31 January 2013

Gene Veith on the Grace vs holiness debate

Gene Veith is one of my favorite writers. He is a Lutheran who writes a lot about Christian worldview and contemporary social issues.  Today, he addresses a recent question apparently posed by Christianity Today about whether Americans need the message of grace or a call to holiness.  His thoughts are worth considering.

He writes,"...it is strange, in Lutheran eyes, to talk about 'holiness' simply in behavioral terms.   It is also strange to talk about 'grace' as an abstract quality without mentioning Christ, the Cross, or the tangible 'means of grace,' which gets us back to 'holiness.'

"Good works? Of course!  But these grow out of both grace and holiness.  Both have to do with God’s gifts and what God bestows through Christ.  How can they be set against each other?"

A Disciple's Renewal

Every morning, I read a prayer from Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. It is a book of puritan prayers.  This morning, I read a prayer called "A disciple's renewal" and I wanted to share it with all of you.

O my Saviour,
Help me.
I am so slow to learn,
so slow to forget,
so weak to climb;
I am in the foothills when I should be on the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace,
so that there may be
more decision in my character,
more vigour in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervor in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature
what can be found only in the Creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee,
until it vanishes into sight.
Ride forth in me, thou King of kings
and Lord of lords,
that I may live victoriously,
and in victory obtain my end. 

30 January 2013

It is not just the prostitutes who are sex slaves

In the past several years, there has been a lot of talk of the world of sex trafficking, particularly child sex trafficking.  This is an abhorrent practice that just continues to worsen, year by year.  I read today on The Resurgence that at the 2010 Superbowl, 10,000 prostitutes were flown in for the game.  Around the world, adults and children are exploited for sex.

But it is not just prostitution.  Many more of our children are growing up in a pornified culture.  When I was a child, pornography was rare and difficult to obtain, but many of us wretched sinners sought to obtain it anyway.  Now, we live in a culture where pornography is as readily available as bottled water and is much cheaper.  In 10 seconds, anyone with a smart phone, iPad, or an internet connection can be looking at explicit, hardcore images and video clips to suit any perversion.  Adults can find these easily.  Children, who are much more tech savvy, can find them even easier.

I think Internet filters serve a purpose, but they may provide parents with a false confidence.  Again, our technified children can find ways around a filter in a heartbeat's time.  Parents, when it comes to technology, your children are probably smarter than you are.  I know that mine are.

If your children have access to a smart phone, you may as well do away with the Internet filter.  Not only can they quickly find pornography, recent trends are that they photograph or video themselves and share it with one another.  Boys and girls are being pressured to engage in sex acts at a younger and younger age.  They see it on TV.  They see it on the Internet. They see it in their toys.  They see it everywhere.

I was talking with a friend last week who was telling me that he was visiting with a youth group in a church and they were asking fairly directly about sexuality.  None of the kids they visited with considered oral sex to be immoral.  It was a non-issue and considered totally appropriate.  This is happening everywhere, every day.

My friend Zach pointed to this article in the Telegraph about "Children and the Culture of Pornography."  I would recommend the whole article to you, but just consider this brief snippet:

Claire, who must be 12 or 13, is quoted as saying of the boys in her class: “If they want oral sex, they will ask every single day until you say yes.” 

Kamal, a boy in the same year, says: “Say I got a girlfriend, I would ask her to write my name on her breast and then send it to me and then I would upload it on to Facebook or Bebo or something like that.” The profile picture on his phone, seen by everyone to whom he sends messages, is an image of his girlfriend’s cleavage. Some of the boys at his school have explicit images of up to 30 different girls on their phone. They swap them like we used to swap football cards. If they fancy a girl, they send her a picture of their genitals. As one teenage girl said after the report came out, sending pictures of your body parts is “the new flirting”.
Boys have always tried their luck, but now they have the technological means to apply pressure, on phones with cameras and messenger networks that no adult ever sees. 

Chloe Combi, a former teacher who began her career in “a pretty posh school”, has written in the Times Educational Supplement about when it goes further: “The hardest conversation I’ve ever had was with a distraught, confused man of about 45. I had to explain to him that we had to exclude from school his seemingly non-abused, non-disturbed, well-loved daughter because she had been caught administering fellatio to a line of young men in the boys’ toilets for cash.” 

Our kids are having sex.  They are having sex earlier and with more partners.  What can you do?

First, talk to your kids early about sex.  If you think it is too early, it is not.

Second, monitor what you watch on television and what sort of toys they play with. Keep your computers in public spaces. No computers in bedrooms. 

Third, there is no reason for a child to have a smart phone.  I know, I know.  All the other kids have them.  And what if they get stranded somewhere?  If you are my age and even a bit younger, you didn't have one and you survived.  If they really need a phone, they can probably borrow one from a friend--we had to use a pay phone. 

Fourth, don't assume that they will always choose well with regard to sexual relations (and it isn't always opposite sex relations; same sex experimentation is occurring with greater frequency too). Talk specifically about the pressures that they will face.  Talk specifically about how they can stand up in the face of those pressures.  Have them problem solve with you.

Fifth, talk about the way in which the culture has changed.  Show them, by example, that over the last 50 years, culture has changed remarkably.  Tell them how secularism and relativism have changed how people think about issues then bring them back to the Bible to identify the ways in which societies have strayed.   Remind them of the gospel and God's faithfulness to His people even though we are sinners.

Fifth, try to think of ways you can be involved on a public level.  How can you speak out against the increasing immorality in our culture?  How can you specifically pray for the hypersexualized culture in which we live?

Pornography is a plague and it is getting worse.  Too many people view it as harmless, but the long term repercussions on marriages, on families, and on our children are likely to be legion. 

DeYoung on the temptations of social media

Kevin DeYoung has written what I consider to be a very important article, perhaps because I struggle so much with it.  He is addressing our addictions to social media and "connectedness." 

He writes, "I was speaking at one of our top seminaries when after the class two men came up to me in private to ask a question. I could tell by the way they were speaking quietly and shifting their eyes that they had something awkward to say. I was sure they were going to talk about pornography. And sure enough, they wanted to talk about their struggles with the internet. But it wasn’t porn they were addicted to. It was social media. They told me they couldn’t stop looking at Facebook; they were spending hours on blogs and mindlessly surfing the web."

And here is part two. I like this line from part 2, a quote from Richard John Neuhaus: “Acedia is evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education but of narcoticized defense against time and duty. Above all, acedia is apathy, the refusal to engage the pathos of other lives and of God’s life with them”

25 January 2013

Book Review: Respectable Sins

When I opened my Christmas gifts from my wife this year, there were a lot of Jerry Bridges books.  In fact, I think all of them were from Jerry Bridges, which is fine by me.  He has been my favorite author as of late.  The most recent one was Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, a book I have been looking forward to reading for a long time. 

In this book, Bridges addresses the sins that we as Christians tolerate. From his preface, "The motivation for this book stems from a growing conviction that those of us whom I call conservative evangelicals may have become so preoccupied with some of the major sins of society around us that we have lost sight of the need to deal with our own 'more refined' sins." He acknowledges how deeply our sins, even these more respectable ones, can affect our lives. As he so commonly does, he points to the gospel as the remedy. 

His sixth chapter on "Directions for Dealing with Sins" is particularly worth while.  He suggests:

  1. We should always address our sins in the context of the gospel.
  2. We must always learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. While depending on the Holy Spirit, we must at the same time recognize our responsibility to diligently pursue all practical steps for dealing with our sins.
  4. We must identify specific areas of acceptable sins.
  5. We should bring to bear specific applicable scriptures to each of our subtle sins. 
  6. We should cultivate the practice of prayer over the sins we tolerate. 
  7. We should involve one or more other believers with us in our struggle against our subtle sins.  
In the later chapters of the book, he does address specific sins including: ungodliness, anxiety and frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride selfishness, lack of self control, impatience and irritability, anger, the weeds of anger, judgmentalism, envy, jealousy, sins of the tongue, and worldliness.  I was particularly convicted by the chapters on self control and pride as they hit closest to home for me, though I suspect if you are human, you will find conviction and hope here too.  

24 January 2013

Best thing out of the NFL in a long time

I love this. 

Pilgrim's Progress: Twas Ease I Sought

A few weeks back, I wrote about Christian's talk with Pliable and how it was relevant to the modern thinking that the Christian life is easy.  Today, as Christian visits again with Evangelist, we see this theme resurfacing again.  He tells him, "He bid me with speed to get rid of my burden, and I told him that it was ease that I sought; and, said I, I am therefore going to yonder gate to receive further direction how I might get to the place of difference. So he said that he would show me a better way, and short, not so attended with difficulties as the way sir that you set me in; which way, said he, will direct you to a gentleman's house that hath skill to take off these burdens: so I believed him, and turned out of that way into this, if haply I might soon be eased of my burden. But when I came to this place, and beheld things as they are, I stopped for fear of danger; but now I don't know what to do." 

Christian was looking for an easier way to be released from his burden for it was too much.  I think we all look for easy ways to be eased of our burdens as well.  We seek solace in food, substances, television--any of a number of things.  We are so willing to try anything, listen to anyone, and so when a better way is promised, our ears perk up.  But what Christian discovered, what we all discover, is that the only way the burden is removed is at the cross.  Christian gratefully met with Evangelist again who set him back on the right track.  May we all be so lucky.

What things have you sought to help ease your burdens? How can you intentionally point others to the cross to ease theirs?

23 January 2013

Love to the Uttermost

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.-Hebrews 7:23-25

Often, the language of the Bible really strikes me.  I was reading in Hebrews this morning and verse 25 is worth spending the day meditating on.  It tells us that, for those that draw near to him, Jesus saves to the uttermost.  In other words, he saves to the ultimate degree, to the greatest possible extent.  He will go as far as he needs to save.  Furthermore, because he lives forever, he is always available to do so.  The end of verse 25 says that he "lives to make intercession for them."  He intercedes, again and again, with the Father on our behalf. 

Rest in his effusive, neverending love and intercession.

22 January 2013

Worship in the Midst of Grief

    Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.-Job 1:20

This morning, I began reading the book of Job again.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, Satan kills all of Job's children, his livestock, and his crops, leaving him with essentially nothing. I have read this book many times, but this morning I was struck by Job 1:20.  Assuredly, part of Job's response is what I would expect.  He tore his robe and shaved his head.  In other words, he was experiencing a deep grief and sadness.  I cannot fathom the pain he must have experienced in that moment. 

But without even stopping to catch his breath, the writer said that Job "fell on the ground and worshiped." He worshiped.  He ascribed worth to the God of the universe.  In modern society, we tend to associate worship with happiness, with good times, but the Bible presents a much more full-orbed view of worship.  God's people worship in all circumstances--sadness, grief, happiness, fear.  In all circumstances, they give glory to God. 

Do you find that it is easier to worship God when you are feeling happy?  What does it look like to worship God in the midst of trial. 

21 January 2013

Jerry Bridges recommendations for dealing with sin

I just started reading Jerry Bridges' Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate.  In chapter six, he addresses "directions for dealing with sins."  Here are his suggestions:
  1. We should always address our sins in the context of the gospel.
  2. We must always learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. While depending on the Holy Spirit, we must at the same time recognize our responsibility to diligently pursue all practical steps for dealing with our sins.
  4. We must identify specific areas of acceptable sins.
  5. We should bring to bear specific applicable scriptures to each of our subtle sins. 
  6. We should cultivate the practice of prayer over the sins we tolerate. 
  7. We should involve one or more other believers with us in our struggle against our subtle sins. 

14 January 2013

Comprehensive Training

Elite athletes dedicate their lives to their sport.  Consider the marathoner.  He does not wake up some Saturday morning and decide he will run 26.2 miles.  He spends months, even years, training for the event.  Yes, his training involves running lots and lots of miles.  The elite runner, however, is not satisfied with just running.  He knows that to truly excel at his sport, he must attend to many other things as well.  He studies the form of great runners. He receives coaching from someone who can not only encourage him, but offer critical feedback to make him a better runner.  He studies nutrition so that he knows how to eat and refuel properly. He understands how his sleep patterns affect him. Perhaps he chooses to run with others to push him on to higher levels of greatness.  He awakens early, goes to bed early and may forgo some of the indulgences of his friends.  Why does he do this?  Because he loves to run and he wants to be the best runner he can be.

First Corinthians 9:24-27 reads, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

The athlete exercises self-control in all things.  In other words, the athlete's life is geared around his success as an athlete.  How often do you exercise self-control in all things?  Perhaps you are pretty good at having a quiet time so you check it off of your list for the day.  Maybe scripture memorization is your thing.  But how often do you think about pursuing discipline in everything that you do?  Eating, sleeping, media consumption? Do you pursue godly relationships where you may be challenged and encouraged? Do you sit under the preaching of a faithful Bible teacher and try to reflect on the teaching during the week? Do you ever stop to consider that how you discipline yourself in these areas may improve your Christian discipleship?

I want to be clear.  Practicing discipline in these areas is not a call to "do more/try harder" for your salvation. You cannot earn your salvation.  It is a free gift.  But do you want to grow in discipleship?  Do you want to grow in Christlikeness?  The way to grow in Christlikeness is continue to continue to practice self-discipline in all areas so that while the Spirit is working in you, you are working out.  This practice, as it does for the disciplined athlete, will ultimately result in blessing (Paul says so in verse 23). 

His commands are not burdensome.  When we discipline ourselves, our growth in godliness and fruitfulness will prove to be a light burden indeed.

(These thoughts of mine are influenced by a book I just began reading, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives )

Define Irony?

As my friend Zach says, "The ironic contrast couldn't be more stunning."  

13 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: The High Hill

Christian, heeding the advice of Worldly Wiseman, begins to climb the high hill. It reads, "when he was got now hard by the hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next to the wayside did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still, and knew not what to do. Also now his burden seemed heavier to him" (p. 29). 

Building on yesterday, Christian discovers the burden of legalism.  No matter how hard you work, the burden feels heavier and heavier.  Christian recognizes that he cannot climb higher, he cannot improve his behavior any more and yet he does not know how to turn back from his action.  He is deathly afraid of falling off the wayside.  In other words, he fears that his behaviors will falter and he will face eternal torment.

Legalism never saves.  It increases our burden.  Pray that God would reveal your legalism and turn back to grace. 

12 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Worldly Wiseman 2

If you would recall, Worldly Wiseman had encouraged Christian to ease himself of his burden.  To help him in this task, he sent him on his way to the town of Morality to see a man, Mr. Legality.  Wiseman tells him that Legality is a very judicious man who has a very good name and who has done much good. The town, he says, is filled with honest neighbors. 

I think a lot of Christians view this as the ideal Christian community, full of hard working, honest people.  People who work really hard for God. Many of us view this hard work as the means of our salvation, even if we don't say that it is.  I remember growing up and hearing about "good Christian people."

To be fair, to have a good name, to be judicious, and to do good are not bad things.  Indeed, they are encouraged.  However, Christian was looking for his burden to be removed and these things can never remove the burden. Legalism and morality have no hope of removing the burden of our sin and may, unfortunately, create an obstacle that keep us from seeing the grace we so desperately need. 

11 January 2013

What people say to interracial families

Yep, people say these things. 


Book Review: Broken Down House

I just finished reading Paul Tripp's Broken Down House (2009), a book that addresses life in this world mired by sin.  In the book, Tripp seeks to show how the world in which we live has been affected, infected by sinfulness and that it is only the grace of God that will provide any response to this sin.  In his typical style, Tripp uses a number of engaging vignettes to make his points about the importance of living with grace in the knowledge of God's sovereignty.  He specifically shows how living with a gospel mindset has implications for marriage, parenting, work, and so forth.  It is a great worldview book that is made stronger by his inter-chapter poems.  Not my favorite work of his, but definitely a good book. 

Where apologetics may falter

Andrew Wilson points to an article by Jeff Cook on why the New Atheists are winning the public battle despite being wrong.  Essentially, they appeal to emotion by employing ridicule rather than dealing with reason and truth. 

Cook wrote, “Blaise Pascal said, ‘Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is’ (Pensees 12).
“All too often (especially online) those of us who like arguing for Christian Theism jump to the end of Pascal’s list. We think we have wiz-bang arguments to offer. Unfortunately, we don’t have a worthy foundation for showcasing such arguments. We have not established that Christianity should be revered, nor that it is attractive, nor that it is worthy of affection. We prefer to pull out our five proofs for its 'truth' and argue our misguided interlocutors into the Kingdom cold. This is a mistake, for most of our audience see such arguments as power plays, as manipulation, as simply another advertisement out there trying to entice them to buy something."

10 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Worldly Wiseman

Christian continues on his journey toward the wicket to be rid of his burden when a man, Mr Worldly Wiseman, approaches him and engages him in conversation.  Christian explains to him that he wishes desparately to be rid of the burden on his back. Beginning on page 25, we see the first glimpse of Mr Worldly Wiseman's unfortunate counsel.  He tells Christian, "I would advise thee then, that thou with all speed, get thyself rid of thy burden; for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind until then: nor canst thou enjoy the benefits of the blessings which God hath bestowed upon thee, till then." 

Get thyself rid.  Thyself.  In other words, pull yourself by your bootstraps.  Do good.  Try harder.  Are you struggling with pornography?  Just stop looking at it.  Do you get angry with your kids?  Stop it.  Are you prone to gossip.  Knock it off! 

For many of us, this is our default setting.  We claim that we believe in God's saving grace, but we don't really live as though we believe it.  We say that he saved us from our sin, but then we go on about trying to save ourselves every day.  We assume that if we can just buckle down, we can fix ourselves. 

Here's the deal, even if we were able to improve all of our behaviors, the burden of sin would remain.  It is only by the atoning sacrifice of Christ that our sins are forgiving. It is only by the indwelling of he Holy Spirit that any true heart change can be expected. 

09 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Don't get bogged down

Yesterday, Pliable had abandoned Christian to the swamp, returning to the City of Destruction. Christian, hopelessly stuck in the slough of despond, meets Help who assists Christian in getting out of the muck.  Christian observes that this Slough stands right between the City of Destruction and the gate and asks why no one fills it in?  Why does it stand in the way? Help explains to Christian, "This miry Slough is such a place that cannot be mended. It is descent whither the scum and filth that attends  conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is called the Slough of Despond; for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place. And this is the reason for the badness of this ground" (p. 23). 

We Christians often begin really well, but then we get stuck.  We start to focus on our own ineptitude, our brokenness, and our inability to measure up.  We see the biblical standard for holiness, but rather than keeping our eyes glued to the cross, we begin navel-gazing, focusing on our sin rather than upon our Savior.  Help's point to Christian was that these fears and doubts derail many people, sometimes hopelessly so.  Rather than persevering, rather than focusing on biblical truths, we just give up. 

But then Help tells Christian, "It is not the pleasure of the King that this place should remain so bad" (p. 23). God desires people to look upon Him and His saving grace.  Bunyan cites Isaiah 35:3-4 at this point, which is a reminder that God will come and save those with weak hands and feeble knees. 

As I read this section, I was reminded of this quote by Robert Murray M'Cheyne, "For every look at yourself, take 10 looks at Christ."  Keep your eyes upon that which matters so that you do not get bogged down. 

08 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: The Slough of Despond

As they headed along the way, Christian and Pliable came upon the Slough of Despond and became hopelessly stuck.  Bunyan described this as a bog, though I always thought of it like quicksand, where the more they struggled, the more hopeless they became.  Regardless, the leisurely walk they were having was suddenly interrupted. Their ease was no longer.

As I read this section, a few things stuck out to me. First, the Christian journey is not always easy, but is sometimes fraught with great difficulty, as we will most assuredly see as the tale progresses.  Second, many people expect that Christianity will be free of suffering.

When they became stuck, it became clear that Pliable was upset with their predicament and that Christian did not have easy answers for him.  This burden was not what Pliable expected. He says to Christian, "Is this the happiness you have told me all this while of? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect between this and our journey's end? May I get out again with my life, you shall possess the brave country alone for me!" He does get out and he disappears.

God never promised that the Christian journey would be easy.  Certainly Bunyan saw that in his time.  He was repeatedly imprisoned for preaching the gospel and refusing to recant.  Throughout the world today, Christians also face significant persecution and it will continue to be so if scripture is to be believed.  Regrettably, too many preachers throughout the world today preach a health and wealth gospel--if you name it and claim it, it shall be yours.  If you believe strongly enough, you can have your best life now.  These are damnable lies designed to detract from the true gospel.  Bunyan understood this very well.  Pray that more Christians would understand it today.

    I waited patiently for the LORD;
        he inclined to me and heard my cry.
    He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
        out of the miry bog,
    and set my feet upon a rock,
        making my steps secure.
    He put a new song in my mouth,
        a song of praise to our God.
    Many will see and fear,
        and put their trust in the LORD.

-Psalm 40:1-3

Have you ever found yourself thinking that following Christ must mean that you will be healthy or wealthy?

07 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Christian Talks With Pliable

After the departure of Obstinate, Christian and Pliable continue on the way.  Pliable appears to demonstrate at least some curiosity regarding what drives Christian on.  Sharing from the Book, Christian tells pliable about heaven. He tells him that the kingdom will be endless and that in that kingdom, God will comfort His people.  Importantly, Christian is working toward becoming an evangelist in his own right, for he tells Pliable, "if we be truly willing to have it, He will bestow it upon us freely" (p. 21). 

In His word, God has given us glimpses of what it will be like to be in His presence.  We will not cry anymore.  We will not fear. We will experience unfiltered joy in His company forever.  Like Christian, we should be eager to tell people about this free gift that eclipses all earthly wonders.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.-Revelation 21:4

When was the last time you basked in the promise of living in God's eternal presence?

06 January 2013

Book Review: The Prodigal God

Yesterday I read The Prodigal God by Tim Keller (2011).  Centering upon the parable of the prodigal son, Keller seeks to help his reader understand more deeply the meaning of the parable.  Too often, he surmises, commentators have focused on the younger son--the prodigal, but that in reality, the story focuses not just on the younger son, but also on the older son and particularly upon the father.  Keller rightly points out that this story shows that both the licentiousness of the younger son and the legalism of the older son are ineffective means to salvation.  It is only the free grace of the father that can save both the younger son and the older one.

This book was good for me.  I struggle with being an elder brother, with being a Pharisee.  I think a lot of people in the church do.  For those of us who struggle with being Pharisees, Keller has important words for us.  Our self-righteousness will never get us anywhere and in fact, may serve as a barrier.  You see, when we think that if we are just good enough, we won't depend upon grace and will then refuse to go into the feast.

Noteworthy quotes:
  • If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishoners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did (18-19)
  • The father is saying, "I'm not going to wait until you've paid off your debt; I'm not going to wait until you've duly groveled. You are not going to earn your way back into my family, I am going to simply take you back. I will cover your nakedness, poverty, and rags with the robes of my office and honor." (26)
  • The prerequisite for receiving the grace of God is to know that you need it. (52). 
  • Perhaps the clearest symptom of this lack of assurance is a dry prayer life (72).
  • Jesus came to bring festival joy (120).
  • What makes you faithful or generous is not a redoubled effort to follow moral rules. Rather all change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out the changes that understanding creates in your heart (133).
The Prodigal God is a really good book.  Keller writes clearly about the message that I seek to understand and tell others about every day.  We are saved by God's sheer grace, not by any goodness of our own.  I would definitely recommend this book. 

Pilgrim's Progress: A New Name

Shortly after Christian meets Obstinate and Pliable, almost unnoticed, Pilgrim's name changes to Christian.  It says, "Yes (said Christian, for that was his name)" (p. 17). Although this name change adds very little to the overall story line, it is a demonstration that Bunyan was careful with each word chosen.  Bunyan could have, from the outset, chosen to name him Christian, but Bunyan understands the importance of a name and he wants to draw the readers attention to it.  Pilgrim was not just a traveler on the way, he had become a Christian, so named by God. 

I can think of several instances in the Bible where people are given new names (Abram becomes Abraham; Jacob becomes Israel; Saul becomes Paul), but Jesus calling Simon "Peter" is the most memorable to me.  Peter means "rock" and Jesus tells Simon Peter that he is the rock on which he will build his church (Matthew 16:17-18).

As believers, we need to live in the realization that God has given us a new name as well.  Though I am Jason, I am also "Christian" for that is my name. 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’-Revelation 2:17

How often do you take the opportunity to reflect upon your new identity in Christ? 

05 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Obstinate

Having been shown the way to the wicket gate, Pilgrim begins to run toward it.  His wife, his children, and his neighbors respond differently to his behavior.  Some mock him, some threaten.  Two men, Obstinate and Pliable, go after him to bring him back home to the City of Destruction. They tell him, unapologetically, that they want him to come back with them.  He tells them he cannot and tries to persuade them to come with him instead.  Pilgrim tries to explain to them what he is seeking after, and Obstinate responds agitatedly. He says to Pliable, "Come then, neighbor Pliable, let us turn again, and go home without him. There is a company of these crazy-headed coxcombs, that when they take a fancy by the end are wiser in their own eyes than seven men that can render a reason" (p. 18). Pliable hesitates and Obstinate is more direct still--"Who knows whither such a brain-sick fellow will lead you? Go back, go back, and be wise" (p. 18). 

As Christians, we must understand that the world is full of Obstinates.  Although there are many people who seem to be indifferent to Christianity, there are some who are much more aggressive in their attacks upon it.  The New Atheists represent some of the most vocal critics of the Christian faith.  Indeed, they would argue alongside Obstinate that Christianity is comprised of "crazy-headed coxcombs" and "brin-sick fellows".  We should not be surprised by these attacks upon the faith.  When they occur we, like Pilgrim, must keep our eyes on yonder wicket gate.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools-Romans 1:22 

you ever experience open attacks upon your faith?  If so, how do you respond? 

04 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: What Must I do?

Pilgrim, confronted by the word of God, realizes his predicament.  He has been reading the Bible and comes to understand the conviction of his sin.  Crying out he says, "what must I do to be saved?" and along comes Evangelist to point the way forward. Pilgrim explains to Evangelist that he cannot bear to face judgment and that even the thought of it brings him to tears because he does not know what to do.  Evangelist does what all evangelists must do--pointing out "yonder wicket gate" he tells Pilgrim "go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told the what thou shalt do" (p. 16).

We Christians sometimes forget that our job, like Evangelist's, is to point the way.  Our part in the salvation of the lost is to show them the road, to them about Christ.  As the new year kicks off, let me encourage you to seek out the lost and the hurting.  Be eager to move toward people and to show them the way to Christ.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.-1 Corinthians 3:7-9

Who are you specifically seeking to tell about Christ this year?

03 January 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: To Be Considered a Fool

Pilgrim's family is worried about him.  He is fearful and trembling, though they know not why. He explains to his wife that they are bound for ruin. They responded not with repentance, but rather with astonishment. "At this, his relations were sore amazed, not for that they believed that what he had said to them was true, but that they thought some frenzy distemper had gotten into his head" (p. 14). Essentially, they thought he was sick and would get over it, yet he persisted.  When his troubles did not pass, his family changed from concern to hardening.  "Sometimes they would deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes they would quite neglect him" (p. 14).

As humans, we are predisposed to desire popularity.  We want to be liked, particularly by those close to us.  When we become believers, we want to share our joy with our families. We also want to share with them the penalty they face if they do not accept the free gift of salvation.  But we are often ignored.  If we persist, we are told to shut up, we are told things like "don't ever talk to me about this again."  But how are we to respond?  How do we react when those we love are walking willingly into eternal suffering?  Pilgrim's response was to "retire himself to his chamber to pray for and pity them" (p. 14-15).

I pray for my friends and family who don't know Christ. I want them to see their sin and to see the Savior.

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”-Luke 9:61-62

Have you found your family or close friends to ignore or openly criticize your faith? How have you responded?  How do you pray for them?

02 January 2013

Book Review: Because He Loves Me

In the last couple of years, I read three of Elyse Fitzpatrick's other books, Counsel from the Cross, Comforts from the Cross, and Give Them Grace (co-authored with her daughter) and was impressed with her love for the gospel.  I discovered Because He Loves Me (Paperback Edition): How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life (2008) on the suggested readings link at the Liberate website. 

This is the fourth book of Fitzpatrick's that I have read. I also watched her speak twice on the Liberate 2012 conference DVDs.  This sampling of her work convinces me that she rather narrowly focused.  Again and again, she goes back to the same topic.  One might think that would be a drawback, but its not, because the topic she continually addresses is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  She seems to side with the apostle Paul who said that he vowed to know nothing except Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). 

Specifically, Fitzpatrick dedicates 200 pages to helping her readers to understand how the gospel--Christ's "incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, burial, bodily resurrection, ascension, and eternal reign" (p. 36)--matter in the every day lives of believers.  I know that for me, I am at a time in my life when I cannot read enough books about the gospel. I love how different authors talk about Christ's justifying, sanctifying, adopting love for me.  I pray that I never get tired of the gospel.  This book was one excellent example of that type of reading.  I just pray that Fitzpatrick's one track mind stays on track. 

As of this writing, the Kindle version of this book is only $3.99, which is a no-brainer as far as I am concerned.

Pilgrim's Progress: The Lament Over Sin

In the opening section of The Pilgrim’s Progress, we meet Pilgrim, the main character of the book.  As he reads the word of God, Pilgrim is convicted of his sin and it weighs heavy upon him.  He is burdened with fear.  The book reads, “I looked, and saw him open the Book and read therein; and as he read and wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he break out with a lamentable cry, saying: ‘What shall I do?’” (page 13). 

Just a few days ago, I posed the question, “when was the last time you trembled at the word of God?” (Isaiah 66:2)  One person confessed that she is not sure that she ever has.  No one else responded.  I think we have lost a sense of awe, or perhaps respect, for the holiness of God.  We no longer see the offensiveness of our sin to a wholly pure God.  I struggle with this every day. Pilgrim, however, trembled before His word, convicted of his sin. 

We should pray for a sense of awe before the throne of God (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4).  The fear of the Lord is commended as a good thing in Scripture and we should try to understand what that means for us as Christians; however, we must also keep in mind God’s steadfast love and kindness.   

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is insight-Proverbs 9:10

Have you ever trembled at God's word?  What does the fear of God mean to you?  

01 January 2013

Reflections on Pilgrim's Progress: Introduction

First edition of The Pilgrim's Progress

I have read The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (1678) several times over the past few years.  Each time, I find the book more and more endearing and convicting.  The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory of the Christian life written by Bunyan while he was in prison, reportedly for practicing outside of the auspices of the church of England.  (Lest you think battles over religious liberty are a new thing, they are not).

I have thought for a long time that I would like to walk slowly through The Pilgrim's Progress, sharing my observations and notes.  I initially thought I would try to write a short devotional thought every day, but I know my historical success with such things and it is perhaps better that I just commit to writing as I go.  If it happens to be every day, then so be it.  If you wish to read along, there are many wonderful versions of the book.  As much as I would like a copy of the first edition of the book pictured here, I will be reading primarily from The Pilgrim's Progress (Moody Classics) .  It preserves the original language, which may be a challenge for some, but I think it is worth the work.  I'll be moving slowly, so may that be an additional encouragement to thee to consider this version.

Have you ever read The Pilgrim's Progress? If so, what did you think?