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Monday, August 23, 2010

A Prayer for the Church

My wife Jill always says, "When you can't sleep, that means you should pray." My sleep patterns have been messed up since a recent sickness threw them off, so rather than lying there thinking about the rest I'm not getting, I thought I would pray for the church and record it here so it could possibly be a blessing to others as well...

"Dear Lord, thank you for the church for which your Son Jesus died. It really is a great idea: a spiritual family to meet the needs that are left unmet by our fallen, broken physical families. And even though Your original intent for your body has so often been 'lost in translation' in the hands of fallen, broken people like us, it still endures as an instrument of Your grace in so many lives. And even our weakness is a part of Your Divine plan to show that the adequacy in gospel ministry does not come from ourselves, but from the One who deserves all the glory for all good things that happen.

"Please light a fire of love for You and others in our hearts by your Holy Spirit, and fan the flames by Your means of grace--the Word, prayer, service, fellowship, and the sacraments. May we comprehend the height, depth, width, and breath of the love of Christ for us, and may that love compel us to conduct the ministry of reconciliation by calling others to be reconciled to God. May we all be 'Great Commission' believers by exalting You in worship, evangelizing the lost, enfolding new people into the body, and edifying and equipping them by the ministry of the Word, so they can become 'Great Commission' believers also.

"Please help us to remember that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing...that the gospel of grace in Christ is 'of first importance,' as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:3. Keep us from allowing the gospel to be eclipsed in the church by other, less important issues, even ones that are found in the Bible but are not as clear and central as the gospel itself. May our perspectives on important issues like worship, education, counseling, and historical systems of theology never become so important that the identity of the church is bound up in them or we cannot fellowship together with others whose perspectives are different. And please, please don't let extra-biblical matters like music styles, physical appearance, and personality differences drive a wedge between us or keep anyone from coming to learn about Christ with us.

"May we ask not what our community can do for us, but what we can do for our community, and even for the world outside our community. May we freely and cheerfully give our time, talents, treasure, and yes even our very selves to anyone and everyone we have the opportunity to help. Help us to 'reverse the curse' of selfism and materialism in the places where we live by being models of giving rather than getting, both as individuals and as a corporate body of believers. In each situation may we always ask the question 'How can I serve?' rather than 'What can I gain from this?' And may we do this with joyful hearts, so that the people around us can see the truth of Jesus' maxim, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive."

We pray all these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Owen on Sin and Temptation, Part 4 (More Morricone...)

Since I know you all enjoyed having Enrico Morricone's insanely catchy score for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly running through your heads during my last blog on Owen, I'll keep the same theme here... (can you hear the warbling whistle and wah-wah trumpet?)

The Good in my recent reading of Owen (I'm almost done) is how he confirms on pages 174-175 something I've always believed, that God gives us many different motivations to godliness, including fear of consequences (which is not a wrong motivation), but the best one is gratefulness for what He has done for us, because it produces the most energy for change. Also, I liked how he reminds us eloquently and repeatedly that sin is always with us in our "flesh" (see pages 246-247) so we shouldn't be surprised at its temptations and even victories over us. And last but not least I found his description of the unregenerate man on page 248 to be strangely comforting, because it gave me assurance that I have been changed from my former state and do in fact belong to God.

The Bad in the sections I've read recently, in addition to the usual discourses on fine points that don't seem that important, is the legalism that reared its head briefly, which the Puritans have been too famous for but thankfully has not made much of an appearance in this book. On page 178 he indicates that his definition of worldliness includes "to play at cards, dice, revel, dance," all things that the Bible itself does not prohibit. Fortunately in other places, however, Owen does define worldliness in a more biblical manner, like shortly after that last quote and then on page 180 when he speaks of "ambition, vain-glory, and the like." Those vices have ruined far more people than card-playing has! (For a thorough discussion of the issue of legalism, see my book Who Are You to Judge?)

The Ugly is something that I will be talking about on this coming Sunday in my message at Faith Church, and in fact will be reading the following quote from Owen, about the ugliness of "cheap grace," as Bonhoeffer called it. (By the way, have you seen the new book on Bonhoeffer by Eric Metataxas in which he proves that the German martyr was an evangelical, contrary to popular opinion and suspicion?) But back to Owen, and this great quote from pages 282-283:

"Most men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love, and suppose they find food therein; however, it is evident that they grow and thrive in the life and notion of them. But to be breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, to be inquiring after the weeds and briars that grow in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the other. This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor so trod in, though it be the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself. It may be some, who are wise and grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off, if we have any regard unto our own souls. It is more than probable that many a false hypocrite, who have deceived themselves as well as others, because they thought the doctrine of the gospel pleased them, and therefore supposed they believed it, might be delivered from their soul-ruining deceits if they would diligently apply themselves unto this search of their own hearts. Or, would other professors walk with so much boldness and security as some do if they considered aright what a deadly watchful enemy they continually carry about with them and in them? Would they so much indulge as they do carnal joys and pleasures, or pursue their perishing affairs with so much delight and greediness as they do? It were to be wished that we would all apply our hearts more to this work, even to come to a true understanding of the nature, power, and subtlety of this our adversary, that our souls may be humbled."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Behind the Music: "Lucky One" and the Love of God in Christ

God has blessed me with a new friend who is very talented musically and also happens to write and play music that I like (which is not easy, because I'm picky!). Wayne Haines was most recently the lead for the band Lost in Rotation, which has some good stuff on itunes but most of their best stuff (in my opinion) is available only on CD at this point. If you're interested in hearing it, I can get you a copy of "Greatest," named for their best songs but also for the One they sing about.

Wayne and I worked on a song together recently (I helped with the lyrics) can listen to it at
and then come back here for a look at the lyrics and some "Behind the Music" info on the meaning of the song (see if you can figure it out yourself before I tell you). I like the song and hope you will too, but I like the main idea behind it even more, because it is my only hope for this life and the one to come!

Here are the lyrics to "Lucky One." Read them through and see if you can figure them out, and then I'll tell you the meaning below...

Your debt’s been paid in full
Even though you broke the rules
Nothing that you can do
Could pay for the sins inside of you

You’re an adopted son
An heir of all the world
You’d run the race and won
Before you had heard the starting gun

You are the lucky one
The lucky one is you
You are the lucky one
The lucky one is you
You are lucky one
There’s nothing you can say or do
You are the lucky one
The lucky one

No worries in this world
Safe in the Father’s hand
His grace will take you from
The wilderness to the promised land

Though you may suffer here
The pain cannot compare
The weight of glory there
Will make it all seem as light as air

You are the lucky one…

There’s no such thing as luck
No blind role of the dice
Nothing I have done
Just the Father’s love for Christ

I am the blessed one
A fortunate son
I am the blessed one
A fortunate son
I am the blessed one
There’s nothing I have said or done
I am the blessed one
The blessed one

The perspective of the first two verses of the song is that of a non-Christian who has a friend who is a Christian, and knows a lot about the promises in the Bible that are made to those who believe, like his friend. And it seems to him that his friend is just plain lucky to have all these great things going for him, because he knows his Christian friend well enough to know that he is a sinner too, and does not deserve any of those good things. In fact, a lot of times the Christian isn't any better than the non-Christian, and sometimes he's worse! But yet according to the Bible the Christian has all these great blessings from God even though he has done nothing to earn them. So he is, in the eyes of the non-Christian friend, the "Lucky One"...he can't see any other explanation than that.

But then in the bridge and final chorus the Christian answers him and says that although he does not deserve all these blessings (the non-Christian is right about that), it's not actually luck but a "deeper magic" as C.S. Lewis talked about in The Chronicles of Narnia. The reason that the Christian receives all these blessings is "just the Father's love for Christ," and that leads me to one of my favorite ideas in the universe, if not my favorite...

God the Father loves His Son Jesus Christ with an infinite and perfect love, and He planned to bestow every spiritual blessing to all who are united with Christ by faith, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ has done by identifying with us in His incarnation, taking our sins upon Himself on the cross, and rising from the dead so that we would have a new life through our union with Him. So the reason God loves us and gives us all good things is not because we deserve it (we deserve the opposite), or even because we are made in His image (we have marred that image through our sin), but because He loves His Son and has graciously included us in Him and the love He deserves. A helpful analogy is that I understandably have no special love for a kid named Brent that merely goes to school with my son, but if he becomes my son's good friend, I will have a special relationship with him and even treat him as part of the family. In a similar way, by being "in Christ" we are adopted into God's family and receive His special saving love.

Now read Ephesians 1:3-14, a passage that you may be familiar with, but perhaps have not notice how repeatedly it makes this point that all the blessings of God's saving grace come to us "in Christ" (the two most important words in the Bible, occurring over 50 times in the New Testament, and three times as much in other forms with the same meaning):

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory."

Now that you know more about the meaning behind the music, listen to the song again at and praise God for His glorious grace!