Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Innkeeper

Just read this Advent poem Piper wrote for his congregation.

Here's the official description: In this poem, John Piper imagines Jesus, two weeks before his death, returning to Bethlehem and visiting the inn where he was born. He meets Jacob, the old innkeeper, who years before had made a place for Joseph and Mary to stay. As they converse, Jesus hears what it cost Jacob to house the Son of God.

The Innkeeper is a moving story that has us look into the face of tragedy, as experienced in Herod's brutal slaughter of little boys. Then it turns us toward the shining face of hope. If we have the eyes of faith to see it, the sting of futility will be forever removed from death.

You can read the Pdf here.

Or listen to Pastor John read it here.

I hope it moves your heart as it did mine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Prayer and Predestination

Ok, put on your thinking-caps. I'll be reading through this a couple more times this morning: A conversation between the Prayerful and the Prayerless by John Piper from Feb 1996:

Prayerless: I understand that you believe in the providence of God. Is that right?
Prayerful: Yes.
Prayerless: Does that mean you believe, like the Heidelberg Catechism says, that nothing comes about by chance but only by God's design and plan?
Prayerful: Yes, I believe that's what the Bible teaches.
Prayerless: Then why do you pray?
Prayerful: I don't see the problem. Why shouldn't we pray?
Prayerless: Well, if God ordains and controls everything, then what he plans from of old will come to pass, right?
Prayerful: Yes.
Prayerless: So it's going to come to pass whether you pray or not, right.
Prayerful: That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass in answer to prayer. If God predestined that something happen in answer to prayer, it won't happen without prayer.
Prayerless: Wait a minute, this is confusing. Are you saying that every answer to prayer is predestined or not?
Prayerful: Yes, it is. It's predestined as an answer to prayer.
Prayerless: So if the prayer doesn't happen, the answer doesn't happen?
Prayerful: That's right.
Prayerless: So the event is contingent on our praying for it to happen?
Prayerful: Yes. I take it that by contingent you mean prayer is a real reason that the event happens, and without the prayer the event would not happen.
Prayerless: Yes that's what I mean. But how can an event be contingent on my prayer and still be eternally fixed and predestined by God?
Prayerful: Because your prayer is as fixed as the predestined answer.
Prayerless: Explain.
Prayerful: It's not complicated. God providentially ordains all events. God never ordains an event without a cause. The cause is also an event. Therefore, the cause is also foreordained. So you cannot say that the event will happen if the cause doesn't because God has ordained otherwise. The event will happen if the cause happens.
Prayerless: So what you are saying is that answers to prayer are always ordained as effects of prayer which is one of the causes, and that God predestined the answer only as an effect of the cause.
Prayerful: That's right. And since both the cause and the effect are ordained together you can't say that the effect will happen even if the cause doesn't because God doesn't ordain effects without causes.
Prayerless: Can you give some illustrations?
Prayerful: Sure. If God predestines that I die of a bullet wound, then I will not die if no bullet is fired. If God predestines that I be healed by surgery, then if there is no surgery, I will not be healed. If God predestines heat to fill my home by fire in the furnace, then if there is no fire, there will be no heat. Would you say, "Since God predestines that the sun be bright, it will be bright whether there is fire in the sun or not"?
Prayerless: No.
Prayerful: I agree. Why not?
Prayerless: Because the brightness of the sun comes from the fire.
Prayerful: Right. That's the way I think about the answers to prayer. They are the brightness, and prayer is the fire. God has established the universe so that in larger measure it runs by prayer, the same way he has established brightness so that in larger measure it happens by fire. Doesn't that make sense?
Prayerless: I think it does.
Prayerful: Then let's stop thinking up problems and go with what the Scriptures say. Ask and you will receive. You have not because you ask not.

Again gleaned from B2W

Anitpsalm 23

David Powlson wrote this in his article regarding a life void of the redeeming reality of the Lord Jesus. But after reading the antipsalm below, scroll back up and read the true Psalm 23 for a picture of a life redeemed from sin and loneliness.

Antipsalm 23

I'm on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing's quite right.
I'm always restless. I'm easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It's a jungle — I feel overwhelmed. It's a desert — I'm thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can't fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life's confusing. Why don't things ever really work out?
I'm haunted by emptiness and futility — shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I'd rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I'm alone ... facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can't really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me — except me.
And I'm so much all about ME, sometimes it's sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I'm left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, "Hell is other people."
I have to add, "Hell is also myself."
It's a living death,
and then I die.

Thanks to JT for the link.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why I Thank God for John Calvin

Today, 500 years ago in Noyon, Frace, Jean Cauvin was born. I'd like to share why I thank God for John Calvin.

It is kind of strange to be writing this post. The Niles of 2005 would be quite taken aback, frankly. He would posit several philosophical arguments to discount Calvin altogether. He would lean on various conversational dynamics, sarcasm and strawmen to seemingly win so-called debates regarding predestination. I was pretty decent with whipping out CS Lewis quotes and witty retorts of Scripture without a whole lot of thought as to how those verse fit the rest of the Scriptures, or how they make God look.

It has been humbling to know that it was indeed Calvin, whom God used to clearly display His glory in my life.

First, John Calvin's pursuit of the truth in the Scriptures built in me a deep respect and love for studying the Word of God. As I heard about and read about his life I was struck by his profound view of the Scriptures coupled with a passionate work-ethic.

Calvin said, "Whoever, therefore, would desire to persevere in uprightness and in integrity of life, let them learn to exercise themselves daily in the study of the word of God; for, whenever a man despises or neglects instruction, he easily falls into carelessness and stupidity, and all fear of God vanishes from his mind" (Commentary on the Psalms, on Ps. 18:22)

Secondly, my view of God was exploded into a majestic understanding of His ultimate sovereignty. This encompassed blessing, suffering, redemption, damnation; it changed the way I saw everything - it still does.

Calvin said in one of his commentaries on the Psalms, "We renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him." This was said by a man who suffered from terrible headaches, fevers and kidney stones among other illnesses.

I'll save the rest of your time to perhaps peruse the following link to learn more about John Calvin.

John Calvin on Faith by the

John Calvin, Founding Father from the Washington Post by constitutional attorney, Doug Phillips. This explores Calvin's affect on free-market economy/capitalism and our founding fathers' choice for form of government. Thanks Steven for the link.

Calvin: Why He Still Matters by Dr. W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California. This piece is long, but very informative. This is where I pulled the above quotes.

DesiringGod Blog There will be various posts about Calvin from the Desiring God blog over the next couple of days.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

If we are bound to sin, are we acting freely?

Here's a great, albeit mind-boggling, post from Piper regarding the title's question. The thought is based on, among others, this passage:

Romans 8:7-9
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (See also 1Corinthians 2:14).

Read the conclusion below or the full post here:

But it sometimes helps to answer objections. One common objection is that, if we “cannot” do what is right, and “can only” do what is sin, then we are not acting voluntarily and cannot be praised or blamed.

Here is part of John Calvin’s answer to this objection:

The goodness of God is so connected with his Godhead that it is not more necessary to be God than to be good; whereas the devil, by his fall, was so estranged from goodness that he can do nothing but evil.

Should anyone give utterance to the profane jeer that little praise is due to God for a goodness to which he is forced, is it not obvious to every man to reply, “It is owing not to violent impulse, but to his boundless goodness, that he cannot do evil?”

Therefore, if the free will of God in doing good is not impeded, because he necessarily must do good; if the devil, who can do nothing but evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning? (Institutes, II.3.5)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Judgment sustantiates the Gospel

Some thoughts from a recent discussion board conversation with one of my best friends, a fellow brother in Christ. We have these conversations to hammer out issues. His post is in bold, my response is not. If this is helpful, I'm glad - it's long. If not, feel free to skip over to the updated Born Without Bones post.

Why would God make judgments? We are the ones that choose...God remains the same, therefore there is no judgment only existence.

To set the groundwork, we must accept that God indeed does make judgments. One only needs to read Exodus or any of the Gospels to see that God pronounces judgments, temporally and eternally. If we can agree on that then the why becomes even more important. It should be noted that so-called temporal judgments for Christians and Non would be different and for different purposes.

The fact of the matter is twofold: 1-We do choose. 2-God does hold us accountable for these choices, thus judgment is due and just. The connection is difficult, admittedly so, especially for me - as I would affirm God's sovereignty. However, it is exactly because we are the ones that choose that bears us the responsibility of consequence. I don't understand it fully, but I accept it because it is what is clearly taught in the Scriptures. (I'm still working on it.) It would be quite foolish to discard an idea as not true simply because I don't fully understand it.

I'll leave it at that for brevity's sake.

Main idea: Because there is a standard set (that God has in place for our good and his glory) there is the possibility of judgment. These standards are what bring God the most glory and us the most joy. When we break the covenant or ignore it, there is righteous judgment. For the Christian, Jesus absorbed it; for those who reject Christ they must take it on themselves. Hence the gospel is indeed good news for the sinner.

I suppose I was speaking of a peculiar transcendence...perhaps a bit of enlightenment that necessarily flows from the teachings of Christ; that in the end, the babble of our moralistic reasoning is inconsequential. Christ taught of love as if it had nothing to do with our judgments. It seems when we give up thinking about what is right or wrong, which in the end is perhaps impossible to know; and, begin to look at love as the expression of the will of God, we find ourselves always looking beyond.

Our moralistic reasoning should be, but not always is, based on the commanded will of God that has been explicitly revealed to us in the Scriptures. It doesn't include wearing ties and not having Mohawks and being a republican, but it does include loving God and loving people.

I would argue that this love that Christ speaks about is only possible because of the presence of judgment. The gospel throughout the entire Bible is that God wants to be our God and us to be his people. This is amazing because he also tells us that we're a sinful bunch. But even while we were still such, Christ died for us. Even though we deserve wrath (righteous judgment) we can still be adopted as His sons. Thus, this love for God and People is only possible with a correct view of the Gospel.

[Quick aside] Christ's so-called enlightened teachings are only a fraction of his ministry. The Muslims and Buddhists speak of Christ's teachings as enlightened, because they don't believe or understand the full picture. That doesn't make me any better than them morally. We're on the same field in that category, but I boast in the Cross above their teachings as salvation based on the reality of sin and redemption.

Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, love thy neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, give to all that ask. All these things are nonsense or require vast amounts of human reasoning to justify. I suppose the key piece to this enlightenment is to give up all holds on a world stuck in the division between God and man. Let our judgments fade and our living begin.

Well, it's not as bad as you think. Love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, and give to all that ask, etc. have a pretty basic rationale. While I wouldn't consider this an exhaustive list of whys, I would submit:

We love because God first loved us. With such perspective we can, by his grace, love him back. In so doing we love people for many reasons: God tells us to, they bear the image of God, they are fellow sinners who need compassion, etc. When we love in this way, we make God look great and deserving of our life and love.

The reality is that we live in a world where we MUST distinguish between God and Man. But that distinction is not the problem. People are already pretty good at making themselves god. There's no need to philosophically "let go of" anything. We must hold fast to the whole truth that Jesus taught if we're going to do anything that counts.

Lastly - sorry about the long post - let's acknowledge that ultimately God is on the only being with the right to judge us. It is commanded that we not let our hearts be judgmental towards other sinners - in other words, suffering from plank/spec syndrome. This heart puts the "sinner" below you in pride. In contrast, it is commanded of us by Jesus to love others by spreading the Gospel message. If we do not, I would submit to you that we are not loving, but rather are being selfish and/or have a diluted view of the reality that Christ paints.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Les Paul struck by lightning

No, Mr. Paul is in relatively good health for 94.

But this Les Paul Guitar was literally struck by lightning.

Read the story for yourself here. Or bid for it on ebay here.

1958 Fender Stratocaster

Real or Replica? Any guesses? Either way, me likey.

There is one thing that would give away the answer here, but I'll keep that to myself.