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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Let None Say, "I've Wasted It!"

DWLF Invitation, originally uploaded by Sola Lumina Captura.

This is just a cover of the invitation Dan and I was working on for our fellow UPSers. I know it is basic (I am a basic guy right now). So back off you tech gurus! Just kidding. Anyway. Have a great day, and oh, don't waste it.

Random Stuff for the Week of 6/28-7/4

* I am encouraged to see that my friend Dan has decided to get a Flickr account and post some pictures. One of his specialties is lunarscapes, and he has some good ones on there. He told me that he would try to post some more on a fairly regular basis. Check them out. * I also have incorporated Dan into helping me launch our DWYL 2005 campaign at UPS. DWYL for those of you who don't know is Piper's Don't Waste Your Life. We have made fliers and invitations and are currently talking to folks who do not know Jesus. I am encouraged to know that five UPSers are committed before a single invitation was handed out. May the Lord turn the hearts of sinners to spend their lives for Him! * If you have watched any news lately, you knew that Billy Graham's last crusade was this past weekend in New York. Although I did not hear the message, I did hear that he said that former president Bill Clinton should be an evangelist and Hillary should "run the country." For a man who adamantly said that he would not get involved in politics, these are bold endorsements. I am gravely disappointed that in the prospect of those unbelievers there might have been given more of a political commercial than a gospel presentation. * I just recently purchased Adobe's Creative Suite CS2 Premium and am trying to figure out what in the world I have gotten myself into. For all you scaling the learning curve, can I piggy-back off you? I promise not to carry a heavy load. I look forward to seeing what these programs can do. Maybe before I die, I will have gotten a handle on some of it. * Some housekeeping: I am posting more pics of Drew and Erin's wedding this week (20-30 or so). Also, I have added a new "poll of the week" as well as updated the most popular posts @ P&P. In case you haven't checked the blogroll, I have also added numerous links and have reorganized them a bit. I have a few more R.D.S.A. posts that I have yet to write (still in draft mode), and I hope to have them all done in the next couple of weeks. I want to wish everyone a happy and safe 4th of July, and a very special thanks to all who have served in the military to protect our freedom. Your unsung songs will be hummed in the annals of history . . . - t.n.b.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Jesus Adds and Multiplies?*

(Remember, * = an R.D.S.A. post) The other day I was driving around and saw a church marquee that said, "Jesus adds and multiplies; the devil subtracts and divides." I began thinking about that statement as to the truthfulness therein, and come to find the statement to be not only naive but revelatory as to how much our system of thinking in our worldly capitalistic way has infected the church. We seem to think that "adding and multiplying" is good and of God, and "subtracting and dividing" is of the devil. Yet I believe the reality can be true for both. While I don't want to defend the unity and growth of the church in this blog (though I hope so later), I want to make the case that Jesus does subtract and divide. I want to show that biblical Christianity is divisive, and following Christ may also include many blessed "subtractions". So here I go . . . First, let me point to some very explicit statements made directly from Jesus: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daugther against her mother, and a daugther-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." Matthew 10:34-36 "I have come to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you but rather division." Luke 12:49-51 "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." Luke 11:23 Clearly, one can see that Jesus brings upon this earth division. He is the sword that tears certain ones away from their families and makes them their enemies, a fire that burns away the chaff, and a King whose describes those not loyal as against him. Second, I would like to show some specific examples where Jesus caused division. "And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth . . .When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff." Luke 4:22,28-29 "When they heard these words, some of the people said, 'This really is the Prophet.' Others said, 'This is the Christ.' But some said, 'Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?' So there was division among the people over him." John 7:40-43 "There arose again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, 'He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?' Others said, 'These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'" John 10: 19-21 "(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) Luke 7:29-30 "And he [Jesus] was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words." Luke 19:47-48 Luke 8: 37-40 (too long to quote) summarized: Jesus heals a demon-possessed man and the people of the city run him out of the town. They wanted nothing to do with Jesus. The very next verse after the narrative is verse 40, which says, "Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him." Clearly, there is a stark contrast: one crowd rejects Jesus and boots him because of his miraculous works, and the other crowd welcomes him with open arms, anxiously awaiting his return. Luke 11:37-12:1 (too long to quote) summarized: Jesus was invited to a Pharisee's house for dinner, which he accepts. Not washing his hands, the Pharisees get upset. As a guest in their home, reclining at their table, what does Jesus do? He blasts them, calling them fools, hypocrites, and curses them with woes! From the Pharisees, Jesus proceeds to the lawyers and rails them likewise. Realizing the insult, these two groups of people get extremely angry and vindictive and seek for an opportunity to seize Jesus. The next verse, 12:1 begins this way, "In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say . . ." What? At the very same moment Jesus is cursing and condemning folks, there are thousands upon thousands pressing in to hear him! What division! What rejection! What acceptance on the other hand! All 'in the meantime'! Certainly, it is obvious to see that in many if not most situations, there were the "many", and then there were the "others"; there were those were marveled and spoke well of him, and out of that same crowd some who drove him out to the hillside to toss him off the cliff; there were some ready to "destroy" him, and there were many "hanging" onto his words; there were some kicking him out, and there were others welcoming him with open arms; there were some Jesus condemned and cursed, and there were others he blessed and healed. Is this addition and multiplication? Hardly. Thirdly, if there was every a time that Jesus "added and multiplied", surely it was when he drew a big crowd, right? I mean, crowds a sign of God blessing, right? Let's see how Jesus reacted to some of the crowds: "When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, 'This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Luke 11:29 "Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. So any of you who do not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:25-27,33 "When they [the crowd from the feeding of the 5,000] found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, 'Rabbi, when did you come here?' Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life . . .Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day . . .' After this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." John 6:25-27,53,54,66 "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." 1 John 2:19 What then? Shall we say that Jesus disliked crowds? Certainly not! He healed many and cared for the sick, lame, blind, deaf, etc.; however, it is clear that Jesus caused division in the crowds as well. Are these the messages crowds want to hear? You are an evil generation? Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? Hate your mom, dad, wife, and kids? Carry our own execution weapon with you daily? Renounce all that you have? Imagine the pop-preachers today on T.V. and radio saying these things in their megachurches and listening audiences!!! See the crowds of people filing out, saying, "That's not my kind of preaching. He's too divisive." On a macroscopic level and microscopic level, you will find people who were obsessed with Jesus and people who took offense at Jesus. He was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, and the Scriptures said that they 'took offense with him." Even among his own there was a subtraction from the Twelve (Judas). Even the same crowd that celebrated him singing, "Hosanna!" turned to cry out, "Crucify! Crucify!" Where then, did all the "additions" go? At the "hour" for which Christ came, there were no additions or multiplications to speak of. What he had, even among the twelve who were his most intimate companions had fled and denied him with cursings!!! Finally, once more there will be a day where there is an ultimate division. There will be the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25), the wheat from the chaff, the right from the left, those who say, "Lord, Lord, did we not . . ." from those who do the will of the Father. Jesus told us that we would be "hated by all for the sake of my name" and that we are being sent out as "sheep among wolves". To the Jews and the Greeks alike, Jesus is a stumbling block, the Cornerstone which the builders rejected, a rock of offense to the unbelieving in the world. And still he is today. When he says those words, "Depart from me, you evildoers," and "Well done, thy good and faithful servant," maybe then we will realize the "division" that Jesus truly brings. So maybe when we put up our signs, we should rethink the truthfulness of our sound-bytes. I don't know, but this one provoked me. Jesus will continue to "add daily those who are will be saved", but let's not forget that Matthew 7 also speak of the "few" in the narrow road and the "many" on the board road, the "good tree" bringing forth good fruit, and the "bad tree" bringing for the bad fruit. For the Man who divided time between BC and AD, there seems to be a whole lot of "dividing" and "subtracting" going on. What do you think?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Fighting Inclinations With Resolutions

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; Let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I may not sin against you. Psalm 119:9-11 This is a lesson that I have learned today and think will continue to glean from in the days ahead. I am learning to fight inclinations with resolutions. In every human heart there is the inclination to sin. It is in our nature to "wander from your commandments" as the psalmist put it. Luther said referred to it as homo en se incurvatus, which means "man bent in on himself". Isn't that what we are? Aren't we bent towards sin? What makes sin such a problem? If we weren't inclined to it, then it wouldn't be an issue. Yet the truth of the matter is that we are in desperate need of grace. This grace responds to sin not with passivity, but with sheer resolution. It is a predetermined mindset to "make no provision for the flesh and the lust thereof" and to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" as Paul puts it in Romans 13:14. The only way to fight such inclinations is with resolutions - resolutions that are embedded in our thinking, programming our consciences, and guarding our hearts at all times. When the psalmist prayed, "do not let me stray from your commands", what was sandwiching that request? Two resolutions! First, "with my whole heart I seek you." Second, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I may not sin against you." In the presence of fleshly weakness and sinful inclinations is a grace-based resolution to fight the fleeting pleasure with superior satisfaction in doing God's will. Joseph new something about resolutions when it came to Potipher's wife. Daniel knew it when it came to eating the king's food (Daniel 1:8). The Hebrew boys knew it when it came to bowing down to the golden image. On and on, the Scriptures show us how resolutions, directed by the Holy Spirit and grounded in God's Word, carry us through times of weakness, times of temptation and sifting. While man's will is in bondage outside salvation in Christ, once a sinner is saved, the Holy Spirit liberates the will to pursue holiness. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Right? Therefore, we should agree with the Holy Spirit and submit to his divine work of making our convictions concrete and unwavering, our confessions true and transforming, our lives resolute and a mainstay. Jonathan Edwards knew something of the importance of resolutions and made 70 of them early in his life. Here is a list of his resolutions, many if not all have great importance to me. Earlier in my life, while I was in college, I, engaged by Edward's example, began my own set of resolutions based on experiences I had learned and truths the Lord taught me. Hopefully, someday I can post some of them. Anyway. I don't know about you, but I feel the inclination to conform to the world, to gratify the flesh, to indulge in sin, and to pamper my "self" all the time. So I all the more need to battle such inclinations with resolutions that will embolden me to overcome through Christ, encourage me to fight the good fight, and empower me by sovereign grace to live holy, pure, and blamless in this crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2). Do inclinations have the best of you? They at times have had the best of me. Nevertheless, I am learning to sandwich my "wanderings" with an Edwardsian resolve that, by God's grace, will keep me on the path of holiness and "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which I have been called."

Friday, June 24, 2005

What Say You Who Does Not Believe in Miracles?

This is a follow-up thought on the feeding of the 5,000 . . . There has been a trend over the past 150 years in theology (predominately among liberal groups) to explain away the reality of miracles. They would have you believe that miracles performed by Jesus were not really miracles, but should be interpreted metaphorically or as hyperbole. This thought is consistent with contemporary secularism which is rooted in naturalism - the belief that all that is, is only the product of natural order. In naturalism, nothing exists outside the box (i.e. supernatural reality, God, miracles, life after death, etc.). For one to belief in miracles is to implicitly confess the existence of God, for miracles in essence is a "super"-natural act doing by a supernatural Being. Yet in the multitude of more than 5,000, there was a God-sized problem. The disciples were put in a place where they had either needed to see Jesus for who he really was (God incarnate) or just another man (limited to natural order). What was their response? Answer: "Send the people away into the villages that they may find something to eat." What kind of answer is this? I tell you, it is the answer of a naturalist, one who does not believe in miracles, who does not see Jesus as miracle-worker, Savior, God. This answer is indicative of a mentality limited to the natural order, what we can do in and of ourselves. God was not factored in. Yet what did Jesus tell them? YOU give THEM something to eat. With what? They had nothing! What were they to do? In their minds they were thinking maybe, "We can't gather enough food for everyone! That is impossible! We have here only five loaves and a couple of fish!" What a sad state to be in to only see what one's eyes can see! A God-sized problem can only be met with a God-sized solution, which is of course, a miracle. Yet if you don't believe in miracles, what do you do? Jesus commands you to give them something to eat. Their hunger was no metaphor. Their need could not be allegorized. The reality was no illusion and could not be explained away. For the naturalist, the story stops here, for there is no answer in man for such a problem. Utter failure, complete insufficiency, and total lack of resources leaves you in despair with no answer, no hope, no ability to make anything happen. But the story did not end that way. The next thing that happened was Jesus saying, "Bring them all to me." Why would he say this? If Jesus was just a man, maybe an extraordinary man (though still a man nonetheless), what could he do? In spite of the ignorance of his disciples, Jesus does what only a God could do. He performed a mighty miracle and feed the multitude, with a basket for each disciple left over. Now, imagine seeing each disciple, after they had delivered all the bread and fish each carrying a basket and looking down in utter shock, saying, "I thought all we had was five loaves and a couple fish. What happened here?" I tell you, a miracle happened. God was in the midst of them, and the evidence was the bounty in each hand of the disciples who once was pointing the way to the villages. To disbelieve in miracles is to attempt to strip the Godhood of God, to make Jesus into just another rabbi or revolutionary. Jesus was not just a "super-man"; Jesus was and is the "God-man". There is no "Godness" lacking in him. And he showed it on that day. While theologians try to explain him and his work away, the miracles worked then are still be worked today in transformed lives, in healing of the sick, in divine intervention in utterly desperate times. Sure, we can try to come up with some naturalistic formulation to bring who is infinite in our minds of finite boxes, but he will just bust every one. So I ask you, you who do not believe in miracles then and now, what do you do when Jesus says to you in such a situation, "You give them something to eat"???

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hit Me Where It Hurts

It goes without saying that I daily battle with sin in my life, a battle that sometimes it seems I am winning and others where I am a complete failure. But here lately, I have especially felt a renewed sense of solemnity, a shaking out of my slumber, a soberness from being jaded. It is as though a layer of callousness has peeled off my heart, and the fresh exposure to the elements has caused heightened sensitivity to what I feel, what I think, how I act, etc. With prolonged introspection and self-examination, I believe that there are times where, well, it just hurts. It hurts to see how much I screw things up. It hurts that I let others down, especially those whom I claim to love. It hurts to think of how much I have displeased my heavenly Father. The prodigal was in the pig pen when the father was grieving, and so often I find myself the one who seems to squander the inheritance on selfish living, only to find myself with the stench of dung as proof of such wasted living. There have been three people tonight that I have been thinking about in particular - three people who sinned terribly and felt with freshness and heaviness the consequences of such actions. First, I have thought of David, and Psalm 32 and 51 comes to my mind. What was it like to be in his shoes when Nathan told him the story and said, "You are the man!"? What feelings of shame, guilt, failure, humiliation, embarrassment he must have had! He was not living in obscurity. He was king of Israel. When he said, "My bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long," what was that like? This was real to David. If I were him and were in his shoes, how would such a thing take a toll on me? Yet David was "a man after God's own heart." Then I thought of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The religious leaders brought her in the public to be condemned and stoned to death (whether or not she was truly guilty of adultery we do not know, but assuming the charges were true). Laying there on that dusty road, what was going through her head? When she saw the stones being clasped by the hands of "righteous men", how did she feel? When she saw Jesus writing in the sand, did she lift up her head? And when she heard those words, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin nor more," how did those words change her life? The answer to these questions we can only speculate, yet is it possible to feel with intensity, with authenticity the hurt and the anguish that she felt? Finally, I was led to Peter - the man who was first to volunteer for everything. A go-getter of sorts, never lacking in words, fervent in spirit, and ready to take a stand when it was necessary. Sure, the disciples looked to him as the leader of the pack, the one with all the answers, most deserving to be honored, mostly likely to succeed, and so on. The confession that he made turned out to be his greatest tragedy. "I will never fall away," Peter said. Yet three times he denied Jesus. Of all people you'd expect to stand firm and stick it out, understand what Jesus was saying, and be there for Jesus, with Jesus to the end, failed miserably. The Gospels said that Peter "went out and wept bitterly" after the third denial. From a distance, when Peter's eyes were arrested by the glance of Jesus, what trembling he must have felt?! Weeping bitterly? What is that like? How would it feel to be in Peter's shoes? And then later, after the resurrection to hear those words repeated the same number of times he denied him, "Peter, do you love Me?" How he must have hung his head in shame. How he must have remembered the tear-stained garments and scabs on his heart being ripped off. Unbearable so it seems. So discouraged. Utter disappointment. Yet in just days ahead, this same Peter preached the first sermon at Pentecost and 3000 people were saved. And then I look at myself and the hurt I feel inside. I am so thankful that the Bible puts on display such men who were "failures that the Father used." Sometimes I want to just give up, because I don't want to hurt/embarrass God anymore. I don't want to be a disappointment to Him who paid such a price to save me. Though I may try to turn a deaf ear, I hear those words, "Tim, do you love Me?" I lift up my eyes, not just to hear the thud of stones hitting the ground, but a father who has come running, brining an embrace. When Paul called himself the "foremost (chief) of sinners", certainly that was not a bragging line. When he humbly makes such a confession, how he must have recalled the murdering of Christians in the past, looking down at his hands, and knowing that these were the weapons that "persecuted Jesus". Paul felt the hurt as well. In all of this, I realize that Christians from all ages have been hit where it hurts. I don't want to be hit where I am callous; I want to he hit where it hurts. For there I experience being shattered by the seriousness of my sin, shaken out of my slumber, sobered up to "so great a salvation", and set apart for the Master's use. So the solemnity settles in. I am feeling it, and I don't want to just get up and go on. I want to know how David felt, how the woman felt, how Peter felt, how Paul felt. As though I was there, as though you were here. I have been hit where it hurts. Yet Jesus takes this wounded soul to be his earthen vessel, a simple clay pot, cracked at times, but prayerfully pliable in his hands. May the hurt bring the softening of this clay that the Potter may be pleased to shape it for his delight.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I Stand In Awe of Him

This past Sunday I preached on one of the most familiar texts and stories in the Bible - the feeding of the 5,000. As with all passages that I have known most of my life, when I prepare to teach/preach that text, I must look at it with fresh eyes and set aside the familiarity which wants to bring so much contempt. The miracle of feeding the 5,000 (though the number is really so much higher) is staggering, with only five loaves and two fishes. Surely it was a God-thing. But in this text, I also see the humanity of Christ along with his deity. I find this in the context of the text. In the previous chapter of Matthew (chapter 13), Jesus spoke in numerous parables and concluded with a striking narrative of him in Nazareth, his home town. He went into the synagogue and preached, yet the people opposed him and scoffed at him. Why? Because they had known him since he was child. This was the carpenter's son. This was Mary's little boy. Where does he get this authority and power? He's no Messiah; he's our neighbor next door. And it is interesting to see that Jesus did no mighty works there because of their unbelief, but the reason why he couldn't was because they rejected who he was and the message that he taught. I think today Jesus chooses not to do mighty works still admidst people who reject him and his teaching, and think of him as "my homeboy next door." Secondly, at the beginning of chapter 14, John the Baptist, Jesus older cousin, is beheaded because he would not compromise and stood for righteousness. John was the man to whom Jesus said that "there was none born of woman greater than he." He baptized Jesus, probably grew up with Jesus, and outside his disciples there was possibly none more close to him than John. Surely, the news of hearing this brought him much grief - grief that could have easily taken him out of ministering to people, away from the needs of the people. Thirdly, the demands of the people was at its highest peak. People were streaming from surrounding cities and villages and traveling miles on foot just to hear his message, to have their loved ones healed, and to experience his touch. They found him in "desolate places" on the mountainside, and like "Jewish paparazzi", they seemed to harass him at every corner. Yet none one did he send away. Not one was a nuisance to him. Not one did he not have compassion. Finally, the disciples could not embrace the heart of Jesus for ministry. They were utterly clueless and selfish, and it is easy to see how Jesus could have been discouraged, disappointed, and frustrated over the actions and attitudes of his followers. After all, they had been with him for quite some time, having seen him minister, having heard his message, having felt his love. Why did they not get it? Yet Jesus did not allow this failure of his followers to keep him from ministering. He was patient, longsuffering, and as a loving father, taking his own under his wings, even in rebellion, and taught them by example. Given all this, the rejection of his hometown, the dejection over the death of John, the pressing demands of the people, and the failure of his followers, Jesus still did what no one could ever do. In light of all this, the miracle is all the more miraculous. He was tired. The day had ended. He was hurting, grieving, and discouraged. He wanted to be alone. And still, he saw the multitudes, filled with compassion, took them in, embraced them, healed the sick, and fed them. I feel his humanity. I see his divinity. I cherish his example. What a Savior! What a Minister! What a Wonderful King! I stand in awe of him.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Are We Too Pauline In Our Christianity?

This is a question that I have been asking myself. It is a question worth asking, I believe, because there is much to substantiate this reasoning. Let me explain. What percentage of verses memorized are found in Paul's gospels? How many sermons in the past year have you heard your pastor preach from the Old Testament? How much of the Old Testament has impacted or influenced your theology or understanding of the New Testament (especially law, sin, atonement, etc.)? You get the point? Now I understand the importance of understanding the idea of "progressive revelation" that was consummated in Jesus Christ. Yet it appears to me that the revelation given before Christ has been marginalized, the Old Testament trivialized, and the Old Testament characters glamorized by character studies while not seeing them in the light Scripture paints them. It seems that the only benefit the Old Testament is comfort from casual reading in the Psalms, wisdom from Proverbs, and random verses that we name and claim. Now I am no Old Testament or even Bible scholar, but I can say that my eyes have been opened to see how Pauline I have become not only in my hermeneutic, but also in my upbringing in the church. Another symptom is using Pauline lens to interpret the Old Testament. We should understand the New Testament in light of the Old Testament, but it seems that the opposite is the norm. What I am trying to say is that I don't want to just be a "New Testament" Christian but a "Biblical" Christian. I don't want to only read what Paul said, but also read and understand the Bible Jesus read (Old Testament). After all, he is the fulfillment of all that was written and prophesied, "the mystery hidden for ages and generations but revealed in the Son". Now that he has been revealed, what he has fulfilled should not be obsolete but all the more emphasized, given that Jesus was not placed without roots, history, and culture (that is why Matthew 1-4 was written and the introduction to the NT). If you would like to read an excellent book that draws attention to this idea, please read Christopher J.H. Wright's Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. I believe it will help us have a better balance and greater understanding to be not just Pauline, but thoroughly biblical in our understanding of Christianity and Jesus our Lord. For a long time I had worn out a small portion of Scripture and God's revelation (though important as it is) and abandoned over 2/3 of His Living Word. As a result, I had contempt towards anything that wasn't gospel or Pauline. Thankfully, that has changed, and I hope to continue to fall in love with the God of the Bible and see him for who he is fully and completely in Christ.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Passion of the Jew

While walking through Target the other day looking for frames for Father's Day, I passed by the DVD section and this DVD caught my eye. Since I cannot remember what the back said, here are some summaries or reviews by others. Basically, it is three different episodes making fun of Christianity in a satirical way. Quite provoking . . . Editorial Reviews Amazon.com Where else but on South Park will you find irreverent comedy as scathingly hilarious as "The Passion of the Jew"? Premiering just one month after The Passion of the Christ was released in theaters, this typically outrageous episode tore into Mel Gibson's film with characteristic glee, ruthlessly condemning Gibson's courtship of controversy and depicting Gibson as a raving, greedy, egotistical lunatic (recalling the classic first season episode "Mecha-Streisand") while promoting a fair-minded appreciation of Christ's teachings over the relentless violence of Gibson's film. Perfectly playing off established character conflicts, the episode pits Mel-worshipping Cartman (who embraces Gibson's alleged anti-Semitism to justify his own homespun Nazi revival) against Kyle, who is traumatized by Gibson's film into feeling guilty about his own Jewish heritage. Never ones to flinch from taboo topics or political correctness, series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone outdid themselves with this amazingly rapid response to Gibson's film, and it's destined to rank as an all-time South Park classic. Likewise, the bonus episodes "Christian Rock Hard" (from 2003) and "Red Hot Catholic Love" (from 2002) tackle the commercialism of Christian music (as deviously exploited by Cartman) and the news-making controversy of sexual misconduct among Catholic priests, which somehow manages to incorporate a scatological sub-plot about the marvels of "interorectogestion," answering the age-old question of... well, you'll just have to watch to find out. Suggested for mature viewers only--this is South Park, after all! --Jeff Shannon Description Join the "South Park" gang in SOUTH PARK: THE PASSION OF THE JEW as Kyle finally sees The Passion and is forced to admit that Cartman has been right all along. Meanwhile, many of the hardcore fans of the film unite together to carry out the film’s message under the leadership of Cartman. In the bonus episode "Christian Rock Hard," Cartman, Butters and Token form a Christian rock band and rise to the top of the Christian rock charts with their own messages of faith. The second bonus episode, "Red Hot Catholic Love," centers around a trip to the Vatican and enduring real-life challenges of a video game from 1982. (Another one) The episode called "The Passion of The Jew" is the centerpiece, and easily the funniest in the package. Cartman decides that Mel Gibson's movie is actually delivering instructions for The Final Solution and Kyle is so deeply moved by Jesus' pain that he asks his synagogue's congregation to apologize for killing Christ. This sends the community's Jews into a frenzied campaign to get the film banned. Meanwhile, Stan and Kenny travel to Malibu to ask Gibson for their money back because they think his movie "totally sucked." Gibson is portrayed as an insane megalomaniac horny to be tortured. Though this starts as a parody of The Passion of the Christ (and Braveheart), Parker and Stone's ire is stoked by a celebrity claiming his "art" has God's blessing. By the time Gibson arrives in South Park, raving, everyone has reconsidered their view of the film. The townsfolk agree that it's better to focus on the good works of Jesus and not his death, a fixation that has so often led to the oppression of others. Amen. The episode "Christian Rock Hard" combines Parker and Stone's barely secret love for Jesus (they consistently revere some de-Americanized version of the Lord, peaceful, loving, and non-capitalist) with their open hatred of celebrity. Cartman becomes a Christian rock star, penning sexually suggestive songs about the Savior. At the same time, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny go on strike to protest illegal file-sharing, after they're arrested by the FBI for downloading Metallica and Judas Priest songs. They come to this epiphany after the agents show them all the extravagant items pop stars haven't been able to buy (like a gold-plated shark tank) because of file-sharing. Such cheap shots at rich celebrities are repetitive and obvious. There's no subtlety in having Britney Spears saying, "We're in it for the money" while protesting with the kids. In the final episode, "Red Hot Catholic Love," Priest Maxi worries about waning church attendance due to molestation scandals, and goes to the Vatican in an attempt to persuade the Pope to do something about the pedophilia epidemic. He finds that sleeping with young boys is a cherished tradition among the Church hierarchy, written into Church Laws. Back in South Park, Cartman discovers that if you shove food up your (expletive), you (expletive) it out your mouth. This is South Park at its most puerile and, depending on your tastes, you'll either love it or groan at the many variations of people defecating from their mouths. In case you haven't been aware of South Park and it's cultural defamation of Christianity, here is a taste of secular culture's contempt towards the Christian faith.

Atheist Dies Because of "God-Blessed America"

This tidbit was taken from the Arizona Daily Star's obituary column on June 19, 2005. I heard about this on my way home this afternoon on the Rush Limbaugh Show. I thought it was quite funny. Here's the link if you wan't to view it. Corwyn (Cory) William Zimbleman Tucson, AZ (formerly of Champaign, IL) Age 53. Born April 18, 1952 to the late Willard and Gilda (Ebert) Zimbleman, died June 10, 2005. Throughout his life Cory was an extraordinary artist. His artistic talent and imagination would bring awe to all who viewed his work. His works grace an LP cover and numerous books; using Computer Aided Design (CAD) he designed home and business exteriors, interiors, and furniture for several architectural firms. His talent went beyond the fine arts as he added sculpturing, woodworking, metals, and other mediums to his repertoire. Having never gained the recognition he deserved in his own lifetime his family hopes to publish a book of his works. Another of his passions was herpetology. As a child he was always bringing home reptiles. His friends nicknamed him "Snake." He even built a turtle pond in his backyard. An avid atheist, he studied the bible and religion with more fervor than most Christians. He had strong political opinions and followed Amy Goodman's radio broadcast "Democracy Now." Alas the stolen election of 2000 and living with right-winged Americans finally brought him to his early demise. Stress from living in this unjust country brought about several heart attacks rendering him disabled. Cory, a great man, so very talented, compassionate and intelligent, dedicated to the arts and humanities and the environment, will be greatly missed by his wife, family, and friends. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Montiel; his step-daughter, Esperanza Hernandez both of Tucson; his brother, Mike (Dana) of St. Louis, MO; his sisters, Susan St. Claire of San Jose, CA and Laura Zimbleman of Ypsilanti, MI, and his turtles Heidie, Skinhead and Studley and many other pets. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, June 21, 2005 from 6:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m., please call 883-2862 for information. Cremation has taken place. I had to read it to believe this obit was true.

Random Stuff for the Week of 6/20-6/27

* In case you haven't already seen, I have been posting pictures from Drew and Erin's wedding on my Flickr account. Before I am done, I hope to have at least 100 pictures from the wedding. For those of you who were in it or see pictures you like, you can download them simply by clicking on the picture and clicking the "download this picture" script and pick the size you want to download. The original size will be large (I use a 8MP camera), so you may want to take that into consideration. * Also on my Flickr account, I have posted pictures from our (Dusti and myself) hike up to Tioga Falls located in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. No, we did not find any gold, but we did see a nice little waterfall. 24 pictures are posted there as well of our hike. * Some of you know that I have been preaching often lately, most of which has been at Payneville Baptist Church. I recently have been working on creating a blog for the church. It is a simple idea, but I think it has great potential. Right now, the church does not have a web site (and I for one don't know how to make one . . .yet), so the blog will be a way to communicate and connect with one another throughout the week. One it I hope to have a Q&A forum, FAQ's, directions and contact information, weekly sermons notes (from previous sermon), and prayer requests and list center. Maybe more to come. Right now, it is just started. But feel free to check it out and tell me what you think. You ideas and comments are greatly appreciated. * This Sunday night, I am looking to go to hear the David Crowder Band at Southeast Christian Church (that big honkin' place). I dig his unique flavor and look forward to hearing the new stuff coming out. I guess that's all that's going on right now. I had a rather unproductive week last week, one of those where you felt like you did a whole bunch of things but really didn't do anything at all. Been there?

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Tribute to My Dad

My Dad . . . a good man, a godly man, and a great father . . . my best friend. Those arms have carried me all these years through sacrifice and selflessness. Top-notch coach, number #1 cheerleader, unceasing intercessor, faithful at all times. You have shown me the love and beauty of God our Father in a fatherless day, a gift that keeps on giving, a gift I hope one day to give to your grandchildren. Thank you dad, for always keeping me in wonder, and as the years go by, for the tear-stained memories I cherish each day. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Embracing Our Depravity

An addendum to the posts concerning grace . . . Over the past couple of days, I have written about reasons why grace is no longer amazing. Today, I want to submit how I believe we can once again relish the sovereign grace of God. If not, I fear that we will find ourselves like the Pharisee banking on superior performances, praying, "God, I thank you that I am not like those adulterers, extortioners, and like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I have . . .". I think this prayer modernized is rampant in religious circles today and causes us to nibble on crumbs when God has provided a banqueting table at his throne of grace. There was something that the tax collector stood, yea experienced within himself that caused him to beat his breast continually and cry out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" What was it? What hit him with such force that drove him to look nowhere but within himself, not even able to lift his head to heaven? I tell you it was the reality of his depravity and utter helplessness that brought him to the place where his only hope was the mercy and grace of God. He had no performances to speak of, to brag about in his prayers (which we often do). He did not have the spiritual lingo down pat so as to cover up his nakedness in finely woven fig leaves and form without substance. He knew that the guilt lied squarely on him. The weight of condemnation and judgment pending was too great to bear. He had come to the point where he finally embraced his depravity. And this is what I believe needs to happen today, not just for sinners tasting grace for the first time, but for the saints who have the tendency to forget that we are still sinners. Unfortunately, there are those who have concocted this idea that the Christian can reach a point of "sinless perfection" or "entire holiness" where grace is no longer necessary and sin is not a reality. If that be the case, then I would like to meet that person and hand him the diploma for being the first to graduate from Christianity. Yet, I will be the first to say that I am NOT that person. Like Paul, "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." You see, we will never be staggered by grace until we have been confronted with the heinousness of sin. For some reason, we don't think sin is that sinful anymore. Hell is not real, but only a metaphorical statement. Sinners are not in rebellion against God; they just have "imperfections" and "bad judgments" and therefore are victims. We feel sorry for ourselves and expect others to have pity on us. Many religious circles are nothing but group therapy to appease the reality of sin rather than confronting it. We cannot drink of the cup of grace deeply until we have tasted the seriousness of our sin fully. Period. Embracing our depravity does not leave us hopeless, for Christ came into the world to save sinners. You know, the only category of people Christ Jesus came for is sinners. "This is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world for sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15). You would think that some serial killer said this. Well, you are right. The Osama Bin Laden of 1st Century penned those words, and his former name was Saul. He knew something of this reality, even at the end of his life. Jesus did call those who think they were fine. He came for sick people. He cares not for your spiritual resume or personal sacrifices. He desires mercy. He longs to lavish grace upon grace on wretched, poor, and blind sinners. It is time that we take ownership for our sin. We must come clean before the Lord. We must allow our secrets to be headlined on the 5:00 news and our darkness illuminated by the spotlight. It is time that we expose our nakedness before God and shed those masks which only add to our condemnation. What are we afraid of? What others will think about us? Who are we foolin'? Don't let your presentation be fabricated. What we need today are transparent, authentic Christians, those who have been before the throne of grace. You see, the Scripture says, "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). We are already naked before the Lord (Hebrews 4:13), but we just don't want to come to terms with it, and many will go their grave with lifelong attempts to rub out the ruins of sin. If only someone would tell them of the blood of Christ. Yes, there is a fountain fill with blood, drawn from Immanuel's veins. And sinners plunged within the flood, lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains. Yes, I sing again . . . Amazing Grace How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost But now I am found Was blind But now I see. Seeing my sin. Savoring God's grace. This, I believe, is what makes salvation so sweet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Land of Lawlessness

The second submission on the matter of grace and why I believe we struggle to embrace it today. It is evident all around us that lawlessness is on the rise. Just like the close of the book of Judges, everyone seems to be doing "what is right in their own eyes." However, when I speak of lawlessness, I am not necessarily referring to the law of the land, though it is very important; rather, I am speaking about the "law of the Lord." I submit to you that a big reason why grace is so trivialized is because God's law is so ignored. Now there needs to be some clarification and explanation concerning this law. Generally, we think of God's law as a set of rules and regulations, do's and don'ts. Immediately, the Ten Commandments come to our mind. However, the Hebrew word from where we get the word law literally means "instruction", not the contemporary version of a societal and authoritative set of rules. It is a popular notion that people think that the Old Testament saints were saved by "keeping the Law." On the contrary, the Law was given to the saints after they had been delivered (saved) and was written for their instruction on how to live in covenant with Yahweh, to wear His name well, to represent Him as His people on the earth. There are scores of verses that can attest to the "law of the Lord" (esp. Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119; Joshua 1:8; Ezra 7:10; Psalm 19:7-11; Nehemiah 8:1-8). Now this is a slight variation on how Paul understood the Law, but it serves as a foundation for New Testament thinking in regards to sin. Now let's turn to the New Testament. Hear Paul saying, "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet'" (Romans 7:7). Again, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane . . ." (1Timothy 1:8-9). We think, "Whew, I am glad I am not one of them. Therefore, the law does not apply to me." Wait a minute. Before we "think more highly of ourselves than we ought", let's consider life outside Christ, outside salvation. Aren't we all guilty of being lawless, disobedient, ungodly, sinners, unholy, and profane??? If you answer no in regards to you, then grace is as alien to your soul as sin is to a holy God. But how do we know that we are these things? Because of the law of God. Paul explains the law as being our tutor/guardian to lead us to grace. Hear his argument: "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions . . . Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that through the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming of faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:19,21-23). Without a tutor/teacher, how can we have knowledge of sin? Certainly, it can be attributed that the reason why we have become so graceless is because we have for so long been so tutorless. As Christians we need to emphasize God's law, God's instruction, God's Word. We don't know sin by means of practicing sin. That only makes our hearts harder and our consciences seared. We know sin by juxtaposing it to sheer holiness, and in that light see sin for what it is. This is what the law does. As long as the backdrop to grace continues to be our spiritual resume or competing goodness or measuring morality, grace will not be savored and salvation won't be sweet. The only backdrop is the law of the Lord which is perfect (Psalm 19:7). In God's perfection and holiness, seeing our state through the lens of God's character, we are imprisoned, bankrupt, destitute, and depraved. And in that state is where grace is appreciated. Not just for the lost person coming for salvation, but for the saved person living in grace, we must always say like the Psalmist, "The law of your mouth is better to me, than thousands of gold and silver pieces" (Psalm 119:72). Oh that we may delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night! Oh that grace will capture our hearts once again!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Our Performance-Driven Culture

These next two posts are the result of some reflection on why there is so much resistance to the concept of grace, and why Christians, though they speak of it often, seldom understand it. It concerns me that today many people are singing Amazing Grace with a yawn. What staggered so many desperate souls has become a by-word in our "Christianese". Our language and verbiage so well learned, the meaning so far distanced, we repeat our lingo and sing our jingles often without serious thought or examination as to what meaning there is in what we say. How did we get to this apathy (or so it seems) towards grace? What is so amazing about grace (as Phillip Yancy puts it)? One of the reasons why I believe there is so much resistance and barriers to appreciating grace is because of our performance-driven culture we live in. From childhood, when you are in Kindergarten, we strive to tie our shoes well, say our ABC's, and not eat glue. But why? So that we get an "S" for satisfactory rather than an "U" for unsatisfactory on our report cards. Throughout grade school until the day we walk across the stage and receive our diploma, we are graded on our performance at least every six weeks. When we did not perform well as a student, our grades going home held us accountable, especially when dad saw them (can I get a witness?). We were motivated to perform well, to get the awards on award's day, to receive those scholarships, all to give evidence on the value of a good performance. Even when my dog goes out and does her business well, her performance is met with a treat. The same is true in the workplace. If you perform well as an employee, well, you are most likely to get better pay or maybe a promotion. At least, you will receive the good favor of your boss when you need a day off or make certain requests. How about sports? Growing up I was a jock with a capital "J". I was, and still am, and avid competitor. I so wanted to perform well so that our team could win the game, and maybe I could get the game-ball or be called the MVP. The write-ups in the local paper would be cut out and held as proof as a great performance. In the grander scale, you see the national championships, the Olympic medals, the world records being broken, all as evidence of exceedingly great performances . . . But is this how we are to "grade" the Christian life? Can we rightly take this performance-driven mentality and place it on our personal walks with the Lord? To the success of our church? I heard of churches that are "results-driven" which clearly show that they are "performance-oriented." Yet there is nothing that can validate that this is how one is to grade their spirituality. From salvation, you see that it is not as a result of works whereby one is saved. Clearly, salvation is the Lord's doing, not ours. We can't perform well enough to merit God's favor, to be acceptable in His sight. Yea, our "exceedingly great performances" are but filthy rags in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). Verily, it is our performance that hinders us from salvation. We think we can be good enough, can do enough, to "beat the odds" against eternity and God's verdict on our lives. There is one who worked, whose performance was perfect, whose life was totally acceptable. Paul mentioned: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:18-19). Whoever works gets the glory, has the reason for boasting, can rightfully receive the praise due to their performance. God never intended me or you to live the Christian life. It is simply impossible. I know that it is common that many view God's relatedness on the basis of our performance. If we perform well (pray, study, and so on), then God accepts us, but if we perform poorly, then we feel unacceptable to God. Yet the Christian life is the life of Christ in us. This life is lived, not by our working, but from our abiding in God through utter dependence and reliance upon the Holy Spirit to work in us. Our acceptance to God is not based on our doing, but on what Christ has done, and His work stands once and for all on our behalf, speaking perfection over us, a performance that the Father is well-pleased. We, as recipients of God's grace and God's Son, are called to be conformed to the image of Jesus as a result. Clearly, there is a "Suit and Tie" Christianity today. We feel it necessary to cover up our nakedness. We don't want to be exposed - for people to see our sin, our pride, lust, gossiping, lying, immorality, jealousy, bitterness, and so on. We are doing well in our "sin management", trading sins for others that are easier to hide (Webb's lyrics). If but our lives were on the movie screen for all the world to see that we can be desperately desiring God's grace. Before God we are naked and exposed (Hebrews 4:13), and only those who have been clothed in the righteous garments of Christ can have their sin covered, their needs met, their lives acceptable to God. So when you see me in church, look not for my suit and tie. Don't be fooled. I am a saint and a sinner. I am nothing without God's grace. Don't let my "good" performances (Lord willing)deceive you into thinking that there is anything good in me. It can only be said in the striking statement made by Paul that "by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). To be this type of Christian not only cuts across the grain in our culture, but also against much of Christianity today. Our "spiritual resumes" rival the grace of God, and Paul who probably is the greatest missionary who ever lived stated that he would not venture to speak of anything except what Christ had accomplished through him (Romans 15:18). Any self-independence, any self-engineered religion, any manufactured spirituality is abhorrent and disgraceful to God's grace. Until we realize that our lives are entirely indebted to the grace of God, we will continue to swagger in our prideful performances and yawn at the grace that used to be so amazing.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Random Stuff for the Week of 6/9-6/16

* I am glad to see that two good friends of mine have entered the "blogosphere." Jimmy's blog has a distinctive flavor of recent trends in culture blended with intuitive thought and insight. K.J.'s blog is simply his interaction with Scripture, implementing a very helpful and concise way of gleaning and growing from God's Word. I strongly encourage you to check them out. * I still have a few R.D.S.A. posts left in "draft mode" that I hope to get around to in the next week or so. A couple I think might interest you. Be checking in, and comment on, if you so choose on these posts. * I have continued to add weekly polls on the side while also updating the blogroll. You will see additional links, new pictures on the Zeitgeist, and new blogger's links as well. * I want to thank all of you who have checked out my pictures on my Flicker account. In just two weeks, there have been over 1100 views of my photostream, and I am thankful for your visits. Obviously, we are a visual people (whether good or bad), and pictures are worth a thousand words (mind probably less). What I Am Reading: A Wideness in God's Mercy (Clark Pinnock) for review/critique No Other Name (John Sanders) for review/critique The Glory of God's Grace (James Montgomery Boice) highly recommended The Reign of Grace (Abraham Booth) highly recommended Hope you have a great week! - t.n.b.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Is God An Idolator?

I thought about calling this "the most important person to God." I was thinking about this on the drive home from work yesterday morning, and it hits me that people don't ever talk about who the most important person to God is. What I have heard all my life are songs that say things like, "When he (Jesus) was on the cross, I was on his mind," or more contemporary tunes that charm us like, "Like a rose, trampled on the ground/He took the fall, and thought of me/Above All." When I would here people pleading with people to become Christians, I heard the moving statements like, "If you were the only one lost in the whole world, Jesus would have died just for you." All these statements, as innocent though they seem to be, are indicative of the American feel-good gospel that makes us "special" and "deserving" while God is indebted and obligated to us. Should it not be said that "God shall have no other gods before him?" Because God is God, he must be centered on himself, lest he be an idolator. This strikes right at the root of our man-centered gospel today. We think that we are the most important person to God, that because we know he loves us, we therefore, must be what God worships, right? Yet this logic and portrayal is foreign to Scripture. When God delivers, rescues, saves, or redeems (however you put it), he does so for his name's sake. First and foremost, in all God's actions and affinities, he is utmostly and ultimately concerned about his name, his glory, his testimony. "My glory I will not give to another" reverberates throughout the pages of Scripture. To attempt to list all the phrases of God's preeminent commitment to himself would be to keep you scrolling down this page with a worn out index finger. Some may think, "If God is wrapped up in himself, is he not a megalomaniac? How could this God who is so God-centered be loving?" Well, let me ask: "If God were to love anything/one more than himself, would he not be committing idolatry? Is it not most loving to give us what is best for us?" And clearly what is best for us is God himself. He is the gospel. For God to give us less, to be centered on anything else but himself, would be idolatrous to himself and unloving to us. God is for us, but supremely he is for himself. And if we are to be like him, we must be God-centered in our thinking, in our theology, in our practice, lest we find ourselves singing our praises to ourselves of how great we are. Admittedly, this is very counter-cultural, even counter-spiritual for believers today to do, for we think we derive our worth or significance by thinking that we must be man-centered in our Christianity. Why do you think the overwhelming majority of praise and worship songs are littered with phrases of "I will . . ." or "I am . . ." and so on? We start with us and not with God. We speak of what we will do, not what God has done. Our reference point is us, not with God, and then we assume that God must be like us - always thinking about us. Yet, the God of the Bible is not an idolator. He will not have any gods before himself. He is God and God alone, and our rightful place is in glad surrender and unmitigated humility in his presence. Clearly, the most important person to God is God himself. If it were any different, we would neither know love nor have gospel, and God would be found contradicting his nature of Godhood and would be charged with idolatry in the most grave sense.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Substance of the Holy Spirit??!!!

While trying to do research this afternoon, I have been arrested by a documentary called America Undercover: A Question of Miracles. It is about Benny Hinn and Reinhard Bonnke, two supposed faith healers drawing literally millions of people whether in Arizona or in Africa. I am disgusted. I am flabbergasted. I am filled with fury for the phonies who have led so many astray. I am angry. I am hurting for the false prophets or are "profiting" from the naive, those too desperate, too biblically illiterate, too mindless to see the flagrant blasphemy propagated before their eyes. I am so bothered right now that I can hard think straight or type coherent words. This is what the world knows of supposed Christianity, and the rest of the world scoffs, laughs, and find Christianity as either a comedy show or evidence of pathetic followers who see God as "the opiate of the masses." Benny Hinn is on stage prophesying economic disaster after the year 2000, and those who will survive are those who give to his ministry, so out of fear and manipulation, people who are victims give all they have in hopes that through Hinn's "ministry", they will survive. And when the miracle comes, it is called "the substance of the Holy Spirit." And when it doesn't, well, you didn't have enough faith. This sensationalized spirituality is perpetrated by so-called "faith-healers" whose books are best-sellers at Wal-mart and sell-out crowds in arenas. Nonetheless, this is an all-out disgrace to the name of God. The charismatic movement has grown exponentially on an experience-based religion that equates the Holy Spirit to a warm feeling or "electricity" down your spine! I just heard Benny Hinn's justification for flying in a private jet. Are you ready? Answer: "Because if I didn't, I would wear out and not last as long." What?! David Livingstone in Africa blazed trails on foot, John Wesley on horseback traveled seven circuits of the planet, John G. Paton among the cannibals traveled the stormy seas and risked life almost daily for the gospel. A private jet, huh. Yeah, welcome to the 24 carat gold plated cross and crystal Christianity. This exploitation of the poor, the showmanship of the charlatans, and shenanigans of the counterfeits are doing nothing but turning Christianity into a good-luck charm, a therapeutic prescription program with 100% guarantee, and leading masses of people into the abyss. Benny Hinn, your ministry is NOT the substance of the Holy Spirit but the deceptive charm of a man with great manipulative means which gains the capital of those who think of your ministry as their spiritual lottery pick and think you can give them gold. Unfortunately, while they give you their gold, you give them the fast track to hell.

Monday, June 06, 2005

"Are You Able to Drink the Cup that I am to Drink?"

It was a simple request of a kneeling mother with pride in her two sons. "See that my two sons sit one on your right hand, and the other on left in your kingdom." Yet such a request was responded to by Jesus, saying, "You do not know what you are asking." I suspect that many who have wanted to taste of the delights of heaven, the crowning touch of Jesus at his throne, do not realize what they are asking. The cup that Jesus drank was a strong drink, a drink that tasted death for the sins of the world, tasting the wrath of God on behalf of those who would receive mercy, tasting condemnation for those who would find forgiveness in the cross. The cup which symbolized the consummation of his life and mission was so strong, so grave, that three times in Gethsemane he asked that the "this cup would pass from me." But immediately, his heart responded with, "Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done." At the banqueting table of the Lord on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took of the cup and shared it with his disciples to drink of it, saying, "This is my blood of the new covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink of it, all of you." The new covenant was signified in a cup that was poured out - lavished extravagantly for forgiveness - blood that was not spilt (as though it was an accident) but poured out that we may drink freely from the fountain of Calvary. The drink of Christianity is full, 100% concentrate the blood of Christ Jesus. It is drank in daily sacrifice, the taking up of our crosses to follow Christ, and hence, we drink of the same cup. We give up our lives to gain his; death is as work in us that life may work in others (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). This cup was spoken of in "the hard sayings of Jesus Christ", especially when he said: "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (John 6:53-56). At the conclusion of Jesus' statements, the disciples said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" I suppose that this "hard saying" is still hard to listen to today. That is why the cup of Christianity is in danger of being turned into water-down Koolaide. We want Jesus but not his cross, heaven but not sanctification, forgiveness of sins but not repentance, blessings without sacrifice, and a cup without blood. Many today, I fear, are not able to drink of the cup that Jesus drank, his disciples drank, and the train of 2000 years of the lives of people whose sacrifice and suffering make Christianity so sweet and Christ so real. When the soldiers came for Jesus, he told Peter to put up his sword and then said, "Shall I not drink of the cup that the Father has given me?" (John 18:11). The cup was given by the Father as the foreordained plan and mission of his life. He had embraced it long before he was called upon to drink it. And I believe that there is a cup given to us by Jesus Christ, initially to the Twelve, but undoubtedly to all those who would come by way of the cross. And the question before us who confess Jesus and have tasted the salvation he brings is, "Shall we not drink of the cup that Jesus has given us?" Be careful what cup you drink. Before us is the Koolaide Christianity, who is nothing but artificial flavoring topped with Splenda; but before the banqueting table of Christ is the drink of unfiltered, pure blood from the new covenant brought from his death. One is nourishing, and the other is nauseating. Koolaide is popular today because it is cheap and palatable regardless of your affinities; Christ's cup is rare and costly, and embraced by only those who have been acquired the taste by the Holy Spirit within us. When the world comes thirsty, then don't need to find our cups with a sweetened version of the drink of their choice, but a "true drink" that is found in the "Fountain of Delights". Christianity-lite won't satisfy a thirsting soul; only the pure concentrate of Jesus Christ in us can bring others to drink of the cup of the New Covenant. But be careful, for we may not know what we are asking. Nonetheless, if we are able, let us together drink, all of us, and be poured out like our Savior who so richly satisfied our souls.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Kick in the Pants

Today, I preached a commissioning service for a team going to Brazil and my text was 2 Timothy 2:1-10. As many of you already know, this text has three vivid pictures of what the Christian life on mission is to be like. It was written by none other than the greatest missionary who ever lived, inspired by the Holy Spirit who directed all of his missionary travels (Acts 20:23). I took the pictures he provided in this text - the soldier, athlete, and the farmer - and juxtaposed them with the pictures provided by America. "What is the essence of life according to America?" I asked myself. Some would say that life is like Disneyland where fun and games bring entertainment and thrill to life; others would say that life is a shopping mall where all our lists of things ever wanted or needed can be found. Some live for the weekend (cheering T.G.I.F.); others for the week vacation to the beech soaking up rays while the water laps on their feet; still other lives for the day where they no longer have to work, full retired, kicking back on the rocker on the back porch, sipping on some home-made lemonade. Whatever picture these may be, there are undoubtedly pictures of life according to America. With those on the one hand, I then proceeded to look at the life of a man whom God used to change the world. The portrait provided in these illustrations were personified in the life of Paul, who fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. Three statements kept ringing in my head: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21), "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:8), and "But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself . . ." (Acts 20:24). Here was a man totally abandoned to God, whose life was summed up in sacrifice, suffering, and singularity of mind to glorify God in all things. There was no price to high to pay, no difficulty to great to overcome, no battle too great to fight, no race too hard to win . . . Then I come to myself. The picture of my life. What does it portray? Today, I hung my head in shame. I felt most unworthy to preach such a passage. Often I feel that the messages I preach cause me to be the one at the altar weeping, not the one receiving folks, but this time it was especially hard. Maybe it is because of the pulse of missions that beats in my heart, maybe because of the American life of commodity I have bought stock into, maybe because I have become a soldier in "civilian affairs" . . . My life does not seem to weight in at the scales of eternity has having been costly, possibility because I have not count it as any value to me (but dung). I live in relative ease. Casual and comfortable, and worse I fear, compromising. I haven't been doing the "hard thing", and the "excellencies of Christ" seem to be on the shelf collecting dust. My fatigues are cleanly pressed without a hint of warfare within radar proximity. My fields have become fallow rather than fertile, with only weeds to account for any life. My legs are drooping from the things that weigh me down, and I daily fear that I may drop the baton. And he I stand in the heart of Disneyland with cotton candy in my hand . . . Yet I hear the words with gentle force telling me, "You, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Again, "My grace is sufficient for you." And I realize that whatever I am in this life, it is by the grace of God. What made Paul great was not that the portraits displayed him as a physical specimen, a great orator or gifted communicator, good looking, etc., but a man who was strong in the grace of God. "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is within me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). Everything done in Paul's life was empowered by the grace of God which mightily worked within him (Colossians 1:29). Radical dependence. Unflinching courage. Insatiable passion. Unrelenting pursuit. Unconditionally faithful. This was the gallery of grace in the life of Paul. So I pray that repentance sings the melodies of my heart in a minor key, a little bit out of tune with the world, but a joyful noise to my King. There must be a cost that I shall pay, and there be the reward of the resurrection on that great day. I wave up the white flag in my heart of total surrender, and know it is Jesus Christ who I must remember (2 Timothy 2:8). For it he in whose strength I take my stand, and my goal is to please him in every command. And in this portrait I want the world to see, the beautiful hope of glory - Christ within me.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Rabbit's Foot Phenomena

Maybe someone can help me with this. I was in a locksmith place with Todd today and noticed the big 80's trend of the rabbit's foot. When I was a kid, I thought, "Man that's cool, and it's soft!" Now that I am little bit older (though it can be argued that I am still a kid), my first thought was, "Is that really a dead rabbit's foot? How sick is that?!" My next thoughts were, "Why did they put warm fuzzy stuff on a dead rabbit's foot? And why in the world was this on my G.I. Joe keychain?" Maybe you can help explain to me this weird phenomena. I know we live in the day of novelty and trends, but this one just hit me odd. I mean, "What made this a good-luck charm?" I just don't get it, and I got wigged out by it. Did you every buy a rabbit's foot? Come on, be honest. I did, and I don't know why. Granted I was at the same time buying slap bracelets and Pop Rocks, and maybe I didn't know any better. But I am curious to know what made this so popular. Any answers?

Missions: The Ecclesiastical Catch-All for Special Interests*

[I KNOW IT'S LONG . . . BUT PLEASE READ] Over the past twenty years or so, missions has taken a profound place of prominence in the local church (as it should) due to a number of reasons, not the least of which is the incredible number of churches taking short-term mission trips. As a result, many churches have considered creating a missions department, budget, and even a full-time or part-time minister to head the department. I myself, being one who has responded to the call of missions, have found this renewed interest quite encouraging. When I was a child, all I ever thought and was told about missions was that old and weird people went out and lived in huts somewhere in Africa, and those people had no relevance to me or our local church. This couldn't be farther from the truth! Yet still today, there is the question as to what exactly is missions. This question has particular necessity, for it determines a wide scope of Christianity from cross-cultural engagement to determining what exactly constitutes a missions department in a local church. From the lay person to the scholars alike, indeed, there is some confusion and even controversy over what missions is and involves. Because missions is not clearly defined in the Bible (althought it is clearly substantiated), the contours and shaping of mission has been in flux over the years. Consequently, there remains some ambiguity and lack of precision when we speak of missions. Let me explain: There are three words that are basically used today: missio Dei (mission of God or sending of God), mission, and missions. In that order, the go from general to specific. Missio Dei basically means all the work of God which He accomplishes throughout history; mission is the work of the church corporately; and missions involves the individual and their vocational calling. In my brief research, I have complied a few definitions. Let's look at a few: "Missions is the conscious efforts on the part of the church, in its corporate capacity, or through voluntary agencies, to proclaim the gospel among peoples and in regions where it is still unknown or only inadequately known." (Missiology, 2). "The calling to be light requires prioritizing missions in favor of those in darkness. Of course, all those who do not know Christ are in darkness, but there are also degrees of darkness related to factors such as the availability of the gospel, accessibility of Christian worship, the existence of Scripture and related Christian literature in the heart language of the target people, or the presence of oppressive structures and traditions. Missions should be zealous to take the gospel to the darkest corners of the world and of society so that every creature has the opportunity to receive the light of Christ." (Missiology, 28). Missions is "the activity of God's people--the church--to proclaim and to demonstrate the kingdom of God cross-culturally in the world." (Experiencing God, 3). Missions is "the sending forth of authorized persons beyond the borders of the New Testament church and her immediate gospel influence to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in gospel-destitute areas, to win converts from other faiths or non-faiths to Jesus Christ, and to establish functioning, multiplying local congregations who will bear the fruit of Christianity in that community and to that country." (A Biblical Theology of Missions, 11). I have provided these commonly referred-to definitions because I believe that there needs to be some clarity on what we call missions. Because of the rise of missions emphasis, I have noticed many things be incorporated into missions that do not fit the definition. Henceforth, to defend missions, it must first be defined. Two aspects must be considered: first, the most basic idea of mission involves a task, objective, goal, focus - one in which a particular person is given and sent to do. Like the military overseas, their operations are called "missions", and the officers are to carry out the directives of the sending agency. Second, within the framework of missions, there is the differing degrees of darkness. As being "the light of the world", we are to go to the darkest, most destitute places, that the gospel and glory of God be heard and received. Granted, there is an element of darkness everywhere, even in the church; however, one would be amiss to think that something can be missions when it is directed towards an objective that involves 99% light and 1% darkness and call that missions. It is true that every Christian is "on mission with God." As the Father has sent his Son into the world, even we have been sent (John 20:21); we are "sent ones", just as Jesus constantly referred to himself as "the one whom the Father has sent"; all Christians have been given the Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (ethno-linguistic people groups), and as Charles Spurgeon put it, "Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter." All this I would agree . . . But what do you call the person to whom Jesus referred to as "leaving their fields, homes, family, and fortunes for the gospel's sake and the kingdom's sake"? What do you call Paul, Barnabas, and others in Acts who went to the Gentiles, to all of Asia, to the remotest areas of the world that Christ would be proclaimed in all the world? Certainly there is in missions the idea of individuals who pluck up in order to plant; there is the giving up and going over, the leaving of a cultural context to enter another cultural context for the sake of the message of Jesus Christ, yea, the person of Jesus Christ. And clearly, this is not the work or calling or vocation of every Christian. So there needs to be a distinction between missions and evangelism and witnessing. Every Christian is called to witness, to partake actively in the Great Commission, to evangelize and be "fishers of men". Yet there must be a clear line of distinction between the mission of the church (as previously described) and missions. If not, everything will become missions, and the heartbeat of world evangelization would grow faint. As some have stated, "The purpose [of missions] should not be so generally stated that everything becomes missions. Then the danger arises that the more critical concerns will be overshadowed by a host of lesser concerns, and missions will lose its direction" (Missiology, 27). Again, it is said, "Many evangelicals rightly note that the term has become so broadly defined in mainline discussion that everything the church has done is now seen as mission--which means, in effect, that nothing is truly mission" (Mission on the Way, 153). This is so important, because what I have seen today is a mish-mash job on missions. Because churches want to have a legitimate missions department in their respective church, many are clumping different projects, programs, or ministries into missions either ignorantly or unjustifiably. Some, I fear, are doing so because they know people will always back missions; therefore, we will redefine missions to be what we want it to be and get people to support it. As a result, missions has become the "ecclesiastical catch-all" for special interests in the church. Like legislators on Capitol Hill, missions has become the bill for spiritual "pork-barreling" withline-item small print additions all in the name of "The Great Commission." When I hear of churches whose missions department and budget is comprised of internet broadcasting, radio shows (on Christian stations I might add), exercise programs, Bible conferences (sugar stick sermons from circuit preachers to encourage the church), and on and on . . . I am hurt, frustrated, grieved, and disappointed. It we would but be honest and realistic, it is clear that these cannot constitute "missions". Maybe we need to add Weight Watchers to the missions budget to reached overweight people, Winsor Pilates to the mission budget to reach couch potatoes, purchase a Bass boat from the missions budget to reach Bubba on the river, and sewing machines to reach the homemakers. And put it all together, well, we have a budget that is $500,000! What a missions program we have! Right? What we have done is squeezed the concentrate of missions out, and replaced its core and substance with a water-down version - a version bloated and bubbly, but not fruitful. These mentioned and others have little to no connotation to being "sent" nor destitute or dark places. Only in the most minimal of ways (and a stretch at that) can much of what is called missions today be supported Biblically or missiologically. Would you rather have a missions church that targets 100% darkness or 1% darkness? I have a novel idea: Let's let missions be missions. Let's be stand-up people who are forthright in our intentions and honest in our administrations. Let's give money to those who are really doing missions, many who are having to come back because the local church has started their own short-sighted enterprise at the expense of the long-term missions overseas. Did you know that for every $100 given to the church in America, only $.05 (yes 5 cents) goes to the frontier missionaries who are reaching unreached people groups, indigenous peoples, unknown languages, for the glory of God?! Yet we have neglected them. Missions is about the transformation of societies, peoples, and cultures with the gospel of Jesus Christ through people who pay extreme costs in doing so, even their lives. The church is heavily indebted to them, and they are our heroes. Their stories will not be written in this life, and you won't find their bio's on the front shelf at Lifeway, but in heaven for eternity, we will see on God's movie screen each story, each life, of missionaries who embodied the essence of the gospel. People are still groping in darkness, thousands of people groups still unreached, and millions waiting to hear about Jesus. For the sake of the Kingdom coming, let's not turn missions into our treasure chest of special interests in order to substantiate and justify projects and programs that do not belong in it. While they may be good in and of themselves, they do not belong in missions. And while we wait realize that, our heroes are out there, and we are their life-line through our praying, our giving, our mobilizing, and our going.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Levitas: The Weightlessness of God*

Back in the oldin' days, there was a term that was applied to a message or matter that carried great significance, power, or resulted in great effect. That word is gravitas. As you can see, it is the Latin word where we get "gravity". It carries the connotation of "heaviness" or "weightiness". Generally applied, it meant that whatever word spoken or experience felt had such an overwhelming impact that it "weighed" you down and was "heavy" on your mind. Today, you neither hear or see much gravitas anymore. You used to find it in the pulpit or in the lives solemnly and solely devoted to the sacred desk, or among the people who knew the "terror of the Lord", but this is not so. What we have today is what I call levitas. I tried looking it up in the dictionary, and I don't think it exists, so let me create it for this purpose. Levitas is diametrically opposed to gravitas. It represents "lightness" or "weightlessness." Interestingly enough, as mentioned earlier, "to make light" in the Bible literally means "to curse." It carries the same connotation as the English word "levity" which means "lack of steadiness" executed by excessive frivolity. It represents a minimum of force or pressure, something having little importance, significance - trivial. As Christians and bearers of his image (Christ in us, the hope of glory), we are called to represent him, to carry his message of reconciliation as ambassadors, to be sent into this world with same force and focus as he was for the pleasure of the Father. Yet I am concerned that what we have today is a serious case of levitas. From the pulpit to pew, from the front-shelf bookseller to CCM's Top 40, God is being shown to the world as weightless, and I am "weighed down" because of it. Christianity's substance has become fluff, and our pursuit has become flighty. Our words don't carry any weight, and our witness is without power or conviction. The tone has been set by our leaders, so I begin with them first. Pastors from the pulpit appeal more for laughter than they do repentance; applause than abandonment to self; movement down an aisle than movement to our knees and on our faces. The message is prefabricated and often canned from some else's sermon notes or a chapter from the latest best-seller because the pastor has little time to spend with God and in his Word because of a busy schedule administrating and running the CEO status. People therefore come to be entertained and to listen for the next cheesy joke; fear and trembling is forgotten and Holy Spirit conviction is a thing of the past. Once we have felt our ears been tickled, we go back for more. And in this days of myths and fables and storytelling, I yearn for the days of old where "soul-travail" was a reality and heart-wrenching messages brought us sinners low, not told us that we should have a good self-esteem. If God is weightless, then he is as good as dead in our culture - maybe worse. For the God that is seen and caricatured in our culture is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or Paul, Peter, and John. Listen to their words; read about their lives; see the impact their lives made. This was real gravitas. Hear the passion of Edwards; read the unction in the sermons of Spurgeon; catch the missionary zeal of Brainerd. There was no levitas in them. They were not "hollow men". Their message did not result in laugher or a pat on the back and "Good job." And the blood of the martyrs which was the seedbed of the Church stands with history that our God is seen most beautifully and savored most extravagantly in the lives of those who daily experienced gravitas. So what will be said about this generation of Christians? What will history speak of us? We had the greatest amount of resources (money, time, talents, and Christian influence), and what did we do with them? Build a Christian subculture that insulates us from the real world and makes us happy? Purchase bestsellers that we cherish like a rabbit's foot? Erect stages and calendar schedules that will entertain us with our favorite musicians and conferences? I don't know, but I am hurting because of the levitas I see, and I will not get off this until gravitas is experienced in you and me. Let's not live lives that are without cost, without weight, without force, focus, or fire. We cannot look anymore to our leaders or our pop-culture for this - it must begin here . . . with me and with you. Heaven's waiting, and our world is perishing. As for me and my life . . . the way we finish this sentence will indicate how we finish our lives.

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