Soap and Lye Don’t Cut it, Mister.

Of all the innumerable superlatives that can be said of Scripture, I think I treasure most the inexhaustible nature of God’s Word. It never returns void.

I’m reminded of that again today. I taught from Luke 1:26-35; 2:1-7 and Hebrews 2:5-10 today. I challenged the students at Chapel Hill Academy to recognize the miraculous fact that Jesus Christ carried the one attribute that no human being before or since has ever had. Holiness.

Jesus’ death on the cross means nothing if not for this perfect holiness. For me, Christmas is put in perspective only when I reflect on all of the sins I’ve committed in the past year. Countless.

I’m reminded of the fact that I so often throughout my life trust in ritualistic cleansings, much like Israel’s cleansing rituals depicted in Jeremiah 2.

“Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord God.” Jeremiah 2:22

It always strikes me how quickly I lapse into ritualistic cleansings. By that I mean, I often provide my token “I’m sorry for my sins, please forgive me God.” Prayer. The arrogance I show, genuinely believing that God doesn’t understand what I’m doing.

This is the God who has EVERYTHING under his control. Jesus Christ knew this kind of control. Everything was in subjection to him. We often don’t realize that. Hebrews 2:8 is a great reminder. We can’t hide our sin behind ritual, or behind veils.

This is why, this Christmas, I am humbled and utterly bereft of pride in myself, with God’s grace. Only by the grace of God can I understand just how useless all of my soap and lye is at the feet of a holy God. And only by the grace of God can I understand that my savior, my propitiation, my payment, my advocate, my redeemer, my hope, my salvation, my strong tower, my fortress, my deliverer, my shepherd…is holy.

He is holy. He was, is, and always will be. He didn’t start being holy. He is eternally holy. This is why his birth matters, and it’s why his life matters, and it’s why his death and resurrection matters. Let’s not forget it.

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The Activity and Art of Reading…and Reflections on Thinking

I think one of my most useful purchases as an adult with a yearning for knowledge, has been the classic book “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.  After graduating college I began to realize that much of my reading had become about information-gathering, as opposed to interaction with the author/s.  This coincided with a time in my life where I began to grow more and more aware of people’s acceptance as facts whatever they happened to gaze at in a newspaper, magazine, or book.  That wasn’t the most bothersome thing, though.  The most bothersome thing was that I came to realize that I did it too.  All the time.

It was a decidedly difficult thing to diagnose, because I found that I truly believed that I read everything critically.  This would account for my being able to point out the flaws in every argument that was opposed to me, and recognize every strength of those arguments I resonated with.  Get me in a room with an opponent and I could usually remember all of the arguments I liked!

I’m going to have a bit of fun in this next paragraph.  Bear with me.  It actually is true.

The problem of diagnosis, I came to discover, was due to the fact that I hardly ever actually thought about what I read.  I believed that by reading I was thinking…but really, I was just thinking what I was reading.  Or in the case of a disagreement, I was thinking what I wasn’t reading.  It all sounds so very convoluted, but I discovered that I only thought that I thought well.  In reality, what I thought I had thought well really wasn’t a real thought at all!  Rather, all of the thoughts I thought I thought were just someone else’s thoughts!  I had repackaged them into my own words and added my own personal experience, but they weren’t anything close to interactions with the author.  Instead, they were either flat rejections or acceptance of the author’s arguments.

Reading this book helped me to realize that I’m part of a generation where all of our thinking is done for us.  If we have a question, we check out the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Slate, Townhall, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, MSNBC, Current, Redstate, Time, or CNN.  They provide the answers.  Then, we jump on the comment section and throw grenades at the article or the opponents of it.  We even do it on ESPN.com.  We push others who disagree with us to “interact critically” by posting an article we like (although to be fair, most make it clear that articles they post are things they endorse, and does not mean they have not critically interacted with them in some way).

All this to say, this is an important book, and I’m shocked and saddened that it wasn’t required reading for me in high school (all four years), and college (all four years).  Regardless, it should be required reading for adulthood, anyway.  Here is an excerpt from the first chapter.

This is a book for readers and for those who wish to become readers.  Particularly, it is for readers of books.  Even more particularly, it is for those whose main purpose in reading books is to gain increased understanding.

By “readers” we mean people who are still accustomed, as almost every literate and intelligent person used to be, to gain a large share of their information about and their understanding of the world from the written word.  Not all of it, of course; even in the days of radio and television, a certain amount of information and understanding was acquired through spoken words and through observation.  But for intelligent and curious people that was never enough.  They knew they had to read too, and they did read.

There is some feeling nowadays that reading is not as necessary as it once was.  Radio and especially television have taken over many of the functions once served by print, just as photography has taken over functions once served by painting and other graphic arts.  Admittedly, television serves some of these functions extremely well; the visual communication of news events, for example, has enormous impact.  The ability of radio to give us information while we are engaged in doing other things–for instance, driving a car–is remarkable, and a great saving of time.  But it may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.

Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to, and insofar as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good.  But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed.  We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few.  There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.

One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance).  THe packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day.  The viewer of television, the listener of radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements–all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics–to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum difficulty and effort.  But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all.  Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player.  He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so.  He has performed acceptably without having to think.

You can find this book here.

God has given us minds with which to think, let us be good stewards of them.

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Jesus: Righteous for a Reason

Today I spoke at the chapel service at Chapel Hill Academy in Chanhassen, Minnesota.  It’s a really cool school with a little over 300 students and a bevy of dedicated parent-volunteers that supplement the paid staff.  It truly is a humbling and inspiring experience every time I walk in the doors, because probably half of the people I run into are there on a volunteer basis.  I would encourage any parent to check it out here.

I spoke on Matthew 4:1-11 to the 6th-8th grade students, and the title of the talk was extremely clever: Jesus the Tempted.  Yes, that passage is about Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness being tempted.

One of the ideas that I wanted to really hammer home is the fact that we can relate to Jesus.  He sympathizes with us, as Hebrews 4:14-16 says.  But as I was up there talking, something else grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.  I’ve read this a hundred times, but I’ve never tried to answer the question of why Jesus not giving in to temptation  was such a big deal.  I mean, really, is it that big of a deal?  I mean, he is Jesus, we all know he lived a sinless life, right?  Well here are a few portions of my talk that really got me reflecting, even in the midst of speaking, on our Savior.

 

Satan makes it clear what he truly desires here, and not only for Jesus, but for all people.  Satan desires worship.

Now Satan is referred to in many ways, but here are some that are particularly important when we look at this final temptation.

1. Ephesians 6:12 – Ruler of the darkness of the world.

2. Ephesians 2:2 – Prince of the power of the air.

3. John 14:30 – Prince of this world.

4. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – god of this world.

What these titles should tell us is that Satan works as if he has real power on the earth.  He doesn’t have any real power capable of defeating God’s purposes, but he will try to convince us he does, just like he tried to convince Jesus here.  He offers earthly dominion to Jesus.  But why is Jesus here at all?  And what is his future role?  His role is KING!  He comes to earth as the lamb of God, as John the Baptist describes him in John 1:29, dying for the sins of many, but when he returns to earth again?  He is described as the LION OF JUDAH, as it says in Revelation 5:5.

Jesus is powerful over ALL the earth.  He is God Himself come down to earth.  He does not need Satan’s permission to be Lord over it!  His mission on earth at this time though, was to die for the sins of many.  He was to be righteous for us who are unrighteous.  Jesus’ purpose was to direct God’s people toward God.  To direct our worship and submission to God in heaven, and his death on the cross, taking our sins, would accomplish our salvation.  That’s why Jesus responds the way he does in verse 10.

Jesus dismisses Satan’s last temptation so completely that there is nothing left for Satan to say.  Jesus shows that he can overpower Satan and force him out from his presence, just as he does throughout the gospels when he heals the demon-possessed.  In every response Jesus gives, he is quoting Scripture.  All of his responses can be found between Deuteronomy 6-8.  What is interesting about that, is that those chapters find the people of God, Israel, banished to the desert for 40 years for their unfaithfulness.

Jesus is doing, and has done, everything righteously that the people of God have done and will do unrighteously.

He is worthy.

Let us not gloss over the reason why Jesus must be righteous, as we praise him for the fact that he is.  We are unrighteous.  Praise God that we have a righteous advocate, who knows us and loves us as we inconsistently seek him.

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Political Partisanship and the Christian

Fresh off what has regularly been touted by the average citizen as one of, if not the most, partisan election cycles America has ever witnessed, I’ve been quite content to slink backwards from the political television and take a breath.  It’s been nice.  Then I went and saw Lincoln the other night with my brother and my Dad.  I’ve read Team of Rivals, and I’ve always been an admirer of Lincoln so I know about the partisan state of politics at the time (ahem, Civil War…slavery…).  Seeing it on the big screen brought that imagined partisanship to life in a cold-splash-of-water sort of way, and it reminded me that I’ve wanted to try to formulate some thoughts on the issue for the blog.

First, for the history buffs, or the people who tend to think that politics is only partisan now…check out this post by my former professor, Chris Gehrz, at Bethel University.  It is a timely reminder of the historical partisanship of politics, even regarding one of history’s most well-regarded speeches of all time, the Gettysburg Address.

Secondly, check out this reaction from Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at my school, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family contributed a very wise response to those dejected by the results here.

Alright well I’m going to keep this succinct (hopefully…fingers crossed).

Every Christian, and every human, has a tendency to veer into idolatry.  A great quote from John Calvin is that “the human heart is an idol factory,” actually creating idols to worship constantly while we’re not devoted to the one true God.  I keep this quote in the back of my mind constantly, because I constantly have reason to quote it in my own life.  I’m constantly rebuking myself for idolatry…most often idolatry of myself or my ideas or opinions.  I think this problem, the problem of idolatry, and ultimately the problem of sin, is at the heart of all the partisan bickering.  Newsflash, I’m not the first person to say that.

I do have to remind myself of this tendency often, because I also tend to hold non-Christians to the standards that I find set for myself in Scripture.  What I mean by that is this:  As a Christian, who believes in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, I desire to figure out what Scripture says my life should be like, how it should look.  A non-Christian could care less.  And that’s not saying they don’t care what their lives look like, it’s saying that they could care less what Scripture says.  That is an important thing to remember, particularly in these contentious election cycles.  There is no point being overly upset as Christians when we hear non-Christians speak and act like non-Christians.

So since that is the case, the Christian needs to constantly remind him or herself that they are responsible for themselves firstly.  In Colossians 3, Paul talks about the putting on of the new self:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy  and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:1-17)

This is important, and I think many may read it as if it is merely instructive for our relationships with fellow believers.  Certainly it speaks to that at length, but the new self as Paul describes simply cannot be so truncated as to bear fruit within the Church only, can it?  No.  The new self is exactly that, it’s a new self, it’s complete, total, holistic.  The Christian is being conformed to the image of Christ, meaning they are in the process of being made more Christ-like.  Certainly that doesn’t mean that we are instantly like Christ, but it also means that we aren’t the same person as before, and we aren’t changing for the sake of change, but we’re changing so that we can have an impact, and we are being changed in one direction…toward Christ.

Reading this it also becomes clear that while the Christian is responsible for their own actions and heart attitudes, they are also representatives of Christ, which should probably carry more weight than we allow it to all too often.  In this age of twitter, blogs, facebook, and just interconnectedness in general, everything we say and do online bears our stamp of approval as soon as it becomes public.  Do we understand the gravity of that?  Does that give us pause as we dive into the political debate?  Or does it only occur to us after we’ve said something and spent hours arguing about it?  I know from personal experience how easy it is to write comments dripping with sarcasm on an article that I think no one else I know will see, only to find myself opining that very action by another person, complaining that they don’t understand the message it sends.  Do we hold ourselves to as high a standard as we hold others?

Political partisanship will always exist on earth (or the moon).  As a Christian, the real question that matters is what standards am I going to set for myself in my interactions with those who disagree with me?  How about my responses to those who agree with me but who go about it the wrong way?  Is it our responsibility as Christians to call fellow believers to embrace that “new self”?  Or are we just supposed to let them figure it out on their own?  These are important questions to ask ourselves, particularly during times like these, where we have approximately 1 month before it starts back up again.  At the end of the day, as many of said, Jesus is King, and he is triumphant indeed.  So we must ask ourselves why we so often allow ourselves to believe that it is our utmost responsibility to win his battles for him.

Must we stand firm in the faith?  Absolutely.  Colossians 2:8 speaks to this: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  So we are to make it clear that we are not taken captive by the ideas that are not of Christ.  But can we communicate that in a way that represents Christ well?  Absolutely.  We won’t ever do it perfectly, but we have to strive to, and where necessary…we’ll have to apologize for not meeting that standard.  The key trait of a humble heart is the willingness to recognize fault and apologize for it sincerely, with repentance.  Another characteristic of humility (and discernment) is recognizing that our desire to “win” arguments is not Christ’s agenda.  It simply isn’t.  As our agenda begins to match up more and more with Christ’s the necessary implication of that is that our agenda will shift from winning arguments, to winning affection.  This isn’t done by accepting every argument, or shifting positions to be agreeable to all.  It’s not glad-handing.  It’s being winsome, even when we disagree.  There will be those who see simply don’t care.  There will be those who will still hate you for what you say, no matter how winsome.  But that doesn’t drive us!  Why should we seek the fickle approval of sinful men?  We seek the approval of the one true, gracious and loving God, and that is good news.
As always, I welcome discussion!
-Seth

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Words of Note 11/12/12

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50134473n&tag=categoryDoorEditors;editorsCD

This is a telling look at China. The changes that have been occurring and will likely still need to take place.  Of particular note is the flourishing of capitalism in a country with the governmental authority of China…with 90% of those wealthiest being politicians…a drastic difference between the United States and other Capitalistic economies, where politicians are certainly wealthy, but nowhere near the extent of the founders and CEOs of Corporations.  On one end of the spectrum you have the USA fighting about the corporations who carry so much power that they are believed to have politicians in their “pockets,” and at the other end, in the communist nation of China, it’s the politicians who have the power and the money, in a nation with an astounding 500 protests per day.

http://nation.time.com/2012/11/12/americas-coming-out-election-how-gay-issues-became-mainstream/

Regardless of your views on the issue, the moral shift in the landscape has been monumental, and it didn’t happen on November 6th.  Election day was merely an affirmation of a shift that has been on the horizon for many years.  What does this mean?  This is a question that we as Christians must wrestle with as we seek to be faithful to the one true God.  The questions that each person must ask themselves are many, but the most important thing to wrestle with is the Christian’s response to governmental actions legitimizing what we read in Scripture to be sinful.  There can be no doubt that marriage is the covenant relationship that accurately reflects the gospel, and there can be no doubt that Scripture lays out that covenant relationship as being between one man, and one woman.  In reality, should we not expect this?

http://www.startribune.com/sports/wild/178638861.html

This article, or rather the drama that it is referencing, is about so much more than sports.  Here in Minnesota, we’ve settled into an incredibly uncomfortable acquiescence to the fact that money truly is the root of all evil.  In this case it seems that there will be no hero on a white horse galloping in to save the day.  The fans have been in the middle of a publicity blitz, with the NHL (essentially the Owners) giving out information that is favorable to them, while the NHLPA (Players association) does the same.  Neither side recognize that at this point they’ve alienated what is already a hardcore hockey niche, with the occasional casual fan.  The league has spread itself so thin that numerous teams are or have been in financial trouble, and one of the priorities of the lockout has been the prevention of back-loaded contracts…which are given out by…the owners themselves.  Commissioner Gary Bettman has now been on-hand for three work-stoppages in his tenure, and while the MLB learned its lesson from the early 90s and quietly inked a new deal amid very little fanfare, and the NFL and NBA both endured contentious lockouts that left fans frustrated, the NHL and NHLPA refused to talk until the last minute, essentially guaranteeing a prolonged lockout.  The owners…they make money regardless.  The players?  They play in Europe or other North American leagues.  The fans..they are the ones that lose out.  Is this merely what happens when culture becomes idolatrous in it’s pursuit of entertainment?  The amount of money is truly the hindrance in every case of lockouts.  It’s worth a look in the mirror for all involved.

http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/2976711-granny-lives-slovakia-now

This article strikes me.  Perhaps it’s the fact that caring for parents and grandparents has been outsourced for so long now that it doesn’t really strike a chord with people, outside of the fact that many likely resonate with the costs of placing an elderly mother or father in a nursing home.  There is an interesting dilemma here for the modern/post-modern Westerner.  The question these days isn’t so much “How do I care for granny,” so much as it is “where can I afford to put her?”  A frightening change to be sure.  When family becomes subservient to economy, we must recognize that we’ve forgotten the gospel.  Even for the secularist it’s shaky ground.

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Words of Note: 11/07/12

Some words of note for this post-election day:

1. Romney’s Concession Speech

As was widely reported, Romney was so confident in victory that he had only penned a victory speech.  Who knows how accurate that is, however in an election as tight as this one, it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that though he hadn’t written one, he knew who to thank.  That said, I think Romney’s speech was the most genuine and humanizing I’ve seen him give.  It is indeed interesting to look back on this most divisive election cycle, and look at this speech in context.  I do believe Romney was gracious in defeat, and appeared to be genuinely thankful that it was all over, even thought the outcome was not as he desired.

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/romneys-concession-speech_661905.html

2. Barack Obama’s Acceptance Speech

President Obama’s acceptance speech hearkened back to 2008, exuding the charisma that has come to be a fundamental descriptor of him from the beginning of his national political career.  It was a well delivered speech that echoed 2008, but also hinted far more seriously at the difficulties that lay ahead.  The reality is that Obama will have to deal with a split Congress yet again, making bi-partisanship more important than ever.  This speech certainly echoed a battlefield mentality at times in favor of the “working across the aisles” feel that his 2008 speeches had in abundance.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/decision2012/president-obamas-acceptance-speech-full-transcript/2012/11/07/ae133e44-28a5-11e2-96b6-8e6a7524553f_story.html

Introductions

I’ve started many a blog.  The problem that I’ve always found is that the stated objective of the blog itself tends to be such that I feel (most likely as a product of my imagination) that I’m prohibited from making certain posts.  If it is a blog focused on theological issues, I can’t post about the NHL lockout.  If it’s a personal blog, I can’t post…well, anything that requires thinking.

This is an attempt to remedy that.  I’ve made attempts before, but this is different, because I’m making it a goal to post something, anything, every weekday (which for me is Monday-Thursday), and as often as possible on Friday through Sunday.

I look at a variety of articles every day, so there will be many days where I simply post a few articles that I’ve found interesting, and you may check them out at your leisure.  These blog posts will be reflective of my own preferences at any given point in time, obviously, so on a given day I could post about:

How overrated I think Houston Texans are

How frustrating facebook political/social rhetoric is

How my word study of “betray” is going

Why I think Augustine is right and Cassian is wrong on the issue of personal responsibility and God’s sovereignty

Some articles that I’ve found interesting from the last couple of days

 

So basically, expect just about anything.

Lastly, the title should give you a clue as to how I approach this blog.  I don’t claim to know all the answers about what I’m writing about, and I welcome conversation as long as it is done in a civil manner.  I will delete comments at my discretion due to vulgar language or insults.  I would love for this blog to be a place where more than one viewpoint is expressed and healthy debate occurs.  Although I’ll be perfectly content just writing stuff I like and assuming that the entire world agrees with me.

 

 

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