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I’m just finishing preaching the first half of 1 Samuel (1-15), and I’ve been struck by this paradoxical truth: often it is God’s greatest gifts that become our greatest trials.

Why does this happen? There are a number of reasons, but perhaps one of the most common is that people are quick to confuse the means with the end.

God is a giver because he is a lover. He gives gifts because he loves the people to whom he gives them. The gifts are the means of expressing his love to his creation, but they are not the end. The appropriate response to a gift is to thank the giver, and when this thanks is rightly directed to God, it becomes worship. In other words, God gives gifts as the means to the end of worship.   Continue Reading…

Voltaire on free speechMy American friends who were born into a bastion of free speech sometimes take their First Amendment privilege for granted. But I was raised in South Africa under the Apartheid regime. We were taught brainwashed that freedom of speech was a destabilizing ideology held by Liberals, Communists (ironic!), and terrorists (more ironic in the shadow of the attacks on a French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo). Banned books, censorship, and a regulated media were commonplace and seemed normal and necessary in order to provide order in our society.

“Yikes,” you say, “Orwell much?” But this was all we knew. We lived in the nescient pre-Internet world where information came from regulated news stations and government libraries.

Thankfully, under our new and improved constitution (est. 1996) freedom of expression and a free press are rights that have been granted and protected in perpetuity. But this newfound freedom ushered in a fresh set of ethical conundrums.

Should I, as a Christian, be politically in favor of the right Muslims have to denounce my faith? Am I to joyfully accept that public schools present teaching on various world religions to my children? May I justifiably be upset when a satirical cartoonist or movie maker ridicules Jesus?

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salvationBecoming a Christian is a colossal demonstration of power in so many ways. When an individual trusts in Christ for reconciliation to God, big things happen. Christ’s lordship is joyfully embraced. The soul’s knee is eagerly bowed. The guilt is instantly lifted. The Bible is hungrily inhaled.

And in the most glorious display of spiritual coup d’état, God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the soul. He is a great gift, essential to our well-being. And as he settles in, he begins to storm the citadel of our sin. It’s a fight, but there is victory. The Spirit comes to slay the fortress of the flesh.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17).

The true power of the Spirit is demonstrated by an identifying of the flesh, attacking the flesh, and subduing the flesh. It’s what the Spirit does. There are battles, and, sadly the flesh sometimes seems to prevail, but over the longhaul, the Spirit drains the lifeblood of the flesh.

One of the great demonstrations of the Spirit’s power is how we respond when our sin is addressed by others. It’s often painful, but through the necessary inquiry of others, the Spirit works to identify and crucify remaining sin.

“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov 15:31-32).

Less and less are the days of our flesh protecting, promoting, and parading itself. The Holy Spirit is too good to allow it. And too powerful. The Holy Spirit is alive. He never takes a soul-sabbatical. Again, there are battles. It’s rarely clean. But the Spirit is never waving the white flag to our flesh.

So, if we are someone who cannot have our sin confronted and cannot respond in genuine humility to confrontation, it’s a potential sign that we do not have the Holy Spirit.

“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Prov 29:1).

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (Prov 15:12).

Not the Holy SpiritI am not saying that one is not a Christian if they struggle to respond humbly to confronted sin at times. However, if we habitually respond in a fleshly way to confronted sin, we would be hard-pressed to conclude that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not like a rock-star hockey goalie, looking to slap away inquiries into the soul’s sin. Quite the contrary.

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:6-7).

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).

cheetah_kill_2_MasaiMara_2013 The Holy Spirit is no more friendly to the flesh than hungry cheetah’s are to gazelles. Like the gazelle, the flesh does just fine in a big yard by itself, grazing, prancing, and enjoying itself. But drop that famished feline in there and things happen. The cheetah will have to run, chase, and exert, but it’s going to subdue. That’s what hungry cheetahs do. Now, if that gazelle is never being subdued, but prances around unthreatened and unsubdued, we could not conclude that there is a cheetah in the yard with it. So it is with our sin and the Spirit.

The subduing of the flesh is a feat accomplished solely by the heroics of the Holy Spirit. To appreciate the Spirit’s power, consider a few contrasts between a Spirit-filled response to reproof vs. that of the flesh.

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Shoulders of GiantsIt was Isaac Newton who famously penned the sentence, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In saying this, he meant to communicate his respect for and dependence on the great minds that had come before him. Whatever advances he was able to make, he recognized that he stood upon the work of those who had come before him, giving him greater views of the heights he was to ascend.

We’re very familiar with that principle in the Christian life. And if we’re not, we should be. I am able to make greater progress in my pursuit of Christ in my day-to-day life by reading the insights of those who have come before in this race, and who have long since reached the glorious finish line after a lifetime of faithfulness.

Today I wanted to gather a bunch of quotes that I’ve come across lately. I discovered some as I enjoyed some leisure reading over the Christmas holiday. Others I found as I work on a research project for seminary. And others I came across on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, as friends shared them with me. It’s by reading the thoughts of spiritual giants like these — by standing on their shoulders — that I am helped along in my worship of Christ. And so I wanted to share some of them with you. Read them slowly. Take them in. I hope it makes for an encouraging Friday.

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corks with datesAs every sommelier worth his saltine crackers knows: good wine comes from tortured grapes. It is a dusty secret Californian vintners accidentally unearthed that the more the grape has to struggle for survival, the higher the quality of wine that can be gleaned.

Thus, arid and gravelly mountainsides are good for nothing, horticulturally speaking, save for some masochistic grapes, notably the Bordeaux varietals. Grapes harvested after a season of longsuffering produce a vintage that insiders will dub “a good year.”

This phenomenon is not an idiosyncrasy of oenology alone, but of theology as well.

If I ask you what makes a good year in your life, you may reply with one or more of these generic blessings: physical health, career promotion, relational fulfillment, financial prosperity (or at least solvency). But you’d be wrong.

Well, you would be half-wrong. A good year is whatever improves our sanctification, i.e. what makes us more like Christ, draws us closer to God, and increases our usefulness in giving God glory.

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2015 New Year celebrationWe have turned the calendar to begin another year. It’s 2015. Beginning another year is often a good time to pause and reflect on Moses’ prayer: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). One way to put feet on this is to consider areas for personal change in the new year. Things like resolutions can be a helpful way to take action along those lines. But it’s no secret that resolutions typically lose their glamour and allure quickly.

 

xxxxxx-food-hangoverHaving attempted to keep resolutions in the past, I’ve found a few things that have worked well for me. These are resolutions that have provided a launching pad for other resolutions; or, resolutions for resolutions. I have not perfectly implemented these resolutions, but when I have kept them, they provide the framework to build in other more specific resolutions. And some might put them all to work, while others one or two.

In either case, here are a few resolutions to consider for new year’s resolutions:

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December 29, 2014

Your Tombstone This Year

by Clint Archer

A sagacious life-coach would urge us all to occasionally zoom out and put our lives in perspective. A written assignment might include, “What would you want the epitaph on your tombstone to say?” A percipient piece of advice for looking ahead. But there is a far less lugubrious genus of tombstone on the market that commemorates accomplishments as they occur. And the best part: you don’t need to die to get one!

deal toyIn 1931 the DuPont corporation developed a material called Lucite, a type of tough glass used for fighter plane windshields. Half a generation later the corporate world annexed the material to fashion paper-weight sized trophies as mementos that mark milestones and reward deal makers for a noteworthy coup. Lehman Brothers apparently employed a full time tombstone designer at $85k per annum to keep the offerings fresh (that was before a real tombstone was raised over its belly-up corpse).

The diminutive size of the Lucite tombstone (or “deal toy”) matches its import—as your gravestone will encompass the impression your lifespan left, these translucent trinkets announce lesser accomplishments, but can still act as little goal markers for which to strive throughout life.

The epitaph visualization is intended to calibrate our lives for the inevitability of eternity. I am a sucker for this type of long-range planning. When Jesse Johnson was my roommate in seminary, he discovered (read: pried in my stuff and stole…) my planning tools; he still teases me about the timeline that has targets and goals for every year from age one (acquire teeth) to age one hundred (remember to pull rip cord while skydiving). Yes, some of those were penned in retrospectively, and the future milestones are all in pencil as per Proverbs 16:9.

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Christmas eveIt’s Christmas Eve. It’s a time to celebrate what God did. He brought everything together to do what we could not. He brought salvation to undeserving humanity in the Person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Like a perfect conductor, God orchestrated all things for the arrival of heaven’s King.

That night, some 2000 years ago, God pulled off a jaw-dropping display of sovereignty. He demonstrated himself the hero as he conducted his plan that he made before creation for the arrival of the God-man. The arrival of the long-ago-promised, long-awaited-Messiah was a stunning demonstration of God’s sovereign love for sinful humanity. Despite the obstacles of humanity’s sin and contrary historical events, God was moved by his own mercy to sovereignly orchestrate history in order to bring us the Christmas Gift; the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

That first Christmas night, God displayed several loving demonstrations of his sovereignty in bringing us the Person of salvation:

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14 -

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been considering Christmas according to John, as John gives us a fresh, theological look into the significance of Christmas in the opening of his Gospel. My goal has been to fight against the familiarity of Christmas and cause us to be properly affected by the glory of the incarnation as John presents it, particularly in John 1:14.

Two weeks ago, we looked at how Yahweh dwelt among His people in His tabernacle. Then, last Friday, we considered how the dwelling place of Yahweh is inseparable from His glory. We saw that first in the tabernacle, then in the temple, and finally in Jesus. And so John is proclaiming to his audience that in the same way that the glory which filled the tabernacle and temple were Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence, so this Jesus is Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence.

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depressionDepression and discouragement are not respecters of the holidays. For many reasons, the normal sorrow of life can reach a highpoint this time of year for some.

It may be a reminder that we are without a loved one. It may be financial stress, or loss, in a time where the pressure is to purchase. It might be emotional pressure of getting together with broken family. We just may not have a clue why we are discouraged, which can be discouraging itself. We can, even unintentionally, place big demands on this time of year to deliver and fulfill us in impossible ways, apart from God.

And Christmas time or not, many of us experience the normal, heavy weight of discouragement and depression as a regular thing; dejection, confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, anxiousness, anger, darkness, despair.

But God has answers and real hope from his word for the battle.

Here are 11 truths for strength in sorrow:

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