"I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting."

- The Apostle's Creed
Please Don't Send Me Your Prayers

Anyone else have this pet peeve?

I see it whenever someone is experiencing difficulty in some way. Others, expressing support, will say things like:

- Sending thoughts and prayers your way.

What does this even mean? I mean, I think I know what it means. I understand the intention. But does the wafer-thin theology in that kind of thing bug anybody else? Am I being a prayer-Scrooge?

Sending thoughts your way? I picture someone in deep concentration, face all scrunched up, fists clenched, body gnarled, as they seek to send, um, thoughts through space to somebody.

And sending prayers to somebody?

For my part, if I'm in a rough spot, please don't send prayers my way. Send them to God. I can't do anything with your prayers.

And PLEASE for the love of Pete don't send me any:
positive vibes and/or energy.

This probably only bugs me...

"In Your Name I Pray" - Really?

I don't know when I first noticed it...

Maybe in the last twenty years or so, "In your name I pray, Amen" became the closing of choice in generic prayer settings like school events or city events or football games or whatever. It occurred to me the first time I heard it that if someone is trying to pray to the generic "God" of Jews, Muslims, Sikh's, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christians or whoever, without offending anyone in the crowd, that "In your name I pray" works well for that.

After all, whose name is being prayed in? It depends on who you are addressing. If your prayer is addressed to the generic common-denominator God that fits the hearer's own belief system, then "your name" is perfect for that purpose. Because anyone listening can just put their own god in there. "In your name I pray" becomes a fill in the blank closing. "In __________________'s (insert your god here)name I pray."

Does that mean that a public prayer like this addressed to common denominator god, but being echoed by different adherents is actually being "sent" to many different gods? I think that's a lot of wrong addresses. :-) Those prayers are just going to come back, "Return to Sender. There is no one at this address by that name or fitting that description."

I suppose that's why it bugs me when actual Christians, who know and trust in Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of the Father, eternal and divine; the God of the New Testament, close their prayers with "In your name I pray, Amen." I guess they know who is being addressed, and God knows who is being addressed, but do their hearers know? Why not say "In Jesus' name", if you are a Christian? Why do Christians use the generic "In your name"? Is it because that's what they've heard so much they are just echoing it without thought? (Like the standard opener, "Thank you for this day") Or is it because they are addressing the triune Godhead, and don't want to limit their prayers to just Jesus?

What do you think?

When You Pray Who Do You Pray To?

This is kind of a survey of thinklings readers and hopefully a beginning of a discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

When you begin your prayers do you address them to:
A-Father - The first person of the triune Godhead
B- Jesus- The second person in the trinity
C-Holy Spirit - The third person in the trinity
D-Any one of the above, but will stick with the one I started with all the way through the prayer.
E- Any one of the above, but will switch around to different members of the Trinity while praying.
F-A term like "Lord" or "God", thinking of the Triune God.

What's probably more important than your words is your thoughts. Who are you praying to?

This is not the beginning of me being preachy, I just heard someone address "Jesus" at the beginning of their prayer the other day, and realized that I don't hear that much. Less often do I hear someone begin their prayer with "Holy Spirit."

What is your practice? What have you heard other people doing? What do you think? Is there a way that is more or less "proper" than the others?

Tell me under comments....

Three Men I Love ...

... though I've never met them.

1. C.S. Lewis. I feel like the man is my brother. When I read his work, I'm mentally transferred to the man's family room, pipe in hand, shoes kicked off, ready to bask in his intelligent warmth. I truly feel love for Lewis -- a strange, beautiful feeling.

2. John Piper. Here's another man who I love dearly, though I've only known him through his sermons and writings. If Lewis is like a brother to me, Piper is like a father. His wisdom resonates through my soul, and his prophetic voice convicts me and forces me to cheer, because the world -- especially the Christian world -- needs prophets like John Piper.

3. Bono. I dare say he's the greatest poet of his generation. His voice, mind, and pen have provided the soundtrack for my life. He's not a moral giant and he's not a preacher, but in his own realm his voice is prophetic. I love him like a brother, and hope to meet him one day.

For all of the men mentioned above, the feeling I have for them really is love. That's what makes them more than just, in my mind, good writers, preachers, or musicians. They're like dear friends.

Mission Exists Because Worship Does

The trajectory of Isaiah 6 is instructive, I think. What precedes Isaiah’s missional availability — his utter malleability to and vulnerability before the Lord, who plans to send him on a mission none of us wants but many of us receive — is his experience of what I have come to call “gospel wakefulness.” We may call it exultation. Isaiah is undone by the all-consuming vision of the holiness of God, seeing his own leprous sin in its white-hot light. But his guilt is atoned for, taken away. The result is the sort of worship that normally erupts from such experiences.

Lesslie Newbigin in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society says that “Mission begins with a kind of explosion of joy.” Missional expansion is driven by gospel exultation. This is what exultation is: The explosion of joy resulting from the seeing of Jesus in the hearing of the gospel. So Paul’s Damascus road experience is there between the lines of his missionary journeys. The early church’s rapid expansion a direct result of awe coming upon every soul (Acts 2:43). Wherever we see Christ capturing a heart, we see a body that can’t help but run and tell. So Isaiah’s availability to the hardest of mission fields is fueled by his exultational joy in the beatific vision of Christ (John 12:41) and the gospel word of atonement.

John Piper, in his now-classic work on global missions, Let the Nations Be Glad, famously wrote, “Mission exists because worship does not.” The idea is that the church is on mission to create disciples of Christ, increasing the numbers of worshipers of Christ in places where he is not worshiped, so that more and more of the earth will be full of worship, that God’s name would be praised greatly. God’s vision for the earth (Habakkuk 2:14) is the missiological vision. Piper is right. Mission does exist because worship does not. At the same time, however, mission exists because worship does. Real worshipers are missionaries. Or they are impostors (as Spurgeon says). Indeed, not only does worship drive mission, mission is itself an act of worship.

What Does This Line Mean?

Two years ago when our church transitioned to a blended worship service, we learned a new/old song entitled, "Before the Throne of God above." It's been covered by quite a few contemporary artists, and I suspect that it's probably been sung at your church.

I haven't been able to figure out who reworked it and reintroduced it to the contemporary christian community. Originally it was written by Charitie Lees Smith in 1863. She originally entitled it "The Advocate".

Here's the original lyrics:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Saviour and my God!

Here's my question: What does this line mean:

"One in Himself I cannot die"

Does anybody have any idea? I am strongly of the conviction that we should understand what we sing (Which is why I explain the term "ebeneezer" every time we sing "Come, Thy Fount of Every Blessing")

So when we sang this in church the other day, I realized I didn't understand it, and I'm the pastor!?!

Here are my theories:
1. Because I am united with Christ I am identified with him and his righteousness is now mine. This is certainly a Biblical concept and 3 final lines following the line in question seems to support this interpretation.

However the use of the term "himself" is really throwing me. Shouldn't the line be "One in him" or "one with him" or "Joined with him"? I don't remember my English Grammar, but if Interpretation #1 is correct, is "himself" the right form of the 3rd person singular? The use of "himself" leads me to wonder if the whole line is about God only. So being "one in himself" is a reference to the unity of the trinity, or of the Father and the Son. (I and the Father are one.) So in that case, another interpretation would be:

2. Because the Triune Godhead is in harmony with himself, One God, three persons, and therefore unchangeable and immutable, and because God the son does the will of God the Father, the writer, the human Christian has eternal life. So in this interpretation, there is almost two clauses - "Because he is one in purpose and divinity, I have been forgiven and have eternal life.) The 4 lines ABOVE the line in question seem to lend themselves to this interpretation.

See what I'm saying? The lines above the confusing line seem to support interpretation 2, and the lines below the confusing line seem to support interpretation 1.

I'm wondering now if the author meant both. Is the line vague and obscure on purpose. No other line in the song is so hard to interpret. The other lines seem to be pretty straightforward to anyone familiar with Christian doctrine.

My music minister and I discussed changing the lines in keeping with the original author's intent in order for our people to understand what they are singing. If we really believe that theology matters in our worship music, then it seems to me not to be right to let people sing a line that doesn't make sense.

So we came up with three alternative lines:

1- Our Spirits joined, I cannot die
2- One with Himself I cannot die (changing the preposition only)
3-Now we are one I cannot die

I like the third one best, I think it's clearer and follows the authors intent if interpretation #1 is correct. But I still don't know if the author was talking about the unity of the Godhead or the unity of the believer and Christ.

The advantage to the second alternative lyric above is that it maintains some of the original ambiguity of the author, and so either interpretation is still possible. But I still can't figure why the author used "himself" unless that was just poetic license to get the right number of syllables.

What do you think?

1- What do you think the line means?
2- How would you rewrite the lyric?
3- What do you think, in general, about rewriting old hymn lyrics?

10 Tips for Husbands and Wives

5 Ways Husbands Can Sanctify Their Wives

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
-- Ephesians 5:25-27

1. Put Her First
Sacrifice is in view here, as is the understanding of "sanctify" in the sense of "setting apart for special use," as in consecration. Husbands honor their wives not among others, but before and above others.

2. "Gospel" Her
Yes, I know it's not a verb, but you get my meaning here. The passage says Jesus sanctifies the church by "washing" her with the water of the word. The understanding of "sanctify" as "cleanse" is in view here, and a husband who wants to sanctify his wife will share with her the word of God, speak to her the word of God, remind her who she is in Christ, forgive her sins, give her the opportunity to forgive his in word-driven repentance, and in general make sure she is gently, lovingly covered in the Scriptures.

3. Protect Her

Husbands will present their wives in some way to the Lord when that roll is called up yonder as an evidence of their own faithfulness to him. Do we want to be proven true children of God, full of faith in Jesus and his gospel? Then we will show the fruit of faithful husbanding, which is a wife "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing." No, we cannot sanctify our wives the way the Spirit does, and no, neither our salvation nor our wife's salvation is contingent upon our perfect husbanding (thank God!), but manhood is responsibility-taking, and this means taking the responsibility to shield our wives from sin and its temptations, accusations, attacks, unnecessary burdens, hurtful expectations and assumptions, and the like. This can mean everything from taking on housework so she gets to rest or go out with friends to warding off or rebuking people who take advantage of her. It also means no verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. It means no pornography or sexual exploitation. It means treating her and ensuring treatment of her that is gentle, loving, and edifying.

4. Serve Her
How did Jesus the King position himself over the church as its head? By becoming its servant, sacrificing to the point of death in loving service to her betterment.

5. Lead Her

This encompasses all of the above and more. Male headship requires repetitious repentance, deep humility, desperate God-reliance, and a high, passionate commitment to the grace of God for the glory of God, not the gratification of self for the glory of self. Lead, don't push. Set an example in speech and conduct. Show yourself flawed but trustworthy but God as failproof. Refuse to make excuses or pass the buck. Shoulder the burdens and take responsibility.

5 Ways Wives Can Encourage Their Husbands

An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

-- Proverbs 31:10-12

1. Praise Him Verbally
Private nagging and public nitpicking are common temptations for wives of husbands who are sinners, by which I mean wives, but a wife ought to know that this is Chinese water torture on his heart. Most men carry around in their souls the question "Do I have what it takes?" The gospel answers this question, "No, but Jesus does, and what's his is yours." This is the only acceptable way to answer in the "negative." When you nitpick and nag, you give mouthpiece to the accuser who wants your husband to know not only does he not have what it takes, he is worthless because of it. So find ways to constructively criticize and help him repent, but more than that, tell him what you like about him, how you find him attractive or admirable, how you respect him or are impressed by him. Outdo him in showing honor (Rom. 12:10).

2. Submit to His Leadership

This is not a call to be a doormat, but in my pastoral experience I encounter many a wife who says she wants her husband to lead her but then makes it clear in some way that this will only occur when she agrees with his decision. There are few things more demoralizing than a demand to lead with no commitment to follow. Instead, if your husband is not leading you into sin, your followship of your husband is a reflection of your trust in God. Peter writes:

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:5-6)
3. Reject Relational Legalism
If your husband always feels as though he is only in your good graces when he has performed to your standards or met your expectations, he will not see you as his lover, friend, or partner, but as his boss. Do you know how deeply you want to feel approved of despite your flaws, sins, and failures, that your husband would know the real you and love that you? He wants the same thing, even if he never expresses it.

4. Take an Interest
It's not always that your husband doesn't like to talk. It's just that perhaps he's learned that your favorite subjects are things he doesn't have much to say about. Communicating with you in ways that edify and engage you is his command to obey with joy; communicating with him in ways that edify and engage him is yours. This might mean asking him questions about sports or hobbies or movies or power tools. Or maybe it doesn't mean talking but sitting on the couch to watch the game with him or invading his "man cave"* with your presence but not your agenda.

5. Make Love to Him
This is not universally true, but it is generally true: The number one way a husband feels encouraged is when his wife has sex with him. I put it last because it's likely the touchiest point (no pun intended), but it is (again, generally speaking) top of the list. If you're thinking, "Well, for some husbands maybe, but not mine," ask him. For most men, sexual intimacy is directly wired to feelings of encouragement, confidence, approval, attractiveness, and self-esteem. The things that you likely need in order to feel open to sexual intimacy are the things he typically feels afterwards -- closeness, respect, approval. I know it's weird that God set it up that way, but I think he did so that we would serve each other graciously with our bodies, learning to put each other first in a neat little "No, after you" kind of dance. In any event, one of the chief ways -- if not the chief way -- you can build up your husband is by bedding down with him.

Carolyn Mahaney's chapter "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know" in the Piper/Taylor book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ is excellent on this subject. You can download the entire book for free here.

* Dudes, if you have a man cave the sole function of which is for you to spend regular amounts of time sequestered from your family, you need to repent and reorder your priorities.

What I've Learned from Lewis

On this day in 1963 the world lost C.S. Lewis. (Aldous Huxley also died the same day, but both deaths were overshadowed by the assassination of President John Kennedy.) Every year on this date, I've run some variation of a tribute to the greatest Christian writer of the twentieth century, but this year a little something different. A list of what Lewis has taught me over the years:

1. Wonder. My first introduction to Lewis was not the Chronicles of Narnia, actually, but as a child, Out of the Silent Planet. It was completely weird and wonderful. When I got to Narnia shortly thereafter -- I was about 8 or so, probably -- I consumed each book one after another lustily, like a compendium of Turkish delight. Lewis' space capsules and English manses and wardrobes and attic spaces grabbed ahold of me, broadcasting where my neurons were tuned, man. I was the kid who saw a treasure map on the back of a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal and was convinced it led to buried valuables in my Brownsville, Texas neighborhood. Reading the Space Trilogy (well, the first two books when I was little, the third well into high school) and Narnia was like warp speed.

2. Reason. Even Lewis's fiction is chock-full of logic. "Don't they teach that in schools any more?" the Professor says to the Pevensies when they don't believe Lucy's fantastic story. Lewis's faith was full of wonder but was, also, entirely reasonable, and in the 80's when the apologetic industry was dominated by Josh McDowell and burgeoning creation science (Lee Strobel hadn't hit the scene just yet), I was ingesting The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity. And probably the most influential non-fiction work of his for me is his collection of essays named after "God in the Dock." The article "Myth Became Fact" is one of my all-time favorite short pieces, fiction or non, and offered a complementary weight to one of my favorite lines in Perelandra, which I quote probably way too much in all the stuff I write. (Ransom understood that myth is "gleams of celestial beauty and strength falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.") Lewis helped me make sense of this polytheistic, pluralistic world. His classic trilemma in Mere Christianity just made sense. His own logic and reason is not airtight of course, but he approached Christianity not just as a worshiper but as a thinking worshiper, and he therefore becomes an invaluable asset for relentlessly scrutinizing young men and women who are sorting out their faith.

3. Artistry. Homeboy could flat-out write. And when he wrote, he exulted. In his own words:

"when the old poets made some virtue their theme, they were not teaching but adoring, and . . . what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted."
When I was in the first grade, my class filled out these little booklets that chronicled our favorite subjects, foods, games, etc. and one of the questions was "What do you want to be when you grow up?" My six year old hand wrote Author in that blank, and through a series of adolescent aspirations and a call to vocational ministry I have never not wanted to be a writer of books. Lewis threw gasoline on that childish ambitious fire, and he showed me over and over again what words can do. His writing was show and tell for me, displaying in so many beautiful, confident ways how literary pursuit is worship.

You Can't Put Makeup on Sin

In the eyes of our legal system, Jerry Sandusky is to be considered innocent until proven guilty in court. But as Sandusky begins to speak out about the charges against him, there is a peculiar dysfunction in his moral reasoning, and he assumes we will make it after due consideration of the "facts" as he presents them.

This is what I mean: Jerry Sandusky hopes we will believe that he did not sodomize or otherwise perpetrate sexual violence against little boys but "merely" showered with them, engaged in naked horseplay with them, etc. This is a classic mistake of unrepentant sinners, and most if not all of us commit it quite frequently. It is called "meeting the sin halfway," a way of nodding to an accusation but denying it with a kind of "it was all a big misunderstanding" dodge.

Sandusky believes his story is more believable than the accusations. But it's not even more believable than his innocence. What he doesn't understand is that, if he were to claim he didn't even know these boys, it would be more believable than to say he showered with them and wrestled with them in a gym all alone after hours but there was no sexual component to any of it. There is no way to see this behavior as appropriate or decent or respectable. Should we believe his denials as they have been issued, we should still believe him to be a very stupid pervert.

I believe the charges against Sandusky will be proved true. His sin will out. But if he wants to lie about what happened, he should have gone all in. His obfuscation is just a way to paint a face on his sin, and it won't work. Partial confession is no confession.

Dude, Prepare for Later Now

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them."
-- Ecclesiastes 12:1

Ah, youth! I remember, in the prime of my life, overflowing with the confidence and vigor of pure, automatic trust in my teenage athletic abilities, stepping into the huddle of one of our Saturday football games and saying to Mark, our all-time quarterback, "Just give me the ball. I will score." And Mark let loose a beauty of a pass -- few things look and feel so beautiful to a teenage football-playin' boy than a perfectly thrown pass in the dazzle of an autumn afternoon squirmish -- and I on the furious run brought it to safe harbor in my arms like a baby, racing past the staggered defense on skinny wheels, thirty yards, twenty yards -- he.could.go.all.the.way -- ten yards, five yards, touchdown. I did what I said I would, because I knew I could. Ah, youth!

But the evil days come, creeping in inch by inch, day by day, as metabolism sneaks out of the house overnight, easing the sports car out of the driveway and disappearing. Were I to enter that huddle this coming Saturday and speak with honesty, I should say, "Just give me the ball. I will run out of gas ten yards in, pull up with a muscle cramp, and collapse with two high ankle sprains."

I'm trying, really I am. But compared to the halcyon days of youth, the days have come in which I say, "I have no pleasure in them." Things creak when I get out of bed. I don't even know what they are.

Remember your Creator, the Teacher says. Remember him in your youth. Because youth is passing, fading. It is vanity, meaningless, chasing the wind. Even if you're fast, dude. So it is imperative, in the days of vim and vigor, to prepare for later now. Place your lasting joy in lasting things. Enjoy what you've got while you've got it, but set the termination of your affections on the treasure you cannot lose.

If you fail to prepare for later now, you will wind up a pathetic relic to the past. Before you know it, you're not reminiscing but lamenting. Do you wanna be that guy looking up time machines on the Internet and electrocuting your gonads, eating everybody's steak and ruining their lives? Or leaning against the wall of the high school hangout, a total creeper? They're not laughing with you; they're laughing at you, dude.

Ah, youth. Rejoice in it, for now. Rejoice in the Lord always.

Love Like a Dam Break

Man is eager for vengeance and God is eager for forgiveness.
-- John MacArthur

There is only one against whom we have all sinned and we keep sinning, and yet he is the only one whose posture of forgiveness is more eager than eager. He has grace like riches (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). He doesn't have to watch his spending. He forgives like it's going out of style.

A fellow sinner may forgive but it takes some working up to do. In some cases, he may even be eager to forgive but this eagerness does not come naturally. In many cases, though, there is not eagerness but dutiful obligation. We bring our sorrow, our repentance, our request for pardon, and we receive questions, probing, testing, measuring. We deserve this, there's no question about it. And really repentant persons will accept the difficulty of an offended party's forgiveness as part of that repentance. So we slink, tail between our legs, chastened and stung. It has to be this way because of the nature of human hurt and the antisocial nature of sin.

But, genuinely sorrowed over our offense, aren't we deep down hoping, craving, desperate for the offended not to stand off, arms crossed, waiting for us to drag ourselves into a posture of penitence, but smiling, ready to accept us again? And so our God runs to us. And he tells us to approach his throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16) to receive grace in our time of need.

The cross of Christ both proves and founds God's eagerness to forgive. Because of Christ's propitiating sacrifice, planned in love from eternity past and effectual to eternity future, we have no hoops to jump through, no qualifications to meet, no penitent mantras to intone, and no cowering to do. The act of God's forgiveness is not a muted, somber affair, but a "time of refreshing" (Acts 3:19-20).

His lovingkindness endures forever. He is not just quick to forgive, but eager and aggressive. Forgiveness is flowing out of him. Your heavenly Father is not a miser with grace. He is a fountain of forgiveness.

"Forgiveness is mainly that the love of the offended shall flow to the offender, notwithstanding the offense. It is love rising above the dam which we have flung across its course, and pouring into our hearts. Our own parental forgiveness is in some feeble way analogous to God's, and shows us that the essence of it is not the suspension of penalty, which may or may not be the case, but the unchecked and unembittered gift of God's love to the sinner."

-- Alexander McLaren, "Christ's Claim to Forgive, and Its Attestation" [emphasis added]
God's forgiveness is like love rising over the dam, yes, a brimming overflow, but it's also like love rushing mightily through a dam break, flooding freely.

Happy Birthday to Jonathan Edwards

Born this day 1703 was (arguably) America's greatest theologian-pastor. Here is an excerpt from the sermon of his that most resonates with my soul:

If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ's despising you, if you in your heart come to him.
If that don't ring your bell, your clapper's broken.

No Further Than Our Fathers

And now, O sons, listen to me,and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
-- Proverbs 5:7

As we cling doggedly to the theology our fathers fought for and passed down to us in good faith, the doctrinal dilettantes of the day nag, "What ever happened to semper reformanda?", positing evolving boundaries, a flexible orthodoxy, working on the assumption that our position in history gives us a better understanding of what the Bible really says.

The way we play with the shape of evangelical theology today arises from straight-up chronological snobbery.

In the New York Times last April we find this historical item related to the recent tsunami and devastation in Japan:

The stone tablet has stood on this forested hillside since before they were born, but the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face: “Do not build your homes below this point!”

Residents say this injunction from their ancestors kept their tiny village of 11 households safely out of reach of the deadly tsunami last month that wiped out hundreds of miles of Japanese coast and rose to record heights near here. The waves stopped just 300 feet below the stone.

“They knew the horrors of tsunamis, so they erected that stone to warn us,” said Tamishige Kimura, 64, the village leader of Aneyoshi.

Hundreds of so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation. But modern Japan, confident that advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable areas, came to forget or ignore these ancient warnings, dooming it to repeat bitter experiences when the recent tsunami struck.
Their ancestors knew what they were talking about. They had learned the hard way. And they erected markers: Don't build past this point. But we post-postmoderns are arrogant. We know better. We are smarter, more enlightened. And we have to accommodate more and more people. So we ignore the markers. We want to grow!

We must be reminded that semper reformanda does not mean "always morphing." It does not mean that the faith is ever changing, progressing into something better. In many respects, to be always reforming is to be always returning to the gospel. It is to be continually sloughing off the baggage of doctrinal add-ons and distractions, cutting out the ever-rising innovations, theological and otherwise. To be always reforming is to keep going back to the ancient markers in the face of constant temptation and taunting from those who'd have us play with heterodoxy ever-newly. Let us keep contending, keep trusting, keep returning.

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
-- 2 Timothy 1:13-14

Rich Toward God

The kingdom of God operates on a completely different currency than any other kingdom in the world. As Jesus unfolds the great blueprint of the Sermon on the Mount, we find him then instructing us to hold stuff loosely. If somebody asks for your shirt, give him your coat too. Give and lend to whoever asks. These are not ways to become rich . . . unless the reward we have in mind is not monetary.

Consider this parable from Jesus found in Luke 12:13-21:

Someone from the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."
"Friend," He said to him, "who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" He then told them, "Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one's life is not in the abundance of his possessions."
Then He told them a parable: "A rich man's land was veryproductive. He thought to himself, 'What should I do, since I don't have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,' he said. 'I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I'll say to myself, "You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself." '
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be? '
"That's how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
In this parable we find a perfect example of a man so caught up in the pursuit of bigger and better, he has neglected to invest in things that ultimately matter. All of the foolish rich man’s energy was tied up in improving his property, and when he felt that was accomplished, he became lazy and gluttonous. The problem isn’t really in improving one’s financial state or even in resting and enjoying one’s self. The problem is in only doing those things and not preparing for eternity. He has stored up treasure for himself, but was not rich toward God.

John Piper drives this point home with a real-life parable of his own:
Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy.
What has happened? This couple is earth-rich but God-poor. When the day of accounting comes, when the kingdom’s currency is requested for entrance into paradise, these wealthy, fun-loving, permanent-vacation-taking souls come up totally empty-handed.

Some may read this parable of the foolish rich man or John Piper’s tale of the retired couple and think to themselves, “Ah, they should have cared more for others. If they had given more money away, they’d have the treasure of having done good.” And it is imperative that we do good to others, but that kind of saving is a poverty all its own. When we reach the gates of Paradise and are asked for the currency of the kingdom to prove our entry purchase, we best not try to hand in our own righteousness. The Bible says “all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6).

No, when the opportunity to present our justification for entry into everlasting rest presents itself, we need only present an empty hand, saying, “I have nothing of my own to offer. But I am clothed in the righteousness of Christ which I have received through faith, which makes me totally vested in his unsearchable riches. My Savior in the great grace of God has purchased my entrance for me.” That would be rich.

7 Ways to Kill the Thanksgiving Impulse in Your Life

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

-- Philippians 4:5-7
This is an excellent recipe for what it itself describes: a Spiritual settling of the heart, thankfulness, closeness to God. But let's suppose you didn't want those things, you didn't want to be thankful in all circumstances (as God commands through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5). How would you design your system in order to crush any impulse of thanksgiving in your heart?

1. Freak out about everything.
Let your unreasonableness be known to everyone. Be unreasonable about everything. Turn everything into drama, everything into a crisis.

2. Practice practical atheism.
The Lord is at hand, which is certainly something to be thankful for. Our God isn't just transcendent, but immanent. He wants to be known. You could therefore intellectually acknowledge God is there, but act like he's not. Assume he has no interest in you or your life. If you pretend like God’s not there, you don’t have to thank him for anything.

3. Coddle worry.
Be anxious about everything. Really protect your worry from the good news.

4. Give God the silent treatment.
The best way not to give thanks is not to talk at all. That way you’ll never give thanks accidentally.

5. Don’t expect anything from God.
Don’t trust him for anything. Normally we do this so we don’t have to feel disappointed, but another reason to do it is so he won’t give you anything to be thankful for. If you pray for something, he just might say yes, and then you’d be obligated to thank him.

6. Relentlessly try to figure everything out.
The peace of God is beyond our understanding. He is bigger than our capacity to grasp him. The closer we get to God, the bigger he gets. An immense vision creates immense reaction. So if you want to crush that reaction before it has a chance to start, ask as many "why" questions as you can, and don’t settle for the answers Job or Habakkuk or David did. Best to think you’re better than them and deserve an explanation from God. If you really want to kill thanksgiving, act like God owes you. Leave no room for the possibility you might not know or understand something. And one of the best ways to crush thankfulness is to take credit for everything you can.

7. Focus on anything other than the gospel of Jesus.
God owes us nothing but has given us every good thing in Christ. If you’re not interested in thanksgiving, by all means, pay no attention to that. Concentrate on your problems. Don’t concentrate on Jesus, or you might accidentally end up thankful in all circumstances.

Writing that Exults

Justin Taylor shares fantastic words on what words can do in service of our Savior:

In an address on Christian eloquence John Piper wrote:
The attempt to craft striking and beautiful language makes it possible that the beauty of eloquence can join with the beauty of truth and increase the power of your words. When we take care to create a beautiful way of speaking or writing about something beautiful, the eloquence—the beauty of the form—reflects and honors the beauty of the subject and so honors the truth. The method and the matter become one, and the totality of both becomes a witness to the truth and beauty of the message. If the glory of Christ is always ultimately our subject, and if he created all things, and if upholds all things, then bringing the beauty of form into harmony with the beauty of truth is the fullest way to honor the Lord.
John Calvin is an exemplary model of this. His beautiful and arresting prose, saturated with biblical truth, can capture the mind and heart more than prosaic prose which clunks to the ground.

For example, consider this section of his preface to Pierre-Robert Olivétan’s 1535 translation of the Bible.

“To all those who love Christ and his gospel,” Calvin writes:
Without the gospel

everything is useless and vain;

without the gospel

we are not Christians;

without the gospel

all riches is poverty,

all wisdom, folly before God;

strength is weakness, and

all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.

But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made

children of God,

brothers of Jesus Christ,

fellow townsmen with the saints,

citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,

heirs of God with Jesus Christ,

by whom

the poor are made rich,

the weak strong,

the fools wise,

the sinners justified,

the desolate comforted,

the doubting sure, and

slaves free.

The gospel is the Word of life.
Or consider this section from Institutes 3.16.19, where he explains that “We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ [Acts 4:12]. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.”
If we seek salvation

we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.”

If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit,

they will be found in his anointing.

If we seek strength,

it lies in his dominion;

if purity,

in his conception;

if gentleness,

it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain.

If we seek redemption,

it lies in his passion;

if acquittal,

in his condemnation;

if remission of the curse,

in his cross;

if satisfaction,

in his sacrifice;

if purification,

in his blood;

if reconciliation,

in his descent into hell;

if mortification of the flesh,

in his tomb;

in newness of life,

in his resurrection;

if immortality,

in the same;

if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom,

in his entrance into heaven;

if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings,

in his Kingdom;

if untroubled expectation of judgment,

in the power given to him to judge.

In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other.

Like, You Know, Sound Speech

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

-- Titus 2:7-8

Titus was told to model sound speech -- which probably meant that he never said things like, "Like, dude, like, an awesome thing, dude, is the fact that, man, I like, totally don't know what to say."

-- Doug Wilson, Future Men (Canon Press, 2001), 43.
Here is Taylor Mali with a good reflection-via-representation on this phenomena:

What do you think? Does this sort of youthful manner of speech apply to Paul's words on sound speech?

I think Mali's parting shot helps us see that it might, particularly as it relates to speaking with authority and conviction.

Soul Surfer's Quote-Unquote "God"

"If you have faith, anything is possible. Anything at all."

That's a line from Soul Surfer one of the more recent "Christian movies" to enjoy some measure of success. The good news is that it is a fair bit better in quality than most films that bear the modifier "Christian." With a cast that includes Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Kevin Sorbo, and Craig T. Nelson, you can be guaranteed some serviceable performances, even if the script stunk. And the script isn't great, but it doesn't stink.

There are a few maudlin moments, where the movie loses its tone for real life, but in general it is easily watchable, which is a rarity for this genre. The only exception is the performance of Carrie Underwood who plays a youth minister. Underwood might be able to knock the crud out of a song, but she is a huge acting fail.

Anna Sophia Robb plays Bethany Hamilton, the real life teen girl who loved surfing until a shark attack took her left arm. Then she loved surfing more. Hamilton and her family are devoted Christians, and their faith -- and its motivation in Bethany's life to relearn surfing and compete -- is the basic plot of the film. It is a story about triumph over the odds.

But is it a Christian movie?

Here's my beef, and I'm sure I will take some flack from somebody for this. Bethany Hamilton's story is inspiring and encouraging, and I'm sure she has real saving faith in Jesus Christ, but the message of the movie Soul Surfer appears to be "I can do all things through moralistic therapeutic deism which strengthens me." This doesn't make it a bad movie; it just makes it as easily a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness movie as it does a Christian one.

The quote that opens this blog post is a line that closes the movie. It is a good summation. But it begs the question: faith in what? At one point in the movie, as Bethany is summoning up the courage to reenter the water with one-armed gumption, she quotes Philippians 4:13. Well, not the whole thing. Just the first part that says "I can do all things." Not, you know, how.

There is plenty of God talk in the movie, actually, but I don't remembering hearing the word Jesus once. I could've missed it, but the overwhelming point appears to be that if you work hard enough, God will bless you with being able to do cool things like surf with one arm.

When I was a kid I had a poster on my wall of a dude dunking a basketball with Philippians 4:13 as a caption. I got pretty good at basketball as I got older, but I'm sorry to say that, despite my earnest faith, not literally everything is possible.

I don't think that every movie (or book) created by Christians ought to have the clear plan of salvation in it. That is not how I discern a movie's "Christianity." BUT. If you're going to put explicit faith-in-God talk into a movie -- and call it Christian -- I think you ought to go all in and have the courage to make it Christian talk.

Of course, the way Soul Surfer approaches faith is exactly how many Christians in real life do. This is a real problem and it's not the movie's fault. But in the end, if the explicit message about God you're communicating is that believing in yourself can help you succeed because of a benevolent God, you ought not call your movie Christian. Soul Surfer posits a quote-unquote "God" palatable for any religious soul itching to be inspired without any uncomfortable gospel of Jesus stuff. It's for the same "evangelicals" who don't understand what the big deal is about Mormons being considered Christian. (None of us has perfect theology, right?) And it's for the Mormons too.

I am guessing Bethany's remarkable story deserved much better.

On the Mind of the Good Soldier

Paul addresses Timothy:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!

(2 Timothy 2:3-9)

A good soldier joins the fight for the faith, committing to be faithful to the cause of Christ, his brothers in the church, the church as his family, and the elders to whom he's accountable. He has the cause in view, understands the mission -- if not totally, at least to the extent of his role in it -- throws off distractions and entangling temptations, eager to please that and whom to which he is pledged.

A good soldier follows the rules, not merely out of duty but out of his guts, out of an understanding of the importance of the rules. He doesn't just obey the Law, he delights in it, having lost his taste for the way of the world. He rejects passivity, puts his nose to the grindstone, gets his hands dirty, develops blisters on his feet, then callouses. He spends himself for the glory of God.

A good soldier ponders the Word of God, he mulls it over, chews on it, eats it so that he will bleed it when cut.

But a good soldier will keep foremost in his mind not his own wherewithal, gumption, or courage. That will all be sapped. In the chains of hardship, persecution, imprisonment, sin, or suffering, a good soldier will resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Good soldiers, if you are flagging, dragging, or slacking, "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David" as preached in the gospel. As you strive, remember you are also seated with him in the heavenlies. And while you use your body up, perhaps even to the point of death in service to the Lord, your heart is expanding to fit the scale of eternity. The risen, glorious Christ shines in you, over you, before you, supplying his approval, his grace, his glorious might so that you will finish the race, reap the harvest, and receive the soldier's highest honor.

You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus...
-- 2 Timothy 2:1

The body they may kill
God's truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever.

-- Luther, "A Mighty Fortress"

The Racket of Unforgetful gods

Janet Reitman has written a provocative book detailing the inner workings of the very secretive world of Scientology. Having read up a bit on L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction-slash-religion creation before, I was familiar with the charge that in the early “auditing” process, budding Scientologists reveal their deepest darkest secrets to the church, who in turn may eventually use those to emotionally blackmail would-be deserters and dissenters. In an interview reprinted by Reuters, Reitman elaborates:

Q: There are all these rumors that celebrities like Cruise remain Scientologists because the church knows all their secrets and they fear blackmail. Any truth to that?

A: I didn’t go into that too much in my book, but it seems obvious. They have the goods on everybody. A great part of the Scientology experience is the confession that happens in the auditing experience. You are constantly being asked to write up your transgressions, maybe even your unspoken transgressions. They know everything about you. They would know everything about Cruise in the same way that they would know everything about me if I were a member.
What a racket.

And what a wonder, then, that Christians are forgiven and saved by a God whose filing cabinet of records against us is empty. Or, rather, is filled with the obedience of Jesus.

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

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