Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Lamb's Little Lambs

It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
Revelation 14:4
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed,
By the stream and o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee, 

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee. 

He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee

--William Blake
HT: Desiring God Blog

Friday, November 27, 2009

Faith Wages War Against Self-Sufficiency

The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'
Judges 7:2
All nations strengthen themselves by increasing their armories, their defense budget, and their international alliances. But Israel's ideal king limits these well-known sources of national strength (Deut. 17:16-20).

True faith works. As the stories of Rahab and Achan illustrate, faithful obedience is the prerequisite for success in [salvation history]. As instructed, Rahab gathers her household into her house and hangs the scarlet cord from the window, but Achan dishonors the Warrior by keeping some plunder for himself. The moral Governor of the universe will not place greedy people at the head of the nations. He blesses the Israelites only as they sanctify the earth in keeping with the covenant obligations he imposes on them.

I AM aims through holy war not only to judge his enemies, but to train his king and his people to fight the fight of faith (Judg. 3:1-4). David proves to be that ideal king as his psalms teach. When David counts his troops, God disciplines his son, and David repents in his song for the dedication of Solomon's temple (Ps. 30).

Deuteronomy calls for restraint in the king's accumulation of power, a principle shared by Agur who is well aware that he cannot handle much wealth without denying I AM as the true Reality (Prov. 30:7-9). The Bible does not specify how much is too much, because it is a matter of the heart--the inner witness of conscience--not of legislated percentages. Living by faith, however, is an alien notion in the world--almost as bizarre as running circles around the walls of Jericho.

In the economy of God's kingdom, one must be weak to be strong (2 Cor. 4; 12:10). Israel misses seeing the Messiah because they are looking in the wrong direction. They expect a Messiah that will rival Rome in pomp and power, not a crucified Messiah hanging on a Roman cross. They want human wealth and power for their security and significance, not the heavenly wealth and power that come from martyrdom and that alone endures and ultimately triumphs over evil.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 397.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Ultimate Thanksgiving

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...
Romans 1:21 (emphasis added)

John Piper writes that "missions exist because worship doesn't." On this Thanksgiving day, I think it would be appropriate to say that missions exist because true thanksgiving doesn't. Missions exists so that more and more peoples might say with the psalmist: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all of his benefits (Psalm 103:1,2)...
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Psalm 67:4,5

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pastor As Prophet-Shepherd

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel...
Galatians 1:6 little children, for who I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Galatians 4:19
A ministry that is all prophetic all the time will wear down a congregation. It will eventually defeat a congregation. A ministry that is all sympathetic all the time will coddle the congregation straight into the deadly pastures of unwarranted self-assurance and the false pastures of self-security. A pastor who would be a theologian knows when and how to be both convicting prophet and comforting good shepherd.

--Stephen J. Nichols, "Proclaiming the Image: Theology and Preaching," Gheens Lectures at Southern Seminary
HT: PureChurch

Friday, November 20, 2009

Then God Went Up From Him

God appeared to Jacob...and blessed him...Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.
Genesis 35:9, 13
One moment Jacob is in direct communion with the living God. And then the next moment God is gone. No, in a sense God is not gone because God is with Jacob wherever he goes (Genesis 35:3). But there is a sense in which God is gone. After meeting with Jacob to speak directly to him, God goes up from that place.

I wonder what Jacob must have felt like in that moment directly after God went up from that place. Lonely? Wishing that more of his life was lived consumed by majesty in the direct presence of God? That's how I would feel.

In fact, that's how I often feel.

Some mornings my communion with God makes me feel as though I'm standing in front of a burning bush. And yet on many mornings--most mornings--it feels like even though God had been right there in my room with me the day before, today God has gone up from me in this very place where he had spoken with me.

And often times it's discouraging. I wonder if Jacob felt discouraged in that moment. I wonder if he said or wanted to say, "LORD, where are you going? Wait LORD! Come back!"

Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. We don't know. The Scriptures don't tell us what he felt or said after God went up from him. But they tell us what he did: he set up a memorial in that location so that he would always remember that God really did appear to him in that place and he worshipped God by making an offering.

And that's how we must live our lives. We must, as it were, set up pillars to remember the God who has so powerfully manifested Himself to us because otherwise we forget. Our sinful nature will tomorrow tempt us to forget today's grace. And we must offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, this our daily act of worship, regardless of how we feel.

Because the reality of the life of Jacob is that those moments where God appeared to him were few and far between. Jacob lived most of his life with God having gone up from him, in the seemingly mundane lifestyle of "trust and obey"... day...after day...after day.

It was only into that life of discipline and faithfulness, continually clinging to the promises of God, that God was pleased in infinite grace to more manifestly reveal Himself to Jacob in what for him must have been cherished moments of grandeur and majesty. But Jacob couldn't initiate those especially holy moments no matter what he did. It was for God to initiate where and when He would appear to Jacob.

This greatly encourages me. When it seems like God has gone up from me, this is not abnormal. This is the norm. And, learning from Jacob, I can take heart, set up my pillars, and offer my worship to the Lord, knowing that even though He may have gone up from this place, He always answers me and really is with me wherever I go (Genesis 35:3). I do so eagerly looking forward to those days when God in His mercy will once again more manifestly, intimately, and powerfully reveal Himself to me and always ultimately anticipating that glorious day when God will fully and finally appear, never again to go up from us in this place.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Way We Are Conformed To The Image Of Jesus

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:29
Romans 8:29-30 paints God's purposes in redemption from beginning to end on the canvas of history. In eternity past, God set His love upon a people [foreknew them] because He wanted them to fulfill a purpose, to have a particular destiny [predestined them]. This purpose is clear. In all that God does in the lives of the people He has chosen from eternity past, He is working toward the ultimate goal of conforming them into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is God's ultimate reason for everything He brings into the lives of His people.

So, as those who are sons and daughters of God, nothing should be more important to us than that we be conformed to the image of Jesus. God's ultimate goal for our lives should be our ultimate goal for our lives.

Believing this should cause us to pray for God to conform us to the image of Jesus. And it should cause us to think about how it is that we ourselves pursue, or work out (Philippians 2:12, 13), being conformed to the image of Jesus.

What does it mean to be conformed to the image of Jesus? One way we might answer this question is to say that to be perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus is to be a perfect mirror reflection of who Jesus is in the way He thinks, speaks, and lives.
He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God... He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell...
Colossians 1:15,18, 19 (emphasis added)
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. And we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Our destiny is to be a perfect image of the perfect image of God.

How is it that Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God? Because all the fullness of God dwells in Him. Everything that God is, Jesus also is, fully and perfectly. All of the attributes of God are found in Jesus.

And when Jesus rose from the dead, He became the firstborn of a new race that would resemble Him and make Him to be preeminent in all things because everything about His people would point to Him. Through the parallel ideas of Jesus being the firstborn, it's clear that Romans 8:29 is Paul's way of saying to the the Romans the exact same thing he says to the Colossians in Colossians 1:18b. God's ultimate goal in the lives of His people is to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ so that in all things Jesus Christ will be preeminent. In other words, God's ultimate goal in the lives of His people is the glory of His name through Jesus Christ.

If God's ultimate goal for our lives is to make us a perfect reflection of Jesus, and all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus, then another way to say it is that God's ultimate goal for our lives is for all the fullness of God to dwell in us just like it dwells in Jesus.

So now the question becomes, how do I become filled with more and more of the fullness of God? Paul tells us through one of his prayers exactly how it is that we come to be filled with the fullness of God:
I bow my knees before the Father...that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19 (emphasis added)
This prayer is packed with rich petition. But there are a couple of things that are particularly relevant. Paul's ultimate goal in this prayer is that the people he is praying for be filled with all the fullness of God, which essentially means that they be conformed to the image of Jesus. There is a line of progression in his prayer that builds up to this goal of being conformed to the image of Jesus and something in particular that he directly connects to our being conformed to the image of Jesus: our knowledge of God's love for us. Paul prays that the Ephesians grow in their understanding and experiential grasp of God's love for them because there is a direct connection between their experiential knowledge of God's love for them and their being filled with all the fullness of God (same phrase used to describe Jesus in Colossians 1:19!). The more they are growing in experiencing God's love for them, the more they will grow in being filled with the fullness of God. Or, to say it another way, we can only grow in being conformed to the image of Christ to the extent that we are growing in our experience of God's love for us.

Jesus knew that His father loved him (John 5:20, John 17:24). He knew this perfectly. That's why He is filled with all the fullness of God. He's not like us. So often when we say we know that God loves us we are speaking about something we know intellectually rather than something we know experientially. Jesus experientially knew that His father loved Him and He knew this perfectly. None of us experientially knows Gods' love for us perfectly and I would argue that it is this failure to know God's love for us perfectly that is the root of all of our sin. If we had perfect experiential knowledge of Gods' love for us, we wouldn't sin. That's why Paul and Jesus (John 17:26) pray for us to have perfect experiential knowledge of God's love for us.

Yes, as God's children, for most of us the knowledge that God loves us is more than just intellectual. It is intensely experiential. But no matter how high our experiential knowledge of God's love for us is, God's love for us is still higher. No matter how long, God's love is still longer. No matter how deep, God's love is still deeper. No matter how broad, God's love is still broader.

And so we must labor to know ourselves loved by God more than we currently know. Oh, how He loves us! And as we grow in our experiential knowledge of God's love for us, we will at the same time be becoming more and more conformed to the image of Jesus. This is one way (and perhaps the main way) we grow in being conformed to the image of Jesus: by growing in our grasp of God's love for us. We must continually grow in our grasp of God's love for us because we will never grasp it fully enough in this life.

But one day, we will know that love perfectly, we will be filled with the fullness of God, we will be conformed to the image of Christ, and we will no longer sin. In other words, we'll be glorified.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 8:29-30
So please grant us, Father, according to the riches of Your glory to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in our inner beings, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith--that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God, that we might be conformed more and more into the image of Your Son, who perfectly knew from eternity past Your love for Him that cannot even be described by dimensions because it transcends every dimension. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Christian Husband's Painful Pleasure

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...
Ephesians 5:25 (emphasis added)
The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the church—read on—and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25).

This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the church has no beauty but what the bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.

The chrism [anointing, consecration] of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man's marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of the bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence.

As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labors to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears.

--C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p.105-106.
Jesus...for the joy [pleasure] that was set before him endured the cross [pain].
Hebrews 12:2

Out of the anguish of his soul [pain] he shall see and be satisfied [pleasure].
Isaiah 53:11
Like Jesus, the sweetness of a husband's pleasure in marriage emerges from the depths of the pain he endures for the sake of his bride. It doesn't get weightier than that.

HT: Desiring God Blog

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Doctrines Of Grace

It was these beliefs which were the source of his zeal.

The doctrines of our election, and free justification in Christ Jesus are daily more and more pressed upon my heart. They fill my soul with holy fire and afford me great confidence in God my Saviour.

I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave freewill in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. My soul, come not thou near the secret of those who teach such things...I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Oh, the excellency of the doctrine of election and of the saints' final perseverance! I am persuaded, till a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself, but when convinced of these, and assured of their application to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed!...Love, not fear, constrains him to obedience.

To Whitefield the doctrines of grace were not separate tenets, to be accepted or rejected one by one, but a series of truths so joined together as to compose a great system of theology.


Though he sometimes used the word Calvinism, he did not give great place to it. He made much more of the fact that the views he held were those he had discovered in the Bible and he more frequently referred to them as the doctrines of grace.

Such strong and solemn convictions must perforce have their part in Whitfield's public ministry. As long as he had held to these doctrines with lesser understanding of their importance, the policy of 'Silence on both sides,' which he had suggested for John Wesley [who abhorred the doctrines of grace] and himself, seemed advisable, but now that he saw them to be so essential to the whole Christian revelation, he had no choice but to preach them. 'Henceforth, I hope I shall speak boldly and plainly,' he wrote, 'and not fail to declare the whole counsel of God.' This might entail conflict with some of his dearest friends, but he was quick to assert that his part therein would be only on the basis of presenting the Scriptures: 'Election, free grace, free justification...I intend to exalt and contend for more and more; not with carnal weapons -- that be far from me -- but with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God! No sword like that!'

--Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Biography: Volume 1, p.407, 409
No sword like that. Amen, brother.

Friday, November 13, 2009

God Cares About Your Body

After Rob and I began discussing the healing of the soul and the healing of the body last week (see comments), Piper weighs in:

So whose side does he take? Rob's? Mine? Both?

(Not that there are any sides as long as we trust Jesus =P )

(And not that his opinion is the right one...)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Than Sufficient...

But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" He said, "But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.
Exodus 3:11, 12 (emphasis added)
Significantly, God does not answer Moses' surface question by reassuring him of his educational background, leadership potential, or other talents that might qualify him for this job. To Moses' question, "Who am I?" God responds with, "I will be with you." The promise of divine presence is more than sufficient for all challenges and obstacles. Moses' qualifications are irrelevant--God will make it happen. The promise of divine presence signifies the transfer of the holy, consuming fire from the bush to Moses and his people.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 364.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Election and Embracing Suffering

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
John 15:18, 19 (emphasis added)
In addition to trusting and worshiping the covenant-keeping God, the beneficiaries have to embrace the darkness attendant to their election. In [the case of Old Testament Israel they had] to embrace the hardness of Pharaoh's heart just as the people of God later embraced the hardness of the Roman Empire and of the Holy Roman Empire, even to death, and as the Mennonites embraced the hardness of Stalin. Christ warns, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). The chosen have to embrace that truth in order to participate in God's salvific work.

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 359.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Lord, Please Have Mercy On My People...

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people.
Exodus 2:11

By faith, Moses when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter [an Egyptian], choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God [his people, the Hebrews] than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
Hebrews 11:24-27

HT: PureChurch

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Urban Church Planting: All Things For Him

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:15-20

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What Would Jesus Do?

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Mark 1:14, 15

I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.
Luke 4:43
Within the past couple of months, I just finished reading When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor...And Yourself. Here are a couple of the main takeaways I got from the book:
  • When we talk about poverty alleviation, what do we mean? Getting medical care to those who are in need? Feeding the hungry? Finding housing for the homeless? This book taught me that my definition of poverty alleviation isn't clear or comprehensive enough. Out of all the things I learned from this book, nothing was more significant for me than coming away with a biblically comprehensive definition of poverty alleviation. This definition is the foundation upon which this book builds and the banner that flies over everything else that the authors write so everything else depends on it. In my own words, to alleviate poverty is to enable men and women to glorify God and enjoy Him forever by working with them to restore in them (and ourselves) four relationships that were destroyed by the Fall: relationship with God, relationship with self, relationship with creation, and relationship with others. Failing to take into account any of these relationships as we attempt to alleviate poverty will inevitably lead to us hurting rather than helping the poor...and ourselves.
  • All attempts in poverty alleviation essentially fall into one of three categories: relief, rehabilitation, or development. One of the biggest problems with the way we do poverty alleviation in the West is that the majority of our attempts to alleviate poverty fall into the category of relief. The reason this is a problem is because the majority of the poverty alleviation that the world needs is not relief. Relief should be immediate, temporary, and seldom, usually in response to an emergency or crisis. That means that the majority of our poverty alleviation should be rehabilitation or development. And even when we do engage in poverty alleviation by relief, we should do so developmentally.
  • Avoid paternalism. In poverty alleviation, never, never, never do something for others that they can do for themselves because in so doing we treat them as inferior and hinder them from fully embracing and living in the reality that they are created in the image of God. In so doing, we damage rather than restore their their relationship with God, relationship with self, and relationship with us.
  • In poverty alleviation, don't begin by asking people what they need. This implies that they are broken and we are not and that we have what they need to fix them, creating that inferiority/superiority dynamic that prevents them from being able to fully walk in being those who are created in the image of God. Instead of beginning by asking what they don't have, begin by asking what they do have to give in order for them to recognize they dignity, abilities, and gifts that they have to offer as men and women who are created in the image of God.
  • In all poverty alleviation, the focus is people and processes, not products!
  • In poverty alleviation, don't create blueprints to apply to people but take the time to develop processes suitable for them in their contexts and based on their knowledge, though this will definitely take longer than just developing a generalized blueprint for poverty relief that applies to all the poor. This requires time and relationship investment, which is really hard work!
This book is phenomenal. I was challenged page after page as I realized how little I've thought through what it means to love and care for the poor in a holistic sense. And even though this book is written specifically to address poverty alleviation, the theological foundations the authors lay--in defining poverty alleviation as restoring the four key relationships that were broken by the Fall--gave me a deeper grasp of the gospel and has been transforming the way I see the world in general and not just as I think about poverty alleviation. The reality, as the authors state, is that, according to this definition of poverty alleviation, every person in the world is poor and in need of poverty alleviation, though in different ways and in differing degrees as relating to each of the four relationships. Therefore, we don't do poverty alleviation to others or for others, but rather we engage in poverty alleviation alongside with others.

That being said, I believe this book would be tremendously beneficial for anyone to read. It's thoroughly biblical, experiential, and balanced. In a day where the church so often finds itself split with some Christians focused on the here and now of the kingdom and other Christians focused on the yet to come of the kingdom, this book will challenge both sides to pursue the both/and of the gospel of the kingdom in its fullness. Jesus came for nothing less and He calls us to nothing less:
The mission of Jesus was and is to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, to say to one and all, "I am the King of kings and Lord of lords, and I am using My power to fix everything that sin has ruined"...

[Some seek] the King without the kingdom [those focused on the afterlife]...[Others seek] the kingdom without the King [those focused on the here and now]. The church needs a Christ-centered, fully-orbed, kingdom perspective to answer the question: "What would Jesus do?"

--Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor...And Yourself, p.32, 38