Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's All New!

Is new better? I guess it can be sometimes. Hopefully you like my new page better. We're still working out a few of the bugs, but so far, so good (at least in my humble opinion).

Feel free to offer any feedback. We're still very flexible here.

For those of you who subscribe, you'll want to note that the new rss feed is here. Please update your readers accordingly!

Special thanks to Ryan at Strider for helping a technical dummy like me move over to a new host and new blogging software.

The Purpose of Pain

The other day Stacey returned home with a special purchase for Susannah. It was a bottle of bright-coloured, foaming hand soap. Susannah has reached an age where we want her to be able to do more things (like washing her hands) on her own.

Susannah took to this task with joy! She stood at the sink (on a stool) like a big girl. She got her hands all soaped up, and then her daddy said, 'Put your hands under the water and rinse them off.' So she put her hands under the water... only to quickly pull them out and yelp, 'Hot!'

I had accidentally left the tap turned a little too far too the left. She wasn't badly hurt at all, but looked at me as if to say, 'I'm not doing that again!'

That got me thinking about pain. I thank God that Susannah is able to feel pain. Not because I like the thought of my daughter hurting, but because I know God's purposes in pain are good.

Medically speaking, it seems that the purposes of pain are generally straightforward: Pain alerts you to the fact that something is wrong in your body and needs attention. Something must be done now to avoid greater consequences later. Pain is a warning.

In James 5, James is alerting his audience--people who are undergoing suffering--that they must be patient to endure hardship and pain. He gives them several reasons. He argues that those who persecute them will be finally judged, and that the Judge stands at the door. He also refers to the prophets, and then to Job.

When he gets to Job, James becomes more specific and says,

you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The Lord's purpose in Job's suffering was compassionate and merciful. At the end of Job's turmoil, not only did he receive back more than he ever lost, he said these words:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ... I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust ashes.

The Lord's purpose in Job's suffering was to reveal more of himself to Job--and then ultimately to us, thousands of years later. God was revealing himself as one who is compassionate and merciful, even in suffering.

There are things which are eternal and there are things which are temporal; things which will matter when the Judge appears, and other things that won't. At least a part of the purpose in our pain in this life is to warn us of a bigger problem: that this world and everything in it is cursed because of sin, and already under condemnation. We suffer pain, things fall apart, tragedy happens, all to warn us of a potentially greater tragedy to come: eternal condemnation and wrath against sinners for sin.

If Susannah didn't feel pain at the little bit of hot water, she might leave her hands there until they were scalded and then permanently damaged. The pain was uncomfortable, but it let her know that if she didn't act, worse would result. The Lord's purpose in pain is--like his purpose in everything else--compassionate and merciful. He desires to show us that there is no ultimate life, no hope, no safety in this world. Those things can and must be found in him alone. He wants to ween us off our selfish joy-seeking in the creation so that we might pursue true joy-seeking in the Creator.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How to Love More

Even though we've moved on to chapter 5 in our study on James at GFC, I'm still marvelling at many of the things my Lord has been teaching me from his word.

Preaching big passages like I've had to do is great for seeing the big picture and covering more of God's word, but it necessarily means that there are lots of stones left unturned in each passage. Particularly, I've been thinking through James's promise in chapter 4: 'Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.'

One thing that amazed me the other night as I sat and thought this through is the similarity between this saying and that declaration of Jesus that the one who is forgiven most loves most. On the surface, they don't seem that connected, but I think there is a profound connection.

Every Christian wants to know how to love God more. The first and greatest commandment we have is this: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.' The reason why we still sin, why we become discouraged, or why we fall back into old patterns of living is because our love for God falls short of our love for ourselves.

The devil is our enemy. His greatest goal is to stop us from achieving our greatest goal, which is love for God, resulting in joy in God. We want to love God, but he'll do anything to stop that. Every Christian wants to love God more; but how do you practically increase your love for God?

James connects resisting the devil's work with drawing near to God. In response to our drawing near to God, God draws near to us. What kind of drawing near does James have in mind? He clarifies for us in the next couple of sentences, where he describes radical repentance, open confession of sin and sinfulness, and proper humility. In other words, draw near to God in humility, repentance, and brokenness, acknowledging the greatness of your sin.

We can begin to connect the dots here a little with Jesus' saying. We will love God more if we acknowledge more readily the reality of what we've been forgiven. But our enemy will have none of that--which is why we need to resist him. How do you resist Satan? By confessing your sins and drawing near to God.

It is the work of Satan to get you to think little of your sins. He desires that you not confess specific sins, that you not be heart-broken over the ways you've denied God. He wants you to just ignore sin in your life and not confess to brothers and sisters. The smaller you think your sin is, the less your love for God will grow, and the happier your enemy will be. 'He who is forgiven little, loves little.'

If your love for God has grown cold, you can probably draw a straight line back to your lack of confession of sin in your own heart, to God, and to others. When you don't realize what you've been forgiven, you don't love.

How do you grow to love more? Draw near to God in repentance. Acknowledge how horrible and ugly your sin is. Confess to him that you deserve death and hell. The more you draw near to him, the worse you'll see your sin is, the more you'll see how much you've been forgiven and the more you'll love--which will overflow into a life of God-glorifying joy in obedience.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bob Kauflin on David Powlison on the Imprecatory Psalms

Bob Kauflin (lead worshiper at Covenant Life Church) has posted notes on what looks like it was an awesome session from the WorshipGod '08 Conference. He's also got a link to download the mp3 of the sermon.

Check it out: David Powlison on the Imprecatory Psalms

(Isn't it interesting how much Powlison looks like he's imprecating someone? You gotta love a preacher that gets into character.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blacks, Whites, and Greys

It's a funny thing to me how lessons seem to weave themselves into our lives at seemingly 'random' points in time (which, of course, shows me that they're not random at all). Over the past eight weeks or so, as I've been preaching through James, I've been amazed at how clearly he contradicts our contemporary worldview and way of looking at life. In our culture there are no black and white issues, only greys. Members of PETA, who say it's wrong to kill for food, probably still smack mosquitoes. What's wrong in one situation may be okay in another. There are all kinds of greys.

James, however, continually teaches by setting up worldviews as opposed to each other. Either you're steadfast or you waffle, either you are a doer or a hearer only, either you have a pure religion or a worthless religion, your source of speech is either a fresh spring or salt water, your wisdom is either from God or from Satan, and so on. You're one or the other, black or white. There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on.

The funny part about all of this is how I've been growing in my understanding of the many issues where thoughtful, biblical, Jesus-loving Christians disagree about moral issues. Do you drink or not? Do you do home-school, public school, or Christian school? What kind of language is okay and what is not? What type of guidelines should we use when we dress? These things are anything but black and white, and real Christians really disagree.

So what do we do? Do we respond with insisting that there is a 'black and white' answer for every issue? Do we argue incessantly about it until people see it our way? Do we just stress privately because everyone else is wrong?

I think the answer of humility is found in a passage like Romans 14:

Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

In other words, your brother or sister who sees things differently than you isn't your servant, and you're not his or her judge. They do have a master and a judge, but you're not him. To judge them as if they need to give an account to you is to contend for supremacy with God. It's pride.

Not judging is only the beginning, however. More than not judging, we must also be careful to be proactive in love:

Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

To flaunt your freedom is the opposite reaction to judging and condemning, but it's equally unloving. 'If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.'

The admonition comes again: 'Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.' What Paul is saying here is that when we value our freedoms so much that we're not willing to give them up for the sake of loving a brother or sister and 'not grieving' them, then we've valued our own freedom more than we've valued one of God's children.

The humble, Christian response to the 'greys' is to lovingly refuse to judge, and then to lovingly resist the urge to flaunt our freedoms in front of others who don't enjoy the same freedoms.

This calls for love and humility all around. On different issues I've found myself sometimes being the one tempted to judge, and sometimes being the one tempted to stumble. I can say from experience that neither side is easy. But Christian community is a beautiful thing when, by the power of the Spirit, Christians are walking in this kind of self-denying, self-sacrificing love, living out humility. It's been a delight to see it in action at GFC, and I can only pray for more.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dinner Conversation

Okay, maybe this is only funny if you know us, but here's an excerpt from tonight's dinner conversation.

Julian: 'Having a wife is like living with a post-modern literary critic: the only meaning that matters is the one determined by the hearer.'

Stacey: 'Living with you is like living with a geek.'

I laughed pretty hard.

7 Reasons to Say 'God Willing...'

These are some notes taken from the sermon I preached this past Sunday at GFC. I was preaching from James 4:13-17 and the necessity of realizing our absolute dependence on God before we do any planning--even mundane, day-to-day planning. You can listen to the whole sermon here to get the context for the notes that follow.

Under the final point, I suggested the following seven reasons why Christians should be intentional and deliberate to refer to future plans with the caveat, 'God willing' (or 'if the Lord wills,' or some other variant).

  1. It Will Humble You.
  2. Every time you say 'If the Lord wills, I'll live, and then I'll...' or something like that, you'll be reminded of your own essential contingency. In other words, you're not necessary, and there's no reason to presume that you'll live. You'll be reminded by your own voice that you don't have the power to bring about what you plan any more than you have the power to determine if you'll keep living or not.

  3. It Will Give You Opportunities to Witness.
  4. People will figure out pretty quickly that you're not normal if you're using this kind of language. Eventually, someone will ask why you're always mentioning God's will. When they do, you'll already be on the topics of the Creatorship and providence of God, and the fact that life is a mist and death is imminent--your life hangs on his will. Here is an open door for the gospel!

  5. It Will Give You Opportunities to be Ridiculed / Persecuted.
  6. Christ himself pronounced blessing on all those who are reviled and persecuted for the sake of his name and for the sake of righteousness. Why would we expect the world to look at the future the same way we do, when all through James he has insisted that we have different perspectives and different kinds of wisdom? Being persecuted and reviled, then, becomes another opportunity to grow in the humility of obedience in submitting ourselves to God.

  7. It Will Change the Way You Think.
  8. The way we speak is of utmost importance (as James always insists). As Lloyd-Jones has so famously said, we need to spend more time talking to ourselves than listening to ourselves. The way that we speak will effect ourselves more profoundly than anyone else. By being deliberate in the type of language that we use, we're training ourselves to think in biblical categories. When we change our words, it will change our thoughts, which will change our feelings, which changes us over time.

  9. It Will Reveal Idols.
  10. If there is something that you're planning, or something that you desire for the future, and you're not willing to attach the thought, 'God willing' to it, then you're clinging to it too tightly. That fact alone reveals that you are looking to that future possibility to bring life, hope, joy, or peace--things we must find in God alone. Whatever you're not willing to give up for God (to hand over to his control to determine whether it will come to pass or not) that is an idol to you. It is a false god and needs to be put to death.

  11. It Will Force You to Think in Ethical Categories.
  12. Sometimes we can think through future plans or situations without any reference to moral / ethical categories. Saying 'God willing' makes us ask, 'Would God be willing?' Once God--the standard of righteousness--is brought into the equation, we're forced to think in standards of righteousness. You can say 'I'm going to go to the party this Saturday night and not think anything of it. But you can't say 'God willing, I'll go to the party' without thinking about whether or not God would be willing for you to go. All of a sudden we're forced to reckon with God's thoughts on drunkenness, revelry, debauchery, etc., and that may inform our plans to go or not go.

  13. Silence Can be Sin.
  14. James 4.17 is a verse that most of us have heard and know well, but have never applied to its context. James warns that to not take seriously the notion of God's will when considering our future is to sin. Simply saying these words is one way we can flee sin and pursue righteousness by acknowledging God, his providence, his will, his plan. Not saying it can be sin; but saying it can help safeguard our hearts from neglecting to consider God's will before our own.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Male Modesty?

A good friend of mine, whose opinion I respect greatly, has some different views than me on the issue of a woman's modesty in dress. One of the objections he will bring up in conversations on this issue is that there is no male equivalent; a man's modest or immodest dress doesn't affect women.

What he means in this: If I wear an unbuttoned shirt, the effect will be to gross people out and drive them away, rather than cause them to stare... unless they're staring like people stare at a car wreck on the 401. Either way, I doubt they're sinning (unless they're becoming angry at being forced to look on such a sight). The point, however, is this: If men are speaking about what types of guidelines women should have for dress, it is necessarily hypocritical (at least to some degree) because those are issues and standards that don't apply to us. They are rules that are necessarily other-centred, which just about always will lead to legalism.

I concede his point that my wearing short-shorts won't cause women to lust, but I disagree with the notion that there is no such thing as male modesty. In Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is, Joshua Harris writes:

Have you ever interacted with an immodestly dressed girl and really wished she had a clue about how much her clothing affected you? Well, as a guy you need to realize that certain things you do and say to girls are the equivalent of male cleavage--they just aren't helpful to our sisters. We need to get a clue!

Josh argues that since a woman's desires are generally more rooted in emotional longings, things like flirting and physical touch--anything that can make a woman feel like she is being pursued or singled out for attention--are potential stumbling blocks for them. A guy who wants to love and protect his sisters in Christ will want to watch his 'male cleavage' (an almost disgustingly vivid image, I must say).

Here's a more extended quote that I think is quite good on this issue. It's taken from I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

The Guy's Responsibility
Guys, its time we stood up to defend the honor and righteousness of our sisters. We need to stop acting like "hunters" trying to catch girls and begin seeing ourselves as warriors standing guard over them.

How do we do this? First we must realize that girls don't struggle with the same temptations we struggle with. We wrestle more with our sex drives while girls struggle more with their emotions. We can help guard their hearts by being sincere and honest in our communication. We need to swear off flirtatiousness and refuse to play games and lead them on. We have to go out of our way to make sure nothing we say or do stirs up inappropriate feelings or expectations.

I want to weep when I think of the many times I have neglected my responsibility to guard girls' hearts. Instead of playing the role of a warrior, I played the thief, stealing their focus from God for myself. I'm determined to do better. I want to be the kind of friend to whom girls' future husbands could one day say, "Thank you for standing watch over my wife’s heart. Thank you for guarding her purity."
Amen! Men, let's set our sights here to protect the hearts of our sisters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Don't Get It

The further along in the book of James we go, the more points there are when I think, '...Huh?'

It's a bizarre experience to look ahead in the book, know that there are only a few weeks left to finish the last chapter and a half, and realize that you don't really understand what they mean. It's humbling and exciting.

I pray that our Lord would use these last few weeks to teach the saints at GFC through me... as he has taught me! Because if he doesn't teach me, I'll be in trouble.

My prayer now is that he'll keep me back from trying to force my assumed interpretations on the text in a panic to say something. I know that 'those who teach will be subject to stricter judgement,' so I pray that he'll show me how to 'rightly divide the word' in the coming works. If you get a chance, please remember to pray for me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

For Christian Husbands

As I lamented yesterday, preaching through James 4.1-12 quickly made me a little sad because I wasn't able to pursue some rabbit trails that I would've loved to go down. One of those was how this passage should instruct us guys in our husbandry.

In verse four, the people of God are referred to as 'adulteresses.' Why? Because, in the metaphor of the passage, God is the husband of his people, but their affections and longings are for other lovers. They seek their joy, their pleasures, etc., in the things that this world has to offer. They are cheating on their spouse.

How does God respond to this unfaithful, disrespectful, immoral wife? The next verse tells us: He 'yearns jealously' for her. He remains unchanged in his devotion to her, even though she doesn't long for him. He loves her with a steadfast love, even when she refuses to love him and treats him in the most horrible of ways.

That ought to teach us men something about the way we should husband.

  1. It is Good and Right for a Husband to Long for the Affections of His Wife.
  2. Too often the temptation is to slip into apathy. We love the chase while we're dating, but once we're married we presume that we will have her heart. The picture here is of a God who passionately longs to have all of his bride's heart--not just a part. Christian husbands need to consistently pursue the heart of their wife.

  3. Our Affections Must Not Be Determined by Hers.
  4. Having a wife whose heart is not 'wholly' yours would be incredibly disheartening. I have seen friends and Christian brothers lamenting over the fact that their wives seem to love anything and everything else more than their husbands. That would be sad--and painful, to be sure. But the husband is to be the leader, and her lack of affections is no excuse for letting yours slide. It was while we were still sinners and had no affection for Christ (other than hatred) that he died to purchase his bride. Christian husbands need to consistently take the lead in expressing and winning loving affections.

  5. We Must Not Give Up.
  6. James wrote the very first book (chronologically) in the New Testament, and yet, even by the time he wrote this letter, the church had already proven herself to be an 'adulteress' with desires for other lovers. Just as God did not give up on his people in the Old Testament, we learn here that Christ will not give up on his bride in the New. Christian husbands must never give up, even when their wives sin against them horribly and repeatedly; this is the gospel.

  7. Take Heart, You Are In Good Company.
  8. As you seek to faithfully love your wife, with a single-minded devotion to her, and as you seek to win her affections even when she is not loving you in return, you are modelling the heart of God. You are following in the footsteps of Christ who went to the greatest, most extreme length imaginable to win his bride's heart: he died for her. When we die to ourselves and continue to risk being hurt in order to pursue and love our wives, we're in good company: Christ is the one who made the footprints in which we walk. Christian husbands must take heart here when all other outward comforts fail--he who went before us will not abandon us as we follow him.

Joshua & Amy Do a Duet

In honour of our friends Nick & Alicia, at their wedding. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2008


There are benefits and drawbacks to preaching large portions of text. The benefits are too numerous to get into, but one of the drawbacks is that you don't get to stop and to meditate for as long as you'd like on a single thought expressed in your passage, because there are so many other things to get to.

Yesterday I preached on James 4.1-12. As usual, I talked too long and said too little, but the text itself is absolutely amazing. The thought that gripped me the most, personally, as I laboured through the text last week (and even while I preached) was verse 5:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
That thought absolutely blew me away.

How could this be? The God of the universe not only puts up with me when he should obliterate me, but 'yearns jealously' for my devotion to him? He yearns with a jealousy of a husband for his bride (according to the analogy of the passage).

What an absolute shame that we take so lightly the thought that God loves us. Of all things in Scripture, this should be the thought that amazes us the absolute most.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5.8)
And again,
By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us (1 Jn 3.16).

In our chapter (James 4), James does something amazing: He contrasts our desires (which are at war within us, and bring quarrels and fights) with God's desire for his people (which is singular, faithful, loving, and brings peace). This truth ought to humble us, amaze us, and increase our love for him.

Where the church's desires are many, and illicit, and have grieved our groom, his desires are single, and faithful, and pure, and have brought our joy.

Where his one desire produces peace, our many desires have yielded enmity between God and us, and fights between us all.

And yet, he loves us still. And he 'yearns jealously' for our affections... what an overwhelming love! What an amazing God!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

I guess I'm a loud sneezer...?!

Picturing this conversation had me laughing pretty good.

Check it out at Janis's blog: Progression of a Conversation between a 3.5 year old and a 2 year old.

Thoughts on Baptism

In the life of our church, there is no greater highlight (in my mind) than when we celebrate baptisms. The baptism of a believer is the rite of inauguration into the church of Jesus Christ. When we celebrate baptism, we celebrate that one more soul has been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ, in whom there is true redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1.13-14).

Over the years our Lord has continued to save people at Grace Fellowship Church, and we absolutely glory in that! As I prepare to meet in the near future with some of these individuals who are preparing to be baptised, I have had opportunity to study the doctrine of baptism from Scripture all over again.

What did I find this time? I found that it's even more glorious than I remember. Here are three things that impressed me this morning as I studied baptism.

  1. The ultimate importance of baptism.
  2. In the book of Acts, I was amazed to see where baptism is placed, and how careful Luke is to include it wherever the gospel is preached. What I found really amazing this morning is the connection of baptism with the growth of the church.

    Most people are familiar with the fact that the book of Acts is recorded as the fulfilment of Acts 1.8, where Jesus says that 'you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' Acts, then, proceeds to show how the church does in fact spread through all those places.

    What I noticed this morning, however, is that wherever the church spreads in accord with this promise, baptism figures prominently. In Acts 2.37-42, Peter preaches to the Jews in Jerusalem and when they ask how to be saved, he says, 'Repent and be baptized!' In Acts 8, when Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria, and many there believe, Luke records that 'when they believed ... they were baptized, both men and women.' Then, finally, in Acts 10 when Peter brings the gospel to the Gentiles (representative for the rest of the non-Jewish world, i.e. 'to the ends of the earth'), he sees that they do believe, and once they are converted he declares, 'Who can withhold water for baptism?' From Jerusalem to Samaria, to the ends of the earth, where the church goes forth, so does baptism of believers. That is seriously important!

  3. The intimate connection of baptism with salvation.
  4. Baptism in the New Testament is intimately connected with salvation / regeneration / conversion / belief / the work of the Holy Spirit. This is seen first in the proclamation of Peter in the first New Covenant gospel presentation, where he openly declares that to be saved, the Jews must 'Repent and be baptized.' This does not mean that baptism is a work that must be done to be saved, but rather it shows that in Peter's mind the 'repentance and belief' (the phrase that is used through the rest of the book) is so inextricably tied up with baptism, that he conceives of the two as being inseparable.

    We see this not just with Peter's preaching on Pentecost, but also in 1 Peter 3.18-22. Here Peter speaks of 'baptism ... which saves you.' In the context we see that Peter is speaking of the whole process of being delivered from judgement through identification with Christ by faith--but in his mind, baptism, the symbol of this salvation, is so intimately connected with the salvation process that he can speak of this baptism as the deliverance from the 'waters of judgement' (i.e. God's wrath).

    To speak of turning to Christ in faith for salvation from the judgement of God is to speak of the salvation process which involves baptism of believers--the two are intimately connected.

  5. The profound symbolism of baptism.
  6. In the 1 Peter passage above, there is a profound symbolism associated with baptism (Noah and the ark passing through the waters of God's judgement). Elsewhere in the NT there is other profound symbolism associated with baptism as well. For example, in Romans 6 Paul teaches that our physical descent into the water, submersion under the water, and then rising up from being underneath the water symbolizes Christ's death and resurrection. As we descend under the water, and ascend from out of the water our unification with Christ in his death and resurrection is symbolized. Just like he died to sin and was made alive to God, so are all who have faith in him.

    Colossians 2 uses similar imagery. Verse 12 says that we have 'been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.' In other words, in baptism, we are giving public testimony to the reality that we have died and been born again by the powerful working of God. The same power has worked in us as was worked on Christ, when he was raised from the dead, and this we bear witness to when we are baptised. Just as he has been raised, so also we will be raised.

    Now that is some profound symbolism.

I can't help but think that in too many churches, the importance of baptism is underrated. If it was this important for the early church and meant this much to the inspired apostles, we should make it our aim to value it no less than they did!

For further study on the doctrine of baptism, feel free to download and use our 'Preparation for Baptism Worksheet.'

Be Cool: Be Natural

The 'all-natural' fad is in full-swing. Stephen Altrogge comments:

Here’s your “How To Be On the Cutting Edge of Coolness” tip for the day: get into natural stuff. It seems that if you want to earn any cool points in today’s world you need to be embracing a natural, organic lifestyle. You must buy naturally grown plants, drink shade-grown organic coffee, wear all-natural cotton garments, and maintain a natural diet that includes at least 43 servings of fruits, vegetables, and humus every day. You’re not going to get a lot of takers when you host a ‘processed’ dinner party, with lots of Velveeta cheese, Spam, and Coca-Cola on the menu. ...
Read his continued thought here...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

From Legalism to Licentiousness (and back again...?)

Over the last few Sunday evenings at Grace Fellowship Church, my friend Paul McDonald has been opening up Galatians 5.13 for us. The verse reads like this:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Over the flow of the book of Galatians, the apostle has been arguing that we are now free from bondage to the law and from all forms of legalism. This is fantastic news! For Christians of my generation, I often think that we take our Christian liberty for granted. We haven't had to fight the battles for allowing women to wear pants, or for instruments other than piano / organ; we haven't had to deal with the real rabid KJV-only types or the 'don't drink, don't play cards, don't watch movies' mentality of the previous generation.

We have our freedom. We enjoy our freedom. But I often think we take it for granted.

The trouble is that when we take our freedom for granted, it's only a very small step from freedom to licentiousness. Having moved on from legalism, much of our church culture now seems to glory in the fact that there is 'no law over us,' so we can do as we wish.

In Galatians 5.13, Paul seems to be saying, 'Don't give up your freedom (since that's why you were set free), but don't glory in your freedom at the expense of your brothers and sisters.' Just like everywhere else in the NT, the old, written code is replaced by the law of love.

No one in the early church understood and lived this balance better than the apostle Paul. As he would argue in his epistles to the Corinthians, he had every freedom and every right to take a wife, to eat what he wanted, drink what he wanted, accept payment from them for his ministry, etc. He had those freedoms! But, because he knew that he could better serve his brothers and sisters in love if he denied himself those freedoms, he didn't take them.

One really practical area where this works itself out in church life (as Paul McDonald taught), is modesty in women's dress. Just like the apostle Paul, women could rightly declare that they have freedom from outside rules in terms of what they wear. There are no NT regulations on skirt length, sleeve length, how far a blouse should be unbuttoned, etc. But the NT rule that does exist is love and service. Just like the apostle, women who love and seek to serve their brothers (and sisters) in humility, will limit their freedom for the sake of love and wear what is helpful in order to serve.

Of course, once this is understood, this gives opportunity for legalism again, because our flesh hears 'Serve by dressing modestly' and applies that to our hearts as 'Since I (or my wife) dress(es) modestly, we should judge those who don't.' We then create a new set of standards to determine what is 'modest' and what is not, and measure other people against that criteria. And the circle is then completed: we've moved from legalism, to licentiousness, back to legalism again.

So what do we do? Well, first we must work on the log in our own eye. Examining our hearts must take first priority. Do I really believe in Christian freedom? Do I impose standards on people that the Bible doesn't? Am I looking to things like dress to help ensure that I am justified?

Second, we should seek to apply the love of love. Am I grasping and clinging to my freedom at the expense of hurting brothers and sisters? Is my love of my freedom to dress and act how I wanted prohibiting me from serving? Is giving others occasion for sin (Lk 17.1-2)?

Third, we must remain humble and charitable. Just because the Lord is working on my heart and convicting me of sin in a particular area doesn't mean that he has to work on other people in the same way at the same time. We need to remember that we didn't use to know what we're now convinced of, and apart from a work of grace we never would have known it. We must not use our convictions as a throne from which we can cast judgement on other believers.

Fourth, pray for grace to find the balance. I pray that God would give me grace in every area (not just dress) to find the balance between glorying in my freedom and giving up my freedoms for the sake of my church family. I pray that I would never return either to legalism or licentiousness--but that when I do, that God would forgive me again, just like he always has before.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Listing of Tom Schreiner's Sermons Online

While several have made admirable attempts to catalogue all the free online D.A. Carson sermons they could find, this is the first such list I've come across for Dr Thomas R Schreiner.

You can view the list here. Make sure that if you know of any others, you point them out in the comment section.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Two Random Thoughts

Line of the Day:

I'm not insecure... I just want everyone else to think as highly of me as I do.

Thought for the Day:
Remember when you were little and a friend would have a birthday party? You'd watch the mother cut all the pieces of cake and hand them out to each child. Secretly you'd be inspecting each piece for consistency of size. Inevitably, somehow you ended up with the smallest piece. Or, even if it wasn't the smallest, it was definitely smaller than your brother's.

The other day I was sitting at my brother's computer, as we were looking at some ideas for some web page designs. The whole time we were there, I kept thinking to myself... 'Man, his monitor is so much bigger than mine... that stinks--I want one this big!' That night he came over and we sat at my computer and continued the same process. Finally I couldn't take it any more and blurted out something to the effect of 'How big is your monitor anyway?'

Turns out, his monitor is the exact same size as mine. And to top it all off, while he had been sitting at my computer, he had been thinking to himself that my monitor was bigger. I suppose that says something about our hearts, eh?

'Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.' Some of us just take longer to grow up, I guess.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Girls

My girls... In their PJ's, all calm and quiet, ready for bed. Or not.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Christian Wedding Vows

It's wedding season... which is great! I love thinking about weddings. Their whole point, after all, is to point to my Saviour and his love for his bride--and I like to think about that!

Since staying married is not about staying in love, but about reflecting the covenant-keeping love of Christ, the centrepiece and focal point of a Christian wedding is the vows.

What a couple views marriage as is reflected in what they promise to each other. As I've suggested before, I think Christian couples should at least endeavour to memorize their vows, so as to be able to speak them clearly, forthrightly, and meaningfully when the moment comes, looking their partner in the eyes as they speak.

Just for fun I thought I'd post the vows that Stacey and I spoke to each other in the presence of God, family, and friends on June 19, 2004, when we were wed. I keep a copy of mine posted with a wedding picture right beside my desk so that I can regularly reflect on the meaning of what I've promised.

Here are our vows.


I, Julian, take you, Stacey, to be my wife.
In the presence of God and these witnesses I pledge my love and devotion to you and to you alone for as long as God grants us both life.
I promise to be faithful, patient, kind, humble, and gentle; to serve you and to give myself up for you, as Christ has given himself up for his bride.
I will love you as my own body; endeavouring to lead you and help you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.
As God grants grace, I promise to make our home one where Christ is exalted and God is glorified in our love for each other and in our devotion to him, above and beyond all else.

I, Stacey, take you, Julian, to be my husband; to share with you God’s will for our lives. As we journey through this life, with both its joys and hardships, I promise to love and be faithful to you.
I will obey, trust and encourage you, Julian, as long as we both shall live.
I promise to follow you as you follow God, believing all things and hoping all things.
I will pursue godliness in all areas of my own life, that together our lives and home may bring glory and honour to our Lord.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thinking About How You Read

A few years back I was struck by the realization that the way I read the Bible was being handicapped by the way the pages were laid out. Here are just a few examples.

  • The pages are laid out in columns. What other book is laid out like that? When I read the Bible, I was subconsciously aware I was reading the Bible, and that affected the manner in which I read. It occurred to me that I couldn't really read the letters like they are letters or the stories like they are stories because I was thinking 'this is the Bible' while I was reading.

  • There are chapter and verse numbers everywhere. This means that all the problems from above apply, and more. Now I'm subconsciously inserting breaks in thought in wherever there are numbers on the page. But the writers of the Bible didn't put the numbers there, and so very often the numbers are in awkward spots, creating divisions where there shouldn't be one. I wasn't seeing connections between sentences and paragraphs because my eyes were reading artificial breaks into the text.

  • There are paragraph headings. While these are sometimes useful if I'm trying to find something in a hurry, they are a pain more often than not. They tell me the point of what I'm about to read before I read it--which necessarily limits my own ability to process the text and analyze it on my own, which would result in better learning, and longer-lasting ability to recall what I've read.

  • The spelling is wrong. This only applies to those of us north of the border, and you can call me crazy or say I have OCD or whatever, but I do notice when a book spells words the American way (i.e. 'Savior' instead of 'Saviour'). It just catches my eye and distracts me.
And then on top of these things, there is never enough room on a page of the Bible to write any good notes or draw lines connecting thoughts, or things like that.

So what have I done about it? I've taken matters into my own hands and created my own Bible. Sacrilegious as it sounds... it's not. I go to the ESV website, adjust the preferences so that it doesn't show chapter & verse numbers or paragraph headings, and then display a whole book. Copy and paste that into your word processor with Canadian spell check and bingo-bango, there ya go.

Once the doc is in your word processor, you can lay it out on the page however you want. I generally will do 1.5 line spacing, and leave large margins on the top, bottom, and sides of the page. Hit 'print' and you've got your own copy of the book to read, mark-up, and learn from.

Try it once and I guarantee it changes the way your read the book.

The way you lay out the words on the page will have a lot to do with your personality and the way you like to read and mark-up your Bible, so try a few different ways. Think hard about what distracts you from focusing on the words on the page and try to eliminate those to enhance your ability to freely read and understand the biblical text.

The only thing you need to do is respect copyright laws. Don't distribute copies of your books. I think you're okay to do this for your own personal use though (from the little I understand of copyright laws).

I've uploaded a couple pages of the book of James of my version, so that you can see it, if you like. I've only done the first little bit of the book here though, because I can't reproduce more than 50% of the book.

Download the pdf of the first part of James.

Let me know if you meet with any success!

What in the World is a Knol?

I haven't quite figured out how these things work yet, but I've attempted to create some knols. You can check out my bio here. It has a links to the articles I've posted so far.

I'm not really sure if the knol thing will take off or not, but I thought I'd throw some stuff out there and try it out. Let me know if you've got any thoughts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Psalm 16

In a previous post I suggested a four-level approach to interpreting some of the Psalms along the lines of redemptive-history. Here I hope to model that in an abbreviated form, using Psalm 16.

1. Read the Psalm as David sings.
David cries to God as king of God's people, in dependence on him alone. As leader of the people his delight is in the saints (the holy ones). As their leader he won't participate in the worship of idols which leads only to destruction. Rather, he will worship and follow the Lord, because in him he has beautiful inheritance (the promise of a son to sit on his throne). As a man after God's own heart, David could indeed rejoice in the counsel and leading of the Lord. He knew that as a follow of Yahweh, he would not be abandoned to utter destruction, but that the Lord would finally redeem him. He looked forward to the 'pleasures forevermore' in the presence of God.

2. Read the Psalm as Israel sings.
The righteous of the people of Israel would rejoice that their king called on the Lord for help, and they would follow his example. The warnings of verse four (sorrows for following another God) contrasted with the promises of verses five and six (joy in God) served as general admonitions to each other to follow hard after their God, since there was no joy to be found elsewhere. As a people they could rejoice in the inheritance of the land that they had been promised. The Lord had given them his counsel in Torah and said he would dwell in their midst if they followed him. As a promise of God, they knew that the 'holy one' (those who were righteous) would not be abandoned by God in death, but would be saved from judgement.

3. Read the Psalm as Jesus sings.
In his human life, Jesus continually and perfectly sought refuge in his Father. The life that he had in himself was the Father's life, the words that he spoke were the Father's words, and the works that he did were what he saw the Father doing. He takes delight in the saints (the righteous) who hear his word and believe. He would not give in to the idolatry of the world, but perfectly fulfil the law in a perfectly pure life. His chosen portion and his lot were the person of his Father, through the mediation of the Spirit--his food and drink was to do the Father's will. In a truer sense than any mere human could ever know, when Jesus spent whole nights in prayer he could sing 'the Lord gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.' Because God was at his right hand, he was not finally shaken--even through all his suffering. His faith in his Father did not waver, so he was glad and rejoiced, knowing that his soul and flesh would be secure in the end. As Paul saw in Acts 13.35, this generic 'holy one' who would not be abandoned is specifically and ultimately fulfilled in the 'Holy One' who is Messiah, crucified and then resurrected. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life endured the cross for the joy that was set before him--he can sing more than any other: 'in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.' He can sing this as the one who has entered into God's presence in a way that none of us ever have or could.

4. Read the Psalm as Christians sing.
God, in Christ, is our only refuge from sin, Satan, and death. We have nothing but sin apart from the work of the Spirit of Christ, which he sent. The 'saints' are those who have been sanctified (set apart) by Christ's blood--and in our church we delight. We know that the sorrows of those who run after other gods will multiply because we have seen the ultimate sorrow for sin: the cross of Christ. We know that God is for us, and we know we have a glorious inheritance in Christ: we have been blessed with all the blessings of the heavenly places, and God didn't spare even his own Son, so how will he now not freely also give us all things? If he is for us, who can be against us? We surely cannot be shaken, because Christ was not and cannot be forsaken--we are ultimately secure. Since 'the Holy One' was not forsaken, we know that his 'holy ones' will not be forsaken; he has gone before us to make a way. Christ has secured for us pleasure forevermore and fulfilment of joy because he has prayed for us, that we would be with him, where he is, to see his glory and not die. There is therefore now no condemnation, but only joy in the presence of God.

What a glorious thought! What great reasons to sing!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Cute

I just had to post these. They're some pictures taken from the nursery of our church on a Wednesday night. The older kids in nursery are longingly watching the GraceKids classes outside playing games. It's awesome. (At least I thought they were looking at the other kids playing... on second thought, maybe they were trying to catch a glimpse of celebrity blogger Tim Challies at play. If you look close enough, you can find him too!)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Things I Love

Aside from my Saviour, my greatest love is for my family. So, of course, this post brings me great delight.

My wife, Stacey, has been blogging for a few months now--and I love it! This post is just reciting a few of our favourite memories of our kids from over the past few weeks. They grow up so fast... it's so much fun to think of all the different things they're learning.

Hope you enjoy it half as much as I did!

Read the full article here: Precious Moments

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Redemptive-Historical Approach

I thought that this morning I could offer another method I enjoy using while meditating on the Psalms. I don't really have a name for it, but it takes a sort of Redemptive-Historical approach. Using this method I'll read through the Psalm on four levels--which usually means reading through the Psalm at least a few times.

One mistake I've seen people make a lot of times is try to jump straight from the Psalmist's experience to their own. While this can be done sometimes without doing harm to the text, I think it generally misses the point of the Psalm, which is always to illustrate some truth about God, and how to live under his revelation (which, for the Christian, is often different than it was for David).

So here's what I do. Read through the Psalm once as David (or whoever the psalmist is). Think through his experience and his actual life situation (especially if there's an ascription). What did these words mean to him, in that moment of his life? This step seems overly simple, but it's something we often overlook in our rush to apply the text to ourselves. We forget that there was an actual psalmist who actually lived, who actually went through the things he's writing about. We don't want to forget that.

Second, I read through the Psalm from the perspective of Israel. This book was their collection of worship songs. How would they have sung these songs over the different periods of their history? Think through the stages of Israel's development, decadence, destruction, and return from exile? How would these words have taken on new life for them as they clung to the deliverance of God that they had seen (the Exodus) and the promises of God for the future for hope, salvation, a land, the presence of God, etc. Put yourself in their shoes and think through these words and they take on new life.

Third, read the Psalm as if it is a prayer of Jesus. Now, we want to be careful here because not all of the words of the Psalm may rightly be seen as Christ's. Confessions of sin and the like must be seen as the words of the psalmist and those who followed him only. This shouldn't stop us from seeing the heart of Christ in the Psalms, though. Very often, as David pours out his heart (which is a heart after God's), it reflects Christ's own situation and feelings very well. This is typology at its greatest! David's words are fulfilled--their meaning is 'filled up'--by Christ's experience. At the same time, they are heightened (e.g. if it was true for David that he was hated without cause, how much more for Christ!), and crystallized (e.g. Psalm 69.21: 'for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink'). The Great King who really has the heart of God, who was known as a man of prayer, who was a Warrior in the truest sense, who was ultimately hated without a cause and betrayed by his friends is Jesus. He ultimately fulfils the Psalms.

Finally, we get to us. How do the Psalms relate to us? They apply to us as followers of the one who has fulfilled them. Jesus taught that those who follow him will be associated with him, and therefore suffer persecution for righteousness' sake. Where the Psalms speak of forgiveness, atonement, the presence of God, the temple of God, we know even better than the psalmist how we ought to rejoice because of these things! The psalmist knew that the Lord made atonement for sins (Ps 65.3), but we know how he has done it! What the psalmist looked to and hoped in as promise, we look back on Christ and see as fulfilled promise. Our God has kept his word, and so our hope is sure. Even more than the psalmist ever could we can rightly call our God our hope, strength, shelter, tower, and refuge.

For the sake of length, I'll end here and hopefully give a concrete example from a Psalm soon.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Sermons on James

For those interested, I've added an rss feed on the sidebar for the sermon-series I'm preaching through the book of James. Whenever sermons from that series are put online, it will be posted here as well. As always through sermonaudio, the sermons are free to download, or else you can stream them directly from the website.

Our sermonaudio homepage is here.
The homepage for the series on James is here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

A Friday Meditation on the Psalms

In keeping with our current theme, I wanted to post something on interpreting the Psalms today. That being said, I am scrambling to get up to the cottage, so I didn't have time to write something new and thoughtful. But I came across this in my journal from a while ago, and it 'just happened' to be a meditation on one of the Psalms I'm reading today.

This is a model, but not an explanation, of one method that I've found helpful in interpreting and applying the Psalms to my heart. I pray through the Psalm using the 'How Much More' method.

The Psalms are reflections on living life before God under the law. They are offerings of praise and prayer to the God who has revealed himself in the Old Covenant. We, however, worship God in the New Covenant, so our worship--while it is still to the same God--is more informed, because God has been ultimately revealed in Christ. Our praise and prayer, then, must be a reflection of living life under the New Covenant.

The 'How Much More' method just finds a place where God has revealed an attribute of himself, or where the psalmist speaks of the deliverance or judgement of God, and says: 'If this was true for them, how much more have we seen this in the New Covenant, now that Christ has come.'

What follows below is a journal entry. It's a personal meditation from Psalm 34. Please only take it for what it's worth. I highly recommend you read the Psalm before reading the prayer below.


The psalmist makes his boast in the Lord and admonishes the humble because he has been humbled. He was delivered by the Lord's mercy through his humiliation. How could he be proud? How could he boast of delivering himself by his might, worth, or wisdom? Far be it from me to boast of my salvation and my deliverance when I was humbled far beyond him.

David declares that he sought the Lord in his fears--and not without tears--and that God heard him and saved him from all his troubles. What were David's troubles but earthly concerns and cares for his life? My God, these are dire, but what of my soul? If David should cry and seek with tears, then how much more should I? David was afraid of those who could kill the body, but I am numb to the fear of him who could destroy body and soul.

David found God's deliverance super-abundant. The Angel of the Lord encamped and delivered him from his greatest needs. Therefore, he admonishes me today to taste and see. What can he mean by this except that I should call on the Lord in my fears and tears, even as he had done? He is confident of this: having tasted, none will be disappointed.

How true have I found this? Millions have called on the Lord in their distress and not been disappointed. The Angel of the Lord--Jesus Christ, God himself--encamps around me, delivering not just my body, but my soul from its greatest enemies: sin and death.

And now, Lord, I pray that in my current need, I would still find that as I taste, I find you good. My God, in your grace, be my delight, be my joy, be my soul's rest. For you alone are Delight, Joy, and Sabbath. I know this because I have tasted.

To what shall I compare this heart of mine which restlessly seeks its joy? It is like a cup that must be filled by either air or liquid. As the filling of a cup with coffee expels the air, so my desire for you--when it fills my heart--expels every earthly desire. Likewise, if I fill my cup with air, it necessarily means there is no liquid present. My heart cannot be full of you and desires for this world, its toys, and its pleasures.

Or perhaps these things may be compared to a man's appetite. Lord, I know that the only thing limiting my joy is my capacity for experiencing you. Just as a man at a buffet is limited only by the size of his stomach, so I find that my joy is only limited by my finite capacity for you who are Joy.

How can a man increase his joy in you? Only by experiencing you. As a man increases his appetite over time by eating, so my capacity for joy will only increase as I fill myself continually with you and your joy.

What a marvellous thought! I can taste and see, eat my fill, be completely satisfied in my eating, and all the while find that I am increasing my capacity for the joy I'll find in you tomorrow. No wonder David says, 'Taste and see..'.

The discipline of regularly finding my joy in God today is an investment. It secures a supply of joy for tomorrow. What a glorious God!

But then, how tragic to waste today...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Thoughts on Reading the Psalms

Here are just a few things that I find helpful on a very basic level with regard to reading the Psalms as a Christan.

  1. Read the Psalms regularly. One of the reasons the Psalms can be so little help to some Christians in their time of need is simply this: We're not familiar with them. They're a different type of literature than we're used to reading or hearing preached (usually a gospel or an epistle). When times of hardship and suffering, or feelings of guilt and depression, or seasons of joy and exuberance come, we don't know how to use the Psalms because we don't know where to look in the Psalms to find a suitable song for our emotions. Familiarizing ourself with the basic contents of the book and the different types of songs in the book will help us be quicker to flee to the Psalms in whatever season.

  2. Think hard through the Psalms. There are some tough passages and some tough expressions of anger, some strong words of love, some passionate promises to God... how much of this can we agree with? Can we apply it all? How much of what David writes is simply poetic expression (i.e. hyperbole, simile, metaphor, merism, etc.) and how much of it is 'literal'? Is it appropriate to pray these particular things as a member of the New Covenant? These are good questions to ask regularly--they are tough issues that each Christian will need to work through. Unfortunately, since there are some tough questions attendant with reading the Psalms, this often scares some Christians away. But it shouldn't!

  3. Develop a plan for reading the Psalms. Here's mine, that I've used several times. To read through the whole book of Psalms (a seemingly daunting task) really isn't that hard. You can do it no problem in a month. On the first day of the month (i.e. July 1), I read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, 121. On the second, I read Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, 122. Today I read Psalms 3, 33, 63, 93, 123. There are 150 Psalms, so 30 days at this pace will get you through quite easily. Reading this intensely will help with both 1. and 2. above as well.

  4. Get help. Pick up a commentary if you need to. Ask one of your elders or a mature Christian you know well to help you through some of the tough questions that will come up.

  5. Pray. It's the word of the Lord, and therefore, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and to apply. Ask him in faith, with no doubting, and he will.

  6. Ask to identify, not just understand. Sometimes we can become accustomed to just trying to 'understand' the words of the Bible. The Psalms will have nothing of that. If you're not affected in your heart by the truths of God and his work in revelation and redemption, then the Psalms won't make sense to you. Pray that the Spirit of God would give not just insight, but a heart that is genuinely affected by what it sees. Hearts affected by God's truth, for God's glory is the goal of the Psalms.
Hopefully I'll be able to post more on the interpretation of Psalms and how to 'get to Christ' from the Psalms shortly.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Thinking and Feeling with God

It seems that the Psalms are the centre of much attention in evangelicalism in North America these days. The Psalms is one of my favourite books, so this is exciting to me.

It has saddened me over the years to see how many Christians are somewhat unable to understand, identify with, and apply the Psalms to their own spiritual walk. This just makes me even more glad that great preachers are spending time there these days!

Here are some valuable resources:

  • John Piper has just finished up a six week study in the Psalms at Bethlehem Baptist. You can download those messages for free here. I recommend beginning with the first one because Dr Piper gives some insight into the Psalms in general before jumping into the text of Psalm 1.

  • At Covenant Life Church, they've taken a team approach to teaching a series on the Psalms. Stacey and I were blessed by Greg Somerville's message when we visited the church back in May. You can see a listing of the sermons available for free download or for streaming here.

  • Bob Kauflin's 'Worship God '08' conference that is coming up will focus on the Psalms as well. Perhaps the most fantastic thing about this is that they'll be releasing a new CD in conjunction with this conference.
I'm hoping to post some more of my own thoughts on how the Psalms ought to be interpreted and applied to the hearts and lives of Christians in the next few days.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Do Hard Things... Like Thinking Through Modesty

At a meeting last week we decided that it would be a good idea for the youth of our church to go through the book Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris. It looks awesome, and I'm really excited for our youth to study it. Here's the thrust of the book:

Combating the idea of adolescence as a vacation from responsibility, the authors weave together biblical insights, history, and modern examples to redefine the teen years as the launching pad of life and map a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact.
In preparation for this meeting, I was doing some research on books that the youth could do when I found the website for this book.

It's great!

They offer all kinds of stuff. There's info on the book, a blog, info on the conferences they put on, etc. There's even a study guide that you can download as a pdf to use the book in group contexts, like we want to do.

One of the great things that I found was this: A modesty survey. I was sceptical at first, but it is really useful! I would gladly add it to my list of recommended resources on the modesty issue. I love that they're tackling this issue with young ladies--again, aiming to 'set a clear trajectory for long-term fulfillment and eternal impact.'

Here's what the site says about the survey: 'Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007.' The different ways you can look at and analyze the results gives some great insight. Take some time and look it through.

'It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author, Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author of Every Woman's Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).'

What they (and the guys filling out the survey) hope to affirm to Christian ladies is this:
As a Christian guy with a deep appreciation for feminine modesty, I hereby affirm and commend the following biblical truths to my sisters in Christ:
  • Please, approach the survey as a resource, not a list of rules.
  • Always honour your parents above the results of the survey. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Seek personal feedback on your attire from the godly men and women in your life.
  • Remember, modesty is first and foremost a matter of the heart, not the wardrobe.
  • Faithfully pursue the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:4)
  • Let your good works outshine your outward appearance. (1 Timothy 2:10)
  • Dress for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
What better goals could their be in dressing than honouring parents, esteeming brothers, and desiring the glory of God?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Preaching for Consistency

Yesterday, by God's grace, I was able to begin our summer series of sermons from the book of James. I've titled this series 'A Call to Consistency.' I figure that's about as close as I can get to a base theme that unites all the different emphases in James. Doug Moo refers to it as 'spiritual wholeness.'

The first message in the series introduced the book of James (author, date, recipients), and then dove into the letter's introduction from 1:1-18. The title of the message was 'Steadfast Joy in Suffering.' If you like, you can download it here or listen to it directly from the flash player below.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Egalitarian or Complementarian: How to Decide?

Both the complementarian and the egalitarian positions ultimately must stand or fall based on their interpretation of Genesis 1-2. Both sides agree that male and female were created alike, with the same human nature, both created in the image of God with equal dignity and value; but was it God’s intention for there to be distinction in role or was it not?

One basic rule for the interpretation of Scripture that is adopted by the majority of evangelicals is that Scripture must be allowed to interpret Scripture. In other words, where an issue is dealt with in obscure places and then again in clearer places, we must allow the clearer revelation to interpret the less clear. Also, it is standard hermeneutical practice among evangelicals to allow the newer revelation to give clarity to the older (since Christ is the mystery proclaimed in the OT, but revealed in the NT, which has implications for everything!).

This issue is a good place to employ this helpful rule. While scholars may debate the validity of seeing a distinction in role in Genesis 1-2, the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has already given us a clear and authoritative interpretation. In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 Paul argues that women must not teach or have authority over a man in the local church, and he cites Genesis 1-2 as his rationale: “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Lest we think this was an appeal only relevant in a particular situation in a particular local body of believers, Paul uses the same logic again, in 1 Corinthians 11. In this passage he argues that within the kingdom of those redeemed in Christ (therefore, among those spoken of in Gal. 3:28), “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband”. His defence of this position is drawn from the same text in Genesis, and he says “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” To these passages must be added Ephesians 5:22-33. In this glorious text, the apostle looks back at the “profound mystery” of two becoming one flesh, which is spoken of in Genesis and says that the original human marriage is patterned after the loving authority-submission relationship of Christ and his bride, which God had purposed to establish from before the creation of the world.

In these decisive passages, where Scripture interprets itself, we are able to see clearly that it was God’s intention for there to be a distinction in role, including a loving authority-submission structure within marriage, and therefore within the local church. Many other details of many other arguments from both sides could and should be examined where time and space allow, but here it suffices for us to know that the testimony of Scripture is on the side of the complementarians. Throughout the Bible, from creation on, through the fall and ultimately through redemption, God has testified that he has a plan for male and female, equally created in his image, equal in essence and value, yet distinct in their roles in the home and in the church.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

For the Kerux...

When I saw this I just had to...

This Week's Fighter Verse

I've been re-impressed over the last few weeks in particular by how important it is to be memorizing Scripture. Our Fighter Verse programme at Grace Fellowship Church has been a huge help to me in my own walk. This week's verse is one each of us would do really well to memorize as we seek to live other-worldly in a culture of materialism, that finds life, joy, peace, and security in credit cards and chequing accounts.

Here's our Fighter Verse for this week. You should memorize it too:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'
-- Hebrews 13:5-6

The Gender-Issue Landscape

Seeing as how I've been giving some really broad, yet really brief overviews of theological positions this week (dangerous at the best of times, but necessary just about always), I thought I'd continue with that pattern but on a different issue.

So, we approach again the gender debate. Are women free to take any office in the NT church, or are they restricted by their gender? Are men more valuable than women? Did God create men & women with difference in roles, or is that result of sin or some construct of society? Does redemption in Christ undo gender distinctions? These are just some of the numerous questions involved in the gender issue.

Despite how some argue, there are only two positions on the issue of women in ministry in the local church: one is either a complementarian or an egalitarian. This is so because it must be decided, Is being a woman (just having this gender) a disqualifying factor at some point for some positions of ministry or is it not? Regardless of where one draws the line, as soon as a line is drawn, one becomes a complementarian at some level. What follows is a brief sketch of both the egalitarian and complementarian arguments.

  1. Egalitarians

  2. Egalitarians argue for created equality. Adam and Eve were created as equals, both alike in the image of God; there was absolutely no distinction between them other than gender. They have functional equality as well, both given responsibility to rule of the creation. As a result of the fall, however, human relationships have been subjected to disorder and falsely established and wrongly motivated hierarchy. Sin introduced disorder into God’s creation, and the result of the curse of God was that man would “rule over” woman, but woman would “desire” man (Genesis 3:16). The perceived supremacy of male over female in relationships, in the world at large and throughout history is a result of the fall and the resulting disorder. However, now that we are in Christ, and because of the redemption that he has accomplished, “there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This means that the relationship of equality in essence, function, and relationship has been completely restored. Differences have been obliterated and females, like males, are encouraged to pursue all areas of ministry in the local church.

  3. Complementarians

  4. Complementarians, just like egalitarians believe that Adam and Ever were alike created in the image of God, and that both are of absolute equal value. Complementarians, however, see a distinction in role between male and female, even in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. This is shown in several ways: Adam was created first, then Eve; Adam was given the command and the primary responsibility for the care of the garden; Eve was created to be Adam’s helper; and, the fact that Adam was the one to name Eve. That there was a distinction and overall distinction greater than that admitted by egalitarians is demonstrated by the apostle Paul’s use of the Genesis texts in places like 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2. For the complementarian, the fallen disruption of God’s created design is perceived differently. Where there was loving leadership and glad-hearted submission before, Adam’s desire is to “rule” (that is, by force of power, not lovingly) over Eve, while Eve’s desire is “against” (that is, with evil intent, to subvert and rule over—see Gen. 4:7) Adam. Complementarians argue that there is true role restoration in the redemption that Christ accomplishes, but it is not of the nature envisioned by the egalitarians. Rather, it is a reestablishment of the loving headship-submission relationship of Adam and Eve, which was designed to prefigure the relationship of Christ with his bride (Ephesians 5:22-33). That this is a restoration of the relationship as it was in Eden is evinced by 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's Important to Canadians?

A recent Angus Reid study has revealed some interesting (even if not surprising) things about what Canadians value. Here are a few highlights.

96 per cent of respondents say having enough free time to do what they want is very important or moderately important to them. Achieving career success (89%), volunteering (74%) and having children (72%) are also high on the scale of accomplishments.
Following their religious beliefs (46%), being wealthy (53%) and tying the knot (55%) are not valued as highly by Canadians across the nation.
More men (58%) than women (53%) view marriage as an important part of life.
What to make of this? There are lots of things that could be said, but I'll leave it at this for now: There is a profound irony here.

The trendy emergent crowd says that evangelicals are out of touch, fighting yesterday's battles about things like marriage, feminism, and other family issues. Yet, these seem to be the very areas where our culture needs to be challenged and corrected.

The ironic twist is completed when we notice that most of the excitement in the emerging crowd is directed to issues like social justice (with a high emphasis on volunteering), not being a religious zealot, and fighting against the drive to be rich. Yet, none of these seem to be out of line with what secular people in Canada already think.

While the conservative evangelicals are accused of being out of touch, the hip emerging crowd preaches what the culture wants to hear--and what they already believe. Why would we expect anything else?
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.

The Blame Game

This summer, while our pastor is on sabbatical, I'll be preaching (God willing) through the book of James. This week I'm studying to preach James 1:1-18. Today, over at the Desiring God blog, they've got a great application of James 1:13-15.

I heartily recommend you check out this post: '12 Sins We Blame on Others'

Here are the 12 sins they list:

  1. Anger
  2. Impatience
  3. Lust
  4. Anxiety
  5. Spiritual Apathy
  6. Insubordination
  7. A Critical Spirit
  8. Bitterness
  9. Gluttony
  10. Gossip
  11. Self-Pity
  12. Selfishness
Blaming others is an easy way to justify self in attempts to remove shame and guilt without even realizing it. May God give us grace to see our sin and accept our sin for what it is... and then flee to the cross!

Biblical Support for Penal Substitution

As promised yesterday, here is what amounts to a super-brief (again) presentation of the biblical support for penal substitution. Despite what the critics will posit, it's not new, it's not western, it's not because of Augustine, and it's not even modern; penal substitution is biblical.

We'll borrow our definition of 'penal substitution' from Wayne Grudem (579):

Christ's death was 'penal' in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a 'substitution' in that he was a substitute for us when he died.
The biblical support for penal substitution is so prevalent throughout the storyline of redemptive-history that it is hard to express with concision. Our approach will be to sketch a few examples of the foreshadowing of Christ’s penal substitutionary work from the OT, and then examine the corroborating evidence from the NT.

The penal substitution of Christ is foreshadowed at least as early as Genesis 22. In this story Abraham is called to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. When Abraham demonstrates his faith in God by preparing to offer his own sin, God intervenes—surprisingly and miraculously—by providing a substitute; a ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac, so that he could live. Again, in the miraculous redemptive work of God in saving Israel from their captivity in Egypt, penal substitution is prefigured. On the night of the Passover, the people are to slaughter a spotless lamb (just enough for each household). During the night, the Destroyer would come to take the lives of all the firstborn sons in the land. Only those who were in the homes where the lamb had been slaughtered were preserved; the lamb had died in place of the son. The book of Leviticus (chs. 4-7 indicate specifically the nature of the cultic rites) teaches that where sin has occurred, whether intentional or not, a death must result. Here it is made clear that an animal had to die in place of the human who had sinned, and therefore deserved death. The prophetic writings reflect back to the Israelites the nature of that law, as well as looking forward to the coming of Christ, which is why Isaiah 52-53 portrays the penal substitutionary work of Christ perhaps more clearly than anywhere else in the OT. There it is put bluntly and undeniably: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

The NT evidence is no less scarce. In fact, one approach to displaying the NT evidence is by a simple study of the preposition huper (ὑπερ). It has been argued that huper has a simple meaning of “for one’s benefit.” When studied in individual passages, however, it has been demonstrated that there is a much stronger meaning contained in the word, which may be explained as “for one’s benefit, by being in one’s place.” This stronger meaning is evinced in the following passages. In John 10:11, Jesus teaches that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. The very nature of the metaphor requires the stronger meaning. Similarly, in Galatians 3:13 we are told that Christ redeems us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. This simply cannot mean only “for our benefit”; in this instance it is clear that he becomes the curse in our place, that we might benefit. Again, 1 Peter 3:18 states that the righteous one suffered for the unrighteous, which clearly indicates that we receive the benefit only by having a substitute. Aside from the meaning of huper, a plain reading of passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 (where Christ was “made to be sin” on our behalf) and 1 Peter 2:24 (where Christ “bore our sins in his body”) militate against any argument that penal substitution is unbiblical or unnecessary.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vanity 'Wordle'ing

I thought it would be interesting to wordle my blog... I wordled the archives for each year. The top is 2005, moving along to the bottom, which is 2008 (so far). It's interesting to note the progression of themes. I like that the things that are consistent, however, are the things I hope to major on in my thoughts and writings.

Some Objections to Penal Substitution

In keeping with our theme of atonement from yesterday, I thought I'd outline some of the more common objections to penal substitution offered in contemporary 'evangelical' literature. Again, these are very brief descriptions of the arguments, but they are simply intended to familiarize us with what is being said by self-proclaimed evangelicals today.

God willing, we'll examine some of the arguments for penal substitution tomorrow, but for now, here are some of the most common contemporary objections to it:

  1. Penal Substitution and Divine Love

  2. Those who hold to this objection argue that God is love (1 John 4:8), and his expression of his character in Christ is ultimately love. With this schema in place, seeing God as wrathful and punitive is clearly out of character, and therefore wrong. The God who would demand penal substitution is a God of vengeance, it is argued, not a God of love. The justice of the God of the Bible is in line with his love and is therefore corrective and remedial rather than wrathful or punitive.

  3. Penal Substitution and Divine Justice

  4. Here it is argued, in connection with the above argument that we have misunderstood divine justice. God’s justice must be interpreted in light of his love. The notion that there is guilt which must be punished is western and modern in its origin, and is far from biblical. God’s justice must be viewed as remedial. Our guilt is better viewed in terms of shame, rather than guilt, and once that is understood we will see that there is no need for a penal substitute to satisfy the wrath of God. Like God’s justice, it is argued that his wrath must be redefined in non-western terms. Rather than an angry response to sin, God’s wrath is seen merely in the natural consequences for sin.

  5. Penal substitution and the Trinity

  6. Here it is argued that penal substitution betrays a wrong understanding of the Trinity. Since, in penal substitution, God the Father would be turned against God the Son (which, it is assumed, could never happen), then penal substitution must therefore be wrong. Any pitting of the persons of the Trinity against each other must be wrong, and therefore penal substitution is jettisoned.

  7. Penal Substitution and Violence

  8. Here it is argued that the notion of God requiring a violent atonement for the sake of forgiving offences and propitiating wrath is entirely distasteful at best, and could well be construed as condoning violence in human relationships as well. For example, it is often argued in contemporary feminist literature that penal substitutionary atonement theories only encourage the abuse of women and children who are innocent, but told they must bear the wrath of their fathers and “bear up” and suffer like Christ. This, they argue, is a far cry from biblical Christianity, and is a reason to deny penal substitution.