Monday, March 23, 2009

In My Place...

I just started reading Mark Dever and JI Packer's book In My Place Condemned He Stood and have found it to be a book that stirs my heart with love for God and a longing to be more Christ like. The book is actually a collection of chapter and/or essays written by Dever of Packer on the nature of the atonement. Specifically it deals with the great truth of substitutionary atonement. Anyhow, in the introduction JI Packer republished "an analysis of insights basic to personal religion that faith in Christ as one's penal substitute yields. I found the list to be incredibly beneficial as I attempt to walk with the Lord day by day so I thought that I would republish it here for those of you who do not have access to the book.

1. God, in Denney's phrase, "condones nothing," but judges all sin as it deserves: which Scripture affirms, and my conciense confirms, to be right.
2. My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God's presence (conscience also affirms this), and nothing I do can blot them out.
3. The penalty due to me for my sins, whatever it was, was paid for me by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his death on the cross.
4. Because this is so, I through gaith in him am made "the righteosness of God in him," i.e., I am justified; pardon, acceptance and sonship [to God] become mine.
5. Christ's death for me is my sole ground of hope before God. "If he fulfilled not justice, I must; if he underwent not wrath, I must to eternity" (John Owen).
6. My faith in Christ is God's own gift to me, given in virtue of Christ's death for me: i.e., the cross procured it.
7. Christ's death for me guarantess my preservation to glory.
8. Christ's death for me is the measure and pledge of the love the Father and Son to me.
9. Christ's death for me calls and constrains me to trust, worship, love and to serve.

After Packer gives his list he gives a profound statement as to the importance of the above truths. Packer states, "Only where these nine truths have taken root and grow in the heart will anyone be fully alive to God." The doctrine of penal substiution is a great truth and desperately important for Christians who would grow in God. It is also a crucial truth for unbelievers who are in search of a deliverer. Without penal substitution there is no deliverance. Without deliverance there is no reconciliation with God and as a result the conscience will continue to be pricked with the question as to how sinful man is to become right with a holy God. The glory of penal substitution must be upheld. May we cherish the beauty of Christ our substitute all of our days!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Judgment: A Sure Comfort to the Suffering

Sorry for not keeping up with the blog for the past couple weeks. Life has been really busy. I'm about to wrap up a preaching series and that should free up more time to write.

Judgment is a touchy subject. And to call it touchy might even be to paint things in an optimistic light. Judgment has gone beyond being touchy to being a just downright inappropriate subject matter in the pluralistic west. Sadly, judgment has not just become a touchy matter for those outside the church but for those inside of it as well. The doctrine of divine judgment is one that many of us would often prefer to relegate to the periphery of theology. Indeed the doctrine of judgment is like the embarrassing relative at a family reunion who most all relatives attempt to keep their distance from despite the obvious relation. This is truly tragic and I believe that an encouraging aspect of Christianity is lost when the doctrine of judgment is relegtated to the sidelines. Encouraging? What about judgment is encouraging you ask. Let me explain.
Many Christians have a yucky taste in their mouth when it comes to judgment. They think of God's wrath and often wonder in doubt how a God of love could pour out his wrath on such a significant portion of mankind. While attempting to answer this question they utterly miss out on the fact that judgment is meant to be an encouragement to Christians. It is meant to be an encouragement because Christians will one day rejoice when God has his final triumph over all evil. Evil includes those who have denied his son, those who have committed evil against God's people and the overall satanic web of evil that ensnares so many in this world. Perhaps we can't comprehend this sort of comfort/encouragement in the west because we in fact face so little overt evil. Much of the evil in the west is covert (and make no mistake there is a great deal of oppressive, satanic covert evil in the western world). Christians are not yet being executed in masse so we don't think people are all that evil or all that sinful. But this couldn't be further from the truth.
While it is difficult for us to comprehend, I doubt little that judgment is a comfort to those in another cultures where oppression is intense and overt. Judgment is a comfort for those who suffer because it is during judgment that those who have tormented the saints are brought recompense for their wickedness. It is the day of judgment that believers in centuries past have looked forward to with great anticipation. Judgment for many Christians outside of western society is not an awkward relative but a close friend whom they long to see frequently. All one has to do is look at the book of Revelation. Consider the words of the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" These martyrs, the ones who spilt their blood for Christ, are longing for the judgment of evil men on earth. They want to see their blood avenged for they have gone to the slaughter as innocent lambs and no wait for their Lord to bring justice to those who harmed them. There is a sesnse of anticipation in this verse. It is as if the martyrs cannot bear to wait any longer to see their blood avenged. And for those who are still lving, the hope of judgment is the only way in which they will see their oppression halted and ceased and therefore they long to see the day of judgment. Consider again those who witness the fall of Babylon at the end of times as the seafaring men cry out, "Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea gew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!" The heavens (saints, apostles and prophets) are commanded to rejoice at God's judgment against babylon. Notice once again as the saints cry out to God in Revelation 19:1-2, "After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitiude in heaven, crying out, 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the lood of his servants.'" Judgment of the wicked is a cause for great rejoicing.
The practical exhortations here are multiple. First, as those who live in a wetern society we must stop pretending that people are basically good. As Christians we buy into this even though we often affirm the reality of sin in our credal statements. People are not good (Romans 3:11-17). And as we open our eyes to the sinfulness of mankind, we must become more aware of the avenues of oppression in a free and democratic society. The avenues are all around us. The cries of aborted children, the money grabbing greed that runs much of the American polictical and power structures. We must simply unplug the ipod, turn off the DVD player and wake up to the calls of the oppressed. American Christians are entertaining themselves to death as years of their lives are lost on meaninglness pursuits.The truth is, is that God hating realities are around us everday. We can take no comfort in the doctrine of judgment if we aren't aware of the oppression and evil that surrounds us on a daily basis. It is when we see this evil that we will rejoice at the fact that our Lord will one day come in judgment. Judgment will not be this doctrine that we can't understand but it will become the event that we long for.
Two, this exhoration is primarily directed at my Reformed brethren. Friends, consider the seriousness and actual reality of evil/satanic forces in this world. The understanding of external evil forces has long been neglected in Reformed thought, often in preference for an overemphasis on evil within. Don't get me wrong, indwelling sin is a major major problem to be contended with. But equally problematic is the network of evil angels and satanic forces that manifest themselves in this world. There is a very real cosmic battle taking place on a minute by miute basis between good and evil. This is so plain and clear in the book of Revelation and no amount of traditional dogma can drown out this truth. Evil lies both within and without. We need to become more aware of the satanic oppressive evil that is rooted in our socities.
In sum, judgment is a good thing and somehting that God is to be worshsipped over. He will one day come to crush the enemies of the church and set all things right. In the words of Jesus Christ, the bright and morning star, "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Secrecy... A Virtue?

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your father who is in heaven. Thus when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets that they may be prasied by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Anyone who knew me well in college would state that I was a "broadcaster." Not just in the sense that I was quick to talk about what I was doing in ministry (though that was one sense). I told anything and everything to anybody who would listen. I say all this now with a little perspective and quite a dose of embarrassment. This verse confronts my "broadcaster" tendency in so many ways and so many practically applicable ways.
You see there is a heart issue that is very much in play when someone battles with the struggle that I had. The biggest struggler for fellow "broadcasters" is that we deisre the praise of men. Ultimately this comes from a heart that fears man more than it fears God. It feeds off the acknowledgment of others. Notice that it is the hyprocites who sound the trumpet so that they "may be praised by others." Those who broadcast suffer from a heart sin known as the fear of the man. I know this because that is one of my struggles. Behind the deisre to broadcast righteousness is a deisre to have man's approval above God's. But this type of broadcasting can take other forms. You can broadcast about having something or achieving a certain reward or dating somebody. But the root behind all broadcasting, be it a broadcasting of righteousness or something else, is a desire to have man's approval over God's.
I've continued reading throught The Cost of Discipleship by Bonhoeffer and he wrote a truly excellent chapter on these passages. Bonhoeffer notes that in order to live out these passages, even as we minister, we must never take our eyes off Christ and look around at all the roles that God has placed us in and say, "Wow, look what I am doing. Look at how many people I am impacting." Bonhoeffer writes, "Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of ourselves or of what we are doing. We must be unaware of our own righteousness, and see it only in so far as we look unto Jesus; then it will seem not extraordinary, but quite ordinary and natural. Thus we hide the visible from ourselves in obedience to the word of Jesus." We are at no point called to look unto ourselves but to simply continue looking toward the Savior. Focusing our eyes on Christ will help our hearts to assess that which is truly valuable and that which is not. This is in fact one of the most effective way s to make "broadcasting" disappear. Focusing on the savior and his words in scripture will enable to disregard what others think of us. It will enable us to focus on God and God alone. For as a Christian, it is his approval that we seek.
What does this look like practically... It would be easy to write down a do and don't list but if it is just behavior modification, then genuine heart change has been made. That is why I can't help but emphasize what Bonhoeffer has said. A vision, fixed on Christ will go a long way to curing our fear of man. He will become our treaseure and ultimately the only one that we seek approval from.
At the same time, I would be self deluded if I didn't think some practical suggestions would be helpful. One way to start if you are a "broadcaster" is if a ministry opportunity comes up or anything comes up that you think would achieve the commendation of man, slow down the announcement to people. I have found this to be very helpful. If you have are the person who tells right away, be secretive for awhile. Maybe the first time, you are silent for a week, the next time two and from there it continues to grow. There is something to be said for the man/woman who is secretive. And I'm not talking about a deceptive secrecy. I am talking about the sense in which one performs righteous acts or is given gracious gifts by God they thank him and him alone for these, thus diminishing the need to tell others. It is good to make a practice of not mentioning self before others.
Further on this note... To those who are my age and unmarried (man or woman). Beware of discolure to the opposite sex (married or not). Don't get speaking about yourself, ministry opportunities or issues in your life to others of the opposite sex (beyond appropriate levels). God is the one whom we unburden too; along with select confidants within our own sex. Keep relationships with all those who are not your spouse at arm's distance, no matter how good the "friendship" may be. A particularly problematic issue is when Godly men use the broadcasting of their ministry opportunities to attempt to attract a single woman. This happens and it happens to very Godly men (I know many a Godly man who can vouch for this struggle). If this begins to happen, we begin to use God and Godliness for personal gain rather than for gaining God himself. If we keep our mouths silent and are secretive before the Lord, this temptation should arise less frequently.
In a society that encourages self promotion, that prompts us to broadcast our feelings and thoughts so that we can be "real," the scriptures teach quite to the contrary. The scriptures in fact teach, that secrecy is an incredible virtue.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Responding to Holiness (Part 3): Departing for the Hard Places

Note: I will only be dealing with Isaiah in this last blog because it is a lengthy entry. However, I encourage you to read Ezekiel and you will see a nearly step by step correspondence to Isaiah's call. Also, as the blog progesses, you will not that I have applied it mostly to men. For one I am a man. Two, there is similar application for women (as they teach other women) even though I address men. Three, my reason for addressing men is that Isaiah and Ezekiel's ministry has to do with the public ministry of the word of God. Being a complementarian, I believe that the public ministry of God's word is reserved for men only by the explicit command of God's word (1 Tim 2 and Titus). In fact if there is one area where men and women, day after day are falling into the spirit of the age and the spirit of the culture (i.e. worldliness) it is over this issue. Fourth and finally, I notice in my own heart the temptation to be timid and almost ashamed of God's words when others don't like it. And I want to exhort preachers and my fellow would be preachers to courage in proclaiming the scriptures.

Though I have only written three parts with regard to a proper response to holiness, this will be my final post on this matter. The truth is that one could write book upon book on this subject. So far we have walked through issues like conviction and wonder; atonement and hearing God. But does our response to holiness stop here? Do we merely feel conviction, then experience atonement and continue to live our lives unchanged? Or does this sense of wonder and a hearing of God's voice change us? Does it change our life? Perhaps our career? Maybe even the place that we intend to live? I think it is abundanly plain that once we have let God do his cleansing work in us (atonement) that we ought to rightly respond to him. Once of the clearest ways that we can do that is by going to minister in hard places. Now, what do I mean by hard places? I see "hard places" as filling a broad range of ministerial posts (both lay and "professional"). For both Isaiah and Ezekiel, it meant most nearly, preaching to a people who would not listen to them. God explicitly tells them both that they will go to people who have no interest in hearing what they have to say, even though they speak the words of God. Let's take a look at both of their circumstnaces.
Let's start with Isaiah 6:8-13. Notice the grace of God in using fallen Isaiah to bring his message to the people. Verses prior, acknowledged his own sinfulness, then God atoned for his sins. Once this transaction has been completed, Isaiah is ready to go. Or more accurately, he is compelled to go. When God asks who he will send, Isaiah cries out, "Here am I! Send me." And God does not object despite Isaiah's sinfulness. He has been atoned for and so God sends him forth. Imagine the excitement for Isaiah as God says, "Go" (v.9). Yet I can only imagine that the excitement would be short lived as God continues to speak. Immediately after telling him to go, God tells Isaiah to tell the people:

Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their eyes heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Can you imagine the emotions that Isaiah must have expereinced? "God, you want me to go tell your people that you will blind their eyes and make their hearts heavy? God is this real? Am I hearing you correctly?" I could only imagine that I might respond in a similar fahsion. The state of Isaiah's apparent confusion is evident when he cries out, "How long, O Lord" (v.11)? "How long will this last God? How long will I speak to a people and tell them that they cannot understand? The crushing asnwer comes from God:

Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land in a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a ten remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stemp remains when it is felled."

We know from salvation history that this would mean the entirety of Isaiah's lifetime and into the life of Christ in the NT. In other words, Isaiah will spend his WHOLE life speaking to God's people who will not listen to him. They will deride him, they will mock him, they will hate him and most importantly they will not listen to God's words through him. I doubt this is what Isaiah had in mind when he said, "Here am I! Send me."
This is not just Isaiah's life in ministry, this is all of God's ministers life in ministry. When was there ever a man who preached the words of God with such clarity and conviction that even those within the circle of faith despised him? Did Jesus not walk the same road as Isaiah? Hated by many of his own and despised by those from his homeland, eventually crucified by those who were supposedly seeking the messiah. This is the calling of God's minister, especially in the modern day where the spirit of compromise and non-offense is the air that we breathe.
God's ministers are to speak the words of the scriptures with heart cutting clarity. And to the extent that this puts outside of special groups of people, special privileges and even those within Christianity, we continue to preach anyway. Until our vocal chords no longer carry breath, we preach the words of God. One of the nearest applicatins of what it means to depart for the hard places is to go somewhere where you may despised, where you may be run out of town. To depart for the hard places means preaching the whole counsel of God even if people do not want to hear it.
There is a certain courage and unflappability behind God's men (lay or "professional"). God's men are those who carry his words to all peoples. God's men are those who do not bow down to the spirit of the age and become softer in order to gain the acceptance of those around them. God's men have experienced such a profound sense of conviction and so wonderfully experienced the love of God in the atonement that they will go anywhere and face anything to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They will preach the true gospel to the people in their churches. They will not teach a gospel that says God died for us becuase we worth it. They will not convince people that the gospel will give them a "good life"; but rather that those who come to Christ will be called to lose everything. They will go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel. They will go to Muslim lands in the 10/40 window though thy may only see 1-2 converts in their lifetime. They will not seek the honor and approval of man but the honor and approval of God alone. Yes these are God's men... God's men are the ones who will depart for the hard places.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Responding to Holiness (Part 2): Atonement and a Hearing of God

During my last blog, I attempted to touch on the uniqueness of Isaiah and Ezekiel's experience as they saw a holy God. I noted that there first emotion was conviction (Isaiah) and awe or wonder (Ezekiel). And these two are ultimately tied to one another though I don't have time to tie them together here.
So what after conviction for Isaiah? Does his expereince of God stop here? Should ours stop here? Are we meant to sense conviction and then be left hanging as to where to proceed from there? The answer is no. Notices what follows Isaiah's intense sense of conviction. He states:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; youf guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.'"

Immeditate following intense conviction, Isaiah is not left to wallow in his guilt. His sins are atoned for. As the angel touches his lips with a hot coal, his sins are atoned for. And notice what goes with this atonement for sin. Not only is the sin removed but the guilt is gone with it. Interesting here that guilt is not a sense of emotion in which one feels that maybe it is gone and maybe it isn't. The angel states in a declarative manner that his guilt is gone. It is absolved. With atonement comes the departing of guilt. If you have truly experienced the atonement on a heart level, your sin should depart with it. You see, the sense of conviction that we feel when we encounter God's holiness is not meant to be the only feeling we experience. As we see the holiness of God and the tremendous amount of our own wickedness, we simultaneously see the beauty of Christ as he comes to us and takes away our sin. As believers we know that though our sin is ever present, our savior is ever greater. He brings comfort and relief to us as we standed, reduced to rubble before a holy God. And when we experience the atonement in an existential manner, the guilt ought to fly with it. Guilt leaves because Christ has paid the price. We are not meant to feel a sense of the finality of the cross strictly in our head and theologies but in our hearts and in out emotions. The feelings of guilt should flee as we experience more and more of the cross on a day by day basis.

What else comes with seeing God in all his glory and wonder? I think there is something very important to note about Ezekiel's reponse. Look at what happens in verse 28b. Ezekiel says:

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking (italics mine)

I think it would simply be a mistake to gloss over the last part of this verse without noting something very very important. It has to be understood that it is very difficult to "hear the voice of [God] speaking" if you are not prostrate before his glory in absolute wonder. If you are not reduced before God on a daily basis it will be very hard to get a true word or true direction from him. You may seek it... but so long as you are proud and refuse to prostrate yourself before in the wonder of his beauty, it will be incredibly difficult to hear him. You see, their is a direct correlation between hearing the voice of God or perhaps more appropriately, the leading of the Spirit, if you are not constantly struck by wonder over the God that you serve. It is the soul that sees the glory of God and cherishes it that will be led by the Spirit of God. When the glory of God is that which you cherish your values get reoriented, your priorities change and that which you aim to achieve in life will be altered. It is those who are struck by his wonder who will be communing with God and hear his word speaking into the darkness of our world on a consistent basis.
Perhaps that is why our churches feel that God speaks so inconsequently to our modern society. He is still too light. We lack the element of wonder in our worship. This is one reason why Christianity feels so out of place (even for those who believe) and it feels as if God has so little to say. But trust me, when you encounter the glory of the God and the beauty of his majesty, there is little question as to if his word is still speaking today. There is little question that he is in fact of great consequence for this modern world. For to see God in his glory is to see him in a way that no society can change. Let us seek his glory and may his beauty and wonder be what our souls feast upon. Soli deo Gloria!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Responding to Holiness (Part 1): Conviction and Wonder

Perhaps the most intriguging aspect of both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's visions of God is their immediate response. I think I am stirred just as much by the response of these two men as I am by the way in which they convey God. Notice Isaiah's response upon seeing the Lord in his holiness, he says:

Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!

The first reaction that standing in the presence of holiness impresses upon Isaiah is a sense of conviction. I also think that it is a worth noting, the part of the body that Isaiah decries as unclean or sinful. He mentions his mouth. This is a man who was called to be a prophet to the nations. In other words his profession was to SPEAK the words of God. This should probably have been the most sanctified bodily member for God's prophet. But it is the first thing that is drawn to his attention upon seeing the holiness of God. There is a sense in which standing before the holiness of God, brings a out a sense of our own filth in light of his holiness. Those who are truly standing in the light of the King of Glory should feel somewhat of a sense of what Isaiah is feeling. Standing before God brings to the forefront our sin and the apparent gap between us and God.
This may seem foreign to some readers at this point and that is quite understandable because the Isaiah 6 experience is foreign to most of the modern American evangelical church. Sadly, there is so little sense of the holiness of God in our churches. Our worship services are light and fluffy. They don't carry the weight of God's magnificent holiness with it. Be sure of this, if there was a sense of transcendence anid holiness in our churches, we would see more responses like that of Isaiah. The fact that we don't see people reduced to "rubble" in our church services (believers and unbelievers alike) is because this sense or this vision of God has been snuffed out. It has been filled with a corresponding lightness in which God is light, he is easy... he is over a cup of coffee or over a bar stool sermon conversation. Tragic. Blessed will be the day when we once agains see Luther and Brainerd like conversions. Blessed will be a day where we cherish the holiness of God in a way that we haven't in many decades.
In examining Ezekiel's experience, I see much of the same realities at work (though perhaps not as explicit) Ezekiel notes his own reaction by saying:

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face...

So Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord and the only thing that he can do is fall on his face in response to what he has seen. Are we falling on our faces in personal devotion? Am I falling on my face in personal devotion? This is something that I know I have felt and done too litte of lately. But this is the God that we encounter when we face the Christian God. Such is his wonder and beauty that one of the few adequate responses to seeing God in his glory is to fall on our faces. O, that God would recapture my heart, our hearts and the hearts of the American church to see his glory and his holiness and have biblical responses therein.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sitting Before Beauty

Much of my time in the Word this week has been spent in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1. As I have grown in the gospel over the past few months, I have sense a corresponding desire to grow in personal holiness (which I think is fitting). As such, I spent time with both Ezekiel and Isaiah. These were two men who were deeply transformed by the visions of God that they had. As a matter of fact, I am willing to venture (not just from an existential viewpoint but also from the standpoint of biblical theology) that their entire ministries were shaped by their experiences in these chapters.
As God has me in a holding pattern (for full time ministry and seminary) for the next 6 months or so, I have found it to be extremely beneficial to gaze intently at the beauty and holiness of God. I would also be willing to say that no man or woman (myself included) is ready to go out and serve the Lord until they have seriously considered the holiness of God; and not just the holiness of God but the corresponding responses to such consideration. Yet consideration, seems like a strictly theological exercise. This is not what I mean when I speak of consideration. Consideration as I see it is a sitting before the throne of God who is utterly holy and utterly beautiful. This meditation on the holiness and beauty of God should not just stir theologies (thought it should do that) but it should be the fuel for life. The fuel for Godly living. Sitting before the holiness of God, should make us strive to be more like him... or more holy. It should fuel a heartfelt appreciation for gazing at our Lord. When the holiness of God is apprehended at the heart level, it recognizes that God is beautiful and the glory of his holiness is valuable. There is perhaps no better antidote to fighting off idols than to produce a heart that daily longs to see the beauty of the Lord and not just in quiet times but at all times. When you consider God to be the most beeautiful being/thing to be looked at, pursued or considered, the pursuit of anything that gets in the way can be more easily jettisoned. The heart will always pursue what it finds to be most valuable or most beeautiful. The Christians who have most impacted this world had a vision for God as the only one worth living for.
I don't think true Christianity is possible without a vision for God like this. No... I don't think, I know that it is impossible to sustain true Christianity without the holiness of God mixed in at nearly every aspect. I make no distinction between "world impacting Christianity" and other types of Christiniaty. The only type of Christianity is world impacting Christianity. And without the holiness of God, Christianity will cease to look decidedly Christian.
I want to close with a passage from Ezekiel that has sat with me all week. I don't know if there is a better picture in the entire bible of the beauty and wonder of God. This is Ezekiel (1:26-28) describing God as he sees him in his vision:

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the flory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

Powerful! In the next few blogs, I plan on talking about two things. First, I want to talk about Ezekiel and Isaiah's repsonse to their visions. Next, I want to talk about how these visions shaped their ministry. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let Us Make a Trade

The following is a prayer of repentance that I wrote after reflecting upon Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and the idols in my own heart. I hope some of you may find it helpful as you seek to follow God in your life.

Dear Triune Father,

Fairest Lord Jesus,
Let us make a trade,
My rubbish for your beauty,
Your glory for my filth,
The divine nature for my idols,
Long have I sought peace and joy from the pleasures of sin,
And long has my soul withered.
My soul is now withered because of my wicked idolatry,
But you do not forsake your children,
Even as I walk away to the poison of sin,
You plead with me to return,
Warning me of the danger ahead,
But as I idolize myself I tell you,
"I know best, away with you."
And now I am at my wits end
As sin has brought me to ruin.
The only hope for me now is your Son.
So let us make a trade,
My rubbish for your cross,
His blood for my filth,
The holiness of Christ for my idols.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thoughts from Sabbath Sunday...Criticism in Light of the Gospel

I wasn't able to post last night because I was at a Sunday night sermon/discussion/dinner group wtih people from church. Just for the record... I absolutely love my Sunday School class here in Colorado. Last night felt like I was hanging out with an enormous part of my family. So comfortable, loving and thought provoking. I thank God for the people at church who are a part of my life.
Anyhow, I thought I would post this morning and then try again tonight, although I am going to an Al Mohler dinner later on. My thoughts for this morning actually come from the sermon that I heard on Sabbath Sunday. My pastor has been taking a break from his expositions in Luke and going through a series on being peacemakers. Much of his material comes from a book by Ken Sande called "The Peacemaking Church."
Anyways, the thought that struck me this yesterday was how the gospel relates to our taking criticism from others. You see, the cross of Christ is in fact extremely critical of us. Take a look at Romans 3 as it speaks of all manking in verses 11-12, "'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'" Did you hear that? The gospel has just blatantly said that we don't understand, we don't seek God, we don't do good and perhaps the most stinging of all is that we are worthless. There is such a mix up in today's Christian culture and it robs the gospel of it's force. God did not save us because we were worth it! I am emphatic on that point and I am willing to die on that hill in theological discussion. The heart of the gospel and the heart of God's love is rooted in the fact that we were not worth it. Or as Paul puts it we were worthless. He died for sinners. In order to get to God through Christ, you must let go of the fact that you have something to offer God or some worth to offer God. You have nothing and I have nothing. To know God, you must accept this criticism as true or else you will continue to live out of a self-righteous heart.
Now how does this criticism relate to the criticism of others? In the sermon yesterday, Bob pointed out that if we have accepted the criticism of the cross, we should be able to accept the criticism of others. This is because the cross' criticism of us is as pointed and as exact as it can possibly get. Nothing that anyone else can criticize us over could be any more truthful or painful or stinging than the criticism that the cross levies against us. It is when we humbly accept the criticism of the cross (the worst possible kind) that we can then accept the criticism of others in a humble and joyful manner.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

Hey all... Sorry it has been a few days. My entire days, from waking till pretty late at night have been filled for the past few days. God has been good and I am enjoying the ministry roles that he has put me into.
I have been preaching the Sermon on the Mount (SM) to the high school youth group and it has been a beneficial experience, both in the sense of having the opportunity to teach/preach and in the fact that the SM has been truly shaping my heart as a Christian.
I just have some brief thoughts on Mattew 5:10-12 tonight. To be honest, they aren't all that original. It's just a matter of looking for them in the right places. In sum... I want to expound or at least suggest the correctness of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones view on persecution. Lloyd Jones has said with regard to these verses:

I say there is a difference between being persecuted for righteousness sake' and being persecuted for a cause. I know that the two things often become one, and many of the great martyrs and confessors were at one and the same time suffering for righteousness' sake and for a cause. But it does not follow that the two are identical.

Jesus is not here talking about being persecuted for following the cause of Christianity. What do I mean by this? Here is an example. Say I am at work (at the bank) and people there know that I am a Christian and therefore they persecute me. They work me extra hard and are especially unforgiving when I make mistakes (thankfully this isn't the case). Let's just say that all of this treatment was because I wore the label "Christian." This would not be what Jesus was talking about. This would not classify as being persecuted for righteousness sake. There are a great many Christians who are "persecuted"--or more accurately, mistreated--for this reason. But this is not being persecuted for righteousness sake. Rather, to be persecuted for righteousness sake is to so completely reflect the character Christ, that you are persecuted. It is when the radiance and beauty of God is so channeled through your life that the unbelieving world cannot help but have a desire to make your miserable and snuff out your witness. It is because the Christ likeness in your heart is so penetrating the darkness of this world and the darkness of unbelieving heart that they want you removed, obliterated and silenced. This is the type of persecution that Jesus is referring too here in Matthew 5:10-12 and this is the type of persecution that will make an impact on eternity. Many today are persecuted for following Christianity but o how few are perseuted for righteousness sake.
May this be an exhortation, to continually be before our Lord in prayer, the word. May our souls come to love him in such a way that we are in fact persecuted for righteousness sake.