A Christian counter-culture

by John R.W. Stott

The Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7] is probably the best-known part of the teaching of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed. It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that he ever uttered. To my mind no two words sum up its intention better, or indicate more clearly its challenge to the modern world, than the expression ‘Christian counter-culture.’ … For insofar as the church is conformed to the world, and the two communities appear to the onlooker to be merely two versions of the same thing, the church is contradicting its true identity. No comment could be more hurtful to the Christian than the words, ‘But you are no different from anybody else.’ … Thus the followers of Jesus are to be different – different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere in the New Testament of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships – all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule.

~ The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

Digital Fasting

Hmm, here is an idea that some of us could wisely consider:

Everyday Liturgy 8/26/10 blog

A discussion has started concerning how our minds interact with digital devices and how multitasking and being always on and always present with a device can have negative effects on our minds and bodies. The New York Times ran an article on how “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime” and NPR’s Fresh Air had an interview called “Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets” this week that delineated how its not good to be hitched to your smartphone or email client. From the NY Times:

Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising, the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.

The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.

Just like we need to fast from food, so to do we need to fast from technology in today’s world. The journalist for the NY Times (who was interviewed on Fresh Air), Matt Richtel, won a Pulitzer for his series on driving while distracting, and his research into distraction led him to studies that paint a far bleaker picture of attention spans when it comes to technology. Richtel makes an interesting insight on technology that leads to an interesting connection with fasting:

“You know, halfway through this year, writing about this and following on the distracted driving series last year, I think we’ve come upon an analogy that really informs how we’re covering this and that as I’ve spoken to scientists, they’ve embraced, too. And the analogy is technology as analogous to food…So just as food nourishes us and we need it for life, so too in the 21st century, in the modern age, we need technology. You cannot survive without the communications tools. The productivity tools are essential. And yet, food has pros and cons to it. We know that some food is Twinkies and some is Brussels sprouts. And we know that if we overeat, it causes problems.

“Similarly, after, say, 20 years of glorifying all technology as if all computers were good and all use of it was good, I think science is beginning to embrace the idea that some technology is Twinkies, and some technology is Brussels sprouts.

“And if we consume too much technology, just like if we consume too much food, it can have ill effects. And that is the moment in time we find ourselves in with this series and with the way we are digesting, if you will, technology all over the place, everywhere today” (from Fresh Air).

The food analogy is important to how we begin to think about technology. Since I use a computer so much at work, I started about a year or so ago to purposefully not spend time on a computer on Sundays. It was a meaningful part of the Sabbath for me, since checking email is work for me. So on Sundays, I don’t check email. I try not to go near the computer at all, unless I want to stream a movie or TV show (we don’t have cable). What has been interesting about my fasting from email on Sundays is that I have noticed what the Ritchel is getting at in his interview and article. We just need breaks in our lives from everything, even if it’s good for us or very productive. Taking breaks leads to self control, silence, and reflection. We need to think sometimes, not just interact, and digital fasting helps accomplish that.

What ways do you make a digital fast?

Xenophobia is Good for You!

by RC Sproul

To be undone means to come apart at the seams, to be unraveled…. [It is] personal disintegration…. [Isaiah] was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of the holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath a gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to maintain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed—morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.

There is a special kind of phobia from which we all suffer. It is called xenophobia.Xenophobia is a fear (and sometimes hatred) of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. God is the ultimate object of our xenophobia.He is the ultimate stranger. He is the ultimate foreigner. He is holy, and we are not.

~ The Holiness of God

The Bible Is Not Basically about You

by Justin Taylor

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible’s really not about you—it’s about him.

Hit the Mute Button on Yourself

by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney

The world encourages us to focus an inordinate amount of attention on ourselves and our concerns. We are coaxed by countless voices to ‘stay true to ourselves,’ to ‘focus on me for a while,’ to ‘not let anyone tell me what to do.’

The study on (Jonathan) Edwards’s material on Christ hits the mute button on the world and allows us to break free from our self-interests and revel in the glory of Christ. It shows us that our central need is not to become psychologically satisfied, but to treasure Jesus Christ above all things by bowing in repentance and worship before Him (Heb. 3.1-6).

Each day that we live is an opportunity not to glorify our sinful selves, but to glorify the one who bled and died for our salvation, our liberation from Satan’s shackles.

Let us clear space in our hearts for adoration not of ourselves, but of Christ. Life is not about us. It is about Jesus Christ and a fixed, unrelenting, soul-satisfying pursuit of Him.

~ Jonathan Edwards on Beauty–The Essential Edwards Collection, p. 93-94

You turned my lament into dancing

by David

30:11 Then you turned my lament into dancing;

you removed my sackcloth and covered me with joy.

30:12 So now my heart will sing to you and not be silent;

O Lord my God, I will always give thanks to you.

Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder

by John Newton

Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior’s name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame
He has washed us with His blood
He has brought us nigh to God

Let us wonder grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store
When through grace in Christ our trust is
Justice smiles and asks no more
He Who washed us with His blood
He Who washed us with His blood
He Who washed us with His blood
Has secured our way to God

What are your idols

by Kenny Stokes preached on 1 John 5:20-21, which ends:

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

He laid out 13 questions, adapted from an old Puritan sermon, to help us identify the idols of our hearts:

  1. What do you most highly value?
  2. What do you think about by default?
  3. What is your highest goal?
  4. To what or whom are you most committed?
  5. Who or what do you love the most?
  6. Who or what do you trust or depend upon the most?
  7. Who or what do you fear the most?
  8. Who or what do you hope in and hope for most?
  9. Who or what do you desire the most? Or, what desire makes you most angry or makes you despair when it is not satisfied?
  10. Who or what do you most delight in or hold as your greatest joy and treasure?
  11. Who or what captures your greatest zeal?
  12. To whom or for what are you most thankful?
  13. For whom or what great purpose do you work?

Every disciple need to be involved

by David Black

Everyone is gifted somehow to help in the church. We need to be willing to seek those people out and use their gifts and talents. When all are working together (as God planned it) His work gets done the way He intended it. It is the leaders’ job to facilitate that and then step back and let it happen.

I think if we applied common sense household principles to the church it would enormously strengthen the concept of every-member ministry within our congregations. How silly to try to do something for which you’re not gifted! Especially when someone is there who has the know-how. The greatest difficulty is normally to get a church to think “edificationally” and actually desire the participation of all members of the Body.

The early Christians found that there was no joy like the joy of serving one another according to each person’s talents. Alas, we have become dependent on the clergy to the degree that we would rather hire a “professional” to do the work than use a “layman” with the same gift set. But if we are to see a revolution of “lay” participation there has to be a revolution in our attitudes. The early church was open enough to the Holy Spirit to allow its members to exercise their gifts. Each of us is but a limb on the tree, a stone in the building, a sheep in the flock. We need the strength and abilities of each other if for no other reason than none of us can “do it all.”

This may well be the biggest difference between the New Testament church and our own. Their responsibility to care for each other rested squarely on the shoulder of every single member. The early church grew rapidly without the aid of some of our most cherished assets – large staffs, expensive programs, complicated strategies and methods – simply because they opened their homes, their hearts, and their hands to each other.

Each of us may have a role — some of us are best supporting and encouraging others.

The simplicity that is in Christ

by A W Tozer

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.

The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and the servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.

If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him.

We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.  When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God Himself. The evil habit of seeking God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation. In the “and” lies our great woe. If we omit the “and”, we shall soon find God, and in Him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.”

~ The Pursuit of God, 1948