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Speaking Truth to Skepticism

April 16, 2019
First Step to Truth

Every once in a while I run into a person (such as student) who confidently and proudly offers the following philosophical aphorism: “Your truth is true for you, and my truth is true for me.”
My first reaction, when I hear this, is to ask myself whether any real communication is possible if this statement is, um, true.
I know that folks who are followers of Christ run into this sometimes, and feel frustrated … again, because it is a conversation-stopper.
Now, the standard Christian apologetics response might be to ask, “Is that statement just true for you, or are you insisting that it is also true for me?”
Or something along those lines.
But that’s an unfair response, or at least an unhelpful one. That’s because it’s likely that this person is so steeped in “postmodernism” (or late modernism, or post-postmodernism, or whatever label you like), that categories such as moral truth and metaphysical truth have no meaning. So, to hold up a mirror and show the incoherence and inherent falsehood of their claim will likely just confuse them.
No progress is being made.
So if we want to eventually have an opportunity to present the Gospel in a way that can actually make sense to that person, it helpful to at least try to understand the philosophical foundations (such as they are) on which they stand — even if they do not realize it. This requires, among other things, at least some working knowledge of the ideas generally clustered around the notion of postmodernism. It also requires attentiveness, empathy, and, frankly, love.
There are many ways to accomplish the first requirement, but one of the easiest and most accessible, in my opinion, would be to view the lectures presented at a 2007 Ligonier conference with the theme “Contending for the Truth.”
The topics at that conference included:

Tim Keller has also offered some thoughts and tools. Chapter 5 of his book, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, is particularly informative and helpful. I will have more to say about the content of that chapter in a future blog post.
Meanwhile, the question on the table is this: How do we better prepare ourselves in order to communicate the truth of the Gospel to those who resist the notion of truth itself?
Understanding the postmodernism is a first step.

When I pray, everything gets worse!

April 11, 2019

Have you ever heard this sentiment (or expressed it yourself)?
A good follow-up question might be, “Why pray at all?”
That’s a good follow-up question, because the answer to that question helps us to deal a little bit better with the issue of “unwanted outcomes” or “undesirable answers to prayer.” Or seemingly unanswered prayer.
Of course, when someone is truly suffering, it’s almost impossible to really reassure them about God’s love and His “better plan” for His children. We can offer empathy. And prayer.
But some reflection on who God is, and why God asks us to pray, may also be in order.
It all starts with expectations. We pray, we expect answers. But the answers we expect are our answers, not necessarily God’s. There could be any number of reasons why God doesn’t provide the specific answers we seek. Or, why God waits to answer our prayers.  In many cases, we couldn’t begin to understand and expect God’s eventual answers to our prayers, and we are surprised by unexpected answers.
But prayer is not just about answers.
Prayer is also about, well, prayer.
Prayer re-calibrates our relationshipto God, and our relationship with God.  We pray because God commands us to pray, and to let our requests be made known to Him... even though He is sovereign and knows our needs and wants!
Prayer is not a mechanism for preventing disappointment. It’s often in the midst of disappointment that we discover or develop strength of character. And hope. And a clearer sense of who God is, and who we are as a follower of Christ.
Disappointment, in fact, is very much a part of life in this fallen world. It’s sometimes said that “life is a disappointment.” God understands this… and so He asks us to continually turn to Him and allow Him to lead us through our disappointments in life.
“When I pray, everything gets worse.”
Yup.
Hey, let’s pray about that!





Middle of the Night Insomnia: Vigilia Sancti

July 30, 2016

Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night, and have trouble getting back to sleep? Frustrating, wasn’t it. And the next morning you probably complained about having a terrible night. Middle of the night insomnia, it’s often called. Terrible thing.

Or maybe not so much.

The Bible doesn’t have all that much to say about getting “a good night’s sleep” as we understand the expression. The Book of Proverbs observes that keeping sound wisdom and discretion contributes to “sweet sleep” (Prov. 3:21-24).  And Psalm 4:8 offers a beautiful bedtime prayer: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

The Book of Proverbs advises us not to “love” sleep (Prov. 20:13) lest we make ourselves unnecessarily poor. One of the most delightful verses of the Bible is about NOT sleeping too much: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Delightful, except perhaps for the teenager whose parents are fond of loudly reciting it to him or her around noon on Saturdays.

On the other hand, Psalm 127:2 advises us not to be a workaholic to the point of routinely skipping sleep, because this reflects a lack of faith in God’s providence. (Apparently this reminder is especially targeted to young parents, because the rest of that Psalm is a reminder about how children are a gift from God…)

The Bible also speaks about sleepless nights: Jesus stayed up all night to pray (Luke 6:12); Jacob had an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:24); and Samuel cried out to the Lord all night (1 Samuel 15:11). I don’t know if Paul and Silas were up all night singing, or simply started up their concert around midnight. Either way, the Book of Acts states that it was in the middle of the night (Acts 16:25). And there are many mentions of nocturnal prayer and meditation on God’s word (Psalm 63:6; Psalm 119:55; Psalm 119:148; Luke 2:37) — and weeping and mourning (Job 7:4-5; Job 30:17; Jeremiah 45:3; Lamentations 2:19; Joel 1:13; Psalm 30:5; Psalm 55:17) — well into the night, if not all night. Paul acknowledges that his many hardships included sleeplessness (2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:27). Sleeplessness and restlessness is often associated with wickedness and a guilty conscience (Isaiah 48:22; Proverbs 4:14-16; Hebrews 3:11, 4:1-5; Revelation 14:11).

The Bible has examples of interrupted sleep. One example that might come to mind is when the disciples were on a boat with Jesus and woke him up from a deep slumber — in a panic — when a storm fell upon them (Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:38; Luke 8:23). But there are many other examples where people are awakened, or awake, in the middle of the night. 

Usually we think of interrupted sleep — and especially, middle of the night insomnia — as a bad thing. But notice Psalm 119:62: “At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You Because of Your righteous ordinances.” So, what is the Psalmist suggesting? Are we being coaxed to set our alarms for midnight so that we can wake up and spend some time in prayer? Anathema! (Well, maybe not anathema, but, say it isn’t so!!!).

Part of our reaction to such a suggestion is that we define “a good night’s sleep” as approximately eight hours (give or take) of uninterrupted, sound sleep. We expect and anticipate this each night, every night. If we wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep, we’ll usually complain the next morning that we did not gave a good night’s sleep.

Middle of the night insomnia was not always considered a bad thing, though. The research of Roger Ekirch, a professor of history at Virginia Tech and author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (NY: Norton, 2005) has demonstrated that for much of history people slept in two segments separated by a waking period in the middle of the night. They would usually wake up and attend to various tasks, including the usual, plus tending the fire, checking on the security of their surroundings, and allowing themselves some time for prayer, reading and quiet thoughtfulness. There is much documentation of the notion of “first sleep,” followed by a period of waking, followed by a “second sleep”.  We also know that many cultures in warm or tropical climates also featured a corresponding segmented daytime that included a siesta … or, as we know it today, a “power nap.” Professor Ekirch shows that the Industrial Revolution, with its demands for efficiency and uninterrupted shifts of working hours (including early morning starting times facilitated by electricity, alarm clocks and the like), changed these patterns. “Early rising” was a reform movement during the 18th century, and as part of that movement parents were admonished to encourage their children to arise after “first sleep.”

Segmented sleep isn’t necessarily unhealthy. Some French scientists (Arnulf et al, 2011: “Ring the Bell for Matins,” Chronobiology International, 28(10), 930-941) researched the sleep patterns of a group of cloistered monks and nuns. The monastics adhered to the 10-century-old strict schedule of a night split by a 2- to 3-hour long prayer time (Matins) in the middle of each night. The research showed that the human body adapts to and even anticipates nocturnal awakenings, and that such biphasic sleep patterns did not have any adverse health impact. The researchers acknowledged that this study provides a living glance into the sleep patterns of medieval time.

Having fewer hours of sleep on a given night, once in a while, is also not unhealthy. We tend to think that we need eight hours (give or take), each night, every night. But if you do some reading (in addition to, or other than, the stuff put out be the National Sleep Foundation), you’ll discover that the 8-hours-each-night “requirement” is a myth. First of all, recent research shows that we don’t necessarily need a full eight hours of sleep. Second, the quality of our sleep is just as important as the quantity. Third, retiring earlier than later contributes to sleep quality. Fourth, don’t discount the need for a medical sleep study that might result in the use of a CPAP or other sleep aid. Fifth, most people experience sleep cycles that vary from night to night through the week… sometimes including a night here or there with only a few hours of sleep. Sixth, don’t forget about those all important power naps. Seventh, consult your Bible: there’s more than one reason for the Sabbath! Selah.

That said, let’s return to Psalm 119:62: “At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You Because of Your righteous ordinances.” What if you do wake up in the middle of the night? Rise to give thanks! Pray. Spend time with the Lord. And with His word… maybe even doing some memorizing!! Allow this to be your own mini-monastic spiritual retreat, and be grateful — rather than resentful — for this vigilia sancti, this holy insomnia.

Oh, and leave the TV and the computer off. Don’t even look at your smart phone. Too much blue light.

Righteous Indignation

July 2, 2016

Righteous Indignation: Psalm 119:49-56 (Zayin)

  • Introduction: What is “indignation”?
    • What are typical causes of moral indignation or outrage for nonbelievers?/
    • Do/should followers of Christ ever be indignant? If so, about what? Why or why not?
      • What about the command to love (Luke 6:27-28; 23:34)?
  • Compare: Anger …
    • As strife (Galatians 5:19-21) and as potential sin (Ephesians 4:26-27)
    • As something to be guarded against and managed (James 1:19-20)
    • Not an excuse for revenge (Romans 12:19-21)
    • Not an appropriate response to persecution (1 Peter 3:14-17)
    • As expressed by Jesus: Mark 3:1-5; Matthew 21:12-13; 23:13; 26:23-24 and Luke 19:41-44
    • Compare: As expressed by Paul: 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9; 5:12; & 1 Timothy 4:14
  • How does regeneration change us?L07 Regeneration Indignation Sanctification
    • Is there a progression from hating God’s Word, to acknowledging and learning to obey it, to loving His Word?
    • Is there a regression from loving the wisdom of the world, to re-assessing it, to distancing ourselves it, to hating it?
  • COMPARE: Romans 1:25 (preceded and followed by observations regarding sexual morality).
    • Thinking exchange (rejecting the Mind of Christ)
    • Worship exchange (rejecting God as solely worthy of our worship)
  • Indignation and the Imprecatory Psalms: A New Testament Perspective
    • Are Old Testament curses in the Psalms relevant to New Testament believers? (Mark 12:36; John 10:35; 13:18)?
    • God’s justice: Understanding (Romans 2:4-5), participating (Rom. 12:19-21; Luk 6:27-29, 35).
    • Nehemiah 13:25: Sorrowful indignation, or, judgmental, arrogant indignation?
  • Psalm 119: 49-56 – Hope for believers who suffer
    • Prayer for God to remember, and affirmations that the psalmist will remember God and His comforting and hope-giving laws.
    • God awakens His Word … and His hope … in believers (v. 49)
    • His promises – in His Word – comforts believers even when they are derided (vv. 50-52)
      • Does adversity drive us toward God’s Word?
    • Do we sorrowfully experience “hot indignation” when we see God’s law forsaken? (v. 53)
      • Psalm 42:3 and Psalm 123:4 – Is the rejection of God and His law more provoking than the resulting persecution?
    • As we travel on our life’s journey, we can hear and sing and remember God’s Word (vv. 54-55)
      • Habitual singing through suffering, even at night, while staying somewhere temporarily.
    • God enables us to learn about, and love, His Word, and find ourselves resting in His commandments (v. 56).
      • “Kept” [shamar, H8104] includes “guarded,” because in His Word we find comfort, sustenance and restoration.

On Being Winsomely Offensive

April 10, 2016

On Being Winsomely Offensive

Psalm 119:41-48 (Vav)

  • Introduction: How ARE Christians “different” than unbelievers? How OUGHT they be?
  • The Angry Physician example: Lesson; demands-or-doom; 5-minute fix; or the single prescription.
  • The Gospel as Offense (Compare: Gospel as Folly, 1 Corinthians 1:18):
    • Rock (1 Peter 2:7-8); Persecution (2 Timothy 3:12); No More Circumcision (Galatians 5:11).
    • [How] Can we tell why we are found by another to be offensive?
  • Worldly winning with winsomeness: cheerful, pleasant, and appealing.
    • Wordly wisdom includes winsomeness:
    • Old Testament examples: Ecclesiastes 7:1-6; Deuteronomy 4:6
    • New Testament examples:
      • The 2 Corinthians Metaphors:
        • Triumph: 2 Corinthians 2:14
        • Fragrance: 2 Corinthians 2:14-16
        • Email: 2 Corinthians 3:1-3
        • Pottery: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
      • Mind of Christ (John MacDuff, 1870 (1)): Romans 12:1-2
      • Wisdom from Above: James 3:13-18
      • Reflective: Colossians 4:2-6
  • Psalm 119:41-48 (Vav)
    • Prayer that my life and words reflect God’s love and salvation (vv. 41-42)
    • Prayer that I understand the width of God’s gift of liberty (vv. 43-45)
    • May the joy of my salvation overflow, even the presence of kings (vv. 46-47)
    • May the joy of my salvation overflow in praise and meditation (v. 48)
  • Conclusion: Perfume, Imperfections and Prayer

___________________________________________________________

Being winsomely offensive: some observations from Jerram Barr, The Heart of Evangelism (Crossway, 2005):

    • Show respect. “So often as Christians we behave as if we everything to give to the non-Christian and nothing to receive.” (199)
    • Listen. “Every human being is religious in the sense that he or she puts his or her trust in something…The challenge for us is to find out where the person’s trust lies.” (208)
    • Care to Learn and Learn to Care. “…caricaturing or misrepresenting the ideas of unbelievers will be no help to us. It will simply alienate people, for they will rightly be offended by our failure to treat their beliefs seriously.” (212)
    • Avoid Churchspeak. “The New Testament challenges us to express God’s unchanging truth in language of our time rather than in the language of the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries or even of the early part of the twentieth century.” (242)
    • Reason Reasonably. “If we reflect on this thoughtful use of language by the apostles, it is evident that they were building a carefully reasoned presentation of the truth to their hearers.” (245)
    • Proclaim, Parse and Apply … Personally. “…accommodating ourselves to our hearers is precisely what all faithful communication of the Gospel must be, for the Gospel itself – God becoming flesh for us – is the greatest imaginable accommodation to those who need to be saved!” (261) “…the task is always the same, to give a wise word that will assist the understanding of non-Christians.” (265)
    • Prompt. “…the Gospel will always be experienced as a challenge…It will challenge our heart, for our hearts are devoted to many masters in place of the one true Lord. Any faithful communication of the Gospel must come with this challenge. In fact, it is appropriate to assert that if there is no challenge, there is no genuine presentation of the Gospel.” (267-268)

        Conversational tools for digging deeper (Judson Poling, Leadership Journal, Fall 2002, pp. 85-86):

– “That’s an interesting question. What do you think?”

– “What situation in your life makes you wonder about that?”

– “Even though you don’t know, if you had to guess, how would you answer?”

– “Is there any answer that you won’t accept? Why?”

– “What has led you to conclude that?”

– “What information do you think would cause you to change your mind?”

– “What’s the strongest argument for those who disagree with you?”

– “If everyone held that view, what would society look like?”

– “If you found out you were wrong, what would be at risk? How would your life change?”

1. https://archive.org/stream/mindofjesusmac00macd#page/n3/mode/2up or http://gracegems.org/MacDuff/Mind_of_Jesus.htm

 

Worthless and Wasteful, or Worthy and Worshipful

April 3, 2016

Worthless and Wasteful, or Worthy and Worshipful

Psalm 119:33-40 (He) ה

1.      Introduction: Personal epistemology example: The ethics of big data.

         a.      Attention ➔ Alertness ➔ Awareness ➔ Accessing ➔ Acting ➔ Accountability

2.      Today’s Storer-Uppers!

3.      Becoming aware (curiosity compulsion), as self-destruction.

         a.      The pornography example.                                                      

         b.      The Edenic example: Genesis 3:1-2 ➔ Genesis 3:4-5 ➔ Genesis 3:6-7

4.      Not being fully aware (mindful), as self-destruction: Absorption v. Distractions

         a.      Mark 4:19 

         b.      Luke 8:7 

         c.      Hebrews 12:2 

5.      Living in liberty; freedom within limits

         a.      The fishing example.

         b.      Biblically informed mindfulness: connecting with the task, the Project, the Person.

                  i.      Galatians 2:20

                  ii.     Romans 12:2 

                  iii.    1 Corinthians 2:16 

                  iv.    Colossians 3:2-3 

                  v.      Philippians 2:5

                  vi.    Philippians 4:8

                  vii.   Matthew 6:22-23 ➔ Matthew 6:24 ➔ Matthew 6:25+        

6.      Psalm 119: 33-40

         a.      Is knowing enough? (v. 32) 

         b.      Knowing versus heart-felt understanding (v.34) 

         c.      Living versus knowing/understanding (v.35) 

         d.      Wanting to want to obey, as compared to other distractions (vv. 36-37) 

         e.      Prayer for grace and strength and a renewed heart (vv. 38-40). 

         f.      Assessment of progress: cycling back through the second set of four verses.

                  i.      What am I choosing to pay attention to, that is a distraction from my relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

                  ii.     When am I substituting attention to “worthless things” rather than worshipful things?

7.      The Luke 14 Challenge1

         a.      The demands of discipleship (vv.26-27)

         b.      The decision of discipleship (vv.28-32)

         c.      The distinct nature of disciples (vv.33-35) 

         d.      Worthless and wasteful, or, worthy and worshipful                  

8.      Conclusion: Awareness and mindfulness are choices (Insert the words “Biblically Informed” ahead of each step).

         a.      Absorption ➔ Attention ➔ Alertness ➔ Awareness ➔ Accessing ➔ Acting ➔ Accountability

         b.      Memorization ➔ Meditation ➔ Mindfulness

         c.      1 Peter 1:13 

         d.      John 10:10


 The more you focus on yourself, the more distracted you will be from the proper path. The more you know Him and commune with Him, the more the Spirit will make you like Him. The more you are like Him, the better you will understand His utter sufficiency for all of life’s difficulties. And that is the only way to know real satisfaction.2

See “How to Hate your Wife,” https://bible.org/seriespage/49-how-hate-your-wife-luke-1425-35
John MacArthur, Our Sufficiency in Christ (Crossway, 1991), p. 157