Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Judges For You

     Tim Keller's Judges For You is a good book about a dark time in the history of God's people. Books and studies abound on books such as Philippians and the Psalms, but a book like Judges generally gets a little snubbed. With stories of a man sacrificing his child, men slaughtering hundreds in vengeance, and a man giving up his concubine to be ravaged by a sexually explosive mob only to cut her dead body in pieces to send it out to the tribes of Israel, it's not hard to understand why this isn't the go-to book to read before bed time. But Tim Keller takes a confusing and often scary book of the Bible and treats it with respect by looking to the God who sovereignly used the sins and evils of His people to bring about His plan of redemption that would culminate in the perfect ruler of Jesus.


Here are the three things I appreciated most about the book:

1. Practical Lessons 

     At times, I was worried that he would draw shallow moralizations from these bleak and dark stories. He does indeed bring out principles to learn and apply, but does so in a gospel-centered way. He never points at the characters and says, "Be like ....." (maybe because there are so few decent examples in this book).  He reminds us that we, like the people from Judges, need grace more than anything.

2. Side Notes 

     There are a number of places where he takes a step away from the immediate context to talk about a specific part of the verse and issues, controversies, and problems we may have today. He talks about women in leadership form Deborah. He talks about who the Angel of the Lord may be. These instances were helpful and really added to the book.

3. Jesus

     This kind of goes along with the fact that he didn't paint anyone from Judges as a hero to be followed, but Keller constantly takes us back to Jesus. When Samson comes from disgrace to defeat his enemies, he reminds us of Jesus who did so far more perfectly. When Deborah judges with wisdom and strength, he reminds us of how Jesus will one day rule and judge righteously. He takes a typological approach quite often, which really deepens the way that Judges is read. He makes it clear that God is the hero of the book and Christ is the culmination of every redeeming quality we read about in the book.

     I highly recommend the book. While at times a bit choppy in style, Keller continues to remind us of the gospel. He proves Israel's need for a Savior then and our need for one now. This book would be invaluable to pastors who take it upon themselves to preach from the hidden gem of Judges. The discussion questions made it a great resource for small groups as well. I walked away thanking God for His mercy to me and with a deeper longing to see Jesus reigning with love, justice, and grace.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Don't Waste Your Emotions

Last Sunday at church was very emotional for me. I gathered with my local body with a heavy heart. God had used different means during the week to soften my spirit. In God's providence, my pastor preached from Philemon on how the gospel is the means and motivation of seeking reconciliation with God and others. I was convicted by my lack of grace with someone who had wronged me. The Spirit used the preaching of the Word and the music that day to compel me to reach out and and forgive this person. My emotions slowly built up during the service and culminated with tears at the end. I was a teary-eyed, runny nosed mess. I asked God's forgiveness for my lack of forgiveness and asked for strength to make that tough phone call and seek reconciliation. But then lunch happened...

Emotions Are Often Brief

I enjoyed more fellowship with my church over a picnic lunch and then played some soccer. As the afternoon went on my emotions evened out. Inevitably my lowered emotions lead to lower resolve to make that phone call. I got home and was actually debating whether to call at all. At last the moment of truth came. By God's grace I made the phone call and took a big step in a hurting relationship. This was all great, but it reminded me of an important lesson: Don't waste your emotions.

Emotions Are Important

Emotions are good. Affections are not optional. God actually commands us to have holy affections for Him. Psalm 100:2 says, "Worship the Lord with gladness..." Here we are commanded to have a certain emotion towards God.  Emotions are really important, but Spirit-led emotions should lead to obedience, and there are times when obedience requires action. Sunday was one of those times for me. The emotions and feelings I felt were right and appropriate, but apart from making that phone call those emotions would have not accomplished the purpose for which they had been given to me. Holy affections and emotions are always a means to an end. Ultimately, the end is God's glory.

1 Corinthians 2:11a-12

"So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except through the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." 

The Spirit works through the Word to produce feelings and actions that will lead to the glory of Christ. Emotions are a blessing from God, but apart from obedience they fall short in glorifying our Savior. So don't waste your emotions. When the Spirit uses the Word to move your heart, obey. It is impossible to think that you wouldn't obey when the emotions are at a high, but as time passes, the feelings often fade. And the decision that seemed impossible to ignore can seem impossible to carry out.  But God gives grace. When we choose to act in obedience upon godly affections, God is glorified and we find joy. Ask God for these holy affections. Seek high and right feelings and be prepared to obey the Author of those feelings for the praise of His name.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Gospel and Racism

     George Zimmerman has been declared innocent. Paula Deen has been found guilty.

     Everyone who reads those sentences is either happy or upset with them. There isn't much middle ground. In a country where gray areas and relativism are increasing by the day, one thing is clear. Racism still exists, and it's ugly.

     I am from the South. I was taught that black people were lazy, mean, lower class citizens. Black people were referred to as niggers and coons. God was gracious enough to me to give me doubts concerning these "truths", but tinges of them remain in my heart to this day. I still struggle with racism. Weeks ago, I was going to watch some fireworks for July 4th. As we walked through a park, one area was filled with people, black people to be exact. They were dressed like thugs, played loud music, and looked to be up to no good. I walked by feeling distrust while a slight feeling of resentment and superiority grew in my heart, but I left feeling ashamed. These people just wanted to have a good time with their family, and I made a judgement of their motives and actions based on the what I saw from the outside. That is racism. Racism is when we judge the content of someone's character based on their race or nationality. I think we all do it. Sometimes in small ways, other times in bigger ways. I often grow impatient with the Middle Eastern people at work because their food stinks up the office and they talk loudly in the bathroom. I make tiny judgement calls all the time based on someone's skin or dress or a host of other things. It is sin, and it needs to change. This is not about being politically correct. It's not even about being nicer or more welcoming people. It's fundamentally about the gospel.

     Christ died so that we could escape judgement. He bore the wrath that we had earned, and in exchange, gave us His righteousness. The New Testament makes it clear that this hope transcends all lines of race and nationality. Galatians 3:28 says, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus." This teaches that making judgements of someone's heart and character based on the color of their skin is a direct contradiction to the gospel. God elects solely on the basis of His pleasure. He does not call His own because of their race, nationality, or class. He brings all these differences together through Christ. Therefore, we should seek racial harmony and peace, because of the gospel. Those of us who have been called to be children of God should be leading the charge, but often times we are quietly sitting in the back. Fighting for the dignity and respect of all people made in the image of God is fighting for the glory of God. We all have to overcome our racism in different ways, but it has to happen. God's glory is too great and His wrath is too fierce to allow our stupidity to get in the way of the only thing that can save people from their sin, Jesus. These changes happen primarily in our hearts. I have made it a point of prayer lately for God to continue to change my heart in this matter. If I don't seek God's grace for this, I naturally slip into the foolishness I was taught as a child.

     There will one day be a people before the throne of God from every tribe, nation, and people group. They will be there not because of their race or nationality, but because they trusted in Jesus. The church should celebrate racial differences, because they show different aspects of God's perfections that may not have been seen otherwise. So as we reflect upon the racial issues in our country, let's reflect on the racial issues of our own hearts as well. The gospel itself, not our racism, should be the only stumbling block we present to people.

     Trayvon Martin's death is a tragedy. This case has served as yet another reminder that racism still exists in America. Regardless of how you feel about the case, it is clear that we still have problems with race. Thankfully, we also have access to grace through Christ. The gospel brings people from all different walks of life together for one purpose, the glory of God.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Calvin on Worship Styles

     Whether you're a Christian fundamentalist, a charismatic Pentecostal, a liturgical Presbyterian, or anything in between, you're likely have preferences on corporate worship within the church. While a certain style may be fine, what often is more dangerous is the force with which we enforce our particular opinion. John Calvin, not often quoted on his teachings of Christian worship in the church, has wise words for us today on the matter.

     "But because he did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the states of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these. Lastly, because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge
what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe."    Calvin's Institutes 4.10.30

     The church today would be wise to heed these words. While differing opinions are healthy, unnecessary divisions are not. God is too glorious and the church is too important to waste time punching one another in the face over styles, forms, and preferences within the corporate worship of the church.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review: Prepared By Grace, For Grace

     Joel R. Beeke and Paul Smalley have done the church a favor. Much like Beeke's new work A Puritan Theology, he has made the focus of this work the thoughts and teachings of the Puritans themselves. The Puritan teaching of preparation is basically that it is God's normal means to use the preaching of the law and it's requirements to convict men of sin so that they see their need for a Savior. At the beginning Beeke and Smalley show us why this is necessary and significant for the church today.

     "Neglecting to preach law and judgement to lost sinners is one reason (though not the only one) why many churches are unhealthy today. Too many of their members are self-righteous, self-satisfied Christians in name only, whose spiritual pride has never been broken by the Spirit of Christ working through the Word of God. They have never come to see their true plight as sinners abiding under God's wrath, who merit nothing but condemnation and punishment, with no one to turn to for help other than Jesus Christ. A shallow view of sin must inevitably produce a shallow kind of faith. Feeling little need for grace, they want very little from God or from Christ apart from what they think they are entitled to." pg.7

     The book then leads us through examples of puritans such as Richard Sibbes, William Ames, Thomas Hooker, and John Bunyan, showing how they taught and practiced the doctrine of preparation. Beeke and Smalley show that this is not just a Puritan teaching, but that it can be traced to Calvin, Augustine, and most importantly, the Bible.

     My favorite aspect of this book was its emphasis on the practical use of the teaching of preparation. Understood properly, this teaching greatly impacts the way we preach the gospel. It is a great reminder that we should seek to expose unbelievers to God's law and His holiness so that the Spirit can convict that person of sin. Without a conviction of sin, people will see no need for a Savior.

     This work ends much how it began. "The Puritan doctrine of preparation was a response to a situation in which nominal Christianity abounded. Virtually everyone in the seventeenth century had a connection to a church, at least through baptism, but many showed no signs of walking with God."pg 244. Though our culture is becoming less religious, we are still very convinced of our own righteousness. Pastors and teachers must take the message of God's love to the world, but we must make sure to show men and women their sin. This exposure to our depravity can then lead us to the exposure of God's glorious grace, which is greater than all our sin, but then and only then will people see their need for Christ. 

     I highly recommend this book. While at times a bit heady, it is full of heartfelt, encouraging truths. It will also introduce you to some men from the past who will deeply affect your walk with Christ. This is a great book about great men teaching an important truth.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today I Was Thankful For Traffic


This morning on my way to work I hit traffic, but not ordinary traffic. This was a beast of another sort. 

     The highway I normally take was closed for about 2 miles. Then the road to go around was under construction. This lead to hundreds of cars flying through narrow, residential streets, doing their level best to get back on the highway in as little time as possible. Horns were blaring. Tires were screeching. This was chaos at its finest. Finally, after half an hour I was finally back on track. At last I was cruising at a comfortable 65 mph, enjoying the rest of my drive so much more than if I would have hit no traffic.

     I suspect in some small way that this is what Heaven will be like. We spend most of our lives struggling, fighting, and clawing away at peace and rest. But for those that place their faith in Christ, we will one day reach true peace. The struggles will end. The fight will be over. And the trials we go through today will only make that glorious rest so much sweeter. 

     So whether it be traffic, sickness, cancer, or death, we can rest assured that though the path to glory may not be straight or easy, we will get there. God will see to it.