Friday, December 12, 2014

The Danger of Becoming too Positive

The influence of positive thinking is having a deleterious and negative effect on the mindset of many professing Christians.  I fear some believers have become so positive that they barely hear God's Word, which recognizes that we live in a fallen world dominated by sin and death.  If our advice, our teaching, and our "encouragement" does not deal with the reality of the fact that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), our positivity and our "encouragement" may send us to the hell, we are all too positive to recognize or talk about!

An Invitation to Talk

"At the very start of the book [Isaiah], it is though Isaiah is saying to us, 'When did you last talk to God about your sin, about God's threat to punish it unless it is atoned for  by Jesus Christ, or about heaven and hell?  If you go on ignoring the problem for ever, you may find it is too late to talk!'

"God's invitation to talk is accompanied by a word of grace.  In unforgettable terms he uses the violent picture of a murder:

Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

"'Scarlet' and 'crimson' are the color of blood on a murderer's hands.  You may recall how Lady Macbeth's conscience at the murder of Duncan caused her to sleepwalk at night.  Wringing her hands in a gesture of washing, she lamented: 'Will all the perfumes of Arabia not cleanse this hand of mine?' Death is an appropriate metaphor; it is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).  

--Derek Thomas from his commentary on Isaiah

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Independence or Dependence? Strength or Weakness?

Psalm 86:1 (ESV)
A Prayer of David.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.

Psalm 40 (ESV)
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.

I am struck by the fact that David, a fabulously wealthy and powerful king sees himself as "poor and needy." Even more surprising, this is how Jesus, who was Lord from conception and birth, describes himself, for Psalm 40 is put on our Lord's lips in the New Testament, since David foreshadowed Christ.

We live in a culture that values strength and power. We prize independence and despise weakness and dependence. But just maybe the Word of God is telling us that this view of man as strong and independent is a faulty view that does not take into account our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. Just maybe the truth is that all of us, no matter our age, are completely dependent on God for life, both physical and spiritual, for in him alone is life. Just maybe we are completely dependent on him for knowledge and wisdom, for he is the omniscient One and source of all wisdom.  Just maybe we are completely dependent on him for satisfaction, for he made us for himself, and seeking other "gods" can never succeed, including the lie that we are, or should seek to be, strong and independent!

The truth is not a maybe for we depend on the Lord who is the great "I AM."  From the One who alone is independent and self-existent comes our next breath, physically and spiritually, and when we learn that truth we will be in tune with the reality of his presence in his world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Seeing Christ in the Proverbs: 13:7-8

Proverbs 13:7-8

7 One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
8 The ransom of a man's life is his wealth,
but a poor man hears no threat.

These two proverbs are observational, but point to a Christological reality beyond the observations they make. Their observations ought to lift our minds from earth to heaven.

Verse 7 describes the kind of thing we sometimes read about in the newspapers. A seemingly poor widow dies, and it is found that she was worth millions of dollars. Or the reverse, a man is seemingly rich, enjoying an extravagantly wealthy lifestyle, but all for the purpose of conning rich people out of their money. The proverb points to the fact that things are not always as they seem.

There was no pretending with Jesus, but the poverty of his incarnation belied his great wealth. Though he describes himself through David as poor and needy, and through Matthew as gentle and humble in heart, he was at the same time the eternal Son of God, who possessed all authority over heaven and earth. Jesus became poor for our sake, so that in him we might become rich. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In Christ, we too are poor in spirit. Like little infants, we recognize our spiritual need that only the heavenly Father can meet. But despite our spiritual poverty, joined to Christ we are rich. We have spiritual wealth unavailable to those outside of Christ, things like forgiveness, adoption and eternal life. All of this is in contrast to those who have material wealth, but lack the true wealth of spiritual riches in Christ.

Ultimately, true wealth is found only in Christ, and this point is driven home in verse 8. While the rich are able to find the funds to answer a ransom demand, the poor are free from the threat of such a demand, since no kidnapper would choose to kidnap a son or daughter from a poor family.  Lifted to a spiritual level, this proverb shows the value of knowing Christ, for he alone can pay to God the price to deliver us from hell and damnation. He alone died to pay the debt/ransom we could not pay ourselves. Jesus says of himself in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Even the rich do not have the wealth to get themselves out of hell! Money and riches are worthless to pay the price of our sin. Only Jesus has the spiritual wealth to free us from God's judgment. He paid this price through his death on the cross for those who come to him by faith. Thus, the poor in Christ are free from the threat of hell, and have greater wealth than the rich of this world, who will not be able to avoid hell though they are rich.

Things are not always as they seem. If you think you are rich, but do not know Christ, then you are truly poor and headed for hell. But if you know Christ, then you are truly rich, because Jesus died and rose to lift you to the riches of heavenly fellowship, which can be enjoyed now and throughout eternity.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Materialism, A Sacramental Worldview, and the Longing for God

I think a big reason we don't long for the Lord and seek him is that our secular culture has catechized us to see nature and the physical world as having nothing to do with God. We are materialists and we cannot see that created things point to the Lord and his beauty. Materialism causes our souls to wither.

But once we discover the world is sacramental and points to the Lord's beauty and glory, then a longing for Him begins to stir in our hearts. As we see him, desire him, and come to know God in Christ, then our souls begin to flourish. The Winter of materialism melts away and the Spring of a sacramental view of the world arrives.

The Door to a New World of Meaning and Beauty

Proverbs 13:4 (ESV)

4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

The parallelism of the Hebrew poetry contrasts "the sluggard" and "the diligent;" "gets nothing" and "is richly supplied." But missing is the parallel to the word "craves." What is implied by this missing element?

Obviously the soul of the diligent desires, since it is richly supplied. So the question is, what does the soul of the diligent desire that results in it being richly supplied, rather than receiving nothing?

One key to answering this question is the "divine passive," we have in each sentence. God is the one who richly supplies the soul in the one case, and gives nothing in the other. What we can conclude, then, is that the soul of the diligent desires something different than the soul of the sluggard. What this proverb points to is that the ultimate desire of the righteous/diligent soul is for the Lord himself, and the Lord will come to those who diligently seek and desire him.

The righteous/diligent soul uses the creature sacramentally and finds fellowship and delight in the triune God by the right use of created things, including other people. The only way to truly understand what is taught here is to understand what the psalmist means in Psalm 73:25: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."

We live in a universe where all created reality points to and participates in Jesus Christ. Therefore, all created reality is sacramental. Just as we eat the bread and drink the wine (earthly elements), and through them see Jesus, and have fellowship with Him, so we are to do the same with every good gift of the Father. All things derive their being, meaning and beauty from Christ, and are means of grace to those who believe and seek the Lord in all things.

The world is sacramental and wherever we look we are summoned to fellowship with God through his Son! Ask, seek, and knock and a new world will be opened up to you!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Excerpt from Mary Poplin's chapter on Materialist Naturalism

Two interesting paragraphs from Mary Poplin in her chapter on material naturalism:
"For decades, secular education and media have shaped us to think to a large degree as material-naturalists. Most of us can still remember watching popular astronomer Carl Sagan standing in front of a picture of the universe, always beginning his long-running "Cosmos" television series proclaiming, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be!" Even preschoolers are taught the same materialist-naturalist sentiments when they encounter the Berenstein Bears proclaiming, "Nature is all that is or was or ever will be." Recently I saw a T-shirt emblazoned with an extreme sentiment of naturalism: "I used to care but I take a pill for that now.
"When something is wrong inside us, we often first seek a medication to alter our body chemistry. Only secondarily do most of us stop to consider that what might be wrong could have first originated in our soul or spirit (the ultimate site of transformation). When I suffered from depression, medication was the only remedy I wanted. However, the origin of my depression was an intense inward focus, self-absorption, which was only exacerbated by the secular counseling that encouraged wallowing in my pride, which was oddly diagnosed as low self-esteem---two sides of the same coin. Medication can be a tremendous aid as one struggles to right one's thought life, just as a bandage can help a wound heal more effectively even though it is the work of the material inside one's cells that actually accomplishes the healing."

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