Tag Archives: God

Hitchens’ Widow: “He Insisted Ferociously on Living”

I found this poignant.  It’s from a touching memorial for the writer Christopher Hitchens that his wife, Carol Blue, wrote.  As many will know, Hitchens was a ferocious atheist.  That fact notwithstanding, his wife has this to say about his final months:

The new world lasted 19 months. During this time of what he called “living dyingly”, he insisted ferociously on living, and his constitution, physical and philosophical, did all it could to stay alive.

Christopher was aiming to be among the five to 20 per cent of those who could be cured (the odds depended on what doctor we talked to and how they interpreted the scans). Without ever deceiving himself about his medical condition, and without ever allowing me to entertain illusions about his prospects for survival, he responded to every bit of clinical and statistical good news with a radical, childlike hope. His will to keep his existence intact, to remain engaged with his preternatural intensity, was spectacular.

The whole piece is worth reading.  Let’s say this: first, you feel the humanity of this remembrance.  It is clear that Hitchens was quite a man.  He’s the type of thinker and leader who I wish I could have talked and laughed with.  He was an outstanding intellect and a formidable opponent.

Second, an atheist can live with hope if they like.  But it seems a bit odd to do so.  At the very least, if there is no God, no meta-reality and meta-narrative–if the universe is a closed system–then there is surely no rational expectation that one should hope.  You can hope in whatever you like if you are so inclined.  But an atheist fundamentally believes that the universe is a closed system.  There is no ought, as the Marquis De Sade famously noted, in such a world.  There is only is.  Correspondingly, there is no real hope, or even a strong reason to keep existing.  Again, you can live if you like, or not.  It’s yours to decide.

But in our natural state, we have a very difficult time denying the basic realities of the image of God.  We are created.  We are inclined to hope.  God “has put eternity into man’s heart,” and so we quest after it regardless of whether our worldview directs us to do so (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Though we are fallen according to Genesis 3 and Romans 1, we naturally want to believe that life matters, and we act as if it does.  Many of the most hardened of atheists, including Hitchens, want practically to find hope in the world, want desperately not to die.  That is a profound testimony to the beauty of life–and only God could create such a life.

Hitchens wrote hundreds of thousands of words in defense of his atheism–and here’s the thing: his completely understandable will to live denies them all.  This is not a triumphal realization, but a deeply sorrowful one, and it must move us to pray and engage those who are held together by Jesus Christ yet hate him, even as we once did.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him (John 1:10).

(Image: Dafydd Jones/Telegraph)

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Wisdom & Prayer Are Not Opposed

“Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7).

I think many evangelicals know that they should pray.  They rightly expect that God will lead them as they do so.  But they might struggle to affirm how important wisdom is.  Learning from situations, being trained in godliness by mentors, and especially having one’s mind and heart shaped by Scripture–this is what the “getting” of wisdom looks like.  It is unbelievably good for you and me.

So pray like the wind–and get as much wisdom as you possibly can.  It’s not wrong to be led by wisdom–it’s directly biblical.  Pray for wisdom, in fact–and then live according to it without shame or fear that you’re missing God’s will.  Why?  Because in Christ “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

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Redeem Us from Gluttony: A Personal Trainer Speaks Up

You know how there’s a ton right now on “The Gospel and X?”  Not all of those pieces are helpful, because some of them don’t move from theology to practice.  Good thinking and preaching always bears down on everyday life.

I was deeply encouraged, then, to read this excellent post on “How the Gospel Overcomes Gluttony.”  It’s by a personal trainer from Maine named Matt Wallace.  Check it out:

Having worked professionally as a personal trainer for over 15 years, I know millions of people resolve each year to get control of the overeating that has haunted them and perhaps threatens their health. And I’m not talking about enjoying an occasional dessert, but rather a desperate dependence upon food.

In attempt to fix the problem, millions of dollars are poured into the fitness industry, gym memberships expand, and every manner of diet book and fitness product. No doubt these books will be full of easy-to-follow principles. Nevertheless, a month or so later we learn the five easy principles are anything but easy. The constant failure reveals that the problem with chronic overeating goes deeper than we have ever imagined.

Here’s what Matt says is the real problem:

Because Adam and Eve didn’t trust in their exalted status, approval, and security in God, they sought to establish their own righteousness. It was the forbidden fruit that promised salvation. So, in rebellion, they ate to satisfy their deepest longings. Although they had plenty of food in the garden, it wasn’t enough. Their hope was that food would give them a better existence than being loved by God. That is the root of gluttony. It is a deep seated rebellious affection based on the lie that food is more pleasurable than God. Gluttony is not merely a lack will power, it is religious in nature as it is service, devotion, and worship of the pleasure of food instead of God. In short, gluttony is idolatry.

Read the whole thing.

(Image: The Resurgence, HT: Josh Cousineau)

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A Startling Word from Mark Dever on False Conversions

Justin Taylor is live-blogging Together for the Gospel, which is quite a feat given the extensive content yielded by this outstanding conference.  Yesterday, he summarized Mark Dever’s message on “False Conversion,” which included the following.  It’s well worth pondering as a pastor and a Christian.

“In reading through the NT, there are five summary truths that were being distorted in NT times and are still being distorted again—on these we must be especially clear on:

  1. God’s judgment is coming (2 Peter 3). You can easily fill a church with people who will follow their own evil desires. Avoiding the doctrine of hell is one step away from denying it altogether.
  2. We should be judged by God. It’s not just out there for someone. We need to feel our own helplessness. God is good and we are not. We need to understand and teach clearly our natural state and indisposition—we love darkness rather than light. This will preserve us from the idea that if we just fiddle with stuff enough, things will be successful. Meditate on Ezekiel 3. Don’t deny or downplay natural human lostness. We cannot deserve—but Someone Else has deserved for us. He who thinks lightly of sin will think lightly of the Savior.
  3. Our only hope is in Christ. We must trust in Christ—who he is and what he is done. We cannot be converted through our own works. The bodily resurrection is an essential part of our message. Without Christ’s person and work, you can make “converts” but you will not have a Christian church. When we get this right, we begin offending and attracting all the right people. Only true converts respond to the truth about Jesus Christ.
  4. We don’t see the fullness of our salvation in this life. Christ’s death and resurrection secure forgiveness—but it’s not true that salvation is mainly for this life only. There is a blessed hope—the glorious appearing. If only for this life we have hope, we are to be pitied for all men (1 Cor. 15:19). Wanting health and happiness is not the same as repentance. We need to see Christ as worth more than all worldly treasure.
  5. We can deceive ourselves and others about our relationship with God. It’s counter-intuitive in our culture, but clear in the Bible. Please teach this! How would your congregation understand 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

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John Calvin and Sin in the Life of the Believer: The Gospel Coalition and Evangelical Spirituality

How should we who consider grace the central reality of our life think about God’s response to our sin?  This is a tricky question, one that defies some of the easy answers we offer to it.  Today at The Gospel Coalition, I ask and seek to answer this question in a post entitled “You Can Anger God But Not Lose Him.” 

Here’s a bit to chew on:

The fact that our sins displease God motivates us in practical terms to put our unrighteousness to death through the power of the Spirit offered and given us in the gospel (Col. 3:1-10). Pastor-theologian John Calvin said it best in his Institutes: “[H]e who in the end profits by God’s scourges is the man who considers God angry at his vices, but merciful and kindly toward himself” (III:4:34). Like David, God is angry at our “vices,” but if we may inject some Lutheran paradox into our treatment of Calvin, this anger is also kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

God’s response to the sin of believers is not vengeance, Calvin noted, but “chastisement.” The Frenchman pointed out that “when a father quite severely corrects his son, he does not do this to take vengeance on him or to maltreat him, but rather to teach him and to render him more cautious therefore” (III:4:31). The authors of the Westminster Confession concurred with Calvin when they noted that believers “may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance” (11.5).

This short essay is part of a series on evangelical spirituality that TGC has been running this week.  Here are the other posts, all of which I commend to you.  Each tackles an important issue in the spiritual life of the believer.

(Image: Churchofnopeople.com)

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Evangelical Guilt in Evangelism–and How John 3 Helps

Do you struggle with guilt related to evangelism?  Do you feel like you do very little as a Christian to “draw” lost people?  I sometimes struggle with this feeling–and sometimes, it’s justified.  It’s a very healthy thing to examine one’s evangelistic witness, and to push oneself out of one’s comfort zone (read: the evangelical church/parachurch bubble, oftentimes) into the pathways and patterns of lost people.

But it is also possible to carry the weight of the lostness of the world on your back.  If so, here’s a helpful text from John 3:20-21:

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Sometimes, we can think that we are repelling lost people by living a God-glorifying life.  In fact, this may be true.  People don’t want to be around the light when they live in darkness.  They want to stay in the darkness.  They are justly ashamed.  They hate the light.

This doesn’t give us a permanent excuse for not evangelizing lost people, of course.  Just as Jesus did, we need to pray and go into the darkness, to be where lost people are, to do what we can such that they can’t help but confront their sin and the cross of Christ.

But with that said, this text does hugely help to relieve false guilt.  It shows us that, fundamentally, we’re not doing something wrong by living a holy life–and by extension, not having lost sinners approach us.  We’re doing what is right.  We are emulating Jesus (however imperfectly).  People are lost, and it is not because of us.  People are lost because of their sin.  Perhaps that takes some of the weight of our shoulders, freeing us like a ship shedding cargo to launch into the darkness and attempt the joy-giving task of evangelizing those who need most the One they hate most.

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By the way, BrianD’s blog often has a great bunch of links to read through.  Here are several that caught my eye:

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Is President Obama the First Female President?

Don’t ask me.  Ask Kathleen Parker.  She just suggested so–in the Post, no less.  However you answer this question, it seems incontrovertible that men have adapted womanly traits and habits in just about every category–dress, speaking, physicality, you name it.  You have to hand it to Parker–she speaks her mind, with no quarter given to anyone.  I admire that.

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Stephen Witmer, a Massachusetts pastor with a PhD from Cambridge, writes on a “God-Centered Understanding of Sin” at Ref21.  An excellent piece worth the extensive reading.

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Kevin DeYoung “witticisms,” including the immortal term “squishitude.”  That is a neologism worth passing on.

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Old media?  New media?  David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss.

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How has John Roberts changed the culture of the Supreme Court?  Here’s how.

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James Boice, remembered. (HT: Challies)

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By the way, I don’t know if you get Christianity Today, but the new issue has a noteworthy piece by Russ Moore on adoption (not yet online).  Here’s one memorable line: “The adoption movement is challenging the impoverished hegemony of our carnal sameness, as more and more families in the church are starting to show fellow believers the meaning of unity in diversity.”  That’s a heavy-hitter.

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Should We Pray for Tiger Woods?

Nowadays, husbands have countless reminders of the costs of infidelity.  On a regular, almost weekly, basis, we hear of another public figure who has cheated on his wife.  We see the news reports and the pictures of betrayed spouses and bewildered children.  We hurt terribly for the families and grow angry with the men.

But we don’t stop there.  We should pray for these people (1 Timothy 2:1-4, explored below).  We should pray for the souls of men like Tiger Woods, who are consigning themselves to an awful fate by their gratification of the lusts of the flesh.  As we pray, we are keenly aware that we could easily be in the same position.  We understand this in the midst of our daily lives, weak as we would be without the Spirit of Almighty God living inside of us.

Beyond our own small lives, most of us in the Christian community know nothing of the kind of temptation that celebrities likes Woods faces.  Don’t get me wrong.  This doesn’t excuse his behavior–not for a moment.  He has sinned grievously against God and against his wife.  It is to say, however, that we cannot in this instance–or any other–think that we would necessarily prove impervious to these temptations should we achieve such fame.  We are reminded to pray for people like the evangelical football player Tim Tebow, who must face mind-boggling opportunities to throw his faith away on a regular basis.

We are also reminded to pray for the family of Tiger Woods.  It tears me up to see photos of his wife and his sweet child.  I post one here not to be exploitative, but to remind us all–and particularly husbands and fathers–of the stakes we face in our daily fight against sin.  It is important that we look closely at these photos, and that we turn from them to gaze on our own families, seeing before us those we either bless or harm by our conduct.  In their role in the home (even the modern one), men have tremendous power in this world to bring incredible goodness into the lives of those they lead or to wreak havoc of unthinkable proportions.  Wounds like this caused by Woods and others can be forgiven, magnificently so should the grace of God reach a lowly sinner (may it be so!).  But they will never be forgotten.  Indeed, they cannot be.

So, we should pray for Tiger Woods, his wife, and his child.  We should pray for their salvation.  We do so with compassion, understanding of our own sinfulness, and righteous anger.  This man has caused terrible harm for his family.  At his lowest point, may he see that even if he puts the pieces of his life back together, he has seen, in a way that few of us publicly will, the extent of his depravity, and the desperate need of his soul for the imputation of the spotless righteousness of the Husband who never strays and the adopting love of the Father who never forsakes.

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I might add here that I was made to think about Tiger Woods and my need to pray for him by an article by Fred Sanders, a professor of theology at Biola University.  Sanders is a well-respected theologian with one of the most thoughtful evangelical blogs I know of.  He is an accomplished author and teaches in the esteemed Torrey Honors Institute, from which a number of my friends have graduated.

Fred blogged several months back about how he does not pray for celebrities.  I confess that I was quite surprised by the piece.  I see no need to pray more for celebrities than for people I know, and I have no affinity for those who suggest that Christians should.  However, in the course of one’s prayer life, I think it a good and biblical thing to pray for unsaved celebrities, as with all unsaved people I can think of, to broaden that idea.  I follow what I understand to be Paul’s point in 1 Timothy 2:1-4:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Paul teaches his young charge that prayers, evangelistically minded prayers, should be made “for all people”.  He calls doing so “good” and “pleasing” in God’s sight.  It is clear that we are to pray for the salvation of these people because God “desires all people to be saved”.  We do this because we want to see people saved and so that we Christians can live “peace and quiet” lives.

It seems to me, then, that to suggest that a Christian, whether oneself or a broader audience, should not pray for people is unbiblical.  I understand Fred’s argument that celebrities are carefully packaged presentations of people, managed and massaged by handlers and pr reps.  However, I see no reason for assuming that the crafting of a public image allows Christians to relieve themselves of the duty cited above.

Indeed, who has a more carefully packaged image than “kings and all who are in high positions”, whether now or 2000 or 4000 years ago?  No one, I would suggest.  Image management is not new to our modern era.  It is particularly problematic in our day–readers of this blog know well that I would have wide-ranging sympathy for Sanders’s pessimism in the face of our narcissistic culture–but it is not new.

Sanders’s blog has much helpful material on it.  I love his little descriptions of the lives of deceased theologians (that sounds weirder than I meant it to).  But I fear that he has erred publicly on this point.  We pray for unsaved people not because they present themselves authentically, or because we know them personally, but because they are sinful, hanging over hell by a thread, and in desperate need of the sovereign grace of our holy God.

Just because we “don’t care” about them or anyone else doesn’t mean that we should not pray for them (see the last paragraph of Sanders’s post).  In His mercy, and for our joy, God is in the process of conforming our desires to His.  Much that I “don’t care” about I must do in order to glorify God and experience His goodness.  If I made a list of all the commands and teachings of the Bible that I naturally don’t want to follow or don’t care about, there would be precious few that my flesh would willingly carry out.

I was encouraged to see a response to this piece in the Biola magazine.  I hope that Dr. Sanders will reconsider his statement, though I have no presumptions that this little blog will accomplish that aim.

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God, Evangelicals, and Advertising: Expanded Blog from 9Marks

I just posted my first piece on the 9Marks blog, Church Matters.  Here’s the piece, albeit with a few tweaks.  I attempted to make some changes to the original but have had some challenges with Typepad.

The piece is on “God, Evangelicals, and Advertising” (here’s the original).

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Let me quickly say that it is an honor to post on this blog.  As a 9Marks blog rookie, I’m glad to be called off the bench (where I belong) to join the game.  For the record, I’m just here to pass into the post and keep the starters happy.  Thabiti, I see you down low.  Menikoff, show them the up and under.

Thanksgiving break afforded me the opportunity to do something I always enjoy: perusing evangelical magazines.  It’s always interesting to peruse certain periodicals to see what content they feature, what the cover story is, and so on.  I noticed recently how many advertisers, many of them seminaries and colleges, in said magazines promote themselves in formats similar to secular marketers.  The lingo used in many of these color-splashed ads might include something like this:

  • “Distance learning you will benefit from”
  • “That’s the essence of [College X]“
  • “Take your knowledge to a higher level”
  • “Discover how to use your God-given gifts”
  • “The flexibility you need; the depth you crave”

And the list goes on.

Let me say that there is not necessarily anything heinous about these taglines.  Marketing is tough, and it helps to craft a catchy slogan that stands out from other products.  Furthermore, I don’t approach marketing assuming that Christian advertisers need to quote Scripture or have certain words in the pitch.  There’s room for all kinds of wording in our advertisements.

However, I did wonder in my reading whether there was not an element missing from many of the ads I saw: God.  Many ads made reference to me, or a theoretical me, but few of them made reference to God.  Fewer still put God front and center in the advertisement.  I was left with the suspicion that one could change the names and titles in many of the ads I saw–secularize them, so to speak–leaving many of them fit for any old magazine, Christian or not.

So what’s the big deal?  They’re just ads, right?  Well, I wondered whether these institutions weren’t missing out on a great opportunity to reach the Christian audience with a message that far exceeds “Tailor your learning to your needs.”  What if Christian organizations and schools advertised themselves like this:

  • “God looms large over everything we do”
  • “Come learn about the transcendent majesty of almighty God”
  • “Begin a distance learning program that engages your love for Christ the King”
  • “God. Is. Awesome.”
  • “Experience the Exhilaration of the Gospel”

Some schools and organizations do run these kind of ads.  But many don’t.  Is there something missing here?  I think so.  Reading those kind of ads would, for me personally, grab my attention.

It’s no secret that today’s younger generation is captivated by God and “large-God” theology.  “Small-God” theology is out.  The grandeur of a holy King is in, thankfully and deservedly.  Would it behoove our marketers–and more importantly, our leaders–to see this?  Could we not better honor our God by such promotion and, at the same time, reach the Christian audience hungry for more of God more effectively?

I wonder here if the way we market our schools and organizations shows how we think about them, and about God more broadly.  We know from James 3:1-12 that the tongue plays a major role in leading us into error.  We might think that, if we wish to grow and change for God’s glory, we need to first tackle the heart and then bridle the tongue.  But the Bible seems to suggest that to grow in grace we need to tackle the heart, yes, but we also need to know that bridling the tongue will help us greatly in our fight against sin.  If we allow ourselves to speak unwisely, then we will live unwisely.  If we change the way we speak, however, holding our tongues captive for Christ (to use a mildly strange metaphor), then we will be surprised at how the way we think changes in the process.

So what’s the bigger point?  Well, noting that this is a major question not only for schools (which advertise in magazines) but, more significantly, for churches, I would ask what might happen if we evangelicals thought of marketing more as an opportunity to showcase God and less of an opportunity to cater to so-called felt needs, we might see interest increase in our products.  Perhaps if we allowed God and the glorification of Him to shape all our promotion, publicity and thinking about our churches and institutions, we might see renewal of vision, “success” in our efforts, and most importantly, increased glory for the Lord of our lives.

Church, school, parachurch involvement–when faithful, these are equipped not to meet our needs, burnish our resumes or increase our sense of personal fulfillment, but to bring us to a breathtaking awareness of the majesty of the Triune God.  That–to me at least–is compelling, invigorating.  That makes me want to get out of bed in the morning and serve the Lord in my calling.  I am guessing that the same is true for others.

To close, I would submit that advertising is not simply the slogan that a group of marketers think up in a large room with nice couches and stress balls.  Advertising, as with all that we communicate, shows not only how we think about our churches and schools, but how we think about God Himself.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Having watched some of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, that most American of Thanksgiving morning events, I want to wish those trolling the blogosphere in pre-game meal preparation a Happy Thanksgiving. 

You can read this a thousand different places (which is a good thing!), but I should say it again: it’s terrific that we have a national holiday devoted to the giving of thanks.  It’s good for our souls to know and own this, and to practice this not only today but as a constant daily practice.  God is great.  God is good.  God reigns.  We are thankful.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the day.

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