Friday, July 29, 2011

Reflections on Ezekiel

I’ve been reading through the book of Ezekiel in my personal devotions lately. I thought it might be helpful (at least to me) if I were to blog some reflections from these times. I have a couple thoughts from the first few chapters that I may develop later, but today I wanted to share some reflections from Ezekiel 5-7.

In sending Ezekiel to speak to Jerusalem in chapter five, God speaks in no uncertain terms of the destruction that will come. Because of their gross and ongoing rebellion against him, God proclaims through the prophet in Ezekiel 5:8-9, “Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again,”

Now the annals Greek and Roman mythology are replete with examples of gods who become upset at the actions of mortals, and then lash out in anger against them. But we need to understand that what is occurring here is quite different. Far from being the vindictive ragings of a spiteful deity, what we see here are the declarations of the impending righteous judgments of a holy God, judgments that come with a very specific purpose.

What exactly is this purpose? From 5:13 to the end of chapter 7, there is a constant refrain, repeated no fewer than ten times: “I am the LORD.” In seven of these instances, the phrase follows a slightly more expanded formula, pointing us even more directly to the reason that stands behind the LORD’s actions: “They/you shall know that I am the LORD.”  Phrases indicating that someone will “know that I am the LORD” are found in the pages of Scripture 88 times. An astounding 72 of these occur in Ezekiel. Clearly, one of the primary purposes God is trying to accomplish in this book is that people would “know that I am the Lord.”

If we are to truly understand the depth of meaning in this phrase though, the first occasions on which it is used go a long way to helping us. In Exodus 6:7 God says to the nation of Israel, as they are bound in Egyptian slavery, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”  One chapter later, God shows that his desire for such knowledge is not limited to the people of Israel when he proclaims in Exodus 7:5, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

What binds these two uses together is the fact that it is through God's mighty works that both his people and the nations might know who he his: He is the LORD. So his acts of judgment are not a matter of vindictiveness, but of vindication. They are the means by which they (and we) might see who he truly is. This is especially true of his act of judgment at the cross, for there we see most clearly the nexus of his perfect holiness and his steadfast love.

Far too often, I fear, we fall dreadfully short of bringing these two concepts together. Our relativistic culture tends to emphasize the fact that “God is love” (which of course is 100% true) but neglects the fact that God is also holy and demands our holiness (which is equally true). We want to set our own standards, ignoring God's revealed will, and going on thinking that he's content to have people merely give intellectual ascent to the possibility of his existence.

I suppose that there are also some within the church who react to this by swinging too far in the opposite direction, always emphasizing God's holy requirements, but doing so at the expense of his perfect love. Let me be clear that this is equally wrong. God wants us to do neither of these, but rather is jealous that he receive not only partial glory, but the glory due his name.

Even in this, there is a nuance which we need to understand. When we demand that credit be given to us (even when we've earned it) it is usually a betrayal of the fact that we want to be reassured of our own value and adequacy. For God though, when he demands glory, it is not because he has an inferiority complex. Rather it is because he rightly realizes his superiority, and knows that what is best for us is to realize it too.

Friday Fun: They Didn't Invent Whispering For Compliments

Old favorite Brian Regan on the perils of aging...

(HT: The Blazing Center)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...D.A. Carson on Mystery

"Some of us have absorbed a form of theology with all the answers. We can offer standard answers to every problem that comes along, especially if the problem is afflicting some other person. Our certainty and dogmatism give us assurance, our systematic theology so well articulated, that we leave precious little scope for mystery, awe, unknowns. Then, when we ourselves face devastating catastrophe, and we find that the certainties we have propounded with such confidence offer us little relief, our despair is the bleaker: we begin to question the most basic elements of our faith. Had we recognized that in addition to great certainties there are great gaps in our comprehension, perhaps we would have been less torn up to find that the mere certainties proved inadequate in our own hour of need."

D.A. Carson
How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 26.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Willimon on the Power of the Word

"Sometimes the power of the Word is not evident.  Jeremiah was a laughing stock; Hosea, a cuckold; and Ezekiel, an exile -- which may be God's way of telling us that no one can judge the power of God's word by its results.  God is in charge of the results.  It is enough for us to proclaim the word and to believe that in doing so we change the world whether the world knows it or not, whether we know it or not, simply by standing and speaking the words we have been given to say, words of love and challenge, words of judgment and grace, words of such truth and terrible clarity that sometimes we tremble to say them out loud."

William Willimon
Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Gospel in Three Words

Knowing God"Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that." 

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 214

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Friday Fun: The Family Workout

Taking exercising as a family to a whole new level...

(HT: Jay Keywood)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Paige Benton Brown on God's Goodness

"Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place?  The answer is a resounding NO.  God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me.  His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person -- not an attitude but an attribute."

Paige Benton Brown

(HT: Scott Sauls)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"To Bring Small But Significant Redemption..."

It has now been almost two months since one of the deadliest tornados on record hit Joplin, Missouri.  In recent years, we've seen a number of natural disasters, causing massive destruction, but this one affected me more than any of the others.

Perhaps it is because it was in my native state, perhaps it was because I have family members who used to live in Joplin, or maybe it's because we stop there numerous times each year on our way to and from visiting family.  Regardless of the reason, it impacted me profoundly, and in addition to numerous tweets and status updates, I have posted a couple blog entries here and here regarding Joplin.

Today, I wanted to add one more.  Last month, my friend Kermit Summerall and the folks at Veritas (a ministry to college students at my alma mater, the University of Missouri) went to Joplin to help in the relief effort.  Their visit was chronicled in the short video below.  I especially appreciate Kermit's words, beginning about two minutes into the video.

Veritas assists in Joplin recovery from The Crossing on Vimeo.

The Gospel, Mission, and the Church

At this year's Gospel Coalition Conference, Moody hosted a discussion between Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, Jonathan Leeman and Trevin Wax on Gospel, Mission, and the Church.  At almost an hour, it is a little longer than most of the things I post here, but it is, in my opinion, a conversation that helps us greatly in the definition of our categories.

(HT: Timmy Brister)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Valley of Vision: Contentment

Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & DevotionsSanctify me in every relation, office, transaction and condition of life,
     that if I prosper I may not be unduly exalted,
     if I suffer I may not be over-sorrowful.
Balance my mind in all varying circumstances
     and help me to cultivate a disposition
     that renders every duty a spiritual privilege.
Thus may I be content, be a glory to thee
     and an example to others.

Valley of Vision, 139.

A Word for Preachers...Alexander on Scripture and Authority

"However, we must never forget that exousia (the Greek word for "authority") is a New Testament concept, behind which lies the fact that the ultimate authority belongs to God, and that he mediates that authority through his Word.  So the true picture in the New Testament is not that of a congregation under the authority of the preacher: but of both preacher and congregation under the authority of God's written Word.  Indeed, it seems to me that the fundamental place of preaching in the church is simply a corollary of the fundamental place of Scripture in the church.  If you erode the latter, you will certainly erode the former.  Church history has consistently demonstrated this.  To be logical and consistent, if we say that Scripture is fundamental to the church's life and continuance, then it is the exposition of Scripture which is fundamental to the church's pattern of activity."

Eric Alexander

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Pendulum's Reaction

I saw a post today from Julian Freeman that does a great job stating something that I've found myself thinking a lot lately.  Far too often when we are developing our views (be it religious, political, or just about any other kind, for that matter) the primary influence far too often tends to be our moving away from a perceived wrong as opposed to our moving toward a perceived right.

To illustrate this, Freeman uses the example of a pendulum, which in moving away from an unbalanced position not only moves toward balance, but goes beyond it in the opposite direction.  He offers the following questions that we would be wise to consider in our reactions to positions with which we disagree:
  • Is the content of the position really erroneous or has it just been given inappropriate weight?
  • If I am moving from an extreme position, am I moving to an extreme position? Is there a middle-ground?
  • What is good in the position I'm rejecting that I stand to lose?
  • If I'm rejecting something because I feel like I don't like it, why do I feel like that?
  • Who am I following? Are they prone to unnecessary extremes?
  • Does the measure of my passion for this issue reflect the Bible's passion for and clarity on this issue?
Freeman goes on to comment,
The trick, I think, is to be pulled to truth like a magnet to its pole rather than to be pulled away from extremes to opposite extremes. Easy to say, harder to live.
I pray that God, by his grace, would allow me to cultivate a deep enough longing for truth in my heart that I would pursue truth out of an ever-increasingly-pure and purified mind that is willing to be wrong, willing to change, willing to believe what I may not like at first, and willing to stay put even when it seems like it would be nicer to change camps.
And I also pray that he would give me friends who observe me carefully and tell me when I'm just over-reacting.
Click here to read the entire post.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Packer on Knowing God

"God is not the sort of person that we are; his wisdom, his aims, his scale of values, his mode of procedure differ so vastly from our own that we cannot possibly guess our way to them by intuition or infer them by analogy from our notion of ideal manhood.  We cannot know him unless he speaks and tells us about himself.

"But in fact he has spoken.  He has spoken to and through his prophets and apostles, and he has spoken in the words and deeds of his own Son.  Through this revelation, which is made available to us in holy Scripture, we may form a true notion of God; without it we never can."

J.I. Packer
Knowing God

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Word for Preachers...Ferguson on Imperatives and Indicatives

"The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen.

"We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry."

Sinclair Ferguson


Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Fun...NYPD Fireworks Display

Ever wonder what happens to all the illegal fireworks that police confiscate around the 4th of July?

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Very Right Response to a Very Wrong Thing

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should CareThe question over the historicity of Adam and Eve seems to be somewhat of a hot topic these days in evangelical Christianity.  In June there was a story on it in Christianity Today, and one of my favorite professors from seminary, Dr. Jack Collins recently penned the book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care, published by Crossway.

Yesterday I saw a blog post from Andy Nasseli, quoting the following snippet of the book, originally included in a funeral homily that Dr. Collins delivered:
On Saturday, I heard Jackie say, “No parent should ever have to outlive their own child.” I heard the same words from my father’s mother when my father died; and my wife and I said the same thing when we lost our first child. The pain is horrible; the loss is beyond our ability to describe.
When we feel this grief, we are feeling that it’s just not right for this to happen. We don’t want our loved ones to suffer; we don’t want to be separated from them by death. We want to be sure that they are happy, and we want to be able to enjoy their company always.
The Bible tells us that these feelings we have are right. Death and suffering are intruders in God’s good world; they don’t belong here. And the story of Adam and Eve, the first human beings, tells us how these evil things came in: When these, the parents of us all, disobeyed God, they opened the door to all manner of sin and evil, not only for themselves, but also for us.
You don’t need me to prove it; it’s all around us. It’s why we are here today.
But the Bible story doesn’t end there: instead it tells us about how God wants to help us, to heal us of what is wrong with us.
Though I have not yet read the book, I very much look forward to doing so.  Dr. Collins spoke on this topic at the 2009 Mid-Michigan Conference on Reformed Theology, hosted by our church.  Audio for that (as well as messages from other years' conferences) is available here.

John Starke had an interview with Dr. Collins regarding the book today (7/8) at The Gospel Coalition website.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom...Lewis on Glory

"And this brings me to the other sense of glory--glory as brightness, splendour, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more--something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves--that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that “beauty born of murmuring sound” will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch. For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects."

C.S. Lewis
The Weight of Glory, pp. 42-43

Valley of Vision: What Beauty Captures Your Gaze?

Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & DevotionsRecently, I've been working my way through Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.  I don't think I can put into words precisely what a blessing these prayers have been to my soul. In an age where so many of us never really learned how to pray, and the rest of us seem to have forgotten, these prayers, full of Christ and full of grace, serve as a helpful tutor.  This morning's prayer, for example, concluded with the following set of petitions:

     Grant me never to lose sight of
          the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
          the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
          the exceeding glory of Christ,
          the exceeding beauty of holiness,
          the exceeding wonder of grace.

May this indeed be our prayer.  Instead of focusing on life's many distractions, may these be the things that captivate us!