Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reading Quiz

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Book Snob

Literate Good Citizen

Fad Reader

Non-Reader

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Overcoming Sin and Temptation

Many of you are familiar with the Puritan John Owen, whose works are still read today. Well, just recently a new book has been released: Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Compiled and edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, this book combines three of Owen’s works on the topic of overcoming sin. For right now, I will limit my comments to the first book in this three-part volume: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.

The Mortification of Sin is divided into three sections. Part 1 deals with the necessity of mortification, in which Owen stresses the seriousness of the battle. “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.” In fact, “not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has furnished us with a principle of doing it.” One cannot think he is growing in the Lord if he is not seeking to kill the sin in his life: “Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward his journey’s end.” Owen basically says the same thing over and over again in several different ways, which helps the reader fully ingest just how serious the battle with indwelling sin really is.

Another concern Owen has is that mortification be sought only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are several means appointed by God to assist the believer in mortification, such as “praying, fasting, watching, meditation, and the like. These have their use in the business at hand; but whereas they are all to be looked on as streams, [some] look on them as the fountain.” Legalism—a self-wrought mortification that depends on fleshly effort—is not the answer. (Owen refers to it as “will-worship.”) Instead, Owen wants us to fight sin with what he calls “a vigorous gospel attempt for its mortification.”

Part 2 begins by clarifying what mortification is not, then moves on to explain what mortification is. After describing some applicable principles, Owen takes his time in exploring the dangers of having a hard heart. He does not quickly rush in to speak peace to a soul that is not properly and thoroughly convicted of its sin, for he recognizes that only godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). Mere human remedies cannot conquer sin, and Owen lingers on the despair that is necessary for breaking one’s hardness of heart.

For example, we must (by God’s grace) develop a heart of universal obedience. Seeking to mortify one sin while leaving other sins untouched is self-destructive and dishonoring to God.

“Cleanse yourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). If we will do anything, we must do all things. So, then, it is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.

This point I found especially poignant. As I read, the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me areas of hardheartedness of which I had become completely unaware. I had wondered why I was struggling to experience genuine sorrow over certain sins and the Lord began showing me where the fallow ground of my heart had been neglected and unplowed.

It is worth noting that there are four chapters on the necessity of mortification (Part 1), nine chapters on the nature of mortification (Part 2), and only one chapter on the means of mortification (Part 3). Owen knows that we are prone to approach sin with a self-sufficient mindset: “what are the steps I need to take in order to overcome this problem?” Overcoming sin and temptation, however, is not a twelve-step program. In fact, the answer to sin is not a program—it is a Person. And only one act leads to victory over sin: an act accomplished by God Himself, namely, the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. The death of sin can only be found in the death of Christ. “Live in this,” says Owen, “and you will die a conqueror.”

Admittedly, John Owen is not always the easiest person to follow. But thanks to Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, these three classic works are made much more accessible to the modern reader. (And there is an overview of each of the three books that alone is almost worth the price of the entire volume.) You’ll still have to concentrate hard as you read, but Owen’s material is well worth digging into. After all, when was treasure ever easy to find? Real treasure with real value requires real work to obtain. With the aid of great men like Owen, may we persistently and passionately pursue the mortification of sin—for the glory of God and the well-being of our souls.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Feet—er, Thanksgiving

Gratitude isn’t an attitude I find easy to cultivate. Too often I think I am entitled to God’s goodness, and when troubles litter the road ahead of me my inclination is towards self-pity.

Sometimes God shows His goodness by igniting our hearts with a delight in Him so passionate that our joy almost seems effortless. Other times He shows His goodness by revealing our sin and calling us to fight for the refreshing spring of joy in a seemingly endless desert of depravity. I’m not a fan of being in the latter category, especially during the week of Thanksgiving.

Nevertheless, God’s goodness remains true and constant. I must not think of God as being good only when pleasant circumstances come my way. Primarily, God’s goodness is revealed to me through the cross, not the lack of adversity in my life. The Psalmists explain God’s goodness like this: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (See Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 29 and 136:1-26.)

How do I know God is good to me? Because He has shown me mercy. And what is the appropriate response to God’s goodness and mercy? Thankfulness. “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

The mercy of God and the goodness of God are inseparable. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6). Therefore, regardless of how pleasant or painful the future looks, God is still good and His mercy will stay hot on my trail for all of eternity. How good of God to pursue me with so great a love!

If you’re struggling with ungratefulness, or if you just have a few extra minutes this holiday weekend, check out this Thanksgiving-themed sermon by John Piper. It is most excellent.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I see some pumpkin spice cake doughnuts calling my name…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Choral Magnificence

I hope your musical appetite was whetted with last week’s film score clip from Edward Scissorhands. Yes, I love choral music more than just about any other form of aural enjoyment. There are numerous musical instruments that bring delight to my ears (strings—especially the violin and cello—come to mind), but none of them compares to the emotional power of the human voice. I’m particularly fond of female and boys choirs, both of which emanate an innocent aesthetic beauty.

Danny Elfman has written some of the best choral work I have ever heard. He’s a film score composer (surprise, surprise) who has used choral elements in numerous films, the standout being his masterful work in Edward Scissorhands. I simply cannot explain how wonderful the music is; you must hear it for yourself.

So, below you will find an eight-minute suite from Edward Scissorhands. Sit back and enjoy! (And as an added bonus, there’s a short-but-sweet segment featuring some kickin’ violin work.)

Edward Scissorhands Suite

As a side note, this week’s music clip is also by Danny Elfman.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Emoticons: Cultural Learnings of Technology for Make Benefit Glorious Nuances of Communication

(Note: the above title is not an endorsement of the Borat film.)

Some friends of mine (most of them from the Manspeak blog) have criticized men’s use of emoticons. Evidently, they believe the utilization of technology to enhance communication is somehow unmanly. I find their stance disconcerting, especially since they purport a pursuit of genuine masculinity. I have been repeatedly persecuted by them for using emoticons and have decided a refutation is in order.*

Before the invention of computers and cell phones, modes of communication were simplified. People conversed with each other face to face. Phrases like “Thou milksop,” “A Pox on thee,” and “Thou art a misbegotten son of Beelzebub” were easily understood.

Nowadays, words aren’t always enough. In some cases, signs and symbols must be added to words to clarify their meaning. How much more important are signs in the technological age in which we live, when many forms of communication lack necessary elements of physical expression (posture, vocal tone, articulation, gestures, facial contortions, and so on)?

Emoticons are signs; they constitute a form of paralanguage (the non-verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion). When social interaction takes place electronically (in emails, message boards, instant messages, etc.) emoticons can be a helpful aid in implying a writer’s tone and clarifying one’s intentions.

It is interesting to note that the first emoticon was introduced to the world by (you guess it) a man: Scott Elliot Fahlman. He believed the smiley face would help people on message boards to distinguish serious posts from jokes. Fahlman’s creation wasn’t the result of an empty mind; he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1973 from MIT, and his Ph.D. in 1977 (also from MIT).

Emoticons can even act as a social faux pas safeguard. I once read about a woman who thought “LOL” meant “Lots of Love” and wrote the following message to an unbeliever:

Jesus loves you. LOL.

That didn’t exactly convey the message she intended. Instead, this woman could have used an emoticon:

Jesus loves you. :-)

(Actually, the woman probably should have started with something along the lines of, “God is holy, you are sinful, and the wrath of the Almighty rests upon you,” but that doesn’t serve the purposes of my argument.)

Effective communicators communicate effectively. And how can they be effective while avoiding clarity? Emoticons enable us to be more emotionally honest with others. Are we to eschew emoticons simply because it makes one more vulnerable? I think not. Such a stance is quite unmanly.

A technological tool such as an emoticon is amoral; what makes it proper or improper is the context in which it is used. Indeed, the use of emoticons can be a means of grace in electronic communication. A man’s refusal to use emoticons, therefore, is nothing less than a refusal to be a conduit of the grace of God. Now, what does the Bible say about a person with a prideful posture? Hmmm… Oh, I remember! “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Emoticons enable us to pursue humility for the glory of God.

In fact, I propose that when writing electronic messages, we men keep in mind the following acronym: WEWJU (woo-joo). It stands for “What Emoticon Would Jesus Use?” This way, we can be ever mindful of our position as stewards of the gift of communication.

In closing, here is my “man law” proposal: if your emotions are coy, you’re no man—just a boy

So let’s communicate like mature men. And to any male who refuses to do so, I have one more thing to say to you:

:-b


* Disclaimer: a bit of hyperbolic jest is used in this discourse. Like the use of emoticons, hyperbole and jest can be beneficial practices in communication. Dismissing the above discourse on the grounds of said use of hyperbole and jest is the moral equivalent of dismissing Braveheart as a chick flick because the actors wear kilts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Read the Sandwich

I just stumbled across a great website: The Sacred Sandwich, a “periodical for small town Christians in the big bad world.” The mock news headlines are creative and entertaining. For example, check out WARREN UNVEILS THE R.I.C.K. PLAN ON HUMILITY.

Here’s a quote from the disclaimer page: “Despite the tongue-in-cheek style, The Sacred Sandwich’s main objective is to herald the sufficiency of Scripture as one of the surest means in which the visible Church might humble herself to God’s will and enjoy true spiritual revival.”

Other sections of the newspaper include the following:

  • Food for Thought, with numerous articles by authors—living and dead—that call the church back to sound doctrine.
  • The Twin Theologians, where Maruice and Emmett answer questions sent in by readers (and yes, hilarity ensues).
  • The Bohemian Baptist: Correspondence from a Postmodern Heretic, a column with articles such as, I DON’T BELIEVE THAT ANYONE CAN BELIEVE IN A NON-BELIEF SYSTEM.
  • Photo Gallery. You have to see the comic brilliance of these pictures/captions to believe them. This is one of my favorites. And it seems that no one is safe from parody—not Tim LaHaye, Dan Brown, or even VeggieTales.

So-called “holy humor” oftentimes has the unpleasant distinction of being dumb (at worst) and corny (at best). Kudos to The Sacred Sandwich, which bucks the trend and makes “clean” and “clever” practically synonymous.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Capster’s Dictionary / Word Entry: “Lunch”

Kris Love (evening DJ at Love 89.1 FM) and I have come to a realization: “Lunch” and “Copper Cellar” are synonymous. To call any other meal at any other restaurant “lunch” would be a gross insult. Lunch just doesn’t get any better than this. I need not recount the myriad of culinary pleasures that accompany eating the Copper Cellar hamburger because I have already done so here. Suffice it to say there is no better lunch than that of which we partake every Wednesday at Copper Cellar (“we” being half the staff at Love 89).

Therefore, I have resolved to refer to any other mid-day eat-out excursion as a “meal” or glorified “snack.” The term “lunch” has been redefined by the life-altering succulence of the Copper Cellar hamburger. Eden has come to Knoxville, Tennessee—just a small foretaste of the restored created order described in Revelation.

I remember one Tuesday when I passed Kris in the hallway at work. All I said was, “Tomorrow.” He just nodded and replied, “Tomorrow.” No other words were needed.

The reason I am discussing this topic again is because it has been nearly a month since I’ve had the pleasure of eating a Copper Cellar hamburger. I had partaken of several other burgers from several other restaurants during that time, but none of them fully engaged my taste buds. And having just come back from another great lunch experience with the Love 89 crew, I am once again content. (The withdrawal symptoms were starting to get serious.) I know I’m beating a dead horse—or in this case, a dead and tasty cow—so I’ll bring this to a close.

Copper Cellar is lunch. Really, no other words are needed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Measure of a Man

Another aspect of the men’s conference that stood out to me were the videos shown that honored specific men from the different churches that had come. One person honored was Jeff Hutchison, a member of CrossWay Community Church. As I watched the video, I was reminded that I have too often thought of marriage in selfish terms (i.e., what is my future wife going to bring to the table to serve me?). Like many of the events of the conference, this video was a grace-filled slap in the face. Jeff Hutchison is a real man. You can watch the video by going here.

(And for those who don’t know, the messages from the conference are now available for download here.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Summit

I joked about going to the Sovereign Grace men’s conference and coming back a man. Well, the joke was on me. To say the conference was a means of grace would be both an oversimplification and an understatement. It was, in fact, a milestone in my Christian walk.

God used the messages (especially the first one, which dealt with denying yourself and following Christ) to point out certain areas of sin in my life—you know, those areas where you think you’re doing well and then you realize once again that you’re a complete sinbag dripping with depravity. As the light of God’s truth exposed selfishness and pride in my life, my heart fought to hold onto its illusion of autonomy. There were a couple of times where I freaked out at the prospect of relinquishing my “right” to organize my life according to my wishes and not God’s will. But by His grace I was able to see the folly of refusing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. After all, self-denial is not an end in and of itself; it is simply the means to finding true and lasting joy. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

Let me express a heartfelt thanks to those of you who prayed for the men who attended The Summit. Your supplications were answered in amazing ways. I know that experiences similar to mine happened in the lives of many other men from Cornerstone. (Dash even went so far as to say that the conference affected him more than Vision Quest did.) How good of God to give His Spirit to wrath-deserving, blood-bought sinners and affect grace-saturated change!

Oh, and the use of film scores as background music before the meetings was an extra nice touch. You know you’re at a men’s conference when you hear the Barbarian Horde from Gladiator as you take your seat.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Brief Sabbatical

I’ll be heading to Charlotte, NC tomorrow for Sovereign Grace’s mid-south “Making of a Man” conference. Hopefully, I shall come back a man.

But seriously, please pray that this time will be a means of grace for those of us who are going.

Let Dead Men Feed You

In an age of theological ambiguity, it’s refreshing to sit at the feet of saints long gone. One thing I appreciate about dead theologians whose works are still read today (Martin Luther, John Owen, etc.) is that they centered their lives on the gospel. Nothing on which they taught strayed from the cross. Even topics like discipleship and the pursuit of holiness were firmly grounded on the finished work of Christ. For example, here’s a quote from Scottish preacher Horatius Bonar (1808 – 1889):

Every plant must have both soil and root. Without both of these there can be no life, no growth, no fruit. The root is “peace with God”; the soil in which that root strikes itself, and out of which it draws the vital sap, is the free love of God in Christ. “Rooted in love” is the apostle’s description of a holy man. The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily intercourse with a crucified and risen Lord. All divine life, and all the precious fruits of it, pardon, peace, and holiness, spring from the cross. All fancied sanctification which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism. If we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else, notwithstanding all our labour, diligence, fasting, praying and good works, we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, gracious tempers which accompany a clear view of the cross.

Now that’s what I call a feast for the soul. Yep, dead saints are good theological cooks.