They Keep Crawling Down

May 22, 2008

Do you ever struggle with a recurring sin? One that, just when you think you’ve got it conquered for good, manifests itself once again, to your surprise and frustration? And you think, “I can’t believe I did that. Where did that come from? Why do I keep doing that?”

It’s discouraging, isn’t it?

Well, here’s the best help to that problem I’ve read in a very long while (and it’s from a long time ago):

“Every Christian must make up his mind and lay out his life to crucify all his several sins and to keep them crucified, till God has time to have them forever mortified. For, if a malefactor was once arrested and was crucified and was kept crucified till at last he died upon his cross, in that case his days of robbery and murder were at an end. But let the watching soldiers fall asleep, or let them become drunken, and let that crucified criminal’s old companions come and take him down from his cross, as sometimes happened, and that rescued malefactor would immediately return to his former crimes and even worse than before. And so will it be with those robbers and murderers who are still alive and unmortified in our own hearts. They may be really and truly be crucified and their days of open and outward transgression may seem to be at an end. But cease watching them; cease for so much as a day our an hour from keeping them crucified, and they will be back that very hour at all their former evil works. Those so besetting sins of yours that are today nailed to their cross ard are silent and motionless and shamming death, unless you watch with all your watchfulness they will be down from their cross and will be back again at all their evil ways.”

(Source: Alexander Whyte, quoted in Worthy is the Lamb: Puritan Poetry in Honor of the Savior, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2004, p. .275)

Colossians 3:3-10 (ESV) is the relevant passage:

3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

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Maybe You Think They Went Too Far, But Maybe They Didn’t.

May 16, 2008

Maybe we haven’t gone far enough.

Ian D. Campbell writes at the Reformation21 blog:

Some of today’s Scottish newspapers are running a story about our local school’s girls’ football team. Against all the odds, they beat off older teams from larger schools all over Scotland, to reach the final of a national tournament sponsored by Coca-Cola – only to discover it was scheduled to be held on a Sunday. To not a little disappointment, the decision was taken to pull out of the opportunity to win the national tournament because of the religious convictions of our community.

I’m not sure how many communities would be featured in the press for this reason. Sunday has, of course, become this generation’s sports day, and sports is the opium of this generation. It is the new religion, with its own heroes, its own songs, its own loyalties, and its own holy days.

I’m not sure what other evangelicals think of the decision of our local girls to pull out of the final: I suspect that on the whole issue of observing the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, many evangelicals have capitulated to the world’s way of doing things, and would see nothing wrong with holding, or attending, sports events on the Lord’s Day.

If this week’s headlines demonstrate anything, they show that there is one God-given opportunity for us to nail our Christian convictions to the social mast – to honour the Lord publicly by honouring his day, and making it altogether different from every other day of the week, whatever the cost.

Are they being legalistic? Or are they being weaker brothers (sisters)? Or are they honoring the Lord?

Frankly, I’m heartened by the decision of the team. It reminds me of the “Flying Scotsman” himself, Eric Liddell (of Chariots of Fire fame), who made the same decision for the same reason.

This past year I preached on the Christian’s observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day (audio here – see the sermons on 11/11/07 & 11/18/07), where I publicly refused to become legalistic about making a list of rules on what is and is not permitted activity on Sundays, yet at the same time I pleaded with our congregation that whatever else they did on Sundays, they should honor the Lord’s Day by making it a priority to faithfully worship and rest on Sundays in accordance with the pattern established at creation – both for their own good and God’s glory.

I realize that this is another one of those “debatable issues” over which godly and sincere Christians disagree. Yet I think that there is something noteworthy about this team taking the costly opportunity to publicly align themselves with a more noble cause than that of a sports competition. And not just any cause greater than that of sports, but a the particular cause of God’s honor.

Honoring the Lord by honoring the Lord’s Day is a simple but too often flippantly-disregarded way to bring God glory. Our over-busy culture is probably baffled by such a “foolish” decision to withdraw from the games, especially for such a “silly” reason. Yet what is even more disappointing to me is that so many Christians feel the same way, and never attempt to honor the Lord in this way themselves – even when it wouldn’t cost them much more than getting an already longed-for break from the break-neck pace of their lives. It’s ironic to me that there is such resistance to, not legalistically, but gladly, ceasing one day a week from the normal pressures of life and spending it resting and worshipping the Lord with God’s people – both to God’s glory.

If that were our higher priority, then Sundays wouldn’t be so negotiable.


God’s Joy – in a Bird

May 15, 2008

While I was praying this morning a bird kept singing outside my window. It sounded so joyful. As I listened and enjoyed the song, it made me realize that God even gives joy to birds – birds that, as Scripture sometimes describes the animals, “as having no understanding.” (e.g. the ostrich in Job 39:13-17)

We know that birds and animals feel fear. Just try to get near one, and they’ll flee. We know God put that in them too (Gen. 9:2), for their own good. But when there’s no threat, they can even feel joy. What an amazing thing to realize that God made them to have emotions too. That little bird sounded so happy, just singing away.

And it made me happy. In God.

It reminded me that even my joy, in listening to a joyful song of a joyful bird, was a joyful gift from God to me. Both my joy and the bird’s joy are God’s gift to us both. What a joyful God we must have! Isn’t that encouraging? It is to me, because it sure did deepen my worship of my loving Lord this morning.


How Do You Admonish Someone on A Debatable Issue in the Church?

May 14, 2008

The answer to that question is in an email I got after a great discussion we had in our Sunday evening Bible study this week. I’ve posted it below. But let me put it in context for you.

Our study of Acts has reached the episode of the Jerusalem Council in chapter 15. This is the pivotal chapter where the Apostles and Elders of the church at Jerusalem wrestle with what to make of so many Gentile conversions to Christ – that is, whether or not they were really saved since they were not circumcised like Jews. As expected, they conclude that Gentiles are saved just like Jews are – by grace alone. Gentiles do not have to become Jewish (through circumcision) in order to become Christian.

Yet there is an interesting and unexpected twist in the plot. Not only does the Apostle James tells the Jews to quit troubling the Gentiles over getting circumcised, he tells the Gentiles to not do 4 specific things that are offensive to Jews: don’t eat meat offered to idols, don’t fornicate, don’t eat meat of things strangled, and don’t eat blood.

The Gentiles were not being apostolically bound under the Mosaic Law to not do these things* (the Apostles had just declared that Gentiles were not under the Law), but that they were to defer to the sensibilities of the Jews on these things because they offended the Jew’s consciences. So purely for the sake of love and unity in the church among these two groups, James tells the Gentiles to not exercise their liberty in these areas. (* It’s possible that the reference to fornication here was a specific reference to marriages among those in close blood relation, thus all four of these practices are found in Lev. 17-18.)

Since love and unity among Christians is the central issue here, that makes this otherwise odd text quite relevant to the church today. Whereas at least three out of four of the things James tells the Gentiles not to do would probably never show up on a list of practices that Christians should refrain from in our own day, there are plenty of ways we can defer to the sensibilities of other Christians on what are often called “debatable issues” (I’m sure you can think of a few), by simply not doing those things around them that we know will offend them.

Yet aren’t there times when you should go to the “weaker brother” (like the Jews in the Acts 15 story), and seek to educate them and help them overcome their weakness so that they can grow beyond their “hang ups” (for lack of a better word)? I think there are clearly times for that, and have taken the time and effort to do so on occasion, as an exercise in exhorting others to greater maturity. But how should you go about doing it?

To help answer that I want to share an email that was prompted by our Sunday night study that I received this week from one of our members. I’ve posted this with their permission, with only slight edits to conceal identities.

Dear Pastor Scott-

When shouldn’t we forebear but instead admonish one another on debatable matters in the church, especially in the case of what we see as a weaker brother?

When we believe God is leading us to not forebear but instead approach a brother maybe the primary goal should be that no matter how the person chooses to respond to the correction, they should undeniably know that the person approaching them truly loves them. They should sense that the admonishment comes from the best motives, to build up, rather than from frustration, irritation, pride, anger, or any number of fleshly motives.

This evening when [my spouse] and I got home from church we were reviewing our experience on this topic. As members of various [name of denomination withheld] churches in the past 9 years, we became aware of this nuance of love as we were the “weaker brothers” in our church communities due to our baptismal convictions. We witnessed many good examples of brothers earnestly concerned about our faith journeys, seeking to help us along in our understanding of theology, but we also had some painful experiences which opened our eyes to some sinful habits in our own hearts. Praise God for this!!! If you don’t mind I will share one or two of these experiences with you.

When a group of people are together who appear to be like minded on a matter, they tend to let their guard down. We have been in Sunday school meetings and even personal conversations where [our position on an issue] was openly mocked to the point of making it hard for us to maintain true, deep fellowship with some other believers. We think in most of these cases, the people mocking were not aware of our convictions, so they were not intending to be malicious. But we felt we couldn’t be ourselves without being shunned or looked down upon. And when the topic of wine in communion came up once, we whispered to each other, “I’m so glad so-and-so didn’t come to church with us this Sunday. They would have been REALLY offended by the joking and sarcasm…”

After these slightly painful experiences, [my spouse] and I became aware of times when WE were doing the same thing! We began to see that even our private conversations at home were sarcastic and jocular about the “weaker brothers” at church who thought our perspective was weaker. Ouch!

This has begun a slow heart change for us – we still slip up! To love brothers from the heart we have to practice doing so when we are not even around them. Then in the off chance that we are around someone of differing opinion and we don’t realize it, we will be less prone to hinder unity by a slip of the tongue, for our hearts will be prepared to humbly love them in a respectful and earnest manner. After all, out of the mouth comes the well-spring of the heart! So there are times when we need to approach a weaker brother as God leads us, but we need to be prepared to do so with a truly humble and loving heart, seeking to build up rather than destroy. We pray that Grace Church ([our family] included!) will continue to grow in understanding of God’s command to love one another deeply from the heart.

That’s my frequent prayer too, and it’s the reason why I took the the discussion in that direction. May humble love abound in both our forbearing one another and in our admonishing one another.


Reading the Bible Like a Book – Thanks to the Latest ESV’s

May 13, 2008

I finished reading the last half of the Book of Job today in my ESV Personal Size Reference Edition. I have been trying to read through the Old Testament this year in the ESV (I’m actually quite behind), so when this paragraphed edition came out, I was determined to read it in that edition, which has a single-column paragraphed layout.

Believe it or not, this layout has proven to make the text easier to read by making the text flow much more smoothly, yielding an improved Bible reading experience. I find that I read it faster, but with better comprehension. Stories read like stories, and poetry – like Job – reads like, well, poetry. The layout actually makes the Hebrew parallelism more obvious and clear. Job has yielded riches that I had not seen before. I can actually attest that the layout helped me see things I hadn’t before – simply because it got out of the way. It’s like you’re actually reading a book, not a reference work.

That’s one reason I pre-ordered the ESV Study Bible today. This Thursday is the last day to get 35% off. (UPDATE: You can now get 33% off until June 15, 2008). One of the main reasons I want one is simply because it’s in this layout (single-column, paragraphed). Plus the scholarship that has gone into the notes of this Study Bible looks stellar. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be interested in yet another Study Bible. It doesn’t come out until October, so until then I’ve an edition to keep me happy.

For more insight on what the big deal is about the the whole single-column paragraphed experience, check out the links I’ve provided here.


UPDATE TO: Another way for Homeschoolers to Have Humility and Strive for Gospel Unity…

May 9, 2008

Josh Harris’ dad and renown homeschool advocate Gregg Harris has weighed in on Josh’s remarks that I posted here earlier this week. Gregg is very supportive of Josh’s pleading with his congregation to display humility and unity when it comes to differing approaches to educational choices among fellow believers. Here’s what Gregg said:

Hey Josh, this is your dad. Just for the record, I heartily agree with what you have said so well in this video clip. Educational choices have always been a matter of parental responsibility, not of some extra-biblical standard. Every householder should make an informed decision before God. All should research their local schools, public and private and become fully convinced in the way in which he (or she) decides to use his God-given liberty under the Lordship of Christ to bear the best and most abundant fruit he can for the glory of God.

The only moral issue at stake is whether we are willing to walk in the obedience of our faith in God and His will as we understand it from the Scriptures. Though wisdom and foolishness are called into play, there is no moral superiority to be found in any one educational option. Though dilligence is required of all three options, only our labor in Christ will not be in vain. Then, as the relative fruit of each option is put on display in time, may we all be humble enough to change our ways as needed in order to bear even better fruit for God.

Not all options seem to be equally fruitful thus far. But as a long-time home-schooling father and Christian home-schooling advocate I can honestly say that every option, including home schooling has its problems (as you well know). So, pick your problems, and by the grace of God deal with those problems as they arise. Our family has chosen the problems that come with home schooling. But, as you have said, we pray for all of our fellow parents and their children that God will mercifully bless their efforts to be faithful. We are all one in the body of Christ and that should allow us to support one another wholeheartedly in spite of our differing convictions on how to educate our children. Good job, Josh. I am so pleased with you and your service as a father, a pastor and just as my son. I love you. – Dad

[HT David Wayne]

It is good to hear the same call for unity come from one who has for decades persuaded many parents to homeschool their kids. I particularly appreciated how he casts this issue as a “be fully convinced in your own mind” issue, just as Paul does other non-biblically-mandated matters (see Rom. 14).

Christians need to avoid the legalism that comes from over-elevating this issue to the level of making it a key way that someone’s spirituality or holiness or seriousness about following Christ is measured. Biblically, educational decisions are not that kind of a measuring stick. Love is.

UPDATE: For more help on thinking about what Scripture actually says on this topic, check out a great couple of articles I recently read over at Pulpit Magazine, entitled Home, Private, or Public School? and Does the Bible Mandate Home School?


WOW! I made it onto the ESV website

May 8, 2008

Here

UPDATE: And here too!

I took some photos of the new Deluxe Compact Bible and sent them over to the Bible Design and Binding Blog for Mark Bertrand to post, so I assume the good folks over at Crossway/Good News Publishers picked up the photo from there.

I have been increasingly happy with the ESV translation in general, and with the improvements in binding quality that they have been making recently in adding more sewn bindings, nicer covers, and better text layout (paragraphed editions, larger and darker text in the Compact edition, etc.). Thank you Crossway!

Related: Actually, I Haven’t Been Totally Absent From the Blogosphere