July 2010

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Are shorter prayers more godly?

If some generations need to learn that God is not particularly impressed by long-winded prayers, and is not more disposed to help us just because we are garrulous, our generation needs to learn that God is not impressed by the kind of brevity that is nothing other than culpable negligence.

D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, (Grand Rapids:Baker, 1992), 36.

So much for quoting, "Let your words be few" together with "God knows what you need before you ask him" (Ecc 5:2; Matt 6:8), in order to justify short prayers, eh? These, I judge, are written toward the first half of Carson's sentence, yet not in justification of the second half.

We must learn to linger in the presence of God, and find delight in extended times of private prayer.




Self-Esteem, Pride, Shame, and Humility

That's the paradox of self-esteem: Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself. I'm too self-involved, I feel I deserve better than what I have. The reason I feel bad about myself is that I aspire to something more. I want just a few minutes of greatness. I am a peasant who wants to be king. When you are in the grips of low self-esteem, it's painful, and it certainly doesn't feel like pride. But I believe this is the dark, quieter side of pride--thwarted pride.

[Edward T. Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), 32]

He had some interesting things to say about "self-esteem" in this chapter. Earlier he had said:

The massive interest in self-esteem and self-worth exists because it is trying to help us with a real problem.  The problem is that we really are not okay. There is no reason why we should feel great about ourselves.

[Welch, 29]

According to Welch, the biblical word for low self-esteem is shame. I think he is right. This is indeed a real problem, not in our thinking or feeling it, but in the cause of it: our sin against God and others, and our being sinned against. A mere silencing of it by saying, "Think well of yourself!" is a shallow and harmful way to deal with it--just about as harmful to a car as disconnecting the "Check Engine" light because it makes you feel bad looking at it.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can truly take away our shame. And it doesn't replace it with a high view of ourselves (i.e. "Jesus loves me so I don't care if others don't"). Rather, it enables you to stand before God without shame, accepted by him through the blood of Jesus, and to find your joy in his (true) greatness, not in your (supposed) greatness; joy in making much of him, not in making much of yourself. 

This is (才是) true humility, not some external modesty ("No, I'm not great!") that internally treasures the compliments people make of you. This humility finds ways to love other people rather than seeking a sense of fulfillment from other people, i.e. it actually loves people, rather than using people for self.

This humility is true greatness.




The Good News of the Love of God

Started reading Counsel from the Cross this week and wanted to share some quotes.

The gospel of Jesus Christ--that we are all more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe but more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope...

[Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson, Counsel from the Cross,
 (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 49]

Defining the gospel wasn't even the main point of the sentence. The main point of the sentence was that the gospel is meant to be lived out in relationships. But what a wonderful compact definition! 

In a later chapter, we get another superb definition:

God's love is simply this: a passionate, unwavering, joyous determination to do us good and to bestow upon our souls eternal happiness, no matter what the cost.

(Counsel 60)

One more on what "cost" this love went to to "do us good":

God set his love upon undeserving sinners by turning his back on his deserving Son--all because he loves.

(Counsel 65)

Subtitle of the book: "Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ." Almost half-way through and it has been true to this theme. Strong on the gospel message. Strong on the centrality of grace. Strong on the seriousness of sin. Strong on the love of God, both as the foundation of our acceptance with God, as well as the fountain of transforming grace as a Christian--it is by inward transformation in response to his love that we grow in love. His gracious acceptance of us is the fountain of joy and love that leads to wholeness and obedience.




Grammar Checker in Word 2010

I think the grammar checker in Word 2010 has degenerated since previous versions. It keeps marking a lot of things as wrong that (I think) are actually right... or maybe my grammar checker have degenerated... =(




Jesus' Death: Vicarious Atonement and Example

The death of Jesus Christ is simultaneously vicarious atonement and example for us to follow. His life and death was to accomplish something objective: our salvation (he obeyed in our stead, and received our penalty in our stead). For this very reason (it actually saves us), it was love; and thus it serves as the greatest example of sacrificial service. 

Both, not either-or

There is a version of 'Christianity' (which is not really at all) that says God just loves everyone, doesn't care too much about sin and forgiveness, and he definitely does not require blood sacrifice for the sins of humanity! Jesus came to reveal God's love by coming and giving up everything to die for us. That's all Jesus' death is, subjective: a example meant to woo us by showing us what love is. 

Yet...how can that be love? What actually does it show us? Nothing. Except maybe that throwing away a life for no purpose is a good thing?

Of all the places in the Bible where Jesus is presented as an example, one of the strongest ones is probably Philippians 2. Of the places where it mentions the death of Jesus, I think this is the one most believed to refer to Jesus' death as merely an example. (If you're not familiar, read Philippians 2:3-11)

Studying through Philippians these days, I have been encouraged that even here, you cannot separate the meaning of the death of Jesus (i.e. vicarious atonement) from the example that Jesus' set. Yes, the Bible does indeed set up Jesus as an example to follow--but it does not do that apart from what Jesus' did uniquely that we could never do.

Indications that the meaning of Jesus' death is necessarily implied in Philippians 2:

1) The sudden mention of the cross in verse 8

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Paul interjects the words "even death on a cross!" to an otherwise complete sentence. The mention of the cross does indicate the depth of Jesus' self-humbling, but at the same time, it cries out the meaning of the cross!

We must not forget that in many other places this phrase "the cross" can stand indeed for the whole gospel message. Philippians 3:18 speaks of "enemies of the cross of Christ." Obviously, not enemies of the kind of death, or of the actual object--but of the gospel of the Savior crucified for our sin. 1 Corinthians 2:2 also speaks of "Jesus Christ and him crucified" as the core element of his preaching. 

I think that, for Paul, the mention of the cross must include at least in part the meaning of his death.

2) Jesus' death was him looking out for the interests of others

This whole section (verses 5-11) on Christ humbling himself is set forth as an example of how we are ourselves to behave. Paul said this in verses 3-4:

"Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Following the rest of the passage, we find that Jesus (who was forever God) was born as a slave, lowering himself, and that he humbled himself by obedience unto death. There is a progression here. The ultimate aim is Jesus' obedience unto death.

Thus, it is this unto-death-obedience that Paul is setting forward as "looking out for the interests of others." This means there was a need for Jesus to do this. He was doing this to accomplish something. It was because we were in a dangerous predicament, that Jesus, looking out for our needs because he loved us, came to do all necessary to save us from that predicament!

3) Obedience is rendered to Jesus in verses 9-11

At the one moment (verses 5-8) he is an example to be obeyed, and the next moment (verses 9-11) he is the Lord of all creation to whom all knees will bow eventually! 

This is obviously not an example of what will happen to us when we humble ourselves! Jesus' obedience is not merely an example. He is not just a perfect man to follow! He is the God of all the universe! 

This is the meaning of the death of Jesus, and whatever example we learn from Jesus' death flows out of and is grounded upon what he actually did there--even in Philippians 2!

Jesus did indeed come in love. His life is a perfect example of love, and his death is the climax of his love. Yet it is love precisely because it paid the penalty for our sins, such that we can be forgiven by God and belong to him forever, and praise him forever, and enjoy his glory--his magnificent and radiant perfections--forever.

"Jesus paid it all." This is the greatest love imaginable.




How Does Change Happen? (Part 2)

Joy in the gospel and our forever-acceptance by God on the basis of Christ (rather than grief over sin), is what motivates true change (i.e. 'progressive sanctification').

Change happens by soaking our minds in the truth of the gospel, such that we are firmly convinced of the love of God for us despite our utter sinfulness, a truth which motivates joy and love for God that is the source of all true obedience, one that views God's commands as a pleasure and not as a burden.

At the end of the day, how do people really change? How does growth happen in the Christian life? 

Sanctification is never advanced by self-focused grief or guilt. It is energized by joy and driven by love.

[Counsel from the Cross, 118]

Fitzpatrick and Johnson's Counsel from the Cross--especially chapters 5-6--(again very helpfully!) has reaffirmed and clarified previous thoughts on this topic, and brought them to life in a way very challenging and joy-inducing!

On their focus on "gospel-centered counseling" and not simply "biblical counseling", they say:

Other counselors share our belief that humanistic psychology leads into blind alleys, but their solution is to focus extensively on the Bible's imperatives and the counselee's self-discipline [i.e. 'put on, put off' and that's it!] with little attention to the patterns of self-doubt and unbelief that enervate the counselee's motivation and hope in the painful process of change.

[Counsel from the Cross, 98]

Change does not come to pass simply as a matter of saying, "The Bible says it, just do it." Rather, "Our problem with obedience is that we don't love as intensively as we should." (102) We do not love as we should, because we either don't see the depth of our sin, or we don't see the magnitude of his grace and that we are forever loved and accepted in Christ!

It is this love for God--which grows in response to his love, and thus from the gospel and not the law--which generates true obedience / sanctification / change.

Let us hear again the gospel of Jesus Christ: "We are all more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe but more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope." (49)

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)