23 Jan 2016

Count me in favor of study Bibles and commentaries. Often when reading a chapter I get stuck on a passage, and can’t get past it. What does it mean? When I check a comment on the passage, 90% of the time my reaction is “of course, didn’t think of that.” With my Olive Tree app, I’ve purchased a bunch of notes: Reformation Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, Reformation Heritage Study Bible, Matthew Henry Complete, New Testament Commentary (Hendriksen, Kistemaker). All of these are solid, conservative commentaries. I’ve also purchased the Ancient Christian Commentary series. More on that at the end.

For devotional value, Matthew Henry is unsurpassed. It’s beautifully written and wisdom drips from every page. Henry has a way of getting at the heart of a passage in the most helpful of ways. My only complaint is the formatting of the content. It would be good if someone would take the complete commentaries and make it easier to find the verses, maybe by bolding chapter headings/verses and making them sync properly with the Bible verse. It was never easy to find a verse comment in any of the print versions either. Still, the content is so wonderful that it’s worth the time.

One tip with Matthew Henry: do not bother with “concise” versions. There’s no chaff to remove and the effect is to chop up and destroy the beauty and flow. They are borderline criminal. Go Complete!

To learn the meaning of a passage, the Hendriksen / Kistemaker “New Testament Commentary” is the best. This commentary really gets into extended discussions of passages with solid, sensible, and mature Reformed insight. On controversial passages it explains different views and it’s often passionate in its own Dutch Reformed way. For some reason its voice reminds me of those G.I. Williamson books (quite good) on the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confessions. The NTC’s only problem is that it’s “Matthew Henry, Jr.” in the area of formatting. Well, it’s not quite as bad. There is bolded text in there and better formatting, but sometimes when you’re in chapter 2, verse 8 you end up at the top of chapter 2 and have to wade around a lot to find the verse. Excellent content, though. At $75 on sale for the entire collection, it’s great stuff. If I had to choose just one commentary on the NT, I’d take this one.

The Reformation Study Bible (2015 revision) and ESV Study Bible notes cover the OT and NT, and are similar in style and amount of content. The Reformation Study Bible has far more notes than the previous RSB version released in the 2000s. It’s a worthy upgrade although I’d like even more notes in it. I haven’t spent time jumping to controversial passages to compare the RSB and the ESV SB, but I’ve heard that the RSB is a bit more “reformed.” They give you a few sentences or a paragraph on a passage, where Kistemaker/Hendriksen sometimes gives you a few pararaphs or a page. As a tag team I’ve found that these two study Bibles do a good job of providing concise but helpful commentary. If I had to choose one I’d take the RSB, but I like them both.

The Reformation Heritage Study Bible (not to be confused with the RSB above) has solid notes, but they are abbreviated and skimpy compared the the RSB and ESV SB. I prefer those two. I haven’t formed an opinion on MacArthur’s Study Bible yet, but the notes have been sound and are roughly at the level of the RSB and ESV SB.

When you read a number of these conservative commentaries you really do notice a similarity in analysis that says something about the perspicuity of Scripture. If I took you to a verse and read from each version, you probably wouldn’t know which was which.

Finally, I tried the “Ancient Christian Commentary” on Scripture. I love the idea of this big set– what did the early church think about Scriptural passages? This set has many volumes and there are lots of notes. Sometimes a passage gets comments from multiple fathers. Unfortunately it includes heretical and heterodox ones, too — Pelagius, anyone? I’d rather see “ancient” commentary focused more on the patristics and ending in the 5th century, but the set is more back-loaded because the church was on the run in the first few centuries when letters and apologetics were common. There is much representation from fathers like Bede and Gregory the Great, who I consider medieval rather than ancient. There’s something about this series that feels disjointed. As someone who has read a lot of history, albeit not heavily in this space, something just doesn’t ‘feel’ quite right about this set. You wonder why certain passages were chosen. Some of the passages are a little odd, making me wonder if there is context missing. It’s a curiosity for sure, but it seems a bit like a church fathers K-Tel collection. It’s questionable if it’s worth the $150 (at 50% off) cost.

ADDENDUM 2/2/16: I added the 22-volume Calvin commentaries on Scripture for $20 on sale at Olive Tree. What a steal. Calvin does not mince words, a trait most refreshing in a day where evil is considered sacred. Non-Calvinists can profit by his words also.

06 Feb 2011

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. -Gandalf to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings

I was at the doctor the other day, and as usual when the lady pulled up my sleeve to draw blood I braced. The nurse studied my arm for a minute, then I barely felt a prick (she should teach others how to draw blood correctly). I thought to myself: “That’s it?”

Recently I watched an atheist named Michael Shermer on John Stossel’s Fox Business show. Shermer had three reasons for being skeptical about God: 1. Where you happen to have been born tells you which God you happen to adhere to. 2. Why does God allow innocent children to suffer? 3. The moral problem. The creator of the universe couldn’t even get it right on slavery and how women should be treated, the OT is abominable in that regard, etc.

That’s it? Don’t get me wrong, there are unfathomable mysteries here, but… The essential similarity between all these issues is presumption and arrogance.

Is where you were born a good predictor of your beliefs? Of course. It always has been in Scripture. God called Abram, but not presumably thousands of others from that region. Israel was God’s chosen, but all that time people lived in Asia and America without a true knowledge of him. In 500AD, many in what is today Turkey knew the Lord; today most do not. Millions of Americans are Christian today; there were few 2,000 years ago. The examples are endless, but here’s the point: God is above nations and cultures. He works through them to accomplish His means, and His spirit goes where it will. It’s always been assumed that way in Scripture.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Technically they don’t, because none are righteous (Romans 3). So why does God allow children to suffer? For His glory. How exactly? We don’t know. We aren’t invited to God’s counsel. We don’t know eternity. We can’t see behind the curtain. Isn’t that a key point in the book of Job?

As for the moral reason, Who are you, o man, to think you have a greater capacity for love and morality than God? Why do you think your view of morality is righteous?

We are men. God is God. God is good. We are corrupt. God sees all and knows all. We see little. God it the alpha and the omega. We aren’t. God is holy. We are sinners.

There’s an apocryphal story that I’ve heard in multiple contexts, but it goes something like this. A lady is on a train with two rambunctious kids. A nearby passenger is annoyed with the rude behavior of the children, and the mother’s disinterest in controlling them. Murmuring under his breath, he finally says as calmly as possible that that they are rather loud. The mother sadly responds that her beloved husband and their beloved father has just died and, given the circumstances, she is letting them have a bit of fun. The passenger is humbled. It’s a parable of presumption.

We don’t know the whole story.

19 Dec 2010

All my heart this night rejoices
As I hear / Far and near / Sweetest angel voices.
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing
Till the air / Everywhere / Now with joy is ringing.

I admit it, Christmas-time is my favorite time of the year. The wreaths are a closed loop, a reminder of eternity. Evergreens are lovely in the dead of winter. How can’t you love Christmas lights and their association with the Father of Lights and the light shining in darkness? Not that we attend church for its aesthetics, but last week we had morning communion and big snowflakes were falling outside, and I thought there it was one of the most wondrous moments in my life.

This year the time with family seemed extra special. When little, time with family compared weakly to presents. For teens, friends or a book seem paramount. You get a little older and the gifts end up in landfills and you’ve moved on to other friends, and you finally realize– perhaps after some of them have gone on to the next world– that your family was what mattered all along.

Enjoy the season. For the believer, these snippets of joy are a precursor to joy never-ending. Merry Christmas.

15 Nov 2010

This never happens when I’m at the mall. A church we attended back in the 1990s would hire an orchestra some Christmas’s, and I remember noticing one of the cello players reading a paperback during the sermon. I note this just because some of the singers here look like those kind of studious unbelievers. I often wonder if they ever really realize the wonders that they sing about. The smug title “Random Act of Culture” tells you nope, most of them probably don’t get it.

Anyway, never mind that. A huge choir, an organ, all really loud in a cavernous space. This must have been one of those rare moments in these shadowlands when the clouds part and, as Muggeridge put it, one sees “the bright vistas of eternity and the prison bars of time.”

15 Aug 2010

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. -Proverbs 21:1

In his sermon this morning, our pastor noted that Mary responded to the Lord calling to her (John 11:29). Then, soon after, Lazarus responded from the grave to the Lord’s call (John 11:43-44).

This is an exceedingly powerful voice. If He can call a man back from the grave, can He not call your unbelieving relatives and friends?

13 Jun 2010

For all the saints, who from their labours rest, /
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, /
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. /
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Another aunt died recently. Dad had nine siblings, mom had eight, and many have died over the last few years. They have followed their fathers and mothers to the grave. My prime will pass soon enough and I will go there too. So will you.

As I get older I feel the weight of loss more. I miss my departed elders more than ever. Those born two generations before me are slowly passing on. They won’t be there to provide guidance, or to explain the world that preceded me. Perhaps people will look to me for that. Life, as it unfolds, slowly replaces those who came before you with those born after you. The losses mount.

Then, at the height of our loss, we die and pass on to eternity. Dawn breaks. Not only will we reunite with our fathers and forefathers — for our loss is a temporary one — but we will join in that communion of saints throughout the ages: Abraham, David, Isaiah, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Athanasius, and Luther. Is there anything to desire more fervently?

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, /
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, /
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: /
Alleluia, Alleluia!

05 Jun 2010

They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. -Judges 5:20

Comments Matthew Henry:

Those whom God is an enemy to the whole creation is at war with.

22 Mar 2010

As a side note to the “Pharisee” post from a few days ago, I’m thankful for pastors like Matt Timmons who engage the culture where it is. The majority of people aren’t reading N.T. Wright. However, lots of people are reading The Shack. They’re slyly being indoctrinated in feminism and homosexuality. They have a poor understanding of why doctrine matters. They’ve bought the Church Growth Movement’s ideals hook, line, and sinker. And so on.

Peter Brown said this in his biography of Augustine:

His letters are marked by an inspired fussiness, and by a heroic lack of measure when it came to the care of endangered souls… [They] catch the barely suppressed sigh of a tired old age, characterized by constant quiet acts of self-sacrifice as Augustine lent his pen, again and again, to the defence of his Church, at the expense of intellectual projects that engaged him more deeply.

24 Dec 2009

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. -Luke 2:8

“How They See It: People Who Matter on What Matters Most.” So says the cover of the current issue of Newsweek. Pictured are Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton, Tim Geithner, Eric Holder, etc. In other words, the people who matter are politicians and bureaucrats, the white-collar parasites who work with politically-connected elites to feed lavishly off wealth created by productive people in all countries. Yes, it’s the rich and powerful who matter.

The wealthy didn’t see the glory of the Lord the night described in Luke 2, however. Shepherds did. How many untold saints have wished to see what those blessed shepherds saw?

That’s how the Lord works. Local events change the world. They don’t usually occur in Herod’s palace, but instead among those who don’t “matter.” Years and years of tedium, and then boom, a surprise. The church was built and maintained by people who don’t matter to those who worship at the altar of this perishing world.

Malcolm Muggeridge was in Russia during perhaps its most vicious era in the early 1930s. Encompassed by Stalinist oppression and starvation, which has few parallels in human history, this was his impression:

It just suddenly seemed to me that Russia was a beautiful place– these pine trees, dark against the snow which had now begun to fall, the sparkling stars so far, far away, the faces of the Russians I met and greeted, these also so beautiful, so clumsy and kind… In the woods there was a little church, of course disused now. The fronts of such churches, like the Greek ones, are painted with bright colours; blues bluer than the bluest sky, whites whiter than the whitest snow. Someone — heaven knows who — had painted up the one in the Kliasma woods. Standing in front of this unknown painter’s handiwork, I blessed his name, feeling that I belonged to the little disused church he had embellished, and that the Kremlin with its scarlet flag and dark towers and golden spires was an alien kingdom. A kingdom of power such as the Devil had in his gift, and offered to Christ, to be declined by him in favour of the kingdom of love. I, too, must decline it, and live in the kingdom of love. This was another moment of perfect clarification, when everything fitted together in sublime symmetry; when I saw clearly the light and the darkness, freedom and servitude, the bright vistas of eternity and the prison bars of time. I went racing back over the snow to K[itty, his wife], breathing in the dry icy air in great gulps of thankfulness.

This is what our Lord offers. Not the compromised wishes and power trips of thieving politicians, but the “brights vistas of eternity” in His glorious presence.

Merry Christmas!

14 Aug 2009

A recent blog post notes that people cherish coronations. I’m reminded of being in London ten years ago. Before we entered the dark room in the Tower of London to see the crown jewels, they played a video of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on a large screen. The music, the sights… unforgettable and glorious. We went in to see the jewels and I remember going several times across the conveyors to see them again and again. They were a hint of far greater things. It was one of those moments that make an entire vacation.

Men desire a king. The Israelites desired one (1 Sam 8:5) despite God’s warning. Although we live in a (mostly nominal by now) republic, when you listen to people cheer lawless politicians you would think we were a nation of men, of great kings expected to do Great Things, rather than a nation of laws. There is something more romantic about the former. Of course, there is something far more sinister to it also (1 Sam 8:11-18). As Tolkien noted, “[T]he most improper job of any man, even saints… is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit to it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Still, there is something deep within us that makes us desire a great coronation. You see one at the end of the original Star Wars. You see another (beautifully shot) at the end of Return of the King. My theory is that all earthly coronations either wickedly imitate or weakly point to the return of our Lord to whom every knee will bow (Phil. 2:10).

25 Jun 2009

In pondering John 7 recently, our pastor mentioned God’s work in the life of Nicodemus. The Pharisees were blind guides who could not see the living Word right in front of their eyes. They could not “see” their own Creator right in front of them despite being the keepers of His law. But even among these hardened men, there was a remnant: Nicodemus. The light bulb slowly seems to go on in this learned man’s eyes. Our pastor noted that we should draw encouragement from this.

God is at work. He is at work in our lives. He is at work in the lives of people who do foolish and wicked things. He’s working in in the lives of scoffers. We never know how this will come to fruition. Some may be further hardened, others may be reborn as great saints in faith. However, we should never give up in praying for others. We should never see anyone as irredeemable; we don’t know all of God’s sheep. We shouldn’t give up on our own reprehensible selves.

So, what to do? Do what we’re supposed to do, remembering what Luther said:

Work and let him give the fruits thereof! Rule, and let him prosper it! Battle, and let him give victory! Preach, and let him make hearts devout! Marry, and let him give you children! Eat and drink, and let him give you health and strength. Then it will follow that, whatever we do, he will effect everything through us; and to him alone shall be the glory.

24 Jun 2009

Are people going nuts? I have seen and heard of a number of marriages breaking up recently in strange ways. And now comes the odd story of South Carlina Governor Mark Sanford.

Trend researcher Gerald Celente says that when people lose everything, they tend to lose it. True, perhaps, but in all of the cases I’ve heard of, the economy was at best indirectly involved in these marital situations. (I’ve said it many times before, but I believe that the real disaster is yet to come with the economy).

Every time a moral downfalls occurs, we get the usual flood of mockers who are only too happy to pounce. “Ha, another Christian hypocrite!” To the mocker, it’s better to set the bar an inch off the ground and step over it than to set the bar six feet off the ground and fail in jumping over it.

This isn’t to excuse Mark Sanford. He may be an unrepentant fraud for all I know. Church history is replete with them. The Bible warns of those among us who were never of us.

While I don’t want to downplay it, hypocrisy is a fact of life with all believers to some extent, even if it does not lead to scandalous sin. I’ve experienced enough of myself to know that I’m at the head of the “pathetic loser” line. However, to mockers, you’re either perfect or a fake. That’s quite convenient for them. If no man can jump their bar, then they posit that no man has the right to speak God’s judgment against them.

However, man does have the right to do exactly that. God commands it. God commands pastors and elders (sinners all!) to proclaim His righteous judgment. You see, mockers, when R.C. Sproul and Tim Bayly and John MacArthur say that the unrepentant will be thrown into Hell, they’re just proclaiming what Jesus said. If it were only their opinion, it wouldn’t matter, but Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, has proclaimed it. Therefore it matters. Even if you shut up every messenger, the message remains. The eternal God remains. Judgment is coming. There’s no stopping it.

And know this, mockers: God doesn’t grade on a curve. I measure my relative successes against others (and overlook my failures) as well as any sinner, but one man’s scandal doesn’t make you look good to God by comparison. God isn’t comparing you to other people. He’s comparing you to a standard of perfect obedience. If you aren’t trusting in Christ– that is, if you don’t have the imputed, spotless perfection of Christ’s righteousness– then you are on the road to Hell. And you’ll deserve it. The mocking will soon be over.

Mockers, don’t use incidents like this to harden your hearts further. Turn now.

28 Mar 2009

Tiller the Killer escapes again (from a misdemeanor charge!), but a day is coming when there will be no escape.

12 Mar 2009

Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought. -JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings is my favorite piece of fiction. It describes a world so vibrant and whole that it is astounding that it came from the mind of one man. Apparently it was derived from its language. I don’t claim to understand it, but I am in awe.

What intrigues me most about LOTR, other than its tremendous story and “tips of the hat” to Byzantium, is its genuinely mature worldview. Middle Earth is a world inhabited by conflicted characters facing ascendant evil. Often an air of defeat and doom hangs over it. This is occasionally relieved by sometimes stunning victories. Mordor is evil, but even Middle Earth’s heroes are tempted, conflicted, wavering, and even overcome by darkness. Some of its most virtuous characters — Gandalf, Galadriel — are supremely suspicious of wielding power. They do not trust themselves with the Ring (the subject of power in Middle Earth is fascinating). Sometimes the Fellowship fails miserably. Frodo fails at the greatest moment of his worldly glory. However, a silent One works behind it all, often using the unimportant things of the world. The creation is blessed by the small and seemingly insignificant. These blessings come as unexpected, unrecognized surprises. The darkness is wounded as it seems ready to triumph completely. A small band that has not bent the knee to Sauron triumphs.

It doesn’t seem as if all these things are there purposely. You don’t really notice it just by reading the story. There are no tendentious attempts to pound it home. It’s be there because that’s just the way it is in Middle Earth.

That’s the way it is for us, too. The moon surprises us one night and we never quite forget how it looked. Someone says something at a grocery and we are never quite the same. A book someone gave us long ago suddenly is ready to speak to us. When I look at things that have changed my life, I always get the sense that I’ve stumbled over them while heading elsewhere.

God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. -Westminster Confession, Chapter 5

09 Dec 2008

The economy is tanking, and I believe we’ve seen but the tip of the iceberg. Wickedness seems ascendant in our land. However, you can go out on any clear night and look up. And you really need to get outside and do just that sometime this winter. Few sights beat a clear, starry December sky. If there’s snow on the ground and you can see your breath, well, that’s better yet.

Jupiter and Venus are lighting up the southwest.

Look south and you’ll see Orion and his brilliant belt, with Sirius the dog star following behind. I’ve always thought Orion’s belt looked more like a the head of a crowned king, with the murky M42 area the hair at the base of the king’s neck. We have a south-facing home, and so every night when I head to bed I look for the belt. It is a glorious thing that never gets old. It reminds me that evil men come and go, but the stars, those incandescent lights of unimaginable size, remain, silently looking down. It’s a reminder that Christ remains and His purposes cannot be thwarted.

For those of you blessed enough to live in a rural area, look to the western sky and you’ll see the Northern Cross (also known as Cygnus the swan) standing upright. What a perfect Christmas-time sight.

03 Nov 2008

When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends or as the landscape loses the celestial light. … For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. -CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Expanding on my recent post, consider the creation. In our yards, countless worms burrow every morning. Bugs fly around. Birds seek food. Perennials drop their leaves to hunker down for a long winter. All of it happens whether I exist or not. It happens whether I feel good or ill. No government program can stop it.

The world goes to work on Monday morning– without calling me first. My wife and family do countless things throughout the day that I never hear of. Our cat jumps on our table when we’re not in the room (she’s too dumb to know that the fur gives it away).

The point: none of it has anything to do with me. Or you. We’re not even in control of our own lives. All around us, economies rise and fall, elections and layoffs happen, people die, etc. Even in the things where it seems we are masters of our destiny, like where we work, upon a little reflection it turns out that our control is an illusion.

It’s all about Him. And when He returns, when the King comes, everything will vanish before His throne. The loftiest sports stars and politicians and nations will be as nothing– how could they ever have been a big deal? All will be clear. The eyes of all creation, which often seems robotic and yet waits with longing (Rom 8:17), will be on its Maker.

If we believe this, maybe it should inform how we live now.

19 Aug 2008

Wow. I don’t remember our high school choir sounding quite like this. Quite a story, too.

03 May 2008

How can I tell of the rest of creation, with all its beauty and utility, which the divine goodness has given to man to please his eye and serve his purposes, condemned though he is, and hurled into these labors and miseries? Shall I speak of the manifold and various loveliness of sky, and earth, and sea; of the plentiful supply and wonderful qualities of the light; of sun, moon, and stars; of the shade of trees; of the colors and perfume of flowers; of the multitude of birds, all differing in plumage and in song; of the variety of animals, of which the smallest in size are often the most wonderful,— the works of ants and bees astonishing us more than the huge bodies of whales? ; Shall I speak of the sea, which itself is so grand a spectacle, when it arrays itself as it were in vestures of various colors, now running through every shade of green, and again becoming purple or blue … How grateful is the alternation of day and night! how pleasant the breezes that cool the air! how abundant the supply of clothing furnished us by trees and animals! ; Who can enumerate all the blessings we enjoy? If I were to attempt to detail and unfold only these few which I have indicated in the mass, such an enumeration would fill a volume. And all these are but the solace of the wretched and condemned, not the rewards of the blessed. ; What then shall these rewards be, if such be the blessings of a condemned state? What will He give to those whom He has predestined to life, who has given such things even to those whom He has predestined to death? What blessings will He in the blessed life shower upon those for whom, even in this state of misery, He has been willing that His only-begotten Son should endure such sufferings even to death? Thus the apostle reasons concerning those who are predestined to that kingdom: ; He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also give us all things? (Romans 8:32) When this promise is fulfilled, what shall we be? What blessings shall we receive in that kingdom, since already we have received as the pledge of them Christ’s dying? In what condition shall the spirit of man be, when it has no longer any vice at all; when it neither yields to any, nor is in bondage to any, nor has to make war against any, but is perfected, and enjoys undisturbed peace with itself? Shall it not then know all things with certainty, and without any labor or error, when unhindered and joyfully it drinks the wisdom of God at the fountain-head? -Augustine, City of God, XXII

26 Feb 2008

As we age, God shows us more how we are, in the end, unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). As Lewis said, “All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you; I’ve never had a selfless thought since I was born.” Any godliness noticed by others in widescreen pales when we consider our minute-by-minute lives. We don’t need a microscope to see our countless, faithless thoughts, words, and deeds. Therefore, a hearty “Amen” to this observation by R.C. Sproul. Consider it.

In one respect, Christ’s sinlessness is more astonishing than his resurrection. Other people have come back from the dead, but no other person has lived a sinless life. His perfect life is amazing because no one of us has ever loved the Lord with all of his mind, heart, and strength. … Can you imagine someone living every minute of his entire life loving God with an undiluted, perfect affection, whose whole mind is devoted to the Father, who has no other desire than to obey the Father’s will? That is more difficult for me to comprehend than that Jesus came out of the grave. -from Truths We Confess

01 Feb 2008

Even mushy evangelicals aren’t enamored of feminist harpies. You know, the wild hairs who march around with coat hangers. But I find “Christian egalitarians” far more offensive. They deny things that no one seriously denied for two thousand years. They speak in measured tones about “mutual submission” and “creating opportunities for women” while reading their TNIVs and denying the authority of Scripture. That’s really what the whole debate about feminism, just like the debate about homosexuality, comes down to: denying that the Holy Spirit has come along as intellectually and morally far as us moderns.

That said, Gene Veith notes that it’s easy, given necessary wars against egalitarian heresies, to see passages like Ephesians 5:22 solely as dealing with authority and yet missing the point that the whole purpose of vocation, including marriage, is to love and serve one’s neighbor, and the husband is to take the lead in establishing it:

If marriage mirrors the relationship between Christ and the church, with the husband in Christ’s role, then the husband ought first to give himself up for his wife, whereupon in response the wife, playing the part of the church, will respond by submitting to his good intentions for her. –God at Work, p. 81-82

When we went through marriage counseling last century, my pastor at the time pointedly remarked how ridiculous it was to see women driving men around town. He imitated a guy sitting like a lump in the front seat, with the lady doing the work and leading the way. I think that remark came on a day when my wife-to-be drove me to the church. Now I drive most of the time.

Another area where I have come to find a cheap and fresh joy is in seating my wife in the car before I get in. It seemed unnatural at first, but now I get such as pleasure from it that I can barely bear to not do it. It’s too enjoyable to miss. Similarly, it’s fun to let my wife off at the front door of a restaurant while I go park and trudge through the snow or rain. Does she appreciate it? You bet she does. My love and service is lacking in many other areas, but these minor victories are a small picture of Christ’s joyful service for us. As John Piper is fond of pointing out, Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

08 Jan 2008

Back in the early 90s heyday of Windows 3.x, someone created a funny little program called Tiny Elvis. From time to time, a little Elvis Presley figure would arouse from slumber at the bottom of your desktop and say things like “hey man, check out that cursor… that thing is huuuge!”

That came to mind when reading Ephesians 3:14-21 recently:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

What strikes me about this prayer is how massively big it is. It sounds too grand to pray that those we know would be filled with “all the fullness of God.” That’s full. And yet Paul goes on to say that our Lord is able to “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” So my advice would be: go for it. Pray big prayers.

05 Nov 2007

My sister-in-law went to be with the Lord yesterday morning. In any Christian home where death comes, it is supremely painful to see the suffering and the wailing, and yet also a soul-expanding joy to see compassion, hearts filled with grace and tenderness, and a quiet hope. These are things we see through suffering. Perhaps it is for this reason the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 7:

A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

I’ve posted this quote from Lewis before, but it is so true:

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us, but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in the world and [pose] an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

Many of our prayers are not answered because they are things that God has not promised to answer (like when I prayed that the Indians would finally win the World Series). But what does God promise we can pray with total confidence: that all things work together for good for his children (Rom 8:28), that our light and momentary afflictions prepare believers for an eternal weight of glory, and that the dead will live again (1 Thess 4:13-17). There are a hundred others. Think on these things (Phil 4:4-8) and rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. -Colossians 3:1-4

28 Oct 2007

If our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, then shouldn’t that be modeled in our prayers? In group intercession times, I’m struck by how prayer requests are almost always for individual, temporal concerns.

There’s nothing wrong with praying for Bob’s hip, traveling mercies for Mildred, Earl’s adjustment to college life, or that second-cousin Bobby would grow up big and strong. However, instead of prayer laundry lists befitting a pagan, how about God-centered and distinctly Christian prayers? These are brief and lacking examples, but they seem closer to the things that preoccupied the apostles: that our denomination would be shielded from false teachers, that our congregation would be knit together in love, that we be given greater measures of grace to bear fruit, that we we come to recognize our sin and more greatly appreciate the righteousness and mercy of Christ, that we would boldly declare and glorify Christ before a perishing world, that we would know what it is to “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8), etc. Some of these may seem general, but (a) the church can always use more “we” and (b) it can easily be adapted to specific circumstances. For example, when praying for Bob’s hip, we might pray that he would know that his momentary afflictions are preparing him for an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). Or we might pray that God’s grace in helping him cope would be a lasting witness to unbelievers.

14 Sep 2007

Revelation is designed not only to assure us of God’s final purposes, but also to increase our longing for him and the realization of his purpose. The sureness of that final bliss comforts the saints during times of temptation and persecution. It purifies our desires by directing them to God and his glory. And then the tawdry counterfeits of this world are seen to be what they are. We have eyes to see the beauties and joys of this creation as pointers to God and his goodness (Acts 14:17), rather than foolishly perverting created things into idols (Rom. 1:18-23). -Vern Poythress, The Returning King, p. 193.

05 Sep 2007

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! -Rev 7:9-10

Every day people — immortal souls — come in and out of our lives, all in one of two classes: believers and unbelievers, wheat and chaff, sheep and goats, circumcised hearts and uncircumcised hearts. Some move away and we muse on whether we will ever see them again. We hope and pray they will join us in that vast throng pictured in Revelation 7 (and repent that we weren’t a better witness). All on this tiny globe hurtling through infinite space.

It’s far too vast to contemplate. Eventually one ends up back in the same spot:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. -Psalm 131:1

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