Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

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Monday

20

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Book Conversation #4: J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Today is the final reading summary on the J-Curve by Paul Miller. I put this work by Miller high on the list of books that I have read that have fed my soul and helped me in my day-to-day walk with Christ.  The J-Curve is a simple visual to describe a fundamental aspect of the Christian life, namely as believers in Jesus Christ, we can expect to follow the pattern of His life. The life of Christ in us is our power and hope.

We covered a major section of the book this past week, which included important application including “The Art of J-Curve Living” (28), and Part 5 which focused on “Forming a J-Curve Community.” I appreciated Millers treatment of I Corinthians in the entire discussion on forming community as believers in Jesus.

In the Afterword, Miller wrote as he sought to comfort and help his daughter Ashley in her battle with cancer: “I reminded Ashley that God works in stories that are just like the story of Jesus. Like Jesus, we go through death and then resurrection. In death, we don’t know how or when a resurrection will occur.”

Miller was not speaking necessarily of physical death, but in the many ways God brings trials and challenges into our lives for the purpose of conforming us into the image of Christ.  Although in the case of Miller’s daughter, Ashley, she did die in her battle with cancer.  This is the ultimate reality of the believer’s resurrection hope.

The Apostle Paul wrote plainly about how believers should regard death and the future. To the Corinthians he declared “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8). To the Philippians, he penned from prison, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

Miller described in the closing paragraph of the book, “Whenever I describe the J-Curve to believers who are going through hard times (most everyone), they almost immediately brighten up. Suddenly, they have hope and meaning, even a hint of glory—they sense their story is part of his larger story. That’s the way the Christian life is meant to feel.”

The J-Curve helped bring a connection between the believer’s future hope in Christ with the daily challenges that make up our lives.  As I process Miller’s careful treatment of Scripture and helpful application, the simplicity of the J-Curve is its genius. This work is a great gift to God’s people in our pursuit to know Him and to follow in the marks of His wounded feet.

Here are a couple of links online that are helpful:

https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-j-curve/

https://vimeo.com/287514611 -Enjoyable video with Paul and his daughter Kim sharing about the experience of traveling to Florida described in Chapter 1- “I’ll Never Do This Again.”

Thanks for reading with me!

Rejoice,

 

Pastor Jim Law

Wednesday

8

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Book Conversation #3: J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Glad to be back for our weekly post on the J-Curve by Paul Miller. Our reading target for this week was chapters 14-23. My effort below will be to list a number of bullet point themes from this large section of reading. I would encourage you to do the same and feel free to post to the blog if you have comments or questions.

In the J-Curve, Paul Miller has given a deliberate effort to connect the believer, through our union with Jesus Christ, into a hope-filled journey as we live by faith in “the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.” (Galatians 2:20)  The chapters this week contain some helpful teaching as we process the various challenges of life. Specifically, as followers of Christ how are we to think and respond when trials and suffering inevitably confront us.

Chapter 14- Miller provides a wonderful illustration about “Kayla” who served in a special needs camp at her own expenses and was brought into a controversy at the camp that was very painful. Miller with great precision links Kayla’s suffering to the descent of Jesus through the incarnation.

Miller writes, the Apostle “Paul’s imagination was so captivated by Jesus’ descent into love that he created a work of art, a poem. His poem tells the story of Jesus, the original J-Curve, and then applies it to our lives.”  Of course, Miller was referring to the familiar passage in Philippians 2:5-11, which he refers to as “The Descent of Love.”

Kayla’s suffering was “relatively mild,” but, I believe Miller’s conclusion is right for many in the church, “it’s in small incidents like this, when we’ve tried to do our best and then everything goes south, that we struggle to live out our faith.  Often, the accumulated slights of low-level suffering operate like a hidden cancer, souring our relationships and suffocating our soul. Knowing the patterns of the love J-Curve is helpful, even liberating.”

This observation is a wake-up call for slumbering saints that somehow we can get through life and escape suffering. Miller notes, “Even small acts of love…increase the possibility of suffering…our control decreases…suffering chooses us.” We are called to follow in the marks of Christ’s wounded feet.  Miller concludes, “One of Scripture’s most basic rules is what happens to Jesus, happens to us.” (more…)

Thursday

30

May 2019

0

COMMENTS

Thorns

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Big nature thorns as symbol of danger. Isolated on White background.One of the recurring battles for those who follow Jesus Christ is dealing with the ever-present danger of self-sufficiency.  We like to think that we are up to the challenge, that we’ve got what it takes. Boldness, confidence, and initiative are highly prized and viewed as essential if one is to be successful.

When we examine the Scriptures and observe the lives of those who walked by faith, we notice that their faith took action, and that the call of God supplied everything needed, including confidence, passion and zeal. Their walk with God was simple and unassuming. Behind their incredible feats was the power of God through vessels of clay. The Bible is careful to present the lives of the faithful with all of their weaknesses and struggles. (more…)

Friday

8

March 2019

0

COMMENTS

Your Cell Phone and the Christian Life

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91w90PXCE+L._AC_UL872_QL65_Through the years I have really enjoyed reading books together with my fellow Elders and Pastoral Staff at FBCG.  We try to do this together twice a year with an extended staff meeting which includes a detailed discussion of the book followed by lunch. These times have brought about good connections and conversations for life and ministry. Recently, we read together, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway, 2017) by Tony Reinke, and I was really challenged by the message of this book and want to share some insights in the next few posts.

Reinke provides a theological and practical analyses of what the editors of Time magazine have called the most influential gadget in human history, the smartphone. For this blog series, I would like to share some “take-aways” from Reinke’s efforts that may be helpful in how you relate to your smartphone.

#1- This is not a Pharisaical treatment of smartphone ownership. Reinke does not imply with legalistic snobbery that if you were spiritual you wouldn’t even own a smartphone. He argues persuasively that technology is no cosmic accident as the Creator sovereignly guides history.  Reinke asks deeper questions that go to the heart of how we use our devices.

For instance, he poses the question, “Should I ditch my smartphone?” followed by twelve thoughtful questions that lead to considerations like cost, necessity of certain phone features, unhealthy fixation on the phone, and effects on family time and relationships.

John Piper who wrote the forward of the book identifies the key for the Christian in any generation, “If you live long enough, pray earnestly, and keep your focus on the imperishable Word of God, you can be spared the slavery to newness.” Reinke points believers to the need for “new life disciplines birthed from a new set of life priorities and empowered by our new life freedom in Jesus Christ.”  I appreciated this approach to decision-making in the Christian life which I believe is helpful with many other applications on what I should do and not do, go or not go, own or not own.

#2- Reinke brings helpful research revealing how invasive smartphone use has become.I know we probably do not need research to confirm what is self-evident by causal cultural observance. We are a culture consumed by cellphone usage. Reinke notes that we check our smartphones about 81,500 times each year, which works out to about every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives, which means you will be tempted to check your phone at least once before finishing this blog post.

His discussion on digital distractions was convicting as many of us push away work and responsibility with online drifting that takes us off task. The average American college student wastes 20 percent of class time tinkering on a digital device, doing things unrelated to class. This applies across the business sector as well. He quoted historian Bruce Hindmarsh who said,

“Our spiritual condition today is one of spiritual ADD.” Reinke argues that this unchecked distraction is not harmless as it blinds the soul from God; closes off communion with God; and mutes urgency of God in our lives. Therefore, believers need to learn to be efficient in distraction management for the sake of the spiritual health.

#3-  Texting and driving is not loving your neighbor as Scripture commands.  With great insight, he makes the case for how fixation on our cellphones creates neglect of flesh and blood. With regard to phone use and driving, he points out, “Talking on the phone while driving a vehicle makes you four times more likely to get into an accident, but texting  while driving makes your chance of a crash twenty-three times more likely. Assuming a driver never looks up in the average time it takes to send a text (4.6 seconds), at fifty-five miles per hour, he drives blindly the length of a football field.”Wow and ouch!

Texting while driving is insane as it expresses disregard for our neighbor. We are saying that we really don’t need our hands and concentration to operate our vehicles safely. Texting while driving is reckless behavior that puts others in danger, and thereby we are not obeying a basic commandment of Scripture to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, Reinke concludes, “We sin with our phones when we ignore our street neighborhood strangers who share with us the same track of pavement.”

Hope this was a helpful challenge that would urge you to read the book.  More to come in the coming weeks.  Running the race with you, Hebrews 12:1-3.

Wednesday

3

October 2018

0

COMMENTS

Nehushtan: Just a Piece of Bronze

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th-6We are often tempted to dismiss idolatry as a serious threat to our spiritual well-being. When we think of idolatry, we can easily retreat to Old Testament days and believe that it was their problem. We confine idolatry to the work of wood or stone, and thereby dismiss it as an ancient sin with no impact to our generation.

However, in the New Testament, idolatry is mentioned as a major spiritual peril for the believer in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul in no uncertain terms warned the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry.” (I Cor 10:14) Paul also placed idolatry in the noxious list of behaviors called the deeds of the flesh and as a root behind the insatiable appetite of greed. (Galatians 5:20; Colossians 3:5)

The Apostle John concluded his first epistle with this pastoral warning, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (I John 5:21)

God allows no substitutes. At times He permits certain symbols to represent Him, however He never allows these symbols to replace Him.  God alone is to be the center of our worship.

Idolatry pollutes true worship and obedience as we create objects of worship that exalt other things as more worthy than God Himself.  Idols that grip the heart come in many packages. A few of the popular include: power, prestige, education, relationships, money, business, addictions, religion, entertainment, popularity, ego, and pornography. (more…)

Thursday

20

September 2018

0

COMMENTS

When Rabshakeh Opens His Vile Mouth

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The Old Testament is given to the people of God as vital revelation for the strengthening of our faith, the instruction of our doctrine, the foundation of the Gospel, and the encouragement of our soul.

The historical narratives of the Old Testament are filled with many priceless gems. In this short post, I want to take you to an episode from the life of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah was one of only eight kings of Judah who were said to be godly. While not perfect, they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

In several sections of the Old Testament, we read the account of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah (2 Chronicles 32; 2 Kings 18,19; and Isaiah 36, 37).  Sennacherib of course was the king of Assyria who had in recent days sacked the northern tribes of Israel leaving a tremendous body count in his wake.  He was a clear and present danger to Hezekiah and the southern kingdom of Judah. His presence was beyond intimidating.

In Isaiah 36, Sennacherib was focusing his military might on the fortified cities of Judah.  He sent the Rabshakeh to deliver one of the most daunting messages recorded in the Bible. The Rabshakeh was a title for an important official in the Assyrian military, and according to Assyrian records came to be the designation for an elevated military position.

This account is a demonstration of how the people of God should respond when fear and intimidation come. The Rabshakeh’s menacing message was especially effective because he spoke impeccable Hebrew, so all the people on the wall could hear the bullying first hand.

Listen to some of the threats of the Rabshakeh unleashed upon Hezekiah and the people of Judah:

*He mocked their faith, “On what do you rest this trust of yours?”(Isaiah 36:4)

*He scoffed at their weakness by saying that even if we gave you two thousand horses, if you were able to set riders on them…a single captain among the least of my master’s servants could defeat you.(Isaiah 36:8-10)

*The Rabshakeh introduced confusion by claiming that the Lord had told him to come up against the land to destroy it. (Isaiah 36:10)

*Speaking in Hebrew, and in the hearing of many, the Rabshakeh says, “you are doomed to eat your own dung and drink your own urine.” Yes, that’s in the Bible! (Isaiah 36:12)

*The Rabshakeh attacked the leadership of Hezekiah by saying, “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you…Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord…Make your peace with me and come out to me.”(Is. 36:14,16)

Gothmog,_general_of_MorgulNeedless to say, this was a full-frontal attack on the minds and hearts of God’s people. This scene reminds me of the one in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where Gothmog has assembled the horde of orcs before Minas Tirith in a siege.  Gothmog says as they stand before the fortress city, “Fear, the city is rank with it.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e_NeF3d5Ew

This is a fitting commentary for Jerusalem on the day of the Rabshakeh’s message. It was indeed rank with fear.

(more…)

Wednesday

5

September 2018

2

COMMENTS

Beware of Religious Silver Bullets

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We are a culture that prizes convenience and pragmatism, and consequently we love “silver bullet” solutions to our problems. By “silver bullet,” I’m referring to the term that commonly describes an action that cuts through the complexity of an issue by providing a quick solution.

silver-bullet-thinkingWhen bacterial infections rear their ugly head, we are grateful for the silver bullet of antibiotics. When the heat of summer blows its hot breath, God bless Willis Carrier for the silver bullet of air conditioning! When traveling globally, I’m thankful for the silver bullet of jet travel which brings a connection of friends for the cause of Christ. I’m grateful, in the common grace of God, for innovations that make life easier, better, safer, and more comfortable.

However, many things in life are not resolved by silver bullets. In fact, some of the deepest experiences in life are journeys of perseverance through many seasons and sacrifices. For instance, no marriage has all the issues worked out by a silver bullet solution. No friendship can remain without giving our best efforts to the relationship. The same is true with one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. (more…)

Saturday

7

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Ninth Commandment- “You Shall Not Bear False Witness”

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tenCommandmentsWallpaperIn January of 1996 William Safire, noted author and journalist, referred to Hillary Clinton, then first lady of the United States, as “a congenital liar.”  This started an exchange in the pundit world with many being outraged by the acidic tone of Safire’s words.  Through his press secretary, President Bill Clinton suggested a punch in the nose was in order.

“Liar” is one of those words in our culture that picks a fight quickly. It brings into question one’s integrity, one’s honesty.  But is there any truth to William Safire’s statement?  Not just about Mrs. Clinton, but what about Mr. Safire? What about you, and me?

Consider the cry of the psalmist, “I said in my alarm, ‘All men are liars.’” (Ps. 116:2) Or the apostle Paul’s referencing of other psalms to establish the universal guilt of humanity with regard to sin. Speaking of all of us, Paul writes with precision, “’Their throat is an open grave;  they use their tongues to deceive.’ ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’  ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’” (Romans 3:13,14)

Truth be known, as God sees the human race, we are all marked by the inability to speak the truth consistently. The Lord God established the importance of truth speaking in the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness.” Bearing false witness, declaring falsehood and lies, is part and parcel of what it means to be a sinner. (more…)

Thursday

22

March 2018

0

COMMENTS

Seventh Commandment- “You Shall Not Commit Adultery”

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tenCommandmentsWallpaperGod’s protection and love are on display powerfully in the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)

The seventh commandment forbids adultery which is viewed biblically as the shattering of the marriage covenant between a husband and a wife through sexual relations with another outside the marriage. This commandment became the basis for the prohibition of a whole range of sexual sins expanded upon elsewhere in Leviticus and the New Testament: fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.

The warning against adultery is second only to idolatry in the Old Testament, and second to none in the New Testament.  It was considered to be a treacherous sin, not only against another person, but against God, as expressed by King David’s cry in his post-adultery confession, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.” (Psalm 51:4)

We are commanded to honor marriage (Hebrews 13:4), and adultery is an offense to the sacredness of that union. The fallout of unbridled adultery is everywhere.  Someone has quipped that in America every hour is “Sex O’Clock.” A perusal of the media reveals an epidemic of relationships birthed or ended because of adultery, and any type of accountability for this covenant shattering behavior is dismissed out-of-hand.

A national acceptance has settled like a dark cloud, and like the adulteress woman in Proverbs 30:20, “She eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I have done no wrong.’”  However, the pain, the regrets, the shame, and the awkward dynamics brought to family life through adultery last a lifetime. From our neighborhoods to our nation, we hear regularly of the blow-outs that come to marriages because of marital unfaithfulness. (more…)

Thursday

15

March 2018

0

COMMENTS

Sixth Commandment- “You Shall Not Murder”

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tenCommandmentsWallpaperSeveral years ago Christianity Today  printed a cartoon which depicted two public school administrators watching a line of students pass through a metal detector.  “It’s the latest in school safety devices,” one of them explains. “That light and horn go off if a student tries to smuggle in a gun, a knife, a bomb or a copy of the Ten Commandments!”

Let’s be honest, the Ten Commandments are offensive to many and have created an irrational fear concerning their influence upon life in our culture.  However, that being said, there is almost universal agreement with the sixth commandment.  This commandment, which is only two words in the Hebrew text, translates into English as, “You shall not murder.”

Most people don’t need to be convinced that homicide is bad and that suicide is devastating.  I’m greatly encouraged that many in our country are beginning to see that it is difficult to avoid application of the sixth commandment with regard to abortion. (more…)