Monthly Archives: August 2011
The kingdom of God operates on a completely different currency than any other kingdom in the world. As Jesus unfolds the great blueprint of the Sermon on the Mount, we find him then instructing us to hold stuff loosely. If somebody asks for your shirt, give him your coat too. Give and lend to whoever asks. These are not ways to become rich . . . unless the reward we have in mind is not monetary.
Consider this parable from Jesus found in Luke 12:13-21:
Someone from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
“Friend,” He said to him, “who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”
Then He told them a parable: “A rich man’s land was veryproductive. He thought to himself, ‘What should I do, since I don’t have anywhere to store my crops? I will do this,’ he said. ‘I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods there. Then I’ll say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” ‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be? ‘
“That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself …
“Flaubert was always adamantly opposed to illustrations for his literary works. This apparent contradiction can be explained by his concept of pure art and his association of art with style, from which it follows that one art cannot be translated into another. For Flaubert, writing was a long, sometimes agonizingly slow, quest for perfection in style. His correspondence is filled with descriptions of his efforts to polish his prose, to eliminate repetition or assonance, to find le mot juste [the right word].”
– The Gustave Flaubert Encyclopedia edited by Laurence Porter (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2001), 15.
Flaubert was obsessed with finding the exact right word. He would labor over his composition, sometimes finishing a long day’s work having written just a few words, perhaps one sentence. The result was both beautiful and cold, as anyone who made it through Madame Bovary can attest.
Some scholars say that you can’t read Flaubert in anything but French, for all translations lose the pristine fruit of his labors. One said Flaubert’s works would need the “Flaubert of translators” to do le mot juste justice.
Yet it occurs to me that in the Scriptures, which are God-breathed, we find ostensibly un-artful census results as well as ecstatic exultation, and lots of literature on the spectrum in between, and yet in its variety of authors from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of motivations in a variety of genres, every word of Scripture is perfectly placed. Flaubert wrung himself out like a limp rag for a few droplets …
There are three ways whereby the glory of Christ is represented unto us in the Scripture. First, By direct descriptions of his glorious person and incarnation. Secondly, By prophecies, promises, and express instructions concerning him, all leading unto the contemplation of his glory, which are innumerable. Thirdly, By the sacred institutions of divine worship under the Old Testament: for the end of them all was to represent unto the church the glory of Christ in the discharge of his office; as we shall see afterward.
We may take notice of an instance in one kind under the Old Testament, and of one and another under the New.
His personal appearances under the Old Testament carried in them a demonstration of his glory. Such was that in the vision which Isaiah had, “when he saw his glory, and spake of him,” “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim,” &c. It was a representation of the glory of the divine presence of Christ filling his human nature, the temple of his body, with a train of all-glorious graces. And if this typical representation of it was so glorious, as that the seraphim were not able steadfastly to behold it, but “covered their faces” upon its appearance, how exceeding glorious is it in itself, as it is openly revealed in the Gospel!
– John Owen, Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ
I have been working lately on a chapter exploring the sin of gluttony for a Bible study I have coming out with the Threads folks next year called Seven Daily Sins. Today I remembered the discussion of sexual morality in Mere Christianity where C.S. Lewis offers the following illustration to demonstrate the folly of lust:
You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?
Lewis is intentionally being silly to highlight the dysfunction we don’t see in our sexual lust. But I wonder if he were alive today, surfing the TV channels with you or flipping through a magazine, if he’d be astounded to see that strip-teases of food actually exist.
Perhaps he couldn’t imagine his illustration would some day reflect reality, but here we are, being tantalized and aroused by the gleaming juices of delicious steaks, the architectural splendor of some well-stacked mega-burger, the whole-life-fulfillment promised by chocolate mousse, all airbrushed and lit up and presented with expertly selected music and pitched by a celebrity or model.
Would we not think …
Justin Taylor shares fantastic words on what words can do in service of our Savior:
In an address on Christian eloquence John Piper wrote:
The attempt to craft striking and beautiful language makes it possible that the beauty of eloquence can join with the beauty of truth and increase the power of your words. When we take care to create a beautiful way of speaking or writing about something beautiful, the eloquence—the beauty of the form—reflects and honors the beauty of the subject and so honors the truth. The method and the matter become one, and the totality of both becomes a witness to the truth and beauty of the message. If the glory of Christ is always ultimately our subject, and if he created all things, and if upholds all things, then bringing the beauty of form into harmony with the beauty of truth is the fullest way to honor the Lord.
John Calvin is an exemplary model of this. His beautiful and arresting prose, saturated with biblical truth, can capture the mind and heart more than prosaic prose which clunks to the ground.
For example, consider this section of his preface to Pierre-Robert Olivétan’s 1535 translation of the Bible.
“To all those who love Christ and his gospel,” Calvin writes:
Without the gospel
everything is useless and vain;
without the gospel
we are not Christians;
without the gospel
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:5-7
This is an excellent recipe for what it itself describes: a Spiritual settling of the heart, thankfulness, closeness to God. But let’s suppose you didn’t want those things, you didn’t want to be thankful in all circumstances (as God commands through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5). How would you design your system in order to crush any impulse of thanksgiving in your heart?
1. Freak out about everything.
Let your unreasonableness be known to everyone. Be unreasonable about everything. Turn everything into drama, everything into a crisis.
2. Practice practical atheism.
The Lord is at hand, which is certainly something to be thankful for. Our God isn’t just transcendent, but immanent. He wants to be known. You could therefore intellectually acknowledge God is there, but act like he’s not. Assume he has no interest in you or your life. If you pretend like God’s not there, you don’t have to thank him for anything.
3. Coddle worry.
Be anxious about everything. Really protect your worry from the good news.
4. Give God the silent treatment.
The best way not to give thanks is not to talk at all. That way you’ll never give thanks accidentally.
5. Don’t expect anything from God.
Don’t trust him for …
From a fantastic little book I am loving very much, The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington:
[A] little-known seventeenth-century Puritan, Thomas Wilcox . . . wrote Honey Out of the Rock, one of the most helpful essays we’ve found on dealing with persistent guilt. We’ve updated into modern language a series of Wilcox’s instructions for dealing with persistent guilt:
- Shift your focus away from your sin and onto Christ: don’t persist in looking upon sin; look upon Christ instead, and don’t look away from him for a moment. When we see our guilt, if we don’t see Christ in the scene, away with it! In all our storms of conscience, we must look at Christ exclusively and continually.
- Shift your focus to Christ, our mediator. If we’re so discouraged we cannot pray, then we must see Christ praying for us (Romans 8:34), using his influence with the Father on our behalf. What better news could we ever want than to know Jesus Christ — the Son of God, co-creator of the Universe — is addressing the Father on our behalf?
- Shift your focus to Christ crucified, risen, and ascended. When guilt persists, remember where Jesus is and where he’s been. He has been upon the cross, where he spoiled all that can ruin us. He’s now upon the throne of heaven, as our advocate and mediator. His state in glory doesn’t make him neglectful or scornful of the guilty sinners he died to …
It is sometimes difficult for the repentant to believe in forgiveness when it is not being extended to them. “If you don’t forgive me, how could a holy God?” we might think.
If you would believe you are forgiven, then, don’t look at some sinner’s jutted chin, crossed arms, and tapping foot. Look instead to the thorn-crowned brow, the nailed hands, and the feet, once nailed, that have crushed the serpent’s head. If you want to know forgiveness, look to the cross.
In the beginning, Christianity was simply Gospel. Ecclesiastical organization was not the cause, but the effect of life. Churches were constituted by the spontaneous association of believers. Individuals and families, drawn toward each other by their common trust in Jesus the Christ, and their common interest in the good news concerning the kingdom of God, became a community united, not by external bonds, but by the vital force of distinctive ideas and principles. New affections became the bond of a new brotherhood, and the new brotherhood, with its mutual duties and united responsibilities, became an organized society. The ecclesiastical polity of the apostles was simple — a living growth, not an artificial construction.
– Leonard Bacon, The Genesis of The New England Churches (1874), 17.
My friend Brandon Smith recently interviewed Tony Merida and me on the subject of preaching. Tony is the pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina and an Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the author of a couple of books. As you can imagine, Tony has some really good things to say, including this:
My main focus is that that I want to take the listeners for a swim in the text. I want us to immerse ourselves in Scripture, and my desire is particularly to exalt Jesus as the hero of the Bible – and by extension as the hero of every sermon. I want people to walk away every week and say, “What a great Savior” not “What a great sermon.”
To do this, I use a five step method . . .
Go read the rest to see Tony’s five steps.