Archives For Devotional

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory
– John 1:14 –

Last Friday, we looked at the significance of John’s use of the word “dwelt” in John 1:14. I argued that by using the peculiar word for to pitch a tent, John was calling our attention to the Tabernacle of Israel, where God condescended to reveal Himself to Israel for worship and communion. The climax of the story of the Tabernacle comes in Exodus 40:34–38, where Yahweh’s glory fills the Tabernacle, signifying that He will dwell—that He will take up residence—with His people.

That scene sheds light on the relationship between the two phrases in John 1:14: “and [He] dwelt among us,” fits perfectly with “and we saw His glory.” There is an inseparable connection between the (a) dwelling place of God, and (b) His glory that fills that place. The dwelling of God is inseparable from the glory of God.

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…
– John 1:14 –

If we’re reading through this verse in our daily Bible reading, we’re likely to zip right by it with little fanfare. We read, simply, that Jesus “dwelt” among us. And when we think of the idea of “dwelling” we just think of “hanging out.” But there’s much more going on in what John is saying than it sounds to us English-speakers. He uses a peculiar word here. There are more common Greek words for “to dwell,” but he chooses skēnoō. Now, the word skēnē in Greek means “tent,” and skēnoō is the verb form. So we could render it, “to pitch a tent.” John tells us that this Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

That’s a weird way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched any literal tent during his time on Earth. Why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use here. But John uses this particular word because he wants his readers—who would be familiar with the history of Israel—to recall the tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21), where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament.

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I usually run this post around every Thanksgiving, because as I stop and reflect on what we should be stopping and reflecting on for Thanksgiving, my mind comes to these thoughts in particular. I hope this post serves to orient your thinking this Thanksgiving.

Thankfulness is a funny thing.

By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the grain of the pride and self-focus of the natural human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt—that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a few days over Thanksgiving break to think about the blessings we enjoy—the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.

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John Owen Portrait 2In recent years, many Christians have become increasingly familiar with Jonathan Edwards. As a result, many know that in addition to Edwards’ many theological masterpieces (like The End for Which God Created the World, The Freedom of the Will, and Original Sin), he also wrote what he called Miscellanies. These were reflections of various lengths on miscellaneous theological and practical topics. In other words, they were 18th-century Puritan blog posts.

Well, Edwards wasn’t the only one to do that. John Owen, perhaps the greatest theological mind of Puritanism, also penned these short, blog-post-like, reflections—though he called them “Discourses” instead of “Miscellanies.” A number of Owen’s Discourses are contained in Volume 9 of his Works, under the heading, “Several Practical Cases of Conscience Resolved.” There, he answers numerous practical questions within the span of 3 to 5 pages or so. Some examples include: “How does a Christian recover from neglect of the spiritual disciplines?” and “What does it mean for a sin to be ‘habitual’?” and “How are we to prepare for the coming of Christ?”

The tenth discourse in this collection answers the question: “What shall a person do who finds himself under the power of a prevailing corruption, sin, or temptation?” I don’t know about you, but I’d sure jump at the chance to read John Owen’s blog, and especially his answer on how to mortify a particular besetting sin. You’ll need to read it a bit more slowly and carefully than perhaps you would a contemporary blog post, but my experience with Owen’s writing has been that it’s worth the effort. Here’s John Owen, the blogger.

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Question. What shall a person do who finds himself under the power of a prevailing corruption, sin, or temptation?

[…]

I answer,—

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2013-04-16_16-28-38_187I grew up in a home without Christ, but with parents who cared for me. All I knew of Christianity was an emotionally stirring, but very confusing Roman mass at Christmas now and then. And if I ever heard the true gospel in detail prior to my conversion at 23, I do not recall it.

Besides skiing and getting good enough grades to be applauded, I did not care about much. And it showed in my life. I was a very arrogant person who pursued pleasure at just about any expense. I hurt quite a few people along the way, to my great shame, and wish I could undo so many things.

During my college years, I dove deeper into alcohol and drug abuse and was out of control. Somehow, I graduated from college in the sciences. And I was restless and looking for another, bigger adventure. So, I decided to take a year off before graduate school and be a ski bum. I packed up my truck and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When I pulled into town 15 years ago, I was homeless, had no money, no job, no friends, and, worst of all, no eternal life. And I didn’t care.

For the most part, my days were spent skiing, and nights, intoxicated. And I loved it. I threw away the graduate school application. The skiing was just too amazing. And the intensity with which everyone pursued outdoor sports was amazing. The only thing I could liken it to was a fierce, religious devotion, and one which surpasses many Christians in their devotion. I was all in.

I was also a hardcore evolutionist. I had the hominid family tree memorized and could narrate how things came to be on earth over the past 4.5 billion years. Then God brought along a girl (my wife, now) who challenged me to check out the scientific evidence for a Creator. I had never heard of such an idea. But the more I studied, the more I saw that the universe, macro and micro, yelled loudly of its Creator.

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Now I will relate how You set me free from a craving for sexual gratification which fettered me like a tight-drawn chain, and from my enslavement to worldly affairs: I will confess to Your name, O Lord, my helper and my redeemer.[1]

Broken Chain

Last week we looked at Augustine’s famous maxim that the human soul is restless until it finds its rest and satisfaction in the Triune God. This week, I want to look at Augustine’s own account of coming to that saving rest.

While he had been sitting under the Gospel preaching of Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo had the occasion to hear of the testimonies of the rhetorician Victorinus and of Anthony and the Egyptian monks—schooled philosophers whom Augustine held in high esteem, men who had come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit by the Scriptures and were humbled to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. At this point he could bear the convictions of his own soul no longer. He confronted his dear friend Alypius and spoke of the inner turmoil he was experiencing.

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no cussing signIn 2005 the American Film Institute voted that the best movie line of all time was the one that Clarke Gable deftly delivered as the character Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. If you endured all four hours of melodrama you’ll certainly recall his parting dismissal of Scarlett O’Hara’s whiny interrogative, “Where shall I go, what shall I do?” Rhett rewardingly utters the words on the mind of every male viewer who is still awake, served with the cool and immortal preamble: “Frankly, my dear …”

The Motion Picture Association’s production code was fortuitously amended a mere month prior to the film’s release and for the first time it allowed the use of borderline curse words under this condition:

if it shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact …or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste.”

The determining standard of what is “intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste” has proven quite the moveable feast. Words that were respectable vernacular in the Elizabethan era would get a kid’s mouth washed out with soap today, and diction that would never escape the censor’s “intrinsically objectionable” razor as recently as 1939 are now heard on every silver screen in the Western world, and even occasionally on the news (at least in Anchorage).

While as Christians we acknowledge that God’s standards of holiness are immovable a thinking linguist must acknowledge that what different cultures and periods consider to be taboo is a perplexing field of study.

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AugustineMany Christians recognize the name of Augustine of Hippo from his valiant defense of the biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty against the man-centered heresy of the British monk Pelagius. And we know that the Reformers made exceedingly frequent references to Augustine’s work as they fought against the man-centeredness of the Roman Catholic Church. But what many don’t know about Augustine was his consistent emphasis on the centrality of the affections—and particularly joy—in the believer’s life. In fact, he even defined love for God in terms of enjoying Him: 

“I call [love to God] the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for his own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God.” [1]

It was this pursuit of his own pleasure—indeed, his own pleasure in God Himself—that strengthened Augustine to engage in the many debates and altercations of the Pelagian controversy. When a friend asked him why he even bothered with the polemical disputes, he answered:

“First and foremost because no subject gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?” [2]

For Augustine, there was no dichotomy of “enjoying sovereign grace” on the one hand and “fighting for sovereign grace” on the other. The latter was fueled by the former. The joy of the Lord was his strength (Neh 8:10).

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September 17, 2014

The Holy War

by Eric Davis

swordIt’s a word with which much of the world has unfortunately become familiar in recent years: “jihad.” “Jihad” is the Arabic word which carries the idea of “struggle,” and is often referred to as “holy war” within Islam.

While not all Muslim scholars agree on the way in which holy war should look, one need not look far to understand what it means to many in our world today.

But though such wars have been going on for centuries, Christ would in no way attribute the term “holy” to them. Worship and devotion to the true God means loving, not murdering, our enemies. Those of different faiths are not to be the object of our killing, but praying.

There is, however, a true holy way commanded by God. This war is spiritual in nature. It is a war against ourselves, and against the lack of holiness within, the moment we become a Christian. The true holy war is physically peaceful towards others, but spiritually aggressive towards self. Its not about strategically hunting down, and systematically taking out, the enemies outside of us, but the enemy inside of us.

While God’s agenda advancement for his disciples today does not consist of killing others, it certainly consists of killing our own sin.

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).

john-owen-by-john-greenhillThe 17th century puritan pastor, John Owen, has been greatly used of God to help the church in the holy war. He writes, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it [while] you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Now, studying sin may seem strange and undesirable to many. But our sin is not something we forget about simply because we are forgiven of it. An attraction to sin still exists inside the Christian because of our residual fallenness, the flesh. As such, it is our great enemy within. And its the thing which keeps us from doing what we most want: to love Christ. That’s why the true holy war is one of the sine qua non’s of the Christian life.

Here are 7 truths to arm God’s people for the holy war:

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Last week, we considered Paul’s command to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel. We saw how an implication of that command is that our fight for holiness is to be fueled by Gospel grace. But how does the Gospel directly shape and direct your pursuit of holiness? How do we practically bring the Gospel to bear on the various facets of our lives, so that we might conduct our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel?

Gospel Driven

Today, I want to try to answer those questions by considering 12 different biblical virtues, and showing how the Gospel draws a straight line to each of them.

 

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