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Worth a Look 4.29.15

Apr 29, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: Life on Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe. $2.99.

Life on Mission is a rich but simple guide that will help everyday missionaries (electricians, lawyers, church planters, students, etc.) in the areas of gospel and mission, which will lead to an effective ministry within one’s own community.

I agree with Brandon Smith on this. Too many evangelicals focus more on the rapture than on resurrection, when the New Testament focuses on the resurrection much more than rapture:

I’m not opposed to attempting to deal with vague texts (at least, vague in our eyes) about the return of Christ. I have more than one book on my shelf dealing with the various views of the rapture and the millennium. It’s an interesting topic. The problem is, many evangelicals spend more time talking about rapture than resurrection. One is the focal point of the New Testament. One is not.

Read Russell Moore’s reflections from the Supreme Court sidewalk as the Court took up the definition of marriage:

I can’t get that scene out of my mind. On the one hand, here is someone from the Bible Belt, maybe even one who grew up in an evangelical church, who is in touch enough with his roots to know how to speak to his elders, but estranged enough from the gospel to be far away from the old paths. On the other side is a man with a megaphone, who knows what the Bible teaches about morality, but who does not know what the Bible teaches about the gospel.

Lore Ferguson has words of wisdom here — When Doubt is More than Just a Season:

To those facing their darkest days, I also want to say it’s just a season. It’s easier to say that than telling them it might not get better. Jeremiah 6:14 reads, “They heal the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace.” We often want to offer the “light” words because we desire peace more than actual healing. But God does not give us light healing; he is a good surgeon, wounding so he can heal, and applying pressure to stop the bleeding.

Eric Geiger gives some advice on how leaders can maintain daily exercise routines:

The people we serve benefit if we have less stress, more energy, and better thinking. Because of that, a leader is wise to, if at all possible, exercise. For the last six years, I have exercised regularly. Here are three ways to embed exercise into your life.

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Here’s Hoping the Supreme Court Will Handle Same-Sex Marriage Like Other Nations Have

Apr 28, 2015 | Trevin Wax

supremecourtatangle_0From my column at RNS this week:

Conservatives have often criticized the liberal wing of the Supreme Court for considering the decisions of foreign courts when interpreting the U.S. Constitution. But on the issue of same-sex marriage, conservatives who want the court to exercise judicial restraint in redefining marriage may find themselves hoping, just this once, that the justices will take a cue from other nations.

On Tuesday (April 28), the court will hear arguments regarding the right of states to define marriage. Both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage alike — expect the court will likely hand down a historic ruling that will legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. In not stopping lower courts from striking down state citizen-led constitutional amendments limiting marriage to a man and a woman, the justices sent a sign that a sweeping ruling lies ahead.

Such a ruling would be a definitive victory for advocates of same-sex marriage. But some believe it would be an example of judicial overreach that, although intended to “end debate” on the issue, would instead polarize the country, lead to the demonization of those who would dissent from the new definition, and follow the pattern of Roe v. Wade in setting the stage for cultural battles in the next generation.

Although the experience of other nations does not determine the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, one of the briefs filed in the case comes from 54 international law experts from 27 countries. They call for judicial deference and a willingness to allow the democratic process to be fulfilled rather than force rapid and controversial social change.

Despite the dominant media narrative in the United States, there is no international trend toward same-sex marriage.  Of the 193 nations that belong to the United Nations, only 17 have changed the definition of marriage or allowed for unions that disregard male-female complementarity as no longer essential to the meaning of marriage. Out of those 17 nations, only one did so by judicial decree: Brazil. In all other cases, the legalization of same-sex marriage took place through the legislative process.

Some may ask, what’s the difference? If societal approval of same-sex marriage in the U.S. is growing consistently and has now tipped over the 50 percent mark, why does it matter if the court decides the direction the country appears to be going anyway?

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Worth a Look 4.28.15

Apr 28, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption by Matt Chandler. $3.99.

The Song of Solomon offers strikingly candid—and timeless—insights on romance, dating, marriage, and sex. We need it. Because emotions rise and fall with a single glance, touch, kiss, or word. And we are inundated with songs, movies, and advice that contradicts God’s design for love and intimacy.

I was encouraged by this reminder from Derwin Gray — 4 Reasons We are a People of Hope:

When we face challenges, our culture tells us to “take care of it yourself” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” But Jesus never intended for us to walk through difficult times alone. Christianity is not a faith of “I can do it” but a faith of “Christ can do it in me.” Our circumstances may not change, but God can change us in the midst of them.

Alan Jacobs responds to Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” of withdrawing from the public square:

So I wonder if a better way to think about the Benedict Option is not as a strategic withdrawal from anything in particular but a strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within which Christians can flourish. In other words, Rod’s post is the right starting place, and the language of “withdrawal” something of a distraction from what that post is all about.

Christianity Today summarizes the ongoing discussion at Moody Bible Institute about the usefulness of a term like “white privilege” in the pursuit of racial reconciliation:

The debate at Moody is part of a larger conversation about race and ethnicity at Christian colleges, driven in large part by the country’s changing demographics.

This was posted a couple years ago, but I must have missed it. Ayn Rand Really, Really Hated C. S. Lewis:

These insults and more can be found in her marginal notes on a copy of Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, as printed in Ayn Rand’s Marginalia: Her critical comments on the writings of over 20 authors, edited by Robert Mayhew. Excerpts appear below, with Lewis’ writing (complete with Rand’s highlighting and underlining) on the left and Rand’s notes on the right.

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The Fire of Jesus and Patience of Paul

Apr 27, 2015 | Trevin Wax

st-markOne of the most tired ideas that persists in popular Christian circles (and, unfortunately, in more than a few scholarly works) is that Paul and Jesus were at odds. Paul corrupted the simple, uniting message of Jesus’ love by enforcing rigid dogma that divides.

According to this line of thinking, Paul distorted Jesus’ inclusive and tolerant message of acceptance by taking the hard line against sin and mixing in warnings against wrath, judgment, and hell. Within a generation, the gentle parables of Jesus gave way to the hellfire sermonizing of Paul. Now, this is most certainly a caricature of the Bible’s witness, which is why I’m especially surprised when it comes from ”red letter Christians.” Frankly, I expect them to know better, especially if they’re truly familiar with the red letters.

If you were to pick someone in the New Testament who most resembles a ”hellfire and brimstone” preacher, it would probably be John the Baptist, the prophet who baptized Jesus, and about whom Jesus said no one greater had been born. We like to caricature offensive evangelists as if they are weirdos holding up signs saying, “Turn or burn!” But the testimony we receive about John isn’t far from that. His words are pointed; his call to repentance is clear; his clothing is strange. The way John prepared the way for the Lord was by denouncing all kinds of sin: personal, social, and sexual. He called out the immorality of the king and lost his head for it.

Aside from John, Jesus best fits the description of a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher, even more than Paul. Just read the New Testament and you’ll often find the red letters to be more fiery than the letters of Paul.

It’s Jesus who promised to send out His angels to exclude from His kingdom everything that causes sin, throwing them into “the blazing furnace” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42). It’s Paul who assured his congregation that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers… nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:38-39).

It’s Jesus who said the prerequisite for being His disciple is to “hate” one’s own “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” before adding “even his own life” (Luke 14:26). It’s Paul who gave us the marvelous description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 (patient, kind, does not envy or boast, etc.), a passage often read at weddings all over the world.

It’s Jesus who so opposed sexual lust that he called for radical measures: cutting off one’s hand or gouging out one’s eye is better than going to the “unquenchable fire of hell.” It’s Paul who spoke of our duty to “owe no one anything, except to love each other.”

Jesus ramped up the demands of the law in His Sermon on the Mount: on vengeance, on vows, on sexuality, on marriage. Paul said “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Sometimes I hear people talking about Jesus’ compassion for the weak and His outreach to the marginalized in order to justify a watered-down inclusiveness that has little to do with repentance and faith. But this vision of ministry doesn’t make sense of the red letters either. Yes, we see Jesus reaching out to the prostitutes and tax collectors. But we also see Jesus publicly denouncing and excluding entire towns and villages where His message was not received with repentance and faith. Meanwhile, Paul — much more than Jesus — emphasizes the unity of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free in Jesus Christ.

Now, it would be foolish of me to criticize people for pitting the loving Jesus against the rigid Paul by doing the same thing, only the other way around. My point is: we shouldn’t pit Jesus against Paul, period. Instead, the closer we study the Scriptures the more we see a unity between Jesus and Paul, in that both are all about Jesus and His messiahship. This is why we find amazing expressions of God’s love and mercy in both the Gospels and Paul’s letters. It’s why we also find scary warnings of judgment and wrath poured out on all who will not repent of sin and trust in the good news of God’s kingdom, a kingdom so beautifully displayed as Christ became our substitute on the cross.

The love of God is fiercer than what the “I’m with Jesus, not Paul” people describe. It’s a holy love, as beautiful and consuming as a raging fire.

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Worth a Look 4.27.15

Apr 27, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles by Jared Wilson. $2.99.

From the humble wonder of the incarnation to the blinding glory of the transfiguration, this book shows how Jesus’s miracles reveal his divinity, authority, and ultimate mission: restoring us and this world to a right relationship with God.

A good reflection from Wesley Parker on the Samaritan woman, Jairus, and Jesus’ command to “just believe:”

We see Jesus pursuing people in their doubts, and expecting them to trust Him even in the face of impossibility. But He’s not doing that to build up His ego or His street cred. He’s doing it to build the faith of all who come to Him.  He’s demonstrating again and again, that He is a Foundation that we can trust in and lean all our weight into, even when what He’s offering seems impossible for anyone to achieve.

Jonathan Merritt, reporting from the Q Conference in Boston and the ongoing debate over sexuality:

The conversations at Q—both on stage and off—did not mirror the raging debates common on cable news networks, but they more closely resemble the national conversation as it occurs in many homes, workplaces, and churches. And in this way, it may be a model for other Christian organizations who are seeking to engage same-sex debates.

What happens when a Baptist reviews a book by an Eastern Orthodox man writing about a medieval Catholic poet? It looks like Alan Cross reviewing Rod Dreher’s book on Dante:

There is so much in Western literature, art, and tradition that speaks to the existence and glory of God. Part of speaking to this culture, I think, is digging down into the depths of history and recovering both the good and the bad and showing how God spoke to us in the past so we can hear Him again today. Diving into Dante might be a way to do that for those who think that they are not interested in what the Bible has to say about the meaning of life. As Dante ascends, we just might find ourselves ascending with him.

Here is a lengthy and informative medical assessment of gender reassignment surgery. My heart breaks over this.

May God honor our efforts to think biblically and critically about the issue of gender reassignment surgery. May he give us gospel-fueled grace to love the trans community in the name of Christ. And may he glorify himself by saving many in Christ who are now pursuing salvation in the flesh.

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Invigorate My Love

Apr 26, 2015 | Trevin Wax

7_2_pillar_fireLord of the cloud and fire,
I am a stranger, with a stranger’s indifference;
My hands hold a pilgrim’s staff,
My march is Zionward,
My eyes are toward the coming of the Lord,
My heart is in Your hands without reserve.
You have created it,
redeemed it,
renewed it,
captured it,
conquered it.
I love You with soul, mind, body, strength,
might, spirit, affection, will,
desire, intellect, understanding.
Invigorate my love that it may rise worthily to You,
tightly entwine itself around You,
be allured by You.
Then shall my walk be endless praise.

- a Puritan Prayer

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Thank God for Life, and Ask for More

Apr 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

meteor-denver-colorado

One of my favorite quotes from N. D. Wilson:

How many cars have you ever passed on the road? How many headlights have snapped by you going the opposite direction? Millions.

How many potential fatalities exist on every drive that you have ever taken? Hundreds (even on the short ones).

  • We paint a line (sometimes) and agree to stay on opposite sides as we hurtle along in tons of metal flung by explosions.
  • We fly through the sky strapped to turbines screaming with power and expect to coast down safely on the air.
  • We live on a ball of molten rock hurtling through outer space, invisibly leashed to a massive orb of flame. It is steered by Whom?

How many super-volcanoes have wiped us all out? None.

How many earthquakes have killed us all? I’m still here. You? How many could have?

As the earth screams through space, balanced exactly on the edge of everyone burning alive and everyone freezing solid, as we shriek through deadly obstacle courses of meteor showers and find them picturesque, as the nearest fiery star vomits eruptions hundreds of times bigger that our wee planet (giving chipper local weathermen northern lights to chatter about), as a giant reflective rock glides around us slopping the seas (and never falls down), and as we ride in our machines, darting past fools and drunks and texting teenagers, how many times do we thank God?

We are always in His hands, but we often feel like we are in our own. We can’t thank Him for every breath and every heartbeat, but we can thank Him every day for not splatting us with the moon or letting us drop into the sun.

When a drunk crushes some family, some mother, some friend; when a story ends, then we wake up. Then we turn to God with confused expressions, wanting to know why He was sleeping in the boat. He brought us here from nothing; is He ever allowed to take us to an exit? His own Son died young; do you think He doesn’t understand?

Moses didn’t see the Promised Land.

Samson died blind in the rubble.

Stephen beneath stones.

Paul without a head.

Peter upside down.

In a bed or on the battlefield or on asphalt in shattered glass beneath a flashing light, we are God’s stories to end.

How many drunks has He spared you from? Thank Him before you ask to be spared from another.

How many breaths have you drawn? How many winter winds have tightened your skin? How many Christmases have you seen? How many times has the sky swirled glory above your head like a benediction?

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more. Search for moments in your story for which you can be grateful.

Death by Living: Life Is Meant to Be Spent

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A Preview of the Free “Gospel. Life. Ministry” Conference on May 11

Apr 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Why You Should (Literally) Look at the World Upside Down

Apr 23, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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It’s a figure of speech to look at things “upside down” in order to get some perspective. But what if there’s more here than just a clever turn of phrase? What if we can’t actually see our world in proper perspective unless we’ve seen it upside down?

Assisi Upside Down

This is precisely the point that G. K. Chesterton makes in his biography of Francis of Assisi. Seeing the world upside down means seeing its utter dependence on God, and with that sense of dependence comes a greater love for this world because of the adventure of its own existence. He writes:

If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasize the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hanged the world upon nothing.

If St. Francis saw in one of his strange dreams, the town of Assisi upside down, it need not have differed in a single detail from itself except in being entirely the other way round. But the point is this: that whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls or the massive foundations of its watchtowers and its high citadel would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more helpless and more in peril. It is but a symbol; but it happens to fit the psychological fact.

St. Francis might love his little town as much as before, or more than before; but the nature of the love would be altered even in being increased. He might see and love every tile on the steep roofs or every bird on the battlements; but he would see them all in a new and divine light of eternal danger and dependence. Instead of being merely proud of his strong city because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped; he would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars. Perhaps St. Peter saw the world so, when he was crucified head-downwards.

Gratitude and Dependence

What happens when our love for God and the world increases in proportion to our realization of utter dependence on God? We are filled with gratitude. Chesterton goes on:

It is commonly in a somewhat cynical sense that men have said, “Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed”. It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said. “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything”.

It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero, from the dark nothingness of his own deserts, that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them; and they are in themselves the best working example of the idea. For there is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset. But there is more than this involved, and more indeed than is easily to be expressed in words. It is not only true that the less a man thinks of himself, the more he thinks of his good luck and of all the gifts of God. It is also true that he sees more of the things themselves when he sees more of their origin; for their origin is a part of them and indeed the most important part of them.

The Truth about Our World

Seeing the world upside down is not a trick. It is not an illusion or the result of an overactive imagination. Recognizing the world’s awesomeness and fragility — this grandeur held together by the breath of the Creator — is seeing reality. Ordinariness is the delusion of self-sufficiency; when we look at the world upside down, we actually see it right side up.

That we all depend in every detail, at every instant, as a Christian would say upon God, as even an agnostic would say upon existence and the nature of things, is not an illusion of imagination; on the contrary, it is the fundamental fact which we cover up, as with curtains, with the illusion of ordinary life. That ordinary life is an admirable thing in itself, just as imagination is an admirable thing in itself. But it is much more the ordinary life that is made of imagination than the contemplative life. He who has seen the whole world hanging on a hair of the mercy of God has seen the truth; we might almost say the cold truth. He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.

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