if…

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If I abase myself before the King of Heaven,

And every time I walk into His sanctuary I am impressed that He doesn’t need me…
And then I look around at my brothers and sisters, and think in my heart how lucky they are to have such a strong saint as I in their midst…
If I offer myself as a servant to the Fatherless, if I pour myself out on the streets, if I am strict to live in accordance with what principles are laid before me….

And then I am frustrated, angered, or annoyed by my surrounding church members who just don’t get it….
Then I know nothing of Calvary love, and am become entirely unacquainted with the barest foundations of the Gospel: no matter how many eloquent words I say, or how many good things I write on my blog, or books I read, or feelings I have.

From almost a year ago. The way in which this was written was in tribute to Amy Carmichael wonderful book of the same title.

Accepting a World that is Better than Fairytales

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If asked, it wouldn’t take me long to calculate the time from now until I get a chance to see The Hobbit. One of my favorite pieces of literature is already on my list of favorite films. And I’m still seven months away from seeing it. I have no fears of my confidence being shattered. I am a massive fan of everything Tolkien has written on Middle Earth, and The Lord of the Rings film trilogy remains in the top three positions of my favorite movies of all time. I even recall the last time I was visiting Wheaton, IL -having been given another opportunity to serve a man who has been following his Master for 60 years. But this time around, the height of my ecstasy came when I sat at the very desk on which J.R.R. Tolkien had done most of his writing. Nothing could have animated an ardent lover of the Shire more.

And in the midst of all the enthusiasm that I feel when I engross myself in the world of Middle Earth, the inescapable, overarching reality of that genre of writing tends to slip my mind. The reality is expressed in the word next to the barcode on the book: Fantasy. Nothing about the world I am reading about is real enough to permeate my every day life. While the ideas and beliefs that the writer is imparting through the stories should bear much weight in my “reality”, the stories themselves should have none.

At a formative point in my life, the young men at my church would gather every monday night for discipleship and prayer. It would last two and a half hours on average. In this time, through the umbrella theme of the supremacy of Christ, all areas of life were discussed. My Pastor told us about a time during his college years when he was discovering the beauties of Tolkien. Like myself, he couldn’t get enough of every joy and nuance of elven history and poetry. But he said that at a point, he felt the question posed to him,did he love more the world that Tolkien had invented – with the elves and the hobbits, the rings and the silmarils – or the world that God had made, in which a person could have fellowship with the Trinity through the blood of the Everlasting covenant. That was his story, but we all must ask ourselves the same type of question at some point. Where do we live and in what do we delight: the real, or the Fantasy?

I don’t want to import the idea that I think these types of literature, or films, are bad. Quite the contrary. But there ever remains a danger in we, as humans, allowing our favorite fantasies to become a greater reality than what is real, what is true. It doesn’t have to be Lord of the Rings either. Whatever takes up space in your affections and thought-life beyond what it ought is concerned. It could be the world of functional, fantastic saviors who delight us because they are other than we are, which we find in X-Men or Avengers. It could be Star Wars, your favorite romance novels, or even (if you’re a nerd) Legend of Zelda. 

But more dangerous than these are the little fantasies that our minds are prone to constantly devising: The comfortable friendships with people who see no vice in me: The emotional fulfillment I find in the girl who I think smiled at me: The job  I want, the easy bills to pay, the fully functioning cars; The situation that is better in our minds than the one in which a kind Father has placed us. We all foolishly allow our minds to run to a world where Bilbo is always lucky. Our knowledge of how good stories must end gives us confidence that our fantasies must always end well. But our lack of faith causes us to disbelieve the happily ever after that God will eventually bring us to through all the little pains and crosses of everyday life.

Wanting more -It started with our parents, and has been the downfall of every human heart since. They had absolutely everything that they needed, and more. They were tenders of a garden in which the Creator of all things chose to walk. They couldn’t just say that they had “tasted and seen that the Lord is good.” That was their continual diet. But in the midst of all this, they chose to believe a fantasy that said that things could be better. A fantasy which held forth promises that proved thinner than the figs leaves with which the attempted to shield their shame. The lies they believed ran contrary to everything that they owed to their Creator:

Faith: They owed it to the God that had placed them there to believe what He told them was best at face-value. So we must believe that the world God has put us in, the friends He has given us, the loves He takes away, and the Crosses He bestows, spring out of a heart that brims with eternal love and wisdom.

Obedience. No supposition in the universe is so logical as that creature ought to be subject to it’s Creator. God bound them with double cords in that He was kind and loving. They owed it to Him to obey Him without question. So we owe it to our Creator, Redeemer, and Crowned King to follow His every footstep with confidence that all He orders is for the best.

Love: the hinge on which the human heart turns. They believed a lie, and on that lie they allowed their hearts to stray from the Creator who had told them contrary. But in so doing they turned from the One who was infinitely worthy of all affection.

We cannot afford to waste our hearts on the fake world when we have within our grasp the ultimate standard of what is reality. Every fantasy that we find ourselves enjoying should only make more real in our hearts and lives the Truth that is revealed to us in the word of God. Opening that book, we have the mind of Christ. That ought to make my heart race ten-times more than touching the desk of any Inkling.

“Wrath”: Imago Dei and Unintentional Atheism in Hollywood

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When I rose from my seat after watching “Wrath of the Titans,” the only exclamation I could possibly make was, “That was the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen.” It always speak in hyperbole, but I only remember a few times in my life when I’ve waited so much for a movie to end. Granted, my reasons for going were rather irrational. I had disliked the predecessor. I went in expecting a dazzling display of high-temp special effects and 3D, surrounded by unimpressive storytelling and dialogue. Those low expectations beautifully gratified. The storyline was so bad that I can only think of two equally horrible fantasy movies to compare: this film’s predecessor, Clash of the Titans, and Michael Apted’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Despite the almost non-stop monotone action scenes, the only hint of life came from the gravity with which Liam Neeson and Ralph Feinnes (Zeus and Hades, respectively) uttered goofy lines.

If you saw the previous installment of this series, you’ll be acquainted with the brand of spirituality that it embodies. It isn’t trying to teach Grecian Polytheism the twelve year-olds who might actually enjoy this picture. It seems the entire thrust of the film was more a subversive atheism. Religion is as ridiculous as the well-cast, changeable, whiny deities that flashed across the screen. “The time of the gods is over,” Zeus tells Perseus. (in the unlikely event that audience take the same medicine twice with the same amount of gusto, it won’t really be over). That is the blatant thrust of the film: any god, whether he be a god of war, oceans, hell, wrath, or perhaps mercy and love, is a thing of ancient myth, long time thrown aside by the high intellect of their liberated and superior creation. But even that isn’t really a concept that is portrayed with such skill as to sway someone who has already thought deeply over these issues.

That being said, what this film really embodies is the unintentional that governs successful Hollywood films. It is displayed in what we, as audiences, are fed because of what we want. We have unwittingly, by supporting these films, endorsed an atheistic mentality about art: if God doesn’t exist, or if He has simply left the world to turn on its own; no, going further, if religion and culture are in every way obsolete, if we really are simply products of random chance evolution and not beings that are higher than animals, than what sells in a film is the only important matter. Beauty and moral integrity must necessarily only be sell-points, thrown to the side whenever they are less popular. Good storytelling is no longer relevant to a people that aren’t living out a story, but are simply surviving a monotonous existence.

“Wrath” is only one example. Take a look at the top three films of 2011:

1). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2. The 8th film in a series based on a teen fantasy book.

2) Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The third installment in a series based on a Hasbro toy line. (for the record, it earned an unimpressive 35% on Rotten tomatoes).

3). Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The fourth installment in a series based on a theme park ride. (it earned a 34%).

All of these films were record breakers, earning over a billion dollars each. Not one of them was an Oscar Nominee, let alone winner. And in a way, the very fact that we have Academy Awards reflects in a minute way the image of God that resides in our hearts as humans. In everything that we know as culture, there exist the battle between the sin-born animal tendencies, reflected in the billions poured into the porn industry, the exhalation of youthful beauty over aged wisdom, and the fact the 3D action flicks that bring in so much more than Hugo, and the image of God that demands that we can’t live for nothing. The image that is reflected in the love of mountains more than skyscrapers, that makes a man like Steve Jobs design computers that marry functionality and elegance.

The animal tendencies are never satisfied, They force to sit through b-movie after popcorn flick b-movie, that we know have worthless stories, trying to satisfy the hunger. The image of God is renewed and delivered from bondage only in Christ Jesus. Discovering the beauty of the real Son of God, we are liberated to breathe in the beauty that fills everything that proceeds from His hand.

Apart from Him, we’re left with March sequels that communicate a godless and meaningless world.

Love Story: Our Souls still Meet

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  This may not be the most poetically precise piece I’ve written, but it is still close to my heart, because it was born out of real experience and joy. The joy of watching some dear friends go through intense trials, the kind that we as humans all have to face. But they did it while be sustained by a glorious Redeemer.  Because it is born of real experience, I hope that it resonates with you, wherever you are now.

We’re walking in the footprints,

That Providence hath made,

Our lives on the foundation

Eternal wisdom laid

The cutting thorns of anguish

Make every Rose more sweet,

And through the bitterest trials,

In love our souls still meet.

~

We find a sweet oasis,

In every desert land,

This troubled life, tis guided,

By loving Nail-scarred Hands

Though by our own mad strayings,

We again pollute cleaned feet,

God still comes down in mercy,

In Love our souls to meet.

~

We find we must climb steeply,

On treacherous stepping stones

Yet on we’ve plowed with patience,

For our strength is not our own

One step and we’d have fallen,

And all our strivings cease,

But mighty are the Hands that hold,

In His love our souls find peace.

~

Long dwelt we in Death’s Shadow

How bitter every loss,

Yet all our deepest groanings,

Were stolen on the Cross,

Whence sorrows turned to gladness,

Justice and grace did greet

And God came down to sinful earth,

In Love our souls to meet.

~

Sweet resting in the shadow,

Of that sacred Tree

Tight sealed the tomb on all our sorrows,

Now joyful we must be

Not glorying in peace or comfort,

For these ne’er half so sweet,

As Christ coming amidst our trials,

In Love our souls to meet

~

Though hard seemed every parting,

The meetings still were fair,

In absence and in Union,

On Christ we’ll cast our care

Whilst we wait with longing,

His shining face to see,

He’s gracious in our sorrows,

And in love our souls still meet.

Men of God of Our Day: Richard Owen Roberts and Conrad Mbewe

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This is a little late in coming, unfortunately. I had so much to say about this particular topic, but would’ve achieved greater clarity, I think, when it was fresh in my mind. However, for what it’s worth:

One of the privileges I have shared with a few others has been the opportunity to spend time with men to whom I look as Spiritual heroes of our day. I realize that we live in α celebrity obsessed society and young Christians are in constant danger of making so much of their iPod pastor’s that we forget the real heroes with whom God has surrounded us: our parents, Elders, Pastors, the older men who have lived long, the young mothers who have suffered. But at once, we cannot to make light of the time that the Lord gives us with those He has blessed with a wider influence and longer experience. Two such men are Richard Owen Roberts and Conrad Mbewe.

To those of you who are at least acquainted with these names: No, I am trying to cause you to be jealous. (Though you probably should be). But I think it would benefit at least me to step back and look at a few things that have shaped these two very different people into the servants of God that they are. The one is in his 80’s, lives in current obscurity in Wheaton, Illinois and preaches wherever the Lord chooses to send him. The other was born and lives in Zambia (which is in Africa: and no, Africa is not a country) and is more widely acknowledged. Βoth of them are greatly used of the Lord, and we can learn from their lives.

1) The first thing that stood out about the two of them was that their lives are characterized by a balance of discipline and dependence.  Obviously, I and others asked questions about their daily lives and devotion. Mr Roberts and Conrad are both early risers, and are committed to spending at least a set minimum amount of time in prayer and study. These disciplines, of necessity, were detached from personal want or emotion: they were based solely on commitment. Conrad spoke specifically of how he allows 2-3 hours a day for his wife alone, and the times that he reserved for devotion and study. Αdd that to all the busyness that he feels as “head” more or less of an entire denomination in Zambia. That is only rightly understood when contrasted by our lives: something is always being excused, being cut out. Time with family, time for exercise, but especially time to study and know God. But we find that things fall into place when we determine to do faithfully and well what God has set before us whether or not we particularly feel like it.

But on the other side, the aspect of these men’s walks that is every bit as beautiful is the element of dependence. Though they pursue the means of grace in their hands, they still humbly acknowledge that all that they are is of the wellspring of Grace in Christ Jesus. Beyond that, I would say their lives confirm that the deeper they realize that their utter need the greater the desperation and resolution to seek God on a regular, consistent basis. Our belief in the necessity of sovereign Grace to be of any Kingdom use is lived-out and validated when we are habitually with God in utter helplessness.

2) The second thing that stood out, especially to myself as a young man, was that these men possessed work ethic driven by eternal realities. Mr Roberts has managed to write or edit dozens of books, and currently runs a bookshop and warehouse while attempting to keep up with a busy preaching schedule; some of those preaching trips require delivering two-hour talks or sermons every night or even several times a day. The amount that these men of God are able to accomplish is credited in a large degree to the absence of laxness in every area. If a thing is worth doing, it ought to be done wholeheartedly. While speaking of a preacher at a large church in Wheaton, Mr Roberts said this: “If I could ask him one thing, it would be this: ‘How long do you think you have to bring this city to Christ?'” Oh that our lives might also be shaped by such a weighty question.

3) Thirdly, (I only have four, so hold in there) something that can be traced like a golden thread in the lives of the saints throughout history is their commitment to communion. It has often been said of Conrad Mbewe that he is like the Spurgeon of Africa. My impression validated this claim, but he also struck me a a Jonathan Edwards as well. Edwards’ aim in life was to live in such a way that his mind was unhindered from contemplating the eternal realities about which he concerned himself. In speaking with Conrad, I saw a man who had reached a point at which communion with God was second nature to him. As he went about his work, as he took plane rides, he was ever before God in the sanctuary of his mind; and this was not because he explicitly said so. But the whole fabric of his life as he described it seemed to be completely defined by a walking with God in here heart and mind. The same was true of Mr Roberts, all his life he has preached the glorious importance of the Manifest Presence of God.  But he speaks from experience he has in the cultivated presence of God. He is concerned that people live holy, that they might talk with God. He is concerned that they walk with God, because it is the wellspring of Holy living.

4) And while there are so many things that could be said, it needs to be pointed out that these men are real people. They do beautifully exemplify the character of Godliness, but they are still fallible. They have a deeply intimate walk with the Father: but it is not constant. Each one is a human being, with personality, senses of humor, and weaknesses. From their example we can learn how better to serve our Master while we reside in this earthly tabernacle; and we see how much area there is in the human heart that has yet to be wholly conquered for Christ.

God With Us…

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Emmanuel, Oh blessed thought

This glorious day the prophets sought,

When God Himself should dwell with Men

And save His people from their sin.

~

Emmanuel, the Holy One,

Yet could He be this Virgin’s son?

Life to all the earth He gave,

And can He be this helpless babe?

~

Emmanuel, God with man,

All things shaped by His same hand,

Who now as helpless child cries,

And bringeth light to Simeon’s eyes.

~

Emmanuel, behold his face,

Fasting in this desert place,

Encompassed by temptations round,

Yet never once His Father doubts.

~

Emmanuel! Tis God indeed,

Yet now He comes as David’s seed

Son of God and Man is He,

healing, helping, glad and free.

~

Emmanuel! come to Him now,

Ye, with heavy weights bent down,

The poor in heart He calleth blessed

Come now ye weary, find your rest.

~

Emmanuel, gaze on Him now

On the mount, within the cloud

The light of God upon His face,

The shining glory of His grace

~

Emmanuel, Yet now alone,

betrayed, forgotten by His own

Praying long into the night,

In struggles hidden from our sight.

~

Emmanuel, and there He stands,

Before the slaughter as a lamb,

The Son of God comes now to bleed,

Pressing on, seeing His seed.

~

Emmanuel, come now to die,

The Father will not hear Him cry

The wrath of God comes as a flood

Made visible in Jesus’ blood.

~

Emmanuel, this darkest day,

Till all the wrath be turned away

His own anger on Himself pours

That we should live to sin no more.

~

Emmanuel, this lifeless form,

Breathless, broken, bruised and torn,

The living God, in has fallen sleep

For He must every promise keep

~

Emmanuel, let angels sing

No more we feel the Reaper’s sting

Death is placed within the grave

That He may all His chosen save.

~

Now how shall we more sorrow know,

His chosen Bride, though still below?

In this eternal Name we trust,

“Emmanuel, God with us.”

The Gospel in the Antonym…

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God is intrinsically Great: so great, that all of His acts of necessity are great, because they flow from Him and must therefore be an expression of greatness. The chiefest of all God’s acts is expressed in what we call the Gospel. The Gospel is great, because God is great: it is the greatest thing He has ever done. The Gospel is Holy, because He is holy: it is the most holy thing He has ever done. It is powerful, because He is powerful: it is the most powerful thing He has ever done. Like everything He has done, it is Trinitarian, but it is to the greatest glory of each Person of the Holy Three. It is Love, because He is love; it is Righteous, it is Just, it is Merciful, it is intrinsically good.

And because it is all of these things, it of necessity is about HIM. It cannot be perfect and be about us; it cannot be Holy and be about our problems; it cannot be just and be about getting us into Heaven. It is part of God’s perfect plan that these things are included when we think “Gospel”: the glory of all that God is goes forth in the Gospel, and as that Glory goes back to Him it plows through mankind exalting the valleys of our sin-induced sorrows and removing the mountains of our inequity (lack of justice) and casting them into the sea. It starts at the point of planning a means whereby He may save those who are at first incompatible with His goodness and making them so much like His Son that they are welcome into the Halls of Eternal worship without fear of condemnation: this is the Ordo Salutis of Paul in Romans 8; this is his glory in Romans 11. In the midst of that order, we find sanctification: this is what was perfectly accomplished for us in the life of Christ, and this is that in which we must move forward by the power of the Spirit.

As it is part of the Gospel, the process of being sanctified must be completely a Gospel endeavor. The Gospel is both the means and the motive of this work within us. As we -I, you- make progress in the areas wherein we struggle, we can only make worthwhile progress by applying the Gospel of God to these areas. If we want to pick apart the areas where sin seems dominant, we simply need to focus not only on that sin, but how the gospel is the antonymous alternative thereof.

I already talked about this in part, as the Gospel applies to our lusts it seems as though this is a part of our nature that must be lived with; our culture often talks about sexual desire as a binding chain that is so intrinsic to who we are that it is downright wrong to try to break away; or perhaps we fall into the trap of Sodom, to believe that we have a right to what our bodies’ desire and our thoughts may conceive. Like everything else that sin touches, sex is an area where we take something that God Himself invented for the good and happiness of Man in order to reflect His holiness: as soon as we elevate ourselves to the position of god in our hearts, we put everything else out of order, and will choose whatever we can that is not subjected to the rule of our Maker.

This decease is spread throughout our nature: the way we look at other people and our relationships with them comes to the forefront of the mind of every young person that is honest with himself or herself. We desperately, desperately long to have our hearts satisfied by other people, so far that we are willing to manipulate their opinions of us, grovel before their whims, or wallow in the cesspool of self-pity. And we cannot be cured apart from “a God-ward alternative.”

I am restating something that I’ve said because I desperately need this now as much as ever. God deserves us, and we cannot fulfill our Gospel purpose of being completely sold-out to the Glory of God, that which is the object and purpose of our Salvation, if we are always entangled and tossed about by every wind. But just as Christ deserves our hearts full attention, He also deserves that we not try to cast certain sin away from us only to be replaced by seven more like unto it because we are striving with any other object in mind than Himself.

We must subject our constant looking towards the false-fillers that the world gives through its entertainment, gimmicks, and diversions by being abundantly satisfied by the glimpses we have of His face. One quarter-hour reading Rutherford, and we see the soul of a man who lost everything and yet is able to warm the hearts of His readers toward their blessed Redeemer.

We must turn away from desiring constantly after some earthly object, however sweet we think her or him to be, by saying like the blessed Saviour, “Not my will, but Thine.”

There aren’t extras included in the “package of salvation” that we are given in Christ. Everything we have is to be used toward that end to which God predestined us. Two of my heroes, with whom I spoke recently about remaining steadfast in our pursuit of Christ, brought up the issue of Meditation. I mention it by way of example, but the duty  of fixing our minds on the Trinity before whom our sinless co-worshippers veil their faces is in fact a privilege that we simply cannot afford to take for granted. We’re talking about things Angels long to look into; at once let us fix our mind on the Heavenly things, at once let us enter the holy place into which our High Priest invites us, and we cease to care what movies the world is trampling over itself to see, we cease to care whether or not we have people’s best thoughts and opinions, we allow our relationships to rest in the hands of our Maker rather than trying to fix them ourselves, and we hate our angers, tempers, and bad feelings toward others so much that we are declaring all-out war against them till they are submitted to Christ!

I realize that the previous sentence ran on a little, but I’m not going to ask you to diagram it. The point is, the privileges we have in Christ are there to be acted upon, and when acted upon, we are equipped to live against the tug of self and live for the glory of our Awesome Redeemer.

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