Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I'm Flying To Minnesota On Monday

Please pray that the Holy Spirit would transform us.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Total Depravity, The U.S. President, And The Grace Of God

Yesterday I taught my systematic theology class about God's common grace: the grace of God by which He gives countless blessings to all people, blessings that are not a part of salvation. One sphere of God's common grace is the social realm, which includes government and societal norms. The following was my conclusion to that section.

I can’t end this section without giving praise to God for the testimony to His common grace that our new president is. There was a time before any of us were alive when I probably wouldn’t be allowed to be in the same classroom as you guys let alone be your teacher because of the color of my skin. There was a time when I wouldn’t have dared to be in the same church as you because of the color of my skin. Total depravity expressed itself in the malice and slander (Romans 1:29) that whites expressed towards blacks and vice-versa. Total depravity expressed itself when lynching reared its ugly head as the latest invention of evil (Romans 1:30) meant primarily for black people. In those days, it was unthinkable that whites and blacks could sit down at the same table, use the same bath rooms, drink from the same water fountains let alone love one another as brothers and sisters. It was a time of great despair. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr. at one of these times:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

I don’t agree with everything Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech. And I certainly don’t agree with everything that President Obama wants to do. The truth is, I didn’t even vote for him. But I was humbled the day after the inauguration and then especially after I read Dr. King’s speech when I realized that we live in the generation that Dr. King dreamed of. And we definitely don’t deserve to. I know I don’t especially because of how much I take it for granted. I wonder how many years away he thought his dream was when he made that speech in 1963? 20? 30? 40? 50? 100? 200? 500? I am living in the answer to his prayer. You are living in the answer to his prayer. Non-believers and believers in this generation are living in the answer to his prayer. Consider this. A black man, at one time treated as less than human, is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. And how did it start? It started with people whose consciences wouldn’t let them rest as long as slavery was legal and then the government instituting laws to make slavery illegal and then racial discrimination illegal so that now we live in a day when, though racism definitely has by no means completely disappeared, God has restrained it so that society isn’t anywhere near as manifestly racist as it once was. Our depravity is greater than we realize. The manifest racism that once existed in our society is a testimony to that. But God’s grace is greater than our depravity. Our new president is a testimony to that.

There is a great irony in this, at least from our weak and feeble human perspective through which we now see only through a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 12:12). Last Sunday was Sanctity of Life Sunday, the annual commemoration of Roe vs. Wade in which the trumpet is sounded to protect the lives of the unborn. Here is what our president wrote two days ago in light of this year's Roe vs. Wade anniversary:
On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.
For our president, abortion is about human rights, a woman's right to choose. If we look back to the institution of slavery, the roots of which are the very reason why the election of an African-American as U.S. president is so revolutionary, it was also about human rights. William Wilberforce and other men were fighting against slavery because they believed in a black person's right to be seen as one who is created in the image of God. But slavery as a human rights issue had two sides of the coin. In opposition to a black person's right to equal treatment as a human being was a white person's right to choose to own and keep slaves and do whatever they wanted with them. And in the same way, abortion as a human rights issue has two sides of the coin. In opposition to a woman's right to choose to end another's life is a baby's right to equal treatment as a human being (equal to humans outside of the womb for whom murder is illegal).

The irony in this all is that Barack Obama would not be president (and that would be the least of his losses) if the side of the coin that prevailed when the slavery coin landed, as it were, was the same side of the abortion coin he so strongly desires to see prevail in today's generation. Could it be any clearer? And in the same way that slavery was a testimony to total depravity (would anyone disagree with this?), abortion is a testimony to total depravity (murder: Mark 7:21, Romans 1:29).

You see, neither abortion nor slavery is ultimately about human rights. They are about Creator rights, Creator rights to create human beings that fully reflect His image in the world. These are rights that man has no business messing with.

And so we grieve and we celebrate because of our new president. We celebrate because of our new president because the Creator's rights that were opposed in the days of slavery are now being exalted because a black man, created in the image of God, can share in the mandate to have dominion over all (Genesis 1:27). And we grieve because of our new president because he today opposes the Creator's rights to wonderfully make little ones in His own image whenever He pleases (Psalm 139:13, Psalm 127:3). And the only reason his word can count in doing so is because the Creator's rights have been exalted for his benefit.

Though this is a great irony to us, one thing is for sure. It isn't an irony to God. This is by His infinitely wise design, a design through which no man can see. May our confidence be rooted in the fact that His grace always prevails, as can be seen today, to the praise of His glorious grace.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36
Related to this, the article John Piper wrote earlier this week after the inauguration is a must-read: The President, the Passengers, and the Patience of God.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Of First Importance

Amen, brother Piper. God is the gospel. Lord willing, I'll see you in Chicago.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Near Unto God

The fellowship of being near unto God must become reality, in the full and rigorous prosecution of life. It must permeate and give color to our feeling, our perceptions, our sensations, our thinking, our imagining, our willing, our acting, our speaking. It must not stand as a foreign factor in our life, but it must be the passion that breathes through our whole existence.

-Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Lamb

We are never done with the cross nor ever shall be. Its wonders will be always new and always fraught with joy. "The Lamb as it had been slain" will be the theme of our praise above. Why should such a name be given to him in such a book as the Revelation, which in one sense carried us far past the cross, were it not that we shall always realize our connection with its one salvation; we shall always be looking to it even in the midst of the glory; and we shall always be learning from it some new lesson regarding the work of him "in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace"? What will they who here speak of themselves as being so advanced as to be done with the cross say to being brought face to face with the slain Lamb, in the age of absolute perfection, the age of the heavenly glory?

You fool! Do you not know that the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ endures forever and that you shall eternally glory in it, if you are saved by it at all?

You fool! Will you not join in the song below, "To him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood"? Will you not join in the song above, "You were slain, and here redeemed us to God by your blood"? And do you not remember that it is "the Lamb as it had been slain" that "the seven spirits of God are sent forth into all the Earth"? (Rev. 5:6)

It is the Lamb who stands in the midst of the elders (Rev. 5:6) and before whom they fall down. "Worthy is the Lamb" is the theme of celestial song. It is the Lamb that opens the seals (6:1). It is before the Lamb that the great multitude stand clothed in white (7:9). It is the blood of the Lamb that washes the raiment white (7:14). It is by the blood of the Lamb that the victory is won (12:11). The book of life belongs to the Lamb slain (13:8). It was the Lamb that stood on the glorious Mount (14:1). It is the Lamb that the redeemed multitude are seen following (14:4), and that multitude is the first fruits unto God and unto the Lamb (14:4). It is the song of the Lamb that is sung in heaven (15:3). It is the Lamb that wars and overcomes (17:14). It is the marriage of the Lamb that is celebrated, and it is to the marriage supper of the Lamb that we are called (19:7, 9). The church is the Lamb's wife (21:9). On the foundations of the heavenly city are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). Of this city the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (21:27, 22:1, 3) sum up this wondrous list of honours and dignities belonging to the Lord Jesus as the crucified Son of God.

Thus the glory of Heaven revolves around the cross, and every object on which the eye lights in the celestial city will remind us of the cross and carry us back to Golgotha. Never shall we get beyond it, or turn our backs on it, or cease to draw from it the divine virtue which it contains.

The tree--be it palm, cedar, or olive--can never be independent on its roots, however stately its growth and however plentiful its fruit. The building--be it palace or temple--can never be separated from its foundation, however spacious or ornate its structure may be. So, never shall the redeemed be independent of the cross or cease to draw from its fullness.

In what ways our looking to the cross hereafter will benefit us; what the shadow of that tree will do for us in the eternal kingdom, I know not, nor do I venture to say. But it would seem as if the cross and the glory were so inseparably bound together that there cannot be the enjoyment of the one without the remembrance of the other. The completeness of the sacrificial work on Calvary will be matter for eternal contemplation and rejoicing long after every sin has been, by its cleansing efficacy, washed out of our being forever.

Shall we ever exhaust the fullness of the cross? Is it a mere stepping-stone to something beyond itself? Shall we ever cease to glory in it (as the apostle gloried), not only because of past, but because of present and eternal blessing? The forgiveness of sin is one thing, but is that all? The crucifixion of the world is another, but is that all? Is the cross to be a relic, useless though venerable, like the serpent of brass laud up in the tabernacle to be destroyed perhaps at some future time and called Nehushtan? (2 Kings 18:4). Or is it not rather like the tree of life which bears twelve manner of fruits and yields its fruit every month by the banks of the celestial river? Its influence here on Earth is transforming. But even after the transformation has been completed and the whole church perfected, shall there not be a rising higher and higher, a taking on of greater and yet greater comeliness, a passing from glory to glory--all in connection with the cross and through the never-ending vision of its wonders?

Of the new Jerusalem it is said, "The Lamb is the light [or lamp] thereof" (Rev. 21:23). The Lamb is only another name for Christ crucified. Thus it is the cross that is the lamp of the holy city; and with its light the gates of pearl, the jasper wall, the golden streets, the brilliant foundations, and the crystal river are all lighted up. The glow of the cross is everywhere, penetrating every part, reflected from every gem; and by its peculiar radiance transporting the dwellers of the city back to Golgotha as the fountainhead of all this splendor.

It is light from Calvary that fills the Heavens of heavens. Yet it is no dim religious light, for the glory of God is to lighten to it (Rev. 21:23). Its light is "like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal... and there is no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light" (Rev. 21:11; 22:5). Yes, we shall never be done with the cross and the blood; though, where all are clean and perfect in every sense, these will not be used for purging the conscience or justifying the ungodly.

It is the symbol both of a dying and of a risen Christ that we find in the Revelation. The "Lamb as it had been slain" indicates both. But the prominence is given to the former. It is the slain Lamb that has the power and authority to open the seals; implying that it was in his sin bearing or sacrificial character that he exercised his right, and that it was his finished work on which this right rested and by which it was acquired. It is as the Lamb that he is possessed with all wisdom and strength--"the seven horns and the seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev. 5:6); the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of omniscience and omnipotence.

The Lamb is one of his special and eternal titles; the name by which he is best known in Heaven. As such, we obey and honor and worship him; never being allowed to lose sight of the cross amid all the glories of the kingdom. As such we follow him, and shall follow him eternally. As it is written, "There are they that follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Rev. 14:4).

--Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness (p.33-36)
HT: Pure Church

I've never read this book. But I know it's worth the buy, for that quote alone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who's Bad?

Remember the Michael Jackson song?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Best Definition Of A Pastor...

...that I've ever heard outside of the Bible:
A pastor is a convalescing cripple that the Doctor has assigned to teach others how to use the crutches of grace.
Read the whole description of a hospital known as Bethlehem Baptist Church. Is there any doubt that this is one hospital where smiles and glad hearts abound? This desperate, recovering cripple couldn't help but smile as he read. =)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How Often Are You Intoxicated?

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Ephesians 5:18-21
Think about what Paul is saying here. He commands the believers at Ephesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And as we read it, he is no less commanding us. We are to be filled with the Holy Spirit. To not be filled with the Spirit is disobedience. And then he tells us what the effects are of being filled with Spirit: we’ll be addressing each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all our hearts, giving thanks always and for everything and submitting to one another. But what amazes me so much about what Paul writes here is that he compares being filled with the Spirit to being drunk with alcohol. He says, “Don’t get drunk with wine! Don’t fill yourself with wine! Fill yourself with the Holy Spirit!” In other words, “Get drunk with the Holy Spirit!” Think about this. Before I got saved, I had a few experiences of being drunk with alcohol. It causes you to act in ways that cause you to stand out from people who are sober. People usually know when you are drunk if they see you. You can’t usually be drunk and keep it a secret. Now apply that understanding of what it means to be drunk to how Paul wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The parallel is stunningly clear. He’s telling us to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that it causes us to act in ways that cause us to stand out from people who aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit. We are to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that it will be clear to all who see us that we are under the influence of something (though they may not know it’s a Someone). Our being filled with the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be something that only we as individuals are aware of. Others should be able to see it in the same way that they would be able to tell if we were drunk. It should spill forth in unrestrained encouraging and singing to the Lord and thanksgiving and humble service in the same way that drunkenness spills forth in uncontrolled, rude behavior. The sad thing is that many of us would probably view such public Spirit-filled behavior to be in some sense shameful (I know I often do) when it’s the drunken behavior that we should be ashamed of. We should be putting restraints on our drinking, not on singing to the Lord in front of others and submitting to them, even when it makes us foolish in the eyes of the world. In fact, hopefully I would be especially inclined to submit in that case so that it would be plain to those watching that I am not in control because they can't think of any good explanation for why I would behave in that way if I really was in control.

So, how often are you intoxicated?

How often am I intoxicated? Not nearly enough.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Prayer Of Mine For 2009

So you, by the help of your God, return,
Hold fast to love and justice,
And wait continually for your God.
Hosea 12:6
Father in heaven, thank You for these words spoken to Your covenant people Israel through Your prophet Hosea. Though they were first spoken hundreds of years ago, they have rung loud and clear in my heart on this last day of 2008. And as I stand on the horizon of the new year that we will welcome in just a few short hours, I would like to lift them up as the banner by which I pray You would carry me into and through this new year.

Father, You are my God. You are my help. There are no greater realities to me in the world than this. It seems like just yesterday that 2008 began. And if either of these realities ceased to be true for even one second, I wouldn’t be on the eve of welcoming a new year. So, I thank You for Your constancy. I ask with the psalmist, “What shall I render to You for all Your benefits to me?” And I answer with him, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD!” In response to all the help that You have been to me in 2008, O my God, I ask that You would be even more help to me in 2009. For surely as the measure of my days on this earth increase, Father, I don’t feel that I need Your help less and less. On the contrary, I feel the need for it more and more. I feel the need for You more and more. So be my help, I ask, to the praise of the glory of Your grace.

Of the many things You have taught me in 2008, I think I have grasped perhaps for the first time the bottomless depths of my sin. Redeemed I am because of the grace offered through the sacrifice of Your Son! And I praise You for Jesus, my wisdom and my righteousness and sanctification and redemption, with all that I am! But oh to be free from this body of death! Perhaps the reason Your apostle soared so high in the epistles that You inspired him to write is because he had sunk so low into depths that were dark and inescapable apart from Your grace. Our sin runs deep. Much deeper than we know. It’s so deceptive that it can convince us that we are doing Your will and even cause us to twist Your word to make it mean what You never meant for it to mean. Until the light of Your help shines on our path to show us the impending destruction we are headed for. Apart from You, Father, there is no repentance. Apart from You, Father, there is no returning. So please grant me more repentance, deeper repentance in 2009, Father. Grant me a greater suspicion of my heart. Against all the impulses of our society to dismiss and diminish the outrage and pervasiveness of sin, grant me to remember that there is nothing good that lives in me, that is in my flesh. Help me to be more concerned with the log in my own eye than the speck in my brother’s. Let me point the finger at myself rather than point the finger at others. And let the sinful behavior that I do see outside of myself cause me to recognize the sin that remains in my own heart so that I would grieve both their sins and my own. Humble me, O God, under Your mighty right hand.

Please do so by strengthening my grip of the old rugged cross that Your Son bore. Oh how weak my grip is! And so, by Your help, I sing: Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross I cling. May this be what it means for me to hold fast to love and justice in 2009. Father, I know not the meeting place of love and justice apart from the cross of Your Son. So when I hear those two words in the same sentence, may I see Him hanging on that tree for my sins. Thank You that You so loved the world that You sent Your only begotten Son to be put forward as a propitiation for our sins in order that You might be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Your gospel is summed up in love and justice. Forbid that I would lose either in a day when one is so much more widely embraced than the other. Spare me from trivializing Your gospel in compromising either, for the sake of my soul. Few things scare me more than singing about this love and justice demonstrated at the cross without any movement in my affections. So grant me the grace, I pray, to fight the familiarity with Your glorious gospel that daily aims to settle into my heart, destroying my joy and killing my soul. Rather unleash in my heart new wonders of Calvary that would daily thrill my soul and confirm that I am now living life eternal.

And finally, I pray that You would increase my faith in Your infinite reservoirs of future grace by making me one who continually waits for You. Thank You for opening my eyes to see how these two go together: faith and waiting. Where there is no waiting, there is no faith. And where there is no faith, there is no waiting. From cover to cover in the Bible You have given us, I cannot escape the innumerable exhortations You have given Your people to wait on You. So often in my life, I have applied these exhortations to specific requests that I desire for You to fulfill. But I am coming to learn that this is not what You intend when You charge us again and again to be a people who wait. Rather You call me to wait because this is what it means to live a life of faith, which is what my relationship has been with You from conversion and will be until Jesus comes or calls me home. In this life, I will always be waiting as long as my faith is in Jesus. No matter how many desires are fulfilled. How easily and often I forget this! Please remind me of this daily throughout 2009, for You know how weary I grow of waiting. Enable, empower, and energize me to keep on waiting by holding fast to the love and justice that You demonstrated 2000 years ago. Please grant me this grace to continually wait for You, that in and through every desire to be finished waiting for something would be the longing to be done waiting for the return of Your Son. You are the One we wait for, Lord Jesus. So more than any other desire that could be fulfilled in 2009, I pray with my whole heart that You would come. Even so, come Lord Jesus! In Your holy name I pray, Amen.