02 September 2014

The Way of Self Centeredness

The "love chapter", 1 Corinthians 13, is familiar to many of us. Perhaps too familiar. It is a classic wedding reading and its words fill many greeting cards. I was reading it again this morning and was reminded what a dynamite chapter it really is. Most of us casually handle these few verses like some comfortable trinket, tossing them into a junk drawer until we happen to be rummaging around and happen back upon it when we think, "oh, I used to love this chapter." We must guard against that mistake.

As I was pondering the words of 1 Corinthians 13 this morning, I began to think about love's opposite. Elie Wiesel has said that "the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference." I am not sure that is exactly right, but it begins to get at truth. I also think that the opposite of love, at least a part of it, is self-centeredness.

I learned from David Powlison that sometimes writing passages out as their opposite adds new clarity to the intended meaning. I know that for me it did. I tried to come at this passage with no pre-conceived ideas about what might emerge by rendering its opposite. I am grieved to see myself in so many elements here.

The Way of Self Centeredness

Self-centeredness is demanding and rude. Self-centeredness wants what other people have. It draws attention to itself, bragging in its accomplishments and abilities, embellishing stories and puffing itself up. It is mean-spirited and unkind. It demands that others follow its protocol--its way or the highway. Self-centeredness is set-off easily, irritation rising to the surface at the slightest provocation, particularly when it observes others getting what it believes it deserves. Self-centeredness accepts wrongdoing when it improves its position and it rejects the truth when it does not. Self-centeredness quits when relationships are hard, it is chronically suspicious, it expects things to get worse. Self-centeredness drops out of the race of life as soon as it develops a stitch in its side.

Self-centeredness is a quitter.

May these words help you to understand the way of self-centeredness and the way of love more deeply.

O merciful Father,
Forgive us for our self-centeredness and the many ways in which we justify it,
Make us more loving and other-centered, as you have steadfastly loved us.
Apart from your mercy and grace, we are undone.
May we glorify you in love.



31 August 2014

Affected by our Presuppositions

Peter's past affected him. Raised a Jew, he had specific ideas about who was in and who was out. The Jews were the chosen ones, the one for whom Messiah came. Even after Peter was befriended by Jesus, he maintained his strong Jewishness and apparently was reluctant to move outside of that former way of thinking.

In Acts 10, an angel appeared to Cornelius who was not a Jew, telling him to seek out Peter. So he sends for him. In verse 9, the story is seemingly interrupted as we read about a vision that Peter had. Hungry, Peter sees "a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: 'Rise Peter, kill and eat'" (Acts 10:11-13). Peter essentially responded by saying, "no way Lord. I've never broken this law you set forth and I'm not about to start now."

I used to read this story and think it was about food, but its about people. Its about Peter seeing that Gentiles were God's children too (Acts 10:27-28) and so he relented and met with Cornelius. And Peter and the church lived happily ever after, right?  Not so fast.

In Galatians 2:11-14, there is another story about Paul opposing Peter for a very similar issue. Peter had been hanging out, having lunch with the Gentiles, but then the Jews showed up. Peter was scared about what the Jews would say, so he quietly pulls back from them and Paul confronts him for behaving this way. 

I have said it before, but I am glad Peter is in the Bible. Peter is the rock on which Jesus would build his church, but as Michael Card pointed out, Peter was a "fragile stone." He was an impetuous sinner. He was also a new creation, but still seemingly affected by his former way of thinking.

Here's a little secret...all of us are affected by our pasts. Your style of relating, your way of thinking can be subtly or not so subtly affected by what has gone before. So what? First, it is important to acknowledge that how you think and feel can be deeply affected by your history. Second, it is important to remember that you are a new creation. The words of truth are written on your heart and in God's word. Submit your thinking to the word of truth (Romans 12:2). Third, seek wise counsel from people who know you and know God. They may help to hold up a mirror for you to see blind spots you may not see, as Paul did with Peter.

Finally, show grace to others because their past affects who they are as well.  If they are Christians, they are called saints by God, but they remain flawed saints until glory. There will be times when they seem to be living well in the rhythm of the Spirit and there will be times when their past pops back through. Be patient, give grace, and thank God for the work in their lives, just as He continues to work in yours.

26 August 2014

Book Review: The Case for the Real Jesus--Student Edition

When one thinks of mainstream Christian apologists, Lee Strobel's name is assuredly at the top of the list. A former atheist and journalist, he initially came to recognition by applying his journalistic skill to the excellent book, The Case for Christ. He has since applied the same engaging, journalistic method to several other books such as the The Case for a Creator and the Case for Faith. His typical approach is to tackle questions Christians may discuss with nonbelievers or that they may struggle with themselves.  The Case for the Real Jesus (2008, Zondervan) was no different.

In this book, Strobel sets out to address six different challenges:
1) Scholars are uncovering a radically different Jesus through ancient documents just as credible as the four gospels.
2) The Bible's portrait of Jesus can't be trusted because the church tampered with the text.
3) New explanations have disproved Jesus' resurrection.
4) Christianity's beliefs about Jesus were copied from pagan religions.
5) Jesus was an imposter who failed to fulfill the prophecies about the Messiah.
6) People should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus.

In each case, he would find expert theists and apologists to address the questions at hand. Although many people may be unfamiliar with these authors, writers such as Craig Evans, Dan Wallace, and Paul Copan are highly educated, knowledgeable about the topics, and capable of defending. In each case, Strobel essentially lays out his conversations with these individuals to the benefit of the reader.

I would say the only place where I was puzzled was in trying to understand what classified this as a "student edition."  I was unable to locate anything specific, other than the cover, that specifically mentioned that it was for students. The writing style employed inside is classic Strobel and doesn't appear different from how he typically writes. Admittedly, I did not have a copy of the non-student edition for comparison, though I suspect they would be vastly similar.  Perhaps what made it a student edition was the inclusion of various text boxes, tables, and figures to highlight parts of the text, though to be fair, these "call outs" would be beneficial whether a person was a student or not.

In sum, this was a fine book. It could have been more comprehensive, but that was not the focus and there are other fine volumes to fit that niche. The purpose of answering these basic questions is handled clearly and effectively.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

23 August 2014

Book Review: Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them

In the past, I have read a couple of engaging books by John Ortberg, so when I saw Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them (Zondervan, 2003) on the shelf at the thrift store, I thought I would give it a go. To not delay your suspense, I told a friend of mine that this book was gold. In fact, when I was half-way through the book, I purchased two other copies to give to people. I've already given one away.

Ortberg has an engaging writing style that shows a wide breadth of knowledge and a capacity to capture the reader's attention. In this book, he explores the concepts of loneliness, community, and boundaries. In essence, he reminds us of the need for healthy community. 

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was his discussion of the Canaanite woman who approached and asked him to heal her daughter. He told her that "its not right to take the children's bread and toss it to dogs."  I have always hated that verse. It doesn't fit with my conception of Jesus.  Ortberg used it as a lesson, not so much for her, but for his disciples, showing the role of faith rather than lineage. I had never looked at it that way before.

Just this morning, I was reading from John 17 and Jesus is praying that we would be one, just as he and the Father are one and that we may be in them (the Father and Son) as they are in each other. That's a call to Trinitarian community and Ortberg writes of that idea well. 

21 August 2014

Book Review: Three Philosophies of Life

Peter Kreeft's Three Philosophies of Life (1989) is a philosophical, theological, and practical exploration of the the themes of vanity, suffering, and love. He explores each of these "philosophies of life" through the biblical wisdom literature. In particular, ecclesiastes represents vanity, Job represents suffering, and the Song of Songs represents love.

The longest section dealt with Ecclesiastes, which Kreeft regards as one of the finest philosophical "books" ever produced because it deals so well with a basic human issue. He writes, "Ecclesiastes is as great, as deep, and as terrifying as the ocean." For him, though the book is several thousand years old, its practical relevance today is unparalleled.

The second section, which deals with the suffering of Job, is also deeply relevant to modern life. He wrestles deeply with the what suffering means in life without minimizing it or avoiding its reality, much like the author of Job did.

My favorite section dealt with Song of Songs, the final "philosophy of life." He writes, "The Song of Songs is the definitive answer to the question of Ecclesiastes and to the quest of Job." He proceeds to show the many different manifestations of love evident through the writings of this short book. One of my favorite, extended quotes, appears near the end of the book.

"But what about sin? Does God just hide his eyes? How can that be realism? God does not hide his eyes. Your eyes are hidden in time, hidden from your eternal destiny and identity. You see only the present crude sketch of yourself. He sees the completed masterpiece, for he sees from eternity. Your life is like a string pulled taut. Like an ant, you crawl along the string of your lifetime, from one end (birth) to the other (death). But God sees the whole string end on, from the end. He blinks at nothing; he sees everything in its true perspective. He sees your whole life, but not as you do, piecemeal. He sees you whole, as a finished painting. And the judgment he pronounces on you is 'perfect.'"

Three Philosophies is a good little book. Despite the fact that it is written by a philosopher, it is accessible, clear, and engaging.

20 August 2014

Foundational Ideas in One Paragraph

Every one of us has ideas about how the world works. Our underlying presuppositions, even if we are unaware of them, affect how we view and interact with the world (worldview matters). As a Christian, several ideas inform how I view the world. Christianity is unique in the centrality of relationship. God is Trinity--a perfect relationship that has existed for all eternity and, as Christ followers, we exist to be in relationship with others as well (Relationality). We don't do this perfectly because we are flawed. We err in keeping God's law, we err in relating well.  However, through the finished work of Christ, we are also saints--image bearers of our perfect King. We sin, but possess value (flawed saints). Because we are imperfect, but saved by a perfect God, we pursue humility. We admit that we don't have all the answers. We listen attentively to try to understand. Even in the face of disagreement, we act from a perspective of sacrificial love and service (self-denial/humility). Nevertheless, I believe that truth is objective, and much of it is discoverable. I have no doubt that I am wrong about many things, but being wrong assumes that there is a right and wrong.  Humbly pursuing that truth is a noble endeavor (absolute truth). One of the truths that most deeply affects my worldview is that I am a great sinner and God is a great Savior. Apart from his saving grace, I am hopeless (grace/forgiveness). However, the gospel is much bigger than me individually. When sin entered the world, it affected--infected--everything. There is nothing in the universe not touched by sin (the fall affected everything). At the same time, the gospel is more powerful than my salvation, though it is not less than that. The good news of the Kingdom, brought by Jesus Christ, is that He is in the process of restoring all things, restoring shalom, and in that, there is great hope (the gospel affected everything).

Book Review: Beautiful Outlaw

Beautiful Outlaw (2011) by John Eldridge is an excellent treatment of the humanity of Christ. Eldridge points his reader to the humanity of Christ, the ruddiness of him. I tend toward the tradition that bristles at books like this one. The risen Christ is majestic (he is) and unapproachable (he is not). Unfortunately, in focusing so much upon the divinity of Christ, it is easy to miss his humanity.  This book may be one of the better explorations of the humanity, the personhood of Jesus. Reflecting on biblical story after biblical story, Eldridge shows the reader that Jesus was not some aloof, distant sage, but a man who felt things, a man who engaged with the people around him.  There were some things in the book that seem a little goofy to me (e.g., his son seeing Jesus in a pirate hat), but I wonder if that was not a little bit of Eldridge's point, to see the playfulness and approachability of Jesus. 

More than anything, I found myself challenged to begin asking people "Who is Jesus?" and "What does Jesus think of you?" I would recommend this book if you are interested in exploring the humanity of Christ in more depth.

19 August 2014

Men and Women wrap up

Over the last couple of months, Mark Halvorsen and I have been talking about Larry Crabb's book Men and Women. We have spent three hours discussing it on his show, Front Page. If you haven't had a chance to listen in, here are the three parts.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

One of the things that I pointed yesterday on the show was that although the book is called Men and Women, it should not be thought of merely as a marriage book. The topics that are discussed, particularly in the first half of the book hold a broad importance.

Dr Crabb opened his book with this quote from Fredrick Buechner: "'Original sin' means we all originate out of a sinful world which taints us from the word go. We all tend to make ourselves the center of the universe." Anwounded, and people are self-centered. We must decide which is the greater problem." It is easy to consider our woundedness, which should not be discounted or avoided, yet we are all deeply self-centered as well, which has a significant effect on relationships.
d so Dr Crabb begins to address how self-centered each of us are.  In our first show, we spent quite a bit of time discussing Dr Crabb's idea that "people are

In the second show, we spent time talking about justified anger. Each of us has a tendency to find ways to justify how we think and behave in self-centered ways. When we become angry at others, we make it seem like we are the victim and so feel righteous in becoming angry. Unfortunately, this "justified self-centeredness" blocks relational formation.

Yesterday, we made it through three chapters, which was amazing for us! The fourth chapter is entitled "surely I'm not that bad". Most of us, if we are honest believe that the way we act and behave is "not that bad."  Just today, I was convicted of a sin that I didn't make much of before hand, though today, I was confronted with the depth of my sin. The fifth and sixth chapters move into discussing that "change is possible" through the "celebration of forgiveness." 

It was a blessing to talk about this book and these important topics. I would highly recommend the book and I look forward to discovering what we will discuss next!

18 August 2014

Foundational Ideas: The Gospel Affects Everything


As sin affected everything, so the Gospel will restore everything. God makes all things new. In the midst of our depravity, there was quite literally nothing we could do to save ourselves from continued descent. Only Christ, who came to redeem sinners, offers any hope. But we must not be so short sighted as to think that Christ’s only job was to rescue sinners.   No doubt that was a massive part of what he came to do, but he came to usher in his kingdom. There will be a day, because of his ongoing redemptive work that he will wipe every tear from every eye, when there will be no more crying, no more pain, and no more sorrow. He will restore what needed restoration.

We are called to participate in God’s redemptive work today. We should bloom where we are planted. When we love others, when we work for cultural renewal, when we promote a biblical worldview, we serve to improve the world around us. As believers, Christ’s work for us was much broader than we could ever have imagined. For further information, anything by Chuck Colson would be appropriate, though I also liked Matt Chandler’s book “TheExplicit Gospel” for understanding this Kingdom vision.

17 August 2014

Foundational Ideas: The Fall Affected Everything


When sin entered the world (Genesis 3), the fall affected everything. Too often, we think of the effect of the fall was that it resulted in Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the garden, but all of creation was affected by the fall. Humans began to sin, to act and think in ways that were opposed to the will and holiness of God. But it was not just behavior, not just thought, emotions were also affected. Though God created us with emotion, the fall led to poor expression of our emotions. Our relationships were also affected. Larry Crabb writes about the notion of relational sin.  How we engage in relationships with others is affected by our own fallenness and our own selfishness.  Even biology, even culture are affected by the fall.  Sinfulness infects everything. The only hope for the great reversal is Christ’s ongoing redemption. One of the books that most deeply affected me here was Neal Plantinga’s Not the Way It’sSupposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.