A New Year’s Reflection

New Year’s is an opportunity for renewal. It is a time when even the calendar reminds us that God is making all things new; that the old passes away and the new is brought forth.  It is a time of renewal.  If we think about it and act upon it, New Year’s Eve & New Year’s Day can be like our contemporary Rosh Hashana. (Leviticus 23.23-25; Numbers 29.1-6)

But renewal is rooted in faith, not in resolutions. Resolutions are made for New Year’s and forgotten on an average of thirteen days later, according to the surveys. Faith is the result of a response to Christ.  I know I cannot make myself new or make you new.  But Christ will make a new me and a new you, as we remind ourselves of who he is, what he has done, and what he has promised.   (2 Corinthians 5.17; Revelation 21.5)

A New Year’s Prayer

Here is a New Year’s prayer from Jim Eliot I don’t think I could ever express any better:

I pray that the Lord might crown this year with His goodness and in the coming one give you a hallowed dare-devil spirit in lifting the biting sword of Truth, consuming you with a passion that is called by the cultured citizen of Christendom ‘fanaticism’, but known to God as that saintly madness that led His Son through bloody sweat and hot tears to agony on a rude Cross – and Glory!

How Faith Speaks

“We can put it this way: the man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself.  He no longer looks at anything he once was.  He does not look at what he is now.  He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts.  He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone.  He has ceased to say, ‘Ah yes, I have committed terrible sins but I have done this and that…’  He stops saying that. If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith…Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, ‘Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin…yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.”

~ Martin Lloyd-Jones

Deeper Into the Gospel

Reflecting on Colossians 1.6, Tullian Tchividjian, in his book Jesus + Nothing = Everything, offers this poignant perspective about the present practicality of the gospel:

The gospel represents both the nature of Christian growth and the basis for it.  Whatever progress we make in our Christian lives – whatever going onward, whatever pressing forward – the direction will always be deeper into the gospel, not apart from it, not aside from it. Growth in the Christian life is the process of receiving Christ’s “It is finished” into new and deeper parts of our being every day, and it happens as the Holy Spirit daily carries God’s good word of justification into our regions of unbelief – what one writer calls our “un-evangelized territories”.

How I wish – and pray – more people would realize this.  Too many pulpits – conservative and heterodox alike – proclaim alternatives to the gospel – counterfeit gospels, really.  They do this because it sells.  The masses are in need of a remedy only an increasing application of the gospel is able to supply, but they clamor for placebos – spiritual sugar pills.

May I always be mindful of Paul’s words:

  • I resolve to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2.2)
  • But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1.8)

Loving Not Wisely But Too Well

Shakespeare’s Othello bellows:

“I have loved not wisely but too well.”

What he means is that his passions consumed him, and now he had destroyed what he loved.  If you know the story, you will remember he had strangled his wife out of the mistaken fear that she had not been faithful to him.

Similarly, in his monumental book, Life Together, Dietrich Bohoeffer warns:

“The people most in love with community are in danger of destroying community.”

In other words, there are people who have made such an ideal of “Christian Community” that they are easily dissatisfied with the real thing. In their dissatisfaction they grumble, causing others to become disaffected, which further fuels their sense that this real Christian community does not meet the measure of idealized Christian community.  In many cases such people eventually withdraw themselves from fellowship with the visible Church.  In the end they  devoid themselves of what they say they most wanted. And in their wake they leave behind others with feelings of abandonment, rejection, confusion, anger, and more inclination toward disengagement.  These are the effects of their having loved “not wisely but too well”.  Like Othello they kill what they claim they love.

I know people like this…

It is easy to love people hypothetically, or to love hypothetical people. It is quite another thing to love real flesh and blood.  Real people are flawed. The better we get to know others the more apparent those flaws can become.  That’s why the old adage is true: Familiarity does breed contempt.  But more important, what Peter tells us is also true:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  (1 Peter 4.8)

As I think about the communities of which I am part my hope is simply that, rather than idealizing Christian community, we continually recommit ourselves to enact and embody John’s encouragement:

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3.18)

Such love is founded upon the gospel. It is rooted in the shared experience of grace through common faith in the atoning work of Christ. It realizes that we will let each other down.  It seeks reconciliation of wrongs and grievance. It models the laying down of our lives, and our preferences, for the joy of seeing others prosper and the oneness Jesus prays for us to be realized.

A Christmas Creed

I believe in Jesus Christ and in the beauty of the gospel begun in Bethlehem.

I believe in the one whose spirit glorified a little town; and whose spirit still brings music to persons all over the world, in towns both large and small.

I believe in the one for whom the crowded inn could find no room, and I confess that my heart still sometimes wants to exclude Christ from my life today.

I believe in the one who the rulers of the earth ignored and the proud could never understand; whose life was among common people, whose welcome came from persons of hungry hearts.

I believe in the one who proclaimed the love of God to be invincible.

I believe in the one whose cradle was a mother’s arms, whose modest home in Nazareth had love for its only wealth, who looked at persons and made them see what God’s love saw in them, who by love brought sinners back to purity, and lifted human weakness up to meet the strength of God.

I confess my ever-lasting need of God: The need of forgiveness for our selfishness and greed, the need of new life for empty souls, the need of love for hearts grown cold.

I believe in God who gives us the best of himself. I believe in Jesus, the son of the living God, born in Bethlehem this night, for me and for the world.

Help Me Follow the Savior

God of all grace,

You have given me a Savior,

produce in me a faith to live by him,
to make him all my desire,
all my hope,
all my glory.

May I enter him as my refuge,

build on him as my foundation,
walk in him as my way,
follow him as my guide,
conform to him as my example,
receive his instructions as my prophet,
rely on his intercession as my high priest,
obey him as my king.

May your dear Son preserve me from this present evil world,

so that its approval never tempt,
nor its disapproval terrify,
nor its vices defile,
nor its errors delude me.

May I feel that I am a stranger and a pilgrim on earth,

declaring plainly that I seek a country,
my title to it becoming daily more clear,
my desire for it more perfect,
my expectations of it more abundant;
and whatsoever I do may it be done
in the Saviour’s name.

From: The Valley of Vision

What is Your Moral Gauge?

Here is a provocative article by Ben Stevens for the Huffington Post: Two Lesbians Raised a Baby: A Response.

The premise behind Stevens’ piece is derived from the logic of  a video of an Iowa college student named Zach Wahls that has gone viral.  Wahls makes a compelling argument that he, though having been raised by two lesbians, has turned out well.  As Stevens writes:

Wahls is arguing that a practice is not necessarily bad if something good can result from it, and that his similarities to other people (others who were raised by heterosexuals) constitute a strong argument for the normative and morally upright nature of homosexuality, and indeed of homosexual parenting.

There seems to be little or no debate that Wahls has indeed turned out well.  And if you have seen the video you will have no doubt about his intelligence or his oratory abilities either. But, as Stevens explains:

We do not evaluate things simply based on whether good or bad may be fostered in their wake. In every sector of life and policy, regardless of the debate, we evaluate them on their own merits and moral qualities.

This is a thoughtful and thought provoking article, with a moral one friend expresses this way:

Evaluate your beliefs, not on whether or not good can result from them but, whether or not they are good in and of themselves.

Disinfecting Ourselves of Spiritual Malware

In his masterful work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin observed:

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

That may seem to be a peculiar notion. Some will, no doubt, simply chalk it up to “O, that Calvin guy had a lot of strange ideas”.  Some, being a bit more charitable, may concede that this might be true of man in his fallen nature, but certainly no longer the case once we have been made new creations through faith in Jesus Christ.  Some may go even a little further, admitting that sometimes Christians do struggle with issues akin to idolatry, such as lust and pornography, love of money or materialism,  or co-dependency and fear of man.

But Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, goes even further and deeper:

We think that idols are bad things, but that is almost never the case.  The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit God, especially the very best things in life.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

A counterfeit God is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought…

If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.

While Keller clearly states that idols are often the good things in our lives, I have found that many people, godly people, may accept this as truth yet still fail to recognize the idols that drive and shape them. They get caught up by phrases such as “more important that God”.  To their minds, nothing is more important to them than God. And while in many cases I have no question that this is true of them when it comes to their professional faith (the faith they profess, and actually intellectually believe), they are unaware of the idols that influence them and their functional faith (the faith that effects the moment by moment emotions).

It is somewhat like a malware virus I have had on my computer on a few occasions.  Once the virus infects the computer it automatically blocks any attempts to identify the problem.  In fact, every attempt to clean it out only serves to further strengthen and entrench the virus.  Likewise, in some people I have encountered such a powerful block that any attempts to identify the spiritual malware – the idols –  is met with a greater resolve that they are not infected.  This  especially seems to be the case when the malware is something good, something very good, something even godly, such as a powerful desire for church growth, evangelism, doctrinal purity, etc.  Malware in such guise seems to almost always shut down any suggestion that these are problems.

Continue reading

The Virgin Shall Conceive and Bear a Son

Here’s a poignant insight from Martyn Lloyd-Jones regarding Christmas:

What is taught in Scripture is not that Mary had been either born or made sinless, but that portion of Mary, that cell out of Mary that was to be developed into the body of the Son of God was cleansed from sin; and that only.

So Mary remained sinful, but this portion that she transmits to her Son has been delivered, set free from sin; and it is to that that the Son of God is joined. That is the human nature He takes unto Himself. It is a miracle, of course; and we are told specifically that it is a miracle. It was because she did not realize that a miracle was to happen that Mary stumbled at the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel, and his reply to her is: “Do not try to understand this. The power of the Highest shall overshadow you, the Holy Ghost will come upon you, you are going to conceive of the Holy Ghost” – who has power to work this cleansing so that the body of the human nature of the Son of God who is to be born of you shall be entirely free from sin.

So we reject the so-called doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception”; but we assert with all our power the doctrine that the human nature of the Son of God was entirely free from sin.

Scandalous Freedom

I have been listening to Steve Brown‘s Scandalous Freedom podcasts over the past couple weeks.

For those not familiar with Steve, let me issue a warning: Don’t listen to him if you take yourself too seriously or think Christianity is about putting a stamp of approval on your goodness.  I guarantee that if you think that way Steve will offend you, so just save yourself some time and aggravation.

For those who think they can handle him, these messages coincide with Steve’s book of the same title, Scandalous Freedom.  In both the book and podcasts Steve challenges the idols and ideas that rob us of joy and enslave us.  He reminds us, in his masterfully colorful way, how the genuine gospel sets us free.

Here are link to the archived series, which can be listened to online or downloaded.

  1. Free Means Free
  2. Free…Really Free
  3. Freedom’s Power
  4. Some Gods Need Killin’
  5. Struggling with Truth
  6. The Real Deal
  7. The Perfection We Desire
  8. Give Up
  9. Be Still and Be Loved
  10. “The Church is a whore…
  11. The Good News of Cheap Grace
  12. The Masks We Wear
  13. The Power to Stop Pretending
  14. Masks and Gurus
  15. The Punishing Plagues of Putting People on Pedestals
  16. Guilt and Isolation
  17. The Enemies We Demonize
  18. Three Startling Statements
  19. The Humanity that Sets Us Free
  20. The Boldness We Fear
  21. The Way to Boldness
  22. Bring the Pain
  23. Kiss that Demon on the Lips
  24. The Failure We Foster
  25. The Law and Success
  26. The Path We Avoid
  27. Holding the Land
  28. The Fellowship of the Free