Monday, December 31, 2007

Between Two Worlds: Jonathan Edwards's Resolutions

Jonathan Edwards' resolutions are more detailed than mine, but always a good read. Thanks to Justin Taylor for pointing us in the right direction.

Between Two Worlds: Jonathan Edwards's Resolutions


I am preaching through the Gospel of Luke, presently in chapter eight. While I am an expository preacher I am not adverse in developing topical messages from the passage in which I find myself. This past Sunday, December 30th provided an opportunity to do just that.

Luke 8:26-39 gives the account of Jesus’ encounter with a demon possessed man. This guy was a mess. He was running around naked in the local cemetery and all attempts to restrain him failed as he would bust loose from his chains and torment the locals.

While it is interesting to look at the nature of demon possession and the process by which Jesus delivered this man, I believe that it is more instructive to look at the reactions to this event, especially as they relate to the making of resolutions at New Years.

Look at the reaction of the onlookers. They were afraid. Not afraid of the crazy naked guy, but deathly afraid of the Jesus who had delivered him. So afraid, as a matter of fact, that they beg and plead with Jesus to leave their town. Why this fear? I see a couple of reasons.

First, they had become accustomed to the status quo. Crazy naked guy running around the graveyard? That is normal. Son of God driving out demons? Not something that you see everyday. Change is scary, even if it is change for the better. We will keep what we know, even if it is destructive, over that which we don’t know.

Second, somebody lost some pigs. Lots and lots of pigs. This was a major financial loss to the owner. While it is immediately evident that the owner of the pigs would be frightened, why was everyone else afraid? I imagine that the line of thought went something like this: “If we let that Jesus guy hang around it might just end up costing us something.”

So much fear that it could very well be that they were gathering up tar and feathers if Jesus didn’t depart voluntarily. Fear of change and fear of loss. Fear of the unknown and fear of loss of control. Never mind that any change that Jesus would bring would be positive.

Contrast this to the reaction of the man delivered from the legion of demons. Verse 35 tells us that he was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind”. Not only that, he asks to remain with Jesus, and seeks direction from Jesus. Jesus tells him to “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (verse 39a, ESV). I have no doubt that he did just this, but he also “went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him”. Both his family and his community benefited from his communion with Christ.

Two radically different reactions result from this event. The onlookers are afraid, and want Jesus to depart. The man delivered from demons wants to stay close to Jesus and is willing to accept direction from Him.

How about us as we enter 2008? There are lots and lots of resolutions that we could make; some of them trivial and others substantial. Some of our resolutions will be forgotten before the end of January while others might result in lifetime changes to our behavior. I believe that there are a couple of lessons that we can learn from this Scripture.

First, we need to quit living in fear of what God wants to do with us. Oft times we believe that trusting God is dangerous business. God, we fear, can be dangerous both to our pocketbooks and to our lifestyles. We have grown so accustomed to the smell of the pigs and the sights of insanity that we can’t imagine what it would be like to be delivered from them.

At the same time, we need to sit at the feet of Jesus. We need to enroll in His school and receive His wisdom. We need to depend upon Him for all of our needs and desires. In order to do this we need to daily feed on His Word and continually share our hearts with Him in prayer. We need to fellowship with His people, and we need to worship Him in spirit and in truth. We need to engage our families in the things of God just as Jesus commanded this man. Sitting at the feet of Jesus will also have one other result. Just like this man we will proclaim how much Jesus has done for us wherever we go.

Sit at the feet of Jesus. Learn from Him. Do this, and revel in His loveliness, and see that evangelism will be a natural part of your life. You will encounter plenty of folks who will not like it, to the point of fear and loathing of Christ, but being in your right mind certainly beats the alternative.

What do I resolve for 2008? One thing alone: I want to sit at the feet of Jesus and be His learner.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Failure, the Teacher

Yesterday I was able to learn from, and to teach from, failure.

Personal, humiliating, embarrassing, failure. Failure spelled with a capital "F".

The male members of my extended family embarked on a quest this past weekend to climb the highest peak in Texas, at 8,749 feet elevation, at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I last visited this park and successfully hiked to the top at age 19 (more years ago than I wish to reveal). The plan was that our generation of dads was going to share the hike with our sons and then commemorate their achievement at the top. Since my brothers-in-law are dedicated Christians (two of us are pastors and a third is also ordained and serving as a Bible College professor) we had intended this commemoration to accomplish several goals, to include:

a) forging a stronger bond with our sons and nephews, and they with their fathers, uncles, and cousins.
b) an opportunity to pass on a legacy.
c) a chance to share some guidance and truth.
d) an occasion to support one of our nephews who had lost his father this past year.

For this short service each one of us older men was assigned a topic. Mine was to talk about the fact that we don't remain on top of the mountain, and that coming down represents life, and its attendant failures and difficulties.

Things started out well as we had dinner together the previous night, and then set out for the park early Saturday morning. Everyone had the right clothing and gear, plenty of water and trail provisions, and a good attitude. The weather was colder than expected, the winds were higher than previously forecast, but we were raring to go, and off we went.

Well, it wasn't long before we encountered a potentially serious problem. One of my brothers-in-law started to experience dizziness and problems seeing. We had not gone very far, and we did not want to have a casualty on our hands. While the main group went on two accompanied him back to the visitor's center and planned to rejoin us. I was in the lead, trying to keep a sane pace (about 1.6 mph), but almost half way through, just below 7,000 feet, I realized that I was almost at my limit. Sharp stabbing pains were felt in my thighs each time that I climbed over a step or boulder, and I realized that if I was to continue I would become a liability for the group. It was amazing just how much steeper this mountain had become since the last time I climbed it! I pressed on a bit further until both my GPS and my barometric altimeter indicated that I had exceeded the 7,000 ft level. I then bid goodbye to the group and began a slow, contemplative, journey back to the parking lot. Going down I passed the other two members of our party returning and apprised them of my condition.

At the bottom I discovered that my oldest brother-in-law was feeling better, and we kept each other company the rest of the afternoon. The rest of our group returned in two groups between 4:15 and 5;00 PM. We then had our ceremony at the bottom, which was best due to the fact that the winds were howling up above and conditions only allowed them enough time to look around and snap some pictures.

When it was my time to share I began with a completely different demeanor than would have been the case if I had been one of the victorious ones. I believe that my modeling failure was every bit as important as talking about it.

What did I tell them? Basically the following:

a) Failure is inevitable.
b) When failure is the result of bad choices or bad behavior it is imperative to repent of them, confess the failure, and receive God's forgiveness.
c) When failure is not due to one's actions there is a need to trust God and cling to Romans 8:28. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

Did I wish that I had been able to achieve the top? You bet. I am a normal red blooded guy and the fact that I failed was embarrassing. It will probably result in my receiving some good natured teasing in the future. However, I can see the "good" that God has orchestrated out of it. Here are a couple of the resulting "goods";

a) I was able to engage my brother-in-law (the other failure) in very satisfying and productive conversation as we awaited the return of the group. He has been my brother-in-law for almost 30 years but I now know him better than ever before.
b) I was able (just barely) to make the 6 hour drive back home last night so as to be able to preach today. I don't know what I was thinking when we planned this trip, but if I had completed the climb I would not have been able to safely travel afterwards.
c) I was able to model in a productive manner (I hope) the proper attitude towards failure before my peers, my son, and my nephews.
d) This trip, even with its failure, was most profitable due to the quality of the conversations that I had with my 26 year old son during our drive and at other times. I believe that our father-son bond is stronger than ever.

Failure? I hate it. Always have, always will. Yet, I realize that it is inevitable as long as I inhabit this body of flesh. It can either destroy us or it can be channeled to improve us and give God more glory. It is not fun, but it can be directed positively. After all, we don't get to live on the top of the mountain every day.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Some things never change

Approximately 80 years ago my grandfather served in "India" with the Essex regiment as a private soldier in the British Army. As he stood guard at the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan he witnessed horrors unspeakable. As he recounted his experiences to me during my teenage years I was deeply moved by the tragedy and senseless blood-letting that he described.

Today we witness the same horrors, but instead of only hearing them as the recollections of our forefathers we see them vividly splashed on the internet and the 24 hour news channels. We are saddened to hear today of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the continuing violence that rocks our world. Yet, while this is the tragedy of the day, it represents but a small portion of the horror that consumes our world.

"Come quickly, Lord Jesus", we need the reign of the "Prince of Peace".

Christmas Eve Pizza??

Some Christmas traditions are just wrong:
Pyromaniacs: In the interim...

Everyone knows that the only acceptable Christmas Eve fare is Posole and Tamales, just like New Year's wouldn't be right without black eyed peas.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Broken Promises

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?

- Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

As I was reading Spurgeon's Cheque Book of Faith this morning, the Scripture "promise" that was listed was Matthew 26:33 - 'Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.'

Spurgeon already anticipated my complaint: "What kind of a promise is that?", and proceeded to remind me that the promises of men are not to be trusted, lending even more weight to the promises of God. He ends the day's meditation with these words:

Trust not thyself nor any born of woman, beyond due bounds; but trust thou only and wholly in the Lord.

My promises may fail, due to the deceitful nature of my heart, but the promises of God never fail.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

2008 Puritan Reading

Timmy Brister's challenge to read the Puritans each month during 2008 was an easy one to embrace.

I presently utilize The Valley of Vision in my personal devotions, and had several of Timmy's suggestions already on my bookshelf. An order placed with Westminster Bookstore filled in the gaps. (The good folks at WTS are always a pleasure to deal with, and added a bonus book to my order.) All twelve volumes are in place on my bookshelf, labeled with their proper month, and I am trying hard not to start Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed before January 1st.

I plan to post weekly observations from my reading here, and will also participate on Timmy's "Provocations & Pantings" blog. I will also continue to participate with Tim Challies in reading John Owen's On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, and will post comments both here and on his blog.

Weekly Puritan

Be sure to get an interest in Christ—
if you intend to mortify any sin without it,
it will never be done.

Let men know it is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy. Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin.

John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 7

(You can read this work as part of Reading Classics Together along with Tim Challies and hundreds of his closest friends.)

Christmas Day 2007

"Silently, how silently..."

Our family Christmas traditions are as follows:

1) Christmas Eve Candlelight Silent Lord's Supper Service.
2) All of the family over to our home following the service to eat and exchange presents.
3) Spend Christmas Day quietly and in contemplation of our Savior's birth.

This year was no different. After the service we all enjoyed a meal prepared by my wife of posole and tamales (it's a "New Mexico thing"!) along with my parents, both of our children, our son-in-law, and all of our grandchildren (Eleven of us in all). We exchanged presents and then off to bed.

My wife had to work today, so I am "silently" enjoying this day and taking stock of my blessings, along with seeking God's guidance for the next year.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
- 2 Corinthians 9:15 (ESV)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve 2007

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. - John 1:14 (ESV)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.” - John 3:16-21 (ESV)