Friday, May 28, 2010

Scotty Smith's Prayer for the Battle

One of the great blessings of my time as a student at Covenant Theological Seminary was my opportunity to take a couple courses taught by Scotty Smith. Scotty is the Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and a man whose heart truly beats to rhythm of the Gospel.

Every day he posts a prayer that he has composed on his blog, Heavenward. I have been richly blessed by many of the prayers, as have countless others. As I prepeare to preach on the armor of God this Sunday (Ephesians 6:10-24), today's prayer resonated with me even more than usual:
It is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s. 1 Samuel 17:47

This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. 2 Chronicles 20:15

Dear heavenly Father, I love it when you’re selfish with things I don’t really want anyway. So I’m gladly reminded today that you claim ownership of any battle into which you place me. Though you call me into spiritual warfare and though you give me armor to wear (Ephesians 6:10-18), it is you that I must trust in as the Divine Warrior. You’re not calling me to be a disengaged passivist, but a fully engaged worshipper—beholding the salvation of the Lord.

Whether we’re talking about a mere skirmish or an all out assault from the powers of darkness, the battle belongs to you. Fear and discouragement are not the order of the day, faith and peace are.

When I’m afraid of events in world history—when it seems like evil and terror will triumph, once again, let me hear the laughter of heaven. Let me see your installed King, the Lord Jesus. Show me the occupied throne of heaven and it will shut up my fears. (Psalm 2)

When I’m under attack by the seducer, accuser and condemner of the brethren, once again, let me see Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. Jesus, you have become all the wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption I need (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). My boast is in you, not in anything in me.

When I’m in the presence of evil people… keep me thinking, feeling and choosing with gospel sanity. When I’m in broken circumstances with broken people (which is most of life)… let me see Jesus more clearly than the storm and waves. When my own divided, duplicitous, easily-distracted heart wages war inside of me, give me confidence in your commitment to bring to completion the good work YOU began in me.

When the biggest and most fierce opposition… when the most present and garish enemy… when “hugest” and most daily battle is actually against all the non-gospels and anti-gospels with which this world is filled… keep showing me more and more and more of the glory and grace of Jesus. So very Amen, I pray, in his tender and triumphant name.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who Invited God to the Ballgame?

I saw an article over at CNN the other day dealing with God, sports, and the connection between the two. It was pretty much standard fare when it comes to this discussion. It seems that whenever this topic comes up, the idea put forth is that if Christians thank Jesus after a sporting event, they are tacitly suggesting that Jesus likes them more than their opponent, or at least that their faith is better/stronger than that of their opponent.

One of the reasons that the general public has this perception is because so many athletes not only project it, they actually believe it. The problem is that this brand of “Christianity” is not only terribly simplistic, it is unbiblical and incorrect.

Does God care about sports? Of course he does! God cares about our whole existence. As Abraham Kuyper famously put it, "There is not one square inch of creation over which Jesus does not proclaim, 'Mine!'" So do I mean to say that God is sovereign, even over who wins and loses sporting events? Yes! That's exactly what I mean to say! God is sovereign over all of creation.

Does the fact that one team won a game mean then that God likes them more or that they have more faith? Absolutely not! To believe this unnecessarily (and quite contrarily to the Gospel) binds what we get to what we deserve. The fact of the matter is though, we all deserve to lose. God, in his mercy, chooses some to be winners in spite of what they deserve. This has nothing to do with our merit and everything to do with God’s grace. A right response to winning a ballgame is indeed to give God thanks. But it should be done without a single hint that the gift he gave you was in any way merited.

Likewise, God is still just as good when he bestows the gifts upon our opponents, and should be glorified as such in those times as well. I thought Colt McCoy did a great job of this after the NCAA Football national championship game last January. Though his team had lost, though he had missed almost the entire game due to injury, though his college career had ended moments before and he was quite clearly gripped with disappointment at the way things had gone, he still managed to give glory to God.

I’ve been asked before if I think there will be baseball in Heaven (or perhaps more appropriately in the New Heavens and the New Earth). When I respond affirmatively, people ask me how this could be, when one team inevitably will lose each game. Fans and players alike would be grieved about this, and whether or not Tom Hanks was right about there being no crying in baseball, we know that the Apostle John was right that there will be no crying in heaven (Revelation 21:4).

The key is this: When we play sports in this creation, especially at the highest levels of competition, our ultimate goal usually is to win. In our sinless re-creation, our ultimate goal will be the glory of God. That means if I work as hard as I can to prepare and the pitcher strikes me out anyway, I will rejoice at the fact that God has so gifted another individual, who happens to be my brother in Christ.

My prayer is that Christian athletes (and all other Christians for that matter, starting with myself) can live their lives here a little more like we will live them in the hereafter.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Real Preachers of Genius

I saw this video today and thought it was pretty funny:

I found it humorous, but at the same time I was reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to his young protegé Timothy, "...the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions," (2 Timothy 4:3). I assume that this was the case in the first century and I know that this is the case today.

Many churches forsake the preaching of the Gospel of Christ's life, death and resurrection on behalf of sinners, instead opting for sermons that are little more than self-help seminars wrapped up in Christian trappings. Another thing we often see is what I would term a trivialization of worship, as it often seems to be more about entertainment than about worship.

Now I'm not saying that "traditional" worship is necessarily better than "contemporary" worship. I've been to "contemporary" churches where the worship was indeed very worshipful, and I've been to "traditional" churches where quite frankly it was not. Neither am I saying that a preacher needs to wear a robe and ascend into a massive pulpit in order to truly preach. In fact, I applaud what I hope (and honestly believe) is an effort to reach people "where they are" and "in a way they can understand." But there is a caution that must be noted. We must not forget that the way in which we say something says almost as much about what we are trying to communicate as the actual words we use. As Marshall McLuhan put it, "The medium is the message."

The following words from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Preachers and Preaching, pp. 85-86) do well to underline these thoughts:
The preacher must be a serious man; he must never give the impression that preaching is something light or superficial or trivial…What is happening is that he is speaking to them from God, he is speaking to them about God, he is speaking about their condition, the state of their souls. He is telling them that they are, by nature, under the wrath of God – 'the children of wrath even as others' – that the character of the life they’re living is offensive to God and under the judgment of God, and warning them of the dread eternal possibility that lies ahead of them. In any case the preacher, of all men, should realize the fleeting nature of life in this world. The men of the world are so immersed in its business and affairs, its pleasures and all is vain show, that the one thing they never stop to consider is the fleeting character of life. All this means that the preacher should create and convey the impression of the seriousness of what is happening the moment he even appears in the pulpit. You remember the famous lines of Richard Baxter:

I preached as never sure to preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men.

I do not think that can be bettered. You remember what was said of the saintly Robert Murray McCheyne of Scotland in the last century. It is said that when he appeared in the pulpit, even before he had uttered a single word, people would begin to weep silently. Why? Because of this very element of seriousness. The very sight of the man gave the impression that he had come from the presence of God and that he was to deliver a message from God to them. That is what had such an effect upon the people even before he had opened his mouth. We forget this at our peril, and at great cost to our listener.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tell the Story Right, but Make Sure You're Telling the Right Story

In many churches, a huge emphasis has traditionally been placed on the telling of your story or testimony. Though many people tell their stories, the pattern is usually pretty much the same:
My life used to be horrible. I was involved in all sorts of things that I thought would bring me meaning/happiness, but they all failed me. I was miserable. I reached a crisis point at which I realized I couldn't find happiness in them and I turned to Christ. Ever since then, everything has been great for me!
Of course it is best if there is some sort of dramatic change in your life between your pre-Christian days and now. Something like, "I used to live in a gutter, strung out on drugs, but now I live in a mansion, high on God!"

There are a number of problems with this model. First of all, there is the underlying suggestion that without Christ, you'll inevitably feel miserable. The fact is though, that (inconvenient though it may be) there are plenty of people who do not have faith in Christ, and yet they don't feel miserable. You see, the real problem which we all share is not one of how we feel, but rather of how we are, namely dead in our sins.

Secondly, the paradigm presented offers a false hope. It seems to promise that once we turn to Christ, all of our problems will go away. In reality, as I've noted previously, Jesus promises us nothing of the sort, and in fact promises quite the opposite. If we believe that the purpose for turning to Jesus is to escape all of life's problems, then the first time we experience difficulty, we will undoubtably think that he is either unable or unfaithful to do what we think he has promised.

A final problem with the testimony model is who the story is about. Take a look again at the pattern I suggest is often followed. You will notice that the words me/my/I are mentioned eleven times, while Christ is mentioned only once. Far too often, we give a testimony about us, as opposed to proclaiming a gospel about Christ. As R. Scott Clark says in a recent post:
The dramatic story we Christians have to tell, however, isn’t, in the first instance, about us at all. In the first instance, the story we have to tell is about God the Son incarnate, about his obedience for us and his mercy to us. The subject of our story is not “we” or “I” but “He,” that is the God who saved us in Christ. Yes, we are, by grace alone, through faith alone, now a part of that story. Jesus is our federal head. He acted for us and now that he has made us alive (sola gratia) by his Spirit, who operates through the preaching of gospel narrative, and has by faith alone (sola fide) united us to Christ by his Spirit that story is our story.

That’s the only story we really have to tell. What we did or didn’t do before we came to faith, if we can even remember such a time, is inconsequential. Praise God many covenant children never remember when they did not believe. They feel no need to embellish their personal stories because they don’t live in an ecclesiastical culture where that sort of narrative is highly valued. Here is a concrete, practical difference between Reformed piety and conversionist, revivalist piety. The focus of Reformed piety is on the gospel and the gospel tells me that what matters most of all is not what has happened in me but what happened for me, outside of me, in salvation history. What matters most is that I believe it now. Yes, that salvation history has powerful consequences for my personal narrative but that story is unfinished. The gospel, however, is the story of a done deal: “It is finished.”

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Check out this Amazing Catch!

Okay. Usually my posts are more of a theological nature. But I couldn't resist this one. If you know me, you know that I'm a baseball fan, and more specifically a Cardinals fan. When I saw this catch by Cardinal minor leaguer Antone DeJesus, I thought it was so amazing that I knew I had to share it.

I could try to write a couple paragraphs here about how once we've experienced the beauty of God's grace, we just can't help but want to share it with others. But if I did, it really wouldn't be the reason I'm posting this, and though I completely affirm that thought, it would seem kind of manufatured in this instance. The reality is that this is simply a phenomenal catch and I wanted to share it with you all. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Helpful Reminder on Grace

"God’s capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin."

--Tullian Tchividjian, Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, p. 105.

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Fully God and Fully Man...A Paradox

One of the more difficult and amazing doctrines of the Christian faith is that of the dual nature of Christ, namely that he was both fully human and fully divine. In his work On the Son, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 AD) delves into this paradox:
He was baptized as Man — but He remitted sins as God — not because He needed purificatory rites Himself, but that He might sanctify the element of water.

He was tempted as Man, but He conquered as God; yea, He bids us be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world.

He hungered — but He fed thousands; yea, He is the Bread that gives life, and That is of heaven.

He thirsted — but He cried, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." Yea, He promised that fountains should flow from them that believe.

He was wearied, but He is the Rest of them that are weary and heavy laden.

He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over the sea.

He rebuked the winds, He made Peter light as he began to sink.

He pays tribute, but it is out of a fish; yea, He is the King of those who demanded it.

He is called a Samaritan and a demoniac; — but He saves him that came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves; the demons acknowledge Him, and He drives out demons and sinks in the sea legions of foul spirits, and sees the Prince of the demons falling like lightning.

He is stoned, but is not taken.

He prays, but He hears prayer.

He weeps, but He causes tears to cease.

He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was Man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God.

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood.

As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also.

As a Lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the Voice of one crying in the wilderness.

He is bruised and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity.

He is lifted up and nailed to the Tree, but by the Tree of Life He restores us; yea, He saves even the Robber crucified with Him; yea, He wrapped the visible world in darkness.

He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is Sweetness and altogether desire.
He lays down His life, but He has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise.

He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again; He goes down into Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead...
(HT: Trevin Wax)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Faith Like a Child (Part 2)

It truly is amazing the way that children can see past many of the distractions that we get caught up in and focus simply on what really matters. Last month I posted on a conversation that I had with my six-year-old daughter to that effect. I was reminded of that post today when informed of a conversation that my sister had with her daughter, who, like mine, is in kindergarten.

As she was driving home from scouts the other night, her daughter matter-of-factly declares, "I think I am going to like going to heaven. Did you know you don't have to pack to go there? You already have everything you need to see Jesus. Plus, you're dead so you really don't need anything."


Responding to Trials

What is your response to trials in your life? Whether they are big or small, I know that my natural reaction is to be discouraged by them. Even when I have passed through whatever difficult situations I might face, there is a tendency on my part simply to be wearied. On my best days, I might be thankful to God for getting me through it, but there is no question that I would have rather avoided the situation altogether.

D.A. Carson suggests that my response to trials ought to be altogether different. In his daily blog last Friday, Carson made the following observation from Psalm 66:8-12:
There the psalmist begins by inviting the peoples of the world to listen in on the people of God as they praise him because “he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” Then the psalmist directly addresses God, and mentions the context in which the Lord God preserved them: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (66:10 -12).

This is stunning. The psalmist thanks God for testing his covenant people, for refining them under the pressure of some extraordinarily difficult circumstances and for sustaining them through that experience. This is the response of perceptive, godly faith. It is not heard on the lips of those who thank God only when they escape trial or are feeling happy.

This is the same kind of thought we find in James 1:2-4 - "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Okay. It's great to say that I should do this. But the reality is that I don't. How do I get from where I am to where I should be? The answer lies (as so often is the case) in the Gospel. As I consider the trials that Christ Jesus endured for me, primarily in his sacrificial death on our behalf, I realize a number of things:

  • My trials are relatively small compared to those of Christ, who gave up everything so that we might know him.
  • Just as God was faithful and trustworthy to provide the way to salvation, so too he is faithful and trustworthy in the midst of my trials.
  • Though I may lack the ability by my own strength to have the right mindset, Christ who lives in me has demonstrated that he lacks nothing, and by the Holy Spirit he empowers me to do his will by his strength, not my own.
  • My trials are passing, but there lies in store for me an eternal crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

In light of these facts, may we all have the type of attitude toward trials that is described in 1 Peter 1:6-7 - "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Joel Osteen, Fortune Cookie Author

Last week, while looking for Mother's Day cards, I noticed that there was a section of them produced by Joel Osteen. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Osteen's feel-good message suits Mother's Day almost too well to pass up the opportunity.

As Tim Challies notes in a post today though, Osteen might have missed his calling with greeting cards. Perhaps his talents are more suited to fortune cookies. Challies has a quiz to see if you can tell the difference between fortunes out of cookies and quotes out of Osteen's books.

Among them you will find...

  • "Happiness is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it."
  • "You have something to offer that nobody else can give!"
  • "Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant."

Click here to see how well you do on the quiz!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Game For All America

Please excuse this brief detour from our usual fare...

In 1955, Ernie Harwell wrote "A Game For All America."

Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review: Kinda Christianity

One of the many blessings I’ve experienced since moving to Michigan was the opportunity to get to know Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. In the past, I've written of my appreciation for Kevin and Ted, who have co-authored two award-winning books, Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church.

One of the reasons they work so well together is the contrast of their styles. Though both are really smart and really funny, Kevin’s writing tends to emphasize the former while Ted leans a little more heavily on the latter.

Ted recently teamed up with another pastor, Zach Bartels, to write Kinda Christianity, a satirical response to Brian McLaren’s latest tome in the Emergent Conversation, A New Kind of Christianity. I’ve never met Zach, though I have read his blog from time to time. He’s clearly also a real sharp, funny guy, making it difficult to tell where his contributions to the book left off and Ted’s picked up. It wasn’t just as if Ted wrote it by himself, it was like two Teds wrote it.

What exactly does that mean? Well, if you don’t like satire or you do like Brian McLaren and the Emergent Church movement, you probably won’t particularly like this book.

If you’d like to get a theologically astute, incisive, well-written critique of A New Kind of Christianity, I recommend that you read Kevin’s review here.

But if you would like to read a more light-hearted (though still incisive) critique of McLaren and all things Emergent, then A Kinda Christianity is definitely for you. It's sub-title bills it as "A generous, fair, organic, free-range guide to authentic realness." One can only assume that "relevant" and transparent" simply didn't fit on the cover.

The authors freely admit that this short book is not intended to really encourage anyone. Rather it is solely meant to make people laugh. It’s satire definitely accomplishes this goal for the anti-Emergent reader, ultimately answering the question, “What would Christianity look like if we were all college sophomores?”

The Gospel According to Disney (Part 4)

When we went to the Magic Kingdom, the thing that my six-year-old daughter most looked forward to was the opportunity to meet the princesses and get their autographs. I suppose that meeting royalty is always special, but it’s even more special for little girls at Disney because it comes with the promise that you too can be royalty! I heard it proclaimed more than once while we were there: “Every little girl can be a princess.”

Cinderella even called my daughter a princess. If Cinderella says it is true, who am I to argue? After all, Cinderella is the expert on ordinary girls becoming princesses. There was nothing spectacular about her. She didn’t benefit from royal birth, but rather was born into the drudgery of a scullery maid. Ultimately she became a princess not because of anything she did, but because she was chosen by the prince to become his bride.

It is the same with us. We too, on our own, are nothing spectacular. Let’s be perfectly clear. There’s not a one of us about whom God is saying, “Wow! I sure am lucky to have him on my team!” As Paul mentions in Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.” And the prophet reminds us in Isaiah 64:6 that whatever deeds we might account as ‘righteous,’ God considers to have all the purity of a polluted garment.

Even so, because those who trust in Christ are united with him and find their identity in him, we are considered by God to be sons of the king! Galatians 3:28 tells us that we have sonship (and with it, the privilege of inheritance) no matter what our status was before. All of the barriers that would have kept one from being a son of the king are now abolished. You can be a son whether you are Jew or Gentile, whether you are slave or free, whether you are male or female.

And as sons of the king, the inheritance that is ours is no ordinary inheritance. Rather it is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” (1 Peter 1:4-5).

One chapter later (1 Peter 2:9), we find a wonderful affirmation of the church’s identity: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” This of course is nothing new. It is merely a reaffirmation God’s purpose for his people as it had always been. In Exodus 19:5-6, God proclaimed to the people of Israel, “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

It has always been God’s intention to make his people royalty. And we look forward to that day when “the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,'” (Matthew 25:33).

Other Posts in This Series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3