22 November 2012

Wedding Day by Casting Crowns

I have a number of songs that blow me away.  They bring tears to my eyes as I bask in the knowledge of God's grace and mercy.  A few weeks ago, I bought Come to the Well, but Casting Crowns and track 8 is called "Wedding Day."  I have listened to this song again and again as I reflect on how God sees me.  Amazing.

There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds its breath
Waiting now to see the Bridegroom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
But this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that He sees
She wears white head to toe
But only He could make it so

(Think about this verse.  This is a remarkable reflection of grace!  Each of us bears the shame of our own history.  We are unworthy, worn, and wary, but we are clothed in Christ's perfect righteousness).  

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says you’re beautiful
When you don’t know you are
When all you long to see
Is written on His face
Love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

She has danced in golden castles
She has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before Him
And she wears His righteousness
She will be who He adores
This is what He made her for

(Again, think about this.  When we stand before Christ, we will wear his righteousness and we are adored!). 

When the hand that bears the only scars
In Heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as He takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign

(This final verse has amazing imagery.  Jesus' hands will bear the only scars in heaven.  By his wounds we are completely healed.)

18 November 2012

Book Review: The Hammer of God

I just finished this remarkable novel written by Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God.  The book, made up of 3 novellas, was written in 1960 by a Swedish pastor, linked around the concept of God's grace.  The introductory notes are a must read and reveal the following: Three parishes in the same location of Sweden are featured, one in 1808, a second in 1878, and a third in 1937.  Each section seeks to address a theological problem affecting the churches at the time.  In the first case, rationalism had its grip on the church and Giertz points the reader back to nourishment of God's word and Christ alone.  In the second, he discussed two types of revivalism, the second leading to legalism.  In the final section, he examines the increasing influence of liberal theology upon the church.  Presented in fictional form, the reader is unwittingly drawn into a discussion of theology and of classical Lutheranism, a clear strength. 

I would like to share some brief snippets, hopefully to draw you into the story.

From the first story: "Sitting there in the carriage, it seemed to him that God was just as distant and exalted for him as the cloudless and spacious summer sky above him--infinitely majestic, gentle in his summer warmth, but oh, so far away! For the people he had just learned to know, God was also the earth and the common day. He was as near to them as the Bible on the table or the clothes they wore. He was as real as the ploughed fields and the mountain crags. His wrath was like a tempest and a fever, his mercy like a lovely sabbath morning. For them, everything was near and palpable. And yet they had the infinity of heaven remaining above them!"

From the second: " The conscience, our own anxiety, and all slaves of the law bid us go the way of obedience to the very end in order to find peace with God. But the way of obedience has no end. It lies endlessly before you, bringing continually severer demands and constantly growing indebtedness. If you seek peace on that road, you will not find peace, but the debt of ten thousand talents instead. But now Christ is the end of the law; the road ends at his feet, and here his righteousness is offered to everyone who believes. It is to that place, to Jesus only, that God has wanted to drive you with all your unrest and anguish of soul."

This is a good book and worth the read.  It is probably something you haven't considered before, but let me recommend it to you.

14 November 2012

Wreck It Ralph is Right On

Last weekend, I took the kids to see Wreck-It Ralph. I left the movie deeply moved and told several friends that it may very well be one of the best animated movies I have seen in a long time (Despicable Me belongs on that list as well).  I toyed with the idea of writing a review, but thankfully Mockingbird reviewed the movie, pointing out the folly of self-justification and the need for other directed love.  If you haven't seen the movie, there are some spoilers in the Mockingbird review, but if you read it, know that I think they are right on.  Also, if you haven't seen the movie, please do so. 

Patton on Overcoming Sin

Is it just me, or do some of the rest of you still struggle with sinning?  Assuming that there are at least a few of you who continue to sin, let me offer this helpful word from Michael Patton:

A few words of advice:
  1. If you have the opportunity, make a big change. This could be moving, getting a new job, or going on a long vacation. Sometimes our ruts have more power because they are built in to such a habit which can be facilitated some by our surroundings.
  2. Make sure that you are surrounding yourself with the right people. This is not so they can ask you about your sin every day (as I said, this sometimes makes things worse), but so that you can be inspired by new examples. This could relate to #1 as you may have to get away from some bad examples.
  3. Don’t give yourself the opportunities to sin. Sometimes this comes in idle times. Being idle is the handmaiden of sin. Make sure you stay busy. If you don’t have a job, find ways to volunteer until you find one. Just make sure you are not sitting around staring at the wall. Stay busy.
  4. Run from those things that aggravate sin. Joseph ran from the wife of a man who wanted to sleep with him (Gen. 39:7). I don’t figure this was because he was so stong. It was probably because he knew he was so weak. Get rid of those things in your house or life that instigate this sin. Run from them. I had to run from my drinking buddies, whom I loved dearly, in order to even begin to recover. Some people need to get rid of friends too. Others need to get rid of cable, the internet, clear out their food pantry, or quit their job. It may seem drastic, but it’s the whole “If your hand causes you to stumble . . .” stuff Jesus talked about (Matt. 5:30).
  5. If possible, get involved at a deeper level at your local church. It is harder to sin when people are relying on you to stay strong. When you are the only one you disappoint when you fall into sin, it will be very hard to remain consistent. After all, it is easy to get used to letting ourselves down. It is harder to let the Body of Christ down.
  6. Never give up. One person has once said that the Christian life is a life of new beginnings every morning. You may live with this sin for a long time. It may plague you the rest of your life. But never give up the battle. Never quit bringing it to the Lord. He may allow it for a humbling weakness. I don’t know why he works the way he does, but I do know that giving up is not an option. If you have to pick yourself up off the ground and make a new beginning every morning for the rest of your life, join with me and do it!
  7. Finally, and most importantly, don’t quit accepting the grace and forgiveness of God. He forgives us an infinite amount of times (Matt. 18:22). I know how hard it get to accept God’s grace after the twenty-thousanth time I have fallen into the same sin. I know how you just want to say, “Just forget it. I am not asking for your grace again. I am too ashamed.” Don’t ever go there. God’s grace is enough to forgive you this time and the twenty-million times that follow. God’s grace is a radical, unbelievable, strange, and inexhaustible grace.
Remain encouraged my friend. There are few people who I know who are not in an ongoing battle with some sin. Those who say are not . . .well . . . they are lying!

I would strongly commend the rest of the article here.  

06 November 2012

Bye-Bye Tolerance

Recently, in the Huffington Post, Marilyn Sewell has written an opinion piece on why she is “saying goodbye to tolerance.”  She opened her piece by noting her membership in the “the most tolerant of faiths” the Unitarian Universalist church.  Despite her disposition toward tolerance, she is admittedly finding herself “increasingly intolerant of the theology and practice of many evangelical Christians.” 

She visited a conservative seminary where the students, who were “unfailingly polite,” have treated her like “an insect under glass”.  They were not confrontative [sic], but she perceived that they were concerned for her soul.  To my own way of thinking, I am not sure how being unfailingly polite is consistent with the image of Christians as supporting hate crimes, which she argues later in the piece. Indeed, politeness is an admirable trait.  Furthermore, I am not surprised by the students’ curiosity at her faith background.  She should know that as evangelicals, we are also accustomed to the type of scrutiny that she feels.  Curiosity about others’ beliefs is a good thing.  Finally, she surmises that the students were concerned for her eternal soul.  I have no doubt that is true; indeed I hope it is true. One of the hallmarks of evangelicalism is the belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Savior (John 14:6).  If we profess to be evangelical Christians, part of our identity involves concern for the souls of those around us.   We believe the Bible is objectively true and so our concern is objectively real, a facet that rarely enters this discussion--what is Truth? 

Sewell moves on, noting that “much of what [evangelicals] believe is unloving and in fact destructive.” She then provides the example of two nephews—one gay, one evangelical—and how the evangelical will not speak to his younger brother “presumably because his children might be adversely influenced.”  I am left wondering how she has come to this presumption.  Did she form her opinion about why they disagree and then make the data fit that presumption?  Perhaps there is a different reason these brothers do not get along that she knows nothing about.

Then she makes an unfortunate leap in her thinking.  She writes “of even more concern is the preponderance of hate crimes being committed against gays and minorities” and goes on to cite several statistics.  Indeed, there are many hate crimes being committed throughout the world.  Where she is in error, however, is in her apparent presumption that these hate crimes are either committed, or at least tacitly approved of, by evangelicals.  This is flatly false.  Christians were at the forefront of the abolition of slavery in England and in the United States.   Christians have been at the forefront of ethical treatment for prisoners.  Christians were deeply involved in trying to stop Hitler.  Christians continue to be involved in fighting against abortion, sex trafficking, and human exploitation around the globe.  I suspect that if she were to take the time to look at who has committed hate crimes, it would not generally be church-attending evangelicals.  She also fails to include the clear data that the 20th century has seen great movements of genocide in Germany, Rwanda, Cambodia, and other places at the hand of atheist regimes and atheist leaders. Evangelicals have consistently stood for the oppressed in the face of this tyranny. 

She later returns to the idea that for the evangelical, faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation, which is a stance that turns everyone else into an infidel, unbeliever, or moral pervert.  Her use of the word infidel is interesting and I suspect was chosen to associate evangelicals with Islamic extremists.  “Unbeliever” is also interesting because I would suspect that most people who don’t believe in Jesus would in fact be…well…unbelievers.  I am not sure evangelicals would choose any of those terms to describe others.  Yet, I suspect we would all assent to the idea that unbelievers are sinners.  So are believers.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every person, Christian or not, is facing condemnation due to their sinfulness.  The only remedy for that sinfulness is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago.   

Later Sewell asks, “if these ‘others’ are offending God by their sins and are on their way to hell, what covert permission is being given to those inclined to act violently on their prejudices?” The Bible offers no covert or overt permission to act upon these prejudices.  Christians are to love others wholeheartedly and to turn the other cheek.  Do those professing Christ fail at that sometimes?  Certainly, but violence and hatred is not exclusive to those proclaiming to be evangelicals (whether they actually are evangelicals is a topic for another day).  Again, I suspect that if she were to dig into the data rather than making baseless assumptions, she would discover that those who hold to orthodox biblical teaching are among the least likely to act out violently. 

The irony that she seems to miss is that secular society has increasingly been intolerant of Christian beliefs.  Christians are regularly dissuaded from speaking about their faith.  Christians are not allowed to run their business practices as they wish.  She also apparently failed to include Christian martyrs in her list of hate crimes.  According to George Weigel, The International Bulletin of Missionary Research annual bulletin in 2011 noted that, “there have 270 Christian martyrs every 24 hours over the past decade.”  That’s one million Christians dead because of their faith.

In the end, she concludes “somewhere in the middle is the silence, the refusal to speak out against prejudice.”  I wonder, would she encourage others to speak out against the prejudice and intolerance toward Christians that she is advocating here?

In a way, I am glad that Marilyn Sewell is saying goodbye to tolerance. At least she is finally bringing to light what we evangelicals have known for years.  Tolerance applies universally...unless you are a Christian. 

03 November 2012

Uncaused, Undeserved Love

Thoughts from AW Tozer, from The Knowledge of the Holy: "We are sure that there is in us nothing that could attract the love of One as holy and as just as Thou art. Yet Thou hast declared Thine unchanging love for us in Christ Jesus. If nothing in us can win Thy love, nothing in the universe can prevent Thee from loving us. Thy love is uncaused and undeserved. Thou art Thyself the reason for the love wherewith we are loved. Help us to believe the intensity, the eternity of the love that has found us. Then love will cast out fear; and our troubled hearts will be at peace, trusting not in what we are but in what Thou hast declared Thyself to be."

01 November 2012

Pro-Choice Bumper Stickers

This phrase, and the accompanying bumper sticker, are very popular with the pro-abortion set.  Scott Klussendorf shows the flaw with this line of thinking.  He writes,

Notice the bumper sticker completely transforms the nature of the abortion debate with a single word---"like."

When pro-life advocates claim that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being, they aren't saying they dislike abortion. They are saying it's objectively wrong, regardless of how one feels about it. Notice what's going on here. The pro-life advocate makes a moral claim that he believes is objectively true---namely, that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. The abortion-choice advocate responds by changing that objective truth claim into a subjective one about likes and dislikes, as if the pro-lifer were talking about a mere preference. But this misses the point entirely. As Francis J. Beckwith points out, pro-life advocates don't oppose abortion because they find it distasteful; they oppose it because it violates rational moral principles.

Imagine if I said, "Don't like slavery? Then don't own a slave." Or, "Don't like spousal abuse? Then don't beat your wife!" If I said such things, you would immediately realize I don't grasp why slavery and spousal abuse are wrong. They are not wrong because I personally dislike them. They are wrong because slaves and spouses are intrinsically valuable human beings who have a natural right not to be treated as property. Whether I personally like slavery or spousal abuse is completely beside the point. If I liked spousal abuse, you would rightly say I was sick! You wouldn't resign yourself to, "I guess abuse is right for you but not for me."

And yet this is precisely what the pro-choicer does. He reduces abortion to a mere preference and then declares, "Hands off! Keep the government out of the abortion business!"

Read the rest here.