Superstitions: Worry, Control, and Trust

16567307118_bc2d7b0a14_kI noticed something while I was watching a sporting event a few weeks ago. I was watching a game and the team I wanted to win was losing.  I decided to grab a Pepsi and suddenly the team I was cheering for started to do better and suddenly was winning. By this time I was done with my Pepsi, but I didn’t want to put my can down, because what if my team started to lose when I did?

This story is embarrassing because it’s true. But it’s harmless, right? At one level, holding a Pepsi can for good luck is silly and doesn’t change the outcome of a game; however, at a deeper level, what I thought about the Pepsi can was a window into my heart.

How Superstitions Work

Besides being irrational, superstitions are about worry and control. Let’s analyze what was going on in my heart and mind during that sporting event.

  • First, I was worried about the future. I didn’t control the outcome of the game, and the outlook was bleak.
  • Second, I noticed a correlation to my holding the Pepsi can and the results improving.
  • Third, I held on to my can of Pepsi like a kind of charm in order to control the outcome of the game.

Our goal in turning to superstitions is to try to either bring good things our way or help us avoid the bad. We are often painfully aware of our lack of control and will do whatever it takes to make us think we have control—including hold on to a Pepsi can for “good luck.”

What’s the Big Deal?

Superstitions can be about anything. Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll break your mother’s back. Black cats bring bad luck. Number 13 is unlucky too! But a lucky rabbit’s foot might counter-balance the bad luck of your black cat. Knock on wood. Cross your fingers!

Even though superstitions seem harmless, they point to a heart that is not trusting God. We know we are being superstitious when we look to objects, patterns of speaking, or personal tics instead of God for help. When we cling to our superstitions, we rewrite Psalm 20:7 this way, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of our good luck charm.”

Instead of bringing us to the true Rock and true Salvation, superstitions keep our eyes on ourselves and what we are doing to keep control. But God calls us—for His glory and our good—to lift up our eyes to Him.

Hope for Worry-Warts

When we lift our eyes upon God, we remember that he hasn’t left us alone. God’s word gives us specific promises and tells us we have a God who provides, a God who is our true treasure, and a God who comforts.

1. Father is our Provider

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount are a treasure trove of hope for those who worry. When we’re tempted to worry, Jesus tells us to look at creation:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (Matthew 6:26–29).

We don’t have to rely on our lucky rabbit’s foot for good luck because we have a heavenly Father who cares for us, and because he cares for us, he provides for our needs.

2. Jesus is our Treasure

In this same context of worry, Jesus gives his disciples a surprising command, “But seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:34). But what does seeking first the kingdom have to do with worry and superstition? Ed Welch explains,

Read the rest here.

Image: T G Talisman

Links Worth Your Time

16501229458_1ec212d518_kI’m beginning a new, ongoing series that I’m calling, “Links Worth Your Time.” My goal with this series is to introduce you to a few articles, podcasts, or videos that I have found valuable, helpful, or just generally thought provoking.

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

How does the dichotomy between fact and opinion relate to morality? I learned the answer to this question only after I investigated my son’s homework (and other examples of assignments online). Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion. Here’s a little test devised from questions available on fact vs. opinion worksheets online: are the following facts or opinions?

  • Copying homework assignments is wrong.
  • Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
  • All men are created equal.
  • It is worth sacrificing some personal liberties to protect our country from terrorism.
  • It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.
  • Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat.
  • Drug dealers belong in prison.

Josh Hamilton and the Monster That Hunts Us All

Hamilton’s story could be my story or your story. The world, the flesh, the Devil is an unholy trinity that hunts us all. His story is in the news because of his profession; ours is not.

Mere Fidelity: Lament and the Church (podcast)

Theologian Todd Billings new book on lament stems from his personal struggle with cancer, but explores it theologically.  In this episode, we talk with him about the nature and meaning of lament and why our culture may not leave much room for it.

How Can Christians Endure Suffering?

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Being a Christian does not make one immune from suffering. Suffering can come in many forms at various times, to the young or the old, to the man or the woman, to the single or the married, to the Christian or the non-Christian. Although suffering affects Christians like everyone else, it doesn’t mean Christians are to react like everyone else.

God has expectations for his children regarding how they should face suffering. There is much on the line for the Christian when suffering comes. Paul puts it this way, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God—and fellow heirs of God, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16–17). Our future glory and inheritance is dependent on our remaining faithful to Christ in the midst of our suffering.

But how? How can we remain faithful when the pain is so raw? How can we remain faithful when everything within us wants to throw in the towel? How can we remain faithful when God seems distant? How can we remain faithful when our suffering continues year after year and it seems God will never change our situation?

We find one of Paul’s answers in Romans 8:18, which says, “For I consider the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Sufferings of the Present Time

You might be tempted to say to Paul that he is not qualified to come to his conclusion—that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed—because he hasn’t faced deep suffering. Because he hasn’t faced suffering like your suffering.

We get a glimpse of Paul’s sufferings in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9. He writes, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.”

Paul was no stranger to suffering and was faithful to Christ in the midst of the pain.

Future Glory

The motivation for faithfulness for Paul—and for us—is the future glory that is ours. But just what is that future glory? Paul gives two answers: First, creation will one day be set free (Romans 8:21) and second, Christians will fully and finally be brought into God’s family, or put another way: redeemed (Romans 8:23).

Can you imagine what that will be like? To be fully a part of God’s family in a creation that has been set free? It will be like the Garden of Eden, but more like Eden 3.0; it will be like Christmas morning when you were a kid, but the presents will never disappoint because we will have the presence of Christ.

So even if your pain is raw today or if you feel like throwing in the towel, take heart. We have a hope that will never disappoint. Jesus is worth it.

* This article first appeared at bcsmn.org.

Image: Anna Rommel

 

Great Book About the Giver and His Gifts

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Joe Rigney has fundamentally changed the way I think about God and the world he made. He does this by raising and resolving this tension: “Why did [God] make a world for his own glory in Christ and then fill it to the brim with physical pleasures—physical pleasures, sensible pleasures, emotional pleasures, and relational pleasures (25)?”

In The Things of Earth, Joe Rigney gives two lenses which Christians can use to rightly express God’s relationship to his gifts: the comparative approach and the integrative approach. The comparative approach emphasizes the truth that there is no one so awesome, so satisfying, and so worthy of worship than our triune God. He is the only creator, the only wise judge, the only savior, and only soul-satisfier. The comparative approach emphasizes that everything God has created is a shaft of his own glory and therefore ought to be received with enjoyment and gratitude to the Creator.

Joe enlists C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and Doug and N.D. Wilson for support and takes you on a trip that includes the Trinity, cultural engagement, and human finitude. (Make sure you have some food nearby when reading; the talk of sweet tea, chicken parmesan, pecan pie and other such delicacies will almost certainly make you hungry!)

As someone who has been influenced greatly by John Piper’s Desiring God, I found The Things of Earth to provide a helpful corrective to how I relate to the world around me. This book has caused me to be a more grateful person, a happier husband, and free from false guilt; and most importantly, it has caused me to love God more in all of life.

* I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for an honest review.

Image: Keith Slagerman

 

My Favorite Books in 2014

6365101775_541ca4d9c9_oAs I think about the books that I read this past year, there are some that stand above the rest. Here is a list of my favorite books of 2014, in no particular order:

How (Not) To Be Secular, James K. A. Smith

This book is a kind of Cliffs Notes for Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and provides Smith’s own analysis along the way. Not only is this a great introduction to the state of the world today when it comes to belief and unbelief, it also provides interesting analysis as to how our current world came to be. This is a very philosophical and yet surprisingly practical book. It is well worth the effort to read.

From Eden to New Jerusalem, T. Desmond Alexander

This book is a reverse biblical theology. It takes themes that appear in the final three chapters of the Bible, goes back to Genesis to find them in the first three chapters of the Bible, and then traces the theme from cover to cover. This book is a good introduction to many of the themes of the Bible. It is short, easy to read, and written by an expert in the field. Even those familiar with the Bible and biblical theology will learn much from this gem.

The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr

There aren’t too many people I know alive today who have thought as deeply about technology and it’s influence on people than Nicholas Carr. In the Glass Cage, Carr explores the intersection of automation and our humanity. Carr is no Luddite. He acknowledges the virtues of technology, but he also warns that excessive dependence on automation may prove harmful in the long run. Carr argues that automation can and should be done in a way that promotes human flourishing.

Mission at Nuremberg, Tim Townsend

Would you accept a nomination to be the chaplain of the worst war criminals of World War II? Henry Gerecke did, even though he was over fifty years old and had been away from his family for several years serving as a chaplain in World War II. This is a book about the gospel in action. A book about a man dying to self and dying to the world’s opinion of him in order to reach hardened sinners through the gospel. Inspiring stuff.

The Warden and the Wolf King, Andrew Peterson

This is the final installment of the Wingfeather Saga and what a fitting conclusion it is. Fast-paced, page-turner, and emotionally satisfying. I laughed. I cried. I was surprised. Buy and read the whole series. It’s that good!

The Things of Earth, Joe Rigney

If Christians are not to love the world, how should they relate to the world that God created? Does loving God mean we shouldn’t love the gifts that he gave us? Rigney says we should love the creation because it points to the greatness and creativity of the creator. Foodies beware: you may be tempted to take unplanned reading breaks for sweet tea and pecan pie.

Image: Moyan Brenn

The Storyline of the Bible: Creation and New Creation

When warm air meets snowOne reason I love reading theology books is because they help me understand the Bible in ways that I could never know if I only read the Bible for myself. God gives understanding to all who read and think over what Scripture says, but sometimes what helps me understand the Bible better is reading those who have thought deeper about the Bible than myself rather than only reading the Bible itself.

This is one reason why Christian community is such a blessing. God has written a book and given it not just to one person, but to his people. Therefore, we would be foolish both to neglect reading his book for ourselves and to neglect insights others have about his book.

I have been reading G.K. Beale’s New Testament Biblical Theology, and I came across these three charts which I found absolutely fascinating. Beale argues that the theme of creation / new creation is essential to the biblical storyline and that this storyline follows this pattern:

  1. cosmic chaos followed by
  2. new creation
  3. commission of kingship for divine glory
  4. sinful fall
  5. exile

Beale then shows how this works in Genesis 1–3, Genesis 4 – Revelation 20, and in Revelation 21 (New Testament Biblical Theology, 59-61).

Beginning of History as the Inaugurated First-Creational Kingship in Genesis 1–3

first chaos of earth and waters
first creation
first commission of first Adam as king for divine glory
first Adam’s sin
first Adam’s exile and judgment

 

Cycles of Inaugurated Eschatology within Biblical History

chaos of earth and waters at flood chaos of oppression and Egyptian plagues chaos of exile in wilderness for second generation chaos of oppression and destruction in Israel’s land and exile chaos of oppression and destruction in Israel’s land as continuing exile
new creation exodus and new creation through Red Sea exodus and new creation through small Red Sea (Jordan) exodus and new creation through return from Babylonian exile escalated new creation in Christ’s life (and later in his death, and resurrection)
commission of Noah as new Adam for divine glory commission of Israel as a corporate Adam for divine glory commission of Israel as corporate Adam for glory (repeated promised commission of Israel as an eschatological corporate Adam for divine glory commission of Christ as eschatological Israel/Son of Man (“Adam”) for God’s glory
new Adam’s sin [Noah’s sin] sin of Israel (corporate Adam) at the “golden calf” episode and in wilderness repeated sin of Israel from Judges up to destruction in land and exile in Babylon Israel’s sin in the land and forfeiture of the eschatological role Christ as eschatological Israel and last Adam resists sin
judgment and exile throughout the earth at Babel judgment and exile in wilderness for first generation judgment in land and exile in Babylon judgment of continuing exile even though Israel had returned to the land continuing physical exile for God’s people in the world even though they had begun to be restored spiritually

 

Ending of History as Consummative Eschatology in Revelation 21

chaos of last destruction of heavens and earth
last new creation
last commission of saints
last resistance to sin by saints
last deliverance of saints from exile

Beale, of course, argues at length for the legitimacy of these parallels. But if his arguments are persuasive, and they are to me, then these charts give a staggering amount of unity to the storyline of Scripture. Adam, Noah, Israel, Jesus, and the church all follow a similar pattern and purpose. Adam, Noah, and Israel all fail and are types that are only fulfilled by Jesus, and the church, by the Spirit, follows in Jesus’s wake.

Image: g.m.kennedy 

 

Five Truths about the Wrath of God

Five Truths About the Wrath of God

The doctrine of the wrath of God has fallen on hard times. In today’s world, any concept of God’s wrath upsets our modern sentiments. It’s too disconcerting, too intolerant.

We live in a day where we have set ourselves as the judge and God’s character is on trial. “How can hell be just?” “Why would God command the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites?” “Why does God always seem so angry?”

The fact that so many people struggle with these questions, and many more like them, means that more than ever right thinking is needed about the doctrine of God’s wrath. It is needed for motivation for Christian living, fuel for proper worship, and as a toolbox to confront objections to Christianity.

Here are five biblical truths about the wrath of God:

1. God’s wrath is just.

It has become common for many to argue that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster that is by no means worthy of worship.

However, biblical authors have no such problem. In fact, God’s wrath is said to be in perfect accord with God’s justice. Paul writes, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). God’s wrath, then, is in proportion to human sinfulness.

Similarly, Proverbs 24:12 says, “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs hearts perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”

J.I. Packer summarizes: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil” (Knowing God, 151).

2. God’s wrath is to be feared.

God’s wrath is to be feared because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). God’s wrath is to be feared because we are justly condemned sinners apart from Christ (Romans 5:1). God’s wrath is to be feared because he is powerful enough to do what he promises (Jeremiah 32:17). God’s wrath is to be feared because God promises eternal punishment apart from Christ (Matthew 25:46).

3. God’s wrath is consistent in the Old and New Testament.

It is common to think of the Old Testament God as mean, harsh, and wrath-filled, and the God of the New Testament as kind, patient, and loving. Neither of these portraits are representative of Scripture’s teaching on the wrath of God.

We find immensely fearful descriptions of the wrath of God in both the Old and the New Testament. Here are just a few examples:

“Behold the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.” (Jeremiah 30:23)

“The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2)

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 19:15)

4. God’s wrath is his love in action against sin.

This is counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

God is love, and God does all things for his glory (Romans 11:36). He loves his glory above all (and that is a good thing!). Therefore, God rules the world in such a way that brings himself maximum glory. This means that God must act justly and judge sin (i.e. respond with wrath), otherwise God would not be God. God’s love for his glory motivates his wrath against sin.

Read the rest here.