Thursday, February 26, 2009

What God Really Cares About

2 Chronicles 30 recounts Hezekiah's re-institution of Passover after both the southern and northern kingdoms had neglected it for some time.

Verses 17-20 stand out:
17 For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD. 18 For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness." 20 And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
The Law prescribed ritual cleaning before people could celebrate Passover. But the four tribes mentioned in v. 18 were in the northern kingdom which had gone so long without godly leadership that such parts of the Law were totally lost on them. But Hezekiah invites them to come back to the Lord and prays that God will be gracious.

And he's right on the money to do so. From the beginning, the whole point of the Law was to mediate a relationship between God and man, not just cold obedience to details. Of course, God prescribed those details for man's good, so as a person walked with God, he should have been submitting himself all the time to the whole Law. But what God always wanted was the Law to be on a person's heart (Deut. 6:6-7; 11:18-19; 32:46).

That is, what God really cares about is your heart.

Not according to the contemporary notion that suggests we are all basically good and all religions are basically the same, so as long as you are doing your best, God doesn't care too much about the details. No: God is jealous for our faithfulness like a husband is jealous for his wife's, and that is by no means petty. He wants us to serve Him and Him alone, and He hates anything that competes with that. And to be sure, that is certainly for our own good as there is no greater joy than to know the one true God.

What I mean is that God does not care so much that you go to church, read your Bible, or even, for some of us, have a paid pastoral position in a church, if your heart is not first bent on seeking to know Him above all else. If it is, then you should be doing those things- I am by no means rejecting the importance of discipline in our spiritual lives.

The point is this: set your heart on the Lord and Him alone. He will be gracious toward you when you miss the details.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Doug Wilson on Christian Marriage and the Necessity of Church Involvement

Maybe it's just because I've been thinking so much about marriage with mine coming up so fast, but this is a really insightful comment on Ephesians 5 and Christian marriage:

The apostle Paul tells us that it is the love of the husband for the wife, imitating the love of Christ for the Church, and the respect of the wife for her husband, imitating the submission of the Church to the Lord. There it is--at the center of marriage is self-sacrificing love, and self-sacrificing respect.

But notice that these are not presented to us as stand-alone character traits. Paul is saying far more than "husbands, be nice," or "wives, be sweet." He is saying that husbands must imitate Christ's love for the Church, and this cannot be done [if] the husband despises the Church. If the husband is thinking to himself, "I don't know what He sees in her," he is in no position to love his wife properly, as commanded. And if the wife has no interest or stake in seeing the Church submit to Christ properly, then she is in no position to imitate that respect in her own station. The husband and wife are not being called to imitate the relation of Christ and the Church, a relation which is somehow "over there." They are doing this from within, they are doing it as members of Christ, as participants in the union between the last Adam and His bride, the last Eve. Another way of saying this is that at the center of every godly marriage, we find the Church.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Oh Geez, We Have to Eat with Hitler?"

Right when we thought Hitler couldn't have been worse, we read something like this...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Light and Truth, Figuratively and Actually (or Why I'm Not New Age)

Psalm 43:3-4 (ESV) reads: "Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God."

My first thought as I read this was that the emboldened words and phrase all remind me of the language that surrounds Jesus, both from him and the narrator, in John's Gospel. Jesus is the "true light" (Jn. 1:9), "full of grace and truth" (1:14), the "light of the world" (8:12), and the "way, the truth, and the life" (14:6). Further, he is the Word-became-flesh who "dwelt among us" (1:14, where the Greek for "dwelt" is the OT word that describes the tabernacle, where God's presence was centrally located in Israel) and the major thrust of Jn. 2:13-22 (the cleansing of the temple passage) is that Jesus is the temple.

In short, John presents Jesus as the truth and the light that leads us to God's presence, whcih is found in Him.

Considering how steeped the Fourth Gospel is in the Old Testament, it is reasonable to think that John and Jesus may well have had Ps. 43:3-4 in mind when they used all of that language.

But this is more than just fun Biblical intertextuality (though it certainly is that). It appears that in Ps. 43:3-4, light and truth are figurative. The Psalmist pleads with God to send His spiritual light and truth to lead back to His presence.

When this language is applied to Jesus though, what for the Psalmist is figurative becomes quite actual. Of course, Jesus was not a beam of light, but He was and is physical. He doesn't just provide light; he somehow is light. He doesn't just speak truth; he somehow is truth. And he doesn't just lead us back to God's presence; he is God's presence. The Psalmist never could have expected just how fully God would answer his prayer!

All of the figurative light, truth, and God's presence language in Ps. 43 is still pretty common today, and not just for Jews and Christians. It sounds quite a bit like the language of all kinds of New Age spirituality, doesn't it?

But for the New Age spiritualist, all that "light" and "truth" and even "presence of God" language is even more figurative than it is for the Psalmist. New Age spirituality in all its forms (think Unitarianism and other mysticisms) is obsessed with the incomprehensible, mysterious aspects of God, such that almost all of the langauge is ultra-figurative, broad, and vague.

And I understand the appeal to that in one sense: no doubt much of evangelical Christianity in America has been all too comfortable with the God of the universe. He does seem rather "figured out" in many of our worship services, doesn't He? But the obsession with mystery never gets you anywhere: how can you have any real relationship with someone you can't really know at all?

It also flies in the face of one of the most precious Christian teachings, namely that Jesus Christ is the ultimate unique revelation of God. What I love about being a Christian is that I get somewhere with God. Knowing Jesus means knowing God. It means knowing Him truly even if never fully (oh and be assured- you never know Him fully). I can once affirm that God is both incomprehensible and knowable.

And I can only affirm that because Jesus came as the true light that leads us to God Himself, sent by God to reveal God to all of us. If God sent us the true revelation of Himself that leads us to Him, why are humans so hesitant to embrace it in favor of dead-end vagueness? He wanted us to know Him, and that is for our good.

New Ageism has never appealed to me for precisely this reason. How often the New Age-ist seems to say much without ever really saying anything! I never want to have God "figured out," but I do want to know Him, and I want to know Him actually. I rejoice that I can do that in Jesus.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Don't Scratch. Just Tear.

Ian Clausen, a good friend of Britt's and now one of my friends, is a Ph. D. student at Edinborough studying with Oliver O'Donovan. He also is a godly guy who wrote a great reflection on the weight of sin and our need to absolutely run from it. Here's an excerpt (NB: the reference to "promises" in the second and third lines refers to the promises that sin makes but does not follow through on- the empty promises of sin):
‘How can a young man keep his way pure?’ (Ps. 119.9) Eyes fixed on true things do not suffer illusions. Whence derives the source of the promises we trust? What is the quality of those promises for which we hope? I know God; I love Jesus; I have the Holy Spirit; and still, I suffer to give the shadows of this world a voice. Feel those sinister sensations flow through the veins: melt slowly into the dream, slide deeper into the illusion, lunge faster toward the apparitions, clutch tighter onto the incorporeal, empty atmosphere. Wake up to a nightmare, a mirror producing an image the sight of which you can hardly recognize. The next move is the last: full turn away, the darkness whispering the promise again, we inclining in its endless, aimless direction. We grasp at shadows, and lose our souls.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, February 6, 2009

On the Importance of Wisdom

The kingdom of Israel broke in half because Rehoboam was a fool. The contrast between Solomon's wisdom and his accompanying success and Rehoboam's foolishness and his epochal failure in 2 Chr. 9-10 is blatant. Rehoboam rejects the advice of Solomon's counselors (the text makes a point of saying that they were old men) to lighten the tax load of the people and chooses the advice of his young counselors instead and makes it worse. The kingdom splits as a result.

Nobody has taught me more about wisdom than Dr. Ed Curtis. Dr. Curtis is the sage from east Texas, southern accent and all, and has been teaching at Biola/Talbot since 1976. He is an OT guy through and through and I took an interterm class with him on the Proverbs. He literally wrote the book on wisdom.

That class taught me that Proverbs defines the wise man not so much as someone who knows all the answers himself, but as someone who is willing to listen to wise counselors. This, of course, is exactly what Rehoboam fails to do.

None of us risk splitting kingdoms when we are unwise, but we do risk failing in our own Kingdom ministries. Most veteran pastors I know testify to the constant barrage of church growth conferences and resources all discussing the newest must-use method to reach the world. The spiritual formation movement emphasizes all of the introspection necessary to grow in relationship with God. Both of these examples have upsides, to be sure, and in fact both have some wisdom elements (long time, godly practitioners are often the proponents of these types of things).

But I wonder, as Dr. Curtis often did aloud, if we neglect wisdom in all of this. I wonder how much more good we would do if we would go to those who have been serving faithfully over a long period of time, who have experienced the ups and down of life, and ask them for their mentoring. It would be difficult to overstate how much these kinds of relationships have benefited me. I wonder how much more success (read: genuine godliness) we would have, and how much failure we would avoid if we would simply pursue wisdom.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Christ's Suffering for Our Gain: A Puritan Prayer

JT posted this prayer from Valley of Vision today, and it's excellent:
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.

My Savior wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorned crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
Great stuff. If you don't have Valley of Vision, go buy it right now. It has been an enormous help for my prayer life, and even if you don't agree with the theology of the Puritans (i.e. if you aren't a Calvinist!), you have to appreciate their unwavering dependence on and appreciation for the total sufficiency of Christ's righteousness in the place of our sin.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Uh-oh, Mr. Bonds...

Looks like Barry "Oversized Head and Feet" Bonds is in trouble: the court evidence against him for his perjury charges is being unsealed. Kiss the Hall of Fame goodbye.

Up with the Dodgers (i.e. goodness, truth and beauty). Down with the Giants (i.e. sin and evil).

Ministry in South Africa

My friend Ali Christoph is doing missions work for the year in South Africa and has a boatload of good stories already at her blog. If you're into having your faith encouraged by seeing the work that the Spirit of God is doing, go check out her blog.

Great stuff, and such a joy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What the Dodgers Need to Do (About Manny and Otherwise)

I'm a huge Dodgers fan. In the wake of Manny denying the 1 year, 25 million dollar offer the Dodgers gave him, the team now is still trying to get him, but has started to consider getting Adam Dunn and Orlando Hudson instead.

My thoughts:

1. Manny is as good as it gets, but if you can't get him, Adam Dunn sure ain't bad. I've heard some fans and radio personalities go on about how Manny is the only option for the Dodgers. But here's my case for Adam Dunn:
  • 40+ homers per year every year for the last 5 years sure ain't bad. Dunn is a model of consistency, and he doesn't get hurt, mouth off, or push team employees to the ground. Of course, he also strikes out like crazy and hasn't hit better than .267 in that time, but his OBP is always in the high 300's and he walks a ton. Clearly he's no Manny at the plate, but that's still pretty dang good, especially on a team that really needs a power bat.
  • In kind of a strange way, Dunn actually provides more depth for the Dodgers than does Manny. The Dodgers have Juan Pierre just sitting on the bench at this point. If James Loney were to get hurt, you could slide Dunn to first and put Pierre, Delwyn Young, or possibly even Jason Repko in the outfield spot. There isn't, by contrast, a legitimate back-up first baseman if Manny signs.
  • Most importantly, Dunn would probably sign for less than half of what Manny wants, and for not as many years. Considering how many crappy contracts the Dodgers have been stuck in, that's pretty appealing. That would open up money for the Dodgers to make other moves. On that note...
2. The Dodgers need pitching. Right now they have 3 starters: Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Clayton Kershaw. Kuroda is solid but in his mid-30's (you never know when an arm dies at that age...), Kershaw, on the other hand, won't be able to legally buy beer for another month and a half and has never pitched a full major league season. His half major league season sure wasn't bad for such a young guy, but it wasn't that good either. All I'm saying is that to count on him as a starter (the #3 starter, no less) is asking a lot of the kid. Billingsley, the ace, got killed in the playoffs last year, and broke his leg in the beginning of the offseason. Who knows what he's got right now.

Point is, the Dodgers need to address their starting pitching badly. And this is where I just don't understand why Randy Wolf is their main target and not Ben Sheets. Apparently they have 40+ million to spend. Even if 25 goes to Manny, 15 has to be enough to get Sheets. So why not get him? Injury history can be my only guess. But if that's the problem, why get Randy Wolf? Wolf is notoriously injury prone as well, but lacks the upside of Sheets. Last year Wolf started 33 games while Sheets started 31. The difference? Wolf's ERA was 4.30 while Sheets's was 3.09. Sheets is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Wolf is solid when not hurt, but nothing more. I just don't get it.

My solution? If you don't get Manny, go after Sheets, Wolf, and Dunn (not Wolf, Dunn, and Orlando Hudson, since the Dodgers already have a viable second base option in Blake DeWitt). Lock up the pitching staff. Pitching wins championships.

3. Most importantly, the key to the Dodgers' success this year is going to be based on what their young players, namely Kemp, Ethier, Loney, and Martin do. Look at the playoffs last year: Manny played great in the NLDS, but what made them beat the Cubs was the play of Loney and others. Manny's homers in that series were generally inconsequential in the games. In the NLCS, Manny still played great, but the young core didn't, and they lost. That simple.

Look: Manny Ramirez is better than Adam Dunn. No one is disputing that. But the Dodgers still have holes even if Manny comes. If he refuses to take an incredibly reasonable 1 year, 25 million dollar offer when no one else is touching that money, then what else can you do? Not much, and I think they would be ok redistributing that money into a more well-rounded team. For one thing, imagine a starting rotation of Ben Sheets, Chad Billingsley, Randy Wolf, Hiroki Kuroda, and best case scenario, a healthy Jason Schmidt, or else Clayton Kershaw. Pretty dang good, no matter what the lineup.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Assuming (and Forgiving) Sin

So I've been working through my Bible reading plan (which I've been enjoying, by the way) and just got through 2 Chronicles 6 today.

2 Chr. 6 is Solomon's prayer of dedication for the newly-built temple. What stands out is the way that throughout the prayer, rather than saying, "Lord, if we sin, please forgive us," the language is, "Lord, when we sin, please forgive us."

Sin is an assumed reality, and Solomon asks in advance for forgiveness apparently for as many different kinds of sin as he can think of. I was tempted to read on this morning to see God's answer in ch. 7. I know what it is, of course, but the story has me a bit on the edge of my seat.

This is one of those rare times when someone in Israel has it figured out. The Chronicler is obviously writing well after this event, probably during the exile, and as such includes at the end of the chapter Solomon's long section pleading for forgiveness even if the people should be exiled. There is thus a sense in which the text preaches to the people: look guys, even way out here in Babylon, God may well still forgive us.

Of course, we have to wait to find out if He says that He will.

In any case, the Chronicler understands: Israel's history is a history of failure. They're the Chicago Cubs of divine revelation. He can look back and see that at every point along the way, Israel has failed. And it won't even take long: the very next king after Solomon will split the kingdom.

And it is remarkable that the temple represents the forgiveness of sin, because it is the temple that still does. That is, it is Jesus, the living temple, who still does. Jesus comes and redirects temple imagery into himself, and we go to him for forgiveness.

We should still assume sin in an inaugurated but not consummated kingdom. We should also still repent of it and go to the Temple for our forgiveness.

I've Returned

Awhile back I started this blog to get myself writing more. I emailed a couple friends who I thought might be interested, never expecting to make much of it. Norm Jeune was one of those friends.

Norm contacted me and told me that I should ditch this and come along with him and Damian Romano on Christians in Context, which already had a following. I thought that was a good idea, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every bit of that.

Now that I've been there for about nine months, I've been itching again for a place where I feel the freedom to write more devotional, personal, quicker hit kind of stuff. Christians in Context sometimes has a more "academic" feel (for lack of a better word- no pretension meant).

So who knows what shape this will take exactly, and who knows if I ever get another reader. I'll leave the efforts on that front to my CiC work. Either way, I hereby joyfully announce the return of my personal blog, and I hope that anyone who is reading this enjoys it!