, which points the spotlight on the faults of the wrongdoer, we are to offer them our mercy and love in such a manner that takes the focus off their wrongdoing. Sinful wrath wants a public hearing so that all may see our vindication. Saintly love wants a private giving of mercy so that the wrongdoer may see our compassion.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Daily Devo - Tuesday AM September 9, 2008

“So they left all the commandments of the Lord their God,
made for themselves a molded image…”

2 Kings 17:16 (NKJV)

Just over 2,070 years ago something happened that was both tragic and triumphant. The Jewish people had already revolted against Roman rule, something that the expansionist pre-Italian race did not look favorably upon. Their response was swift and severe. As the punitive war reached its zenith, the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC and did the unthinkable. In an act clearly intended to demonstrate Roman superiority, Pompey entered the holy of holies of the Jerusalem Temple. This sacred space, as it was so clearly regarded in both Old Testament scripture and Jewish religious practice, was reserved for Yahweh alone. No human could enter, save the Jewish High Priest and even in this exception but once per year. The Romans were engaging in what we now call “psychological warfare”. By this act, they were telling the Jews that the Romans ruled their lives. They were stronger than the Jews, and even stronger than the Jewish God.

The tragic nature of this event left a scare in the Jewish consciousness. Not only did the Jewish people feel powerless, but they also felt spiritually humiliated. Regarding this event, the Roman historian Tacticus wrote, “From that moment on, it was public knowledge that the temple housed no deity image and that it was an unoccupied place, an empty secret.” 1 Throughout the empire the Jewish religion became little more than a joke. They had heard about Yahweh-worship for many years, and were perhaps anxious for some image of the deity to bring back as booty. Now rumors quickly spread that the Jerusalem temple held no such image. The Jews were considered so backwards and primitive as to believe in a God who couldn’t even be seen!

But therein lies the great triumph! When Pompey entered the holy of holies he only found dust. The general hoped to be impressed by the splendor of an idol, but he failed to recognize the true Deity whose splendor could never be contained in such an object. But, you may be asking ‘where is the triumph?’ The triumph is in what Pompey couldn’t see. Scripture teaches us that God is spirit. Pompey was impressed with his Roman military muscle, which at that time was the most powerful physical force on earth. For Rome, an idol of Yahweh would have been simply another object to subdue and capture; but how does one subdue a spirit? How does one capture Yahweh? Centuries earlier another bully-nation was troubling Israel. As comfort to his people, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses are flesh, and not spirit” (Isaiah 31:2). The teaching is clear: Yahweh can never be defeated and will never be contained.

Throughout Israel’s history, and the Christian church’s as well, we see the regular temptation to image God. We want something to look at which will help us worship—a crucifix, a statue, a pulpit, or a picture. But God forbids this. We say to God, ‘an object will help me comprehend you. God says to us, ‘an object will only obscure me’. He is spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

Tacitus, Historiae 5.9

Auto-post failure

It seems that I made an error in my auto-post feature, and for the past few days the daily devotions and other articles have not been posting. I'll catch these up over the next few days (so I may do "Morning and Evening" devotions for a few days). Blessings.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fleeing from God

The following is a quotation from Augustine's Exposition on the Psalms (Psalm 94). It deals with the all-too-human tendency to attempt to run from God. Read, meditate, grow...

"When you want to do something bad, you withdraw from the public and hide in your house where no enemy may see you; from those parts of the house that are open and visible you remove yourself to go into your own private room. But even here in your private chamber you fear guilt from some other direction, so you withdraw into your heart and there you meditate. But God is even more deeply inward than your heart. Hence, no matter where you flee, he is there. You would flee from yourself, would you? Will you not follow yourself wherever you flee? But since there is One more deeply inward than yourself, there is no place to flee from a God who is angered except to a God who is pacified. There is absolutely no place for you to flee to. Do you want to flee from Him? Rather flee to Him!

Augustine of Hippo

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Daily Devos - Thursday, Sept 4, 2008

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

“Why am I here?” Though typically viewed as a question of young men and women, this inquiry comes from individuals representing all stages of life. Some time ago I sat by the bedside of a former missionary, aged and dying. Though he lived a life of faithfulness, doubts had now begun to enter and torment his mind. It is in these moments that one clearly sees the divine, strengthening power of the Word of God read aloud.

Yet the basic question remains, and is one that all human beings ask themselves. ‘What is the purpose of my existence?’ ‘Where am I going?’ ‘Are we advancing towards something, or simply living a meaningless life?’ Various philosophical schools seek to provide answers to these questions—some affirming, other disaffirming, meaning to our existence. One influential school of thought—Existentialism—suggests that ultimately life is meaninglessness; therefore an individual must create his or her own meaning. Though popular culture has largely followed an existential approach, it is far too absurd to offer us any real solution. If life is meaningless, then one cannot simply “create” meaning. Is it any wonder that those who follow culture’s “do your own thing” mentality fail to find peace?

There is, however, another model which competes for dominance in our contemporary world. Though suggestions of an evolutionary model were hinted at throughout history, the system of thought was rapidly embraced in the so-called Modern Era. Of course, there are those proponents of a “theistic” form of evolution.1 Nevertheless, the system of evolution that has been adopted by the intellectual establishment remains steadfastly anti-religious. It attempts nothing sort of proving a world without God, and remains the single most influential and substantive atheistic philosophy in history.

Belief in evolution was so warmly received because, absence of belief in God, it yet seemed to furnish grounds for hope of a better future.2 Humans have proven that they cannot function without this hope. We need to believe in something better. We need to believe that we are advancing—if not individually at least corporately. Perhaps evolution does not offer us heaven, but it makes the bold promise of a better world. While it denies us Paradise, it pledges to us Utopia.

Despite this promise, we are faced with a dilemma. Simply put, evolution has failed to deliver. Though we have seen amazing progress in technology and medicine (to name only two), we live increasingly fractured lives. The very technology that promised to bring the world closer together has driven families further apart. Though medicine has lengthened our lives, it has not endued those lives with meaning and fulfillment.

The biblical answer is to return to the beginning. In four simple words Scripture reframes our worldviews and offer us true, concrete, everlasting meaning. “In the beginning, God” not only instructs us of our past, but also guides our present and secures our future.

1 For example, even some highly conservative theologians such as B.B. Warfield. See Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings (Baker, 2000).
Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Vol 2, (Baker), p 89.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wednesday, Sept 3, 2008

“The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’”
Psalm 53:1 (NKJV)

If we listen to the voices coming from the university or the cultural elites we hear the constant message that “faith is dead”. Scientists, who once stayed within their sphere of analysis, are increasingly championing the overthrow of religion. Evolutionary Psychologists seek to liberate those clients who neurotically cling to the maladjustive view that God exists. High school history teachers make the most of the opportunity to instruct their students in the damage religion has caused throughout the history of the world. True, within pop culture there is a widespread embracing of mystical versions of spirituality. Yet even here there is a noticeable refusal to tolerate any notion of a God to whom one must give account of their lives.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, generally considered Rome’s finest orator, once stated that “There is no people so barbarous as not to believe in the gods”. Cicero, too, lived in a time when it was becoming increasingly en vogue to reject belief in the Divine. Yet the penetrating mind of this Latin philosopher saw through that atheistic subterfuge. In the depth of our hearts, we all believe in God. In Romans 1:21 Paul says “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Everyone serves a ‘god’ of some design, even while the depths of our hearts hold knowledge of the truth of Yahweh himself.

Recently I had a conversation with a teenager regarding belief in God. During the course of the conversation she repeatedly stated that she truly wanted to believe in Him, but just wasn’t sure if Christianity was true. Drug use, pre-marital sexuality, trouble with the police, and failing grades had become a regular part of this young woman’s life. Yet she remained adamant in her claim that she really wanted to believe.

With Romans 1:21 in mind, I asked this young woman a single question. “Have you ever considered the possibility that you already believe in God, yet you don’t want to acknowledge that because then you must live for him?” The question was followed by a long period of silence. Her eyes remained fixed on mine, as if waiting for me to continue. I kept silent. After a considerable period of time, she burst into tears and began to sob. Her only answer was to shake her head up and down. She knew God existed, but she was battling him for control of her life and soul.

Herman Bavinck once stated that “No one disbelieves in the existence of God except the person to whom God’s existence is not convenient.” 1 Once we acknowledge His existence we must then acknowledge a being to whom we are held accountable. Is it any wonder that there is well-funded, world-wide, and zealously-pursued effort to deny His existence?

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2 (Baker, 2004), p 59

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A God-Centered Life

A God-centered life:

There is a joke which occasionally circulates among my friends that if anyone needs information or assistance on a practical, day-to-day issue, then do not go to Josh. This includes knowledge of sports teams, the proper technique for better golf, or anything related to the automotive world. I am told I tend to operate in la-la land when in a group of people—certainly accounted for but noticeable absent from the group mentally. Once, while trying to secure insurance for my vehicle, a friend was much amused that I couldn’t tell the insurance agent the make and model of my car. Being skeptical, the agent then asked, ‘sir, you need to tell me what kind of car you have’. I replied, “a gray one”. For most of my married life I couldn’t even tell you were we banked and on occasion my wife must remind me on which wrist I wear my watch.

I recognize the important of these trifling issues, but admittedly have little patience for them. It is not that I am somehow extraordinarily intelligent. Certainly Einstein had difficulty with these issues, but so does every village idiot (and I suspect I have more in common with the latter than the former). However, insofar as I can, I am attempting to concentrate my mind chiefly on the things of God. Scripture, theology, personal holiness, and a life of prayer are becoming more and more central to my life—because it is in these that I have found life through Christ. Thomas Aquinas’s maxim (in which he follows Aristotle) is powerful: “The slenderest acquaintance we can form with heavenly things is more desirable than a thorough grasp of mundane matters.” It is not that familiarity with common, everyday matters is somehow ‘beneath’ the Christian. Nor do I think Aquinas is implying that having a solid grasp of earthy matters is antithetical to mature Christian spirituality. He is, however, stressing a very important truth. Namely, the knowledge of God is to be prized above all things.

In reality, even a Mary must eventually perform the duties of a Martha. Jesus firmly commands us to be in the world (but not of it) and (as the Dutch Reformed movement correctly stressed) the Christian church has the privilege and obligation of being the agent of cultural redemption. “World-flight”, all to common in Baptist spirituality, is not an option for the faithful believer. Yet I cannot help feel drawn to a more Narnian approach to faith in which I feel increasingly called to go further up and further in the mysteries of God. There is an indescribable beauty to God, and I simply yearn to see it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

God thunders marvelously with His voice;
He does great things which we cannot comprehend.

Job 37:5 (NKJV)

One of my favorite pastimes is sitting by a nearby flowing stream while meditating on some portion of Scripture or reflecting on some theological book. The multifaceted sounds of the rushing brook flowing through a forest abundant with life grabs both the imagination and the soul. In this place, all forms of life surround me. Most are unaware of my presence while all fail to comprehend it. In these moments I cannot help but reflect on the incomprehensibility of God. Ulrich Zwingli once noted the remarkable truth that “Of ourselves we know no more about the nature of God than beetles know about the nature of humans.” 1

God is above all things, standing above time itself. In bringing the message of God to those tending the Bethlehem flocks, the heavenly angels reminded the lowly shepherds that all glory belongs to “God in the highest” (Luke 2:14). With the skill of a psalmist the apostle Paul declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom 11:33-34a). Even the divine name itself, the holy tetragrammaton ‘Yahweh’ (sometimes rendered Jehovah) hints to the incomprehensibility of God since it simply means “I am who I am”. “There is no name that fully expresses his being, no definition that captures him”.2

Augustine, the Church’s premiere theologian, was equally awed by the infinite magnitude of God which far surpassed the human mind. In his day, as in ours, there was a disturbing tendency to reduce God to human categories. Yet such visions of the divine behold only a benign human creation, a human-phantom writ large, an imposter originating from humanity’s all too finite imagination. Humans, even Christian humans, are sinfully inclined to want to wrap our minds around God. We wish to probe him, understand him, to weigh him in the balance. Augustine warns us against this tendency when he writes, “We are speaking of God. Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend him? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend…To attain some slight knowledge of God is a great blessing; to comprehend him, however, is totally impossible.”3

I believe in a God I do not understand. “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heaven is higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’”(Isaiah 55:8-9). Yet my failure in comprehension is rewarded with the precious gift of apprehension. Many seek to understand God, and so reduce him to less-than-God in order to make this possible. I seek only to delight in the knowledge that he is.

1 Ulrich Zwingli, Opera III, 157.
2 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2 (Baker, 2004), p 47.
Augustine, Lectures on the Gospel of John, tract 38, NPNF (1), VII, 217-21.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Daily Devos - Monday, Sept 1, 2008

"Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised"
Psalm 48:1

In one of his works, the ‘old Princeton’ theologian Archibald Alexander wrote that “of all conceptions of the human mind, the idea of God is the most sublime.”1 ‘Sublime’ is an old-fashioned kind-of word which is short on use but long on meaning. It indicates that something is ‘wonderful’, ‘exquisite’, ‘blissful’ or even ‘euphoric’. For most of my life I have suffered from the terrible condition of possessing a woefully inadequate view of God. Though I have confessed the greatness of God since my youth, the magnificence of this truth was clouded by more earthly foci. Yet when I first stumbled across Alexander’s statement some months ago it grabbed my soul and began to shake out the earthly dust like an old rug. The power of this truth is all-encompassing: If God is true, he must be great. Since God is great, he deserves our utmost adoration.

Psalm 48:1 boldly declares “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised”. Later (Psalm 77:13), the psalmist asks “Who is so great a god as our God?” As if to ensure we answer the question correctly, the psalmist eventually answers this himself in worship by stating “for you are great, and do wondrous things; you alone are God” (Psalm 86:10). The medieval theology Anselm of Canterbury once defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought”. Though stated confusingly to our ears, Anselm understood Scripture’s teaching on the greatness of God. There is nothing ‘above’ God, nothing beyond him, nothing greater than him. No one loves more than God, no one understands more than God, and no one is as powerful as God. He defines grace, mercy, and loving-kindness. He defines holiness, righteousness, and truth. He defines power, perfection, and goodness. He alone is God.

Wherever we turn our eyes, we are met with the marks of a wondrous Creator. We admire the notable artists, film directors, and architects—but who has surpassed the splendor of a New England autumn? We rightly laud technological innovation—but which invention compares with the night-stars’ elegant cosmic dance? Calvin once reminded his students that “there is no spot in the universe in which you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory.” 2

Of all the conceptions of the human mind, the idea of God is the most sublime.


1 Archibald Alexander, A Brief Compendium of Bible Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Press, 2005 reprint), p 3.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.v.1

Resuming Blog Activities

I have thoroughly enjoyed this Summer. Though I didn't do all the "fun" things I wanted to do, I was able to spend more time with the family and accomplish more reading and study projects at work. My original intent was simply to take the month of June off from blogging, but June turned into July, and then August was filled with family vacations, missions trips, and a host of other (better) activities.

Alas, now it is September and time to resume normal blogging activities. Whether this is a step forward, or a step backward, I am not entirely sure! LOL!