Friday, October 30, 2009

Transparent Lives

Here is a link to an article by Eugene Peterson, originally published in First Things in 2003. One can see that many of his seed thoughts are here that grew into fruition in his magnum opus series on Spiritual Theology beginning with Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

The word from this article that has captured me is "congruence." Congruence, Peterson comments, is at the heart of living a contemplative life, a gospel life, a Jesus life. There is congruence between what we say and do, who we are, what we do and the way we do it. We are authentic, transparent, when we are on the Jesus way.

Here's a sampling:

The words of Jesus that keep this in focus are "I am the way, the truth and the life"(John14:6). Only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life. But this isn’t easy. It is easier to talk about what Christians believe, the truth of the gospel formulated in creeds and doctrines. We have accumulated a magnificent roster of eloquent and learned theologians who have taught us to think carefully and well about the revelation of God In Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is easier to talk about what Christians do, life as performance, the behavior appropriate to followers of Jesus codified in moral commandments and formulated in vision statements and mission strategies. We never lack for teachers and preachers and parents who instruct us in the mores and manners of the kingdom of God. None of us here are likely to pretend perfection in these matters, but most of us are pretty well agreed on what’s involved.

But what counts on my agenda right now is the Christian life as lived, lived in this sense of congruence between who Christ is and who I am – being in Chicago right now at this busy heavily trafficked intersection of the kingdom of God, Christ playing in my limbs and my eyes.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Union with Christ

Reflect on this portion from:
—Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, 2009), pp. 166–167.

I tell you from Christ,
and under the hand of the Spirit,
that your person is accepted,
your sins are done away,
and you shall be saved;
and if an angel from heaven should tell you otherwise,
let him be accursed.

Therefore, you may (without doubt) conclude
that you are a happy man;
for by means of this your matching with Christ,
you are become one with him,
and one in him,
you ‘dwell in him, and he in you’ (1 John 4:13).

He is ‘your well beloved, and you are his’ (S. of S. 2:16).

So that the marriage union betwixt Christ and you
is more than a bare notion or apprehension of your mind;
for it is a
spiritual, and
real union:
it is an union betwixt the nature of Christ,
God and man,
and you;
it is a knitting and closing,
not only of your apprehension with a Saviour,
but also of your soul with a Saviour.

Whence it must needs follow that you cannot be condemned,
except Christ be condemned with you;
neither can Christ be saved,
except you be saved with him.

And as by means of corporeal marriage all things become common betwixt man and wife;
even so, by means of this spiritual marriage,
all things become common betwixt Christ and you;
for when Christ hath married his spouse unto himself,
he passeth over all his estate unto her;
so that whatsoever Christ is or hath,
you may boldly challenge as your own.

‘He is made unto you, of God,
and redemption’ (1 Cor. 1:30).

And surely,
by virtue of this near union it is,
that as Christ is called ‘the Lord our righteousness’ (Jer. 23:6),
even so is the church called, ‘the Lord our righteousness’ (33:16).

I tell you,
you may,
by virtue of this union,
boldly take upon yourself,
as your own,
Christ’s watching,
and slanders;
his tears,
his sweat,
his blood,
and all that ever he did
and suffered
in the space of three and thirty years,
with his
and ascension;
for they are all yours.

And as Christ passes over all his estate unto his spouse,
so does he require that she should pass over all unto him.
you being now married unto Christ,
you must give all that you have of your own unto him;
and truly you have nothing of your own
but sin,
and, therefore, you must give him that.

I beseech you, then,
say unto Christ with bold confidence,
I give unto thee, my dear husband,
my unbelief,
my mistrust,
my pride,
my arrogancy,
my ambition,
my wrath,
and anger,
my envy,
my covetousness,
my evil thoughts,
and desires;
I make one bundle of these and all my other offences,
and give them unto thee.

And thus was Christ made ‘sin for us, that knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5:21).

‘Now then,’
says Luther,
‘let us compare these things together,
and we shall find inestimable treasure.

Christ is full of
and saving health;
and the soul is freight-full of all
and damnation;
but let faith come betwixt these two,
and it shall come to pass,
that Christ shall be laden with
and hell;
and unto the soul shall be imputed
and salvation.

Who then is able to value the royalty of this marriage accordingly?

Who is able to comprehend the glorious riches of his grace,
where this rich and righteous husband,
doth take unto wife this poor and wicked harlot,
redeeming her from all devils,
and garnishing her with all his own jewels?

So that you,
through the assuredness of your faith in Christ, your husband,
are delivered from all sins,
made safe from death,
guarded from hell,
and endowed with the
everlasting righteousness,
and saving health
of this your husband Christ.’”

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Monday, October 26, 2009

The Test for True Christianity

J.I. Packer offers these beautiful words:

You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator.

In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father.

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.

If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.

For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up I the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God.

Evangelical Magazine 7, pp. 19-20, cited in Knowing God, p. 201. Packer says on p. 202:

Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Some Thoughts on a "Theology of the City"

I have been hearing a lot of preaching and teaching on the role of the church in "seeking the peace and welfare of the city." It has become a major distortion of the mission of the church, in my opinion, especially in those who consider themselves "young, restless and reformed."

What generally happens is that the OT is used to support the direction and mission of the church in ways that cannot be sustained by the NT, which has more direct relevance to this question.

A favorite text to support this is Jeremiah 29. It is said that we, like Israel in exile, are to seek the welfare (peace, renewal, etc.) of our cities. Not that there is anything wrong, in themselves, of such ideas, but they should never be taught and practiced as the primary mission of the church. Israel was a theocratic society, whose role in culture and the world don't automatically translate to the church.

Bottom line: without understanding the biblical/theological purposes behind Israel's exile, there will be misunderstandings & misapplications galore. For example, the fact that they are there for 70 years is decided by God as the period of punishment/exile justified by their continual neglect of Sabbath years (2 Chr 36:20-21), and in just a few chapters later (Jeremiah 50-51) God speaks a harsh prophecy of judgment against Babylon.

Two of the primary questions that the Israelites were agonizing over during and after the exile was:
  1. what has happened to the promises to Abraham? God had promised land, descendants and relationship to Abraham and his descendants. Israel's ejection from the promised land seems to threaten these promises (esp. promise of land).
  2. Further, what has happened to the promises to David? God promised David a son to reign perpetually over Israel. The exile of David's descendants put these promises in jeopardy.
To be sure, Israel's exile put these promises at great risk. But all the post-exilic writings were written to address these questions in some form (e.g., why Chronicles is different than Samuel-Kings; it's working to answer these questions), to remind Israel of God's faithfulness despite their exile, to teach them to let go of their idols once and for all (there is good evidence to think that after Israel's exile they never struggled with national idolatry again), etc.

Also, Psalm 137 is written from the perspective of an exile who definitely does not pray for Babylon's peace, but rather prays for its destruction:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock! (v.8-9 ESV)

If our view of Israel's exile cannot reconcile the reality of faithful Israel's prayers for its peace and its destruction, then we have a faulty view. It was for Israel's sake that God said to "pray for the peace of the city," not for the cities' sake. It was to keep the promises to Abraham and David alive.

But, all these arguments to address the problem do it without bringing in one of the strongest arguments: the NT knows nothing of this kind of theology. Cities are useful hubs to spread the gospel to the surrounding areas, not God's "preferred method of culture building." That idea can only be supported with presuppositions from theocracy (specifically a city, Jerusalem, from which God rules his people).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Music for the Broken

My wife and I have come to love the music and lyrics of Jill Phillips. We have the album "Nobody's Got it All Together" (2006) and are wanting to get more. Here are a couple of songs I love from that album:

Nobody's Got It All Together

Working hard to tie up the loose ends
So hard to decide who you let in
Put your best foot forward with a grin

I can see the fear behind your eyes
Wondering if someone will recognize
You’ve grown tired of keeping up the lies

Don’t whitewash the truth about yourself ‘cause
Nobody’s got it all together
If you want to be like everyone else well
Nobody’s got it all together

I have seen the darkness of my heart
And found a love that taught me its too hard
To walk through life and not let down my guard

What good is it to say please savior come
If there is nothing you need rescue from
Life is something no one has a corner on

Don’t whitewash the truth about yourself ‘cause
Nobody’s got it all together
If you want to be like everyone else well
Nobody’s got it all together

When the parts that are self righteous
Start to disappear
Every other life is
Just another mirror
And life is way too short to run and hide

Don’t whitewash the truth about yourself ‘cause
Nobody’s got it all together
If you want to be like everyone else well
Nobody’s got it all together

Square Peg

Like a square peg in a round hole
I can’t seem to fit their mold
And make my way past the entrance
I have had my turn to play
But never understood their game
And much less how someone wins it

Always looking in
Never seem to fit
But you’ve been there before
Do you have a place
For losers in this race
Cause I can’t run it anymore

It is said that the rain will fall
Equally upon us all
And there is no rhyme or reason
Still I find myself surprised
When it seems like its my time
To walk in that rainy season

Always looking in
Never seem to fit
But you’ve been there before
Do you have a place
For losers in this race
Cause I can’t run it anymore

Nothing has turned out as planned
And all I have left is to throw up my hands
You never led me the safe way
And this time’s no different
I’ll walk it again, again

Like a square peg in a round hole
I will never fit that mold
So why even try
Why even try
Always looking in
Never seem to fit
But you’ve been there before
Do you have a place
For losers in this race
Cause I can’t run it anymore

Resentful Envy

I took Samuel to Cub Scouts last night, and I had a conversation with one of the leaders that rattled me. He was describing some of the "struggles" in finding a house for his family for around $200,000. As I let him talk, I grew in resentment and anger - not toward him, but toward God and the providential limits (financial, relational, to name a couple) he has placed on us.

I took a walk after I got home from Scouts, and felt furious. I vented my anger toward God, and I sensed his care and attentive listening. Slowly his acceptance began to melt my hard heart. I realized a "hypothetical" choice was before me: would I rather have a deeper understanding and experience of God or have a successful career, material goodies and popularity? Not that I can make a choice like that, but it shook me to think I would choose (heartily!) the successful life in that moment. I began to realize how foolish such a choice would be, and how such a choice would ruin me and break the heart of God.

This morning I was reading in Allender & Longman's book The Cry of the Soul, and my reflections were confirmed as I began to read their chapter on "resentful envy/jealousy." They pointed to Psalm 73, which I took the rest of my morning time meditating on. Particularly verses 21-26:

  When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
  I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.

 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
  You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
  My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

I want to want God more than anything else, and his mercy is bringing me closer to that reality. I don't really have a choice about what limits his providence determines for me; the choice I have is whether or not I will, within those limits, know and love God.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

John Owen on Beholding Christ

I don't read much Puritans anymore, as it tends too much towards a perfectionism to which I cannot relate or find strength in. But I found this quote from John Owen encouraging:

It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy.

The Glory of Christ (1684)

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The Lie Behind Pornography

Last night in Recovery group a brother posed a great question, "Assuming that behind every sin there is a lie, what is the lie behind the sin of pornography?"

As we discussed it, I realized that the lie behind pornography (at least in my experience) is the lie of control in the realm of manufacturing counterfeit intimacy. The lie is that I refuse to accept (or wait for) the love of God to satisfy my deepest soul, so I create my own experience of intimacy. Further, I accept the lie about myself in thinking that such an encounter can truly satisfy my heart, and that I am unworthy of any real love, and thus I must accept this as my best option ("no one will ever really love the real me; this counterfeit is all I have"). There is also the lie about the goodness of God that doesn't think it worth waiting for or seeking after.

So it is a lie (or better, a complex set of lies) about God and myself.

I should also note that there is also a wound behind the sin, the wounded heart that did not receive sufficient love from others (esp. in childhood, e.g., parental love) to gain a solid sense of self.

For God to bring freedom from pornography, his love must heal our wounded hearts and his truth must confront the lies we believe about him and about ourselves, and we with deepening patterns of repentance and faith, embrace our new identities in Christ.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Two Things

I heard a preacher comment on this passage from Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV):

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

The biblical author here is asking for no more than provision for daily needs since he is so aware of how easily his heart can turn against God with both too much and too little. It was a profound reminder to me today, as I was agonizing over the fact that I can't afford to put anything into any kind of retirement plan. Our needs are always met, but we are kept at such a level of minimum provision that I'm always questioning God's care and my worth (of course bringing in the sin of comparison here).

I was also made aware, as I reflected further, that I often pray the opposite: "God, grant me more because I don't trust you." I don't pray these words, of course, that would be too honest. I pray it with my actions, with my worry, anxiety and stress.

Side note: the preacher who brought this text to my attention is fairly well known and I'm sure well compensated; I thought it was a bit hypocritical to challenge his hearers to pray this prayer knowing that by no means would he give up his 401K and book and speaking perks for the sake of this prayer (I'm assuming of course).

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