Friday, July 31, 2009

Marriage: An Exposition of Covenant-Keeping Grace

As we're preparing to move, we've been going through our stuff, cleaning up, throwing out, and figuring out what we're going to take with us. During that time, we found some extra programs from our wedding ceremony on July 19th, 2008. In them, we wrote a message to our guests, basically trying to make plain the interrelatedness of marriage and the Gospel. I'd like to share that with you, and would welcome your comments.

It's a bit longer than even some of my long posts, and it's also probably best read slowly. On top of that, I'd recommend strongly mousing over the Scripture references to see what those are as well. So it'll be somewhat of a time commitment, but that's OK because my last few posts have been short. :o) And as always, I pray that you'll be benefited by reading.


The most foundational thing that can be said about marriage is that it is the doing of God (Gen 2:22; Mk10:9). And the most ultimate thing that can be said about marriage is that it is the display of God (Eph 5:32).

Unfortunately, we are so wired by selfishness, sin, and cultural adaptation, that the glory of marriage is scarcely perceivable by our minds and hearts today. Janna and I would like to do our best to help you perceive the glory of marriage as it is, and not how our world has imagined it to be.*

Marriage is indeed a wonderful, glorious, and beautiful thing. But the truth is that marriage is not those things in and of itself. You see, marriage is actually only a symbol, or a picture, that points to something greater than itself. And it is only so wonderful, glorious, and beautiful because of that something greater that it points to. And so the only way to fully grasp the glory of marriage is to grasp the glory of the substance that marriage is a picture of. And that is the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To understand marriage, we must first understand the Gospel.

The Bible teaches that there is a self-existent, self-sufficient, Triune God in heaven (Ex 3:14; Jn 8:58; Gen 1:2). Even before the creation of time, God is the most righteous, pure, good, benevolent, and exuberantly joyful Being that we can imagine (Ac 2:25-28, 17:24-25; Heb 1:9). Out of this fullness of everything that is right, God desired that His greatness and glory be communicated (Is 43:7). With such a disposition to communicate His glory, He created the entire universe in six days (Gen 1:31-2:3). He desired that His creation know His glory, His goodness, and His loveliness, and that all creatures enjoy Him for all those things that He is (Rom 9:23).

God the Father also desired that out of the human race, created uniquely in the image of God, that there be a holy, pure, and gorgeous bride to give to God the Son. But we, through our representative Adam, sinned by rebelling against God, worshiping our own desires and not enjoying God for all that He is (Gen 3:6-7). As a result, humanity fell from their state of communion with God into enmity with Him (Gen 3:23; Rom 5:12, 18-19), and became darkness (Eph 2:1-3), which has no fellowship with the Light that God Himself is (1Jn 1:5). Because of this, the Father could not properly present to His Son the bride that He is worthy of (Rev 5:12-13). In fact, because of our sin, all of humanity is rightly banished from the purity of God’s presence and into eternal torment away from Him, what we know as hell (Matt 13:41-42).

But when the fullness of the time came, God the Father sent the Son to the Earth to live a life as both God and Man (Mk 1:1; Jn 3:13), and to rescue a remnant of humanity, purchasing them with His own blood (Mk 10:45; Gal 4:4-5; Ac 20:28). He was born of a virgin (Lk 1:30-35, 2:7) and given the name Jesus (Lk 2:21). He lived a life that was entirely worthy of the holiness and purity of His Father (Matt 3:16-17). He never sinned against God (Is 53:9; 1Jn 3:5), the way all of us have (Rom 3:23). He satisfied God’s righteous requirement of perfection (Rom 8:3-4), and He willingly laid down His life as the payment for the penalty that the sins of humanity incurred (Jn 10:15, 18). His life of perfect obedience satisfied the Father’s just wrath against our sin (Is 53:4-5, 10), and the Father imputed (or ascribed) Jesus’ perfect life to us while at the same time imputing our sinfulness to Christ (2Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13-14). By His sacrifice, we who receive Him by faith are saved from the sin that separated us from God (Ac 15:8-9; Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16), and are given the gift of eternal life in His presence (Rom 6:23; 1Pet 3:18).

All those that Jesus redeemed are called the Church (Ac 20:28; Col 1:18), who is properly called the Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-8). This people, totally unworthy of the Father and so unworthy to be presented to His Son, is purified by the Son Himself (Tit 2:14). The dowry for Jesus’ bride cost Him nothing less than His life. But in the majesty of His abundant grace, Jesus willingly paid that price for the joy set before Him (Heb 12:2). And at the end of all things, after the Lord Jesus returns to set up His kingdom on earth and rightfully rule over His creation, the Father will present to Him the Bride He Himself purified, having no spot, wrinkle, or any such thing (Eph 5:25-27).

And though that celebration remains a future event, the Church is Christ’s betrothed, and so we love Him and joyfully serve Him in the present (1Pet 1:8). We submit to His loving, sacrificial leadership and experience His grace and love each day until He returns. He has promised that He will never leave nor forsake His Bride (Heb 13:5), and that no matter how much we continue to sin against Him and even break that covenant of marriage that He died to institute, He will remain faithful to Himself (2Tim 2:11-13; Deut 7:9), and always remain united to us (Hos 2:19-20; 1Jn 2:1-2; Ps 89:30-34).

That’s what marriage points to. That’s what marriage is about. It is an institution set up by God with a specific purpose: to glorify Him (to make much of Him) by magnifying the relationship of covenant-keeping grace that exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church. And in Ephesians 5 God tells what that relationship is like. To wives He says: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” And to husbands He says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

What we desire most of all for our marriage is that it would be an exposition of the nature of that covenant-keeping, grace-fueled relationship between Jesus Christ and His church that is so clearly and beautifully expressed in that passage. It says that the husband is to be the leader of the wife, as Christ is the leader of the Church. So we ask, “How does Christ exercise leadership over His bride?” He did so first by laying down His life for her so that He might purify her. In the same way, a husband’s leadership over his wife is to be characterized by life-giving, sacrificial service with a view towards her sanctification. And the reason is because that’s how Christ did it with His bride, and that’s what marriage was designed to depict.

And His leadership is so sweet to His people. Jesus rules lovingly and as a meek shepherd (Matt 11:28-30) and always with the ultimate good of His Bride as a primary purpose (Rom 8:28). He does this in such a way that His people joyfully come to Him and submit to His leadership out of delight and desire, and not begrudgingly or out of compulsion (Psalm 119:97, 103; Jn 10:27). Because of this, I (Mike) need to see to it that my leadership is equally loving, meek, tender, and always after Christ Himself, so that it makes it an absolute joy for Janna to submit to my leadership, the same way it is an absolute joy for me to submit to Christ’s leadership. I am to so follow Christ, that Janna’s submission to my leadership should be as sweet and enjoyable as the Church’s submission is to Christ. And as it is such a joy for the Church to submit to Christ, I (Janna) will respect Michael in everything, honoring his leadership by joyfully submitting to him as he follows Christ. It is with eagerness that I will support him with words of kindness and encouragement, making it a delight for Michael to exercise loving and gracious leadership as my head.

So we want you to see that marriage only has meaning when it is founded upon Christ and His relationship to His people. Since it exists to illustrate that relationship, we will seek to ask about everything in our marriage, “Is this properly and accurately illustrating the relationship between Christ and the Church?” Put more simply, “Is our marriage telling the truth about Jesus Christ?”

Our prayer is that in our wedding ceremony the truth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed. And we pray that as you reflect on that truth and read these things, a light would go off in your soul, and you would awaken to the self-authenticating glory of God manifested in what marriage points to. If you haven’t acknowledged your rebellion and alienation against God because of your sin, His righteous condemnation of you, and your total inability to do anything about it, we pray that you would see your own insufficiency to meet God’s requirement of perfect purity and holiness, and at the same time see how perfectly sufficient Jesus Christ is to do just that. We pray that you would put your faith in Him for your righteousness before the Father, and so joyfully receive Him as your Lord, your Savior, and as your Husband!

If you have already tasted the glory of Jesus Christ by receiving Him as the Treasure of your life, we rejoice with you! And at the same time, we pray that you would see the glory of Christ in this institution of marriage. We pray that you would implement these truths in your own marriages, and in so doing, that you would enjoy all God is for you in Christ. Rejoice that you’re His and that He’s yours! Rejoice, for by His grace you have the Perfect Husband!

In the Fullness of His Joy,

Mike and Janna
* The first two paragraphs are borrowed from Piper's series on marriage, found here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

God is the Gospel

So I've just finished reading God is the Gospel, by John Piper.

What an amazing experience it was for me. It seems that anything I would have ever wanted to say about the God-centeredness of God (and therefore the God-centeredness of people) has been said in that book. It's very refreshing when someone makes the point you were trying to make, and with stunningly greater precision and conciseness than you could have dreamed of.

So beyond an unqualified recommendation, I give a strong exhortation: read this book. It's worth the money to have a physical copy, without question. But you can also read it online for free at the Desiring God website.

I'm thinking about reproducing some passages from the book in a future post here and there. But there was a particular section that dealt with the Greatest Commandment and its being the foundation of the Second, which was much of what I was concerned with at the start of this blog. Here's what Piper says about that, from page 162:
We exist by Him, through Him, and for Him (Rom 11:36). The ultimate and greatest good of the gospel is not self-admiration or self-exaltation, but being able to see the glory of God without disintegrating, and being able to delight in the glory of Christ with the very delight of God the Father for His own Son, and being able to do visible Christ-exalting deeds that flow from this delight.

So being like God is the ground of seeing God for who He is, and this seeing is the ground of savoring and delighting in the glory of God with the very delight of God, which then overflows with visible displays of God's glory.
That summarizes my thoughts very nicely.

The following is one expression of the thesis of the book, and, I believe, captures his thinking (not to mention the essence of the Gospel) quite well. From page 147 (emphases mine):
The best news of the Christian gospel is that the supremely glorious Creator of the universe has acted in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection to remove every obstacle between us and Himself so that we may find everlasting joy in seeing and savoring His infinite beauty. The saving love of God is His doing whatever must be done, at great cost to Himself, and for the least deserving, so that He might enthrall them with what will make them supremely happy forever, namely, Himself. Therefore, the gospel of God and the love of God are expressed finally and fully in God's gift of Himself for our everlasting pleasure. "In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps 16:11).
Little else comes to mind aside from, "Amen."

In the video below, Piper discusses two implications of discovering and receiving the truth that God is the Gospel, the first personal, and the second pastoral.

So again, I strongly encourage you to read this book and have your understanding shaped by Scripture presented through Piper, Edwards, Calvin, Owen, and others about what the supreme passion of God is in all things, and therefore what our supreme passion should be in all things.

This is what we should in short seek in the whole of Scripture:
truly to know Jesus Christ,
and the infinite riches that are comprised in him
and are offered to us by him
from God the Father.

- John Calvin -
(See here, p. 70.)

For Christ also died for sins once for all,
the just for the unjust,
so that He might bring us to God.

- 1 Peter 3:18 -

Monday, July 27, 2009

Greater Riches

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?

Take a minute before reading any more and meditate on those questions from 1 Corinthians 6, and adapt your worldview to the Apostle Paul's.

This type of thinking and questioning just cuts directly to the heart of our selfishness. This question really separates the confessors from the professors, the transformed from the hypocrites. I read this and I consider his line of thinking and I ask myself, “How in the world could he reason like this?! What makes a man think it's strange to prefer not to be wronged and defrauded?”

And the answer that comes to me is that his God must have been
so big! His God must have been so sweet to him. His God must have been so beautiful, and soul-satisfying, and captivating, and compelling. That he would gladly suffer loss of all things (Phil 3:8), prefer to be wronged and defrauded, and call it gain
because He got Christ! He must have known and enjoyed one wonderful God!

What makes a man reason this way? What makes a man prefer to be wronged and defrauded for the sake of his brethren? He was looking to his great reward (Lk 6:35; Heb 11:26). He was seeking a better, lasting city (Heb 11:16, 13:14) than the present one that promised him vain, fleeting comforts. He was going after greater riches (Heb 11:26) than worldly ease and vindication.

I want to know and enjoy his God.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.
- Luke 6:35 -

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,
choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
- Hebrews 11:24-26 -

Friday, July 24, 2009

No Will, or Enslaved Will?

One thing I've noticed from different conversations and interactions with Arminians is that many of them seem to think that if humans have "a will" at all then it must be a free will. They say, "If we don't have free will then we're robots."

But there's something terribly wrong with that conclusion. Robots don't have any will at all. The very fact that "will" is modified by the adjective "free" should communicate to our English-speaking minds that our wills can be free and our wills can be enslaved.

So the opposite of free will is not "no will"; it's an enslaved will (John 8:34; Rom 6:6, 6:16-20, 8:7-8). Everyone makes choices. But they can only make choices in accordance with their nature. In humanity's case, that nature is a sin, death, and child-of-wrath nature (Eph 2:1-3).

The unregenerate sinner has a will (i.e., a moral inclination to this or that). But his will is enslaved to sin until freed (or changed) by the sovereign grace of God (Eph 2:4-5; John 1:13; Jas 1:18).

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world,
according to the prince of the power of the air,
of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh,
indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
- Ephesians 2:1-3 -

Jesus answered them,
"Truly, truly, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin."

- John 8:34 -

...children of God, who were born,
not of blood
nor of the will of the flesh
nor of the will of man,
but of God.

- John 1:13 -

In the exercise of His will
brought us forth by the word of truth,
so that we would be a kind of
first fruits among His creatures.
- James 1:18 -

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why Do We Know the Things We Know

A friend and brother of mine, Jonathan Parnell, recently wrote a great post called "Discovery for the Glory of Christ" over at his place. He asked, "Why do we know the things we know?" Not how, but why. Why is it given to us to know anything about anything, especially things about God? Read his post below:

Why do we know certain things that we know? The knowledge of things is not an end of itself. We know that we might do–there is an effect, a result, an action in accordance with discovery.

More specifically, God shows us things about ourselves never for sake of our just knowing about them. Understanding more of the depths of our hearts, our sinful propensities, the roots of our struggles, is never so that we can acknowledge it’s there and move on to something else. We see them in order to bring the implications of the gospel to bear on them. Actually, I think it is in those discoveries of ourselves that the gospel shines the brightest. It is in those times, in the face of those inner realities, that the gospel declares the definitive word and is embraced afresh as really good news.

The gospel does not allow any ’sweeping under the rug.’ The gospel does not avoid, it overcomes. It takes these inner discoveries, these circumstances, and it proclaims through them the sufficiency and glory of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us and our salvation.

The point Jonathan makes is a point that as Christians we can never hear enough of. Edwards talked about true religion consisting very much in the affections. We are to be affected. Lloyd-Jones in his wonderful book Preaching and Preachers repeatedly makes the point that as a preacher you are there to do something to the people. Something is to happen to them. We are to behold the glory of the Lord, and then be transformed into that same image (2Cor 3:18).

When I led a study through Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World last summer, I said at the outset of the study to the group that it would be entirely profitless, and even blasphemous, if we talked about these glorious, wondrous, deep things of God for 10 weeks, and all we did was say, “Hunh… wow… that’s cool. Huh! I never saw that before! Wow, what an amazing thought!”

God does not want to be reacted to so nonchalantly. When we see His glory, He wants us to be thrilled. He’s worthy of our world being turned upside-down every time we catch a glimpse of the beauty of one of His manifold perfections!

And yet, how prone we are to either “sweep it under the rug,” as Jonathan says, or try to work up the awe in our own strength because we know it’s right. May God reveal Himself to us, and then change us because of it!

A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
- Amos 3:8 -

I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the LORD.
- Ezekiel 38:23 -

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Have You in My Heart

A couple of weeks ago I ended a series on what it meant to love as Jesus loved us (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) by presenting some thoughts about the Church and the Apostle Paul from Acts 20:17-32. But I didn't get to comment on the final few verses in the chapter, in which we learn of the great love and deep affection he and the brothers had for each other.

Paul loved the believers at Ephesus as Christ loved him. And so in Acts 20:36-38 you see tremendous affection.

36When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again And they were accompanying him to the ship.

I read this and I rejoice, because this affection is only right! It makes every bit of sense! Paul loves the Ephesian elders as Christ has loved him -- that is, by presenting Christ to them. And so the believers are delighted by Paul. They have a deep affection and love for Him.

Can you find traces of this in your life? For me, I am delighted by my brothers and sisters, and I have a deep affection for my brothers and sisters because they minister Christ to me! They present to me what is most delightful to see and gaze into: Jesus!!!

This challenges, though, our understanding of what fellowship and love for the brethren are. When Christ said they'd know us by our love for each other, he didn't mean that we would enjoy each other based on favorite sports teams, common hobbies, musical/artistic preferences, or anything else. The deep affection you see the New Testament believers having for each other is because, as partakers of grace (Phil 1:7), they minister grace to me. As partakers of Christ (Heb 3:14), they minister Christ to me.

Like I said, that presents a challenge to me: Why do I like my Christian friends? Do I like the Christian friends I have because they're Yankee fans and I'm a Yankee fan? Is it because maybe we're just generally nice and polite people who don't step on each other's toes enough to be genuinely upset with one other? Is it because we like the same movies, or exclude the same people from our clique, or because we're all pretty funny and clever and make each other laugh? Do I like them because they stroke my ego, seem interested in any insights I might have, tell me that they really like what I say? Or do I have them in my heart, does my heart rejoice when I see them, because I know that time spent with them will be time spent with my Savior? Do I love them for the sake of Christ?

A similar challenge is: Why am I liked by my Christian friends? Is it just because of our similarity in worldliness? For the reasons listed in the above paragraph? This understanding of the affection for New Testament believers challenges me to love my brothers and sisters, and therefore be delightful to them, by benefiting them with Christ.

So one way I can measure my love -- my true, Christlike, 'Love-as-I-have-loved-you' love -- for my brothers and sisters is whether I am engendering that true, godly, affection in them. They rejoice at the prospect of seeing, talking, spending time with me because I bring to them their greatest benefit, because I present to their mind's eye the beautiful glory of their Savior. But remember, I can be of no benefit to them if I am not benefited by Christ myself. And so even true, Godly fellowship depends on a vital, thriving relationship with God in the study of His Word and in prayer. And to the degree that we are rooted in the Word -- to the degree we are benefited and affected by Jesus -- to that degree we ought to be delightful to our brethren.

May those who fear You see me and be glad, Because I wait for Your word.
- Psalm 119:74 -

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 1:3-8 -

I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.
- 2 Corinthians 7:3 -

Friday, July 17, 2009

Boasting and Self-Pity

Andy Naselli: Another Dagger-Like Tweet from John Piper
Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to failure.
And here’s a follow up:
BOASTING: "I deserve praise because I’ve achieved so much."

SELF-PITY: "I deserve praise because I’ve endured so much."

I truly envy, in what I believe is a Godly way, John Piper's ability to be concise and profound, to present truth so effectively and yet so succinctly. Andy Naselli rightly describes this clip from Piper as dagger-like. I pray that God would sharpen me and by grace give me the skillfulness to present His truth in such a beneficial way to His people.

Which one of these manifestations of pride characterizes you more?

The root of both boasting and self-pity is pride. How does knowing that aid in your battle against sin?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Piper, Wright, and Redemption

So my last post contended that polemical argumentation, rebuke, correction of error, etc. can be of great benefit to the Church, as it aids in the service of presenting Christ clearly to His people. This post includes some polemical argumentation, rebuke, and correction of error.

People may or may not be aware of the Justification debate going on between N. T. Wright and John Piper. If you're not aware of it, it may be a greater benefit to you that you continue to be unaware of it. But sadly, there are quite a few people confused by and even enamored with the erroneous conclusions that Wright has propounded about the framework of justification.

When I was away for the weekend on a mini-vacation a couple weeks back, I spent some time thinking about these things. I was recognizing that the thoughts that Wright is presenting are actually harming the body of Christ by leading some into confusion and perhaps others into shipwreck. And I believe I'm acting in service to you, to present to you your greatest benefit, when I warn you that N. T. Wright is simply wrong in this debate. You should not be confused. You should not be enamored.

With those thoughts fresh in my mind, I checked Between Two Worlds and found a link to a Christianity Today article in which Trevin Wax compiled snippets from both Piper and Wright on various aspects of the question of justification; e.g., the problem, the law, God's righteousness, etc.

Now, I haven't read everything Wright's ever written, and I'm not qualified to systematically refute the New Perspective on Paul. (Read The Future of Justification for a masterful response to Wright's teaching.) But what I read in this compilation is troubling. So I am going to comment on some of the things both men say in this compilation of their thoughts on the basics.

They both discuss "The Problem":
Piper: God created a good world that was subjected to futility because of the sinful, treasonous choice of the first human beings. Because of this offense against the glory of God, humans are alienated from their Creator and deserve his just condemnation for their sins.
I love it. It's plain. It's simple. A child could understand it. It's the bad news side of the Gospel that we've received.
Wright: God created a good world, designed to be looked after and brought to its intended purpose through his image-bearing human beings. This purpose was thwarted [um, Job 42:1-2?] by the sinful choice of the first human beings. Because of human sinfulness, the world needs to be put to rights again and its original purpose taken forward to completion. God's purpose in putting humans "right" is that through them, the world can be put to rights.
But what is that?

Lots of things could be said, but what I come away with here is that Wright seeks to make the focus of God's creative and redemptive acts the physical creation itself. Since we humans screwed it up, now we're the instruments through which God gets His creation back to how He wanted it. However, what does the Bible teach about God's purpose in redemption?
  • 1 John 3:8 - ...the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 - It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
  • 1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.
  • Hebrews 1:3 - When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
  • Titus 2:14 - who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
Indeed, the glory of His name is said to depend on the redemption of sinners:
  • Isaiah 48:11 - For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.
  • Ezekiel 36:22-23 - "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight."
  • Isaiah 43:25 - I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake.
God's redemptive purpose certainly does extend to the creation (Rom 8:21), and indeed, "as far as the curse is found." But we see even in that passage that the primary object of redemption is God's flock, His elect, a people for His own possession, and that the creation anxiously longs for the revealing of the sons of God. Creation will be restored in order to give a glorified Bride and Her resplendent King a habitable dwelling for eternity.

These ideas are rooted in God's ultimate purpose, which Piper actually expresses quite nicely in the article.
The essence of God's righteousness is his unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name in all he does. ... All his acts are done in righteousness.
We are to realize that all God's acts are done in righteousness. And we are to realize that for an act to be done in righteousness it must be utterly committed to upholding the glory of His name. God, dear friends, is about glorifying Himself in all things. And that is great news.

But for His glory to be His ultimate end in creation, a "penultimate" end (so to speak) must not be to restore the physical creation, but instead to redeem a spiritual people. Why? Because that creation does not glorify Him in His fullness without serving as a manifestation of His glory.

But somebody says, "But the creation does manifest the glory of God!" And they're right (Ps 19:1; Rom 1:20)! But to what or to whom does the creation manifest the bountiful perfections of God? To God Himself? Well, sure. God beholds the goodness of His creation, sees the glory and the perfection and wisdom in His work, and enjoys the expression of His abundant beneficence (Gen 1:31). But I contend that the face of the Son, eternally reflecting the exact representation of the radiance of the Father's own glory (Heb 1:3; John 17:5) is a better instrument of manifesting the glory of God to Himself than the creation is.

No, the creation manifests the bountiful perfections of God to the creature, to human beings. God is not as glorified by someone (or something) who merely sees and reflects His beauty as He is by someone who sees, reflects, and rejoices in His beauty. God is not honored unless the perfection of His character is enjoyed and rejoiced in, because He's worthy of such praise. And such worship -- such delight of affections -- is impossible for the inanimate creation.

In God's plan of redemption, He's not just getting through us so He can have His world back all nice again. He is purifying for Himself, not a creation, not an earth, but a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds which reflect His own magnificence. That the creation will be restored is certainly another benefit of His mercy and grace. But His Bride is the apple of His eye (Zech 2:8), because it is in Her -- in the Church -- that His glory is put on fullest display.

...the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
- Ephesians 1:23 -

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
- Ephesians 2:4-7 -

...that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Ephesians 3:10-11 -

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Defense of Polemics

If you read my comments on other blogs, you might notice that I'm not afraid to engage in polemical discussions. That is, I'm willing to engage error masquerading as truth and to call a spade a spade. But if you read this blog, you'll notice that that's not been my modus operandi on this blog so much. Remembering my commitment to be a benefit, that may have something to do with the fact that I think there's more benefit to be given and to be enjoyed in ways other than polemical argumentation. However, I think that polemics can certainly be in the service of benefiting people by presenting Christ to them.

Not everyone agrees with me there. If you lurk around the Christian blogosphere long enough and read widely enough, you'll find that some people find any manner of disagreement utterly distasteful, and they chide you for being "divisive," "unloving," disobedient to John 13:35 (which is laughable, given the content discussed in my recent post on that passage), too worried about doctrine, Pharisaical, or -- the postmodern favorite -- "uncharitable."

And if you do manage to find a group of folks who don't mind differing viewpoints, you better make sure you don't disagree with someone too severely, and that you preface your disagreement with about 150 things you like about your opponent, or about what your opponent just said, or a slew of qualifiers about how the issue you're disagreeing over is not an essential Christian doctrine, and how you're sure they're a fine person in real life. You get the idea.

But again, I disagree with these people. I think that strong disagreement and polemical argumentation can be very beneficial to the body of Christ.

Why do I think that?

Well, throughout the New Testament we find statements from the Apostles exhorting the Church to speak truth each one with his neighbor (Eph 4:25). As demonstrated in my previous post, the way that the body builds itself up in love is by exposing each other to the glory of Christ by speaking truth to each other. When error is presented as truth, harm comes to the body, just as it would if someone served poison instead of food at a meal.

And we have commands exhorting the Church to "expose error" (Eph 5:11). Continuing with the same illustration, if it was common knowledge that someone was masquerading poison as healthy food, those who cared anything about the people to whom it was being served would do what they could to find out what's real, nourishing food and what's not.

Also, the very nature of divine revelation requires that it be the standard of measure of all our thinking. We are told not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits because many false profits have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). Reproof and correction are also said to be things for which Scripture is profitable (or beneficial) (2Tim 3:16). And as he approaches the end of his life, Paul's solemn charge to Timothy is to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2Tim 4:2).

And one of the clearest Scriptural examples that I can find of polemical argumentation being for the benefit to the Church is in Acts 18:27-28:
And when [Apollos] had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Apollos greatly helped the believers. How? "For," the Scripture says, "he powerfully refuted the Jews in public." A strong, public refutation of error was of great help to the body.

And these strong, even public, rebukes were not limited to unbelievers. In Galatians 2, Paul confronts Peter. Listen to the strength of his language.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Even Peter was subject to this kind of rebuke. And as his error had far-reaching effects, his error found a far-reaching rebuke. His actions were presenting some idea about the Gospel that was false -- hypocritical, even. And his actions were causing Jewish believers and even Barnabas to be "carried away by their hypocrisy." And so Paul lets Peter and everyone affected by his error know that such thinking is wrong, contrary to grace, and is a blight on the pure Gospel of God.

Now, in today's "evangelicalism," Paul would be labeled a Pharisee (how ironic, right?), unloving, arrogant, full of himself. He'd be told at least 27 times that he had a log in his own eye or, "Physician, heal thyself!" He'd be accused of being unChristlike, because Christ said they'd know us by our love for each other. And a million other things.

But guys, don't you see how he was loving Peter?! Don't you see that such confrontation was for Peter's great benefit?! If not, here's a little wisdom from John Calvin writing to the heretic Socinus (for more on Socinianism, check this out):
Were I, under the pretence of indulgence, to encourage you in a fault which I judge so ruinous, I should certainly act toward you a treacherous and cruel part. Wherefore I am willing, that you should now for a little be offended by my seeming asperity, rather than that you should not be reclaimed from those curious and alluring speculations, by which you have been already captivated. The time will come, I hope, when you shall rejoice, that you have been awakened even in this violent manner, from your pleasing, but fatal dream. (The Panoplist, Or, the Christian's Armory, p. 76; see here; emphases mine)
You see? Confronting error benefits even those in error by showing them the truth. They are benefited by seeing Christ more clearly than they had been seeing Him, and with greater precision and contour than they had been seeing Him. To gaze into a blurry image of what is perfectly beautiful is infinitely less delightful, satisfying, and beneficial than to gaze into an accurate, clear, precise image of it. Laboring to present that accurate, clear, and precise image of Christ is indeed loving, as it seeks to present to the object his greatest benefit. (See also Hebrews 12:10, 14; Colossians 1:28-2:3.)

And so, contrary to the... squishiness... of our age, we ought to be ready and able (that's a big prerequisite) to speak truth, expose error, rebuke, reprove, admonish, and thereby benefit the body of Christ. Polemical argument and theological debate can indeed be abused in such a way that renders it profitless. But as we have seen, there is a place for it. Even a place for it in service of love for our neighbor as ourself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Present Christ Each One of You to His Neighbor

As a follow-up from the previous two posts (Part 1, Part 2), I want to consider Acts 20:17-38. This passage is a wonderful Apostolic example of loving the brethren as Christ loved them, and is also an example of doing that by being committed to the Word of God. Or, said another way, it is an intersection of (1) loving the brethren by presenting Christ to each other, and (2) reading and proclaiming the Word of God.

This is Paul saying, in effect, "Love each other as I have loved you" (John 13:34):
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. 18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.

25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

As Paul speaks his final farewell to the elders of Ephesus, he calls attention to how in his many trials and persecutions he never ceased to proclaim the Word of God to them. Indeed, it seems that in his mind the proclamation of the Word of God was the very antidote to those persecutions. See his persecution and his proclamation juxtaposed:

Paul's Persecution
  • v. 19 - He served in humble circumstances.
  • v. 19 - He served with tears.
  • v. 19 - He served with trials that came through the plots of the Jews.
  • v. 23 - The Spirit says that bonds and afflictions await him.
Paul's Proclamation to the Believers
  • v. 20 - He didn't shrink from declaring to them anything profitable (i.e., anything to their benefit).
  • v. 20 - He didn't shrink from teaching them publicly, even in view of these persecutions.
  • v. 21 - He didn't shrink from solemnly testifying to the Gospel of repentance for forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ, either to Jews or to Greeks.
  • v. 24 - He is willing to lose his life to finish the ministry of testifying to the Gospel of grace.
  • v. 25 - He continuously was preaching the kingdom to them.
  • v. 27 - He declared the whole purpose of God to them such that his conscience is clear.
  • v. 31 - He didn't cease to admonish them with tears, night and day for three years.
And so in all the trials and persecutions that he faced, he considered it more profitable to benefit the people of God by proclaiming the Word of God to them. And we must remember that proclaiming the Word of God is nothing other than presenting Christ. And we must also remember that that is exactly how Jesus loved us (Rom 5:8; cf. 1Pet 3:18). So Paul loved these brothers as Jesus loved him.

But then we see in his address that he wants to prepare them for similar persecution: attacks on the very Word of God that he proclaimed to them, and therefore attacks on them.

The Believers' Promised Persecution
  • v. 29 - Savage wolves will come to devour the flock.
  • v. 30 - They will speak perverse things.
  • v. 31 - They will seek to draw the disciples away after them.
What's amazing to consider is that Paul's method of equipping the church to combat the perverse teachings of these savage wolves is to do the same thing that he did -- to proclaim the Word of God to each other. He says that they should be on guard (v. 28; cf, 2Tim 1:14), be on the alert (v. 31), and finally he commends them to God's Word (v. 32), which, he says, is able to build them up -- to fortify them against these attacks -- and to guarantee their inheritance of salvation, to finally protect them from those who seek to draw them away from such an inheritance.

This whole passage is about preparing the church for persecution and attacks by calling to mind Paul's own example of proclaiming the Word, and by exhorting them to wield their Sword (cf. Eph 6:17) against this enemy! Don't miss Paul's strategy for combating this error and protecting the church against these savage wolves. Paul is saying: "Get blood-earnest about digging into the Word of God! Don't despair in the face of these trials! Don't get despondent! GET YOUR SWORD!"

This, friends, is how the Church battles trials and persecution! Listen to Paul's reasoning in Ephesians 4:25:

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.

Why speak truth to each other? Because we are members of the same body! And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (1Cor 12:26). And so in Paul's mind, the way to keep the body from suffering -- indeed, the way to build up the body (Ac 20:32) -- is to speak truth each one of us with our neighbor.

See it elsewhere in Scripture:
  • Hebrews 3:12-13 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
  • Ephesians 5:18b-20 but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
And in this last one is where they all come together:
  • Colossians 3:16-17 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
This is what the Church is! This is love for each other! The ministry of the Word amongst each other in the body is essential. It is our sine qua non!

But we cannot minister that Word to each other if we don't know it. That means, dear friends, that we need to be in the Word, or we're not the Church. We simply cannot be the Church to one other if we don't do this. We will be no benefit to each other because we would cut ourselves off from Christ, from our benefit. For what does Christ Himself say? "This is how the world will know that you are My disciples: that you love one another as I have loved you." And remember, He loved us by presenting God (or Himself) to us. So if we stop presenting Him to our brothers and sisters, we stop loving them, and so we forfeit that characteristic that Jesus said would characterize His people among the rest of the world.

Paul loved the believers at Ephesus as Christ loved him.

And so after weeks of study, we have these commandments:
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Love as I have loved you.
  • Speak truth each one of you to his neighbor.
The synthesis of those three is:

Present Christ each one of you to his neighbor.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Love the Brethren: Read the Word

In my previous post, I considered Jesus' command in John 13:34 to love each other as He has loved us (mostly as an overflow of my study on the Greatest Commandments: Part 1, Part 2). I looked at how He has loved us, and then exhorted us all to love in that way. I concluded that He has loved us -- or benefited us -- by presenting God (or Himself) to us, and that therefore, we ought also to think of loving one another as presenting Christ to each other.

In this post, I want to consider just one practical application of the point of that last post. One essential thing that we must do if we have any hope of presenting Christ to one another is to devote ourselves to reading the Word of God. Without that, we cannot love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we cannot love our neighbor as ourselves, we cannot love each other as He has loved us.

What do I mean?

See, when we deprive ourselves of beholding the glory of God in His Word (devotional reading and study, prayer, meditation, going to church, going to Bible studies, and more) we deprive ourselves of the fodder, of the fuel, of the motivation to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We starve ourselves of the perfectly Biblical and delightful reasons to love God; namely, the glory and sweetness of all His manifold perfections.

Now, that all-encompassing love for God that is the Foremost Commandment must be motivated by Him! We can't just bear down, clench our fists, grit our teeth, and work it up. It's got to be organically inspired by God Himself. And so when you turn away from listening to the Word, you cut yourself off from Him, because it is in His Word where the glory of Christ is revealed. Consider these passages:
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
  • Hebrews 1:1-3 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
  • John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
  • 1 Samuel 3:21 And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, because the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
So putting them all together: God is said to appear such that He reveals Himself when He speaks His word to Samuel. Hebrews tells us that God speaks to us in Jesus. It also says that Jesus, this Word of God, is the exact representation of the Father's glory. And even though no one has seen the Father in all His glory, this Son, this Word of God, with God and in God's bosom from the beginning, has revealed Him in all His glory.

So we are to behold His glory in His word, which is compiled in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. And so again, to cut yourself off from the word of God is to cut yourself off from God Himself. And if you cut yourself off from Him you can't love Him.

Now, as I've demonstrated, the Greatest Commandment is the foundation upon which the Second Greatest Commandment is built. The Foremost is the fountain out of which the Second flows. Therefore, if your not reading the Word directly affects your ability to love God, then your not reading the Word directly affects your capacity to love others!

Why is that? And how does that connect with the previous post about loving as Jesus loved us? Because we must define love for others as benefiting them. And to be a true benefit we must find what is most beneficial to them. And God Himself has declared that He is everyone's greatest benefit (Rom 5:8, cf. 1Pet 3:18). And so to love your neighbor is to present Christ to them.

But you cannot present Christ to someone as He is -- i.e., beautiful, satisfying, joy-inspiring, pleasant, delightful, thrilling, compelling, a treasure -- if you yourself are not treasuring Him, are not compelled by His beauty, do not rejoice in Him, are not satisfied in Him, do not delight in Him. Remember David's singularity of focus in Psalm 27:4. Remember how he presents the loveliness of Yahweh just by being so taken, so delighted, so thrilled by Him. The way you present Christ to the world -- and thereby love as He loved -- is first and foremost by living like He's your treasure. And one who constantly turns His ear away from listening to the Word of God presents the God of that Word as boring, unpleasant, burdensome, a killjoy.

So one practical way that we can love each other as Jesus loved is by faithfully exposing ourselves to and delighting in the sanctifying Word of God. But when we turn our ear away from listening to the Word, we not only deprive ourselves of our greatest benefit, but we prevent ourselves from benefiting the brethren. Let us be established, rooted, immersed in the Word of God. Behold the glory of the Lord revealed in His Word.

In so doing, we love the brethren as Jesus loved us: by presenting to them their greatest benefit.

I have inherited Your testimonies forever, For they are the joy of my heart.
- Psalm 119:111 -

Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore my soul observes them.

- Psalm 119:129 -

I have seen a limit to all perfection; Your commandment is exceedingly broad. O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.
- Psalm 119:96-97 -

How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
- Psalm 119:103 -

May those who fear You see me and be glad, Because I wait for Your word.
- Psalm 119:74 -

Monday, July 6, 2009

Love as I Have Loved You

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
- John 13:34-35 -

Usually this passage is cited by someone who doesn't understand that it is loving to be discerning, to call out and expose heresy and even lesser error for what it is. But I'd ask you to strip away all such conceptions of these verses -- whether you've made those bad arguments or have been made to sit through listening to them -- and hear what Jesus is actually saying here.

The command is to love each other the way He loved us. So we've got to ask: How has He loved us? What does Romans 5 say about the way that God demonstrates His love to His people? It says:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
So how does God love us in Christ? He dies in our place and on our behalf. So then, should we go out and look for ways to die for our brethren? Is that what 1 John 3:16 means? Let's look at that:
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
It's a perfect application of John 13:34. How did He love us? He laid down His life for us? How then ought we love? By laying down our lives for the brethren. So I ask again: Should we go out and look for ways to die for our brethren?

Well, I do think that love for one's neighbor may in some circumstances extend to actually giving one's physical life in the place of his brother or sister. But I don't suppose I'll get too much disagreement (from the few of you who read this) that we can understand the Apostle's instruction to be that we ought to spend our lives in service to the brethren. Said another way, that we would lay down our lives to benefit each other.
And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it."
In other words, Jesus' promised blessing of having a saved life after one loses it doesn't only apply to martyrs. We all must take up our cross and die daily to our own suicidal and obsessive love affair with ourselves. All our self-terminating, self-glorifying, Christ-ignoring, and others-neglecting desires must be crucified. In that way, we are to lose our lives.

So how does one most gladly spend and be expended for the souls of his brethren (2Cor 12:15)? How do we love our neighbor as ourselves the way Christ loved His neighbor as Himself? In what enterprise are we to engage as we give our lives away in service to, or in benefit of, our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Well, how did He do it? By dying for us. But why did He die for us? 1 Peter 3:18:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.
Why did He die for us? How has He loved us? He has ushered us into the presence of God! He has brought us to our greatest joy and benefit: God Himself! Consider the glory to be enjoyed in the presence of Almighty God Himself! Let this land on you!
  • Psalm 16:11 In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
  • Psalm 21:6 For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence.
  • Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
  • Psalm 26:8 O LORD, I love the habitation of Your house And the place where Your glory dwells.
  • Psalm 27:4 One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.
  • Psalm 36:8-9 They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.
  • Psalm 43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy.
  • Psalm 65:4 How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You To dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple.
  • Psalm 73:28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.
This is how Jesus loved us. This is what His death and resurrection purchased for us: to enjoy God in His presence forever! Jesus loved us by presenting God (Himself) to us.

So when we consider that we are to love our neighbor "even as He has loved us," we must understand that we too must love this way. We must spend and be expended to usher everyone around us into the presence of God. We are, in everything we do, to present Christ to the world! To present to them their greatest joy, satisfaction, and benefit!

That's exactly how Jesus has loved us!

- Part 2
- Part 3
- Part 4

Saturday, July 4, 2009

On Independence Day

So it's the 4th of July, and everybody seems to have "Freedom" or "Independence" themed posts. Since I hadn't prepared anything according to that theme, I want to link to a post called What Price Freedom? by Dan Phillips on PyroManiacs. I think that for anyone reading today it will be most beneficial in focusing your thoughts on where they should be, and helping us to always be Biblical in our understanding of freedom, even on this Independence Day.

Here's a sample:
Americans enjoy freedom today because of the blood spilt by thousands of men and women from before 1776 until this very day. Our freedom, as Americans, is not free. If it hasn’t cost us personally, it surely has cost someone else!

But my mind turns today to a far deeper bondage, however, and an infinitely greater freedom — and to the far more dreadful price that was paid for that freedom.

It is found in Revelation 1:5b: “To Him who loves us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood.

Pyromaniacs: What Price Freedom? [Requested classic re-post]

Friday, July 3, 2009

Teaching Middle School and an Exhortation

So as my profile says, I spent this past year teaching Italian to some great middle school kids. Recently, it was the last day of school and I had some closing comments for each class that I taught (six in all).

The first thing I did, after taking care of collecting textbooks and textbook fines, was apologize and ask for each class's forgiveness for my sins in thought, word, and deed. I confessed to them that there were times that I was wrongfully frustrated, angry, and lazy, and that that was selfish and did not benefit them. I told them that, though most people say they "did the best they could," usually that's not true, and it certainly was not true of me. I could have done better. And so I asked them to forgive me.

And the spokesmen for each class said they did. So that's good.

The next thing I told them was that I wasn't going to be back, as I'm moving to California to begin attending seminary. Some of them immediately asked what seminary was, then wondered at how I'd be a priest if I was married. And so I clarified that I was going to be studying for pastoral ministry and that a pastor is different then a priest. It was actually some great conversation that I hope bears fruit.

Many kids wanted me to sign their yearbook, which I totally loved and was humbled to do. After a personal message, I signed each one: "Don't Waste Your Life: 2 Corinthians 5:15." And that led to some good explanations as well. I even had the opportunity to open a Bible with one of my students and read and unfold the text with him.

And finally I gave them my email address and the address to this blog. So hopefully they're reading this! Welcome guys! (Or, maybe I should say: Benvenuti ragazzi!)

But I wanted to share with you part of an email that I got from one of my students, and then my response to it.
...I enjoyed all of your comforting words, and your smiling face around lunch. I'm gonna miss all the times in Italian and all the jokes we had. You have taught me a great deal this year. I hope you are successful in California. I read your blog... I never knew there was this whole other side of you! But your wisdom shows. :] ...
You might see why this student was one of my favorites. ;o) Here's how I responded.
Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad they're true. I count it all grace from God that He was pleased to take a selfish sinner like me and use me to comfort, encourage, and teach kids like yourself.

About not seeing the other side of me... yeah... it's a shame it has to be that way, isn't it? Much of that is my fault, and not speaking more openly about the Savior, as He is my life. Really, if people don't see that side of me, they don't really see me. But the sad thing is, our government misinterprets the Constitution's provision of freedom of speech and religion, such that if I was to talk about my faith in Christ during school, I could be fired and maybe worse. Isn't that twisted? In one sense that shouldn't matter to me (Acts 5:28-29). In another, I try to follow the rules that are set before me (Romans 13:1-2).

But now that school's out, I can speak freely without coming under the accusation that I was trying to force children to believe what I believe. But even though this side of me couldn't show through very much, I hope it showed through in my attitude and actions... at least somewhat. All of the "good" things I did, all of the comfort that you describe, any time I was smiling, anything profitable that I taught you, it was because of Jesus. He gets the glory for that, not me. It's important to me that you know that.

And yet, I'm far from a good example of Him. As I mentioned today, I did things that were wrong. I said things that were wrong. I was sinfully angry. And I can't blame anyone but myself for that. That's not how a Christian acts. That's not how Christ would be with students. And so that's why I asked for your (all of your) forgiveness. Being a Christian or even a pastor doesn't mean that someone is perfect (1 John 1:8). Far from it. It means that when one's imperfection is made known to them, that they admit that they're wrong and they ask forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
Not the perfect answer. Not by a long shot. But I pray that God blesses His Word, even the Word I've spoken to my students (Is 55:10-11).
But one exhortation that we can all receive from these thoughts is that we should strive to keep our behavior excellent among the Gentiles (1Pet 2:11-12), to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13-16). But when we fall short of excellence, when our light flickers, and when we're not as salty as we ought to be, let us remember that what restores our witness and what glorifies God is neither pretentious rationalization of sin nor good behavior to make up for it. Rather it is confession of our sinfulness, repentance, and the asking of forgiveness to those whom we've sinned against.

So rejoice! The Good News for saved sinners who still harbor indwelling sin is that the Christian life is about direction and not perfection. Though ever pressing on toward the goal for the prize for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, God does not blot us out in the absence of our absolute perfection! Praise God!

So in our imperfection, let us present to the world -- by God's grace -- what humility and poverty of spirit look like, all to His glory among the nations.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
- Proverbs 28:13 -

Blessed are the poor in spirit...
- Matthew 5:3 -

...that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

- Matthew 5:16 -

I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me and by which they have transgressed against Me. It will be to Me a
name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them.
- Jeremiah 33:8-9 -