Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading through the Bible

The summer of 2003, after my junior year of college, I was spending time in Moscow, Russia. It was there that I finally became convicted that I had never read through the entire Bible. I thought that as a Christian, I should probably read what I at least pretended to believe was the very word of God. I had studied a lot of the Bible at that point, but just studying allowed me to "conveniently" stay away from those parts of the Bible that many would consider boring, tedious, and difficult (pretty much most of the Old Testament).

Starting that summer I made a commitment to read through the Bible for the first time. And I was amazed by what I read and began to discover the truth of Romans 15:4, that "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." I began to see nuggets of truth everywhere, but more importantly, I began to see in greater measure God's great story of redemption and how all of Scripture points to the person and work of Christ. I remember specifically that the idea of God's glory and God's sovereignty became so much more real to me as it seemed to leap out page after page after page.

Since 2003, I have continued to read through the Bible each year. It's been a very fruitful discipline. I've used a few different plans over the years, but I wanted to highlight my favorite one for those of you thinking you wanted to give it a go this year. It's the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan by NavPress. Click on the link to download it. You read four sections of the Bible a day, and read through every book once. One of my favorite parts is that the reading stops on the 25th of each month so you can catch up if you miss days, or study something more in depth during that time. I finished 2009 this morning and plan on starting all over again tomorrow. Who's with me?

Also, Crossway has 10 other kinds of plans in case you're interested.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Favorite Albums of the Decade

If you’re anything like me, music is associated with certain times and circumstances in your life. The moment you hear a song or an album, you’re taken back into nostalgic memories of the past. That is one of the things that makes music so great.

It was really fun to think back over the last ten years and recall the albums that I have tirelessly played on my CD player or my iPod. With most of them I was taken back to either the first time I heard the album, or an experience where it acted as a sort of soundtrack. Some of these albums shaped the way I thought about music and some of them were just plain enjoyable. Here were my top 29 favorite (though not necessarily best) albums from the decade:

29. Poses, Rufus Wainwright (2001)
28. Rebel, Lecrae (2008)
27. Dreaming Out Loud, OneRepublic (2007)
26. Nickel Creek, Nickel Creek (2000)
25. A World Like Ours, Nicholas Alan (2005)
24. Brother Bring the Sun, Dave Barnes (2004)
23. Simply Nothing, Shawn McDonald (2004)
22. These Friends of Mine, Rosie Thomas (2006)
21. Phil Wickham, Phil Wickham (2006)
20. Nothing Left to Lose, Mat Kearney (2006)
19. She Must and Shall Go Free, Derek Webb (2003)
18. Vertigo, Jump, Little Children (2001)
17. Second Circle, Enter the Worship Circle (2003)
16. Continuum, John Mayer (2006)
15. If Songs Could Be Held, Rosie Thomas (2005)
14. The Beautiful Letdown, Switchfoot (2003)
13. Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens (2004)
12. A Rush of Blood to the Head, Coldplay (2002)
11. A Collision, David Crowder Band (2005)
10. Help My Unbelief, Red Mountain Music (2006)
9. For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (2008)
8. O, Damien Rice (2002)
7. Hard Candy, Counting Crows (2002)
6. Illinois, Sufjan Stevens (2005)
5. Eyes Open, Snow Patrol (2006)
4. X & Y, Coldplay (2005)
3. Room for Squares, John Mayer (2001)
2. In Rainbows, Radiohead (2007)
1. Mute Math, Mute Math (2006)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Favorite Concerts of the Decade

Following the lead of Paste Magazine and many others, I decided to recap my ten favorite concerts of the decade.

10. Over the Rhine/Rosie Thomas (Eddie's Attic - October 23, 2007) - My buddy Bailey got me to come to this show. I had listened to some of Rosie Thomas and had never even heard of Over the Rhine. I was blown both. Though I can now really appreciate the talent of OVTR, that concert caused me to become forever hooked on Rosie.

9. Bon Iver (Variety Playhouse - June 7, 2009) - I had only heard bits and pieces of their breakthrough album For Emma Forever Ago. Every song was absolutely captivating. Here's Justin performing Re:Stacks:

8. Dave Matthews Band (Sept. 10 2000) - This was their last tour before they started putting out crappy albums. I loved these guys in high school and will definitely remember their great live shows. Also got to see the young and unknown John Mayer for the first time live (on the dinky little side stage).

7. Derek Webb (Smith's Olde Bar - Sept 22, 2009) - I was completely surprised by this one. I had seen Derek probably 20 something times (counting Caedmon's days). I had come to know and love him as an acoustic singer/songwriter. His album Stockholm Syndrome had just come out and I liked it okay, but I just wasn't too sure about how good a show it would make. He played the album front to back in its entirety (with a four song acoustic set in the middle) and I loved every minute of it. Here he is performing The Spirit vs. the Kick Drum and What Matters More.

6. Counting Crows (The Tabernacle - October 31, 2002) - It was Halloween night. Graham Colten opened and the CC were all decked out in costumes, including Adam in a big pink bunny suit. Hard Candy had just come out that summer (still one of my favorites by them), and they played an incredible set.

5. John Mayer (40 Watt Club - January 20,2001) - It was a little hard to pick my favorite Mayer show. However, this show was the one that made me a huge fan. Inside Wants Out was his only album out at this point, which was a staple of mine my freshman year.

4. Radiohead (Lakewood Ampitheatre - May 8, 2008) - Sadly, I had not heard much of their stuff before this show (or else it would probably be higher). I bought In Rainbows a few months before, liked it, but mainly bought the tickets as a b-day present for Roy who was a huge fan. After a very close call, almost not making the show, we ended up with great seats to watch arguably one of the greatest bands of our time put on a phenomenal show.

3. Mute Math (Variety Playhouse - March 24, 2007) - It had been a couple of years since I had seen them last. Their self-titled album had helped to make these guys one of my favorite bands. Their thoughtful lyrics combined with their energetic sound made me excited to see the show. I wasn't disappointed at all. Their energy and use of lights rivals most any other concert I've seen. Here they are performing Break the Same on Conan:

2. Coldplay (Philip's Arena - October 28, 2005) - My dad snagged a couple of seats in the box. Bailey was the grateful recipient of ticket #2. X & Y had recently come out so they had three great albums to produce an sensational show. I'll remember the countdown to begin, the yellow balloons falling from the ceiling, and Chris Martin skipping all over the stage. Oh yeah, they also played an acoustic set of Johnny Cash songs. AND the encore was an extraordinary performance of Nightswimming with none other than Michael Stipe.

1. Sufjan Stevens (Fox Theatre - September 20, 2006) - Epic. That pretty much sums it up. After a great performance from My Brightest Diamond, Sufjan and the gang (consisting of a twenty something piece orchestra) came on to the stage wearing wings and bird outfits. They proceeded to blow us away with a set list that was a thing of beauty. A crazy moment happened during the fourth song (The Trangsfiguration) when the sound went nuts and caused everyone on stage to stop playing. A friend who was a couple rows back later told me how she heard Sufjan exclaim "awesome" during the disruption. That's one reason I appreciate him. He sees even the screw-up moments in performances as significant in creating his works of art.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
This song has been in my head all week. I love the way it portrays the wonderful truth of the Incarnation. This is the reason for celebration today. God putting on flesh, coming to set His people free from the sin that separates us from Him.

Do yourself a favor and go listen to the Red Mountain version here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Repentance: Understading the depth of our sin

Ray Ortlund:
In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance. Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts:

One, “You must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God.” The dawning of non-denial. Realism. Honesty. Brokenhearted self-awareness. “Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you? Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts? Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul? If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians.”

Two, “You must be convinced of the foundation of all your transgressions. And what is that? I mean original sin.” We realize that, even when we haven’t acted on our impulses, the very fact that our hearts rise up against God is itself damning. All self-hope stripped away. “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder, ‘How came I to be so wicked?’ The Spirit of God then strikes in and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature.”

Three, “You must be troubled for the sins of your best duties and performances.” Our righteous self-images start to deconstruct, our excuses, our rationalizations, our entitlements. Every false refuge gives way. “You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up. Our best duties are so many splendid sins. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of the heart.”

Four, “There is one particular sin you must be greatly troubled for, and yet I fear there are few of you think what it is. It is the reigning, the damning sin of the Christian world, and yet the Christian world seldom or never thinks of it. And pray what is that? It is what most of you think you are not guilty of, and that is the sin of unbelief.” Treating God as unreal at a functional level in our hearts and lives and churches and strategies. “Most of you have not so much faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the devil himself. I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of you do.”

“One more then. Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must not only be convinced of your actual and original sin, the sins of your own righteousness, the sin of unbelief, but you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then you shall have peace.”

Select Sermons of George Whitefield, pages 75-95.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How To Think About Santa

Over at the DG blog, Noel Piper shares her reasons why she and her family have decided not to include Santa in their Christmas stories and decorations. I agree with what she says, even though I guess I could think differently once I have kids.
First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don't ask our children to believe them.

Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they're able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child's clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It's very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.

Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we're trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the "attributes" of Santa.

* He's omniscient—he sees everything you do.
* He rewards you if you're good.
* He's omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
* He gives you good gifts.
* He's the most famous "old man in the sky" figure.

But at the deeper level that young children haven't reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.

For example, does Santa really care if we're bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?

What about Santa's spying and then rewarding you if you're good enough? That's not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren't good at all. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.
I also thought her grandson sums it up very well in this video from last year.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hunting Tiger Woods

C.J. Mahaney has a great post concerning the recent saga with Tiger Woods and how it relates to us. Here's a section:
Hunted by the Media

As expected, the allegations of adultery involving a public figure are attracting a media pile-on. This is a big story with a big audience and it’s a story that will not disappear soon. Tiger Woods is being hunted by the media.

But let us make sure we do not join the hunt. A Christian’s response to this story should be distinctly different. We should not be entertained by the news. We should not have a morbid interest in all the details. We should be saddened and sobered. We should pray for this man and even more for his wife.

And we can be sure that in the coming days we will be in conversations with friends and family where this topic will emerge. And when it does, we can avoid simply listening to the latest details and speculations, and avoid speaking self-righteously, but instead we can humbly draw attention to the grace of God in the gospel.

Hunted by Sin

But Tiger is being hunted by something more menacing than journalists. Tiger’s real enemy is his sin, and that’s an enemy much more difficult to discern and one that can’t be managed in our own strength. It’s an enemy that never sleeps.
And here's his conclusion:
And this story should humble and sober us. It should make us ask: Are there any so-called “secret sins” in my life? Is there anything I have done that I hope nobody discovers? Is there anything right now in my life that I should confess to God and the appropriate individuals?

And this should leave us more amazed by grace because there, but for the grace of God, go I.
(HT:Justin Taylor)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Unique Impact of Tim Tebow

Pat Forde wrote a good article Sunday over at about the unique impact of Tim Tebow. It's entitled Generosity of spirit separates Tebow. Here are some of the key paragraphs:
We can vigorously debate Tebow's place in college football history as a player. What's not up for debate is his unparalleled ability to provoke the deepest of feelings in fans of the sport.

He said afterward that he wants the fans to remember him for 'how much I cared.' The fact is, fans have never cared so much about a player before.

'I've never seen anything like it,' Florida coach Urban Meyer said. '… He's made unselfish kind of a cool thing.'

None of us has seen anything like it. What makes Tebow unique in the 140-year history of this game is not just his unquenchable spirit. It's his generosity of spirit."
Being a UGA fan, it took me a few years to warm up to Tebow. Even as a Christian, I initially thought putting Bible verses under his eyes was somewhat over the top. But I don't any more. I love the fact that announcers are looking up and reading the verses on the air. And I love seeing the visible impact he has on his coach, his teammates, his fans, and everyone else who takes notice of him.

His humility and generosity coupled with his intensity and passion is something somewhat unique to the world. And I believe it is the expression of Christ in him that is so compelling to people. I thank God for his impact and hope that he continues to point people to the One greater than himself. I am encouraged to do the same.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Why New Yorkers Are Flocking To Hear Keller

New York Magazine recently put out a pretty good article on Tim Keller entitled Why Are So Many New Yorkers Flocking to Evangelical Christian Preacher Tim Keller?. Here's a couple of paragraphs from the beginning:
Keller is a 59-year-old bald, large-framed man, dressed today in a blue blazer and gray slacks. For those expecting hellfire and brimstone, the first surprise is the voice. Keller doesn’t speak in theatrical, over-the-top tones but in a soft, conversational manner, as if he’s sharing a confidence with a friend. For today’s sermon on a passage from the Old Testament Book of Habakkuk, in which a minor Jewish prophet rails about the misery brought on by the Babylonians in the seventh century B.C., Keller jumps to the recession and what he sees as shameful finger-pointing by both liberals and conservatives. “The Bible doesn’t let you do that,” Keller intones from the pulpit. “The Bible is nowhere near as simplistic, dare I say it, as either the New York Times’ or The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. You can write that down. Put it on your blog, I don’t care.”

Now Keller takes Habakkuk’s rap against the Babylonians—their “need to clothe themselves with glory”—and aims it straight back at his ambitious, striving Upper West Side congregation. He notes that tennis legend Chris Evert once admitted in an interview that she was driven to win because “winning made her feel pretty” and that Madonna confessed she felt special only when she was breaking through to new levels of fame. Whether we’re athletes, artists, businesspeople, or preachers, Keller says, we all suffer from the same malady—trying to fill our empty spaces with achievement when only accepting God’s grace can do the job. “We want to feel beautiful, we want to feel loved. We want to feel significant and that’s why we’re working so hard and that’s the source of the evil.” In another sermon, on another Sunday, he asks the congregation point-blank: “Why are you in New York? Deep down, you think something is wrong with you."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trusting in God's Wisdom Brings Rest to our Hearts

A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God, "The Wisdom of God", p.63:
"To believe actively that our Heavenly Father constantly spreads around us providential circumstances that work for our present good and our everlasting well-being brings to the soul a veritable benediction. Most of us go through life praying a little, planning a little, jockeying for position, hoping but never being quite certain of anything, and always secretly afraid that we will miss the way. This is a tragic waste of truth and never gives rest to the heart.

There is a better way. It is to repudiate our own wisdom and take instead the infinite wisdom of God. Our insistence upon seeing ahead is natural enough, but it is a real hindrance to our spiritual progress. God has charged Himself with full responsibility for our eternal happiness and stands ready to take over the management of our lives the moment we turn in faith to Him. Here is His promise:'And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.'"
I picked up this book again this past weekend. These words were very timely. I insist often on seeing what's in front of me. Whether I see clearly or through a fog, I often worry and fear what's in the future. My heart is often in a state of unrest because I do not trust my heavenly Father's provision in my life.

The last part of the quote comes from Isaiah 42:16. This verse meant a lot to me my 5th year of college as I was approaching graduation. As I faced uncertainty about what I would be doing when I graduated, I held on to the truth that God will not forsake me and will lead me where He wants me to go. These verses again resonate with me as I wrestle with God over what He has for me tomorrow, next week, and in 50 years. And it's in His perfect wisdom that I find rest.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rapping the Story of the Bible

I posted a video about a year ago of Shai Linne bringing the gospel in an incredible way through rap. Here's another video of him at the WorshipGod conference doing a rap of the story of the Bible in four mintues:

And here are the lyrics:

It’s the greatest story ever told.
A God pursues foes whose hearts turned cold.
The greatest story ever told.
Restoring all that the enemy stole.
The greatest story ever told.
The glory of Christ is the goal, behold.
The greatest story ever told.
It’s the greatest.

Alright check it: let’s go back in time, brethren. Divine lessons always keep your mind guessing. The glory of the Triune God is what I’m stressing. The origin of humankind was fine. Blessings were plenteous. God is amazingly generous. Crazy benefits in a state of innocence. God told the man what he could taste was limited. Not long after came our nemesis in Genesis. He scammed well, man fell, damned to hell. The whole human race—he represented it. Fooled by the serpent, man through his work, woman through birth—even the earth ruled by the curses. But instead of a wake immediately. God said her Seed would be the One to crush the head of the snake. Yo, wait what is this? Whoa, a gracious gift! In Jehovah’s faithfulness He clothed their nakedness. This was so they would know their Savior’s kiss and bliss. But first, many growing pains exist suffering in the worst form, ugly deeds. Eve’s firstborn seed made his brother bleed. Indeed things got progressively worse. Every section of the earth is been affected by the curse. And though God’s judgments against sin were gory, praise the Lord! It’s not the end of the story.

Next scene: man’s sin was extreme. God gets steamed, man gets creamed. The Lord is so Holy that He drowned them in the water. Fire in the valley of slaughter – Sodom and Gomorrah. But at the same time, He’s so gracious and patient that from one man He created a whole nation. Eventually enslaved by the mentally depraved, they cried out to the only One with the strength that He could save. He brought them out with signs and wonders – satisfied their hunger. Then He appeared on Mount Sinai in thunder. Where He laid down the law for God-ruled government. Commonly referred to as the Mosaic covenant. Sin was imputed. So for man to know he’s unrighteous, God instituted animal sacrifices. This was to show our constant need for atonement. And when it came to sin, the Lord would never condone it. And when His people disobeyed and went astray, He raised up prophets and kings to lead them in the way. But they would get foul with their idolatry—wet and wild prophecy—send them into exile. To take their punishment like a grown man. Then with His own hand He placed them back in their homeland. And while in their forefather’s land they dwelt, they awaited the arrival of Emmanuel.

After 400 silent years filled with sighs and tears. In Bethlehem the Messiah appears. God in the flesh—Second Person of the Trinity. At thirty begins His earthly ministry. Baffling cats with accurate, exact facts and back-to-back miraculous acts. A stumbling block to the self righteous. But the humbled—His flock, said “There’s no one else like this.” He came from heaven to awake the numb. Demonstrated His power over nature, son. A foretaste of the Kingdom and the age to come. But the reason He came was to pay the sum for the depths of our wickedness, our wretched sinfulness. Bless His magnificence! He is perfect and innocent. Yet He was wrecked and His death. He predicted it. Next He was stretched, paid a debt that was infinite. He said that He finished it. Resurrected so the elect would be the recipients of its benefits. Through faith and penitence we get to be intimate. His grace is heaven sent, it never diminishes. Now the Holy Spirit indwelling is the evidence for heaven’s future residents who truly represent Jesus, the Author, Producer, Director, and Star of a story that will never, ever end!

(HT:Justin Taylor)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Carson on God, Evil, and Hell

These three short videos are excellent. In them, Don Carson briefly (under 5 minutes) answers three weighty questions:

1. How do I know God exists?
2. How can allow suffering and evil in the world?
3. How can God be loving and send people to hell?

(HT:Justin Taylor)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Distracting Ourselves...From Ourselves

Justin Taylor recently posted some great quotes on the subject of diversion and being busy. The first is one from Blaise Pascal, French mathematician turned Christian. He says:
"I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room."
Wow. That is worth reflecting on. How well are you, how well am I able to sit in my room without TV, music, Twitter, Facebook, texting, browsing the internet, etc. and just think? Why are we constantly trying to fill in the gaps of silence in lives?

The second quote is by Peter Kreeft. It comes from a book that he wrote reflecting on the things Pascal had to say. He has some interesting and convicting observations:
"We ought to have much more time, more leisure, than our ancestors did, because technology, which is the most obvious and radical difference between their lives and ours, is essentially a series of time-saving devices.

In ancient societies, if you were rich you had slaves to do the menial work so that you could be freed to enjoy your leisure time. Life was like a vacation for the rich because the poor slaves were their machines. . . .

[But] now that everyone has slave-substitutes (machines), why doesn’t everyone enjoy the leisurely, vacationy lifestyle of the ancient rich? Why have we killed time instead of saving it? . . .

We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hold in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

So we run around like conscientious little bugs, scared rabbits, dancing attendance on our machines, our slaves, and making them our masters. We think we want peace and silence and freedom and leisure, but deep down we know that this would be unendurable to us, like a dark and empty room without distractions where we would be forced to confront ourselves. . .

If you are typically modern, your life is like a mansion with a terrifying hole right in the middle of the living-room floor. So you paper over the hole with a very busy wallpaper pattern to distract yourself. You find a rhinoceros in the middle of your house. The rhinoceros is wretchedness and death. How in the world can you hide a rhinoceros? Easy: cover it with a million mice. Multiple diversions."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Youth Mentoring

For the last couple of years, my roommate Scott has been a mentor to a young kid whose father passed away several years ago. Check out this video of the two of them talking about their experience. You can find out more about the youth mentoring program at our church here

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Best Movies of the Decade

Here are Paste Magazine's picks for the top 50 best movies of the decade.

And here are their top 10:

10. The Royal Tenebaums
9. No Country For Old Men
8. The Son (Les Fils)
7. Lost in Translation
6. Beau Travail
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
4. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
3. Almost Famous
2. Amelie
1. City of God

Like my previous post, I'll probably do my own picks towards the end of the year. Of these 10, I haven't seen #1, #6, #8. And I didn't really like Lost in Translation. The rest are top notch. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Best Albums of the Decade

I love Paste Magazine. And I love their Lists of the Day. Check out their latest list, the top 50 albums of the decade. Here are their top 10:

10. M.I.A., Arular
9. The Avett Brothers, I and Love and You
8. Outkast, Stankonia
7. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator)
6. The White Stripes, Elephant
5. Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
4. Radiohead, Kid A
3. Arcade Fire, Funeral
2. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
1. Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise

I'll probably make a list towards the end of the year for my picks. Sufjan's album might be the only album on this list to make mine. Though #3, #4, #8, and #9 are great albums. What do you think?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Garden to the City

A friend of mine, Jonathan, is working on a project called Garden to the City. It is "a series of short films revealing the story of God's renewal of all things." The films will focus on the themes of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. He launched the website today and it's well worth a look. And here's the trailer:

Garden to the City from Garden to the City on Vimeo.

Also, if you want some thoughts on this idea of renewal advancing towards the city, you should check out a couple of these sermons by Tim Keller.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Philosophy progressing towards irrelevance?

From the latest Adbusters article, entitled The End of Philosophy:
"My [philosophy] professors amaze me with their ability to clearly elaborate on any subject, but they never apply their timeless wisdom to reality. Instead of rigorously debating the problems of today, my professors lull the class to sleep with lackluster lectures on trivial topics. Do I possess a priori knowledge? What is the form of me? Am I a thinking thing? Let’s be honest: being lost in the clouds never saved a child from starvation and it never will...

If we are to believe that philosophy is some guy’s opinion, then we have forgotten the essence of philosophy. Philosophy is the touchstone of all progress. We must remember that philosophy is the purest form of dissent. If we do not ask questions, if we do not question authority, if we do not pressure ourselves, then society will never advance. All progress comes from change, and philosophers used to be the backbone of change. Whether we go back thousands of years to Socrates’ “corrupting the youth” or more recently to Bertrand Russell’s condemnation of the Vietnam War, it is obvious that philosophers used to take a stand against a callous system. Now they simply summarize and overanalyze all the irrelevant aspects of life. "

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Origin of Halloween

I just ran across a good article on the origin of Halloween. Here are the first several paragraphs:
It has become routine in October for some Christian schools to send out letters warning parents about the evils of Halloween, and it has become equally routine for me to be asked questions about this matter.

"Halloween" is simply a contraction for All Hallows’ Eve. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name"). All Saints’ Day is November 1. It is the celebration of the victory of the saints in union with Christ. The observance of various celebrations of All Saints arose in the late 300s, and these were united and fixed on November 1 in the late 700s. The origin of All Saints Day and of All Saints Eve in Mediterranean Christianity had nothing to do with Celtic Druidism or the Church’s fight against Druidism (assuming there ever even was any such thing as Druidism, which is actually a myth concocted in the 19th century by neo-pagans.)

In the First Covenant, the war between God’s people and God’s enemies was fought on the human level against Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. With the coming of the New Covenant, however, we are told that our primary battle is against principalities and powers, against fallen angels who bind the hearts and minds of men in ignorance and fear. We are assured that through faith, prayer, and obedience, the saints will be victorious in our battle against these demonic forces. The Spirit assures us: "The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Romans 16:20).

The Festival of All Saints reminds us that though Jesus has finished His work, we have not finished ours. He has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian faith has rolled back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. Though things look bad in the Western world today, this work continues to make progress in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

The Biblical day begins in the preceding evening, and thus in the Church calendar, the eve of a day is the actual beginning of the festive day. Christmas Eve is most familiar to us, but there is also the Vigil of Holy Saturday that precedes Easter Morn. Similarly, All Saints’ Eve precedes All Saints’ Day.

The concept, as dramatized in Christian custom, is quite simple: On October 31, the demonic realm tries one last time to achieve victory, but is banished by the joy of the Kingdom.

What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.
(HT:Matt Adair)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Recently I read Brave New World (by Aldous Huxley) and 1984 (by George Orwell). I had heard great things about each book and how both authors wrote about different, yet similar, takes on the future. I thoroughly enjoyed reading each one and it was interesting to see what aspects of each author's philosophy seemed to be true about the world we live in today. Both were incredibly engaging and thought-provoking, so I encourage you to read them if you haven't.

Rather than give my own synopsis of each one, I just wanted to highlight a quote that was the main impetus for me reading these books back to back. It comes from a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death which is written by Neil Postman. Read the quote carefully. Both scenarios are likely (and frightening), but I ultimately agree with Postman's conclusion. I believe we are living in the age of over stimulation that Huxley describes and are truly amusing ourselves to death:
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.' In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
Also, here's a great cartoon that illustrates this quote.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Gracious Trial of Singleness

I recently did something that I've never done in my a book about dating. My roommate's brother recommended a book to me a couple of weeks ago that he said was one of the best books he had read on the subject. I have always been skeptical about the helpfulness of a book on dating, but I decided to buy and read this one anyway. And I'm glad I did. It's called Holding Hands, Holding Hearts by a couple named Richard and Susan Phillips.

I'm not a big fan of the title. It just sounds sorta cheesy. But I got over that quickly. Even though I wanted to jump right in and get to their practical suggestions for dating, I was pleasantly surprised that the first third of the book is a biblical look at God's design for relationships, how that was tainted by sin, and how it is redeemed in Christ.

I was struck by a few quotes in these early pages that called out my own selfishness. For instance:
"Many Christians approach dating mainly in terms of pursuing romance and meeting their emotional needs. Far too few think of it as an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace."
Guilty. Also:
“If God is my portion, if God is the true source of my joy, and if it is God who will fulfill me, then I am free to be a companion instead of a consumer. That is, because of what I receive from God I can give to another person instead of always taking; I can minister rather than manipulate because of the fulfillment I get from God.”
The next few chapters were very helpful as well and covered topics like attraction, the first date, commitment, and getting ready for marriage. But it's the last chapter that I wanted to highlight, because it speaks to those of us who, well...are very much still single. The chapter is entitled 'Waiting for Love?'.

The chapter starts off this way:
"For the vast majority of adult Christians, singleness is not a gift but a trial...but it is not the only trial...curing singleness will not cure the problem of trials in this life."
This offers great perspective. I can easily forget that God is constantly using all kinds of circumstances in my life to refine me. The Phillips' say it this way:
“This is what God is doing to us in our trials, purifying the thing that we most need--our faith in him. Perhaps your frustrations in waiting for love are intended to draw you nearer to God and to teach you reliance on his grace...

What God is preparing for us through our trials is incomparably greater than the things we long for in this world. We would gladly settle for mere happiness in life. But God is determined that we should be holy, and through holiness partake of his own glory. It is for that cause that God ordains our trials in this life. Christians struggling with singleness, then, should not label their troubles a ‘gift.’ But they should realize that through their often painful trials, God is working an incomprehensible gift: eternal life and the hope of glory.”
This is a great reminder to me, but hard to appreciate a lot of the time. God ultimately cares about me seeing and knowing Him. So, instead of giving in to self-pity or jealousy, I should be asking God to help me grow in grace during this process...and to be content.

True contentment is a difficult thing and often seems unattainable. Yet Paul, writing to the Phillipians says that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation. So, it is possible. And I know God wants to bring it to us.

It's also easy to believe that if we just had this or that, then we could be happy. But Martyn-Lloyd Jones reminds us that "man’s happiness was never meant to be determined by his circumstances." God is meant to fill us up and to satisfy our deepest longings. And until we really believe and experience that, we are constantly going from one thing to another trying to suck life out of it, only to find ourselves disappointed every time.

Finally, consider another definition of contentment by A.W. Pink. It should speak well to any trial you might be going through in life, singleness or otherwise:
"Contentment, then, is the product of a heart resting in God. It is the soul’s enjoyment of that peace that passes all understanding. It is the outcome of my will being brought into subjection to the Divine will. It is the blessed assurance that God does all things well, and is, even now, making all things work together for my ultimate good.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Virtual Life Creating Private Worlds

The latest Adbusters article reveals how the Japanese are being affected by growing technology of virtual, private worlds. The article looks at recent killing sprees as well as general public interaction to illustrate how "privacy is not simply sustained, it’s thrust upon you." And I don't think the U.S. is too far behind...

Here's the conclusion:
"Committing to a relationship or the achievement of an ambition is usually a lot more challenging than creating a sudden buzz on the internet, posting a blog entry, tweeting 140 characters or adding new friends to your Facebook, Mixi or digital address pages. But a retreat from reality poses its own set of risks: newly emerging anxieties and uncertainties that we are only now beginning to recognize and understand...

Divorced from the very human responsibility to contact and interact directly with other living beings, we may feel hollowed out, emptied of the sense of an evolving self that can make existence worth its painful bouts of adversity and growth. A life spent lurking too long in the shadows of the virtual world might turn out to be no life at all."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lord Save Us From Your Followers

Last night, I went to see this movie with my high school discipleship group. I enjoyed it and was pleased at the conversation that it stirred up among the guys as we talked about it over Zaxby's.

The basic premise is that a guy goes around the country and asks a lot of different people what they think about Christians and what they think about Jesus. Pretty soon into the movie, you see that there is a huge discrepancy between people's opinion of the two.

My main take-away from the movie is to seek to love people better. Repentance should be what I'm known for, not condemnation. I want my life to exemplify the truth of Paul's words to Timothy: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." That kind of humility coupled with sacrificial service is what makes Jesus look good to the world.

Rather than post more of my synopsis, I'll point you to blog posts by my roommate Scott and by Brett McCracken. I felt like they both had good thoughts.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Piper: From Professor to Pastor

In 1979, as a professor at Bethel Seminary, John Piper began to wrestle with the idea of becoming a pastor. And 30 years ago today, he journaled through the decisive call to do so. I thank God for this. John has done more than any other human being in awakening my heart to see and savor Jesus Christ.

Justin Taylor provides the full story.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Dogma is the Drama

I blogged about this quote from Dorothy Sayers back in February. I recently found the full paragraph in which this statement is made. It was good timing for me because of the many thoughts and conversations I have been having recently. Questions arise about how much a Christian should be immersed in the Word and seek to understand the (sometimes complicated) doctrine found there. Is this just for the more studious believer? Don't we just need to know the gospel?

I don't fully know how to answer those questions yet for everyone else. But I do know that doctrine has become increasingly exciting for me over the years as it has helped me know God more fully. And in the midst of today's American culture that is hardwired for drama and entertainment, I think Sayers accurately points to where the true drama is found, and how the church has often watered it down:
"We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine — ‘dull dogma,’ as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama. . . . This is the dogma we find so dull — this terrifying drama which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore — on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies."
(HT:Of First Importance)

Friday, October 09, 2009

American Idol Worship

Click here to watch Mark Driscoll's latest interview with Nightline, where Mark talks about the dangers of idolatry in our American culture. He says this about the interview:
I sat down for about 30 minutes with Terry, and we talked about how idolatry underlies all sin, how it is rooted on a false promise of happiness, how it ultimately destroys, how it is often the result of turning a good thing into an ultimate thing, and how it shows itself in our culture in how we idolize celebrities, athletes, food, family, sex, money, relationships, and achievement—or rather, what we call American culture.

We also took a drive in my Jeep and discussed some of the cultural idols littering my city. It was a bit precarious for the exceptional cameraman, who stood up in my Jeep while I drove as carefully as possible so as not to kill him. But things went well and we got some great footage of many modern-day temples: strip clubs, Seahawks stadium, Safeco Field, Starbucks headquarters, etc.

Most importantly the Nightline team gave me the chance to explain how Jesus is the only answer to all of our idolatry:

* Idols take. Jesus gives.
* Idols destroy life. Jesus gives new life.
* Idols break apart people and relationships. Jesus redeems and heals.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thoughts on Eschatology

At the most recent Desiring God Conference, an event was held to discuss the three main views of the millennium. Throughout the centuries, Christians have differed in their interpretation of what happens in the end times. Most of the debate centers around six verses found in Revelation 20 that mention the thousand year reign of Christ. The three historic positions are Premillenialism, Postmillenialism, and Amilleniallism.

John Piper, who explains himself to be in the premillenial camp, was the moderator for the event. He succinctly describes the views in this way:
"Premillennialism (represented by Jim Hamilton): The return of Christ happens before (pre-) the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is a reign of the risen Christ on the earth.

Amillennialism (represented by Sam Storms): The return of Christ happens after the thousand-year reign, a reign that occurs in heaven, in the intermediate state, and not upon the earth. Those who have died in faith and entered into the presence of Christ share his rule and reign during the current church age in which we now live.

Postmillennialism (represented by Doug Wilson): The return of Christ happens after (post-) the thousand-year reign, which corresponds to the Christian age, and the reign of Christ from heaven leads the church to triumph by and through the gospel to such an extent that the Great Commission will be successfully fulfilled, and the Christian faith will pervade all the cultures of all the nations of men. All Christ's enemies will be subdued in this way, with the exception of death, which he will destroy by his coming."
I also appreciated the way he gave credence to all the views as honoring certain things.:
"Postmillennialism seems to honor the power of the gospel and the promises for the Old Testament for the triumph of God’s people over all the nations. Amillennialism seems to honor the warnings of bleak end times as well as the seamlessness between Christ’s coming and the immediate destruction of death, the removal of the enemies of the cross, and the beginning of the new heavens and new earth. Premillennialism seems to honor the plainest meaning of Revelation 20 and the seemingly literal meaning of many Old Testament promises."
Click here to listen to or watch the event.

(And just for the record, I lean towards amilleniallism)

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bizarre response to Piper's transparency

Justin Taylor:
A few weeks ago John Piper spoke at a conference for the American Association of Christian Counselors. You should listen to the first five minutes. Piper decided to be as transparent as possible, given the audience, and to discuss some of the prevailing sins that he has struggled with his entire life. And the audience laughed uproariously. Piper was obviously perplexed and commented on how strange their reaction was.

If you didn’t know Piper, some of it could probably come across–at least initially–as unintentionally funny. But it is quite clear soon after that Piper was not cracking jokes but was being deadly serious about sin.

Greg Gilbert, calling it “one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard,” sees in this an “incredibly important and massively undervalued lesson”:
'Do you see, at root, what had happened at that conference? Over the course of a couple of days, those conferees had been trained to expect humor from the speakers and therefore to react to the speakers with laughter–all the way to the point that they were incapable of seeing that John Piper was being serious in his confession of sin to them. You can quibble with whether the first couple of Piper’s statements were (unintentionally, it seems) kind of funny. I happen to think they were. By the time he gets to about the 3-minute mark, though, there’s nothing funny left, and he’s moved into very serious stuff. Yet the atmosphere of humor and levity at that conference was so thick–the training so complete–that the people were incapable of seeing it. So they laughed at Piper’s confession of his sin.

Apparently the conditioning of that audience to think everything is funny took no more than a couple of days.

How deep do you think that conditioning would be for a church who sat under a funny-man pastor every Sunday for fifteen years?'

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Giving to the One Who Begs

I've always struggled with whether or not to give money to homeless people. Living in Atlanta, I can run across several of them in one night if I am down in the city somewhere. Am I obligated to give to everyone that asks? When I recall certain verses like Proverbs 14:21 and Matthew 25:45, I think that I should be giving them money more often. But what will happen with the money given? Won't many use the money I give towards drugs or alcohol? How can I discern between those who will make good decisions with the money and those that will not?

Jon Bloom at Desiring God has some good thoughts here and here regarding this very issue. He looks at the verse in Matthew 5:42 that says "Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you." In the second of the two posts, he addresses the cynicism that surfaces within us when faced with the decision to give or not. And he clarifies what purpose Jesus actually has for our giving:
...the reason for our cynicism may be that we are misunderstanding Jesus' purpose for the command. We tend to assume that the motive for radical generosity ought to be to meet a real need and help facilitate transformation in someone's life. If that isn't likely to happen, we shouldn't give. It wastes money and reinforces evil behavior. The problem is Jesus doesn’t command us to give for those reasons.

What is his reason? "So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:45) The point? The Father shows radical generosity toward both good and evil people (v. 45). The text makes no promise that all the evil people are reformed as a result of his generosity. From my observation, most are not.

And like Father, like Son. Jesus showed great kindness toward the crowds who followed him and toward those who crucified him. Yet only a few believed in him.

And like Father (and Son), like adopted "sons" (male and female). We are being called to bear the family resemblance. The Father’s children behave like the Father and the Son. One of those ways is the stunning—some would call foolish—way we show generous kindness toward undeserving evil people—the very kindness we’ve received.

If these evil people don’t repent, we are not wasting our generosity on them. Through us, God is showing them grace that he will hold them accountable for someday. We show the world that we love God and not money (Matthew 6:24). And God is showing us that he able to make all grace abound to [us], so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, [we] may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-9)
Now, there are times when real love dictates that we withhold giving, and the more intimately we are involved in a person’s life the better we can discern this. Biblical love must govern all our actions. God give us wisdom!

It's also helpful to remember that Jesus is instructing disciples, not government agencies or NGO's. He’s not giving a formula for eliminating poverty. Neither is he necessarily instructing a church's institutional approach to community development, though he’s informing it. On those levels it is necessary to carefully identify and strategically address the causes of poverty.

But he is calling us to radical, gospel generosity. The kind that looks weird in the world. The kind that sifts our motives and tests our love. The kind that is impossible for the natural man. But let’s take heart, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, for “with man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement

Justin Holcomb at the Resurgence has a good post on Yom Kippur, otherwise known as the Day of Atonement being celebrated today by Jews around the world. Here's an excerpt that explains what happened on this day in OT times and how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this day:
The first goat was a propitiating sin offering. The high priest slaughtered this goat, which acted as a substitute for the sinners who deserved a violently bloody death for their many sins.

Then the high priest, acting as the representative and mediator between the sinful people and their holy God, would take the second goat and lay his hands on the animal while confessing the sins of the people. This goat, called the scapegoat, would then be sent away to die in the wilderness away from the sinners, symbolically expiating or removing the sins of the people by taking them away.

The sacrifices of the Day were designed to pay for both sin’s penalty and sin’s presence in Israel. The shedding of blood and the sending off of the scapegoat were meant to appease God's wrath against sin and to cleanse the nation, the priesthood, and even the sanctuary itself from the taint of sin (Lev 16:30).The Day of Atonement was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and our great High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. These great images of the priest, slaughter, and scapegoat are all given by God to help us more fully comprehend Jesus’ bloody sacrifice for us on the cross.

Jesus’ fulfillment of the Day of Atonement is why we are forgiven for and cleansed from our sins. To preach anything else is to proclaim a “different gospel,” which is no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7). Spurgeon drives this point home: “Many pretend to keep the atonement, and yet they tear the bowels out of it. They profess to believe in the gospel, but it is a gospel without the blood of the atonement; and a bloodless gospel is a lifeless gospel, a dead gospel, and a damning gospel”
This reminds me of the quote my professor said last semester: "Study the living tar out of the Pentateuch." How much more we can appreciate Jesus as we understand the sacrificial system that foreshadows Him.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Continual Rediscovery of the Gospel

Tim Keller:
"We never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced.” The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.

We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal. 3:1-3) and are renewed (Col. 1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom. 1:16-17). It is very common in the church to think as follows. “The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.” But Col. 1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you–it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32).

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not 'used' the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel–a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, 'The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine. . . . Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.' The gospel is not easily comprehended. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not 'get' it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel–seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church."

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Precious Doctrines of Grace

I thought John Piper did a good job succinctly stating the Doctrines of Grace, as he re-affirms them with his church:

We believe that these 5 truths are biblical and therefore true. We believe that they magnify God’s precious grace and give unspeakable joy to sinners who have despaired of saving themselves.

Total Depravity

Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us slaves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior.
We were dead in our trespasses. (Ephesians 2:5)

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Unconditional Election

God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace that was given through his Son Jesus before the world began. By this act, God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus.
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened. (Romans 11:7; cf. 9:11-12; John 6:37)

My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me. (Isaiah 43:10
Irresistable Grace

This means that the resistance that all human beings exert against God every day (Romans 3:10-12; Acts 7:51) is wonderfully overcome at the proper time by God’s saving grace for undeserving rebels whom he chooses freely to save.
Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:5)

No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father. (John 6:65)

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25)
Limited Atonement

The atonement of Christ is sufficient for all humans and effective for those who trust him. The full, saving effectiveness of the atonement that Jesus accomplished is limited to those for whom that saving effect was prepared. The availability of the total sufficiency of the atonement is for all people. Whosoever will—whoever believes—will be covered by the blood of Christ. And there is a divine design in the death of Christ to accomplish the promises of the new covenant for the chosen bride of Christ. Thus Christ died for all, but not for all in the same way.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. Revelation 22:17).

This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:15)

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. . . . And for their sake I consecrate myself [that is, prepare to die], that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:9, 19)

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
Perseverance of the Saints

We believe that all who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and never surrender to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Breaking the Rules of Small Talk

Good post from Matt Perman:

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, has a good post on making small talk more effective (and authentic) that makes the simple point: be yourself. But to do this, you have to ignore conventional wisdom’s first rule of small talk:
Small talk experts claim that when you first meet a person, you should avoid unpleasant, overly personal, and highly controversial issues.

Wrong! Don’t listen to these people! Nothing has contributed more to the development of boring chitchatters everywhere. The notion that everyone can be everything to everybody at all times is completely off the mark. Personally, I’d rather be interested in what someone was saying, even if I disagreed, than be catatonic any day.

There’s one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself. I believe that vulnerability—yes, vulnerability—is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today. Too many people confuse secrecy with importance. Business schools teach us to keep everything close to our vest. But the world has changed. Power, today, comes from sharing information, not withholding it. More than ever, the lines demarcating the personal and the professional have blurred. We’re an open-source society, and that calls for open-source behavior. And as a rule, not many secrets are worth the energy required to keep them secret.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let Another Praise You

Voddie Baucham recently wrote a blog post contrasting the recent speeches made by David Robinson and Michael Jordan as they were both inducted into the hall of fame. I had briefly heard of the contrast shortly after the event, but until now had not read much of what was said by either man. I thought Voddie did a good job at highlighting what was said by each player and revealing the sad state of anyone who is in constant need of attention and praise from others in order to justify himself.

He said at one point while listening to Jordan, Proverbs 27:2 came to his mind: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Here's one paragrah from the post, but I'd encourage you to read the whole thing:
"There was a stark difference between the two acceptance speeches. As I listened to the two speeches, all I could think of was the old commercial catchphrase, 'Like Mike... If I could be like Mike.' Unfortunately, in this instance, Mike was the last person anyone should aspire to be like. This was definitely not a Michael Jordan highlight. Jordan’s Speech was self-centered, indulgent, arrogant, and at times embarrassing. In contrast, David Robinson rose to the occasion and made a brief, inspiring, encouraging speech (see his speech here) that made his family, his team, and his friends proud."
(HT:Tim Challies)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stirring Your Affections For Christ

In a recent interview, Matt Chandler answered various questions posed by the Leadership Journal.

I liked his response to the question, "What does warring against sin look like?" I liked it because it speaks to a gospel-oriented fight instead of doing behaviorism.
Sanctification here at The Village begins by answering two questions. What stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? And what robs you of those affections? Many of the things that stifle growth are morally neutral. They're not bad things. Facebook is not bad. Television and movies are not bad. I enjoy TV, but it doesn't take long for me to begin to find humorous on TV what the Lord finds heartbreaking.

The same goes for following sports. It's not wrong, but if I start watching sports, I begin to care too much. I get stupid. If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that's a problem. These things rob my affections for Christ. I want to fill my life with things that stir my affections for him. After a funeral I walked around the cemetery and found a grave of a guy who died when he was my age. I felt my mortality in that moment and it made me love the Lord. It really did. Some types of epic films do that for me, and so does angst-filled music.

We want our people to think beyond simply what's right and wrong. We want them to fill their lives with things that stir their affections for Jesus Christ and, as best as they can, to walk away from things that rob those affections—even when they're not immoral.
(HT:Christ Community Church)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Saddened by Westboro Baptist Church

Have you ever heard of this church? Upon first glance, you might believe it to be a farce. But sadly, it is very real.

I ran across this video yesterday on Brett McCracken's blog. It's a short documentary done by the BBC where a journalist spends several days getting to know the people of the church. The video is just under an hour long, but I found every minute of it to be an interesting look at a very confused group of people.

I went through several different emotions while watching the video: anger, disgust, intrigue, shock, disbelief, sadness. It's this last emotion that has stuck with me. I truly am saddened that these people have embraced this message of hate and have missed the fullness of the gospel. And I am saddened that many non-Christians see this and are further turned away from who God really is.

It is true that God hates sin. In this day, many downplay this reality. God is often portrayed only as a God of love that really doesn't think sin is that big of a deal. But sin is a big deal. So much so that God the Father sent His Son to gruesomely die and absorb His wrath towards it. But thankfully there's more to the gospel than this hate.

Consider this logic from Isaiah 30:18 (with a little help from my ESV Study Bible this morning). After 17 verses of a people being portrayed as rebellious, wicked, and stubborn, Isaiah says THEREFORE the LORD waits to be gracious to this very people. Because of their sinfulness, God is waiting to be gracious to them. That's amazing. And that's the gospel that the world needs to hear and I need to hear.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Moralism and being "raised right"

Al Mohler's recent blog post looks at the controversy that Paul addresses in the book of Galatians. The Galatian church was believing a false gospel. They thought that circumcision and other such outward behavior was really the point, what set them right with God.

Having grown up in the South, a particular section of Mohler's post resonated with me. He mentions how the novelist Ferrol Sams described the deeply-ingrained tradition of being "raised right.":
"As he explained, the child who is 'raised right' pleases his parents and other adults by adhering to moral conventions and social etiquette. A young person who is 'raised right' emerges as an adult who obeys the laws, respects his neighbors, gives at least lip service to religious expectations, and stays away from scandal. The point is clear -- this is what parents expect, the culture affirms, and many churches celebrate. But our communities are filled with people who have been 'raised right' but are headed for hell."
This is by no means an indictment on my parents or any other set of parents necessarily. It is the sin nature in parent and child that makes us hard-wired to believe that following rules makes us righteous. And living in the South, with a "church on every corner", makes it very easy to continue to believe right behavior equals right standing with God.

Over the last few months, God has pointed out some major ways that I have embraced behaviorism without even knowing it. I am thankful that He is continuing the work that He promised to complete in me, by stripping me of all my self-made righteousness, and causing me to cling only to the righteousness of Christ.

Mohler's conclusion sums it up well:
"We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God.

The Church must never evade, accommodate, revise, or hide the law of God. Indeed, it is the Law that shows us our sin and makes clear our inadequacy and our total lack of righteousness. The Law cannot impart life but, as Paul insists, it 'has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.' [Gal. 3:24]

The deadly danger of moralism has been a constant temptation to the church and an ever-convenient substitute for the Gospel. Clearly, millions of our neighbors believe that moralism is our message. Nothing less than the boldest preaching of the Gospel will suffice to correct this impression and to lead sinners to salvation in Christ.

Hell will be highly populated with those who were 'raised right.' The citizens of heaven will be those who, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, are there solely because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Moralism is not the gospel."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Solidarity of the past vs. Individualism of today

Brett McCracken recently wrote an interesting article entitled "Could Woodstock Happen Again?" In it he briefly analyzes the cultural environment of 1969, pointing out how 500,000 united for this epic event. If his analysis is right, it's pretty amazing how our culture today is so utterly different than it was just 40 years ago regarding community. The whole article is good, but his conclusion pretty much sums it up:
There was a lot going on, and, importantly, it was all coinciding with the heyday of mass culture. The news of the world was now everywhere, the trends proliferated, the horrors unshielded from the public eye. And it was all on a limited number of media channels. Everyone saw and experienced the same stuff. This made it possible for so many people of the same age to be on the same cultural and spiritual page. They’d all grown up in the same Campbell’s soup post-war America. They were all equally nervous about Vietnam.

These days, there is still a lot going on, but by now we are used to a constant barrage of shocking news and earth-shattering events. Nothing riles us up anymore. Plus, there are far too many channels with which to receive information. Everyone gets a different story. Our music and cultural tastes are infinitely more disparate than that of our parents’ generation. Everything about culture is personal and fragmented rather than public and cohesive. Aside from the YouTube viral video of the week, nothing is really shared anymore.

Something like Woodstock simply could not happen. 500,000 young people in this era would never be able to agree on a motivating cause, let alone a lineup of bands.

But that’s okay. It’s not like Woodstock changed much of anything anyway. Its lasting importance is mainly that of an American cultural artifact—a nostalgic celebration of a revolution that nearly happened but didn’t. That, and an amazing 4-hour concert DVD.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A good reminder for those who aren't married

A recent post by Arnold Barlow:
I think it's part of the human condition that many of us feel lonely, if not all the time then at least from time to time. And if you're single, it's easy to think the antidote for loneliness is matrimony. But according to Henri Nouwen, those who marry because of loneliness will likely end up as lonely spouses. Our condition is not changed by our circumstance.
"We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated, intuitive knowledge - that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition. This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence. Thus we keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our experiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potentials, the book which will explain everything, and the place where we can feel at home. Such false hope leads us to make exhausting demands and prepares us for bitterness and dangerous hostility when we start discovering that nobody, and nothing, can live up to our absolutistic expectations.

Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away. And many celibates live with the naive dream that in the intimacy of marriage their loneliness will be taken away."
- Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, pp. 84-85.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The redemption of creation/culture conversation

For the last six weeks or so, I have been inundated with information and conversation about the restoration and redemption of culture/creation. It began with my Church and the World class at RTS. Then came a series that my church, Perimeter Church, has done. And then it seemed like every other blog post I was reading and conversation I was having had to do with this topic.

I think a lot of the discussion is very healthy. I think it is very beneficial to understand the world in the creation/fall/redemption/consummation framework. And I do believe all of creation including our cities and our jobs and everything else is going to be completely restored when Jesus comes back. We should not view the world as a sinking ship where our role is just to save as many souls as possible before it all burns. So I do agree that it is helpful to have these conversations and understand these ideas.

However, the problem is when there is an over-emphasis on the restoration of creation to the neglect of the glory of God shown in the salvation of the elect through the work of Christ on the cross. I like what Greg Gilbert said in an article over at 9Marks.
"Time after time, in book after book coming off of Christian presses, the highest excitement and joy is being ignited by something other than the sin-bearing work of Christ on the cross, and the most fervent appeals are for people to join God in doing this or that, rather than to repent and believe. In the process, the story of the gospel is made to be (deliberately or not) rather cross-less. That's one dangerous problem.

Another problem is not so much the shunting of the cross out of the center, as the remaking of it into something other than the substitutionary, wrath-bearing death of the Savior in the place of sinners for their sins. Thus Jesus’ death is often said to be the result of human evil or greed or power-lust or culture-making or any number of other things coming to their lowest, worst, most concentrated point and killing Jesus, who then conquers that worst-of-all-evils through his resurrection.

Don Carson hit on this in a blog-post some time ago when he wrote that,
'In recent years it has become popular to sketch the Bible's story-line something like this: Ever since the fall, God has been active to reverse the effects of sin. He takes action to limit sin's damage; he calls out a new nation, the Israelites, to mediate his teaching and his grace to others; he promises that one day he will come as the promised Davidic king to overthrow sin and death and all their wretched effects. This is what Jesus does: he conquers death, inaugurates the kingdom of righteousness, and calls his followers to live out that righteousness now in prospect of the consummation still to come.'
Carson calls this presentation of the Bible’s narrative 'painfully reductionistic,' and he’s right. There is no understanding here (explicit understanding, anyway) that sin is an offense against God rather than just an unfortunate circumstance humans have brought on themselves. There’s no sense of Jesus standing in the place of sinners to take the punishment that rightly should fall upon them. And for that matter, there’s no sense that there’s any punishment involved at all---just consequences. No divine wrath, just bad results. In other words, such a presentation of the gospel essentially leaves out of the meaning of the cross exactly what the Bible makes central to it: A) that Jesus was dying in the place of his people, and B) that on the cross he endured punishment for their sin (not just the results of it—the punishment for it), meted out by God the Father in his righteous wrath."
Does anyone else feel like this is a topic being talked about a lot lately? What are your thoughts?

(HT:Justin Taylor)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Heaven will solve all our problems

Wednesday night a week ago, my discipleship group met for the fourth time this summer to discuss Mere Christianity. At one point in our conversation, we started talking about heaven and what it would be like. Someone asked a question like, "Will all our questions about life be answered there?" We all threw around some thoughts and it made for some good conversation.

Then on Monday, I read Arnold's post about Jesus being the great Iconoclast. He quotes out of another Lewis book, A Grief Observed. Lewis answers our groups question brilliantly and is helpful for our humility as we learn more about who God is:
"Images of the Holy easily become holy images - sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are "offended" by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.

All reality is iconoclastic.
Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My ungrateful heart

I read this story in Luke 17 the other day. I don't believe I've ever noticed it before. It has really stuck with me the last couple of days.

Basically the story is this: Jesus meets ten lepers who beg for mercy. Jesus tells them to go to the priests. When they move in obedience toward the priests, they are all healed. Yet, only one of them (a Samaritan no less) turns back to praise God and to fall at Jesus' feet in thanksgiving. Jesus then asks, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

These verses struck me because I felt like one of the other nine. I have not felt grateful for God's grace in my life lately. Why is that? I know the wretchedness that God has saved me from. I know that I was dead in my sin and was rescued by God's grace and power. I know that He has rescued me from the power of sin, so that it is no longer my master. The problem is connecting that head knowledge to my heart.

The truth is, I know I can't be grateful without God in Christ working it into my cold heart. And that is the whole point...I need help and He provides help when I come to the end of myself.

Psalm 3:3 - "But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The High Cost of Friendship

I've thought about friendship a lot recently. I feel extremely blessed for the great community of guys that I have around me. But I also feel a bit of guilt and shame because I don't love them as well as I would like to. It's easier to stay on the surface rather than talking about heart issues. It's easier to avoid conflict rather than confessing and forgiving one another's sins. It's easier to merely talk about an issue than engaging in prayer for and with one another. There is a very high cost to my comfort in friendship.

Over at Relevant Magazine, Seth Hurd has written a good article about this high cost. He takes into account how this culture of social networking has played a large role in re-shaping what our friendships look like.

Here's an exerpt:
"Everything in life costs us something—in time, money, energy, love or emotion. Friends, real know-you-down-to-your-soul friends, come at a high cost. They guarantee a lifetime of broken hearts as we say goodbye, farewell and amen, again and again over the course of our lives.

Sadly, more and more people are finding that cost too high. Fifty years ago, the average person had three or more close friends and family members in which to confide. Today, that average has dropped to somewhere between two and one. The world-within-a-world of social networking has its benefits, but it’s also continually drawing us further into an “invent your own fantasy” identity and away from face-to-face relationships. This year, the average American will spend more time with their computer than with their spouse. As a study in the March 2009 International Business News so aptly put it, “Facebook, Twitter users among the loneliest in America.”

It’s easy to see why escaping to the social networking world is so inviting. On Facebook, you can hide behind a persona, be any version of yourself you can dream up. Online friends don’t borrow money and not pay it back, gossip or spill Gatorade in your car. They don’t show up at your house after just getting dumped and stay until 2 a.m. when you have to be at work in the morning. Online “friendships” are always efficient.

True friendship demands vulnerability. It requires that you rearrange your schedule, and intentionally plan time to spend with other people with no agenda. It demands choice, as sociologists agree that it’s only possible to have eight to 12 “real” friends, and attempting to manage more relationships than that only ends in a series of casual acquaintances. "