Because THAT’S what matters…

The preacher in the pulpit proclaims the acts of salvation in the event of the Exodus: a whole people is redeemed out of slavery; a treacherous sea passage is negotiated miraculously; God saves his people — by grace! The pastor in the parish has the responsibility of insisting that the Exodus event continues to be a design for salvation to the person who does piecework in a factory, to the youth who pumps gasoline, to the woman in the daily negotiation with the demands of diapers and career, to the man trying to achieve poise between ambition in his profession and sensitivity to his wife and children at home. Pastoral work is a commitment to the everyday: it is an act of faith that the great truths of salvation are workable in the “ordinary universe.”

Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 33.


So What? #9

I have the privilege of contributing to an awesome podcast, “So What?”, and our newest episode went live this week.

Dave, Kyle, Matt, and I have been working line-by-line through the Apostles’ Creed, discussing the meaning of the historic confession of the Christian church, its biblical foundations, and its implications for our lives today.

This is the first part in a pair of episodes on the most important belief of Christianity—the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to listen to it and see if our discussion encourages you as much as it did me.

One note—Early on I bring up Aslan’s “resurrection” from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia. Here’s the scene from the recent film of the same name—

The Story of Your Life and Prayer

Paul Miller is helping me understand how God uses prayer in the context of the larger story of our lives. In the fourth part of his excellent book, A Praying Life, he explores the way our prayers, especially those that appear to be unanswered, integrate with God’s purposes for us. 

For the couple of years or so, I’ve been praying around one specific theme in my life. It’s driven simple requests for patience and love that God’s answered by giving me opportunities to practice those virtues. However, it’s also stimulated larger requests that have (frustratingly) remained unanswered. And I’ve struggled with that. Maybe you can relate. 

But when I simply take a step back and reflect on the larger arc of my life, the requests that have remain unanswered give me a glimpse of what God wants to do in me, rather than around me. God isn’t ignoring my requests because he doesn’t love me. Instead, he leaves them unanswered because they don’t fit in with the story he is weaving in my life. Maybe he’s doing that in yours too. 

If so, I highly recommend A Praying Life, it might help you get the same perspective I got. 


Belief and Love

Belief and Love

In a time of outspoken atheism and decreasing religious affiliation, Christians might be tempted to highlight the distinction between those who believe in God and those who don’t.

On first glance, this approach seems helpful. At work the believers know who they can greet with “Merry Christmas”or “Happy Holidays,” while students know who to group up with to discuss the new Hillsong CD. While I’m all for Christians encouraging one another, and for avoiding needless confrontation as we seek to be good neighbors (Rom 12:18), on closer inspection this distinction actually misses a more important one: those who love God and those who do not.

For one, Scripture indicates that, in one sense, belief is a relatively insignificant factor in determining one’s standing with God. As James puts it, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). In other words, if we maintain a spreadsheet exclusively divided between “belief” and “unbelief,” the demons go under “belief.” That’s not helpful.

The more important category is “Those-Who-Do-Something-With-Their-Belief,” or those people for whom belief takes root and overflows into a life of devotion to Christ. They are those who love Jesus and “keep his commandments” (John 14:15). Indeed, “this is the love for God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3). More significantly, it is not only those who do not believe who are condemned (as the belief vs. unbelief distinction might imply). Paul puts a fine point on it: “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Cor 16:22). Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that mere belief is enough; “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

One Warning: If we were to change the way we think by shifting from belief to love as the distinguishing characteristic between the church and the world, we would have to face a startling reality, some of us may find ourselves in an unexpected column. Lord, help us love you, “not with word and talk, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

God’s Purifying Work

By c. 740 BC the wickedness of Judah, particularly its political and religious center in Jerusalem, had become unbearable for the Lord. When God looked at his people what he saw was not the child he had raised to walk in his ways, but a rebellious and wayward son (Isaiah 1:2-3). They were sick, infected with a disease that spreads more quickly than any other and with more devastating effects, (i.e., sin) (1:5-6). Their religious and moral life had deviated from the ways of the Lord so much that he referred to them as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” (1:10). The problem wasn’t their lack of religious observance, they kept that up just fine and it had become unbearable to the God who ordained those sacrifices and festivals (1:11-16). At issue was the blood of the innocent and helpless on their hands; what God desired was their pursuit of justice (1:1-17).

In what can only be seen as a public “dressing down” of his people, God offers the promise that their sins can be cleansed (1:18). If they will return to him by becoming obedient they will receive his blessing, but otherwise they can only expect destruction (1:19).

Yet even this destruction is redemptive. As the image below shows, Isaiah 1:21-26 (NIV, 1984) lays out the situation as God’s sees it, his plan to “purify” them, and his ultimate purpose in this work.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.01.40 AM

The passage centers on verse 24-25a and God’s vengeance on his enemies—his people! He will right every wrong, and true justice will reign. In this way God brings genuine restoration and renewal so that righteousness and faithfulness become the very identity of those who are unrighteous and unfaithful.

In a generation marked by unrighteousness and unfaithfulness even in the church, we would do well to thank God for his purifying work. Judgment on the church is not for our destruction, but for our sanctification.

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet 5:16-17).

Defining “Mercy” and “Grace”

Mercy and Grace are two important theological concepts throughout the New Testament. They are listed side-by-side in 1 Timothy 1:2, and therefore refer to two separate gifts from God. Read how Lenski helpfully describes them:

ἔλεος (mercy) “. . .always deals with what we see of pain, misery and distress, these results of sin; and χαρίς (grace) always deals with sin and guilt itself. The one extends relief, the other pardon; the one cures, heals, helps, the other cleanses and reinstates.” R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel 1-14 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), 191.

in Knight, Pastoral Epistles.