Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Reality of Hell -- Pt 1

As a pastor of an E-Free church, I hold as a biblical conviction the 12th statement of our "Statement of Faith" which reads:
We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord, of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment.
The reality of hell is not popular subject with most people, but following Jesus is not about popularity. Following Jesus is about trusting Him, loving Him, believing Him and obeying Him. R. C. Sproul writes about Jesus and hell:
Almost all the biblical teaching about hell comes from the lips of Jesus. It is this doctrine, perhaps more than any other, that strains even the Christian’s loyalty to the teaching of Christ. Modern Christians have pushed the limits of minimizing hell in an effort to sidestep or soften Jesus’ own teaching.
I spent some time studying this topic and plan to post some thoughts and quotes over the next few weeks. I will begin by recommending a short article by R. C. Sproul that you can read here.

In Short he makes these points:
  1. The suffering of hell is beyond any experience of misery found in this world.
  2. Hell is clearly included in the teaching of Jesus.
  3. If the biblical descriptions of hell are symbols, then the reality will be worse than the symbols.
  4. Hell is the presence of God in His wrath and judgment.
  5. There is no cruelty in hell. Hell will be a place of perfect justice.
  6. Hell is eternal. There is no escape through either repentance or annihilation.

Child Dedication at Grace Church - May 11th

On Sunday, May 11th (Mother's Day), we are having a Child Dedication during the worship service. Parents of young children, if you have never done this formally with your kids, please consider participating that morning. Please read this explanation of the Child Dedication here.

The Dedication of children is an act of faith performed by parents in the presence of God and His people in which we solemnly and earnestly offer ourselves up to God for the holy task of being Biblical parents and in which we offer our children up to God for his wise and sovereign purposes in their lives, pledging our allegiance to God above all things.

Parents -- "See God and His Word Rightly"

Disciples of Jesus (those who Follow Him) are in the essential process of seeing God and His Word rightly. As a parent of young children, I was challenged by the words of John Piper in his blog from April 26th on a book he is writing on the family. You can check out the Desiring God Blog here.

Piper writes [emphasis mine]:
The most fundamental task of a mother and father is to show God to the children. Children know their parents before they know God. This is a huge responsibility and should cause every parent to be desperate for God-like transformation. The children will have years of exposure to what the universe is like before they know there is a universe. They will experience the kind of authority there is in the universe and the kind of justice there is in the universe and the kind of love there is in the universe before they meet the God of authority and justice and love who created and rules of the universe. Children are absorbing from dad his strength and leadership and protection and justice and love; and they are absorbing from mother her care and nurture and warmth and intimacy and justice and love—and, of course, all these overlap.

And all this is happening before the child knows anything about God, but it is profoundly all about God. Will the child be able to recognize God for who he really is in his authority and love and justice because mom and dad have together shown the child what God is like. The chief task of parenting is to know God for who he is in his many attributes, and then to live in such a way with our children that we help them see and know this multi-faceted God. And, of course, that will involve directing them always to the infallible portrait of God in the Bible.
Grace, Paul, Elijah and ? -- May God grant your mom and dad grace to know Him and show Him to you!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Love = "Truly Wanting What's Best"

This past Sunday and this week our topic at Grace in the series Following Jesus is "Becoming a Worshipper/Lover of God." I want to quote an excellent section in Dave's book "Follow Me" (Click to get the PDF of the entire book) about the definition of Love and how that relates to our call to love God and glorify Him.

I believe that true, transcendent, Biblical love is: Truly wanting what’s best.

Therefore, when the Bible says that God is love, it means that God truly wants what is best. When the Bible teaches that God loves us, it means that God truly wants what is best for us. When the Bible commands us to love others, it is commanding us to truly want what is best for them. And again, when the Bible commands us to love God, it is commanding us to truly want what is best for God.

Before moving on, I want to provide two points of clarification: First, by “wanting” (what’s best) I mean possessing a deep longing for what’s best, a sense of delight in the attainment of what’s best, and a willingness to sacrifice to get what’s best (action). Second, by (wanting what’s) “best” I mean that which is truly best—not most appealing at the moment.

So, what is best? Best for us? Best for others? Best for God? The answer is...God! God is what is best for us. God is what’s best for others. God is what’s best for God. God is what is best!

“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders” (Exodus 15:11)?

Here we are left with a most remarkable truth: Being a lover of God means realizing and wanting what’s best for God, namely, God! Loving Him means wanting, with all that we have and are, that God would be glorified; that He would receive the honor and fame and glory due His name.

New CD -- "Come Weary Saints"

Over the past few years I have come to enjoy and have been ministered to greatly by the music of Sovereign Grace Ministries. When I was in Louisville a few weeks ago at the T4G Conference I got their latest CD -- "Come Weary Saints." You can listen to samples of this album, download a free song, and purchase the album download here.

My favorite songs on the CD are: (Click on the song for lyrics)
  1. Hide Away in the Love of Jesus
  2. As Long As You Are Glorified
  3. Oh the Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus
  4. Through the Precious Blood
The theme of the album is the Love of Jesus! It points us to what Paul prayed for the Ephesians:
Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, (15) from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, (16) that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (18) may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, (19) and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (20) Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, (21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Do You Watch Movies Like a 12 Year Old?

If you have not read the CREDENDA AGENDA, I highly recommend subscribing to this free cultural/theological magazine led by Douglas Wilson and gang. You can read older articles online at there website right here. If you want to subscribe to this magazine you can call them at 208-882-2034.

The following is an article I recently read from the latest issue. The title itself is provoking enough to make you read it. If you are like me, you may have to read it more than once.

How Not to Watch a Film Like a Twelve-Year-Old

By Douglas Jones

(From the Credenda Agenda – Vol. 20, Issue 1, pp. 13-18)

Don't get me wrong—some of my favorite people are twelve-year-olds. I appreciate their zeal for bike riding, their devotion to pizza., and their keen insights about fairness. I even confess to having been a twelve-year-old for a short period of time. But their taste in film can be a bit, let's say, tiresome.

Now I'm not a perfectionist. There is a time for silliness; there is a time for stupid movies. But sometimes we should want more than twelve-year-old satisfaction. Life is more. Trinitarian life is even more than that.

The problem with twelve-year olds—let's admit it—is that, well, they're a bit self-focused. No matter how good their upbringing, they're only interested in their own interests. They're not really interested in other people as people. To a twelve-year old, other people tend to be obstacles to get around. Other people supply things, provide boundaries, or give rides, but they're just tools, not ends.

The best films and plays, though, are about enjoying other people, even living through other people. You have to enjoy seeing how people overcome life's challenges in a million different ways to enjoy film.

Film aside, novels, short stories, and poetry all tend to focus on people, too. Each has its own glory, its own way of doing it. They're each trying to do what every art aims to do, namely, to capture the big story in a bit of matter in order to move human bodies. That's one way of characterizing this strange effort we call the arts. Whether music, sculpture, poetry, or painting, each aims to capture the meaning of life in a chunk of matter. Sculpture can do this in stone, music in organized pitches, poetry in the fewest black marks on a page, and painting by juxtaposing shapes of color. Plays and film capture it in bits of human action and dialogue.

And they all want to end up moving a human body to laugh, cry, rage, rejoice, or be satisfied and make an audience say, "Yes, that's it; that captures the big story of life in a surprising way."

At least, that's an answer we could give to a group visiting us from southern Neptune, if they asked why we sometimes stare at moving pictures on a big white wall or why we follow lines of black marks for pages and pages. "We forget the big picture all the time," we could say. "All is vanity and grasping for the wind." We get tied up in knots about unimportant, petty things. These stories and music and paintings remind us in bodily form that "nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor." These art projects are a ritual we use to help remind our bodies what's important—grace, mercy, truth, people, guilt, betrayal, beauty, ugliness, Christ on His throne. Worship does this most importantly, in a special revelation manner, but the arts are a ritual of natural revelation, the way God reveals Himself indirectly through icebergs, cactus, thin wings, and monkey butts.

People, People, People

For Christians, for Trinitarians, the core of our big story is personality, persons in communion, Father-Son-Holy Spirit. There is nothing more profound than Triune life, and Triune life is all about Persons in relation, Persons in loyalty and love and tension, striving and sacrificing for goals. "Not My will but Yours." For anyone, the highest or deepest part of life is the most interesting. For us, the highest and deepest is personality. People. People. People. In a Trinitarian universe people should arrest our attention far more than anything else, far more than formulas, abstractions, physical implosions, bricks through windows, and the fading of summer. People. Those other things can be fun and interesting, but they can't or shouldn't be ultimately satisfying to us. Ultimacy in a Trinitarian universe always comes back to persons in communion. Nothing should be more intriguing. Us—"things which angels desire to look into." We are films for angels. Even God Himself is intrigued with persons. "You.. .set your heart on him What is man.. .that you should visit him every morning, and test him every moment?"

God and angels are intrigued with the actions and character of persons, but twelve-year olds? Not so much. They're like little Unitarians roaming the earth, concerned with just one person, focused on their own individuality and goals and power. And the truth is, it's not just twelve-year olds.

To be fair to twelve-year olds, most males of any age have very little interest in other people.

There, I said it. We're all practical Unitarians, walking about trying to get around other people. We live most of our lives like twelve-year olds, and the women around us stand about confused. Men are allegedly busy. Fiction and poetry? Plays and film? Those are for people with too much free time. Such men have no practice in studying people or interpreting human interaction. They have no practice in empathy, the key to Christian living. They disdain fiction and then wonder why their marriages fall apart, why they have no friends. Of course, some "men" go the other direction and only have TV friends and video-game comrades, for hours and hours. That's just a rival brand of unitarianism, only more pathetic.

Avoiding People

Like twelve-year olds, then, if we enjoy stories at all, we prefer plot-heavy stories, stories not so interested in character and other people (somewhat like Aristotle, that ancient Unitarian). We want spectacle and car chases. And those have their place. I love a good chase. If not plot

stories, then we like idea stories, some abstract truth forced through actors' mouths like they were robots. Not real characters. Ideas to satisfy some intellectual needs, not ideas incarnated through real people. Ideas and Spectacle. That's what we closet Unitarians like. We also like intellectual puzzles over people, hence, the detective mystery. Of course, there's a place for mysteries, but they tend just to be a cheat. They seem to be confessions that the writer couldn't show anything interesting about people so we get diverted to solve some murder puzzle. You could get the same entertainment if you omitted just about every person in the story. People tend to be obstacles in these sorts of stories. An audience could just as easily sort through the courtroom evidence for fun, without the artifice of the story slowly sneaking us bits of evidence. But TV is full of these intellectual puzzle shows—courtrooms, hospitals, crime scenes, and

_ more, because it's easier to make puzzles than reveal ( character. I'd rather read a book on logic puzzles or watch NBC Dateline than pretend we have a real story at work. Detective mysteries surely have their place in the hall of entertainment, but these shouldn't be deeply satisfying for us (a few do interesting character work). But overall, they're not really about people. Plots. Spectacles. Puzzles.

Films and stories, however, are rituals at heart. They follow a specific pattern, a nice liturgy. And if a liturgy over and over avoids people for plots-only and ideas and puzzles, then we're not truly enjoying a Trinitarian universe. For us, personality in action is the center of life. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others."

Stuck in Pleasure

A twelve-year-old vision of film not only minimizes other people, it also stays in one place, demanding its personal pleasures be satisfied. The twelve-year old wants to be given happiness, wants excitement that pleases. And that's fine for a twelve-year old. It's understandable. I might be a bit weirded-out if they wanted anything else. But in an adult, just demanding pleasure from an artwork seems odd. Life isn't like that. Art that just gives pleasure lies about a Trinitarian universe. In an adult, this sounds a bit like Paul's warning against itching ears. We listen only to

what satisfies our easy desires. We don't want painful truth. Solomon saw beyond this sort of pleasure obsession.

"Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting—sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better." Pleasure doesn't teach as well as sorrow. Mourning somehow shows us the deeper things. Setting aside pleasure viewing can open the bigger story for us. Again, that doesn't mean we should only watch grim tragedies. There's a time to laugh. But we'll certainly miss the deeper satisfactions of life if we live only

for our pleasure, if we choose films and plays and novels that only please us, if we watch films that only give us what we want. We should learn to see the glory in other people's interests. Men should see the glory in women's films, and women in men's.

To put it differently, entering a good story is primarily about learning to love some ugly person. That's the gospel isn't it? "Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." God shows His love by loving the ungodly. The ungodly. The unlovable. Those full of sin. Those we don't really want to look at. Well-made character films offer us this angle. The story starts with someone with a huge flaw, some crazy obsession, some debilitating sin. We don't like them. We wouldn't want them as a friend. If we knew them in our day-to-day lives, we'd probably not go near them. A good film shows us how to love the unlovely, how to want to side with the ungodly. In short, insightful character films can try to show us people the way God might see them.

Admittedly, those are very strange words. We don't pick a film for those reasons. Christians generally want to see nice people doing nice things with pretty clothes. There's a place for that. But it can't deeply satisfy. We should also be able to say, let's get a film that persuades us to like some •wretch of a human. That's what most stories aim to do. Now, I'm not saying that we should

call evil, good and good, evil. Plenty of films sin in that way. They want us to sympathize with an unrepentant adulterer or cheer for an unrepentant assassin. I'm not advocating that. We should be able to do what the gospel does, though: love a gross sinner on the road to change. That's hard enough. Love covers a multitude of sins. A film can exercise us to weigh people more subtly, the way Christ Himself does. Films can also reveal the hidden pettinesses that drag us all down. Some stories don't invite us to love a sinner but instead to understand how they destroy themselves. Christians have to understand many paths of sinners. But it's not all about fulfilling my personal interests and pleasures.

The apostle Paul provides the necessary frame for this sort of film watching, this sort of appreciation of people:

And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My

strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly

I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ

may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,

in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for

Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Good character films "take pleasure" in "infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake." That's what we need to look for in a film if we're not stuck at age twelve. Films are natural revelation sermons via human action, with little or no narrator, just

like the life of faith.

Triune Personality and Style

But we still have to judge righteously, as Christ says. Even if we're interested in people because of the Trinity, even if we love sinners as God does, we have only taken baby steps. If the arts capture the big picture in matter, then, of course, persons and personality will be central in a Trinitarian world. But it doesn't stop there. The Triune Persons are not generic, they're not just any old bland personalities. Father, Son, and Spirit reveal a unique style. And it's this unique style we need to find incarnated in any work of art if we're to be deeply satisfied. But that takes care and discernment—not something twelve-year olds care much about.

And yet discerning Trinitarian style is an easy yoke, too. It's what life is all about. We're surrounded in Trinitarian style. Think of style as that personal fingerprint that distinguishes

one person from every other person, one artist from every other artist. It's what makes Bach always sound different from Vivaldi and Handel. It distinguishes Tolstoy from Dostoevsky, Hemingway from Faulkner. You from everyone around you. And the Father, Son, and Spirit from Zeus, Nammu, Baal, Allah, Karma, Natural Law, and the American Civic god. It's that uniqueness of Trinitarian style we want to see captured in a story. Christians are sometimes satisfied just to find some hint of sacrifice and redemption in a story, or even some specific symbolism of the cross. That's nice but very superficial. Symbolism-hunting can be a cheap way to avoid persons again. From the writer's side, inserting symbolism is pretty easy and not always very profound.

Spotting Trinitarian style is much more satisfying. We learn Trinitarian style from Scripture and natural revelation. In Scripture, we find Triune glory, Triune uniqueness in expressions like we saw above: "My strength is made perfect in weakness." You can spend a lifetime figuring that one out and trying to trace its permutations. It's rich, and some stories show it while some deny it. Those that show it image the Trinity better. Or similarly, we find Triune style in biblical phrases like, "how long will you love simplicity?" "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh," "Go eat your bread with joy," "I have seen servants on horses," "money answers everything," "childhood and youth are vanity," "Do not be overly righteous," "the first shall be last," "this is My body," "you

are not under law but under grace," "from glory to glory," "God deprived the ostrich of wisdom," "have you clothed the horse's neck with thunder?" "He is not ashamed to call them brethren," "behold I make all things new," and many more riches.

Natural revelation reveals Triune style more indirectly. We see a gray mountain or an ocean or the interior of a plant, and they don't come with labels. They don't have big banners pasted on them that say "The persons who made this are majestic and surprising." No. We have to infer that from God's works of arts. We have to infer divine style via the hints and indirectness of nature. Natural revelation shows us that Triune style overflows, wastes, and loves detail. Some of God's best handiwork is hidden in ocean depths we'll never see. God reveals His comic style in walruses and orangutans, his ugly style in hyenas and eels, his elegant style in hawks and horses. "Can you hunt prey for the lion? Or satisfy the appetite of young lions Who provides food for the raven?" Triune style loves and shouts out to us through all these. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech." Speech, and yet it doesn't speak like special revelation. Pines and palms speak without words, without labels. We have to work to understand Triune personality. We have to infer and interpret and conclude. We don't get a narrator explaining most of God's revelation. Just hints, and we're expected to gird up our imaginations.

But we do know that He is the epitome of interesting personality. In fact, we might define interesting as the Trinity, because reading off Triune life from nature we have to conclude that

Father, Son, and Spirit are surprising, unique, tense, paradoxical, unified, different, communal, precise, hilarious, frightening, and "ugly." And it's the (somehow) simultaneous combination of all of these that captures Christian divine style. That's what we look for in ourselves, in others, and in films. That is the image of God in man.

Notice also that pursuing Trinitarian personality reveals other cheap moves in contemporary cinema. It not only reveals the thinness of mere spectacle, easy plots, and intellectual puzzle

movies; Trinitarian style reveals that public, explicit nudity in a film is really an imaginative failure. We should see explicit sexuality as a filmmaker's confession of story botch. For some reason, the filmmaker/writer can't convince us with character, so he or she just gives up and shows us someone's private parts to fill the personality gap. They can't convince our imaginations, so they make up for it by appealing to our loins. The art has failed, so fill in with drugs and a pacifier.

Obviously, then, most stories can never achieve Trinitarian heights. Most stories, especially secular stories, are satisfied to be one-dimensional. But the search for profound and satisfying

character stories is part of the fun. It shouldn't be so hard to capture Trinitarian style, but it is. Does the film show us interesting (i.e., Trinitarian-style) people? Does it reveal them in a Trinitarian universe overcoming ugliness and flaws, rising and transforming through the vanity of life?

Triune vs. Mardukian Style

Films naturally focus on action, people striving and reaching goals through doing things. Triune personality reveals itself primarily through action, too: "Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders . . . He sent darkness . . .He gave them hail for rain. . . .He struck their vines also, and their fig trees . . . He opened the rock, and water gushed out. . . He brought out His people with joy." "God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit. . . Received up in glory."

But action works in different ways in different theologies. Not all action expresses a Christian universe. Some action shows us the dark heart of other gods. Watching a film like a Trinitarian means delighting in a Triune way of acting and overcoming. Some films overcome in Triune ways and some don't. What's the difference?

Twelve-year-olds are particularly drawn to Mardukian action and solutions. What is that? Well, sons, especially, tend to believe that almost every problem can be solved by beating and wrestling; they're thick enough to think that domination actually works, especially over younger

brothers. They live in a Mardukian universe. Consider the story of the Babylonian god, Marduk. In one telling of the Babylonian creation account, Enuma Elis, we find Father and Mother gods, Apsu and Tiamat, parenting lesser gods, but they are unruly kids with plenty of infighting. Dad

plans to kill some of his children and grandchildren, and this doesn't go over well with the kids, so Dad ends up dead in return. After more infighting, the kids are at odds with Mom Tiamat, too. The lesser gods, the kids, finally select Marduk, a great grandchild and mighty god, to take on Mom, the goddess of salt water. And it's through this battle that we get the creation of the earth: "After subduing the rest of [Tiamat's] host, he [Marduk] took his club and split Tiamat's water-laden body in half like a clam shell. Half he put in the sky and made the heavens, and he posted guards there to make sure that Tiamat's salt waters could not escape. Across the heavens he made stations inthe stars for the gods, and he made the moon and set it forth on its schedule across the heavens. From the other half of Tiamat's body he made the land, which he placed over Apsu's fresh waters, which now arise in wells and springs. From her eyes he made flow the Tigris and Euphrates. Across this land he made the grains and herbs, the pastures and fields, the rains and the seeds, the cows and ewes, and the forests and the orchards." In short, Marduk cuts up his greatish grandmother in an act of war violence and uses her torn body to create the earth. A bit grim, to say the least.

What we get, though, is a cosmos where violence is natural, a universe interwoven with acts of bloodshed. Violence permeates the created order. Violence frames reality. Violence is the norm.

In that sort of Babylonian universe, it's no surprise then that violence is a good solution to problems. If violence is built into creation, then we naturally use violence to return things to normal. We overcome obstacles and resolve antagonisms by conforming to the natural law of violence... if Mardukianism is true.

Most action films are Mardukian rituals - Alien, Star Wars, The Matrix, Gladiator, Terminators, James Bonds, The Incredibles, Braveheart (ooh, ouch), Die Hards, Kill Bills. In such films, we

usually have a protagonist at odds with some flat, wholly evil villain. The protagonist gets smacked around at first and fails at several attempts to overcome the evil one, but in the end the protagonist fulfills Babylonian ritual by overcoming the enemy by acts of greater violence. The

protagonist generally gets the girl. Everyone is happy. The world resolves itself in high Babylonian style. Twelve-year olds express their glee. Christians clap and note the faint gospel symbolism in the final act.

How did this happen? How have Christians become so easily satisfied by a Babylonian universe? Our creation account certainly doesn't frame the universe in violence. Before and after creation, God is love—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in harmony, in loyalty, with no infighting or conspiracies.

From this Sabbath, God speaks the created order into existence. It is an act of love, of overflowing grace. Creation is an artwork. God judges it to be very good. It is not an act of violence or derived from violence. Violence there is unnatural, contrary to divine life. Problems are not successfully resolved by violence. Violence works contrary to Trinitarian life; it is alien to the relations of Father, Son, and Spirit. They live and move in grace; they are grace.

In a Trinitarian world, violence doesn't truly resolve things. In a Trinitarian world, violence doesn't truly resolve things. Even in Old Covenant immaturity (Gal. 3:24) where violence seems to have a larger place than in the New, we find the Lord repeatedly denouncing violence: "The Lord tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates" (Ps. 11:5); "Wisdom is better than weapons of war" (Eccl. 9:18). "Violence covers them like a garment" (Ps. 73:6). "The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, but violence covers the mouth of the wicked" (Prov. 10:11). "But God said to me [David], 'You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood'" (1 Chron. 28:3).

Then, of course, when redemptive history rises into its maturity, Christ presents a new world where violence loses its glamour. It's interesting that we find the greater presumption against violence at that point in history where the Son and the Spirit reveal themselves in the fullness of Trinitarian life. '"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight'" (John 18:36). "But I tell you not to resist an evil person" (Matt. 5:39). "He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52). "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you" (Matt. 20:25). "Do not return evil for evil" (Rom. 12:17; 1 Pet. 3:9; 1 Thess. 5:15). "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty" (2 Cor. 10:3-4).

That's life in a Trinitarian universe. The greater the revelation of Trinitarian life, the further we move from violence. That's not pacifism, since pacifism is absolutistic and has no sense of development. In a very important sense, God is the king of violence, and He reserves violence for Himself, largely forbidding it to the people of His new kingdom (Rom. 12:19).

In short, we don't live in a Mardukian cosmos and shouldn't be satisfied by Mardukian solutions. Again, no perfectionism. That doesn't mean I can't enjoy a Bruce Willis movie. I can and do. But I can't find them deeply satisfying. I enjoy them at a distance, watching like a twelve-year-old. I can enjoy them like God enjoyed King David. David is a man after God's own heart, and we can see some good in his violence, but in the end God doesn't let him build the Temple. I can enjoy

Babylonian films because they don't threaten the gospel; Christ has triumphed over His enemies. I can enjoy Mardukian resolutions they way I might enjoy Homer—at arm's length. They are not the story of rny people, the Church, but I can see how those alien stories sometimes work well.

Again, they are no threat to Christ since they're conquered. Babylonianism is just quaint now, not deep, not satisfying. Violent solutions don't really work or last in a Trinitarian universe. We get a great picture of this in Tolkien's work, a work rich in character. There, violence plays a part, but in the end, violence is failing and the good are being overwhelmed in their desperate attempt at violence. What really counts is the triumph of divine weakness. Violence distracts the enemy

from the mountain, where a hobbit finally drops the ring into the mountain furnace. That's how a Christian universe operates. "My strength is made perfect in weakness."

To really enjoy the best films/plays, you have to be fascinated with people, fascinated with human life, how communities of persons work and fail, how we conflict and reconcile, how we're unique and the same, how we change, mature, and grow. Twelve-year-olds have to grow into that.

Now, of course, I've reflected on what it takes to appreciate and identify a good film, and I've done it in a priori fashion, without examining any positive recommendations. Life is mean like that sometimes. I have plenty of wonderful character films I'd like to recommend and that would be easy (certainly Jhe Queen [2006], The Dresser [1983], A Soldier's Story [1984] rank very high), but I'm afraid that feels a bit like cheating. It seems too direct and flat. Rather un-Trinitarian. I'd rather wave and wish you well on your own film journey. And don't forget, sometimes, to just watch films like a twelve-year old.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Blessings" -- From Valley of Vision Book

This morning I read from a book of Puritan prayers called -- "The Valley of Vision." I highly recommend this book for your devotional use. You can purchase it online here. Here is the prayer that I read and found refreshing to my soul this morning:



Author of all blessings I enjoy, of all I hope for,

Thou hast taught me

that neither the experience of present evils,

nor the remembrances of former sins,

nor the remonstrances of friends,

will or can affect a sinner's heart,

except thou vouchsafe to reveal thy grace

and quicken the dead in sin

by the effectual working of thy Spirit's power.

Thou hast shown me

that the sensible effusions of divine love in the soul

are superior to and distinct from bodily health,

and that oft-times spiritual comforts are at their highest

when physical well-being is at its lowest.

Thou hast given me the ordinance of song as a means of grace;

Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,

which elect angels and saints made perfect

now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.

I bless thee for tempering every distress with joy ;

too much of the former might weigh me down,

too much of the latter might puff me up;

Thou art wise to give me a taste of both.

I love thee

for giving me clusters of grapes in the wilderness,

and drops of heavenly wine

that set me longing to have my fill.

Apart from thee I quickly die,

bereft of thee I starve,

far from thee I thirst and droop;

But thou art all I need.

Let me continually grasp the promise,

'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.'

Friday, April 25, 2008

Piper - When God Will Not Use Bigness

John Piper writes a brief and encouraging to me as a pastor of a small church:

There are saving works that God will only do through small churches and ordinary people, not through large churches and more sophisticated people.

The Lord said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.’” (Judges 7:2)

Beware of missing your appointed fruit by envying bigger trees.

Check out the Desiring God Blog here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sermon -- Following Jesus in Seeing God and His Word Rightly

Here is my sermon from last Sunday (April 20th) -- "Following Jesus in Seeing God and His Word Rightly."

This is the first of seven sermons in the answer to the question -- "What is a Disciple (or Follower) of Jesus Christ?" A disciple of Jesus is in the process (a lifelong one) of seeing God and His word rightly.

This sermon corresponds with the first Chapter of Dave VanAcker's book -- "Follow Me."

Prone to Wonder and Not so Innocently Like Buddy

Last Sunday I preached on seeing God and His Word rightly and talked about some of the Obstacles or Opposition to this pursuit. In referring to our sinful flesh that fights against our desire for God and His Word I quoted the words from "Come Thou Fount":
O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above...
The words "prone to wander" came to mind as I was biking with my 3 year old son, Paul (aka "Buddy"), yesterday morning to the coffee shop on Lake Street a half a mile away. During morning rush hour, Buddy and I began to cross Broadway and Lake Street in obedience to the "walk now" sign. I instructed Buddy to start crossing and as we got going, to my momentary horror he failed to look where he was going and starting biking to the right--straight down the middle of Lake Street towards the braked cars who were waiting at their red light. I rushed over to him and redirected his bike in the appropriate direction while smiling and waving at the amused drivers who probably enjoyed watching a wandering 3 year old who was more focused on getting his bike to move fast rather than his destination. I am sure that the momentary panic of a father was also a spectacle to see.

Buddy's wandering was innocent. It was not due to a rebellious spirit or heart condition (although its definitely present). He was childish in his inattentiveness as he crossed the street, something that he corrected with careful vigilance on the way home. However, our wandering from God and the centrality of His Word is not merely an innocent, childish inattentiveness. Psalm 119:36-37 says:
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (37) Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
Prone to pursue selfish gain and look at worthless things, we need God's Spirit to come and take and seal our hearts to Himself. Thankfully, we have Psalms like this to teach us how to ask Him for this help against deadly wandering.

"Following Jesus" - Sermon from April 13, 2008

We are beginning to post the manuscripts (and audio if we have it) from my sermons at Grace Church on the website ( ). Here is my sermon from April 13 called "Following Jesus."

This sermon was the introduction to the sermon series that is running parallel with the Discipleship Group Studies during the week. I hope they will be a help. The manuscripts were written primarily to be preached not to be read (other than by me).

Charles Spurgeon on Seeing God Rightly

Here is a quote by Charles Spurgeon from the intro of a sermon on the topic of "The Study of God" and it's importance. I quoted a portion of this section in last week's sermon. This quote is also found in J. I. Packer's book Knowing God.

It has been said by someone that, ‘the proper study of mankind is man.’ I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead.  The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.

There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity.  It is the subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.  Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, ‘Behold, I am wise.’  But when we come to this master of science, finding that our plumbline cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with solemn exclamation, ‘I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.’ No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than the thoughts of God…

But while the subject humbles the mind, it also expands it.  He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity.  Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.

And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently, consolatory.  Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore.  Would you lose your sorrow?  Would you drown your cares?  Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated.  I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”

 (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, England, January 7, 1855.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thank You For Sending Us to TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL - The Pastors at Grace

Dear Grace Church,

First I want to say thank you for sending us to the "Together For The Gospel" Conference this past week. I also want to thank you for praying for Pastor Daniel and I (and our families) while we were there. We arrived safely home last night (this morning) at around 2:00am freshly excited about God and the Good News that He loved the world in such a way that He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross as an atonement for the sins of all who would believe in Him! I truly believe that it was an invaluable investment in Grace church.

Second, I want to very briefly summarize what we heard:

Legon Duncan spoke to us about the importance of doctrine in the life of a Gospel-centered church. Specifically, he called pastors to be systematic theologians.

Thabiti Anyabwile spoke to us about the unity that we have in Adam, Christ, the Church, and in glory.

John MacArthur spoke to us about the fact that we are all absolutely inable to receive the gospel on our own.

Mark Dever warned us not to try to "improve" the Gospel in order to make it more appealing to non-Christians.

R.C. Sproul (who can no longer stand when he preaches) amazed us by walking us through Scripture in describing the curse of Adam that we are all born into.

Al Mohler spoke on some of the contemporary challenges of substitutionary atonement (the idea that Jesus died to absorb the wrath of God in our place-that He was a substitute sacrifice for us).

John Piper pleaded with us to recognize the radicalness of the Gospel and the requisite radical response (Daniel and I agree, if you are only able to listen to one message.this is the one).

Finally, C.J. Mahaney spoke to us as pastors about persevering with the Gospel through difficult situations with thanks, faith, and affection.

You can download or listen to all of the messages that we heard at

Third, I wanted to suggest a few things that I'd love for you to join me in praying for regarding the implications of the conference and the Gospel at grace:

1. That we, at Grace, would truly know the Gospel.

2. That we, at Grace, would grow to radically cling to the Gospel ourselves.

3. That we, at Grace, would grow toward a radical commitment to speaking the Gospel to others.

4. That we, at Grace, would work, in the power of the Spirit, to develop a culture consistent with Gospel people (Biblical encouragement for one another, trust in God, the elders and each other, grace toward brothers and sisters in Christ, deep affection in the Lord for one another, and true unity in the Spirit).

For the God of the Gospel,

Pastor Dave (and Daniel)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Hunger of for God - Part 1

I was reading John Piper's Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer today.  He made this convicting statement about our lack of desire for God and His glory because of our desires that are too fixated on the world's table. He recommends the discipline of fasting with the purpose of weaning our desires from the molding bread of the world unto the true Bread of Life -- Jesus!
If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the
glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are
satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of
the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is
no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There
is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to
turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry,
and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I
want you.” ("Introduction - page 23)

When to Confront People and When Not To?

Let 'Em Know or Let It Go?

By John MacArthur


How do we know when to confront and when to quietly forgive and forget?How do we know when to confront and when to quietly forgive and forget?

That's a good question because most people seem to err on one side or the other. Some people think it is best to overlook every offense and take pride in their tolerance. However, Paul confronted the Corinthians for tolerating sin in the church and rebuked them for failing to deal with a man living in sin (1 Cor. 5).

On the other side of the issue are people who confront over any slight infraction and make themselves intolerable.

Are there any biblical principles to help us make the right choice? Yes! Here are six guidelines to help you know whether to quietly forgive or to lovingly confront.

1. Whenever possible, especially if the offense is petty or unintentional, it is best to forgive unilaterally. This is the very essence of a gracious spirit. It is the Christlike attitude called for in Ephesians 4:1-3. We are called to maintain a gracious tolerance ("forbearance") of others' faults. Believers should have a sort of mutual immunity to petty offenses. Love "is not easily angered" (1 Cor. 13:5). If every fault required formal confrontation, the whole of our church life would be spent confronting and resolving conflicts over petty annoyances. So for the sake of peace, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, we are to show tolerance whenever possible (see 1 Pet. 2:21-25; Mat. 5:39-40).

2. If you are the only injured party, even if the offense was public and flagrant, you may choose to forgive unilaterally. Examples of this abound in Scripture. Joseph (Genesis 37-50), David (2 Sam. 16:5-8), and Stephen (Acts 7:60) each demonstrated the unilateral forgiveness of Christ (Luke 23:34).

3. If you observe a serious offense that is a sin against someone other than you, confront the offender. Justice never permits a Christian to cover a sin against someone else. While we are entitled, and even encouraged, to overlook wrongs committed against us, Scripture everywhere forbids us to overlook wrongs committed against another (see Ex. 23:6; Deut. 16:20; Isa. 1:17; Isa. 59:15-16; Jer. 22:3; Lam. 3:35-36).

4. When ignoring an offense might hurt the offender, confront the guilty party. Sometimes choosing to overlook an offense might actually injure the offender (by allowing him to continue unwarned down a wrong path). In such cases it is our duty to confront in love (Gal. 6:1-2).

5. When a sin is scandalous or otherwise potentially damaging to the body of Christ, the guilty party should be confronted. Some sins have the potential to defile many people, and Scripture gives ample warning of such dangers (see Heb. 12:15; 3:13; 1 Cor. 5:1-5). In fact, Scripture calls for the church to discipline individuals who refuse to repent of open sin in the body, so that the purity of the body might be preserved (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5).

6. Lastly, any time an offense results in a broken relationship, confrontation of the sinner should occur. Any offense that causes a breach in relationships simply cannot be overlooked. Both the offense and the breach must be confronted, and reconciliation must be sought. And both the offended party and the offender have a responsibility to seek reconciliation (Luke 17:3; Matt. 5:23-24). There is never any excuse for a Christian on either side of a broken relationship to refuse to pursue reconciliation.

The only instance where such a conflict should remain unresolved is if all the steps of discipline in Matthew 18 have been exhausted and the guilty party still refuses to repent.