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).