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Archive for February, 2012


My ‘relationship’ with John Newton was a slowly developing affair. I’m sure you’ve had friendships like that. You meet a person, don’t think much of them at the time. Slowly you begin to see more of them. You see your common interests, and their strengths, previously hidden, come to light. Your appreciation grows.

That is my relationship with Newton. Ah, he wrote a few hymns, that’s nice. Over the years people shared some of his letters. I got to know a little bit more of his life. I read Piper’s short account of his life and bought The Letters of John Newton and Wise Counsel. Over time he has become one of my heroes in the faith. His importance to the church and the world is matched by few.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace attempts to let us in on the ‘secret’ that is the life of John Newton. The book is easy to read, with short chapters that fit into busy schedules.  Aitken does not hide from us the sinfulness and brokenness of the young Newton. He was the son of a captain whose mother died when he was young. Her gospel influence gone, he often lived with relatives while his father was at sea. He would follow in his father’s footsteps, but soon earned a reputation as being a despicable human being. He was a piece of work, as they say. Some of the words used to describe him would be blasphemer, fornicator, obstinate rabble rouser, dabbler in black arts and more.

“For the fourth time on four successive ships, Newton managed to alienate his captain.”

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Slappa my face!

It ain’t over until it is over! It is hard to evaluate a team’s offseason until it is over.

There was a lot of whining in Red Sox Nation about the fact that the Red Sox didn’t sign any high profile players. People fail to see that a few key players got significant raises (like Crawford and A-Gon) and they will probably have the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in MLB. Even the Yankees were relatively quiet.

Things were busy, and crazy, around Yawkey Way this winter. Theo left a huge mess for Ben Cherington.  He’s a thoughtful NH guy who sounds an awful lot like Theo. But he’s acting like the Theo before the 2003 season. That is the Theo I liked. He played Money Ball, finding undervalued guys like David Ortiz and Kevin Millar that ended up being the foundation of a World Series championship.

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In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul mentions how the gospel came with power. This power was seen in that they turned away from idols to serve the living God. They were converted. Conversion involves a putting away of idols. There just seems to be no way of avoiding this reality. All of us depended on something to save us: our goodness, our IQ, our race or background, some ritual (circumcision, baptism, walking the aisle …). Finally we turned from them to a God who can really save us- Jesus!

But our hearts didn’t stop their nefarious work of producing idols to either supplant or supplement Jesus. Nothing ultimately can, because He is all-sufficient. But we are foolish and sinful. We are prone to wander, distracted like a kid in a toy store.

This is the season to contemplate the death and resurrection of Christ as our Substitute. Too often we are prone to focus on our justification. But we can’t stop there. We have to move into our sanctification. Why? Because Jesus did. And Paul did.

I’m preaching out of Luke 9 this week. It is the passage where Peter makes his profound confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Not that he understood all that it means. Jesus proceeds to tell the disciples just what it means. He moves to his death and resurrection. This is the means by which we are delivered from the wrath of God that is justly due our sin.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He moves into discipleship. If we are united to Christ and he is the suffering Messiah, we too must lay down our lives and suffer as we follow him. There are the three commands: deny yourself, pick up the cross and follow me.  In other words, this is the path of sanctification. There is no coming back- we are on a death march. We do this in the hope of life everlasting, that Jesus is true to his word and his work is sufficient.

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Yes, I’ve already reviewed The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I thought I would go back to something that I think is important. It is something that we tend not to learn easily. People tell us about, but the cultural pull can be so difficult to escape.

The quest for marriage, or the search for a marriage partner, must include developing your own relationship with Christ. Since our hearts are factories of idols (Calvin), we quickly make idols of marriage itself, or particular people.

We make an idol of marriage when we think we MUST be married. We sound like Rachel, who said she must have children or die (Gen. 30). We get angry with God because he hasn’t provided a spouse. Marriage won’t fix all your problems or address all your felt needs.

We can also fixate on particular people. We end up like all the men in There’s Something About Mary. We pursue a relationship in an unhealthy manner, rule out other relationships and harm other people who stand in our way. But that is extreme. Think of Jacob, who made an idol out of Rachel. He had to have her, and nobody else but her. Or John Newton whose journals reflect his constant temptation to make an idol out of his wife, Polly.

Without a deeply fulfilling relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives.

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The world is filled with books on marriage. Many of them are not worth reading. But there has been a bunch of excellent books on marriage that have been released in the last few years. Add The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller (with his wife Kathy).

Tim is one of the best people for writing a book on marriage, from a biblical perspective, that non-Christians may actually read. He touches upon some of the more contemporary controversies here, clearly but without condemnation. I know some guys in our denomination love to hate on Keller as some great compromiser. I don’t see him that way. I just see him in a light similar to John Newton: clear as to what he believes but not using that to stick his finger in people’s eyes. He’d much rather win them to his position- that whole winsome thing. Not everyone is supposed to be Elijah, engaging in clear confrontations to expose the folly of false gods (though Keller did write a book on that).

Keller spends more time on cohabitation, bringing up studies which reveal how destructive it actually is to marriage.  He shows how the typical arguments used to justify the practice have no basis in facts. So he shows the foolishness of that particular sin in a variety of ways. Homosexual marriage is not tackled head on, but he consistently affirms the biblical view of man and woman. Contrary to what I’ve heard from some of the haters, there is a clear affirmation of complementarianism. But they distinguish the biblical doctrine from how some people practice it.  And that is good. We have to recognize that if will look different in different marriages and in different cultures.

The book is not perfect. There are, I think, so factual errors. Tim writes that Paul was never married. We don’t know that. He, as a Pharisee, was probably married at some point. But at the time of his work as an Apostle, he was single- probably widowed. But that is a small thing.

My only other complaint was the length of the chapters. They were quite long, about 25 pages each on average. I like to finish a chapter in a sitting, and due to my schedule that was a little more difficult with this book.

The book derived from sermons on marriage the Tim preached in 1991. The bulk of the book is drawn from Ephesians 5, but the Kellers draw on a number of resources to understand and apply the biblical teaching on marriage. They cover issues of love (romantic love, mature love and the acceptance of one another’s faults), how to look for a spouse and what to look for in one, gender differences and roles in marriage, sex and more. They walk thru some of the landmines, the idols of both traditional and progressive culture.

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Today is Valentine’s Day, the day when we celebrate romantic love. Such love ushers many people into the most satisfying and most frustrating relationship of their lives. Isn’t it odd how the same relationship can be both.

https://www.wtsbooks.com/common/images/97805/9780525952473.jpgRomantic love, I’ve often said, is how  God tricks us into getting married. Romantic love is temporary. It can’t last, and it was not meant to last. It often blinds us to the most serious faults and flaws of the other person. It puts us into a position where we have to choose if we will actually love the other person. What often happens is that people, no longer experiencing romantic love (we’ve fallen out of love, they say) and faced with the reality that they have to choose whether or not to love this other flawed person decide to jump ship to find romantic love under the illusion that next time it will last. Love is hard, for many reasons, but this, not romantic love, is the essence of marriage as Tim Keller writes in the third chapter of The Meaning of Marriage.

In the sixth chapter, Embracing the Other, Kathy Keller writes about the differences between the sexes. This is one of the things that makes marriage so satisfying and so frustrating. I’m guessing they decided to have Kathy write the chapter so it would sound softer as she communicates the reality of complementarianism in the Scriptures. She distinguishes that from traditionalism. She teaches the biblical truth, but reminds us that how past generations fleshed it out is not how we have to flesh it out. She makes some good points.

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Both the media and the social media have been abuzz with the mandate to provide contraceptives as a part of health care, and the “compromise” plan made by the President. There has been plenty of heat over this subject. I’m not sure how much light there has been.

One issue that has been cloudy is whether or not this contraceptive care includes abortion. The President said it does not. If one limits this to abortion as a medical procedure, he is correct. Roman Catholic spokespersons say it does. If, by that, they refer to the Pill they are sort of right. The Pill is intended to prevent ovulation and therefore pregnancy. If the egg doesn’t drop it can’t be fertilized. But sometimes it fails. In that instance, the egg may be fertilized. The Pill creates an environment in which the fertilized egg has a difficult time implanting on the wall of the uterus. This can and does happen for women who don’t take the Pill. But in this case, the Pill produces an unknown number of chemical abortions. This is why some Protestants oppose the use of the Pill (the Church of Rome prohibits all use of all contraceptives).

But the larger issue is that of whether or not the government mandating such coverage is a violation of the U.S. Constitution with regard to the free exercise of religion.

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I guess it was the Super Bowl that reminded me of a gift I once got for Christmas. It was a Patriots’ uniform, with pads, helmet, jersey and pants. It wasn’t really designed for a real game. But in my young mind I looked cool. I would put it on and play in our finished basement. I would toss a football to myself, trying not to skid it off the suspension ceiling. I imagined playing in the big game (at this point in time the Patriots hadn’t even been to a Super Bowl, much less won one). In my fantasy, I never failed.

It was the same when practicing baseball or basketball. I always caught the final out. If I missed the jump shot, miraculously there were another few seconds to hit the game winner. I suspect I was no different than any other kid growing up. That is the nature of fantasy- you always win the game. As we grow up the fantasy changes- you always get the girl or the really cool job.

But real life was different. When you were playing for real you were afraid you would strike out, miss the shot, or drop the ball. Not all of us are as crippled by that fear as one of the kids in the movie Parenthood. Steve Martin’s character was vexed by his son’s struggles, probably because he didn’t want his son to grow up like him- living in fear of failure and settling for a life of minimal risk.

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In the course of ministry, hard spots are inevitable. It could be a set back, a conflict or perhaps an illness. They cannot be avoided. They are part of the providence of God. They are for your sanctification.

Do you remember that often? I mean between the whining, complaining and the pity parties you throw. We all do that. But do we remember they are intended for our maturity?

 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1 (ESV)

How is that, you might ask. One important thing is perseverance. James 1 points all Christians in this direction. Pastors are no exception from that instruction. We should not be surprised when the hard spots hit. Pastors, just like lay people, will have their faith tested in order to produce steadfastness, otherwise known as perseverance. There can be no maturity without perseverance. You can’t excel at anything without perseverance. Ask any great musician. Ask a woodworker or a computer programmer. Perseverance through boredom (that’s been a tough one for me), pain, disappointment and more.

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I haven’t been doing many of the book promos lately. But I need more clicks to WTS Bookstore. My numbers are sagging and I need free books, for the love of Pete.

This is a great sale that is only good until February 4th. Yeah, Friday so you better get on it!

Phil Ryken, former pastor at 10th Presbyterian in Philly and current President of Wheaton has a book on 1 Corinthians 13 called Loving the Way Jesus Loves. The blurbs are great. The prices greater. Only $7 for a copy. If you buy  5 or more it is only $6. (there is another great deal after the recommendations)

“There are many expositions of 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, but not many where at every point the preacher shows how God’s love in Christ Jesus is the very best exposition and truest embodiment of love. Unpacking the love chapter through this prism, Phil Ryken lends great clarity to Paul’s meditation on love and shows how such love drives us back to renewed adoration of Christ. Reflecting on how Christ, by his life and death, makes 1 Corinthians 13 leap from the page drives home the frequent lovelessness of our own lives, strips bare all notions of love that are little more than sentimental twaddle, and provides a concrete robustness to love that is part and parcel of trusting and following Christ.”
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“Jesus said, ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ But what does it mean to love others? By looking at the love of Jesus in the light of 1 Corinthians 13, Phil Ryken gives us the Biblical answer. Loving the Way Jesus Loves is surely one of the most heart searching books I have ever read. This book is must reading for all who want to grow in Christian love.”
Jerry Bridges, author, The Pursuit of Holiness

“As usual, Phil Ryken hides his deep scholarship behind readable prose. But the footnotes reveal that he draws on some of the most penetrating scholarly treatments of St Paul’s text. He combines all that with pastoral experience and insight. The result is a masterful, accessible exposition of this great chapter.”
Timothy J. Keller, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City; bestselling author, The Reason for God

“Phil Ryken is not only a scholar; he is a magnificent expositor of God’s Word. We already benefit from his massive commentaries on so many books of the Bible, and now he turns his attention, both as scholar and as pastor, to the message of 1 Corinthians 13. This is a gift to the entire church.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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