Saturday, December 31, 2005

The happy life

Augustine on the relationship of love and the happy life:
A man is not happy if he does not have what he loves; or if he has what he loves and it is hurtful; or if he does not love what he has, even though it is perfectly good. The happy life is when that which is man's chief good is both loved and possessed.
This is simple to understand and yet so profound. How hard is it for us to live according to this truth! How often do I love what is hurtful! How often do I not love Him whom I have, even though He is perfect! Yet in spite of all my shortcomings, the gospel reminds me daily that man's greatest good, namely God Himself, has been given freely and unconditionally through Christ for me to have and love and enjoy.

The key to a happy life in 2006 is this:"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

And most of all...

"Oh, that the almighty God would help us see and savor the supremacy of his Son. Give yourself to this. Give yourself to this. Pray that God would show you these things in His word. Swim in the Bible every day. Don't give it a little touch as you head off to do what you really like to do. Swim in the Bible every day! It is an ocean of bright glorious, weighty, all-satisfying truth about the one for whom you were made. Use the means of grace. Like God-centered, Christ-exalting books! Don’t go home without books to help you in this. Get John Owen on the Glories of Christ and the Mortification of Sin. Get Mahaney on the Cross and the glory of God in marriage. Get Powlison with his new eyes. Get Patterson on waiting and serving. Get Edwards on anything!

Get Noel Piper in the little book: "Mommy loves you and daddy loves and your cousins love you and your brother loves you and your sister loves you and your friends love you and MOST OF ALL... you know what that is? That is a translation for a three year old of the supremacy of Christ! Most of all JESUS loves you! Not most of all you're the most important person. But most of all JESUS loves you. Don't go home without Christ-centered, Bible-saturated, God-exalting books! Give yourself to being what God created you to be. And with all your getting—whatever it takes—get the all-satisfying supremacy of Christ at the center of your life."

- John Piper in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, pt. 2

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Promise of Meditation

One of my favorite lectures from this past semester was from my Spiritual Disciplines class with Dr. Don Whitney on the topic of Scripture meditation. Meditation is deep thinking (whatever deep thinking is for you) on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture or on life from a Scriptural perspective for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer. You can start with Scripture and take it to life (i.e. How does Romans 8 apply to my life?) or you can start with life and you bring it to Scripture (i.e. What should I think about this hurricane? How can I think Biblically about this hurricane? It is because of sin and the Fall. It reminds me about God’s wrath and the wrath to come...from which we are delivered in Christ. What should a Christian do now? etc...)

The command to meditate on God's Word is seen throughout the Bible, but there is a special promise that God gives for those who will meditate on His Word.
Josh. 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Joshua was a much busier man than all of us. And yet, God expected him to meditate on the Word of God day and night. This doesn’t mean Joshua walked around with a scroll in his hands, nor is this just unrealistic and pietistic language. This means Joshua most likely spent one portion of his day in Scripture and then spent the rest of the day bringing it to mind through meditation.

Back in those days, prosperity and success was viewed as materialistic (ie: this is the presumption in the Book of Job). But as we get in the NT, we begin to see that true prosperity and success is heavenly treasure and Christ-likeness. In Joshua 1:8 we see an wonderful promise:
Meditation --> Obedience --> God's blessing
Obedience doesn’t earn God’s blessing. But unless we are obedient, we cannot expect God’s blessing. And according to Joshua 1:8, it is meditation that leads to obedience. The reason for this is because when we disobey, it’s not because we don’t know what to do. It is because we don’t have the desire, the passion to do it. Scripture is a fire and we get light and heat from it. If we want to warm ourselves from our coldness to God, we must linger by the fire and let it warm us to our bones and the way we do that is by meditation. It is meditation that leads to obedience and obedience that leads to God's blessing. This pattern is in many places through Scripture. For example, Psalm 1:
Psa. 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
Psa. 1:2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psa. 1:3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Again meditation on God's law day and night, results in fruitfulness (i.e. obedience) and therefore in everything he does he prospers (God's blessing).

Now if this is David writing, how did he meditate on God’s Word “day and night” when he had so much else to do? It’s not by walking around with a Bible in his face throughout the day. It was by at least once a day being in the Word, meditating on it, and then going about the day with the “taste” of the Word in his life.

The key to fruitfulness in this life, to living a life that makes a difference and glorifies God, is by meditation. Meditation will lead to Christ-likeness and obedience and that will lead to a life of that will make a difference.

One more passage:
James 1:25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer (or reader) but an effectual doer, this man (the doer) will be blessed in what he does.
Looking intently at the perfect law (Meditation), leads to one becoming an effectual doer (Obedience), which leads to being blessed in what one does (God's blessing). Meditating on God's Word is something every Christian can do. You don't need to go to seminary to benefit from God's Word! Anyone can do it and if we will do it in faith and perseverance, the Bible promises great rewards.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A pastoral reminder

It seems these days that many people around me are contemplating entering into full time ministry. But the theme of this year's Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, How Must a Pastor Die? The Cost of Caring Like Jesus, offers us (especially me) an important reminder.
It says something about what I think the world needs from the Christian church. It isn’t the power of political influence. It is the power of being willing to take up our cross and suffer with Jesus on the Calvary Road. “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-22). I don’t think church-growth and church-planting seminars should wave the banner: “Come have fun working for Jesus,” but “Come discover the meaning of ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10).”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

We have never seen anything like this

When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
I've heard this passage taught many times and every time, the speakers have emphasized the faith of the paralytic (and his friends) in believing that Jesus could heal the paralysis. But if this is all their faith consisted of, then how is it that this is a saving faith? How is it that Jesus, seeing their faith, can say, "Son, your sins are forgiven"? No, their faith had to be more than simply in Jesus' power to heal... But what was it exactly?

To answer that question, we must first understand the context in which the paralytic and his four friends lived. They lived in a highly theistic society, under the teachings and traditions of the Old Testament law. Yet this law had been greatly twisted, so that one of the teachings of that time was that physical suffering was a direct result of personal sin. If someone became blind or leprous or blind, the explanation given was that this was a punishment from God for some terrible sin that they (or their relative) had committed. We see this kind of thinking when the disciples ask Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2) You can imagine the anguish that this must be for an afflicted person who grew up in this theistic society, being rightly taught about a holy, perfect God and His righteous requirements. He would interpret these afflictions to mean the worst possible thing in the world... that God has rejected him. Not only is he doomed to a life of poverty because of his sickness or disability, but now that the temple (and the society) considers him unclean, he is unable to keep God's laws for sacrifices and is also doomed to an eternity of hopelessness and suffering. This is the plight of the paralytic.

But now, his friends have brought him word of a Jesus of Nazareth, who has come in the power of God, fulfilling the messianic prophecies. And by the grace of God, the paralytic and his friends believe that he is none other than the promised Christ, who has come to take away the sin of God's people. If anyone can save this paralytic, it is him. Indeed, the faith of the paralytic and his friends was not merely that Jesus was someone with great healing powers, but that Jesus was none other than the Son of God, the Messiah, who has come to deliver the people of God. And these five placed their hope in Jesus Christ to save them from their sin, determined to do whatever it would take to meet him in the hope that he might somehow restore the paralytic to God.

This is why when Jesus sees their faith, he can say, "Your sins are forgiven". Imagine the tremendous joy of the paralytic in hearing these words for the first time in his life... God has not rejected him but has forgiven his sins!
But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He *said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” - Mark 2:1-11
Again, we have a tendency to see the healing as what is amazing about this story, but notice two things here:

1) The healing of the paralytic was performed only to confirm that the he had the power to forgive sins. The forgiving of sins is primary. The healing of the body is secondary. One day this body will get old and crippled and die, but our souls will live forever*, either in the presence of God in joy, or away from His presence in misery. On that day, the forgiveness of sins will be infinitely more precious than a lifetime of health. Jesus' power to heal exists primarily to help us to believe in his power to forgive sins.

2) Yes, healings are amazing, but nothing is more amazing than the fact that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins. Think about it... It means that Jesus has the power to absolve sinners of guilt from a lifetime of sins performed against an infinitely holy and wrathful God. It means he has the power to cancel the debt of eternal suffering owed by the sinner for trampling on the infinite value of the glory of God. Of course, the only reason this authority is possible is because Jesus himself paid that debt with his own life.

It is because of his sacrifice that we are amazed and can glorify God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."

*Note: My friend Dan pointed out to me that we believe in a physical resurrection in a new heaven and new earth, and that is totally right. I indeed affirm the Biblical teaching that we will not be etherial spirits floating around in heaven, but that we will experience a physical resurrection and once again have physical bodies that will be glorious and immortal. But what I want stress is that we are not to look for those bodies here today. Rather we are to wait for them in faith in the coming age. And by then, this body of dishonor (1 Cor. 15:43) will be long gone.