Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Provocative Description of Love and hate

I recognize that the ensuing discussion will be provocative, but not for provocation’s sake. Rather because the subject matter, and my statements are sure to provoke much emotional and intellectual action. So why discuss something? Why mention something that will cause you to question my sanity and belief in a good God? First because the explicit issue came up in conversation with a dear friend recently, second because there are numerous issues related to this one, and third because I believe that wrestling with these thoughts will shine forth the glory of God and stretch your capacity to stand in wonder of our Triune God.


Something you agree with

God is love. And God loves. Love is not God, but God is love and actively loves himself; God is love and actively loves his creation.

D.A. Carson has written an extraordinarily helpful book entitled The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. It can be downloaded for free from The Gospel Coalition (book #40). In his book Carson outlines five of the ways “the Bible Speaks of the Love of God”; he declares it is not an exhaustive list (p.16) but proceeds to explain (1) “The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father,” (2) “God’s providential love over all that he has made,” (3) “God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world,” (4) “God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect,” and that (5) “God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience” (p.16-19). And I should hope that, even if you do not agree with those statements yet, you will agree with his biblical defense of them. Carson wants us to recognize the nuance Scripture applies to the word “Love.” It’s not a flat synonym for “kindness” or “tolerance” or “pleasure”; it is a sophisticated term with varied applications.


Something you might agree with

One of the applications of love takes an unappreciated form in our cultural context. That form is wrath and judgment. If you are an evangelical Christian, you must believe in the wrath of God. Without the wrath of God, your entire system of Christianity falls apart—it is voiced poignantly and succinctly in Niebuhr’s famous quote: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Niebuhr was critiquing the social gospel, but the logic follows through the wrath of God: if there is no wrath of God, there is no need for salvation… if there is no need for salvation then there is no need for the passion of Christ. What then was the death and resurrection of Jesus? But atonement theories are not the subject of our discussion. The Christian faith believes in a God who is wrathful toward sin and sinners… because of his love.

This thought appears in the last chapter of Carson’s book, but it also appears in the thought, preaching, teaching, and writings of countless leaders of the church. God is wrathful toward sin because he pursues the perpetual glory of the distinctive persons of the Trinity while sin seeks to diminish that glory; what’s more, sin diminishes the joy and goodness of his creation. Therefore, God hates sin because it takes what is good and contorts it into something ‘ungood.’  This is commonly termed the justice and/or holiness of God.

Theologians relate the holiness, justice, righteousness, and love of God with the term “unity.” They do so in differing ways, each with its own merits. Philosophers, on the other hand, prefer the term “simplicity.” By which they mean that anything which God is, is of God fully and completely. In other words, not only does the love of God “not contradict” his justice, but his love is his justice. All well and good, but aren’t we just splitting hairs at this point? Yes and no. Is it precise? Yes. Does it even matter? Also yes… for several reasons, most immediately because of


Something I hope you’ll one day agree with

even if it takes a couple nights’ hauntings to do so. Not only is God’s wrath an expression of his love toward his Triune self, nor even also toward his children who are affected by it, nor even also toward the earth ‘subjected to futility.’ The wrath of God is an expression of his love… toward the one upon whom his wrath his set. Put simply: God hates the sinner because he loves the sinner.

Am I crazy? I hope not, so let me explain. Hatred is not the opposite of love. Indifference is. St. Anselm explains in Proslogion that love demands wrath, and I believe this is what he means. Hatred is not the opposite of love; indifference is. Hate is an active sentiment toward an object. Indifference is an inactive nothing toward an object. Genuine indifference would not even acknowledge the object in question, it would simply be. Without it. Hate is incited when an object of love becomes what it ought not be. But let’s put it in the context of a relational analogy:


If my father left my family, I would feel a semblance of hatred toward him because he has denied his identity as father and become something else. He has become what he ought not be. I have hatred because I want him in the right way. By contrast, if I did not care whether or not my father was a father to me—if I was indifferent toward him—could you really say that I love him?

—or again

If my girlfriend cheated on me, I would feel a semblance of hatred toward her because I love. If I was indifferent toward her chastity then you could not say I have loved her.

—or again

If your hero ignored and neglected you in that great opportunity, who has loved? You despite your anger have loved; your hero because of his indifference cannot be said to have loved you.


So this: any recognition is a greater act of love than no recognition.

Indifference does not even recognize the existence of an object, let alone have any passions toward it. Hatred, though, recognizes the object, and that recognition is at the very least greater than indifference. Hatred then is upon the continuum of love… or perhaps better: hatred is a webbed expression of love.






Is it at least possible?

If God is love, and if any action of God is qualitatively love, then his wrath and hatred must also be qualitatively love.


The simple statement of a friend

God is not indifferent toward anything which is because being indifferent would mean that he does not acknowledge that object. However, God—the Creator and Sustainer of all—must give mind to all things which are in existence, else they would not exist. “The only things which God is indifferent toward,” Kyle said, “are those things which aren’t created.” And he is precisely right: if God created something, he created it with intent, and if there is intent for that object then God is not indifferent toward it—rather that object has been purposed; God loves that object, and when it is good (as it was created) then he loves it with joy; when it has become less (that is evil) then he loves it by conviction, judgment, wrath, etc. according to his wisdom. “Then what is hell?” Hell is described analogously in Scripture as fire, absence of the presence of God, presence of the wrath of God, endless torment, et cetera. But one thing hell is not is indifference or ambivalence. In the Lake of Fire, all sin and sinners will be retributed justly. And this is an act of love toward the redeemed and toward the damned.


God hates because God loves.
God can truly be said to love because God hates.


Praise be to our loving God, and praise deeper and fuller because he has chosen to love his elect in incomprehensible ways. Praise be to God that he hates my sin and cleanses me from it. Praise be that he repays evil because he loves his creation. Praise be that God is not indifferent but that he is passionately involved in his creation.




But perhaps I’ve missed something. Perhaps you see a hole somewhere. Perhaps hate also needs to be distinguished into ‘types’ before enter this discussion. What say you?

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Related:


Friday, December 13, 2013

Video Games and Christ Exalting Christianitty

The Christian community can be unjustly prejudiced against things like living at home, alcohol, and video games. But is there a sense in which God honoring, Christ exalting Christianity can utilize and even encourage such things? Is it possible that more of God’s glory is revealed in the creation and propagation of video games?

There’s a word group in theological and philosophical circles based upon ‘telos’… it forms words like “teleological” and indicates the end—purpose, goal, perfect-completion, et cetera. And I propose that a teleological perspective (that is a ‘purpose-focused’ perspective) can help open up avenues of enjoying the creative glory of God. Put more simply: let’s ask, “What are video games used for?”

The answers to this question are messy, inconsistent, and likely reveal a bias which is possibly based on ignorance. Here’s why: video games have developed immensely from the first game of Pong. Today there are countless types of games, and exponentially more particular games themselves. They range from brain-teaser games and puzzles, to math based or science based games, language games, narrative games, racing and combat games, and those were simply the ones at the front of my head.

One thing a teleological perspective on games does, is to recognize its type (genre) and to be aware of that type’s tendencies. For example racing games tempt you to ‘go again’ and see if you can beat your previous time. But racing games are also more enjoyable when you are racing against a friend. Therefore, they can tend toward compulsory perfectionism, but they can also tend toward camaraderie, friendship, and connection. Notice though, that even the habit of pursuing perfection, of pulling out all the stops and striving on toward the goal is a good life maxim… even a biblical one!

There are certainly mindless games… the ones that often find their way onto your phone. Games like Angry Birds, or one of the myriad zombie ones. But a teleological perspective doesn’t drown them before consideration: what if your mind processes while doing mindless things like grocery shopping or doodling? Perhaps a mindless game can be used, to a certain extent to encourage the same thing.

Some of the most redeemable (and redemptive) video games are the ones that get the most flack: at least the men who play them do. (They get the most flack because they take the most time.) It’s those narrative games. A broad category certainly, but it’s the games that are built upon a story. The fighting, shooting, puzzles, racing against the clock are typically additives. The reason men are drawn to these games isn’t because you can climb up a wall and kill a guy—the reason they’re drawn is because it’s a story of a man who coincidentally climbs up a wall and kills a guy. Let me explain further.

Narrative-based games incorporate an in-depth, complex storyline that develop the personhood of a character in a world not-quite-like our own. They create worlds to inhabit. They create people to influence. They create skillsets to develop. In other words: they are parallel realities that invite you to vicariously experience what might be. Sure your name may be Altair or Master Chief or Prince or Link or “Enter Name Here,” but as that character lives and moves and breathes, you travel with them to experience something like what they do. But before you get up in arms and exclaim that this is precisely what is wrong, that it encourages escapism or fictional reality, I ask you to consider movies and novels. Movies and novels are enticing precisely because they invite you into another world to experience things through the lens of another. Is that ungodly? Far from it. In the creation of fictional worlds we can see with new eyes truths God has intricately woven into the fabric of our own.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are particularly adamant about the creative efforts of narrative; of the great honor they do to a creative God; of the ways in which looking to something other enables us to look at this more appropriately; of the ways in which timeless principles find legs and feet in an alternate universe and encourage us to live more like Christ here and now. “Oh, but Lewis and Tolkien were talking about books, hardly as time-consuming as a video game.” That’s not true: they were talking about story, not books. Have you ever enjoyed a novel so much that at its bookend, you felt a little sad; as the characters you grew so fond of became entombed on a wooden shelf? That was a good story. And even if playing a video game takes more time… have you considered that they become more involved in the world, see and experience its realities for longer, and as a result are more influenced by its creative ploys?

Which is a good thing if it enjoins a partial biblical worldview. And a bad thing if it does not. You will not likely come across a well-developed game that is thoroughly biblical. But you can come across games that have a sacrificial hero, a warrior nature (requiring you to equip armor), a pursuit of justice, a defeat of evil, a desire for community. These games shed light on biblical truth in ways nothing else could. A teleological perspective examines video games with a view to their end: will this enable me to know and love God more? And sometimes, by the way, that can happen simply by enjoying the creative talents of a person made in the image of God. Or else… why museums? Sometimes simply recognizing the loving hand of our joyous God in preparing the minds of humans to create programming languages, digital-visual technology, sound effects, plotlines, etc. can be a Christ-exalting way of spending a few hours of your week. There’s something amazing about creation creating after the likeness of the Creator.

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Related:
In Praise of Mult-Generational Homes, P1, P2, P3, P4
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Related, by others:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Natural Law Ethics?

Are ethics natural to us?
Are ethics intrinsic or imbibed?
Realized or revealed?
Natured or nurtured?

I believe that there are natural, rational reasons to avoid wrong and to do what is right… mostly. I believe that we do have an innate sense of ‘ought,’ even while we deny doing what we ought much of the time. There is a natural law… or a guiding code of ethics which God has instilled into the very being of men. This is why sociopaths and psychopaths, why depression and suicidal individuals are considered ill—they are behaving against the natural order of life and living. And yet, I believe there are primarily two ‘ethical standards’ that are unnatural to fallen man. (There may be more, but I’m still developing this line of reasoning.)


Before the two unnatural ethics… let’s take the most well-known code of ethical conduct: the Ten Commandments (Decalogue).


Commandment 10: You shall not covet.

                Envy is an undesirable quality in those we befriend; interacting with someone who is jealous for your assets is exhausting. Even our own desires are checked by the recognition that we ought not desire and feel entitled to things we have not. Consider such proverbs as “The grass is always greener on the other side” or “Be thankful for what you have.”

                Coveting will make you dissatisfied with life; it will suck the joy and peace out of you, causing you to live a life of regret, unfulfillment, and bitterness. Psychiatrists warn about this frequently.


Commandment 9: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

                Deceit and insidious testimony is likewise unenjoyable in a friend; since when has Benedict Arnold been treated as a complimentary nickname? True, there have been cultures when sly betrayal is looked at with honor, but even such instances had bounds. And our consciences bear witness that we are to behave with integrity toward our covenanted friendships: “BFFs”; “I got your back.”

                But if you bring yourself to betray your friend with false witness and deceit, you will no longer have that friend. And you will likely not have the friends with whom he was connected. The rumor weed gets plucked; the little birdy gets shot. Gossip and falsehood may be fun or empower you for a moment, but eventually you will be alone in the world.


Commandment 8: You shall not steal.

                This one seems to be like #10 acted out (given that some believe #10 is actually a summary of all of them), and as such seems obvious: don’t steal… you wouldn’t want your things being taken by another. Don’t take somebody else’s things. Even writing that sentence feels clunky and pointless… and yet thieving is common: but with each illegitimate gain comes a sense of shame.

                Stealing brings threat of imprisonment and punitive retribution whether from a legal system or from the affected party. The more you steal, the more likely you are to get caught, and the more you steal, the more obvious it becomes to those around you with a similar paygrade who cannot accumulate the wealth you have. Can you imagine a world in which everything you own was stolen from another—never having the satisfaction of a wage or payoff?


Commandment 7: You shall not commit adultery.

                Where to go with this commandment? It’s easy to play the ‘imagine’ game with this one. We could discuss how it’s a direct jettison of covenant vows. We could discuss how much you attempt to keep the act secret because it’s shameful, you know it’s wrong, and you don’t want to deal with the repercussions.

                Committing adultery causes distanciation in marriage, lack of intimacy, mistrust, distrust, anger, self-hatred, broken families, fatherless/motherless children, broken property, thousands in court costs. There is absolutely nothing good which comes from adultery.


Commandment 6: You shall not murder.

                Life is sacred, and everybody knows this to an extent… particularly those in a Western world influenced by the Bible. Remember again that suicidal thoughts are treated as an illness. Or simply consider the many school and public shootings that shock and shatter the world. Murder is evil.

                If you do murder, you will be imprisoned. You will serve a life sentence or be executed. You will be reviled by countless people whom you have never met; but who associate your name with hell itself. A choice to murder is the end of your life as you know it. “Live, laugh, love.”


Commandment 5: Honor your father and mother.

                While you are young, your parents are the source of income, food, and everything else you need to survive. You ought to respect them. The Ten Commandments were primarily given to adults, though, and even adult children should honor their parents. Most simply it is an appropriate response for their previous care of you. In the Hebrew culture, age is determinant of influence and honor: disregarding your parents would be to incite the wrath of the community. In our modern day, youth is king, but we can easily assent to the idea of honoring parents. Very simply: if you respect your parents even in your adult years, it will go well with you: simply turn on a sit-com to see this played out.

                Some common parental proverbs: “Because I said so”; “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”



Now this is where things become difficult. In the Ancient Near East, recognizing a Sabbath day made no sense. That is commandment 4. Today we say, “everybody needs rest.” But is that what Exodus 20 is saying? Probably not. So how do I reconcile this commandment with my prior statement that there are primarily two ethical codes which are unnatural? The easy way is to say Sabbath is not a matter of ethics. But I don’t think that’s true. The second is to say that Sabbath is one of the two, but (perhaps simply for arrogance’ sake) I don’t want to do that. I believe that Commandment 4 fits into a larger ethical code: Commandment 1: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” In fact, the first four commandments are all tied together under proper covenant worship of YHWH. And sure, you can say that number 3 (name of God in vain) makes sense as long as you recognize deity, but then such is the case with all four.

Worshiping YHWH and loving him alone is unnatural to man. Is it rational… is there a sense in which it is natural to man’s being? Yes, I believe so. Hence Augustine’s “Know thyself,” etc. and even Descartes’ unconvincing cogito ergo sum with its conclusion of divine existence. And yet! At the same time it is most unnatural. We cannot bring ourselves to worship the one and only supreme God simply by means of considering what is natural to us and our desires. Did philosopher reason unto a singular being? Yes. But did they do so by what examining what is natural to us? I’m willing to be educated, but I think they did not.

Are ethics natural? Kind of… we can reason to them, and yet they do not naturally flow into our daily actions. Covet… that might as well be our surname. But even more than this… it is unnatural to love God. We are by nature haters of God. The love of God as ethical compulsion must be revealed to us. That’s why God speaks with redemptive-history as the backdrop: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

So what’s the other unnatural ethic?

Forgiveness.


There is no rational reason, logical explanation, pragmatic payoff,  or anything of the like which demands that we forgive. Justice would caution and advise against it. Would we want others to forgive us? Sure, but beyond that we have no human urge toward forgiving others: it is unnatural to the natural man. But it is the primary ethical command of those who worship the Triune God who has loved us in Christ.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Complex Ethics: When You're Invisible


What would you do if you were invisible?
Would you spy on people?
Would you do something illegal?
Would you save it for extreme occurrences?
Would you live life invisible as often as possible?

Invisibility has been a common literary plot device since before Christ. Plato writes of the Ring of Gyges which makes its bearer invisible. There have been stories of magicians and superheroes, soldiers and average Joes who miraculously become invisible. From The Hobbit to Halo, invisibility plays our imagination. So what would you do? In The Hobbit Bilbo decides to use his invisibility for grace, but by the time The Fellowship of the Ring rolls around, he uses it for vanity.

But while the history and literary criticism involved in invisibility is extremely interesting, there are countless times when you are invisible—practically speaking. When you shower, when you drive late at night, when you’re walking through the grocery store. Are there people around? Sometimes. Do they pay you note? Sometimes. But what do you do during those seconds, minutes, and hours?

Ethics is usually understood as relational… Whereas morality describes your personal value system and integrity, ethics denotes the lived out standard of relationships: ethics involves ”The Other.” (I recognize the many ethicists who would change the particulars and argue between ‘alterity,’ ‘mitsein,’ ‘dasein,’ and other things, but please remember that I am amateurspeaking to amateur.) But where is the relationship when you are sole in the world, swallowed by the deep sky and looming moon? Does it matter if you sin in those moments?

Oh, sure, any believer would say it’s never right to sin. That God always sees you even when the Elf on the Shelf doesn’t. But there’s more to it than that.

You are an eternal soul being built up by the Spirit of God to indwell eternity even while existing with one foot in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven now. There are significant consequences to the things you do when you’re invisible. But I’m not even talking about the Last Day; I’m talking about here and now. Anything and everything you do is to your benefit and growth or degradation and stunting.

But let’s take a step back. Relational living is something like a carnival of bumper cars: every interaction you have with others bumps and pushes them somewhere—for good or bad; toward Christ or Gehenna. So Paul commands the church to “Make the most of every opportunity” and take part in the eternal care of souls (Col.4.5, Eph.5.16, Phil.2.12ff.).  There is no neutrality in morality, nor are there impotent relations. When you interact passively or actively, you nudge the souls of individuals toward or away from grace and faith in the knowledge of God revealed through Christ. And you are responsible for the way your creek’s current pushes others’ rivers. Some people have more water, and even small streams can carry poison: so you have more influence than you realize. The point of the invisibility discussion: when you’re weaving through the forest, your direction and speed will change what happens when you flow into another.


While you are invisible, you are yet living and shaping your being for good or evil. If you choose evil, you will be less the woman or less the man than you might have been. The next time to you speak, act, emote, avoid, or otherwise engage another, you will love less than you could have loved if you had loved God when transparent.

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Related:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Lesson from the Green Guys

Many stories have that supporting character who 'steals the show' or becomes the hook for the popular audience. In Ice Age it's that little rat-squirrel [thing]. In Catching Fire it's that girl, Joanna, or the Capitol's host. Some stories have so many well-developed, multi-layered characters, that you can't choose a favorite. But when I say "Toy Story," you know exactly who I'm talking about. Probably even without the title of this post. The little green aliens, for better or for worse, become the fluff and sprinkles that color the movie posters--they're the ones that make your 4-year old nephew giggle and quote. As annoying as anyone thinks they are... they can teach us a valuable lesson. After being rescued from "the Claw" ("ooooooh"), they follow their redeemer to world's end echoing,

"You have saved our lives! We are eternally grateful!" 

They begin to worship Mr. Potato Head, revering him even more than his changeable-body can satisfy. And the worship continues on beyond the single movie. They are absolutely devoted, and remain so... eternally. The creators intended the aliens to be viewed as religious as noted in Woody's reaction to them when he first finds them, including calling them "Zealots." And yet our gratitude pales in comparison to these guys. You and I were so utterly gone and have been so magnificently returned, and yet we remain nowhere near as persistent as these guys in gratitude. We are recovering God-haters, and it takes persistent work to praise God for what he has done. We are not as grateful as we ought to be... in other words: we fall short (a.k.a. we sin). But there is grace for that too.

Today's post isn't an extended philosophical argument, nor theological diatribe... It's just a reminder of grace. It's a reminder that even being transferred into the kingdom of the Son of his love, we are bleeding out the kingdom of wickedness. His work isn't done yet. Be grateful for that. But one day it will be full and you will be perfect. Be grateful for that. And along the way, know that his grace is sufficient for you, even when you fail to be grateful.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Good beneath the Temptation


I had a philosophy professor who asked, “When Adam chose the fruit, did he choose good or evil?” and “When Satan chose himself, did he choose good or evil?” [Here’s a hint for your next philosophy class: every question is a trick question.] “Adam chose good; Satan chose good,” he explained, “since God created everything, and everything which God creates is good, they chose a good thing, but not the appropriate thing.” He went on to explain Augustine’s theory of evil as privation (which we’ve mentioned on here before [Evil is a lack of good]) and the theory of ordered loves (things are loved most fully when they are loved in relation to their intended existence).

It’s true: God creates, and creates goods. Anything which you and I choose, is the choice of a good, but not necessarily the good—or the best particularly for the situation [see the post “Complex Ethics”]. In fact, that’s why sin is tempting: because it is a good… in part. Sin is the twisting of a good toward unintended purposes. There is good beneath—cloaked—in every sin that you commit. That’s partly why its pull is so strong! (The other part is because we are recovering God-haters.) What is your most recent sin? And what did you think it would provide or satisfy?

  • Was it lust? Perhaps you desire companionship…
    • or beauty
    • or pleasure
  • Was it pride? Perhaps you desire honor
    • or friendship
    • or intelligence
    • or peace
    • or righteousness
    • or truth
  • Was it covetousness? Perhaps you desire well-being
    • or security
    • or pleasure
    • or activity
  • Was it anger? Perhaps you desire righteousness
    • or peace

  • Was it anxiousness? Perhaps you desire security
  • Was it busyness? Perhaps you desire influence
  • Was it lawlessness? Perhaps you desire freedom
  • Was it financial foolishness? Perhaps you desire experience
  • Was it gluttony? Perhaps you desire pleasure
  • Was it unforgiveness? Perhaps you desire justice
  • Was it asceticism? Perhaps you desire holiness
  • Was it tardiness? Perhaps you desire rest
  • Was it falsehood? Perhaps you desire love
  • Was it abortion? Perhaps you desire trust
  • Was it moralism? Perhaps you desire righteousness
  • Was it lovelessness? Perhaps you desire safety
  • Was it _________________? Perhaps you desire God.


I couldn’t possibly list all the nuances of sin, nor the core good which their husk encompasses. But perhaps you need to stop worrying about denying the distortion, and start worrying about pursuing the reality. Take that sin, and determine why you fell into it. Temptation isn’t easy to deny… that’s why it’s called tempting. But it’s tempting because there’s something beneath it all that is actually good and desirable—something which shows you the love of God; something which shows you that he has created you with desires and tastes which only he can satisfy.

Jesus was crucified and killed sin with him. But he resurrected and brought you to life too: destroy sin, but don’t forget to live.

Rid yourself of the bad, for the sake of the better: of the good used appropriately.

And remember… that even when you fail, Jesus has already fulfilled it all for you. He is truth, righteousness, security, peace, love, justice, pleasure, influence, freedom, beauty; and you are in Christ. You have everything you need—you are freed to forego sin and enjoy good.
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If you’re looking for extended resources on sin & temptation, the two best resources I’ve read are

Tempted andTried by Russell D. Moore (which I recommend to everyone)
Of theMortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (which I recommend to anyone who is willing to read English of another century)


I’d also recommend…

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

Fallen edited by Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson


Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Prayer for Your Sunday Evening Worship: Psalm 111

(Based on Psalm 111, the first evening psalm for the first Sunday of Advent)


Eternally faithful covenant God,

            Praise is certainly due your name! Has anything been more sure in the history of mankind? For surely as long as we have lived, you have ever remained faithful, and deserving of honor and praise—so tonight we honor you in our hearts and praise you with our lips. Your works have been many, great, and mighty: so much so that they are incredible—the people who surround us disbelieve that you could accomplish such things as parting a sea and destroying a pharaoh; as crushing a city by parade; as sending fire from heaven; as raising from death. Your works are myriad, and to the unbelieving they remain mythical, but we who have known your love see them as wonderful; and they give us cause to remember you even this night. You have brought them to mind for us because recalling your deeds in the past gives us comfort in the presence.


Always have you acted in faithfulness, righteousness, truth and purity; love and glory—mercy and gracious compassion. Eternally.faithful.covenant.God. You have provided us with food and nourishment, but not solely that of flesh and body: we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from you. It is by you that we live: from the first breath breathed into the first man to the sustaining power of your breath every morning and every word breathed out into holy writ and by holy men. We depend on you and your covenant.


In Christ you have come to us, offering us that blessed transaction; transaction alone? No, but in declaring us righteous and him sin, you have given us the firstfruits of peace that you are still outworking in us. Daily through your dynamic interaction we come to perceive deeper what your grace and love toward us is. Daily we are shaped and nurtured by your pedagogy that is covenant. And all the while it is characterized by love and holiness. You have given us the inheritance of the nations, namely Christ—that seed of the woman who crushed the serpent; that seed of Abraham who has brought blessing; that seed of David who sits enthroned forever.


In Christ you have shown the supreme power of your works—through yourself the Son you have accomplished redemption for your people. And it is his incarnation that we begin to look back to, even as we look forward to its celebration later this month. We stand in fear of your awesome might, knowing that we are deserving of Pharaoh’s destruction, Jericho’s fall, Baal’s incineration, and death’s vice. But we also know that because you have approached us with your covenant, we stand not only in fear but in awe and praise, even joy. Teach us to live out the incarnate wisdom of Christ, and when we fail, faithful Lord, remind us still of your mighty work: forgiveness.

Amen.