Thursday, December 15, 2011

Confessions of St. Augustine

Finally, among all of my other reading, I've gotten through reading Confessions completely after starting (again) to read it again back in July. It's definitely a book that you should read if you haven't - I've learned a great deal not just about Augustine's background but also seeing how that has influenced his theology. I don't want this post to be a review of this classic, but instead I just want to post some of the things that stood out to me as I read through it. These are things that I posted to Facebook during the course of my reading. So, here are some things that stood out to me enough during my reading that I would like to keep track of the quotes. I'll preface each one with a thought or two.

This quote reveals how Augustine saw that God was drawing him and persuading him to Himself and then how God continued to lead Augustine after his conversion.
Then Thou, O Lord, little by little with most tender and most merciful hand, touching and composing my heart, didst persuade me. These things I thought on, and Thou wert with me; I sighed, and Thou heardest me; I wavered, and Thou didst guide me; I wandered through the broad way of the world, and Thou didst not forsake me.   - Confessions  6.7.
Here, we see Augustine stating that anything good that he does is only through God. And the evil deeds he did are his own. He adds that we breathe freely with the one [the good deeds] and sigh at the other. We sing hymns or we weep. And asks God to be pleased with the incense offered via the right acts. 
My good deeds are Your appointments, and Your gifts; my evil ones, are my offenses, and Your judgments....and no way forsaking what You have begun, perfect my imperfections.   - Confessions  10.5 
 This one is simple, yet profound - what is happiness in life? Rejoicing to, of, and for God!!
And this is the happy life, to rejoice to You, of You, for You; this is it, and there is no other.  - Confessions 10.32
Along the same lines is the confession of Augustine's heart -  may we have this same hope!!
This is my hope, for this do I live, that I may contemplate the delights of the Lord. Confessions
Powerful thoughts are in this quote! We often don't pray as we should or comprehend the amazing promise of Romans 8:31 that isn't just a trite promise given to us as believers but carries great weight due to what God has done for us (and what God has done for us is found in Romans 8:28-30 directly before verse 31)!
We hold the promise, who shall make it null? If God be for us who can be against us? Ask, and you shall have; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks shall it be opened. These are Your own promises; and who needs to fear being deceived, when Your truth promises?  - Confessions  12.2
This one reminded me of John 4:13-14 - Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
And now, behold, I return in distress and panting after Your fountain. Let no man forbid me! of this I will drink, and so live. - Confessions  12.10
Here Augustine tells us that we're nothing without God - both inside and out. Anything the world sees as "abundance" is emptiness if it isn't from God.
This only I know, that woe is me except in Thee: not only without but within myself also; and all abundance, which is not my God, is emptiness to me. - Confessions  13.9
I really like this one! Augustine's prayer is that God's work will reflect His majesty to the end that we would love God and that those works will reflect His majesty because we have loved Him. It's very closely related to one of his other famous passages from Confessions. "Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire." (Confessions 10.29)
Let Your works praise You, that we may love You, and let us love You that Your works may praise You. - Confessions 13.48
Augustine ends Confessions in a twofold manner. First, he states several ways we relate to God on a daily basis - asking, seeking, and knocking. He asks that those things shall come to pass - that for which we ask shall be received, for which we seek to find, and that the door be opened when we knock. All of that with an Amen and a Thank You God! This is also very similar to the quotes from 10.29 and 12.2 above.
Let it be asked of Thee, sought in Thee, knocked for at Thee; so, so shall it be received, so shall it be found, so shall it be opened. Amen. GRATIAS TIBI DOMINE - Confessions 13.53

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Will I Have a Mansion in Heaven?

What do you think of when you hear the word "mansion?" If you're anything like me, you would think of a large estate someone would have with a huge house. Maybe something like Biltmore? In fact, you would probably have in mind the first definition of "mansion" in the dictionary: "a very large, impressive, or stately residence."

But what does this have to do with Heaven? Do I get a mansion in heaven?

You probably know the verse John 14:2 by heart. And you probably learned it from the King James reading - "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

It's not that there is anything wrong with this reading - especially when you consider that it's from a now 400 year-old English translation (from 1611). In Webster's 1828 Dictionary, "mansion" had a more simple meaning of "Any place of residence; a house; a habitation." But today, we just don't use the term mansion for "a habitation". More modern translations refer to "mansions" in this verse as "dwelling places" (NASB/HCSB) or "rooms" (ESV/NIV) The Greek definition of the word used in this verse is here.

The problem here is with continuing to use the word "mansions" knowing good and well the definition that modern people will have in their mind for that term. The problem is furthered when you have preachers saying things like "some of the greatest mansions in heaven will be the property of unsung heroes here on earth". (Yes, a preacher I know of has said that within the past couple of months...)

Jesus says what he does in John 14:2 to let us know that we would be spending eternity with Him. He wasn't implying that he was going to make us a huge house to live in (and he certainly wasn't stating that there would be different levels of mansion-hood in Heaven!!). Rather, he was saying that he was going to prepare a room for us in the Father's house so that we could be where Jesus was as well! This is part of the hope that we find in this passage - the other being that Jesus will send us the Holy Spirit! Unfortunately, too many people still focus on the "mansion" (whether explicitly or implicitly).

I guess this seems a little random to post about this, but there are a couple of reasons I have done so. One was, of course, the horrible quote above about the "greatest mansions in heaven". Another reason was due to my stumbling on this word being used in a book published in 1937. You may have heard of it - The Hobbit. When they're discussing early in the book about how Smaug acquired his wealth we read "Then he went back and crept in through the Front Gate and routed out all the halls, and lanes, and tunnels, alleys, cellars, mansions, and passages." Reading that made me think about how we still get this verse wrong in the Church today. Clearly Tolkien wasn't referring to the dragon going through all of the huge houses under the mountain in the context of tunnels, cellars, and passages. Neither was Jesus stating that we would all have large houses in heaven! So this example just proves that as recently as 1937 "mansions" was being used to refer to rooms in popular writing.

Oh yeah, one other thing I thought of was the Audio Adrenaline song "Big House". It's a fun little song, and I'm not sure that we'll be playing football in Heaven, but they got this part right in singing "It's a big, big house with lots and lots of rooms."

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

1 John 3:6

I had a friend ask me recently about my take on 1 John 3:6 "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." Wow, take a moment and think about that!

It's difficult to consider the implications of that verse - because we are all sinners (people who, well, sin!). It's our nature. And it's something that John spoke about a lot in his Gospel and in 1 John. In 1 John 1:6-10 John makes another statement that echoes that of 3:6. He says that if we say we have fellowship with Christ but walk in darkness that we are liars. If we say we're sinless we're deceiving ourselves. If we say we haven't sinned we make Christ out to be a liar! On the positive side of things, John writes in 1 John 2:5-6 that God's love is perfected in us when we keep His word and walk in the same way He walks. John goes on to explain that by walking in darkness (as mentioned in Chapter 1) he means specifically that we aren't loving each other.

Later in Chapter 2 (1 John 2:15-17), John states that the love of this present world is something else that proves we do not love God. In a brief discussion about "anti-christs" that were among them but didn't confess Christ (1 John 2:18-27), John states they never were truly "of us."

However, the section in 1 John 2:28-3:10 is where I would like to focus in this post. This section starts with perhaps the key statement that we who know him and practice righteousness have been born of him (see also John 3:3-8). We have "been born of him" - we are "called children of God". We will one day be like him, but not yet.

Certainly, much of the direct context we've read so far shows that John was focusing heavily on Christians needing to love each other. And even the rest of his letter after this section deals heavily with this theme. So, this is extremely important - for how can we love Christ if we don't love his bride (the Church)? But a broader application of 1 John 3:6, and one that I believe has much scriptural basis, is that we simply cannot have life more abundant as followers of Christ when we are continually seeking after something that is contrary to what His will is in our lives! Daily, do you wake up planning to do what's against His will? Do you go to sleep at night knowing that tomorrow will be a continuation of disobedience to God? I believe this is what John is talking about. Do people struggle with daily sins? Of course! Paul even said that he does what he doesn't want to do and doesn't do what he wants to because of the indwelling sin in his life (Romans 7:19-20)!

Of course we are going to stumble and fall, but I believe that we should take heed to this warning John is giving to us in this verse. This is especially true, in context, of those who live their lives daily with anger and resentment toward another brother or sister in Christ. And let's not forget 1 John 3:7 immediately following it - "Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous." This is how we know we are His children, and what a blessing that is! We are working hand-in-hand with our Savior towards our sanctification! (Philippians 2:12-13)

Just a couple of hours after my friend brought up this topic, I was in the car listening to some Page CXVI and Come Thou Fount was playing and the words to that hymn are so fitting with what I believe John is teaching us in this letter:

"O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee."

Or as I re-phrased it - Grace! Each day we are indebted to it. And Christ's goodness binds us to him as with handcuffs to keep us from wandering!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How I've Lost 27 Pounds (and counting...)

Since July 1, I've lost 27 pounds - over 10% of my original body weight (247)... First of all, thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement! The first question I always get asked is "how are you doing that?" - usually wondering what method or diet I'm using.

Well, the short answer is "less food and more exercise." I'm not doing any of the fad diets where you stop eating one particular type of food, etc. Just less caloric intake - a lot less, actually. And, to be honest, it hasn't been as hard as I would have imagined!

But to expand a bit, let me start by saying that after getting back on July 16 from our mission trip to El Salvador, I had lost 7 pounds. I wondered "what did I do differently?" I didn't deny myself food when I was hungry, but I also didn't snack or eat anything right before bed. We were also very active during the day - we're talking aerobid-type active! :) So, I decided when I got back that I would try to apply some of this in my day-to-day life. I stopped eating at night and stopped snacking and drinking non-diet sodas (I mostly drank diet anyway, so that wasn't quite as tough). And I try to go shoot hoops with friends once a week and get on the elliptical machine once or twice a week at home. And I kept dropping the weight.

After I had lost about 13 pounds, I was told about - it's free and there are apps for mobile phones. You use it to keep track of your calories and exercise. So, I started doing this (along with Jen) and it was good to see that what had already become somewhat normal for me was an intake of between 1,200 and 1,300 calories. At this rate, I should be able to lose around 2 pounds per week - which is pretty much right on track with my weight loss!

I put in some things that I used to eat (like Zaxby's Wings & Things - nucular lol - which is almost 1,600 calories and 93 grams of fat!!!) And that would be just one meal from the day (of course not every day)! Yikes... Seriously bad! Can't do that anymore, but that's fine!

So, that's my "secret". Just eat less - we rely way too much on food. I didn't realize this as much, but it's true. Of course I miss some things, and sometimes I will splurge when we are eating with friends. I also realize that the more I lose the more focused I will have to become to continue losing weight - i.e. more exercise and less of certain types of food. I'm drinking a lot of water now, too, and generally limiting myself to one caffeinated drink per day. I generally eat the same types of food as before, just less of it. If we go to Moe's I may not eat the big burrito, but would get a junior or split the big one with Jen.

And you know what? I'm feeling great!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Worship Service Full of Misery

Since we're on the topic of music, I remembered something from high school as I was listening to some music this weekend. OK, so I wasn't listening to Christian music... I have this soft spot in my heart for "The Big 90's Weekend" that is on 94.1 down here in Atlanta. It's actually quite disturbing to my wife at times (sorry honey!).

But I digress. A song came on and it made me think back to a time when I was very disappointed, to put it nicely, with a youth event I was attending with my church group. This was around 1995/96 and I was a high school senior when this event was going on, so if you're familiar with the Christian Music scene from the early 90's there wasn't exactly a whole lot happening that youth would really get into. In the mid 90's things started going pretty good (bands like Third Day and Audio Adrenaline were just getting started). This was the time of "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" being one of the big praise songs and "Shout to the Lord" wasn't written yet either. I guess I'm rambling possibly to excuse the fact that most of the songs played by the host church's youth band that night were not worship songs, much less Christian music. I remember then during the first part of the night thinking that I could let the lack of praising God at a church event with a focus on Bible teaching slide some.

But then we were done with the first half of evening and I still remember the gist of the prayer of the Youth Minister hosting the event before the band started playing again. He prayed that we would have hope and a blessed lesson, etc... But then a load of bricks hit me. Hard! Because on the opening chord I knew the song the band started playing. They played "Misery" by Soul Asylum. While the meaning of this song is debatable, the theme for any interpretation is that people are in misery and they try to bring other people down with them. Really? No. Really?!? I had to walk outside to think and compose myself.

That's not what the church should be about - not even youth events. Students want more than many adults may give them credit for. If they want to hear popular music and play games they can go just about anywhere. But this isn't what  we should give them in place of The Gospel. In some ways this experience was a turning point for me and I still feel strongly about this bait-and-switch trap churches often fall into - unwittingly as it may be at times. Of course I'm not saying that we should shun everything secular; as I started out with this post I mentioned listening to secular music and it reminding me of this. But I think you get the point - enough rambling.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Two Worship Albums This Year That Make Me Hopeful - Part Two

In my first post on this subject, I wrote about Matt Redman's 10,000 Reasons album. In this post I would like to briefly touch on another album released this year and then give a summary of my thoughts.

The second of the albums is "God of Victory" by The Village (from The Village Church).

With regards to the lyrics, this album has a lot of great lyrics that are theologically rich. In many respects, it has some similar themes as the Redman album. However, there are also some other themes that are sung about - how many modern worship songs do you know that deal with the doctrine of The Trinity as "O God of Our Salvation" does?

O God, The Holy Spirit
Revealing Deity
The fount of life and love divine
Throughout eternity
- O God of Our Salvation

There on the cross He bore our sins
And we became His righteousness
Now we stand here justified
Now we live because He died
- Made Us Alive

In my place, Jesus died
The spotless Lamb laid down His life
The wrath of God was satisfied
In my place, Jesus died
- In My Place

I am guilty but pardoned, by grace I’ve been set free
I am ransomed through the blood you shed for me
I was dead in my transgressions, but life you brought to me
I am reconciled through mercy, to the cross I cling
- To The Cross I Cling

I certainly hope that these Biblical topics cause you to reflect on what God has done by sending Jesus to "to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21) and then by the sending of the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and convict us of sin. (John 16:7-13). This is what life is about. This is the proclamation of the Gospel. And it is truly encouraging to me seeing that (mainstream/"popular") worship leaders are using these truths as the foundation of their lyrics.

I would also like to add that I don't want anyone to think I've written off other modern worship artists just because the "theological" content of the lyrics isn't quite as obvious or blatant. I've been very encouraged seeing more music of late with a lot of content that comes straight from scriptures, even if sometimes it seems the song may veer away from that at points. But in addition to just singing along with the songs, I urge you to look in the Bible to see if your favorite songs are rooted in Scripture.

I would love to hear about more musicians that are approaching songwriting like this - let me know of any others. This more doctrinal emphasis in lyrics is very encouraging for The Church!

Finally, and I say this somewhat in passing as I have been listening more to The Village album in particular, there seems to be more of a cadence with the verses than I've noticed on other "praise and worship" albums. They are very rhythmic and it sometimes has the feel of a hymn, which is good. It's not very obvious, but I do get that feel - especially when reading back over the lyrics.

And, as I said in the first post, you really should go get these albums. Now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two Worship Albums This Year That Make Me Hopeful - Part One

This year, there have been two worship albums I've purchased that make me very hopeful about the state of modern ("contemporary") worship. In general, here is why I believe this - the lyrics have a deep theological emphasis while at the same time the music is good, modern, but not distracting, and draws people into deeper worship with an expectancy about what God is going to do and has already done for us. In this first part, I will do a mini-review of one of the albums and a follow-up post will be about the other album. I would really urge you to to go out and buy these albums. Now. :)

The first of the albums was more recently released. It is "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman. As this is the most recent album for Redman, you can really tell that his songwriting has improved over the years (I've been listening to his albums since "Heart of Worship" back in 1999 and he's always been blessed by God with songs that have good lyrical content). However, I believe this is his best work yet. You can look around for more reviews, but this one by Zac Hicks encompasses a lot of my initial thoughts on the album as well.

Lyrically, this album has a huge focus on our Justification and Glorification. There is a lot less focus on what we will be doing in the here and now to serve God (part of our Sanctification, certainly) - which is where many worship artists place focus. I could quote from nearly every song as an example of what I mean here, but here are a few lyrical samples in album order.

What heart could hold
The weight of your love
And know the heights
Of Your great worth?
What eyes could look on
Your glorious face
Shining like the sun?
- Holy

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
- 10,000 Reasons

Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
- Never Once

We couldn't escape
The sin and the shame
That kept us bound
We couldn't break through
We couldn't reach You
So You reached down
- Where Would We Be

O this God is our God even till the end
Standing strong over us, time and time again
Even till the end
- O This God

And, I believe the lyrics that I like the most may be on the last song. They're truly speaking of how Jesus has imparted his righteousness to us through the Cross!

When I stand before Your throne
Dressed in glory not my own
What a joy I'll sing of on that day
No more tears or broken dreams
Forgotten is the minor key
Everything as it was meant to be
As you can see, there is a lot of depth to the lyrics. I hope that many of these songs will stay with the Church and that we will be able to worship through these songs and focus on what God has done for us. I believe that when we focus on The Gospel (the good news of what God has done), then we will be grateful and be more conformed to Christ and then we will be able to do what He has asked us to do. As Jesus said, "My yolk is easy and my burden is light" - this is because we rely on what he's accomplished on our behalf and the overflow of our love for Him will come out in our lives! Although this album has barely been out for over a month, we have used 4 songs in worship already and will be using 2 more new ones in the next few weeks.

Friday, July 8, 2011

El Salvador - We are leaving tomorrow!

Last year, I was blessed to be able to go with a group from my church to Honduras to serve and minister there for a week. The impact of that trip is huge on my outlook on life in general. I was able to use many of the talents God has given me over the years, such as with construction and even recalling a lot of Spanish that I haven't used since high school! One of the great things about the church we attend, Kennesaw First Baptist, is the huge emphasis on missions. Last year our church had 55 people involved in missions outside of Georgia. It's awesome to see how God works through this!

This year another group of us are going to a neighboring country of Honduras - El Salvador. The mission trip starts tomorrow, July 9 through July 16. We will be partnering with Miramonte Baptist Church to assist them with their established ministries. Much of what we will be doing is similar to other mission trips – working with children in their schools, day camps (VBS), evangelistic services, outreach, and possibly some light construction. This time, we will be staying in homes of church members as well, so we will be able to build some relationships that way with our brothers and sisters in El Salvador.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul quoted Isaiah when he was asking us how people could know Jesus without someone preaching to them. He only cited the first part of that verse, but that entire verse actually speaks much to us. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'” (Isaiah 52:7 ESV)

Although we will be serving in many capacities, the core reason that we are going is to take the good news of Jesus Christ to lost people so that they can be disciples.

Pray for our team as we leave tomorrow. If possible, I will try to post some updates here, so check back. Also, updates will be posted at the KFBC Student ministry blog.