Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stadium Worship

My friend, Tony Romano, has posted some wonderful reflections on worship here and here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Beauty of God

I'm preparing a study to be taught on Sunday evenings. It's entitled "The Face of God: The Psalm's Revelation of God." It's a study on the attributes of God. I chose to do this study from the Psalms because I don't think God is a subject for scientific study, but rather a person to be known. The Psalms reveal who God is for people in the midst of the ups and downs of daily life. God has revealed many things about himself from the Psalms, not to satisfy human curiosity, but to give joyful hope in the midst of various trials.

I was very excited as I organized the outline for this study because I couldn't help but see God in a fresh way. My introductory point is derived from Psalm 27. I chose this Psalm to begin the study because in it I think we find the most obvious reason to want to know God more deeply. In Psalm 27 we find an attribute of God that I don't find in books about the attributes of God - namely, God is beautiful.

What attracts us to objects of affection? What makes any object worthy of ordering our lives around? Obviously, it's beauty or value. For instance, what makes drugs worthy of pursuit? Why would people give up all they own, all their relationships, their dignity, their hope for a better tomorrow, their health and even their lives for a bag of weed or powder or crystals? It's obvious. They find those drugs beautiful. They find those drugs more beautiful than any other object in the world - so valuable their very lives are laid on the altar of those substances. And occasionally such a valuable god demands the ultimate sacrifice from its worshipers.

Perhaps you find that difficult to comprehend. Maybe you can't appreciate the power of drugs over people because you don't find them beautiful. Then again, maybe you don't know the drugs in the intimate way a junkie does. Therefore, you don't find drugs valuable enough to order your life around. If you knew drugs intimately, you might find them highly valuable. In fact, it's almost guaranteed you would. So you're better off never knowing drugs in an intimate way. Stay away from them.

Maybe now you can see the similarities between drugs and God. Perhaps you don't find God worthy of ordering your life around. Maybe you can't understand why others are so radically God-centered in their affections and decisions. Have you ever considered that maybe you don't know him intimately enough yet? Maybe you don't find God beautiful because you don't know him. Psalm 27 promises us that God is worth knowing, and more than that, worth prioritizing life around. Consider the words of David, "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4).

David found God so beautiful that he was willing to seek after him. To meditate on the beauty of God was the one thing David wanted out of life. God wants Christians to seek his face. "You have said, 'Seek my face.' My heart says to you, 'Your face, Lord, do I seek.'" (Ps. 27:8). What would make us want to seek the face of God? He's beautiful. We like to look upon, and ponder beautiful things. And the more deeply we know God, the more beautiful we will find him.

I love music. All kinds of music catch my ear. When some don't find the music I like beautiful, I don't fault the music. I fault the ones listening. They just don't fully comprehend the skill, the artistic ability, the labor that goes into good music. If they took the time to listen, I'm sure they would come away with a sense of beauty. The same is true with God. If someone doesn't find God beautiful, I don't fault God. I fault the person's sense of beauty. If he truly knew God, he would find him beautiful.

What is the practical side of studying the attributes of God? In other words, why bother? How will it change our lives? That question is often asked by pragmatic American Christians always looking for some scheme to make life better. I won't answer the question (though it has a good answer). I will ask the right question instead. Why do people visit Niagra Falls? How does that enhance their lives? Why do people go to museums? How does that benefit them? Why do millions gather around a field of grass, or a court of hardwood, or an oval asphalt track every week? How do sports better someone's life? None of these things provide practical benefit. Yet people can't stay away from them. Why? People are drawn to beauty and glory.

Why is it that Christians can give their lives over to the most petty, worldly pursuits without assessing the benefit, yet cannot just want to know God without assessing the benefit for life in this world? It's because even Christians do not know God rightly. Not yet. So we stand in constant need of deeper knowledge of God. In the end, our thoughts of God will determine our thoughts about everything else. That's why it's important to study the attributes of God.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More on Divorce

Here's more interaction on divorce from Andreas Kostenberger. Dr. Kostenberger is a New Testament professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He wrote the excellent book God, Marriage and Family. While I share John Piper's concern over easy divorce, I agree with Dr. Kostenberger's view of marriage and divorce.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rejoicing in the Lord in all Cases and Conditions

So much of the most beneficial counsel for people today was written hundreds of years ago. So much of what is valuable reading material today is simply a rehash of material written hundreds of years ago. I love to read books from every age. It guards against temporal arrogance - thinking our generation has it all figured out. It also guards against seeing everything through a temporal lens - being stuck in the presuppositions and worldview of our current generation. Moral of the story, read old books. There has never been an easier time to peruse the wisdom of ages past than today, when writings from 500 years ago can be translated, edited, printed, and shipped all over the world for the price of a fast food dinner. One such book I'm fond of is Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions by Robert Asty. Asty pastored in England in the 1600's. He's not very well known and didn't write as profusely as some others in his generation. But this little book is an overflow of Christian Hedonist wisdom.

Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions
is an exposition of Habakkuk 3:18: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation." This verse comes as Habakkuk ponders the famine and hardship that will come upon Israel as a result of a Chaldean invasion. "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17-18).

The central doctrine that Asty addresses in this book is "There is enough in Christ Jesus alone for the soul's full rejoicing and triumphing in all cases and conditions." In other words, Christ is enough to make all people happy at all times. Christ satisfies in a way that nothing else can, breaking the bonds of circumstantial tyranny. He writes, "Let things go how they will in the world, as to my outward concerns, yet the ground of my joy is never taken from me. . . . It is not in the creature, it is not upon earth, but it is in heaven; it is not in man, it is in the Lord; it is not in the confluence of these things that are coming and going, and in an uncertain enjoyment, but it is in the Lord who never fails."

How great would Christ look if Christians thought like this? Wouldn't Christ look more valuable than anything else? And wouldn't that be putting Christ in his rightful place - more valuable than anything else? But, needless to say, it isn't always true of Christians that Christ Jesus alone is the soul's full rejoicing. We find the same things to rejoice in that everyone else does - health, spouses, children, jobs, television, sporting events, melodies and beats, movies, toys, cars, houses, trips, and any number of creature comforts. When those things come in an abundance we are satisfied with, we are quite happy, and will let folks know that God is the reason for our happiness. Oftentimes, the only difference between Christians and non-Christians is who gets the credit. Whereas, most people in the world will credit themselves for the abundance of their "good fortune," Christians credit God.

However, few Christians exude a demeanor that rises above current circumstances. Let adversity (and even potential adversity that hasn't even happened yet) hit the modern non-Christian, and his response will likely be too similar to that of the pagan next door. Maybe even worse. I've seen it with my own eyes. So how can a Christian show that Christ alone is enough for him? Asty helps us here.

"If you would come to live upon Christ Jesus alone in the saddest providences of your state, then entertain and keep up low thoughts of the great things of this world. Truly, Christians, you may think what you will, but while you have hearts that are magnifying and adoring the things of the world and the enjoyments of the world, and counting these as great things, you will never come scripturally to live upon the Lord Jesus. Your thoughts must be altered in and about the comforts of this life, and you must possess your hearts with the thought that these are the smallest comforts of your state, and that the blessings of this life are the least blessings that the Lord has given you. You must have very low thoughts of the world, and of the comforts of it, if you would come to live by faith in Christ Jesus alone. While you have vast thoughts of your earthly enjoyments, earthly comforts, and earthly conditions, and suppose your comforts to lie here, there, or anywhere short of Christ, you will be driven out of all the exercise of faith by an unfavorable providence."

The last sentence of the above quote is telling. How many Christians claim to be overflowing with joy in Christ, only to be exposed in a time of "unfavorable providence"? The content of someone's hope is revealed in times of crisis and great decision. If a Christian is truly satisfied with Christ alone, then the circumstances that seem to jab the side will not lead to despair, fear, anxiety and aggression. Christians who hope and rejoice in Christ alone float across the adversities of life, knowing that comforts cannot lie "here, there, or anywhere short of Christ."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

John Piper explains a disturbing article in Christianity Today concerning divorce. The ease with which some Christians divorce or speak of it as though it were a viable option would do well to read Piper's article.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Cross-Our Justifier

I've been working with some friends lately building decks and fences. It's been a blessing to pick up some extra money. The downside is I haven't been able to do other things as much as I'd like (post more often on this blog for instance). However, I think my work will only be temporary. Anyway, I have been given an array of new illustrations of the Christian life in my labors. Yesterday, a perfect illustration hit me while digging a fence post hole.

I was digging a hole for a fence post with post-hole diggers. Post-hole diggers are like two shovels on a hinge. The ground was incredibly muddy clay. It was sticky and heavy. The mud wouldn't just fall off the shovel or diggers. It would cling to the blades and smear around. So I had to take a small metal stake, and pry the mud off the blades of the digger. Then the mud would stick to the stake. If I rubbed the mud off the stake, it would then stick on my hands. I did get the holes dug after quite some time. Eventually, every hand tool and power tool we had was covered in mud. I told my friend that this mud is like sin.

First, it's heavy and messy. It doesn't just go away. In the same way that mud didn't just fall off the diggers with minimal effort, sin doesn't just go away without serious labor. In the same way that I had to use another tool to clean the mud off the diggers, sometimes we need assistance from others to be freed from clinging sins. Second, sin is pervasive, like the mud. The mud would smear all over everything, blemishing it, and even possibly ruining it in the case of power tools. Sin is the same way. It's all over everything. No part of our lives isn't affected by sin. When trying to rid ourselves of sin, we often just smear it to other parts of our lives. Third, it's difficult to hide mud. Try walking through a grocery store with muddy shoes. If you're muddy, everyone knows it. You stick out like a sore thumb. Sin and mud are very similar.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You may not have ever heard it, but I'm sure you'll relate when I tell you. Are you ready? Okay, here goes: If you want to find sin in your spouse, you will. There. The secret is out. Here's another secret. One we may not like to admit. Ready? Here goes: Your sin shows. Now that those two secrets are out in the open, we are all free to live radically happy lives! Here's how.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).

On my own, I am not right. I am sinful. My wife has to expect it. And I have to admit it. It does me no good to pretend I am right. I'm not. And it shows. And it does my wife no good to expect me to be right. I'm not. And I'll disappoint her. The only hope my wife and I have at getting through this life intact is Romans 3:23-26. The cross of Jesus Christ is our righteousness. The cross is our justifier. We don't look for righteousness from one another. Oh, we love it when we get along well, and don't mistreat each other. But we don't expect it. When my wife and I mistreat each other, we know we have to go into "cross mode."

Cross mode is when we see sin so clearly in our spouse that we're tempted to undervalue them, and instead look to the cross of Jesus Christ that cleansed them of their sin. Christ becomes bigger than the sin of our spouse. The cross is the only detergent that cleans away the mud of sin. It doesn't always cleanse by removing it immediately. Remember that the next time your spouse sins against you. Sometimes the cross just says, "I know you're muddy. I love you anyway. I'm not ashamed of your mess. I don't mind getting muddy with you for awhile." Thank God for the cross of Christ that justifies sinners!

You and I are free from the tyranny of perfection. We're free from having to be perfect ourselves, and demanding it from others. It is amazing to see imperfect spouses demanding perfection from their mates. The cross holds out no such hope. Rather, it justifies the imperfect in the midst of their imperfection. It declares them perfect, even when they aren't. And it does this because the cross is the instrument God uses to judge us by. On the cross we are judged. And on the cross we are acquitted. On the cross we are condemned. And on the cross we are loved. On the cross we are criticized. And on the cross we are reconciled to God and others.

Submitting like Sarah

If you are a wife struggling to submit to your husband's leadership, do yourself a favor and read this sermon by John Piper. It's very good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Effort Vs. Outcome

I was watching the video of a question and answer session with John Piper and John MacArthur from this year's Desiring God Conference. The session revolved primarily around pastoral ministry. I believe MacArthur was asked how he deals with praise and criticism when he brought up the difference between effort and outcome. I'll paraphrase his answer. John said he was responsible for his own effort, while only God was responsible for the outcome of his ministry. God creates the results. As a pastor, I was greatly encouraged by hearing this wisdom again. I agree with it whole-heartedly, and it gets me through times when I feel less than fruitful. It's up to me to nurture my ministry, but only God bears the fruit through me. I'm responsible for the nurture, not the fruit.

As a pastor, I can preach faithfully week after week after week, exerting all sorts of faithful effort. God may bless my preaching with radically changed lives and a growing congregation. If that happens, I'll likely credit the changed lives and growing congregation to my effort. I'm doing all the right things, and the ideal church is attained by my effort. That's not what happened at all. God decided in his wisdom to grace my church with what I perceive is a positive outcome. While God isn't likely to grace a congregation where little effort is put forth, it doesn't follow that God will always grace a congregation where effort is put forth. The outcome is entirely up to God for reasons known only to him. I'm not responsible for results - only effort.

As I pondered this freeing concept, I couldn't help but apply it to marriage. At my last Pursuit of Pleasure retreat, a lady asked me what to do if her husband didn't want to follow what the Bible says about marriage. I've received similar questions throughout my time in ministry. Most people will read books on marriage because they want God to give them a happier, more fulfilling, more peaceful marriage. In other words, there's an ideal that they're wishing to attain. They think the latest book on marriage will help them get there. This approach can be depressing. Here's why.

Attaining a certain ideal marriage is an outcome desire, not an effort one. If we give our all in marriage, and start jumping through hoops in hopes that things will get better, we will be very disappointed and disillusioned when they don't. We won't know what to do when the ideal isn't attained. We'll think books like The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another don't work. In reality, no book can lead us to the ideal marriage. That's because the ideal marriage is an outcome that only God can grant.

In the same way a pastor can only be responsible for the effort he puts forth, a couple can only be responsible for the effort they put forth. If the couple doesn't want to put forth effort together, then it may be up to one spouse to put forth effort. But in putting forth the effort, that spouse cannot then demand to determine the outcome. That's setting himself up for failure.

Don't be a biblical, godly husband so that your wife will treat you a certain way. Don't expect that because you're the perfect man, your wife will never give you grief. Don't base your loving headship on your wife's response. Just continue exerting effort, leaving the outcome to God. C. J. Mahaney wrote a little book on romance entitled, Sex, Romance and the Glory of God in which he said something like, "Before you touch her body, touch her heart and mind." I firmly agree with that. I said, "Yeah! Yeah! That's the secret to a never-ending sex supply." So I try to cultivate that kind of friendship all day long. Imagine my surprise when, after a day of "touching her heart and mind" with all sorts of loving gestures and words and service, it doesn't always end up with her desiring me to touch her body. The point is, I should be intimately loving her, developing our friendship, serving her, sacrificing for her out of faithfulness to God, not to manipulate her to do what I want. I can't control the outcome, only my effort. So don't exert effort to be a godly husband so that God will reward you with a match made in Heaven. I hate those stupid e-harmony advertisements. Rather, exert effort so that God will reward you with a great reward in Heaven.

Don't be a biblical, godly wife so that your husband will mysteriously turn into the man of your dreams. The man of your dreams is just that - a dream. While you're waiting for the man of your dreams to take shape, the man you're married to may be growing more and more frustrated. Don't neglect reality to nurture wishful images. Just exert the effort to be a godly wife - not waiting for the day God will bless your effort with an ideal marriage. Exert effort to be a godly wife while waiting for God to bless your effort with a huge reward in Heaven.