07/18/13

Fool Complains He Can’t Enter Eden by Five Gates at Once

Open gate Fool Complains He Cant Enter Eden by Five Gates at Once

I could never mix in the common murmur of the rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion’s) a vulgar anticlimax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman. To complain that I could only be married once was like complaining that I could only be born once. It was incommensurate with the terrible excitement of which one was talking. It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. Polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex; it is like a man plucking five pears in mere absence of mind.

- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy



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07/16/13

The Apostle Paul’s Two Part Answer to Tolstoy

Rembrandt+ +The+Apostle+Paul+ +Detail+face The Apostle Pauls Two Part Answer to Tolstoy

This is the sixth post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

 The key issue in Tolstoy’s question is whether our inevitable physical death destroys all meaning in life, or if there is something of permanence. Paul addresses the consequences of both alternatives in his letters.

1. If there is no resurrection of the dead:

What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”(1 Corinthians 15:32)

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only,we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

2. In light of the resurrection of Christ:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:42-49)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)



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07/14/13

Leo Tolstoy’s Question

161443182 Leo Tolstoys Question

This is the fifth post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

My question, the question that had brought me to the edge of suicide when I was fifty years old, was the simplest question lying in the soul of every human being, from a silly child to the wisest of the elders, the question without which life is impossible; such was the way I felt about the matter.

The question is this: “What will come of what I do today and tomorrow? What will come of my entire life?”

Expressed differently, the question may be: Why should I live? Why should I wish for anything or do anything?

Or to put it still differently: Is there any meaning in my life that will not be destroyed by my inevitably approaching death?

Leo Tolstoy, A Confession



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07/11/13

Conflict Between Hope in the Resurrection and Sexual Immorality

detail stone work 500 Conflict Between Hope in the Resurrection and Sexual Immorality

This is the fourth post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

I didn’t see this one coming.

I’ve recently been mulling over the centrality of the resurrection of Christ, a matter of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice, our forgiveness of sins, and eternal life hing on this one event. Belief in the resurrection has a waterfall impact on all of life.

But I wasn’t expecting Paul to directly connect resurrection with fleeing sexual impurity. How do those fit side by side? Apparently, like this:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. (1 Corinthians 6:13-18)

The line of thought could be summed up like this:

  1. Christ is the resurrection and the life, therefore all those united with Christ are raised to life in Christ by his power and will never die (John 11:25-26).
  2. As much as resurrection is the result of union with Christ, so too should be a flight from sexual immorality, for Christ is not to be joined to a prostitute.

Christ died to sin. Therefore we die to sin in Christ and are set free from it.

Christ was raised. Therefore we will be raised in Christ to eternal life.

A second theme has developed in my search for bedrock and ballast: Union with Christ. Our belief in the resurrection of Christ and our union with him underpins the whole of our Christian life and battle with sin.



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07/10/13

Dealing with the Uncertainty of Future Rewards

tumblr luudfvuAlv1r1mb1vo1 1280 Dealing with the Uncertainty of Future Rewards

This is the third post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)

Do you often find it difficult to keep focus on heavenly rewards? I do. But God is not shy about offering them. Take Matthew 6 for example:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

So why do we struggle to lay hold of promises of future rewards? I believe the first, though incomplete, answer can be summed up in two parts:

1. Our perception of value is so skewed we are incapable of accurately evaluating spiritual rewards. We place a blinding emphasis on physical that diminishes the value of spiritual as a result of the fall.

2. If the value of the ultimate reward is diminished, so is our willingness to make current sacrifices in order to achieve the reward.

But there is something more. Our most significant,  deep-rooted struggle is to fully embrace the reality of the resurrection of the dead and everlasting life. If our lives are finite, then we fall under a self-induced tyranny of the urgent. As Paul wrote, If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The cure we require must come through the Spirit who instructs us as Tutor, enabling us to see clearly, to value properly, and to believe wholeheartedly. Our battle is with unbelief, and our victory is through the Spirit in Christ.



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07/9/13

This World Will Dissolve

20130709 2203251 This World Will DissolveThis is the second post in the Ballast & Bedrock series, a search for faith-strengthening truth.

***

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (2 Peter 3:11-12)

Peter’s argument is as sharp as it is straightforward. He calls our wandering hearts to refocus, knowing with certainty that this world will be set on fire and dissolved. This terrifying reality – that all we see and often live for here on earth will burn – is joined with the sweet assurance of a new creation.

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11)

I continue to search for passages of Scripture that detail God’s promises and declarations as I seek ballast and bedrock for my restless, anxious heart. Maybe you are looking for the same thing. And maybe you know of a few good passages to suggest. I stumbled over these verses quite unexpectedly today. Feel free to leave references in the comment section or shoot me a message if you have ideas.



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07/8/13

Certain Completion & The Search for Ballast and Bedrock

Stone Rubble Foundation Walls 39 Certain Completion & The Search for Ballast and Bedrock

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

There can be no greater cure for an anxious, restless heart than to meditate on the certainties presented in the word of God.

This post begins what I hope to be a daily journey through the New Testament in search of bedrock and ballast. Starting with the concrete promise that the work being done in my heart right now is being done by God himself (Philippians 2:13) with a completion at the day of Jesus Christ as certain as God’s faithfulness.

Here is a list of what I’ve covered so far:

1. This World Will Dissolve

2. Dealing with the Uncertainty of Future Rewards

3. Conflict Between Hope in the Resurrection and Sexual Immorality

4. Leo Tolstoy’s Question

5. The Apostle Paul’s Two Part Answer to Tolstoy



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04/21/13

Gift of Renewed Thirst

A prayer by Scotty Smith based on Psalm 63:1-5, from his book Everyday Prayers.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, (Psalm 63:1-5, ESV)

Dear Jesus, we come before you today asking for the gift of thirst. Renew and intensify our thirst for you. Make us so faint that unless you hydrate our hearts with the gospel, we will surely perish.

It’s a perilous thing to no longer deeply crave fellowship with you, Jesus. It’s a deceptive thing to enjoy, but no longer actually need you. It’s a deceitful thing to be satisfied with correct theology about you, without experiencing rich communion with you. It’s a demonic thing to find our ultimate satisfaction in anyone or anything else but you.

Only your steadfast love is better than life, Jesus—only your contra-conditional, irrepressible affection for us. Nothing else will do. You have created a gospel-shaped vacuum in our hearts—a screaming empty place that fits only you. Forgive us when we try to cram human love, creature comforts, or anything else into that place. Don’t let us be so easily satisfied. Give us redemptive discontent until our hearts rest again in you.

Jesus, we’re not just asking this for ourselves as individuals, but for our churches as well. Forgive us when we get so organized, creative and “right” that we no longer miss your presence. Is it really you we are worshipping, or are we just worshipping worship? Is it really you we are serving, or are we just serving ourselves as religious consumers?

If you actually “left the house,” how long would it take before we knew the difference? In all honesty, Jesus, how much of what we do in our churches doesn’t require the Holy Spirit at all? Show us, convict us, forgive us, and change us.

Let us see and experience your power and glory in fresh ways, Jesus. We want to lift our hearts, voices, hands and whole lives to you, as a sacrifice of praise. May the truth and grace of the gospel satisfy us as fat and rich food. So very Amen, we pray, with longing hearts.



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04/20/13

Resurfacing

Fishing with a bobber Resurfacing

I am resurfacing a bit like a wobbly cork with a fish on the line. My schedule is unpredictable but I do hope to be back here writing on the weekends.

Themes I would like to (re)explore, in the form of questions:

Where does power for the Christian life come from? Sure, I have a dusty theological answer tucked away in the archives. What I want – what my soul needs – is to discover again exactly what God says in His own words. I have a hunch that the answer offers more hope than I remember.

How can I be satisfied and content? No sense in denying the restlessness I have felt recently. Time to return to the well.

Are Christian disciplines necessary? There are those around me who place much less emphasis on Christian disciplines than I have in the past. I am less interested in an argument about legalism and more interested in highlighting whatever it takes to have a real relationship with the Living God.

What has God promised? I want to put some meat on the bones of my scrawny prayer life. Maybe you do too. I am pretty sure that if I stop trodding in the same self-absorbed circles, there is great joy in adopting the priorities of God as reflected in His promises.

To be continued.



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04/14/13

Permanently Casual Relationships are Killing Your Ministry (and Your Soul)

The following is an excerpt from Paul Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. No preamble needed – Tripp speaks well for himself.

Getting to Know People

Everyone felt like they knew Betty and Brad. Their presence was so central to the life of our church that no gathering seemed official without them. I had spent many hours in meetings with Brad. I had been impressed by how quietly practical he was. We had picnicked together as families, shared evening meals, and worked together on Christian school projects. We knew their children and their extended family well.

Late one autumn evening, Brad called me to go out for coffee, making it clear that he wanted to do it right then. I heard the urgency in his voice, so I got dressed and we met at a local diner. I arrived first and as I saw Brad enter the diner, I knew that something was seriously wrong.

Brad sat down and said, “I don’t know where to start. I guess I should have done this a long time ago, but I kept thinking that we could work things out. Now we’re in a mess and I don’t know what to do.” He seemed both discouraged and angry. “I’ve put up with her stuff for years,” he said. “It has been an everyday thing, constant demands, and when I don’t do things just the way she wants, there’s hell to pay! There is never a day that I am not in trouble for something. She has called me horrible things in front of our children. Once a month she threatens to leave. For the last week she has been so depressed that she hasn’t gotten out of bed, except to eat a cracker or go to the bathroom. The kids keep asking what is wrong with Mommy, and I’ve made up a thousand stories to cover for her in front of our friends.”

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Brad went on, “A few years ago Betty was making supper and was very angry that I couldn’t help her on a project that night. In the middle of our argument, she threw a saucepan lid at me. I ducked and it flew by me and broke our kitchen window. When I heard that window break, I guess I lost it. I rushed over and slapped her across the face. She responded by kicking me in the groin and we launched into the first of many physical battles. We have been physically fighting ever since. We have broken most of our pottery and lamps and put holes in almost every wall in the house. I have hit Betty so hard that she had to stay out of sight for a week so the bruises could heal. Most of the injuries that you thought were the result of my clumsiness at home repair actually came from Betty.”

“It has really affected our children,” he continued. “Our three boys swing from whiney and demanding to fearful and timid. They hide whenever they feel like trouble is brewing. They almost always disappear when I am expected home. Recently, when we are in the middle of a fight, our seven-year-old has taken to hitting and kicking whichever off us is closest, while screaming, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.’ Betty is constantly telling me that I am destroying the children, yet she regularly points out to them the things that I do wrong. I am here tonight because I don’t know where Betty is. We had the most horrible fight we have ever had. Our house looks like a war zone. We fought from room to room. We said the most awful things we could think of and we threw everything we could get out hands on. She is out there now, insanely angry, with all of the debit and credit cards, and a huge bottle of wine.”

It was hard for me to pay attention because Brad’s story was so disorienting. I had known this man for years, yet I knew nothing of what he was telling me now. My mind went to the many hours we had spent with this family. I had assumed I knew them, so I had never asked anything that would give them an opportunity to say anything about the true state of their personal lives. I wondered how this could have gone on for so long without anyone knowing. In that moment I realized that the most personal and important parts of our lives fly under the radar of our typical relationships in the body of Christ. We live frenetically busy lives with activity-based friendships, punctuated only by brief conversations with each other. Now I was sitting across from a friend I did not know.

Breaking Through the Casual

Have you ever thought you knew someone well, only to discover significant detailed that you did not know at all? Have you ever started to share a story from your own life and been interrupted by someone who said, “I know exactly what you mean!” – but clearly didn’t? Think of someone you believe you know well. Try to identify someone of the gaps in your understanding of his or her story. How much do you know of your friend’s family of origin? Do you know where he struggles in his relationship with God or in his understanding of the Scriptures? What do you know about the quality of her marriage or the struggles she experiences with her husband? If he is single, do you know how he spends his hours alone? IF she is a mother, does she think she is a failure? Could your friend by fighting disintegrating relationships at work or long-term problems with his extended family? Perhaps his heart is driven by lust or eaten up with bitterness. Might she harbor deep regret over a past decision or jealousy over the successes of a friend? Are their financial woes or physical problems?

We tend to have permanently casual relationships that never grow into real intimacy. There are things we know about each other, but they fool us into thinking that we know the human beings who live within the borders of those details. So we fail to pursue them with good questions. This sets the stage for all kinds of misunderstandings. Our effectiveness as ambassador is blunted because we don’t know others well enough to know where change is needed or where God is actively at work.

Think about it. Most of the conversations you had today were mundane and rather self-protective. We spend most of our time talking about things that are of little personal consequence – the weather, politics, sports, and entertainment. There is nothing wrong with this expect that it allows us to hide who we really are. A person may be terribly distraught about her marriage, yet when people ask how she is, she will quickly answer, “Fine, how are you?” The person asking doesn’t really want to know and the person answering doesn’t really want to tell. They are co-conspirators in a casual relationship. Whether it is over the back of a pew, in passing at a school function, or over the phone, we are skilled at newsy but personally protective conversations.
Shallow roots Permanently Casual Relationships are Killing Your Ministry (and Your Soul)

There are many reasons why our relationships are trapped in the casual. One is that, in our busyness, we despair of squeezing ten dollar conversations into ten cent moments. There are times when we would like to tell our story, but there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to do so. We all deal with the disconnect between our public reputation and our private struggles. We wonder what people would think if they really knew us.

Another reason we keep things causal is that we buy the lie that we are unique and struggle in ways that no one else does. We get tricked by people’s public personas and forget that behind closed doors they live real lives just like us. We forget that life for everyone is fraught with disappointment and difficulty, suffering and struggle, trials and temptation. No one is from a perfect family, no one has a perfect job, no one has perfect relationships, and no one does the right thing all the time. Yet we are reluctant to admit our weaknesses to ourselves, let along to others. We don’t want to face what our struggles reveal about the true condition of our hearts.

The Bible teaches that people love darkness rather than light because their actions are evil. We all find the searching light of true friendship a bit intimidating. True friendship calls you out of the darkness of personal privacy into the loving candor of mutual concern. It moves you from being a sealed envelope to an open letter. The best relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust-giving and truth-speaking.

Another reason we rarely talk beyond a casual level is because we do not see. The Bible has much to say about how blind we are. Sin is deceitful, causing us to see others with greater clarity than we see ourselves. Because we tend to believe our own arguments and buy into our own excuses, we are often unaware of how great our need for help really is. We can’t bare what we don’t see. We think we are okay but wonder how the person next to us can be so unaware of his own sin. This not only distorts our perspective on ourselves, but shapes the way we tell our story to others. It may even lead us to question whether we need to tell our story at all.

Perhaps the simplest reason for our lack of self-disclosing candor is that no one asks. The typical rhythms of our lives mitigate against going below the surface. In the busyness of life it seems intrusive to ask questions that cannot be answered without personal self-disclosure. Yet there is a way in which we all hunger for relationships of that quality. These are the relationships in which the Redeemer does his good work.

We must not let ourselves become comfortable with the casual, where ministry is limited to offering general principles that would fit anyone’s story. The genius of personal ministry is that it is personal. It can take the grand themes of the Great Story and apply them with utter specificity to the particulars of an individual’s life. Personal ministry is not preaching to a very small congregation. It is the careful ministry of Christ and his Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend. This means that effective, God-honoring, hear-changing personal ministry is dependent on a rich base of personal information. You cannot minister well to someone you do not know.



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