Category Archives: religion

The Spirit of the Age

“The world can no more fulfil a man than a triangle can fill a circle. We are to resist its temptations: the fact that ‘everybody is doing it’ can easily weaken the Christian’s resolve to take a stand on many issues, but temptation in any form must be resisted at every turn. We are to repel its pressures: in a permissive society there are very real pressures to go along with the majority and to abandon the lonely pathway of submission to biblical absolutes, but they must be resolutely turned aside as siren voices.”

-John Blanchard, from Truth for Life, p. 111

Advertisements

What Shall I Do?

As he was going out into the way, one ran to him, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” – Mark 10:17 (WEB)

I’ve been journeying through the Gospel of Mark this year, spending about 3 weeks a chapter before moving on. I’m now in chapter 10, and have been camped out in the passage about the rich young ruler. Over the last few weeks, I’ve looked at the commentaries and listened to a bunch of sermons on this passage. I’m not quite sure why I’ve fixated on it the way I have but a few things come to mind.

There is perhaps no greater question that a human being can ask than the one that this young man asks of Jesus here. He was obviously someone who took great care in many things of his life and you can probably imagine him having a quite orderly way about him. He knew the Scriptures, being quick to answer Jesus that regarding the commandments, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth” (10:20). Unlike some of the comments and sermons I’ve seen and heard on this verse, I picture this young man being in earnest when he said this, rather than boastful or arrogant. Jesus Himself saw something different in this young man, as we are told in the next verse, “Jesus looking at him loved him”. I can picture a faint smile on Jesus’ face when hearing this reply. But Jesus saw in him what He sees in so many of us. There is often something (and often more than one thing) that is so part of our identity that we can’t see ourselves living without it. In this man’s case, it was his wealth for sure, and quite possibly also his ruling status. It’s speculated that at that time he was a ruler in the synagogue. One of the first things we are asked when we meet someone new is “What do you do?” This answer appeared to have meant everything to this man. And he simply wasn’t ready yet to let it go.

In his Confessions, Augustine famously said in prayer to God, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.” I think in the back of his mind, this young man was thinking along these lines. He cared enough about his soul that he sought Jesus out to ask him, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” But Jesus, sensing that this was another who was “not far from the kingdom of God”, saw the last stranglehold on the man’s life would be his toughest to let go, “…and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions” (10:22).

The Bible is silent on what ultimately happened to this man. I see glimpses of hope that this man came to the end of himself eventually and placed his trust in Christ later on. We can’t know for sure of course. But regardless, this story is one that is worth our deep reflection. In Luke 5, we read the accounts of Peter, James, John, and Levi, as they encounter Jesus in the flesh as this man did. Their response, however, was different – “… they left everything, and followed him” (v. 11 & 28).

God knows there are things in my life that are so ingrained that it will take nothing less than the power of the Holy Spirit to purge them for good. At times, they feel like a death grip. I’ve asked, as the rich young ruler did, “what shall I do?” and yet, like him, have not always liked the answer that God has given me. But Jesus does not settle for rearranging the furniture of our lives. He levels the structure and builds in His own way. This is unsettling. However, for those of us who, by His grace, have been called to Him, can be confident that He also looks at us and loves us. He is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The Long and Winding Road

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

-Matthew 1:17 (NASB)

I’m beginning another trek through Matthew and stopped for a bit today to think about the long list of names that begin his Gospel. Patriarchs, kings, ordinary folks, and some notable women run through this genealogy. Lists of names, which are found so often in the Old Testament but much less so in the New, don’t on the surface seem to make for great reading. But I look at these names with a bit of wonder; fallen men and women, some with great but flawed makeups (Abraham, David, Solomon), others with lives that resembled the thief on the cross (Manasseh). In The Gospel of the Kingdom, C.H. Spurgeon remarked, “We will not pry into the mystery of the incarnation, but we must wonder at the condescending grace which appointed our Lord such a pedigree.” All of these share in the long line of God’s faithfulness – a promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 that in him, “all the families of the earth will be blessed”; to David in 2 Samuel 7 that “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” Promises separated by hundreds of years …and I find it greatly humbling that now thousands of years later, this long and winding road now puts we who belong to God in this same story.

It’s difficult not to feel a mix of emotions when thinking about each of the names in Matthew 1:1-17 – frustration, anger, sadness, pity. It’s also easy to look at my own life and feel the exact same things. But this genealogy that Matthew preserves for us reminds us that all of us – sinful, wretched, and fallen as we all are, all who come to Christ -by grace through faith- can be assured that He will in no way cast them out (John 6:37). All of us can then rightly take our place in this grand story and be assured He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

Image via Sten [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Book Review: “Asking the Right Questions”

I’m on vacation this week and trying to catch up on reading. It took me just two days to finish Matthew Harmon’s new book, Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible. I found Harmon’s book a helpful guide​ to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Harmon begins with a flyover guide to the Bible based on six pieces – creation, crisis, covenants, Christ, church, and consummation. He then spends the majority of the book on developing the right questions to ask in our Bible reading. I found his discussion of the “fallen condition” vs. the “gospel solution” especially good. He provides an outline at the end of the book that summarizes his main discussion on understanding and applying the Bible, which would be good to print out and keep in your Bible.

Overall, this is a good resource for getting a grasp of the Bible’s big picture and tools for understanding and application. You can watch Harmon discuss his book below:

 

Were It Not For Grace

By His grace, God saved me on this date in 2007.  How kind God has been to me during these last ten years (and before them!). I lived in darkness the first 36+ years of my life, and was truly unaware of it. When I did think deeply about God during those years, I sadly took the role of the Pharisee in Luke 18. I considered myself an essentially good person, and certainly not as bad as others. I figured that when I died and finally met God, the good side of my ledger would outweigh the bad. It was only when I really read through the Bible for the first time that I awoke to my real standing before God.

Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was continually only evil.

Genesis 6:5 WEB

I remember being struck by this verse…does this include me? According to the Word of God, it certainly does. The ledger that I planned to present before God was useless. God showed me, by His Holy Spirit, that my only standing would be through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. I think of the patience of God, how long He watched me try to live on my own terms. How close did I come to spending eternity without Him!

That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’

John 3:6‭-‬7 WEB

I used to think those born again folks were strange! Jesus however makes it quite clear that unless you are in fact born again, you will face death twice…physically and then spiritually.

Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment,

Hebrews 9:27 WEB

I am thanking God for His grace today – “grace abounding to the chief of sinners”, as John Bunyan once said. Grace to me, a worm of a man, called by the King of Kings to live for Him and for His glory.

What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Romans 7:24‭-‬25a WEB

A song I heard right after my conversion has become a favorite of mine, and outside of Scripture, gives probably the clearest summary of my own experience. I will reflect on these words today. Thank you Jesus!

Time measured out my days

Life carried me along

In my soul I yearned to follow God

But knew I’d never be so strong

I looked hard at this world

To learn how heaven could be gained

Just to end where I began

Where human effort is all in vain
Were it not for grace

I can tell you where I’d be

Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere

With my salvation up to me

I know how that would go

The battles I would face

Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace
So here is all my praise

Expressed with all my heart

Offered to the Friend who took my place

And ran a course I could not start

And when He saw in full

Just how much His would cost

He still went the final mile between me and heaven

So I would not be lost
Were it not for grace

I can tell you where Id be

Wandering down some pointless road to nowhere

With my salvation up to me

I know how that would go

The battles I would face

Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace
Forever running but losing this race

Were it not for grace

The Fountain of Life, Part 1

fountain2015This week I returned to reading one of the Puritans – John Flavel (1628?-1691). I had first read Flavel a little over six years ago and his work called Facing Grief: Counsel for Mourners. I read this a few weeks after my dad passed away in 2010 and don’t think I was ready for the counsel at the time. But I’ve heard enough good things about Flavel since and decided it was time to return to his writings. Sinclair Ferguson counts Flavel and Thomas Watson as perhaps the two easiest Puritans to read. He may be right.

The Fountain of Life is described as a series of 42 of Flavel’s sermons that “…display Christ in his essential and mediatorial glory”. I’m only three sermons in but am grateful for the things that Flavel has opened my eyes to already. The first sermon, titled “The Excellency of the Subject”, uses 1 Corinthians 2:2 as its basic text. I would summarize Flavel’s message in this sermon as understanding that there is no knowledge so great as that of Christ and knowing Him. Flavel asks us to compare the excellency of knowing Christ to the mere natural things of this world: “O how much time is spent in other studies, in vain discourses, frivolous pamphlets, worldly employments. How little is the search and study of Jesus Christ.” I have to say this is a daily struggle for me – it is always tempting to latch on to the “low hanging fruit” that comes through my phone notifications, breaking news, sports updates, and other areas. These pass through my mind as easily as they come in, but they can still consume a great deal of time. Flavel warns of this danger: “O beware, lest the dust of the earth, getting into your eyes, so blind you, that you never see the beauty or necessity of Christ.”

Something else I found helpful from Flavel – his belief that we should always strive to see how the essential truths of Christianity fit together, like a fine watch, rather than just seeing the individual wheels and pieces and struggling to make sense of the greater themes. Meditating on 1 Corinthians 2:2 is important here: “Even so the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, like a clue, leads you through the whole labyrinth of the Scriptures.” I tend to get bogged down in bits and pieces, especially when reading the Old Testament. Flavel’s encouragement here is something that may fit well in the flyleaf of our Bibles.

I’m glad to have returned to the writings of John Flavel. I hope to write more as I progress through this work.

 

Beware of Sinking Sand

You sometimes reflect upon the state of your soul, and enquire, is Christ mine? May I depend upon it, that my condition is safe? Your heart returns you an answer of peace, it speaks as you would have it. But remember, friend, and mark this line, your final sentence is not yet come from the mouth of your Judge; and what if, after all your self-flattering hopes and groundless confidence, a sentence should come from him quite cross to that of your own heart? Where are you then? What a confounded person will you be? Christless, speechless, and hopeless, all at once!”

– John Flavel, from The Fountain of Life