Can a person be a committed Christian while ignoring apologetics?

The Embassy of Joy

by Erik at  Irish Calvinist

On occasion we read international news stories that detail how people seeking safety will make a mad dash to an embassy Whether because of political, legal or some other issue, the people have gotten into some trouble with the local officials and they need asylum. They need protection.

While stories like this pique our interests they seem foreign. They might as well be tales from another world. Most of you reading this blog live in a nation that affords you tremendous safety and privilege. We don’t feel this type of pressure.

At the same time, we do have trouble and we do seek refuge.

The truth of difficulty is declared by the Scripture:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. (Job 5:7)

It is also vindicated by our experience. Consider your own life or the lives of those close to you. Life is hard.

Now, where do you go? When you are feeling hail stones of conflict and uncertainty you need to run somewhere, where do you go? The temptation is to retreat to yourself, to your own wisdom, power, skill or ingenuity when the dark clouds of trouble are overhead. You may run to you career, finances, morality, accomplishments, what you do/don’t do, or even your involvement at church. All of these things are good blessings from God but they make horrible strongholds. They are like a flimsy piece of paper in the thunderstorm of difficulty.

In Nehemiah 8 we are reminded again of the stronghold of God.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
(Nehemiah 8:10 emphasis mine)

Nehemiah reminds these exiles who were formerly weak and helpless in a foreign land that their refuge is the joy of the Lord. You could say here that their “stronghold” is the joy of the Lord.

Think about that. The joy that we have in God is to be our strength our stronghold. It is to be the embassy in the midst of a turbulent, troublesome world and amid our battles with personal sin.

This joy has two immediate aspects for me:

  1. God’s Joy in himself. The fact that God is eternally happy as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is tremendously encouraging. God was never lacking satisfaction in himself, he is his own sufficiency. He creates then out of this eternal happiness in himself. It is a desire to showcase and share his delight in himself that leads him to create. This eternally fixed truth of divine happiness is an unshakable stronghold. I want to run to this unwavering axiom amid the temporal storms of life.
  2. God’s Joy in his people. Because of the work of Christ people may enter into this joy of the Trinity. We are able to experience and truly know what it means to fellowship with God through the Holy Spirit, by means of the work of Jesus the Son. God’s covenant faithfulness to his people ensures our ready access to him. We are accepted in Christ, the Beloved, therefore, we may continually retreat to this stronghold. The truth of the gospel drives us to know and experience the joy of the Lord as our strength.

The fact that the forecast for the foreseeable future here is trouble we have to make sure that we are retreating to the right embassy. Do we run to ourselves and our accomplishments and abilities? Or do we run to the joy of the Lord, who is our strength? I love that Nehemiah (and the Levites) reminded those forgetful exiles of this. He reminded me too. May it likewise encourage you to do the same.

I Need the Mud and Spit of the Gospel

I am reprimanded and discipled by these thoughtful words by Erik at Ordinary Pastor. I bet you will, too.

by Erik

In the midst of Jesus earthly ministry a blind man was brought to him.  Jesus spit upon some dirt, touched the blind man’s eyes, and then graciously healed him. Jesus then asked him a great question, “Do you see anything?” (Mk. 8.23).  The man’s response is interesting, “I see men but they look like trees walking.” (8.24)  Jesus then lays his hands upon him again, perfectly and gloriously restoring his sight.

I love this narrative in Mark’s gospel account.  I love it because I find myself in it with blurry, muddy eyes.

I do not believe it is any accident that this incident is nestled in the midst of Jesus repeated emphasis upon who he is and what he is doing (Mk. 8.319.31,10.45).  It is also not an accident that these repeated blood drenched declarations are met with repeated misunderstanding by the disciples.  The disciples find themselves on multiple occasions obsessed with their own greatness rather than their Master’s.  As a result we have the Savior’s stinging remarks in Mark 10.35-45.

But I can’t pile on these guys for their blindness, misunderstanding or shallowness.  They look past the cross in their windshield and I look past it in my rear view mirror.  We both look at Jesus’ person and work and say with some reluctance and shame that things are a bit fuzzy.

I have somehow convinced myself that I am less dependent upon the work of Christ than I am.  I have also somehow convinced myself that I have something of value that is worth clinging to.  I, like the disciples, love to ponder, promote and pursue my own perceived greatness.  This sadly eclipses and undermines the beauty and glory of Christ’s greatness.

I see this in my marriage through selfish personal consumption that does not bow down to serve like the Master has said and done.

I see it in my parenting through an obsession of seeing kids conformed to my image rather than Christ’s.

I see it in friendships through a desire to put myself and my perceived needs first rather than to serve them with the gospel.

I see it in pastoral ministry through a lack of prayerfulness, thankfulness, brokenness, and happiness.

I see it in recreation by my passionate enjoyment of things and stuff without seeing Christ’s trademark on it.  And on and on the list could go.

Yes I too have fuzzy vision.

I look past the gospel.

I do need to preach Christ to my own heart.  But I also need to love him.   This loving of Christ suffocates the prideful love of self that diminishes our glorious vision of the new birth.

I am thankful this hour that it is “the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3.18) that is sovereignly, powerfully, continually, faithfully, and graciously conforming his saints into the image of Christ.  I am thankful that just as Israel was not left to rot in the wilderness of grumbling but were provided fresh manna from heaven and water to satisfy their hunger and thirst, that God has seen fit to not only create a hunger for Christ but to continually and powerfully supply the fresh living water of Christ (Jn. 7.37) and that out of a new heart truly comes a spring of satisfied delight in tasting the glories of Christ.  I am thankful that God has provided the manna that truly satisfies and fills in Christ.  The bread of heaven has come down to satisfy my hungry soul (Jn. 6.35ff).  Indeed, as the Savior has said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6.37).

So yes I see.  I have seen.  But, things are fuzzy.  So I pray that the sovereign, glorious, self-revealing Savior would continue to take hold of my spiritual eyes and apply the mud and spit of the gospel to my eyes that I might see more clearly and value him more faithfully.  That is to say, that I might see things more clearly as I see Christ more clearly.


I’m Encouraged When an Unbeliever Hits the Gospel Notes

An intereting encounter by Erik at Irish Calvinist

Yesterday after a lunch meeting with a friend downtown I was approached by a young artist. He asked me to listen to his music through his headphones and see if I like it. Since the headphones looked less than clean this was not much of an option. Instead I asked him to break out one of his favorites there on the corner. The young hip-hop artist obliged and got loose with his rhymes.

As he got going three things were clear: 1) He was good, 2) He was smart, 3) He was angry. And I don’t mean angry in the “gangsta” sense but in the anarchy sense. My man wanted to “occupy” something (or someone).

After talking about the song a bit I asked him what the answer is to his anger. He surprised me.

“Kill ‘em.” he said.

“Kill who?” I replied.

“Them. The rich, oppressive people that are beating my friends and people like me.” (this is severely edited for the children). He clarified.

I then asked him if he considered that his solution to the problem was more of the same problem. I told him I could not get down with a more powerful and aggressive version of the same ideology that was already labeled bad.

Then he spoke with prophetic clarity: “Sometimes peace can only come through bloodshed man.”

I told him I understood and agreed. I explained to him how I am a Christian and was involved in the greatest revolt in history. In my spiritual anarchy I attempted to overthrow and dethrone God by belittling his glory and name. He was actually familiar with the gospel narrative, though he admitted he did not believe it. We spent some time discussing some of his objections and issues. God may even use this in his life. I pray he does.

The interesting aspect of all of this was how he was hitting the gospel notes in his own narrative. The characters, cause, and means were all flipped around of course; but at the end of the day, he had realized that he needed peace and it came through bloodshed. The truth of the matter is that he is exactly right. Peace, true and lasting peace that upholds justice and magnifies love, will only come through the shed blood of Christ. The truth of the gospel answers the hurt and the hunger of this young artist. The gospel completes his life narrative.

I share this story to highlight how pervasive the human need is and how singular the gospel answer is. Who would have thought this guy would have, with very little prompting, struck such a powerful gospel theme? The truth is the businessmen and construction workers that walked by us as we talked would have hit simliar notes. The singular human need for restoration through redemption is articulated in varied ways in every life. It is the big issue facing humanity. As Christians we need to have ears to hear and compassion to speak. Too often I don’t. However, this day I’m glad I did.

Resist “Swish and Spit” Devotions

A down to earth blog by Erik

We have flipped our calendars to the new year with excitement and optimism. And as Christians this means that Bible reading plans are making their rounds and are being gobbled up by well-intentioned, eager hands. I celebrate this as a good thing.

But hold on for a second, I have a quick question.

What did you read yesterday? No, not what chapter, but what did you read? What from God’s Word got ahold of you to produce a response? Did anything evoke conviction or delight? Did something particular from your reading explode in your heart with thanksgiving?

Hopefully the answer is yes. But too often the answer is, “Wait. Hold on. …I can’t remember.”

This reminds me of childhood trips to the dentist. Do you recall after the dentist put that horrific flouride treatment in your mouth? He then would spray in a bunch of water that you would lean over and (try to) spit in the small circular sink next to your head.

Sadly too many of us have a “swish and spit” devotional life. We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly.

How do you combat dental chair devotions? One word: meditation.

Meditation should not be impugned as a New Age practice but employed as a biblical discipline. Meditation is the intentional chewing, tasting, ruminating, upon God’s Word. Far from “swish and spit” meditation is “sit and steep.” We need to steep the Word in the water of our soul so that we are flavored and colored by the Bible.

Listen to the Psalmist trumpet this principle:

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. (Psalm 119.15,16,27,97)

Learn from our brother here in the Psalms, the priority for the believer is not to just move the bookmark ahead but to put the everlasting word into your heart and mind. The vehicle for this practice is reading, prayer and meditation.

Don’t undercut your desire to benefit from the Word of God this year by practicing dental chair devotions instead make it a priority to have the Word function like a lozenge continually refreshing and flavoring you throughout the day.

Christ’s Abandonment and My Acceptance

from Irish Calvinist blog

Consider the wighty words of Mark 15.34:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Here are some thoughts:

“Come down from that Cross!” the scorn they gave
Missing the point– Jesus came to save

Immanuel hangs in open shame
Counting the cost, Jesus bears my blame

Abandoned now, he does it alone
“My God, My God!” he cries, not let’ng go

Eternal closeness is now removed
For here, in my place, condemned he stood

Amazing love flowing from that place
Jesus Christ, bearing wrath in my place

Now the truth of Calvary, I bring
Tuned by grace, my heart will ever sing:

Christ was forsaken, for all to see,
I’m accepted, and always will be

The Bible Likes to Knock the Wind out of Me

Here is a blog article to give some serious thought to by Erik at Irish Calvinist blog

The Bible is full of surprises. Passages like Deuteronomy 32 tend to knock the wind out of you–even when you kind of know what’s coming.

The Nation of Israel is about to enter the promised land. They have been effectively led, warned, and judged by the Lord. Moses is their faithful and patient leader. He knows God. He speaks to God on their behalf.

Then we read this:

That very day the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people (Deu. 32.48-50)

Essentially God says, “Go up this mountain with the view of the land (that you are not going into) and die. Then I’ll go ahead and give the people the land.”

God discloses the issue for us in this passage for Moses. He ‘broke faith’ and ‘because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel.’ (v.51). This is referring to Numbers 20 where Moses lifted up his hand to strike the rock instead of obeying God and speaking to the rock.

From our chairs this may seem like a matter of semantics. Speaking vs Touching? What’s the big deal? Doesn’t Moses have some religious capital in the bank for overdraft protection?

No. The issues, as God says, is the regarding of the Holy One. Therefore, Moses is prevented from entering the land.

Surely each of us can appreciate the gravity of what we have here. Moses is ‘the guy’ among Israel at this time (and even future). He is highly regarded. However, he is not without sin. He is not perfect. In this sense he is quite like us.

This is why he will not do as a true and final Mediator. His role is serving as an incomplete, anticipatory type. In other words he looks forward, in his imperfection, to the perfect one.

Jesus, like Moses, was the representative of his people. He leads, directs, teaches, speaks to them. This he does without any sin. His whole life was characterized by perfect, holy obedience! Not only is there no sin found in him but there is not the slightest deceleration of loving loyalty and delight in God! This shows him to be perfect representative for us to God.

We know that the culmination of his obedience is his sacrificial death upon the cross. It is here where his obedience is most vividly seen. He loves God and his people unto death, even death on a cross.

If one single, seemingly ‘small’ action like Moses’ can lead to such consequences, how much more our flagrant and multiplied sins? Do you see again how valuable Jesus is?!

Father, thank you for giving the perfect Mediator, your beloved Son for such rebellious, stubborn, weak people as me. My heart is as hard as the rock which Moses struck. Yet you show mercy and lead rebels out of captivity and into the land of promise. This great gospel procession trumpets the beauty of Christ and triumph of grace. Make me to see and despise small sins–and truly hate all sin! And may my sin be an occasion to see both my need and Christ’s sufficient provision in the gospel.

The challenge of the TV

This radical post by Erik at Ordinary Pastor blog is too radical for me. (He often challenges me too hard, but I keep reading him.)

I have friends who raised their kids without TV. I wince at the thought. Although their kids went on to be outstanding scholars and wonderful people, I still remain unconvinced about my own habits. However, it is a challenge and certainly we would all admit that we know a lot of “other” people who cannot live without their TV and that they spend too much time before their TV and TV addiction keeps them from reading good books, even serving in church activities, etc. So, read on:

Several years back I heard John Piper say that he doesn’t have a television. My first thought was, “He is more of a freak than I thought.” My second thought was, “Poor kids.”

However, now the TV gets about as much attention in our house as the Christmas decorations. What happened? And why?

In our home we have 5 kids (1 on the way). They range in age from nearly 2 to nearly 16. Their TV habits and interests vary quite a bit. My wife could care less if she ever watches TV again. However, I am they guy that enjoys sports. I have, in the past, watched concurrent episodes of Sports Center just to do it. I enjoy Red Sox Baseball, Celtics hoops, and all of the NFL. On top of that, I live in Omaha. And part of any successfull correspondence with the locals is speaking the language of Nebraska Football. (That last sentence was robed in missional talk but it is really me saying that I am a big College Football fan in general and Husker fan in particular).

Needless to say TV had the potential to dominate. And it did. So, we restricted things, starting with me.

What I noticed was interesting.

I really stopped caring so much. Over the next couple of years I was becoming less inclined to watch a game that I didn’t care about. I was doing more around the house (not building or fixing–perish the thought–but with the fam).

On the other side I noticed that the kids were really without structure or boundries. We were imposing this reduction on TV without any real boundries. Sometimes they would ask to watch it or play games and we’d get frustrated. It wasn’t a good leadership technique for empowering kids to be self-governed and sensitive to house rules.

That’s when we decided to do ‘Technology Time’. This is basically a block of time, usually 3-4 hours on a Saturday where the kids can play games, watch TV (Netflix), or do whatever. This time is not ‘guarenteed’ or ‘earned’. It is on the schedule but if something else is more important or comes up, then it is punted. There probably will not be a make-up time.

The kids actually enjoy it. My son has built a barn and my girls are now making clothes for their baby sister. Just kidding. They enjoy the structure and the break from working hard during the week. It has been good.

Within this time we have cancelled DirecTV. We just never watched it. It was a stewardship issue and we needed the $40 a month. The only thing I watched on Cable anyway was Nebraska Football. I’ll have to work out something for next fall.

Here are some items that I have noticed:

1) Creativity has increased. The kids paint, do crafts, and work on the piano more. There is a direct corrolation to a decrease in TV and increase here.

2) Expectations are clear. We are not fielding questions about TV and video games all the time. This means that we don’t have to say ‘no’ so much. It is good to save your no’s as parents.

3) They appreciate TV/Games more. They are more thoughtful in their choices. They seem to enjoy what they watch and not want to jump right on to something else.

4) They communicate better. As a group (the 4 older ones) have to work out schedules because we only have so many devices. This causes them to work together. There are many gospel lessons here about putting others first (Phil 2).

5) They are reading more. This could be assumed. But it is true. They were already big readers but it has increased greatly.

This has been a good overall move for our family. It is not for everyone. However, every family, particularly Christian families, need to evaluate what is coming into the home and then into the ears and eyes and minds of the family. There is a stewardship of time principle to consider but at the same time a stewardship of people (Eph. 6.4).

And just so I am clear: I do not think that God loves me more because I don’t watch TV very much or have cable (nor does he love less those who do). My (and everyone’s) basis for standing acceptable and loved before God is not what I do or don’t do but what Christ did for me (2 Cor. 5.21). This is a preference decision made by me for my family. It should not be seen as a template for sanctification or means by which you can earn God’s favor.

Why do I share it then? Good question. I guess I share it so that it may help people think and evaluate. Even though I came down differently than John Piper when I heard his comments several years ago I was challenged to think and evaluate my life. I am thankful for that brother’s willingness to be considered strange and/or wierd. If I can get you to think and evaluate, then this post hit its mark. Being thought of as weird is a bonus.

Now if you are still up to the TV challenge, read about John Piper at

You Want to See the Glory of Christ? Read the Scriptures

by Erik in Irish Calvinst blog

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (1 Peter 1.16-17)

Would you not have loved to have been there on the Mountain with Peter? No doubt it would be the highlight of our lives to see the glory of Christ in such a dazzling manner and to hear the words of God affirming him.

It is interesting to consider how the Apostle Peter later wrote about this event.

How would he look back on this and speak of it? How does he frame it? How would he continue telling the story and making application for his fellow Christians?

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (1.19-21)

Do you see what Peter is saying here?

If you want to hear the Father’s thunderous approval of Jesus, you must read the Scriptures! It is there!

If you want to see the glory of Christ, you must read the Scriptures! It is there.

If you want to find yourself overwhelmed by the greatness of God, read the Scriptures. It is there.

In verse 21, Peter indicates that the Scriptures come via the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. He communicates the glory of Trinity to us.

Peter is saying here, “You have something better than my memories, you have the sure and certain words of God! These testify to the glory of Christ.”

So read the Scriptures with the same type of eager expectation to see the glory of Christ that would have characterized Peter. You will hear the same message: “This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!”


Secret Prayer Prevents a Secret Life

I like this post by Erik at Irish Calvinist

To our regret and shame there seems to always be some sort of scandous besmudging on the movement of evangelicalism. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. And we all lose our collective breaths and our stomaches ache and turn.

The questions come. Why? How did this happen?

I remember hearing John MacArthur say,

“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”

His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.

As a pastor who wants to be diligent in these things, I have wondered if there is not a common trait among these guys. I am sure there are more things in common, but I am willing to bet that where a secret life is present a secrete prayer life is absent.

In other words, I cannot see how a guy can be regularly pouring out his heart in praise, confession and petition to the God of heaven with a ton of dirt from his secret life under his fingernails.


This is very instructive to me. Even if I ‘feel’ like I’m doing good I need regular appointments in the closet of prayer. In fact, it is probably those times of particular blessing that believers are most susceptible to falling out of the tree. I most often bump my head on something when I am happily engaged in some type of thought. If I am not being personally alert and bending my heart in prayer then I am probably bounding ahead unaware of trouble. Prayer makes the heart ready to see sin by making it hate it. This is because prayer syncs up the believer’s mind with the will of God. It bends us low so that we may hear.

There a probably a million ways in which you could talk through how to prevent having a secret life of sin, but at least once on that list is having a secret prayer life.

(a book I’m enjoying on the topic of secret prayer is, The Hidden Life of Prayer by David McIntyre. I highly recommend it)