Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jesus - Master of our Hope

When we think about the benefits which are ours in Jesus, most of us tend to reduce it to the bare minimum of escaping God's wrath through justification. But JC Ryle helps us consider the greater blessings that are our in the Son.

We are called by Jesus:
'They are the called of Jesus Christ' (Romans 1:6).

We are made alive by Jesus:
'The son quickeneth who He will' (John 5:21).

We are washed clean by Jesus:
'He has loved us, and washed us from our sin in His own blood' (Revelation 1:5).

We receive peace from Jesus:
'Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you' (John 14:27).

We gain eternal life from Jesus:
'I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish' (John 10:28).

We gain the power to repent from Jesus:
'Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance' (Acts 5:31).

We become God's children through Jesus:
'To as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become the sons of God' (John 1:12).

- JC Ryle, Holiness, p. 260

O, the glory of our multifaceted Christ!

Friday, May 29, 2009

How Would YOU Respond?

How would you respond if you received a legally binding order from your county that you may no longer host a Bible study in your home unless you pay the high registration costs for a 'religious assembly' application? A San Diego man is facing such a question right now. You can read about it here.

In your opinion, what would be the most God-honoring way to respond?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Intercession For Her

That's the subtitle of a unique and helpful resource recently released by Andrew Case called Water of the Word (Createspace, 2008). Just as The Valley of Vision (a collection of classic prayers by great men of God from centuries past) has become a daily springboard for many of our prayer lives, helping us pray in a more God-centered way, Case's book will do the same to help us pray in a more biblically proactive way for our wives.
Water of the Word is a book of prayers (more than 200 of them) to help us articulate well what God wants us praying for them. As Case himself says in the introduction, every printed prayer is a compilation of Scripture carefully crafted into a prayer for God to bless, encourage, convict and shape our wives into the image of Christ. The result of such praying will be not only God's manifest answer in the form of an encouraged and sanctified wife, but we will be changed as we find ourselves more tender, patient and hopeful about the woman the Lord has entrusted to our care. Even more, God will be increasingly glorified in our marriages as we embody Christ to our wives (Eph. 5:25-27), mirroring His own intercession for us before God's throne for our good (Heb. 7:25).
Rather amazingly, Andrew Case isn't yet married. What a blessed woman she will be who discovers that her husband-to-be has been biblically interceding for her for years. That fact has caused me to begin to pray these prayers for the future wives of my two sons, and I plan to place copies in their hands once they hit their teen years. We, as the Bride of Christ, know the life-changing blessing of His intercession. Isn't it time our brides knew the blessing of ours?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Encouragement to Read

"Television (and even film) doesn't depict [complex] realities very well, and is at its best with the superficial and trivial, which is why the late Neil Postman (in his Amusing Ourselves to Death) expressed a preference for The Three Stooges over The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. Neither program was significant, but one had the pretense of significance, and it was this pretense that irked Postman. Only by televised news' own silly standards could someone spent ten to fifteen minutes on a matter of public interest and consider this to be 'in-depth' coverage. Nothing of public importance can be covered in ten minutes; few important matters can even be adequately introduced in ten minutes.

[Only] a culture that reads can consider what is significant because reading takes time, and that which is significant ordinarily takes time to apprehend. But a culture that is accustomed to commercial interruptions every six or seven minutes loses its ability to discuss significant matters because it has lost the patience necessary to consider them....

As a medium, reading cultivates patient, lengthy attention span, whereas television as a medium is impatient. One is, therefore, suited to what is significant; the other merely to what is insignificant. As our culture has become a television culture [read 'ipod, texting and blog culture' as well], a larger part of our waking life has been occupied by considering what is insignificant and unimportant (or worse, by inadequately considering what is significant through an insignificant medium)."

- T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can't Preach, pp. 53-55

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Miss California, Gay Rights and Christian Thoughtfulness

If you've been tuned into our American news media recently, you're likely privy to the recent furor over Miss California's opposition to gay marriage. If you're interested, you can read about it here.

For a more thoughtful treatment of the issue from a Christian perspective, consult the recent comments of Carl Trueman.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Church Kids Need

"Research confirms that the influence of a father's worship practices on the retention of their children in faith far outweighs the influence of mothers."

- Marva Dawn, "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Strength of the Gospel

"You don't know the worth of your Christian faith until you have compared it with others and subjected it to life....I've put my faith out before the non-Christian world and have said: 'There it is...if you can break it, break it. For I cannot live in a paradise if it turns out to be a fool's paradise.'...So the keenest minds and the most philosophical of the world have smitten upon my faith, night and day for over half a century.

Result? Broken? There are scars on my faith but underneath those scars there are no doubts. The song I sing is a life song. Not the temporary exuberance of youth that often fades when middle age and old age set in with their disillusionments and cynicisms. No, I'm eighty-three and more excited today about being a Christian than I was at eighteen when I put my feet upon the Way....Now by seasoned, tested, corroborated experience I know that this is not a way, but the Way."

- E. Stanley Jones, Christ at the Round Table, p. 108

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thinking About Christian Activism

Our American flavor of evangelical Christianity has often been characterized by take-the-world-by-storm activism. That's certainly been true in recent generations, whether in the politically-charged, issue-specific activism of Christian baby-boomers, or the socially-oriented, holistically-driven activism of Christian twenty-somethings. Though our faith must flow over into our world in public engagement, if we're not careful we'll begin to equate Christianity with our activism. In this regard, consider the wise words of Latin American Missiologist Samuel Escobar:

"Churches should certainly be concerned about health care, liberating the oppressed, inculcating civic virtue and feeding the hungry. But, other groups can do these things, too, and sometimes do them better than the church. What no one else can do is preach the gospel and offer people a place to worship God."

In ironic contrast to our often frenetic and guilt ridden, church-driven activism, William Burrows adds:

"I doubt that inner renewal [i.e. a focus on the gospel] will deter anyone from providing bread to the hungry. On the contrary, persons who can still their restless minds and repose in God's love are likely to be compassionate and concerned for justice."

What does a non-activistic, delighting and resting-in-the-gospel-of-God's-grace community of saints who trust in His power to change the world look like? I'm devoting the rest of my life to finding out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Beauty (or Ugliness) of the Cross

In light of the following quote, how might we recover the biblically brutal meaning of the cross, which has been so emasculated in our culture?
"The cross today all too easily becomes an empty symbol, something to put at the front of churches, something out of which to make necklaces, something to add to a charm bracelet, or something to reflect on in theological abstraction....But the cross in Paul's day represented the most brutal kind of death by torture....When Paul speaks of the foolishness of the cross, he is talking about the offensiveness of taking something so ugly and bringing it to the center of faith."
- James Brownson, "Hearing the gospel again, for the first time," in Confident Witness, Changing World, ed. Craig Van Gelder

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sinfulness of Prom?

Recently a friend sent me a news item about a male student at a Christian high school where the rules prohibit dancing and dance attendance. You can read about his dilemma here.

What counsel would you give him?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Bleak Future For The End-Times?

Given the fact that I've spent the past nine months both preaching through Revelation and teaching a Sunday School class on eschatology, my recent life and thinking has been all but consumed by the biblical study of the end times.
This has also been the case, on a less academic level, for much of the American, evangelical subculture in recent years (given the popularity of the Left Behind books and films for instance). At the same time, I wonder if the popularity of end times books, films, sermons, etc. may be coming to an end considering that - based not only on my observations - those most caught up with end times events (and sensationalism) seem to be Christians in the baby boomer generation and older. Scholar Craig Blomberg, in his A Case for Historic Premillennialism (pp. 171-72), recently noted a similar observation:

"The twenty and thirty-somethings of today among whom we minister have, for the most part, very little time or patience for the eschatological debates of even just a generation ago, and they are so put off by the 'Left Behind' kind of literature that it can take quite a bit of persuation to convince them that eschatology in all but its broadest contours is even a major doctrine of the Christian faith worth elevating to a fundamental or studying in any detail."

If you've been following my sermons or classes this year, you know that, on the one hand, I find Blomberg's observation encouraging. I'm optimistic about a younger generation of Christians who are wary about jumping on the end times, sensational bandwagon. On the other hand, the gospel-centered, Christ-exalting Christian readiness emphasized by biblical texts such as Revelation IS a major doctrine which all Christians - including twenty and thirty-somethings -desperately need.

So here's my question: If you are a twenty or thirty-something Christian, what is your attitude toward the end times? Are you predisposed to a kind of default cynicism in reaction to the sensationalism of older believers? Do you predict that the end times as a doctrine will be marginalized into oblivion in the church of the future, or will your generation simply embrace and promote its biblical truths in different, perhaps more responsible, ways than many Christians of the past?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Commenting Reminder

Greetings Faithful Readers and Commenters!

I am very thankful to see people interacting in the comments section of the blog posts. I have noticed that there have been a few anonymous comments and a few comments under unidentified user names. Again, we are thankful for the comments but would like to ask you to do us the favor of leaving your name. The purpose of this blog is to create (or continue) a community atmosphere - one in which we are learning and growing from others as well as encouraging one another.

So here's the deal...if you would like to comment and you do not have a Blogger or Google account, please comment as anonymous AND sign your name at the end of your comment. As we stated in our first blog post (read it HERE) we may have to begin deleting anonymous comments if they persist.  

Thanks again for participating.  See you Sunday in person!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Representing Christ Wisely

The following describes how one Christian in a position of secular authority in the academy stewards the place God has assigned him. What do you think of his approach?

“Dr. Matteson, will you please say ‘grace’?”

All eyes turned toward me (the chairman) when Sharon, my new staff member who had coordinated the departmental Christmas potluck, asked this. I paused and glanced around the room at the faces of students, faculty, staff, and visitors assembled in the commons room for our annual festivities.

I saw Christian brothers and sisters, but there were many others who were Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or who held no formal faith at all. Sharon knew I had no qualms about practicing my faith as a believer on campus. But I knew better than to lead a public prayer in this instance.

I replied, “I am not at this moment Sam the person you know as your friend but rather Mr. Chairman, the representative of the State of Texas.” I addressed the crowd, “Welcome to you all. We are indeed grateful for you and for this bountiful meal. Now, enjoy! The line forms to the right.”

I have reflected many times on this incident. In various administrative roles over the past decade I have had to judge what is an appropriate and wise exercise of my faith and free speech -- and what is over-reaching. Wisdom is the gift of knowing what is appropriate at each moment.

Our civil government is predicated on tolerance of divergent opinion. In my role as an administrator I don’t espouse a particular religious viewpoint, but I also don’t suppress the expression of faith by others, or by me in other appropriate venues.

So it is not political correctness but Biblical instruction to assure that the Christmas ham does not share the plate with the chicken so that our Muslim students are not offended. Or that the cheese is kept separate from the beef in deference to our Jewish colleagues. Or that a vegetarian alternative is provided for our strict Hindu delegation. As Paul told Titus, we are “to be peaceable and considerate and to show true humility toward all men” (3:1).

It is equally as appropriate to explore religious matters as it is to discuss the weather. I have hanging in my office a print of “The Puddle” by Escher showing foot prints in the mud and a reflection of a beautiful forest. Next to it I have both in Hebrew and English a verse from the Psalms “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord” (37:23). Recently a student came to my office and, while scanning the room, remarked, “Your office is so much FUN!” We then talked about the special meaning that each image and verse conveyed to me. The discussion that followed was totally appropriate and welcome.

For me the “razor” that decides what is appropriate is the answer to this question: “Who am I in this moment?” “Am I the agent of the state or am I ‘Doc,’ the friend and conversationalist?” The Golden Rule rarely fails to inform: How would I feel if I were a Christian student in Indonesia and the Islamic authority figure (my alter ego) were to act as I? Knowing what to do requires wisdom, clearly. But we have a resource: our Father who is all wise is never stingy with His counsel if we ask Him in humility. He will even strop our razor for us if we ask.

- Sam Matteson, Professor of Physics, University of North Texas

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ten Convenient Commandments?

As I write this, it is Sunday morning, the one day in seven set apart by God for His worship that we might fill up our souls, preparing us to face the onslaught of the world in the coming week. This good gift of sabbath rest from God (called 'the Lord's Day' in the New Testament) is often overlooked by modern day Christians in pursuit of their own pleasures. I wonder which of the other ten commandments are overlooked, avoided or secretly scorned by Christians today? A few years ago, journalist Erik Lacitis wrote a sadly humorous piece reveals how we conveniently rewrite the ten commandments when they do not conform to our hidden (or not so hidden) lusts. Perhaps we Reformed, American evangelicals would rewrite them this way:

I. You shall have no other gods before me. Unless its a preaching celebrity as God-centered as John Piper or as passionate as CJ Mahaney - then a little hero-worship is perfectly acceptable.

II. You shall not make for yourself a graven image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. Unless its the blueprints for a new church expansion. After all, we're just building the Kingdom.

III. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. But it's ok to laugh as a professional pagan does it when you're watching an HBO comedy special.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Unless your son has a soccer game, your daughter has a piano recital or the lake cabin is calling. Besides, you can just download the sermon later in the week at your convenience.

V. Honor your father and your mother. Although they are really convenient to blame for all your sin-tendencies, neuroses and personal dysfunctions.

VI. You shall not kill. Unless they look Arab and their wife's third cousin once made an anti-American remark. Then they don't deserve to share this planet with nice people like us.

VII. You shall not commit adultery. Unless, of course, you're watching Pride and Prejudice and begin to fantasize about what it would be like to be married to Mr. Darcy, who's so much more passionate toward Elisabeth Bennet than your husband is toward you (and being the wife of a gazillionaire wouldn't be bad either).

VIII. You shall not steal. Unless it's some of your company's time during the work day so you can make some quick on-line purchases, watch a couple of U-Tube videos and make a speedy blog post.

IX. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Unless, of course, he's a flaming liberal politician who is Satan incarnate and you have to warn all your friends about just how dangerous he is. You'll include some facts, and then throw in some inflamatory accusations you don't have firm evidence for but which are probably true.

X. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or goods. Unless she excels in exactly the areas in which your wife disappoints you the most. We're not talking adultery here, just a little coveting.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Great Drummer But Not A Clear Thinker

The greatest drummer of all time is Buddy Rich - of that all percussion historians are agreed. Still, for someone like me (a poor drummer but an avid listener to great rock from the 70's & 80's), my faviorite drummer remains Rush's Neil Peart. Many know Neil only as one of rock's great drummers but are unaware that he's written almost all of the lyrics for Rush's many songs over a 30+ year period. One of their most well-known is the hit "Freewill," part of which goes:

You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice

You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path thats clear
I will choose free will

Not a bad rock tune, but it makes for very bad theology. I'm not blaming Neil. We shouldn't expect someone who's deeply opposed to biblical Christianity to think like the Bible. We, on the other hand, shouldn't fall into Neil's trap of exalting human free will.

A similar thought struck me with poignancy this morning as I read chapter two of Herman Witsius' Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man. The thought goes like this: No person who truly knows in increasing measure the sin-tendency of the human heart fights for the doctrinal or philosophical centrality of free will.

Let's pray for Neil Peart, but let's not be seduced by his thinking - the thinking of natural man which always will cry for the supremacy of human free will. Rather, thank God for the grace of His sovereign care, calling and eternal purposes. His alone is a will worth exalting.