Monday, December 31, 2012

Sermon Notes: As He Is Holy

As I He Is Holy

Greeting This is one of those messages that you almost feel a little arrogant preaching. It is the subject of holiness. Frankly, this is a scary sermon to preach because I know that I don’t live up to it. And yet it such an important topic and one that has been impressed upon me of late. The understanding of holiness is key to understanding who God is but also to understanding what we are to do.

Read 1st Peter 1:13-16.

13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Here the Apostle Peter calls the Christian Church to holiness. He bases this command on the OT Scriptures. In verse 16, Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44 which is the passage of Scripture that I want to look at today. But before we do that, let’s pray.


The Extent of Holiness

Tell about reading through Leviticus. Most of this 47 verse long chapter deals with dietary rules for the nation of Israel. There has been much speculation about why certain animals were forbidden and others not. Health benefits have been suggested and yet passage seems to indicate that the primary reason for these prohibitions had to do with making Israel distinct from all other nations.

We know from the NT that with the coming of Christ and the fulfilling of the Law, such dietary restrictions are no longer necessary. Shadow has been replaced by substance, as the author of Hebrews tells us, and therefore it’s no longer necessary to cling to the shadows. In Acts 10:10-16 Peter, the same person who would later quote this Leviticus passage, saw a vision concerning this issue:

10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.13 (The very things Leviticus 11 prohibits) And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.16 This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven.

Likewise, in Romans 14, Paul commands Christians not to not make an issue out of such things as OT dietary laws. So, it is clear that these instructions are no longer obligator for NT saints. It dealt with an issue that is no longer applicable to us in the same way that it was for OT Israel. And yet, it played a very important part in God’s plan.

Paul described the Law as a schoolmaster which brought us to the realization of our need of Christ. It shows us the nature of God and our own inability to live up to that nature. Put yourself in the place of an Israelite first receiving the Law. When God spoke to the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai it was an unprecedented event in human history. Never before had God offered self-revelation on such a grand scale before. In the past, He had given little snippets of information to individuals like Noah and Abraham. But now He was giving four books worth of information about Himself to an entire people group. But imagine the weight of the responsibility that must have come upon the shoulders of the Israelites as they listened to the Law being given.

Imagine trying to keep track of all that was being told them. “Okay, we’re to give this burnt offering of this specific type of animal at this specific place and these are the specific rituals associated with that and then there’s a totally different list of very specific details related to grain offerings and another set of rules about peace offerings with a sub-set of rules for priests. And then there’s a whole grouping of laws about motherhood and childbirth and details laws for identifying leprosy, and then laws about cleansing a leper and rules about cleansing a leper’s house. Then there’s laws concerning physical health. And long list of annual rituals to be carried out in very specific ways. Then there’s laws concerning sexuality and religious affairs. And list of random laws pertaining to harvesting and wages.” Oh, and if you mess any of this up it could very well bring about personal and national calamity. (Now you know why Moses had to write it all down)

That Israelite would come away with the strong impression that Jehovah was an awesome God whose demands were very, very high; so high that no one could fulfill them. This was exactly the point of the Mosaic Law; to showed us that we must put our faith in the only One who can fulfill God’s Law – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then you get to Leviticus 11 and you see that God also had instructions concerning food. Holiness is the theme of the entire book of Leviticus and this chapter in particular. Verse 43 tells us that the Israelites were to avoid defilement.

43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.

It is interesting to me that the weighty subject of holiness comes up in a conversation about meal time affairs. This, I believe, tells us a couple of truths about holiness.

One, holiness is comprehensive. It touches everything. There’s not a specific set of items designated for holiness with the rest of life to be governed as we please. Rather, holiness is to govern our lives from the pew to the dinner table and every place in between. This is in contrast to the prevailing notion of the day that says that “religion” is all well and good so long as you don’t get carried away. God’s okay just so long as He knows His place. But, the Bible would tell us that the Lord has dominion over every aspect of our lives – down to what we eat for dinner.

Two, holiness is practical. Holiness isn’t an abstract concept floating in space. For the Israelites, this passage would have had very practical, down-to-earth ramifications. It would affect what the young men hunted, what kind of cattle fathers would raise and what sorts of meals mothers would cook. Holiness touches everyday realities.

By quoting this passage in a letter to churches, I believe Peter is teaching that the principle (though maybe not the exact application) of Leviticus 11 is very relevant to the NT Church. Thus, I want to look at three truths that this passage teaches us about holiness.

The Basis of Holiness

43 Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.44 For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

It is far too easy to think of holiness as something done by stern faced men in dark clothes who always look like they’re short on sleep. Instead, the Lord declares that holiness is based in Himself. He is the standard for holiness. In commanding us to be holy, God is inviting to be, to an extent, like Himself.

Doug McLachlan says: “The holiness of God is His “apartness” in two realms. First, there is His holiness of majestic transcendence. This describes the divine separation from all that is created and finite, for the God of the Bible is both uncreated and infinite. Second, there is His holiness of moral purity. This describes His basic separation, apartness or difference from all that is unclean and sinful. God’s holiness is the self-affirmation of His being. God is holy. Thus God has a constitutional reaction against anything which contradicts His holiness or is unlike Himself morally. Therefore, God demands that all people, and especially believers, be like Him in character and conduct. This seems to be Peter’s emphasis when quoting from Leviticus, “Because it is written, ‘Be ye holy for I am holy.’” While we can never share God’s majestic transcendence, we can all share in His moral purity. God is separate – that’s what it means to be holy – and we too must be separate for we are called to be like Him.”

Illustration about Robert the Bruce and Sir James Douglas

Thus being holy is not a dry conformity to a list of regulations. The pursuit of holiness is an act of love and devotion.

Another thing that needs to be said is that rather than being a drain or enslavement, the call to holiness is an invitation to experience ultimate reality and true joy. After giving the Law, God told Israel in Deuteronomy 30:15, “I set before you this day life and good.” Sin has deadened us to all that is good and beautiful. But in being holy as God is holy we find that we are truly alive. We find that we can taste and see the goodness of God. Holy living frees us to experience all the joys that God intended us to experience.

In the 1st Peter passage, the apostle tells us in verse 14 to be: “as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.”

Thus, being holy is about imitating our Heavenly Father, like a little child. All children do this, almost instinctively. Likewise, because we have been made children of Holy God, we are to imitate Him. This involves removing the former lusts. Because our Father is radically holy we too shall pursue radical holiness. In Leviticus we’re told that this desire to be holy like God will cause us to avoid defilement.

This is a ridiculously high stand. Be holy as God is holy. If it were just a matter of conformity to rules that would be another story. Anyone can follow a few regulations. But this is something much harder. This divine holiness is not only affects our outward life but our inward lives as well. Talk about motives. How can we possibly meet that standard? Is holiness a matter of gritting your teeth and trying real hard? This passage seems to indicate something very different.

The Motivation for Holiness

Why were the Israelites (and relatedly us as well) to be holy? Look at Verse 45: 45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

Our motive for holiness is wrapped up God’s two opening declarations of this verse: I am the LORD (Jehovah). I’ve rescued you so that I might be your God. First, it’s based on who God is. Jehovah is not like the other gods. He is holy and awesome and beautiful and splendid. And that requires something of us.

But secondly, it’s also based on our relationship to God. This glorious majestic God has chosen to rescue us so that He may not just be the Lord but our God. He is Israel’s God in a unique sense and for the believer He is our God in a unique sense. It’s important to note that the Mosaic Law is that it’s not a list of prerequisites that Israel must meet before God saves them from slavery. Rather, it’s a list of commands given because He already did save them from slavery. We have been liberated from a bondage far worse than that of Egypt. Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ have been liberated from the power of sin and death to the end that the Triune Jehovah might be our God. And it’s because of that that we are to pursuit holiness.

Peter also makes this point in 1st Peter 1:13: 13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

Here, Peter reminds the Christians of the full measure of grace that will be realized when Christ appears. God’s already given us grace now and will give us even more grace in the future. And it’s because of that that Peter can command us to gird up our loins and be sober. Because God has already secured our ultimate victory, we are to engage in this fight for holiness.

It’s really important that we get this right. One of the biggest issues facing the Church today is the relationship between holiness and grace. Actually, it’s one of the biggest issues facing the Church of any day. Paul had to deal with way back in the very beginning. After giving a great thesis on grace he had to quickly clarifying that he was not saying that we should sin that grace may abound. He knew that if he didn’t clarify someone would take it that way. Now today, many promote grace at the expense of holiness. Others promote holiness at the expense of grace.

And yet, the Scriptures never portray those two essential concepts as antithetical or even counter-balancing. Grace and holiness are not so much weights of either side of the scale as they are adjoined twins that will both die if separated. To use another illustration, holiness is the destination and grace is the vehicle that gets us there. God wants us to be holy and yet we are simply not capable of meeting that goal. Therefore, God has lavished upon us His grace accessed through faith in the Lord Jesus.

And it is that liberating, relational grace that is to motivate us to pursue godliness. This is vital to keep in mind. Because if you don’t you will find yourself stuck on a treadmill of good deeds and self-correction trying to keep up with all the demands being placed upon you so that you might earn God’s favor. God has called us to something far more freeing and yet a lot more terrifying. Because He has purchased us at a great price we are already positionally holy. If you are putting your faith in Christ there is a sense in which you are already as holy as Jesus is. You are as perfect as you can possibly be. However, in light of all that God has done for us, we are to pursue holiness in a practical way. We are to take what God has done positionally and make it a reality practically. Not to earn God’s favor but we already have God’s favor, compliments of the Lord Jesus. Not as an attempt to gain love but because of the love that is already shown to us. If this not kept straight the pursuit of holiness will become a discouraging rat race of consuming self-improvement.

Martin Luther illustration

It’s an incredible thing that God has done for us. The believer is already righteous, holy and perfect in Christ and he can rest in that reality. And yet, resting in that reality will cause him to labor for practical righteousness, holiness and perfection. It’s both/and not either/or.

Grace and holiness go together but not like ham and eggs go together but the same way that cooking and eating go together. That is to say, they’re not just a nice pair but there’s a progressiveness to their relationship. Grace is the enabler while holiness is the result. So, some people get so caught up in cooking that they forget to actually eat. Others talk so much about eating that nothing is ever cooked.

We see this in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Paul is talking about grace, he inhales and then in the next breath talks about godly living. Because grace is a powerful force, it changes everything when applied to a person’s life. The life that has accessed grace through faith will be changed in a miraculous way. Holiness is what grace accomplishes. Saving grace grants us positional holiness and sanctifying grace gives us practical holiness.

Our being saved by grace actually makes holiness all the more potent. Because if we came into a relationship with God through some effort of our own, than there’s only so much that God can demand of us. His requirements can only go to a certain point because we did something to earn God’s favor and that much belongs to us.

But if we are saved by faith so that if might be of grace, than God owns us. And not just part of us but all of us. Because we were redeemed purely because of God’s mercy, than we are completely bound to Him and His commands.

Sometimes this will seem radical and over the top. But I would contend that every labor of love does to those who are not bound by that same love Illustration about our courtship. Therefore, love compels us to a radical godliness.

Matt Chandler says, “Grace-driven effort is violent. It is aggressive. The person who understands the gospel understands that, as a new creation, his spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he seeks not just to weaken sin in his life but to outright destroy it. Out of love for Jesus, he wants sin starved to death, and he will hunt and pursue the death of every sin in his heart until he has achieved success.”

Therefore, if grace is not the enemy but the ally of holiness, than one of our greatest weapons in the fight for godliness is a deep understanding of what God has done for us. When we begin to understand the full magnitude of what God has accomplished – not just in our head but in our heart – we cannot help but pursue His holy character. In the Law, the Jews were repeatedly reminded that it was their liberation from Egypt that was to motivate their holy lifestyle. In the same way, the NT believer’s freedom in Christ is to drive him toward holy living.

Thus, as we struggle to stamp out sin in our lives or develop the things that are lacking, we mustn’t simply grit our teeth and whiten our knuckles. Rather, we must put our faith in God’s grace. As a side note: I think that one of the key evidences of whether or not we are trusting in God’s grace is how much time we spend in prayer. If we’re relying on our own strength we don’t need to ask God for any. But when we’re at the end of ourselves we simply must go before the throne of grace, trusting God with the victory.

And when Christians do this, something incredible happens.

The Result of Holiness

I’m going to call this the result of holiness but I’m not quite happy with the terminology. One could make the argument that what I’m about to describe is not the result of holiness but that it is holiness. However, I still think that there’s a distinction that can be made here so I’m going to go ahead a use that wording.

I’m going to say that the result of holiness is distinction. I see that in the last two verses of this chapter.

46 This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: 47 To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.

Now again, some would argue that the distinction is holiness. However, I think the distinction described in these verses is a visible, evident difference. It’s something you can see. This, I believe, is related to Verse 45 where God tells the nation of Israel that they are to be His people. And God’s people look different than other peoples.

This is the reason, according to Verse 47, that these regulations about the eating of animals were made. It was so that you could tell the difference between the clean and the unclean. Now the verse is referring to the animals that were clean and unclean but by extension it was so that at a glance, a person could tell the difference a Jew and a non-Jew. When someone was traveling through the Near East and passed through Israel he would see a very evident difference between the Jewish nation and all other peoples. Everything, down to their dinner table, was dedicated to God. In the same way, there should be an obvious difference between the believer and non-believers.

(This is command is both individual and corporate. This is a distinctly Christian concept.

Trinitarian illustration

Do you see that in this passage? Eating is an inherently individual activity. Granted, you can eat in a group but the actual act of eating is an individual one. And yet, the results are corporate. It was not just an Israelite that would be distinguished but Israel that would be distinguished. Likewise, we are to be holy as individuals so that Christ’s Church is visibly distinguished from all that is unclean.

This is the heart of Christ. We read in Ephesians 5:25-27:

25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Jesus went to extreme lengths (like being tortured to death) to make the Church spotless, glorious and without wrinkle. Therefore, we should also go to extreme lengths to accomplish that same end. For us, “extreme lengths” means dying to self, as Jesus died on the cross.)

That’s really what holiness amounts to – dying. All that is unlike God must burn in the fires of love and devotion. That’s Romans 12:1. And it’s a painful process. Holiness hurts. It means doing things we don’t want to do and not doing things that we do want to do. But the stakes are too high to avoid this challenge. The reputation of God is at stake. And ultimately in obeying God we find true joy and satisfaction.

When God made Man He made him holy, in the sense of moral purity. Humanity was created in the Image of a Holy God. But sin ruined that. We are all born into the world as unholy. And yet, through faith we take on the traits of the Holy One of Israel, that is Jesus Christ. Peter would later tell us that the goal of all this was that we might be a holy nation. Holiness is the entire point of human history.

Look at where the incredible promises of Romans 8 all lead to.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son

For the believer everything conspires to the end that he or she might be like their Savior. That is, that they may be holy. But you’ll notice that the law of the beasts was designed to give the Israelites a choice. It’s was to teach them the principle of this, not that. Thus, holiness involves a choice. It means choosing one thing over another thing. Therefore, as we chase after holiness we must learn to choose certain things over other things.

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather vague throughout my sermon. I’ve not given any specific examples. The reason is that as soon as I give an example that will become the issue. At the same time, I hope it has not been so vague as to be unhelpful.

The important thing is this: God has invited into a relationship with Himself and He is holy. Therefore, as children of God we are to pursue the holiness of our Father. But He’s not left us on our own but has lavished us in grace, empowering us to meet that objective of holiness. Therefore, may we passionate chose to embrace this high calling.


Monday, December 17, 2012

The Symbols of Power

I recently read Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism by Doug McLachlan (which you should totally read, by the way). I found it to be a very interesting and helpful book. In particular, I enjoyed his chapter on servant leadership. In that chapter he made an observation that is very relevent to the Christmas season:

“The symbols of God’s power are a manger and a cross. What could be more vulnerable or more powerless than a newborn baby in a manger or a crucified man on a cross, yet the incarnation (the manger) and the crucifixion (the cross) were both works of great power. The most powerful thing Jesus of Nazareth ever did was to assume our humanness in the incarnation and our fallenness in the crucifixion. Likewise, real power is released into and then out of us when we are prepared to identify with sinners (as Christ in the incarnation) and sacrificially give ourselves to meet their needs (as Christ did in the crucifixion). Yet, how many contemporary Christian are interested in either sinners or a cross?”

This season let us remember that God became a helpless infant. And as we marvel at the awesomeness of the Incarnation, way we embrace the power of weakness.

Monday, November 26, 2012

7 Reasons Iowa Hawkeye Fans Are More Spiritual

As many of you know, I'm engaged to a very wonderful woman. She's marvelous, beautiful and I love her very much. But nobody's perfect and she does have one major flaw. She's a Nebraska Cornerhuskers fan. Naturally, after my Iowa Hawkeyes finished a rather depressing season with a loss to the Huskers, my sweet darling couldn't help but rub it in just a little.

But, I've come up with some very compelling reasons as to why Iowa Hawkeye fans are more spiritual than - just to use a complete random example - Husker fans.

- It's easier for Hawkeye fans to be humble. Losses tend to help with that.

- Hawkeye fans have more opportunity to exercise patience. After all, "next season will be better".

- Hawkeye fans are less tempted to brag to about their team.

- Every week Hawkeye fans are reminded that we cannot put our confidence in man (especial one who wears a Tiger Hawk on his helmet).

- Hawkeye fans learn to deal with disappointment on a regular basis.

- Hawkeye fans have many examples of how not live a life free from alcahol and drugs.

- We have the best color combination in the NCAA. I don't know how that makes us more spiritual but it's true.


See Also:

7 Reasons Drinking Coffee Makes You More Spiritual

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Divine Providence in "The Hobbit"

I should warn you right up front that this post will ooze with intense nerdiness. I'm a total J.R.R. Tolkien fanboy and have even joked that his veneration would be the only condition by which I would consider converting to Catholicism. While I may not actually be that extreme, I'm devoted enough to have a set of Lord of the Rings PEZ candies as the centerpiece for my room.

Likewise, I'm eagerly awaiting the release of The Hobbit movie(s). In anticipation for the films, I've re-read the book so that I can criticize Peter Jackson's changes more intelligently. It's been years since I've read the book and I noticed some things that had escaped me the first time around.

I had never realized that one of the major themes of the book is "luck". While initially skeptical that their pint-size burglar will be of any worth, Thorin and Company eventually begin to respect Bilbo Baggins as one of the most valuable members of the enterprise. It's Mr. Baggins that rescues the Company from such strapes as giant spiders, overly skeptical wood-elves and eventually the dragon himself. The qualities that allow Bilbo to perform such feats include wit, stealth, courage, wisdom and disproportionate amount of good luck. His excessive luck is referred to several times in the book.

However, at the very end of the book (literally the last page) there's a twist of sorts. It's revealed that Bilbo's luck was not luck at all. The last bit of The Hobbit jumps ahead a few years to find the fruits of Bilbo's labors. The North is rid of many evils and the free folk live in peace and prosperity.

Upon discovering this, Bilbo exclaims: "Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!"

To this, Gandalf offers a rebuke: "Of course! And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?"

Hinted in these words is a very interesting thought. Bilbo's luck was not "mere luck". It was purposeful and designed to fulfill a larger end. Some would call this fate. Christians call it providence.

I really do believe that providence is a major theme in Tolkien's works. This theme is picked up in The Lord of the Rings. Interestingly enough, the first time Bilbo's "luck" comes into play is in his discovery of the One Ring. Thus, if luck is a tongue-in-cheek expression for providence, then we learn that God purposed the Ring to fall into the hands of the hobbit. It is in this context that Gandalf would assure Frodo that there are greater powers in the world than that of evil and that the younger Mr. Baggins was meant to have the Ring.

In many respects, the Tolkien canon is similar to the Book of Esther in that God is never explicitly mentioned and yet His sovereign hand is seen everywhere if one looks for it. Unlike in the movie, Tolkien has the Ring destroyed not by Frodo but by the providence itself. In the end, only a sovereign God can defeat evil.

For our part, it's vital that we embrace our role  as little pieces in God's bigger plan. We cannot determine the times in which we live. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

This is the attitude of Bilbo. In explaining the larger purposes of the hobbit's quest, Gandalf says to him: "You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

And then the last line in the book is: "Thank goodness!" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

Bilbo is relieved to discover that he's just a little fellow used for a far grander purpose than himself. So should be the attitude of all followers of God Almighty.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Optimist's Guide to the Election

I consider myself to be an optimist. Not a naive optimist who wallows in the bliss of ignorance. Nor a Pollyanna optimist who finds a needle of gladness in a haystack of misery. But rather I strive for a principled optimism that is based on objective reality. In fact is based on the most objectively real thing in existence - the nature and character of God. This isn't about glass half full but about cup runth over.

Like me, you may not be happy with the way the election turned out. However, I still think there are reasons to be glad.

1. We mustn't forget that the presidential race wasn't the only issue last night. I'm very delighted to now be constituent of Tom Latham. Boswell has been representing my district (mostly badly) since before I was born and it's high time we got him out of there. Also, I couldn't be more glad that Steve King beat Christie "Seven Layer Salad" Vilsack. I have no doubt that he'll continue to serve Iowa well.

2. Much to the utopian's dismay, politics is a pendulum. It always swings back and forth. Therefore, we shouldn't get too gloomy when it happens to be on the backswing. I doubt that someone as liberal as Obama could have been elected had we not had eight years of Bush. Likewise, I think we stand a fairly good chance of getting someone more conservative than Romney elected in four years. Sure the next four year will likely be rough, but it's not the final act.

3. And here's the big one. Jesus is still on the throne and the election didn't faze Him one bit. He's still directing the king's heart like channels of water (Proverbs 21:1). We already know how this story ends. Jesus wins and we with Him. The courts of heaven still judge the rulers of men and shall remove the tyrants from power and give dominion to the saints. (Daniel 7:26-27). Obama will rule for another four years. We shall rule with Christ forever.

So don't fret. Don't despair. Praise God that He is who He is.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Highlight Reel: Martin Luther's 95 Theses

On this day in 1517, a lone Augustian monk upset Western civilization as we know it. On All Hallow's Eve, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg. This would be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, or 95 Theses, challenged the Romanist practice of selling indulgences that were said to be able to rescue deceased loved ones for Purgatory. Luther saw this a gross abuse of the Church's power and a cruel exploitation of the poor. Thus he wrote his theses to challenge the practice.

Recently, I read Luther's theses and a few of the 95 stood out to me. Think of this like a highlight show for a sports game.

My favorite of Luther's theses:
1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

4. The penalty of sin therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and the need of true contrition. [I like this one just because he gets snarky with the "keen theologians"]

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives his money for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope's wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the "greatest graces" are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal arms which is set up by the preachers of indulgences is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!

Friday, October 26, 2012

7 Reasons Drinking Coffee Makes You More Spiritual

Having been pestered for so long about how I'm "addicted" to coffee I've decided to prove once and for all that drinking coffee makes you a better Christian.
-All those Bible verses that command us to be watchful andsober clearly imply that we have to be awake. And what better way to stay awake (i.e. be spiritual) than to drink coffee.

-Coffee allows you to do spiritual things faster and with more energy.

-Who can argue that morning devotions are much more impactful after a good dose of caffeine?

-When the Sunday morning sermon goes long and the content is as dull as plastic spoon, it's the coffee drinkers who stay awake.

-Coffee drinkers are accustomed to making tough decisions on a morning-to-morning creamer versus no creamer.

-Speaking of creamer, coffee is black and creamer is white and thus is clearly symbolizes the old nature/new nature conflict (metaphor...stretching...).

-Coffee comes from a bean and a bean is a plant and God made plants.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dealing With Thunder Puppies

Doug Wilson and Justin Holcomb talk about  thunder puppies HERE in this ten minute clip. What's a thunder puppy? you say. Well, I'm glad you asked. Watch and learn.

Here's the punchline: the biblical view on gender roles in as much the opposite of chauvinism as it is the opposite of feminism.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Publican and Pharisee...According to Walt Disney

I remember while driving home from Montana some friends and I watched Walt Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (no, football fans, I'm not talking about the Fightn Irish) on a laptop. The whole time I kept thinking, "This is a Disney movie?" We spent the rest of the trip duiscussing the implications of film. Granted, it's hardly a perfectly theologically spot-on production, but there were some very interesting themes. For starters,in the end Notre Dame - which throughout the film symbolized the presence of God - sided with the humble and not the proud, hypocritical elite.

While niether song portrays this perfectly, I found striking contrast the prayer of the outcast...

...and the prayer of the legalist...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon Notes: Now Are We The Sons Of God

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at my local church. Here are my sermon notes complete with random mental doodlings and notes-to-self.


1st John 3:1-3

1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 3. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

I want to share with you something that has absolutely changed my outlook on life. It’s changed my view of myself, my identity, my purpose and my progress. I hope it will do the same for you. Identity – knowing who were are and how we fit into the universe – is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It effects how we live and in many cases how we die. Therefore, having a biblical understanding of who we are is vital. This is a huge topic however I want to explore one element of our identity as believers in Jesus Christ.


A New Identity (Verse 1)

According Verse 1 the Father bestows love upon us. John has a lot to say about love. And before we go any further this is a theme that needs to be explored. Elsewhere John says that God is Love. This is a huge statement. According to John, love isn’t just something God does. It’s something He is. This is huge. It also created a bit of a predicament. Love is something one person has for another and therefore love cannot exist with only one person. So, this raises the question, who did God love prior to creation.

Well, fkr the Christian this is really no problem at all. We believe in One God eternally existent in Three Persons. How’s that work? I have no idea. But that’s okay. If God were only as big as our brain He wouldn’t be worth the time of day. He won’t really be God.

For the sake of this discussion, I just want you to understand that the reality of the Holy Trinity is what allows John to say that God is Love. For love to exist you need three things – a Lover (someone who does the loving), a Beloved (the object of that love) and then from the love between the Lover and the Beloved will proceed the spirit of that relationship.

Thus, before time began, God the Father loved God the Son. And from eternity past Love Itself has proceeded from their relationship in such reality and intensity that it’s an actual person – the Person of the Holy Spirit. Example of Jesus’ Baptism.

So, what does all this have to do with us? Actually, it has everything to do with us. This love is the reason we exist. The awesome love that existed in the Triune God went on the road, if you will. Love existed within the Triune God from eternity past. And then it boiled over and the God of Love began creating things. The climax of His creation was, of course, man.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Note the plurality of the pronouns. The Triune God determined to create a creature in the His Image who would therefore be able to enjoy the fellowship of love that is Himself. Relationship is the reason the universe exists.

But of course man’s rebellion ruined all that. Now, you and I are, in our natural/normal state, outside of the relationship of God. We can’t fellowship with God. We can’t enjoy the splendor that is Himself. And since we’re severed from Love Himself we find that our love for others is also plagued with selfishness and sin. We cannot truly communicate with the Father. In our natural condition, we are enemies of God – enemies of Love Himself.

But this brings us to 1st John 3. Read Verse 1. He doesn’t just bestow love upon us. He bestows a particular manner of love; the type of love that gives us a new identity. In love, God gives us a new identity. He makes us sons of God, just as Christ is the Son of God.

In the Bible, sonship means more than simply being someone’s offspring. It’s a defining characteristic of how you are. To a point, we still recognize this in our culture. Every time I write my full name I’m reminded that I’m not just Josh, I’m Josh Stilwell. Or, other way to say this is that I’m the child of a Stilwell. Like it or not, this is a part of my identity. PDI illustration.

Moreover, the Bible speaks of being a son as a matter of identity. For example, throughout the Scriptures wicked mean are referred to as sons of Belial. Now, this doesn’t mean that their dad’s name was Belial. Rather, it means that Belial is what characterizes them. In the biblical lexicon to say that so-and-so is a son of such-and-such is to say that so-and-so is like such-and-such.

Look at what Jesus said to the corrupt religious leaders in John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” Christ equated sonship with identity. He told his enemies that their father was the devil and so the behaved like the devil.

So, when John says that we’re sons of God it’s not just a label or a position. It’s a change of identity. He’s saying that in Christ you are no longer like your father the devil or your father Adam. You’re now a son of God. You’re now like God. Your identity is now wrapped up in God.
It was John how talked so much about being born again in his Gospel. In birth we’re a new person. Now longer bound to our sinful flesh. Rather, now you’re a son of God.

Elsewhere, John tells us that this glorious blessing is acquired through faith in Christ. John 1:12: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” And when we put our faith in Christ we become bound to Him.

“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;” (Romans 8:17)
Our identity is now linked to that of Christ. Everything Christ is we are to lesser degrees. He’s the King of kings and the High Priest Forever, we’re kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:6). He’s the Only Begotten Son of God, we’re adopted sons of God. Through Christ, we enter this triangle of love. So, in Christ, the Father looks at us – sinful creatures – and says, “This is my beloved son” and gives us His Holy Spirit. The Father is our Lover. We share in Christ’s status as the Beloved. And the Spirit energizes and secures that relationship.

This is a truly awesome thing. The triune fellowship becomes a foursome. God saw fit to bring us into this relationship. Now the Father stands before us, the object of our affections. Christ stands beside us, as our Holy Brother to whom we owe everything. The Spirit dwells within us sealing us to Himself.

How awesome is this! Frail mortal creatures are invited by God to share in this dynamic, breathtaking, intimate relationship that was within the Triune God since before the world began! Illustration of prayer.

But, if you’re like me you don’t always feel like a child of God. You don’t always feel that intimacy that maybe you think you should. I don’t feel like I’m like God. I don’t sense that identity is bound to His. So why is that? If we’re children of God why it is that it sometimes seems like such a distant reality?

Well, John offers us an explanation for that as well as a hope. A hope that is found in a new destiny.

A New Destiny (Verse 2)

Read Verse 2a. So, John assures that we are now sons of God. That’s a present-tense statement of fact. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ you are right now a child of God. However, he also tells us that it “doth not yet appear what we shall be”. So, even though you’re are at this very moment of a child of the living God not all of the practical realities of this status have been fully realized yet.

You still live in a sin cursed universe with a sin cursed body influenced by our adversary. Therefore, the full effects of beings a child of God are not yet fully realized. But, thankfully, John doesn’t stop there. Read Verse 2b.

This is the assurance that all believers have. When we see our Lord and Savior we will be like Him. We will be sons of God is the fullest sense. Not just positionally or in some abstract metaphoric sense. We shall really truly be like Him. And that means, among other things, that this glorious relationship with the Father will be realized an even greater level.

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29

As a believer it is your preordained destiny to look like Jesus. As sons of God, when we see Jesus we will look like the Son of God. The goals, as stated in Romans 8:29, is so that Jesus might be the first born of many brethren. Big brother illustration of Christ protecting and looking out for us.

This is what Jesus came to give us. He didn’t just save us from hell. He gave us a new identity – His identity. The Son of God became man so that men become sons of God. He took our place on the cross so that we might share in His place before the Father.

So, remember this next time you’re struggling with temptation or feel that you’ve suffered spiritual defeat. Your victory is secure and immutable. You will be like Christ. Your destiny is now bound to His. And so, like Him, you shall be victorious.

But, wait, you might be saying. If my victory is so certain – if it’s practically a done deal that I will be like Jesus – than can’t I just kick back and relax? Why do I have to worry about laboring so much to be like Christ right now? Can I sin that grace may abound?

John actually argues for the exact opposite. Rather than being a hindrance to our sanctification, the certainty of our destiny is actually presented as motivation for our sanctification.

A New Priority (verse 3)

Read Verse 3. John is telling us that something is to change in the person who has this hope. In the Bible, indicatives always fuels imperatives. Reality motivates practice. We have a new reality. Our identity is now in God. We are children of God called upon to live accordingly and one day that identity will be fully realized. The individual who knows that one day he will be like Jesus Christ is to live differently than the person who doesn’t know or accept that. The person who understands that he will one day look like Christ we behave as if he already does.
Because we as believers are promised that one day we will be pure like Christ we are to live pure lives now. We are to stretch out our arms and reach for our destiny. We are to live in accordance with our destiny right now.

There is a sense in which we are, as C.S. Lewis described it, “dressing up like Christ.” We are to behave like full fledged children of God, in anticipation of one day experiencing that to its fullest. This “pretending” to already be like Christ affects really every element of the Christian life. Even our prayer life. Jesus taught us to address God as He would address God – as our Father. We are to overcome temptation because that’s what Jesus did. We are to submit to the Father even unto death, because that’s what sons of God do. In our everyday lives, we are to be pure as Christ is pure.

In short this means that we are to behave, not like ourselves, but like our Holy Brother. And the incredible thing is that when we start behaving as if we were like Jesus eventually we really truly become like Jesus. We’re like a little boy who dressed up in his daddy’s clothes and then one day wakes up to discover that he is very much like his dad. Or, to keep with my earlier illustration, we’re little kids tagging along with our Big Brother. I would sometimes get annoyed when my little siblings tried to follow me around and do everything I did. But our Eldest Brother, Jesus Christ, wants us to be imitating Him. He wants us to follow the path He has trailed. And as we imitate Christ we become more and more like Him in reality. There are certain traits that my younger siblings picked up from me. But, eventually those traits become just a natural part of who they were, and not just imitation.

Now if this whole idea of pretending that we may become seems a little odd to you, remember that most things in life actually work that way. For example, have you ever been in a situation where you had to be friendly to a person you don’t real feel very friendly towards? But you know that the right thing to do is to be friendly and so you do. But as you pretend to be friendly you discover that you sudden feel friendlier in actuality. Pretense becomes reality.

Thus, because we have the hope of being like pure Jesus Christ we are to live that way now. Though John teaches that this will not be fully realized until we see Christ, he also teaches us to begin living as if it’s true right now.

So, because we’ve been made sons of God let us be mindful of that reality. Sonship is a blessing of justification and a means of sanctification. Let us not take for granted to blessing of knowing God and being invited into this relationship with Him. But let us also remember that the full practical realization of our sonship has not been fulfilled. Therefore, we must labor to be pure as Christ is pure with the hope that when we see Him we shall be like Him. We need to behave like the children of God that we are.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

7 Christian Fantasy Books That You May Never Have Heard Of But Should Totally Read

Many of you may know that I'm an absolute sucker for quality fantasy fiction (by quality I mean that Twilight doesn't count). I'm eagerly anticipating The Hobbit movie(s) and have always appriciate the imagination is takes to create these works.

But I've also learned a great deal from many fantasy writers. Because it deals almost by definition with the supernatural, fantasy is probably the most inherently spiritual genre. While this means that it can be very dangerous when done badly (Satanism, paganism and so on) it also means that fantasy can be a powerful tool is exploring Christian truth.

Christians have a long history in the genre. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are of course the bulwarks of the Christian fantasy - one the standard of allegory and the other the standard of Christian applicability. While these two works are definitely the best known, there are many other like works that I think deserve some attention. I'd like to direct you to my personal favorites.

From John Bunyan:

I was first introduced to this style of writing when my Sunday school class read The Pilgrim's Progress. Since then my mind has been captivated by the educational and inspiration power of allegory. But it's only been recently that I've been introduced to two other allegories written by the Baptist preacher. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman is the reverse of The Pilgrim's Progress. Holy War is a mind blowing tale of God's benevolent conquest over the human heart.

From George MacDonald:

C.S. Lewis referred to George MacDonald as his master. It was while reading Phantastes that a young atheist Lewis was confronted with holiness. He would later say that MacDonald baptized his imagination. I would recommend starting your explanation of MacDonald by reading The Princess and the Goblins and the sequel, The Princess and Curdie. In these books you can definitely see the inspiration for Lewis' writing style. Likewise, the goblins of The Princess and the Goblins served as the inspiration for Tolkien's orcs.

From C.S. Lewis:

Of course, there's the basic Narnia stories which every human being on the planet should read. However, Lewis also wrote many other fiction stories. The Screwtape Letters is a classic that will make you laugh out loud when it's not scaring you to death. In it, Lewis provides many insights into human nature and spiritual warfare. But Lewis believed Til We Have Faces to be his very best work and I can't say that I disagree. The characters are rich, the writing style engrossing and the plot mind blowing. But you have to stick with because it all "clicks" at the very end.

From J.R.R. Tolkien:

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are absolute must-reads. However, for someone looking to dig deeper, The Silmarillion is a good read. In this massive postmortem work, the professor is much more overt about his Christian faith. Valaquenta (a sub-section of the book) begins, "In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Iluvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him." If you don't want to read the whole thing just read Of Beren and Luthien. It was Tolkien's personal favorite, inspired in part by his own marriage and the first one he showed to his best friend, C.S. Lewis. It is also pay tribute to through the relationship between Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings.

These are some of my favorite which I hope you'll enjoy too. I'd love to hear from you as well. What are some of your favorites?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Book Excerpt: God's Image Seen In Gender

For a while now I've been working on writing a book for young men. I feel that this is a subject that has not been given nearly enough attention and I felt led to do my part to make up for the deficit. Basically, I want to write the book that I wish had existed when I was fourteen. I've (finally) finished the first draft and have begun the editing process.

This is an excerpt from my chapter on
Imago Dei. Specifically, I want to explore how our being the Image of God provides us with the basis for sexual identity. I would love to get your feedback on this pivotal section.


Right from the get-go, being created in the Image of God was tied to the genders. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) The only thing called “not good” in God’s creation was the fact that Adam was alone. Without a mate he was lacking something. So God created Woman from Man.

One can hardly have a discussion about gender role without going to the starting point. Genesis 2 is the ground zero of this whole debate. It is this passage that both Jesus and Paul would go to in order to defend their positions on marriage and the roles of men and women (Matthew 19:4-5, I Timothy 2:12-14). And this idea of distinct genders makes perfect sense, seeing that God was making a creature in His own Image.

For what does the Image of God look like? Well, it looks like its Maker – One God eternally existent in Three Persons. The Triune God exists as both singular and plural. And within the Trinity there is structure and unity, submission and love, authority and equality. Therefore, the Image of God is also singular and plural, structured and unified, submissive and loving, authoritative and equal.

This is important because it seems that human being naturally use their view of God as blueprint for their interaction between the genders. For example, the Islamic conception of God is distant and authoritarian and thus many Muslim husbands tend to be distant and authoritarian toward their wives. Modalist denominations teach both that the Father, Son and Spirit are interchangeable and also that the roles of men and women are interchangeable. Likewise, I think it’s no coincidence that the fathers of Mormonism, a henotheist/polytheist religion, practiced patriarchal polygamy. I could give examples all day. Our theology proper directly effects our view of the marriage and the sexes. Christianity is the only faith that provides a balance of equality and authority, form and freedom, unity and diversity.

Just as God exists as one being in multiple persons, so do two human persons become a single organism (“one flesh”). In the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 and in marriage 1 + 1 = 1. This is mysterious math of relationships modeled after the Relationship. And just as the divine persons came together to create a creature in Their image, so do man and woman come together to procreate a creature in their image. The other Trinitarian reflections appear in how God designed the genders to relate to one another. Within the Triune Jehovah there is order and others-centeredness but we see the idea of submission within the Godhead very clearly throughout the Scriptures.

God the Son readily confesses His submission to the Father in John 5:19: “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.’” In fact, Christ submitted to the point of death, crying, “Not My will but Thine.” (Luke 22:42 KJV)

Likewise, the Spirit obeyed of both Father and Son. Jesus said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Of the Spirit, Christ says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak.” (John 16:13 ESV) On the flipside, Jesus was led by the Spirit while he was on earth (Luke 4:1).

But, we mustn’t get the idea that the Trinity is some dictatorial regime where the Father beats the Son and Spirit into submission and forces them to do His bidding. The Trinity doesn’t contain bullies that push around the other members. To the contrary, the persons of the thrice-holy God relentlessly seek to exalt one another. Look at how the Father treats the submissive Son: “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9) He exalted His name above every single name. It goes on to say that every living thing will bow the knee and confess Jesus as Lord. This is how the Holy Trinity works: some members lead, others submit, all exalt one another.

Likewise, the Trinity is the Trinity in Unity. The fundamental Old Testament confession is, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4) The individual persons of the Triune God are not independent beings with their own autonomy and agenda. Rather, they are singular in essence and will. There is One God eternally existent in Three Persons.

This is a very basic summary of how our beautiful God functions as triune, but I hope that it gives you a picture of why gender is such a big part of being created in God’s Image . Just like God, some members in creation lead, others submit but we all exalt one another. At creation, God determined that man would lead and woman would submit, as a reflection of His divine nature. But the headship of the man wasn’t about ruling with an iron fist. It was about loving and honoring and exalting the woman. And within that structured marital relationship, the man and woman are be one flesh (Ephesians 5:28-30), just as the divine persons are One God.

Some people seem to have the idea that God created men and women then arbitrarily assigned roles to them. In actuality, the roles came first, springing out of the divine nature, and then God created two distinct genders to embody those roles. Masculinity existed before male-ness and Femininity proceeded female-ness. What an awesome thing that we can reflect the breathtaking beauty of the Triune Jehovah!

That’s why I find it so disheartening when I see so many men and women attempt to downplay their sexual identity in the name of “personhood” and “equality”. It’s almost as if people are ashamed of their masculinity or femininity. Nowadays, men and women act the same, dress the same, behave the same and can even marry the same person if they wanted to. Gender has become a trivial technicality that is (at best) minimized and (at worst) obliterated. What a slap in the face to a God who made two distinct and magnificent genders for His glory!

John Piper hit the nail on the head in saying, “Confusion over the meaning of sexual personhood is epidemic. The consequence of this confusion is not a happy and free harmony among gender-free persons relating on the basis of abstract competencies. The consequence rather is more divorce, more homosexuality, more sexual abuse, more promiscuity, more social awkwardness, and more emotional distress and suicide that come with the loss of God-given identity.”[1]

A God-given identity obtained by gazing at God Himself.


[1] John Piper, “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible,” in John Piper and Wayne Grudem (ed.), Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books, 1992), p. 33

Friday, August 10, 2012

3 Ways to Ruin Gentlemanliness

The treatment of women is a very important issue to me. I firmly believe that our families, churches and cultures need a resurgence of godly gentlemanliness. As men we need to have an attitude of servant leadership that takes initiative and carries the burdens of others. I would like to hereby dub this concept biblical chivalry. However, that term needs a little clarification. By chivalry I don’t mean a list of rules related to ballroom dancing. I’m a sucker for old words with long histories and so I’m simply using this word to describe an attitude which assumes that men and women ought to behave in consistency with their role in every circumstance. This in turn assumes that the man ought to treat the woman in an initiatory, benevolent and sacrificial manner.

The modifier biblical distinguishes this idea from some casual understanding that men and women should treat each other with respect. The right sort of chivalry needs to be grounded in the Bible. Now, this is not to say that the Scriptures lay out some nice, neat list about the dos and don’ts for male-female interaction. If it did we’d all become instant legalists. Rather I’m saying that our interactions with women ought to be governed by a firm understanding of biblical principles, like Complementarianism, the Gospel of grace, loving your neighbor and Trinitarianism.

Though I’ll be using examples like opening doors and carrying luggage, I would encourage you not to get hung up on the actions themselves. I believe that these actions should be done in a natural manner and if you can’t do that then don’t worry about it. Find another means of displaying honoring and appreciation toward ladies. But we must be careful because this is really easy to get wrong.

I distinctly remember the day when I discovered (shockingly) that I would never be a world famous chef. I was a preteen and the rest of my family had gone to run some errands. Being the responsible eldest child that I am, I agreed to make supper for the family. Pancakes were on the menu and thus I proceeded to follow the directions written out for me. With great zeal and anticipation of completing my first coronary masterpiece, I eager mixed the ingredients, poured the batter on the skillet, flipped the cakes (which was the of course the most fun part) and set and the table.

With eager anticipation and I prepared to present my family with the most incredible mealtime experience of their lives. However, as my family began to partake of the pancakes, it became clear that my plan hadn’t quite worked out. My first clue that something was wrong was when my siblings began to make gagging noises. My mom polity declined a second helping and even my dad, whose been known to eat just about anything, couldn’t clean his plate.

Come to find out there’s a difference between baking powder and baking soda. Who knew? Pancakes are good, but not if you do it wrong. Biblical chivalry is the same way. It’s a very good thing but also easy to mess up. That’s why I want to take this time to point to three ways to ruin these (to quote Elisabeth Elliot) “ceremonial acts of sacrifice.”

1. Be partial

In preparing to write this post I posed a question to the gals on Facebook (because that’s just the way we do things these days). I asked them what they thought about this whole issue. I got a lot of good feedback. One of my friends stated that the service of guys made her feel “like I'm the most cherished girl to ever walk the face of the earth. Plus, my respect for one who does so shoots through the roof.” But she was also quick to add, “Especially (note this) if you do so for every girl, no matter how young or old... not just a girl you like. A man who treats all women with Christ-like brotherly love is a man who is highly respected.”

Some guys have the tendency to give special treatment to the girls they like or think are pretty. We tend to be less quick to open the door for the woman we don’t find attractive in either appearance or in personality. However, this is in direct contradiction to our reasons for practicing these acts.

We aren’t to treat women gentlemanly in order to get something from them or impress a hottie. Rather, chivalry is to be an act of sacrifice – of giving something up, whether it be little or big. To be motivated by selfish impulse defeats the entire purpose. Our goal is to make women feel honored. They can tell if you’re showing favoritism and this can do more to degrade them than just standing by and doing nothing.

“But what if a certain woman doesn’t deserve to be honored in that way?” you may ask. It’s a fair question. Certainly many women don’t deserve to be honored. But remember what we’re trying to point to. We deserve absolutely no honor and get Jesus bled and died that we might be His joint-heirs. He honored us despite our gross unworthiness. Thus, you are most chivalrous and gentlemanly when reverencing someone who has absolutely no right to it. Undeserving recipients aren’t a hindrance to biblical chivalry; they’re an opportunity to bring further glory to Christ.

2. Be condescending

In my little informal Internet survey, one of the issues that kept coming up was that women didn’t want to feel as if they were being treated like children. While many expressed appreciation for guys who served them, they continually reiterated that they could do those things.

None of our actions should be motivated contempt for women. We shouldn’t make them feel that we’re looking down on them. Rather, we should make them feel honored and valued. This starts with having a high view of women. As men we must hold the fairer sex in high regard. A biblical view of women will give us that. It will teach us to dismiss the horrific popular portray of women and to see women as our Master Jesus did.

However, it’s not enough to simply know that women are to be honored. They have to know it. Even if our intentions are as pure as the driven snow, we may still be misunderstood. To counter this predicament our actions, countenance and speech must all portray a spirit of appreciation for womanhood and a respect for the individual woman.

3. Be pushy

A relative of mine once recounted an experience he had in college. It happened to be storming that day, and all the students were busy scurrying about the campus trying to get to their next class without getting soaked to the skin. As he rushed into a building, my relative noticed a female college student close behind him, sprinting through the slushy sidewalk with a pile of books in her hands. Naturally, he opened to the door to let her into the building. However, the woman simply stopped in front of the doorway (rain drenching her all the while), frowned and insisted that she was quite capable of opening the door by herself.

What was the man to do? What would be the gentlemanly thing to do? Frankly, I think it was what my relative did. He let her stand in the rain. Now how is this gentlemanly? you may ask. A true gentleman does not force chivalry upon a lady. He doesn’t make her take his seat. He doesn’t make her walk through a door. This is not honoring or respectful of the woman.
You would not feel honored if someone forced you to use their service. We’ve all heard of the annoying great aunt who comes over to “help out” by rearranging all the cupboards, making everyone dress up and just being a general nuisance. Chivalry is to be voluntary gift and the acceptance of that gift must be voluntary as well.

This is a principle that will govern all your interactions with women, including marriage. To my knowledge, marriage is the only God-ordained authority structure that does not include an “enforcement mechanism”. In other words, God does not grant the husband any means of imposing his authority. The state has the sword (Romans 13:4), parents have the rod (Proverbs 13:24) and the church has ecclesial discipline (Matthew 18:15-20) but no such implement is given in marriage. In contrast, the wife is told to “submit yourself unto your own husband” (Ephesians 5:22, emphasis mine). Submission is something that she must place upon herself, not something you are to lord over her. Forced submission is not biblical submission.

This same principle is applicable to premarital interaction as well. No action, no matter how well intended, should be forced upon a woman. Rather, we should humbly offer our services and let them do what they will with it.

But most importantly, we as men must develop the selfless character of Christ that carries the burdens of others and seek to serve those around them. This is the high and humble calling of the Christian and the essence of biblical chivalry.

Friday, July 27, 2012

3 Rules for Avoiding Theological Street Fights

There's been some resent scuffles on the Internet lately regarding a comment made by Doug Wilson which was quoted by Jared Wilson (no relation) which was taken offensively by Rachel Held Evans which ignited the wrath of everyone with a blog or twitter account. The details of the debate are unimportant for this conversation. All you need to know is that the whole things was theological politicking at its worst. Frankly, I find it rather troubling that theological discussion often resembles a street fight. There's no rules, no decency, no chivalry. Anything goes - dust in the eyes, fists in the nose, double-teaming, ect. The whole thing feels messy, disorderly and sub-Christian.

Now, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for making firm stands and sharp arguments. Some things are worth fighting over. However, especially when it comes to debates between fellow believers, I would like to see some dialogue that looks less like street fighting and more like gentlemen's boxing. Sometimes it'll get bloody and gruesome and the children will have to look away, but there's still a general feel of decency, chivalry and respect.

This brought me to mind of a conversation I once heard between Matt Chandler, Tim Keller and Michael Horton on this very issue. They lay out a few good guidelines for theological gentlemen's boxing:

1. When possible do it in the context of relationship.

Especially in the Internet age, it's easy to take people on from a distance. We all have a tendency (this is where original sin comes in) to paints people in bad and unfair lights. Whenever possible, before slamming a position get to know people that hold that position. This does mean you compromise your stance. It just means that you get to know the humanity behind the opposition.
2. Give the opposing argument in a way that your opponent would recognize and own.

Don't frame the other guy's position in a way that makes it sound silly or sinister. State in a way that he would gladly say, "Yeah, that's what I believe." Why? Because the alternative is fighitng a bunch of straw men. If the person isn't defining the terms the same way you are then you're really not wrestling with his ideas but your own misconception of his ideas. Also, this shows your opponent that you respect him or her enough to actually take the time to study their views and positions.

3. Be careful in assigning consequences to a person's beliefs.

It's one thing to say that a person's position will likely lead to something far worse. However, be careful not to imply that person necessarily holds to that far worse position. This is closely related to previous point. Get to know the other person's argument and see how they hold things in tension or how they might handle the slippery slope.

You can watch the whole conversation (which includes a nice bit about the Internet and reading) here:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Pomosexuality: A Roundup

"If culture is religion externalized, as Henry Van Til observed, homosexuality (and other forms of deviance) are the perfect manifestation of an evolutionary, re-invent yourself kind of paganism, which is the religious worldview our nation is in the process of adopting." That was Doug Wilson's summary of the current cultral climate, which he calls "pomosexuality". I would like to draw your attention to some very interesting stuff by some very smart people on this very important issue.

Earlier this year, Pastor Wilson did a series of lectures at the University of Indiana about this issue. And some people weren't too happy about it, as you can see in this trailer:

Gotta love tolerance, eh? You can watch the lectures and the Q&A HERE. Wilson also did a very nice follow-up interview which you can read HERE.

However, my fear is that many Christian don't realize just how deep the issue goes. We lost the highground on this issue before I was born. Egalitarianism was the battering ramp that tore down the door for homosexuality to rush in. That's the issue that John Piper, Russel Moore, Ligon Duncan and Greg Gilbert address:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

3 Things I've Learned from my Dad

All children should honor their father, but my dad made it easy. I've learned many, many things from my dad. So many that I couldn't even begin to chronicle them. But on this Father's Day, I would like to share a few of the things my dad has taught me.

1. The Lord is Lord all the time and everywhere.

My father never allowed being a Christian to be a part-time occupation. Faith wasn't something that happened on Sunday and then cessed to exist on Monday-Saturday. Rather, Dad saturated everything is the simply idea that God never stopped being God and therefore we should never stopped living under His authority. Thus, he taught me to leave God out of nothing, whether it was going to church, playing softball or changing oil.

2. The Bible is a big deal.

This is something Dad never really had to say. I mean, he did say it but he didn't have to. Because every morning for as long as I can remember, I've seen my dad sitting in his little study - the dark basement corner illuminated by a small lamp - reading the Bible. Now, my dad's not a reader and yet he puts zealous bookworms to shame with his devotion to a single book, the Book. Therefore, as a very young guy I learned that this book they called the Bible matter to my dad. My best memories of bonding with my dad was not the normal father-son bonding moments like playing catch or working on the car. We did all those things, but that's not what stands out. What stands out is sitting around the dinner table talking about the Scriptures.

3. Truth is more than head-knowledge.

My dad's not what you would call a theologian. But in another sense he's exactly what you would call a theologian. Were he ever to write a theological work it would look more like Proverbs than Romans. He's a very practical person who wants to connect everything to the nuts-and-bolts reality of daily living. For him, truth isn't a concept floating in the sky. It's a pathway to walk. Truth is something to be lived, not just thought about.

These are just some of the things that I've learned from my dad. I'm very thankful to have such a man as my father.

Happy Father's Day!!!


See also:

Why My Father's a Paradox (And Why I Love It)
3 Reasons I Appreciate My Mom

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

C.S. Lewis On Queen Elizabeth II

On June 2nd, 1953, an Englishman sat watching the coronation of his queen. Due to his dislike for crowds, he had decided to take advantage of the accesability first fully televised coronation. This Englishman was C.S. Lewis and a month later he expressed his thoughts on the event in a letter to a friend (Letters, 3:343):

"You know, over here people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation. What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it. Hence, in the spectators, a feeling of (one hardly knows how to describe it) — awe — pity — pathos — mystery.

The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be His vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if He said, ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding.’

Do you see what I mean? One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendor."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Two Guys Named John Explain the Trinity

Okay, I lied. It's actually a guys named John and a guy named Jonathan. But that doesn't work as well in the title. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the hardest for us to get our heads around. However, taking a clue from Jonathan Edward's "An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity" (which you should definitely read), John Piper does a breathtaking job of summarizing that doctrine.


Human language is never wholly adequate to communicate personal life. How I feel when I look at four sons leaving their childhood behind cannot be wholly carried by words. But we still try. We stammer. We use metaphors (it’s like throwing things overboard on a voyage). We write poems and songs. The inadequacy of language is only surpassed by its indispensability. What else have we got? Inadequate does not mean useless. Language may not carry all there is, but what it carries can be true and valuable.

So with talk about the Trinity. No doubt it will always exceed our full comprehension. No doubt our language is inadequate to carry this deep reality. But the depth and value of the Trinity is precisely why we must speak. You don’t throw out the love poem because it falls short of the love. It is precious nonetheless. So is the doctrine of the Trinity.

In a nutshell (following Jonathan Edwards), I would describe the Trinity like this: The Father is God existing in the primal, unoriginated, most absolute manner. The Son is God eternally generated by the Father’s having a clear and distinct idea or image of himself, so much so that his image or reflection of himself is God—the Son. The Holy Spirit is God existing as the infinite Spirit of love and delight flowing eternally between the Son and the Father.

The Father has always existed. And there never was a time when he did not have a perfectly exact and full Idea or Image of himself. This is the Son who therefore is equally eternal with the Father. “God’s idea of himself is absolutely perfect and therefore is an express and perfect image of him, exactly like him in every respect; there is nothing in the pattern but what is in the representation—substance, life, power nor anything else…But that which is the express, perfect image of God in and in every respect like him is God to all intents and purposes…” (Jonathan Edwards, An Essay on the Trinity, p. 101). Biblical passages that point to this understanding of God the Son are 2 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3.

When God is said to “be love” (1 John 4:7, 16), we must think that there has always been two Persons in God between whom love could flow. And the Scriptures teach plainly that the Father loves the Son (Matthew 3:17; Ephesians 1:6; John 5:20; 17:26) and the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). God’s infinite love for his own glory (Isaiah 48:11) was satisfied from eternity in his beholding and enjoying his own glorious Image in the person of his Son.

Therefore, the Father and the Son never existed without an infinite delight and love flowing between them. It was not possible they could be indifferent to each other’s glory. 1 John 4:12-13 shows that the love that God is (v. 7) is the Holy Spirit: “If we love one another God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him…because he has given us of his Spirit.”

The Spirit of God is the river of love and delight flowing between God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit is the esprit de corps of the Godhead. In responding to each other’s infinite glory, the Father and Son put all that they are into the act of love. And therefore the Spirit is all that they are and exists as a Person in his own right, yet one with the Father and
the Son.

We grope. We stammer. We reach for ways to say the mystery. Why? Because something has gone before. Falling in love always precedes the love poems (no matter how bad they are).

By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: Used by Permission.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

3 Reason I Appreciate My Mom

There are many, many that I appreciate my mom. Too many to count. But on this Mother's Day, I'd like to share three of them with you.

1. Her care for people.

I naturally ask "why?". My dad taught me to ask "what?". But my mom taught me to ask "who?". I love my mom's tender heart which touches everything she does. Even little things like listening to people come from her desire to serve others. Without making airs or stirring up commotion, my mom makes an impact on everyone she gets to know. Her quiet spirit can penetrate hearts and silence storms. She cares for people like a bird flies. It's just a part of who she is. It's a marvelous gift and I'm so thankful for it.

2. Her faithful service.

My mom has an unassuming nature about her and thus much of what she does goes unnoticed. But that doesn't seem to bother her. Though I'm sure she's had her down moments, I'm so very grateful for the faithful, consistent service of my mother. She gladly performs the little things that no would notice unless she didn't do them. She's never felt the need to grab the spotlight. Rather, for the past twenty years I've seen her cheerfully serve everyone around her.

3. Her love for God.

But above all I'm thankful that my mom's highest priority is glorifying God. I know that everything else I appreciate in my mom - her openness, her sincerity, her compassion, her faithfulness - all stem from her love for God. I'm so very grateful that she saw fit to instill that in me.

For all that you are and all that you've done, thank you mom! Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In Defense of Magic

Most of you know that I'm a bit of a fantasy nerd. I have an entire bookshelf dedicated to Lewis and Tolkien. One of the reasons I'm so fond of fantasy is that I believe it to be the most inherently spiritual genre. It deals with the supernatural almost by definition. This is both it's biggest strength and weakness. When done correctly it can powerfully portray biblical truths in a way that no lecture could. The imagination helps to link the mind and the heart. As I've written about before, I believe that good Christian fantasy is essentially theology in 3D. It's no coincidence that the founders of the genre (Bunyan, MacDonald, Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, ect.) were all Christians. However, when it's done wrong, the genre can be very pagan and almost satanic.

For this reason, many Christians have rejected the genre and "magic" altogether. Now, there's certainly a concern that needs to be raised about the misuse of magic. J.R.R. Tolkien himself disapproved of his friend Charles William's use of occult imagery. However, I feel that it's an overreaction to dismiss all stories that deal with the supernatural. I'm not trying to molest anyone conscience. If your conscience doesn't all you to read about Gandalf the White than don't read about Gandalf the White. However, I would like to explain why my conscience not only allows me to read about "magic" but rejoices in it.

Or rather, I'm going to allow a couple of men a lot smarter than I explain it. The following is a couple of videos done by theologian Doug Wilson and his son, novelist Nate Wilson. The first one lays the ground work and talks about (among other things) the difference between "Gandalf wizards" and "Harry Potter wizards". The second one is a follow up video that answers some objections raised to the first interview.

I found them well worth my time and I hope you too enjoy them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

G.K. Chesterton: Misplaced Modesty

Aside from being incredibly handsome (*cough*), G.K. Chesterton was very good as articulating distinctions. In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton makes an observation about the misplacement of our "modesty":

"But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himeslf, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays, the part of man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason."