Sunday, September 29, 2013

Re-Awake the Awareness

Jonathan Parnell post:  Pizza!Pizza!  Waking Up in Little Caesar's

This is a story of discovery. C.S. Lewis was my guide. It all happened because of one late afternoon in the Spring of Minnesota when I heard these words:
Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air.

The Unusual Study

The story actually starts in the morning of that Spring day when I packed up my books and drove to a quaint coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis. I went there to study and indeed that’s what I did. I spent several hours there of hard thinking and reflection and prayer on the end for which God created the world, along with musings about God’s aseity and the relationship between his incomprehensibility and his analogical revelation. I was in the Himalayas of truth. It was a glorious day of almost uninhibited insight, if I remember it correctly. But the problem is that I can’t.
That day of study has become legendary to my brain. It has become one of those days that every time afterwards, when I sit down to read, something in my head brings that day up the way a washed up Minor League pitcher talks about the no-hitter he threw in high school. Somewhere deep in my person it was decided that this one event would be called the glory days of my scholastic experience. I just can’t let it go. It was thatwonderful of a day. . . .

The $5 Hot-n-Ready

Which is what made it so strange on the late afternoon of that same Spring day when I found myself standing in line at a Little Caesar’s pizza place about to order a $5 Hot-n-Ready. Now, in case you’re unfamiliar, a $5 Hot-n-Ready is a large pizza — cheese or pepperoni — that is prepared in advance for customers, its heat maintained in a big incubator, until it is sold as food, for only $5. This is all true, and I was at that Little Caesar’s on that late afternoon to purchase this pizza as dinner for my entire family, for only $5.
And here’s another line important information: this particular Little Caesar’s is located in the inner-city next to a liquor store. So get this scene: I am in inner-city Minneapolis, waiting to purchase a $5 pizza inside a Little Caesar’s next to a liquor store.
And as I’m standing in line, as you can imagine, surrounded by cultural elites, in the background, blasting from the TV, were these words:
Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. . . (yes, that song again)
“Of course!,” I thought, what else could make this whole experience more meaningful than an early 90s rerun of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?
Except this time, unlike usual, I didn’t sing along with the only rap song I’ve memorized. I stood still, I looked around, and I hated the fact that I was there compared to the reality I had tasted just an hour before. I felt like a contradiction. The atmospheric pressures of my self-understanding were colliding. There was both this euphoric experience of insight and then the fact that I eat Little Caesar’s pizza. Which of these was true? Which of these experiences was real?

Down to the Brass Tacks

And that is where C. S. Lewis helps, in chapter 15 of his Letters to Malcolm.
Throughout the correspondence with Malcolm, Betty, the “silent third” in their dialogue, has apparently accused Lewis of overcomplicating prayer. So he responds to this charge by first explaining why prayer is not as simple for him as it perhaps should be, and then by explaining his process of getting back to simplicity. For Lewis, the issue is all about reality.
The initial roadblock to simple praying, he confesses, is how unreliable he considers his default understanding of God and himself. He calls them both “phantasmal” and “vague.” And in order to overcome that, Lewis puts himself and everything else in context. He gets down to the brass tacks of reality: Where am I? What am I?

Something More Than Here

Lewis’s answer is that there exists a deeper reality beyond his everyday consciousness. There is more to who he is, so much more, in fact, that Lewis calls his everyday experience a facade, a mere surface, or, a stage.
He shows us that there are two types of reality: there is our default everyday reality in this world, what he calls the stage; and then there is a deeper reality, one beyond our present experience, what he calls the off-stage life. And the key is that we be aware of this deeper reality while we walk through our everyday existence — that we have an awareness that can’t be bound to space and time, as if the stage of the quaint coffee shop were more real the stage of Little Caesar’s.

Jack’s Modest Critique

Lewis’s point completely critiques my crisis. I was pitting one location against another when the real problem was my awareness. I had allowed my awareness of deeper reality to completely leave me when I stepped into the Little Caesar’s, and therefore, like a simpleton, concluded that it was Little Caesar’s fault. It felt lesser. I wanted to be somewhere else, although all I really needed was to wake up. Lewis writes,
The attempt is not to escape from space and time and from my creaturely situation as a subject facing objects. It is more modest: to re-awake the awareness of that situation. If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. (81–82).
And here’s one crucial implication: if we understand that there is a deeper reality than our present experience, and that this deeper reality is accessed by our awareness, then it means that there is no experience here that is too mundane, or too average, or too low.

Awake Here to There

It is true, as Lewis says, that this world and this self are very far from being rock-bottom realities (81). It is just a stage, there is something more real — I have an off-stage life. Blaise Pascal pondered this same subject in pensée #164. He figures we sleep almost half our lives, and wonders if the other half, when we assume we are awake (like right now), could actually be another form of sleep that we will wake up from one day. Could you imagine looking at your life right now, as awake as you feel right now, and one day thinking of it the same way you think about your sleep?
There is something deeper out there. There’s a deeper you and a deeper me than what we experience now. Jesus is the one who modeled this perfectly. He also said about his disciples, “They are not of this world, just as I am not of this world” (John 17:16). The apostle Paul agrees when he tells us that we have been raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6Colossians 3:1–3).
Right now, I am spiritually, truly seated with Christ. I am here, yes, on this real stage called “life in this world,” writing a blog post, about to hit Publish. But I am also there.There. And when I am aware of this, Lewis writes, “This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground; the Bush is burning now” (82) — if only I am aware, whether in the Himalayas of focused study or standing in line at Little Caesar’s.

How I Love You

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Corrosive Effects

Excerpt from Chris McNerney and Daniel Lee post:  Badly Broken


And so, Walt embodies what theologian John Owen mentioned centuries ago in his classic, The Mortification of Sin:
When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting, festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition. . . . Such a lust will make a deep imprint on the soul. It will make its company a habit in your affections. It will grow so familiar in your mind and conscience that they are not disturbed at its presence as some strange thing. It will so take advantage in such a state that it will often exert itself without you even taking notice of it at all. Unless a serious course and extraordinary course is taken, a person in this state has no grounds to expect that his latter ends shall be peace.
But Breaking Bad is not just a drama; it is an all-too-realistic depiction of the corrosive effects of sin. Try as we might, we cannot fully distance ourselves from what we see on-screen because the truth is that we are all Walter White. Do we really believe that we are incapable of such depravity, somehow immune to the darkness that festers within us? Sin, that ever vigilant predator, stands ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness—how will even the strongest among us resist its ferocious assault?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Inherent Weaknesses

Jon Bloom post:  Hope for the Battle with Intractable 

We all have sin-infected weaknesses that are intractable. They are deeply woven into the fabric of who we are and are frequently exacerbated by our sinful responses to them.
Inherent weaknesses are different from indwelling sin. Indwelling sin is evil that is waging war against God in our very members (Romans 7:21–23). Inherent weaknesses are our bodily experience of God’s curse of futility that is affecting all of creation (Romans 8:20). Sin is moral corruption resulting in real guilt. Weakness is a constitutional corruption — a disease or disorder or disability — resulting in sometimes anguishing struggle.
When we’re young we tend to underestimate our weaknesses. We think they’ll change when our situation changes. Or we believe they will simply fade away as we get older. Or we assume our future mature selves will muster the discipline to conquer them. Or surely the Spirit will come with healing power and give us victory.
We battle our weaknesses every day for years. And years. And at some point, often in middle age, we find ourselves bewildered. Our old enemy is not vanquished. We thought sanctification was supposed to be progressive. Where’s the progress? Will this never end?
To all of us who find ourselves weary, let this precious and very great promise (2 Peter 1:4) wash over us today and revive our hope:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

A Good Work

This thing that you are wrestling with, this protracted struggle that can be so frustrating and painful is being used by God to accomplish a good work. It is building faith by making you desperate to mine the promises of God for hope. Thus it is building hope in a reality that you do not yet see (Romans 8:24–25). And it is building love for the Lord’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8) for when that day comes “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).


On the cross when our justification was accomplished Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Someday he will say the same thing about our sanctification. His single offering “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Jesus will bring it to completion. Yes, there will be an end.

At the Day of Christ Jesus

God is merciful to us in Philippians 1:6. He tells when to expect the process to be completed: “at the day of Christ Jesus.” We must not have an over-realized eschatology when it comes to our sanctification. Now we groan inwardly (Romans 8:23). We are supposed to. That’s part of the plan. Our struggle is meant to point us to the day of Christ Jesus when we will experience “the redemption of our bodies.”
Redemption is coming. Your weakness and “the fiery trial [that has come] upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12) is not intended to shame or condemn you. It is there to teach you faith, hope, love and anticipation. God will provide for all of your needs now (Philippians 4:19) and you will find “at the day of Christ Jesus” that every anguishing faith battle prepared for you “a weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

For Aslan Had Breathed on Him

Joe Rigney post: Recovering the Lost Art of Chivalry 
They say that chivalry is dead, that the medieval ideal of the humble knight is laid low in the dust. They were saying the same in C.S. Lewis’s day. And Lewis, rather than lamenting the loss of chivalry, sought to do something about it.
Lewis loved chivalry, at one point even referring to it as “the one hope of the world.” Lewis deeply appreciated the double demand that the chivalric ideal makes on human nature.
The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth. (“The Necessity of Chivalry” in Present Concerns, 13)

Ferocious Wolves and Meek Lambs

This combination of ferocity and meekness, restricted to the appropriate occasions and situations, is necessary because humanity is otherwise prone to fall into two main groups: bloodthirsty wolves and cowardly lambs. History, according to Lewis, is a cyclical progression in which cruel barbarians rape, pillage, and destroy a civilization, only to settle in to become soft and decadent, unable to resist the onslaught of the next barbarian hordes. Chivalry, with its dual demand on men, sought to break this cycle by creating lion-like lambs and lamb-like lions.
The medieval ideal brought together two things which have no natural tendency to gravitate towards one another. It brought them together for that very reason. It taught humility and forbearance to the great warrior because everyone knew by experience how much he usually needed that lesson. It demanded valour of the urbane and modest man because everyone knew that he was as likely as not to be a milksop. (14)
This ideal, covering as it does a whole host of human existence and social situations — from the savage clash of swords in battle to the minutiae of manners when meeting a woman for the first time — is not something that just happens. It is “art not nature,” which means it must be taught, encouraged, and cultivated.

Chivalry in Battle — And at Home

Lewis sets out to do this sort of instruction in Prince Caspian, especially in the character of the High King Peter. Peter shows great courage and wisdom in his willingness to fight the battle-hardened Miraz in single combat. Simply by challenging Miraz to single combat, he hopes to create some time so that he can “inspect the army and strengthen the position.” Even if Miraz rejected the challenge, the delay might afford Aslan the opportunity to do something. In the battle, he demonstrates his prowess as a fighter in wisely using his youth and stamina to his advantage. And he fights with honor, allowing Miraz the opportunity to regain his footing when he slips.
At the same time, he’s a master of tact and humility — ably navigating relational conflict with his siblings and making sure that Caspian knows that he’s not there to take Caspian’s place, but to put him in it. He shows an intentional concern for the dignity of others, as well as appropriate generosity and magnanimity. He acknowledges the badger’s faithfulness by kissing him on the head when he first meets him. He honors the Bear’s ancient right to serve as a Marshal of the List, even if the Bear has the potential to bring shame on the army by sucking his paws. He seeks to cheer up the Giant Wimbleweather after his blunders in battle by sending him as an escort with his challenge to Miraz. He skillfully handles Reepicheep’s request to serve as a Marshal, denying the Mouse’s desire while maintaining his dignity. He even commands that Nikabrik be buried according to Dwarfish custom, despite his evil and treachery.

The Perfect Knight

It is this deliberate concern with courtesy, honor, and the dignity of others that is so necessary for us if we are to live like true Narnians in our homes, in our churches, and in the world. Our Lord requires that husbands show honor to their wives as the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7), and that wives respect and honor their husbands as their head (Ephesians 5:33). Children likewise must honor their parents (Exodus 20:12), and parents must imitate God in remembering the frame of their children (Psalm 103:14) and not provoking or discouraging them (Colossians 3:21). All Christians are called to sacrificially serve one another rather than lording our authority or rights over each other like the unbelievers do (Matthew 20:25–28). Elders in particular are singled out as those who must not be domineering over those in their charge, but instead be, like the High King Peter, an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).
How can we come to live in this way? The same way that Edmund came to wear this sort of glory in Prince Caspian.
For Aslan had breathed on him at their meeting and a kind of greatness hung about him. (Ch. 13)
The breath of Aslan makes Edmund great with Aslan’s greatness. So too the breath of Jesus. For he is our ultimate model of chivalry — protecting the accused from the stones of hypocrites, washing the filthy feet of Galilean fishermen, and driving the wicked from his Father’s house with holy zeal. From serving others and giving his life as a ransom for many to returning in wrath to repay with affliction those who have assaulted his people, he is the true embodiment of chivalry, the perfect Knight above all knights. It is he that truly combines in himself the paradox of ferocity and meekness. He is the Conquering Lion of Judah and the Humble Lamb that was Slain. Lewis was right — Chivalry is the one hope of the world.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Miss Kay of 'Duck Dynasty' Shares Her Testimony, Says God Can Heal Broken Families

Miss Kay, the matriarch of the Robertson family, the stars of A&E's most-watched reality television program, "Duck Dynasty," shared part of her Christian testimony at the "Night of Ducks and Huck" event that was also attended by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Monroe, N.C., on Saturday.


Wrapped in Grace

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Failure and One Way Love

In One Way Love: God’s Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (due out in six days), I tell a lot of personal and very revealing stories about the way grace has changed my life. The one below is perhaps the most personal. I still can’t read this without weeping.
You can pre-order the book here.
There wasn’t one thing in particular that snapped me out of my “wild man” phase, no big crisis or single clarifying moment that inspired me to repair the damage I had done to myself, others, and my family. As humdrum as it may sound, what led me out of that rebellious period was simply the nagging sense that there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing—there had to be more to who I was than what this world was telling me. In fact, I can’t even pinpoint the exact moment when God raised this dead rebel to life. All I know is that sometime in the fall of 1993, my culminating discontent with life made me decide to start going back to church.
I was twenty-one at the time. Kim, who had been my girlfriend for two years at that point, had actually started going to church with my parents a few months earlier, and before I knew it, we were both going every week. My parents were understandably overjoyed. Their prodigal had finally come home. “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24 NIV).
Since Kim did not grow up in a Christian home like me, this was all brand-new to her. But to me, it felt like a homecoming. Even in my unruly years, I had never really ceased to believe in God. In fact, if you had given me a theological exam at the height of my rebellion, I would’ve passed with flying colors. I was just choosing to ignore it all. Maybe it was the timing, maybe it was the circumstances, but something finally clicked, and God became real to both of us in a new and exciting way.
About three months later, in January of 1994, Kim and I got engaged. Our new faith naturally led us to take a hard look at our relationship. God was changing us, and we knew our relationship needed to change as well. After being so out of control for so long, we knew we had to adjust the way we related to each other, and the physical realm was no exception. We were both coming out of a world where sex outside of marriage was completely the norm—a norm that we had embraced—and we knew the right thing to do would be to pull back until we were married. Easier said than done!
Despite our best intentions and most earnest efforts, we slipped up three or four times during our engagement. I’ll never forget when Kim came over to my apartment one night after work and told me she was pregnant. I was devastated. Not just because the news was a shock or because I hadn’t expected to be a parent at such a young age. I was devastated because everyone who had celebrated my return “to the fold” would think the turnaround was a false alarm. I had caused my family so much pain and heartbreak with my self-absorbed shenanigans, and they had been so relieved and excited that their reckless son had finally come back; it had been the answer to years and years of prayer. I had put my parents through more than any son ever should and had asked for their forgiveness on numerous occasions. To drop this bomb might crush them all over again, and I just couldn’t bear it. I was scared, ashamed, and angry at myself for failing yet again.
Somehow we summoned the courage to go over to my mom and dad’s house the next day—Mother’s Day, believe it or not. After some awkward small talk, I asked my father if we could speak to him alone. We walked out to the driveway. Dad was standing in front of me, and Kim was by my side, shoulder to shoulder. “Dad we have something to tell you.” I burst into tears. “Kim’s pregnant.” Kim started bawling too. Next thing I knew, he was embracing both of us, me with one arm, her with the other, while we wept. He held us for ten minutes. He could see how overwhelmed we were. I can still hear his voice telling us, “It’s okay. We love you. It’s going to be okay. This child is going to be a blessing.”
Kim and I had been so excited about getting married, and now we were going to be parents as well. In addition to the embarrassment and shame involved, we were grieving the happy expectation that we’d have a few years, just the two of us, before starting a family. We were in a state of shock. Yet my father did not condemn or lecture us, even though he had every right to do so. Instead, he comforted us. More than that, he gave us good news. He told us that while the circumstances clearly weren’t ideal, this was going to turn out just fine. This baby was going to be a blessing to both of us and a gift to the whole family. Every time Kim and I look at our oldest son (now eighteen), we realize afresh that my dad was absolutely right that day.
The whole situation was wrapped in grace: I deserved his reproach and disapproval—premarital sex resulting in unexpected pregnancy is no father’s dream for his child—yet his gracious response assured me that he not only wasn’t crushed, his love for me was stronger than ever. When I told him (through many tears) how sorry I was for once again letting him down, he simply hushed me by hugging me tighter and saying over and over again, “It’s okay. I love you. It’s okay. I love you.” At that moment in the driveway, when I rightly deserved my dad’s disappointment, he assured me of his delight. Even now it is hard to put into words the emotional relief I felt. Lifesaving is not too strong a word. I thank God with every fiber of my being that He put me in a family where I was surrounded by such one-way love.
The love my father showed me that day is not a one-to-one approximation of God’s one-way love for you and me—nothing is! But this act of grace served as an accurate reflection of that one true Act of Grace, or one way love, to which all others point. That is, he treated me in a way that was analogous to how God treats you and me. He was not God, of course, but like many fathers, he did play a similar role in my life: someone in authority who showed me love in the midst of deserved judgment. And like that One True Act of Grace, my father’s forgiveness and love changed me forever.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Do What's Right for God's Sake

John Piper post:  Don't Do God's Will Like an Atheist

After my message to the Liberty University student body last week, a perceptive student asked this clarifying question: So you don’t believe that altruistic acts are possible or desirable?
I asked for his definition of altruism so that I could answer what he was really asking. He said, “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward.” I answered: that’s right, whether or not it’s possible, I don’t think it’s desirable, because it’s not what the Bible teaches us to do; and it’s not what people experience as genuine love. Because it isn’t genuine love.

When God Is Glorified

I had said in the convocation message: Doing right for right’s sake is atheistic. Christian’s should do what’s right for God’s sake; because the Bible teaches us to do everything forthe glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But God is not glorified if we leave him out of account, and say that doing a right deed is it’s own justification. Nothing is its own justification, if God is left out.
Christians should do what God says is right because in doing it we enjoy more of God. Jesus was motivating us to be generous to others when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I’m simply saying that this motivating, promised “blessedness” is not mainly more money, but more God. God delights to reveal more of himself to the generous than to the stingy (John 14:23).
This motive glorifies God. God is glorified when he is desired as a treasure. If we want a deeper fellowship with him because he makes us happier than anyone else, we glorify him. So to be motivated to do right by the desire for more of God glorifies God.

How Jesus Motivates

Jesus said that when we are slandered as Christians we should rejoice (Matthew 5:12) and love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) “for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12), and “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). The motivation he appeals to is that the path of sacrificial love leads to an increase of joy in our relationship to God as Father.
Jesus motivated us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” to our feast “because they cannot repay [us].” Then he added: “For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13–14). In other words: Be generous; make sacrifices in this world; because great is your reward in heaven.
This reward, of course, includes everything in God’s inheritance. You will be an “heir of the world” (Romans 4:13). “All things are yours” (1 Corinthians 3:21). The meek “shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Yes, the reward includes earthy things. But in that day there will be no danger of idolatry. The earth and the heavens and all things will declare the glory of God, and the essence of our joy in them will be joy in him. What makes our reward truly great is the greater fullness of our fellowship with God: “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
This “fullness” and this “forever” are behind the motivation of the early Christians when they did what was right and suffered for it. They visited fellow Christians in prison because they saw this reward: “You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34). They rejoiced in persecution because their reward was great in heaven. That’s where they got the courage to risk their lives: It “had great reward” (Hebrews 10:35).
So I answer again: “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward” is unbiblical and atheistic. It dishonors God. He offers more joy in his fellowship to those who do right “for his sake” than “for right’s sake.” If we don’t embrace the offer of this reward in doing good, we belittle him. But if do embrace the offer, we show him as our supremely desired treasure — above all the rewards of doing wrong.

Our Joy in Loving Others

Finally, I said to the student’s good question: Not only does trying to do right for right’s sake dishonor God, it doesn’t show love to others. People don’t experience it as love. But why would they experience the good we do for them as love, if we are seeking our greater joy in God? Aren’t they just being used?
No. It’s because part of the greater joy we seek in God, by doing them good, is the inclusion of them in our joy. Our joy in God would be expanded by their joy in God. We are not using them for our greater joy. We are wooing them into our greater joy, and desiring that they become part of it.
But doing right for right’s sake does not have this effect. Suppose I go to visit Ethel in the hospital, an older lady who just had a heart attack. I lay my hand on her tiny arm and she opens her eyes and says, “O pastor, you didn’t need to come.” Suppose I respond, “I know, but it was my duty to come. It was the right thing to do for it’s own sake. So I came.” That answer, does not make Ethel feel loved.
But suppose I say, “I know, but it always makes me happier in God, Ethel, to bring some encouragement to you, and lift you up into what the Lord has promised.” Ethel would never say, “You are so selfish. All you ever think about is what makes you happy.” She wouldn’t feel this, even though I did say, “It always makes me happier. . .” And the reason she wouldn’t is that my pursuit of more joy in God by doing good to her, and wanting her to be part of it, is what genuine love is.
May God protect us from the atheistic notion of doing right for right’s sake. And may he make us into the kind of strange and wonderful lovers who deny ourselves the “fleeting pleasures of sin,” and “choose to be mistreated with the people of God,” because we “look to the reward” (Hebrews 11:25–26).

I Believe

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic* Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
* catholic means “universal” and is not a reference to the Roman Catholic Church.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Eternal Significance in Daily Routines

Trevin Wax:  A Boring Conversation with Michael Kelley 

Michael Kelley is one of the most gifted writers in evangelicalism today. I’ve been following his blog for years and I’ve read every book he’s written. One of the aspects that initially appealed to me about working at LifeWay was thinking I might get to know Michael better. Sure enough, becoming friends with such a wise, gifted writer been one of the highlights of my time here so far. He’s the funniest introvert I know.
Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life is a needed book. As evangelicals, we are taken with heroes who have accomplished incredible, world-changing feats for God’s kingdom. William Carey’s word, Expect great things, attempt great things, is our motto. The activist stream of evangelicalism is strong, and I’m thankful for it.
But “great things” will look different depending on the family, the person, and the circumstance. And that’s where a book like Boring comes along and flips our way of thinking.
Michael is not telling us to settle for an ordinary life that eschews the radical, world-changing missionaries who give their all. This is not an answer to David Platt’s Radical.
No, this is a book about finding the eternal significance in our daily routines. It’s not about settling; it’s about seeing. Seeing the extraordinary in what we think is “ordinary.” Seeing the soul-satisfying glory of God in our daily grind.
I asked Michael a few questions about his book, which I commend to you wholeheartedly.
Trevin: Why do we need to be okay with a boring life? And why is it we shouldn’t think of life as boring?
Michael: Part of the reason is expectation. The fact is that all of us are going to spend the bulk of our time on this planet doing things that might be considered boring – paying bills, living in a routine, going to work, parenting kids. But because we live in a culture that’s constantly feeding an obsession with excitement and grandeur, we look at these seemingly mundane areas of our lives as things to be escaped from.
But time and time again in the Bible, we not only find instruction about how to live in these ordinary areas, but also the great meaning behind them. Because we want to escape from the ordinary, regardless of our reasoning behind it, one of the things that desire betrays is our subtle belief that true life with Jesus is found outside of those areas. So if we truly believe in the presence and purpose of God, we must look for that presence and purpose inside the ordinary rather than beyond it.
When we do, we can recover the meaning that God has infused in the everyday. It’s that new perspective brought on by our belief in an ever-present God that takes what might be considered ordinary and makes it extraordinary.
Trevin: You talk about how we need to recapture the boring, disciplined aspects of Christianity, because “feelings follow faith.” What do you mean by that?
Michael: More times than not, we are obedient to our feelings. We choose what feels right in any given circumstance. But part of growing in Christ is understanding that like all other parts of our lives, our feelings have been broken by sin and are in need of the redemptive power of God. Growing in Christ, then, involves imposing what we believe onto what we feel.
The psalmist did this all the time when he spoke to his soul: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” and so forth. In passages like this, the psalmist recognizes that his feelings don’t line up with what he knows to be true about God. He is, in essence, preaching to himself – reminding his feelings of the truth.
When we choose to live according to the truth of God rather than what we feel, we often must contradict our feelings. We must instead choose the road of faith, and when we do, we most of the time find that our feelings follow along. But rarely is it the other way around.
Trevin: I love the chapter where you write about Sundays and the church. You encourage us to look at two levels of reality as we gather with the church. Explain what you mean by that and why we need to see from two perspectives.
Michael: We can look at the church in the way that we can view most other areas of life. We can either view it in a pure physical way – just the nuts and bolts of what’s happening at a given time, or we can expand our vision to see that there is a deeper purpose happening at the same time. A good example of this dynamic is Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. She, when she meets Jesus, is purely concerned with her physical need – water. She’s thirsty. But as Jesus interacted with her, He brought her understanding up a level so that she not only focused on the physical but also the spiritual. He helped her see that she wasn’t really thirsting after physical water, but after what only He could give her.
Similarly, in the church, we might well get caught up in the every Sunday kind of routine. There is the singing, the preaching, the wrangling of kids, and the Bible stories. But amazingly, the Word of God tells us that in all these routine actions there is something of profound importance happening. The church, according to the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3, is the arena in which God displays His manifold wisdom.
When we gather together, it’s true that we are singing and listening and reading. But we are also showing forth the wisdom of God to the heavenly powers.
Trevin: “Common, everyday choices are the guts of discipleship.” Why do we downplay common, everyday choices in favor of the showy and grand?
Michael: Part of it is cultural, I think. We are geared toward always looking for the bigger and better, and the more grand that bigger can be the better. What seems to be happening in the realm of discipleship is that we equate spiritual maturity to the size of the decisions we’ve made. While I don’t want to downplay the call to follow Christ with complete abandonment, it seems to me that for most of us that abandonment is lived out in the common and everyday choices we have to make.
Will we be patient with our children? Will we faithfully give of our time and money? Will we be kind and compassionate to those around us? These are often unseen and unheralded choices of the disciple because they are mostly made in quiet repetition. But when we live in these small faithful ways, we find ourselves making those more grand decisions as simply the next step God calls us to.
Trevin: The main point of this book is that God is the one who makes ordinary things extraordinary. How has this realization invested your life with more significance?
Michael: More than anything else, it has helped me to see the validity of the so-called “normal” follower of Jesus – that man or woman who works hard at their job, raises their family in a godly way, and volunteers in their local church. Rarely do we think of these kinds of folks as heroes, but they are the bedrocks. They are the mighty. They are the solid people who live out their faith in the everyday.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wonderfully Wild

David Mathis post:  Grace Gone Wild

Grace is on the loose.
Contrary to our expectations, counter to our assumptions, frustrating our judicial sentiments, mocking our craving for control, the grace of God is turning the world upside down. He is shamelessly pouring out his lavish favor on undeserving sinners of all stripes, and thoroughly stripping away our self-sufficiency.

Primeval and Unbridled

Grace has been on the move since before creation, roaming wild and free. Even before the foundation of the world, it was the untamed grace of God that jumped the bounds of time and space and considered a yet-to-be-created people in connection with his Son, and chose them in him (Ephesians 1:4). It was in love — and to the praise of his glorious grace — that “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus” (Ephesians 1:5–6). Such a divine choice was not based on foreseeing anything good in us. He chose us by grace — not “on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5–6). It was “not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
With patience, then — through creation, fall, and flood, through Adam, Noah, Abraham, and David — God prepared the way. Humanity waited and groaned, gathering up the crumbs of his compassion as a foretaste of some feast to come. The prophets “prophesied about the grace that was to be yours” (1 Peter 1:10). And in the fullness of time, it came. He came.

Invading Our Space

Now “the grace of God has appeared” (Titus 2:11). Grace couldn’t be kept from becoming flesh and dwelling among us in the God-man, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16). The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth are here in him (John 1:17). Grace has a face.
But grace would not be restricted even here, even in this man. Grace would not just be embodied, but break the chains to roam the globe unfettered.

Casting Away Restraints

It was sheer grace that united us by faith to Grace Incarnate, and blessed us in him “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). In grace were we called with effect, and given new birth. Because of grace unmeasured, boundless, free, now our dead hearts beat and lifeless lungs breathe. Only through grace do we believe (Acts 18:27), and only in grace do we receive “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).
But such wild grace keeps going. We get the Spirit, and experience our long-planned adoption, and cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). We receive “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Grace keeps breaking through barriers and casting away restraints. Grace justifies. A perfect, impeachable, divinely approved, humanly applied righteousness is ours in this union with Jesus. We are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24Titus 3:7). Through this one man Jesus, we are counted among “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). And so we happily say with Paul, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21).

Breaking into Our Lives

And just when we think we have been carried far enough, that God has done for us all that we could imagine and more, grace shatters the mold again. Grace sanctifies — too wild to let us stay in love with unrighteousness. Too free to leave us in slavery to sin. Too untamed to let our lusts go unconquered. Grace’s power is too uninhibited to not unleash us for the happiness of holiness.
So it is that we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), and live “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Grace abounds not through our continuing in sin, but through our Spirit-empowered, ongoing liberation (Romans 6:1). Grace is too strong to leave us passive, too potent to let us wallow in the mire of our sins and weaknesses. “My grace is sufficient for you,” says Jesus, “for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Flooding the Future

Just when we’re sure it is done, and certain that some order must be restored and some boundary established, God’s grace not only floods our future in this life, but leaps spans the divide into the next, and pours out onto the plains of our eternity. Grace glorifies.
If the Scriptures didn’t make plain the story of our glory, we’d be scared to even dream of such grace. Not only will Jesus be glorified in us, but we will be glorified in him, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:16). He is “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10). So Peter tells us to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). It will be indescribably stunning in the coming ages as he shows “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
Chosen before time. Called with effect. United to Jesus in faith and repentance. Adopted and forgiven. Justified. Sanctified. Glorified. And satisfied forever. Grace gone wonderfully wild.