That I Might Not Sin Against You

That is the hope and reality for those believers who “store up” God’s Word in their hearts.  Scripture memorization frightens most people.  I do think, however, that most fear the issue of time consumption – although, if you were going to consume time you might as well do it with some discipline that would balance it, that is, redeem the time!  Scripture memorization is that sort of discipline.  

Today I asked myself, “I wonder how many verses or how much of the Bible could one person memorize if they memorized one verse every day?”  Setting aside God’s providence, as if I can do that, an mathematical query is interesting.  If God allowed the believer to joyfully sojourn on this earth for 50 years post-conversion, and that believer memorized one – one! – verse per day, that would be 365 verses per year times 50 years, equalling 18,250 verses!  Friends, the entire New Testament is less than 8,000 verses long!  Thus, even if one who had been born again for 25 years, memorizing one verse every day, could store up the entire New Testament within their hearts!  In ten years, at one verse per day (3,650 verses total), you could memorize nearly all of Genesis, Isaiah and the Gospel of John, or all 150 Psalms, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews and half of Romans!

One verse per day anybody?

Vacuuming and the Paradigms of Greek Grammar

What do these two things have in common?  Almost nothing is the quick and easy answer.  I say almost nothing because at an hour and half into my professor’s lecture on Greek Grammar the two collided and for a brief moment were simultaneously swimming about in my mind.  Thus, is their slight commonality.  And to press matters tangentially, the Lord knew the simultaneity of these two rather odd pairings before they entered my brain (so says Psalm 139:2).  Thus, we have another commonality: the amazing and meticulous omniscience of God.  But aside from these two things . . . 

Anyway, there is a point to be had here!  Vacuuming corresponds to a particular evidence of the greater ideal of loving my wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.  Thus, when the thought of vacuuming came to mind, it was propagated by the greater reality – loving Jenny; and the Word of God attested to it, as well as the Spirit upon my conscience, saying, “Ah, here is a tangible way to practice love for your wife and reflect the Gospel!”  Simple enough – unless, like me, the desires of your flesh are still operative (even while the Spirit in you is infinitely mightier in promoting the things you not only should but want to do as a new creation).  The temptation for me, and in this case it is a genuine temptation, is to put off vacuuming in order to memorize and recite the paradigm for Greek articles.  Now, I (as odd as it sounds) wholeheartedly recommend memorizing Greek articles, and learning Greek grammar, especially if you are going into the pastorate or some other Christian vocation.  Greek is good!  The temptation comes, however, in putting off that which most presses me as a Christian man who has the privilege of being a Christian husband: loving my wife, primarily.  The task is to do both without forsaking that which is primary – the mistake, I confess, I often make.  And mistakes are sins (or at least evidence of the pervasiveness of it; read Leviticus 5:14-6:7 lately?).  

So, fellow seminarians, and fellow Christian brothers: it is always better to love your wife than to devote yourself to hours of study under the guise of godliness – a supposed godliness by which we forsake our utmost privilege and in so doing prove ourselves to be less pious than we thought.  You will be more in line with Christ in forsaking your Greek for your wife than in forsaking your wife for Greek grammar – but if you can vacuum in love and recite Greek grammar simultaneously, well then, God bless you!

The Way of Early Christians

The following is an excerpt, chapter 5 of the Letter to Diognetus, a letter written by an unknown Christian apologist in either the second or third centuries.  Having spoken of the stupidity of Greek idolatry, and the superstitions of Judaism (though not affirming such terminology, such clauses must be understood within their historical setting), he turns to the Christian distinctiveness of the time – marvel at the content, a content we would do well to recover contemporarily:

5 For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. 2They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. 3This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. 4Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. 5They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. 6They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. 7They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. 8It is true that they are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.”6229They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.62310They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. 11They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. 12They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. 13They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. 14They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. 15They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. 16When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. 17They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity.

What is Christianity?

Thomas Merton, in his introduction to St. Augustine’s massive City of God, writes:

“In plain words – if you can accept them as plain – Christianity is the life and death and resurrection of Christ going on day after day in the souls of individual men and in the heart of society.”

Thus, it seems, it is the title given to the daily activity of Christ’s Spirit in the individual souls of believing humanity, which collectively forms a distinctive body of redeemed people that carry out their existence in the midst of a wicked and crooked generation – holding fast the Word of Truth – with a love for God and other human beings right now that is driven by the unchangeable hope and joy of the inheritance of the city of God in the future; a reality planned, purchased, applied, and, quickly, coming to ultimate fruition in Jesus Christ.

Consider Yourself, Consider Christ

I have recognized in myself the sinful propensity and inclination to think or speak in a belittling fashion towards others – particularly those that I do not know, that I may catch at a passing glance.  And I have recognized the same propensity any many others recently as well.  And this is not surprising, for the surrounding culture is a culture of self-deflecting jokesters, critics, and those disinclined to any serious reflection about anything (especially the source of their own conduct and patterns of life).

Jesus has taught us not to judge others . . . without first rightly considering and discerning the state of our own souls and selves.  Indeed, unbelievers should not be judged moralistically by believers.  Why?  Because they are unbelievers!  They are not saved; they will act like a people without the Spirit of God.  Expect that!  That does not, by the way, excuse us from confronting them with their sin and with the authority of Christ commanding that they repent and believe in Jesus.  But we should not judge them as if they were believers.  Regardless, it has becoming increasingly clear to me that we, as believers, must pay constant attention to ourselves.  What advantage does the believer gain by poking fun at someone without any teeth?  What foothold is obtained by laughing at the poor?  What importance is placed upon the kingdom of God when we disdain with our words those souls who are in danger of hell?  What arrogance and pomp is this that we engage in?  This is not the manner of Christ, and it must not be the manner of the Christian.

Rather, let us consider ourselves with great frequency.  It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, but the degree of our understanding of God’s grace is in some way proportional to one’s knowledge of the self apart from Christ, and the self when it – for a season – is left alone for testing.  For by this consideration, the Bible as a witness against us, testifies to our former helpless estate, the depravity of our souls, the sin to which we paid homage, the inclination in us all to love the darkness, hate the truth, and torturously murder the Son of God upon a tree.  But it also testifies to this: that as believers, those who have been grafted into the Vine, we can do nothing that pleases God or glorifies Him apart from the Vine, that is, Christ Jesus.  Thus, the bad that we do, we do – it is ours to own . . . and confess to our Father, and progress to walk in that bad no more in complete dependence upon God the Holy Spirit and the communion found in the Word of God.  But, moreover, the good that we do – and we, as distinct from the unbeliever, can do good – is, most properly, the work of God in us, though we behold the grace of God in this: that He attributes it in many places to us in the Lord.  

So, let us consider ourselves and get a right a weight of ourselves.  There is no room for arrogance or self-boasting in the Christian life.  There are absolutely no advantages derived from it.  We are who we are by the grace of God, without which we would be like or worse than those that we are sinfully inclined to mock or scoff at.  Let us remember this.  Let us look at ourselves – who we were, who God has made us, who we are, and who we will be; and let us give God the glory.  And when we have considered ourselves aright – if we have – we will be lowly, a humble people.  Indeed, if we see aright, we will be inclined to much sorrow.  And so Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s famous words are helpful: for every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.  

This is sound wisdom.  For where a constant gaze at ourselves will leave us void and in much anguish, so ten constant gazes at Christ will not only fill the void but cause it to overflow with His rich excellencies, His grace, His righteousness abounding.  But again, this glorifies His grace and nullifies vain glory.

Weighted rightly then, be silent if inclined to joke; consider yourself before slandering another; look to Christ and His cross – where our gossip and pride, our trampling over others was displayed in the work of the sinless Savior.  Be meek.  Be humble.  Be loving – and observe the soul of the person rather than the way they look, or talk, or the things they do; and perhaps, then, you will know the horror of your inclination to improperly judge, and be moved, instead, to speak to them face to face about your love and concern for them, and their need for the humble Christ that you profess to know – by grace.

Spurgeon’s Conversion

Mark Dever, commenting on the importance of a reference to Numbers 21:8-9 cf. John 3:14-15 in the conversion of Charles Spurgeon, writes and, then, quotes:

The great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon came to a saving knowledge of Christ when, during a snowstorm, he stumbled into a primitive Methodist chapel and heard a laymen expounding on another text about “looking.” The regular preacher of the church was absent that day, and Spurgeon recounts in his autobiography this untutored man’s words from the pulpit: “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.”

And then Spurgeon says,

“I saw at once the way of salvation.  I know not what else he said, – I did not take much notice of it, – I was so possessed with that one thought.  Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me.  I had been waiting to do fifty other things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have looked my eyes away.  There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled way, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him.  Oh that somebody had told me this before, ‘Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

From Mark Dever’s The Message of the Old Testament, pg. 147; Spurgeon’s quote from C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. 1:106.

Pitino On Trial . . . with God

This morning the news of Louisville basketball coach, Rick Pitino’s, “alleged” consensual sex with Karen Cunagin Sypher streamed across Sportcenter’s bottom line.  To make matters worse, he paid for her to have an abortion.  It was striking to watch the “matter of fact” style of reporting, and the comments made by Pitino’s attorney and the Louisville Athletic Director regarding this case.  

For those who are not privy to some of the details, Pitino is being accused by Sypher of rape on two occasions, three weeks apart, once in a Louisville restaurant, and was consequently being extorted by Sypher.  Pitino’s response to the allegations were not surprising.  He claims that the sex was consensual – which, though he is married with 5 children, is being presented as a positive alternative – and that he paid Sypher $3,000 for an abortion – again, presented as a positive choice (update: as of later this day, Pitino’s attorney said that he was offering to pay for Sypher’s health insurance – that would cover an abortion).  The stance of his attorney is that Pitino is “not the one on trial” in this case, but rather Sypher (who is in no way innocent, herself).  The Louisville AD stands firmly behind him . . . and his character, nor the nature of his conduct, nor the reality that he paid and participated in what God describes as the murder of an infant matters.  Character has been sacrificed for the sake of victories, money, and popularity.

Here is the point: whether it was rape and extortion, or an adulterous affair and abortion, these are both scenario’s of sin and impending judgment.  And while his attorney is convinced that he is not on trial, and while he may not be judged within the confines of human courtrooms, nothing could be further from the truth or ultimate reality.  “For it has been appointed for man to die once, and then comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  

Pitino’s sin will be judged.  He will stand before God’s tribunal where championships, money, popularity, and persuasion, much less, his supposed and relative “morality” and “innocence” in the case will get him off the hook.  These will not save his soul.  For God is holy and requires as much, a requirement that no man has, will or can meet with perfection.  Pitino, regardless of the case, has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God as we all have, and is in need of the righteousness that God has made known in the sinless life, substitutionary death, triumphant resurrection, and intercessory ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He needs to know that he is guilty – guilty before the Almighty – and that he will be judged in righteousness, the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the very righteousness that he must be personally clothed in in order to be declared innocent with God, that is, to be justified, to be saved.  

To this end, my desire is that my God, You, will grant Pitino repentance from sin and faith in Christ, a new life, new heart, new power and abiding principle in the Spirit and Word of God.  That he will, by Your grace, know that he is ultimately on trial, and in need of the salvation that You have accomplished and offered through faith in Jesus’ person and work.  And, Father, that You will awaken this country to the horror of abortion, the snuffing out of life, of people created in Your image – that this is murder; and that we will no longer make casual conversation about gross sins that You hate and condemn.  Turn us, O God, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Look to Christ

This is the advice given by the writer of Hebrews to believers as they experience the realities of the pilgrim’s progress.  

Allegiance and Affection?  “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession . . .” (Hebrews 3:1).

Struggle against Sin? “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings to closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1-2).

Growing Weary in the Struggle? “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (12:3-4).

Discontent? “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (13:5).

In Need of Sustenance?  Feed on the grace of God in the unchangeable nature of Christ and the unchangeable work of Christ and the unchangeable Truths of the Gospel – as we are a people of grace, let us be overwhelmed by grace – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.  We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.  For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.  So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood” (13:8-12).

Wonder about your Calling, Sibling? “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (13:13).

In this sojourn, we never outgrow our need for the truths, power and reality of the Gospel that direct us to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Let us, therefore, look to Him in anticipation of the day when we shall see Him face to face.

On Worship

For a couple of Piper talks on Worship, go here.

The Good News and the Truth of Hell

“John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:16-18).

I was reading a chapter in John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals that dealt with feeling the truth of hell.  This passage in Luke came to mind.  Hell has its place in God’s good news.  John the Baptist exhorted the crowds saying, “Christ will gather the wheat into his barn.”  This we can readily identify as “good news.”  But he also exhorted the crowds in the same breath saying, “Christ will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  And this clause is included in what follows: “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”  That Christ will burn unbelievers with unquenchable fire hardly seems like it should have any part in God’s Gospel.  But Luke says that it does!

While there are many veins that could be followed in attempting to understand this, I would highlight two of them:

1.  Because the Gospel is not only that by which the sinner is born again, but also the food upon which the believer daily lives, the biblical notion of hell – belonging to this good news – should be frequently reflected upon by the Christian.  Why?  Because we are reminded of so many of God’s near unfathomable graces in plucking us up out of the pit to which we were all at one time quite close to inhabiting.  I praise my God this morning for His free grace, mercy and compassion; that He has saved me from a just condemnation, and an eternal fury of fire on account of my sin; that He, by the truth of hell, would magnify the grace involved in my becoming the wheat of Christ which He will gather into His barn.  This does not produce morbidity in my soul, but an intense joy in God my Savior, a humility (If I may speak thus), and a passion to make Christ known.  And to be quite frank, how is your joy this morning, you or I, who think little on the torment from which God in Christ rescued our souls?

2.  The truth of hell, if truly recognized, will produce a holy passion for Christ-saturated preaching, earnest teaching, holy living and evangelism.  We will recognize the true nature of the Gospel task.  It is a task that holds eternity in the balance.  People have been appointed to die once, and then comes judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  They will go one of two eternal places.  One involves a just and unquenchable fire.  The other involves the infinite glory, praise, and worship of the One, True, and Living God.  The Gospel of Christ – the wills rejection or reception of it – is the bridge which will either condemn you to hell, or rescue you from it unto glory.  While we then have glory to make known in hopes of the sinner’s salvation, we have flames to make known as well.  Let them both – the glory and the flames – and the soul’s recognition that we by God’s free grace in Christ Jesus have been redeemed from the one for eternal life in the other – move us as Christians to daily bear the weight of eternity in all things, to make the Good News of Christ known.