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Jesu, Juva

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Conviction and the cure

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My pastors have been preaching through Exodus, and just finished ten weeks in the ten commandments. They have done an incredible job of helping us to feel the weight and glory of God’s holiness; but without letting us forget that the law sits on the bedrock foundation of the gospel (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you . . . out of the house of slavery”), and that our reading of the law absolutely must be infused with gospel hope.

Yet it is still so tempting for me to hear such a message and nurse my conviction, without really going any farther. Perhaps I resolve to change some things, but in reality my ears are tuning out the very gospel hope and power that are the only way I can possibly move beyond conviction. Mark Lauterbach critiques his sermons on this point, but we should also critique our listening — are our ears tuned in to savor conviction, or savor the gospel:

Is conviction of sin the measure of a sermon? … I used to notice that people would give me the most response to a sermon that was the most demanding. “Oh Pastor, that was such a wonderful sermon, I was so very convicted.” Should I have found this encouraging?

[But] while conviction is a gift to us, it is always conviction to lead people to the cross. I know the arguments about people needing to be slain by the law — and agree that awareness of need of forgiveness is crucial. But if I leave them there, I have not been faithful to the Savior. Conviction should drive people to the cross — and they should leave with hope toward the Savior.

We want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and repent, but we shouldn’t get off the bus there. Our conviction should drive us to look upward to our Savior rather than inward on our sin; the gospel is our only hope and power for forgiveness and for real change.

How do we make that something more than a mantra? How can we practically seize this gospel power to change? Here are some regular practices that can strengthen our faith and empower our obedience; please comment to add more:

  1. Regularly recount the gospel to ourselves, thanking God that our sins are completely forgiven and that we approach him clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
  2. Regularly acknowledge that whatever success we have in obedience is a gift from God.
  3. Regularly pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to change, knowing that this grace and help will surely be given to us because of the cross.
  4. Remind ourselves of the reasons that we should obey. Regularly feed our souls with these truths as a way of provoking joyful, grateful, faith-filled obedience:
    1. God is my creator, and he is good; he knows what is best for me.
    2. True and lasting joy are only found in God and in pleasing him; these idols that I cling to cannot compare to God’s glory and beauty and goodness and joy.
    3. God has saved me from condemnation and wrath, and my gratitude at this precious gift should overflow in obedience.
    4. God is my loving father and I should reflect his character.
    5. Christ has purchased my very life with his blood and I should reflect his character.
    6. The Holy Spirit indwells me and empowers me to reflect Christ’s character.
  5. Read books that fuel our appreciation for the gospel and our love for God, such as Jerry Bridges’ The Gospel For Real Life, C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life, and John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God (download, purchase).

Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch

Christ is Lord of our leisure

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 God gives us rest and leisure as a gift to be enjoyed. Since it is a gift from him and since we belong to him, the way we receive and enjoy this gift is an important part of how we worship and honor God. There are some principles we can draw from this:

  1. We ought to see leisure as a gift and enjoy it with gratitude to God. We routinely thank God for providing our food; do we thank him equally for our leisure?
  2. Leisure is a gift and not a right; we should not make an idol out of it. Do we selfishly demand it and spend it? How do we respond when God allows it to be interrupted or taken away? What are the things we value enough that we are glad to give up our rest and leisure for them?
  3. Christ is our Lord; our very lives are purchased by his blood. We should spend our God-given leisure time in ways pleasing and honoring to him. We need to do more than ask “is it sin?” We need to ask whether our general pattern is to stir up fleshly appetites or to enjoy Christ-honoring refreshment.

This last point doesn’t mean that we necessarily avoid most movies, TV shows and secular music; nor does it mean that the books we read are always theology books. God is honored even in the eating of ice cream, after all, if it is done with a heart of gratitude. Since it is our heart that is on center stage, two different people may be enjoying the same good gift, but only one might be doing it in a way that acknowledges, enjoys, and honors our Lord. In general, our question should be, what appetite are we feeding: our appetite for the world or for God? Are we generally growing in our appreciation of God’s greatness and glory and beauty as revealed in creation and in his gifts to men? Are we generally refreshing, stimulating and stewarding our God-given minds, souls, bodies, families and friendships? Or are these things beginning to waste away as we enjoy our leisure just because it feels good and because we think we deserve it?

Often we will be able to see a connection between our approach to leisure and the sins we struggle with such as lust, greed, jealousy and envy. As we grow in seeing leisure, sex, wealth and possessions as good gifts from God, we will grow in a faith and gratitude that loves to please him with our enjoyment of these gifts.

Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch

Written by Scott Moonen

February 5, 2007 at 6:00 am

Posted in Commentary

Christ our Assurance

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 I grew up in a Christian home, yet I came to think of Christian conversion as a dramatic and decisive experience. I never had such an experience, so I struggled for many years wondering if I was genuinely converted. I repeated the sinner’s prayer often in the hope that this time my sincerity would be sufficient. But our assurance does not rest in our own sincerity.

We know that the Holy Spirit’s work may be a quiet whisper of a breeze that can be seen only by its effects. So our conversion may not be dramatic, but its fruit will be seen over time. And yet, as encouraging as it is to reflect on these evidences of God’s grace in our lives, it is not even here where our assurance primarily rests.

Our assurance rests in Christ, and in his sure promises of salvation. Do not ask yourself, “Am I saved?” This is the wrong question, because it looks inward at the very moment you should be looking upward! Instead ask, “Who is my Savior? Is he able and willing to save? Will he keep his promises?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Here is happy assurance.

John Murray writes of this in his excellent book Redemption Accomplished and Applied (pp. 107ff). You might find his language tedious at points, but you will be rewarded richly for lingering over it. Murray reminds us that our assurance — the warrant for the confidence that we have in our salvation — is not found in ourselves, but in Christ and in his promises.

What warrant does a lost sinner have to commit himself to Christ? How may he know that he will be accepted? How does he know that Christ is able to save? How does he know that this confidence is not misplaced? How does he know that Christ is willing to save him? . . .

From whatever angle we may view [the offer of the gospel], it is full, free, and unrestricted. The appeals of the gospel cover the whole range of divine prerogative and of human interest. God entreats, he invites, he commands, he calls, he presents the overture of mercy and grace, and he does this to all without distinction or discrimination. . . .

When Christ is presented to lost men in the proclamation of the gospel, it is as Savior he is presented, as one who ever continues to be the embodiment of the salvation he has once for all accomplished. It is not the possibility of salvation that is offered to lost men but the Saviour himself and therefore salvation full and perfect. There is no imperfection in the salvation offered and there is no restriction to its overture — it is full, free, and unrestricted. And this is the warrant of faith.

The faith of which we are now speaking is not the belief that we have been saved but [it is] trust in Christ in order that we may be saved. And it is of paramount concern to know that Christ is presented to all without distinction to the end that they may entrust themselves to him for salvation. The gospel offer is not restricted to the elect or even to those for whom Christ died. And the warrant of faith is not the conviction that we are elect or that we are among those for whom, strictly speaking, Christ died but [it is] the fact that Christ, in the glory of his person, in the perfection of his finished work, and in the efficacy of his exalted activity as King and Saviour, is presented to us in the full, free, and unrestricted overture of the gospel. It is not as persons convinced of our election nor as persons convinced that we are the special objects of God’s love that we commit ourselves to him but as lost sinners. We entrust ourselves to him not because we believe we have been saved but as lost sinners in order that we may be saved. It is to us in our lost condition that the warrant of faith is given and the warrant is not restricted or circumscribed in any way. In the warrant of faith the rich mercy of God is proffered to the lost and the promise of grace is certified by the veracity and faithfulness of God. This is the ground upon which a lost sinner may commit himself to Christ in full confidence that he will be saved. And no sinner to whom the gospel comes is excluded from the divine warrant for such confidence.

Presuming on God’s grace, perhaps in some cases to the point of false assurance, is a problem for many of us who have grown up in the church. But we fight our presumption, not with the fear of false assurance, but with true assurance.

Who is your Savior?

Written by Scott Moonen

January 31, 2007 at 7:20 am

Posted in Commentary, Quotations


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Christ our Immanuel (God with us)

In the year 325, the first council of Nicea gathered to condemn Arius for his teaching that Jesus was not fully God. Nicholas of Myra attended this council, who you may know as Saint Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus. At this council, Nicholas rebuked Arius for his heresy, growing so upset that he slapped him in the face! So there you have it — Santa Claus the valiant defender of the divinity of Christ! From this we get such Christmas classics as “Deck them all for all their folly” and “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Like Nicholas, it is vital that we see that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Most importantly, this is the only way that he can serve as our mediator, and bear the wrath of God in our place. But there are other ways that this brings comfort to us. Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23). This doesn’t simply mean that he showed up in person once, two thousand years ago. God’s word is full of encouragement that he is God-with-us here and now.

First, Jesus is our Immanuel because he is the image of God our Father. John says that “no one has ever seen God,” but that Jesus, “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). Jesus says that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Paul writes that “in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Even though we have never seen God, when we see Jesus on display in the word—his love, his kindness, his demand of our complete loyalty — we are seeing God himself. Through his word, we see God! Jesus is God with us.

Second, Jesus is our Immanuel because he is God “become flesh” (John 1:14). He identified with us and understands us. Paul reminds us that Jesus stooped low to become a man — “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). Hebrews encourages us that Jesus’s becoming flesh means that he can “sympathize with our weaknesses,” since “in every respect [he] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Not only does he sympathize with us, but since he also served as a perfect substitute in our place, he is able to give us “mercy and grace to help [us] in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). As John writes, he is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) to us.

Third, Jesus is our Immanuel because he gave us the “Spirit of [God’s] son” (Galatians 4:6). Jesus promised that he would “send to you from the Father [the Helper], the Spirit of truth” (John 15:26). John says that Jesus “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills his promise to be “with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20). The Holy Spirit is the very presence and power and comfort of God in our lives. The Spirit is near to us in a much greater and better way than Israel ever experienced as God dwelled with them in the Old Testament. Through his life-giving Spirit, Jesus is God with us.

Finally, the most precious way that Jesus is near to us is that we are united to him in our salvation. This is the root of our very life. Our salvation isn’t dispensed from afar, like a mail-order pharmacy. When we are saved, we are joined to Jesus our savior. Paul declares that “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus says that “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And in a powerful passage in Romans, Paul declares this:

We were buried therefore with [Christ Jesus] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

From this we know that in Jesus’s own death, we died with him to sin. And in Jesus’s own resurrection, we are raised to life. His death is our death, and his life is our life. In our salvation, we are joined to him and receive his very life! What comfort and power and assurance there is in this nearness to him!

Because of this nearness that we enjoy in Jesus, we experience adoption as God’s own children (Galatians 4:4-5), and Jesus becomes our refuge and protection (Isaiah 8:10, Psalm 46:7, Zechariah 8:23). In fact, scripture says that we receive “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3-5) in Jesus. And in turn, he uses us as his people to bring himself near to others (John 20:21-22).

Thanks be to Christ our Immanuel!

Written by Scott Moonen

January 3, 2007 at 4:59 am

Accomplishing goals

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Here are some things that have proved helpful to me in accomplishing goals and getting things done:

Don’t put it off. In general, if a task won’t take too long and there’s no reason I can’t do it right now, I find it best to do it as soon as I become aware of the need, or as soon as I finish my current task. The longer I put something off the less likely I am to do it at all.

For spiritual disciplines, treat each reminder as a providential prompting by the Holy Spirit. For family and personal devotions, it can be tempting to suppress a reminder. If I haven’t been faithful recently, it is easy to think that it would be too much effort to get started again. Or I may be aware that I won’t be able to do it for the next several days — is it worth it to do it today? Or if I am tired, what’s the harm in putting it off until tomorrow, just this once?

But if I see any reminder as a prompting from God, that puts things in a different light. I have an opportunity ”right now” to choose whether to respond in obedience and faithfulness to God’s prompting, or to suppress God’s conviction and pursue my own comfort. Framing the question as a matter of immediate obedience and faithfulness is helpful to me, and has helped me countless times to press on despite how I may feel. This then helps in cultivating a habit, and over the long haul a greater delight in pursuing God.

Take advantage of existing habits. Try to attach new goals to existing habits so that you can use that as an advantage in forming habits for your new goal. To use mundane examples, I have had success in associating my asthma medication (which at times I struggle to remember to take) with brushing my teeth (which is an ingrained habit). I have had great success in associating flossing (which I have never been able to maintain for more than a few weeks) with shaving (which I do at an interval similar to what I want for flossing). By keeping my medicine near my toothbrush and my floss with my razor, I’ve been able to achieve greater success with these new goals.

Use a helpful goal tracking system. I’ve been using BlotMarks for some time now to track important ongoing goals such as spiritual disciplines, exercise, household maintenance and other responsibilities. Other tools might work well for you. BlotMarks has been helpful to me for several reasons: I have immediate feedback and reminder for how lax I have been with a particular goal; checking things off is satisfying and rewarding; and I can share my goals with others for accountability purposes.

Written by Scott Moonen

September 11, 2006 at 8:48 am

Posted in Commentary

Tagged with , , ,

Resume keywords

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I’ve had my resume posted online and from time to time I receive a solicitation for job openings. Over time I’ve paid attention to my referral logs to see how folks find my resume. Almost every search includes the following keywords, and almost always they are required keywords:

+objective +education +experience

A large majority of searches also exclude the following keywords, which was a little surprising to me. I imagine that these keywords are meant to exclude job listings. If you post your resume online you should take care not to use these words!

-job -career

I have also seen the following keywords and exclusions. They are less common than the above, but it is worth considering them:

  • +senior +programmer
  • +engineer developer
  • engineer developer
  • intitle:Resume OR inurl:Resume
  • “application programmer” OR “application engineer”
  • -sample -example
  • -your -we
  • -opportunities
  • -apply -submit
  • -tips -guidelines
  • -interview
  • -service

It’s possible that I’m missing other common searches because my own resume doesn’t meet the search criteria! If you are aware of other common search terms please let me know.

Written by Scott Moonen

June 9, 2006 at 6:31 am

Posted in Commentary

Tagged with ,

Global warming

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There is evidence that the earth’s climate has warmed slightly in recent history. It is uncertain whether this is part of a natural cycle, is directly attributable to the by-products of modern industry, or some combination of the two. Many individuals theorize that continued artificial production of greenhouse gases will have the direct catastrophic effect of measurable global warming, followed by melting of polar ice and a substantial rise in sea level.

There are several things that bother me with this simplistic analysis.

  1. The atmosphere is a complex and chaotic system. A single perturbation can have drastic and far-reaching results; El Nino demonstrates this. Global warming would almost certainly have unexpected consequences. If the current climate is in a metastable state, it is possible that global warming could cause it to metastasize to an antediluvian climate. But it is equally possible it could result in a so-called ice age.
  2. Warmer air holds more water vapor. Such water vapor could accelerate warming by acting as a greenhouse gas, or possibly moderate warming if manifested as cloud cover. Furthermore, evaporation of water would at least partially offset a rise in sea level.
  3. A rise in ocean temperature will reduce the solubility of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, resulting in further release into the atmosphere. As with the increase in water vapor, this could result in an acceleration of warming.
  4. Ice cap melting produces freshwater. This increases the solubility of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, at least partially offsetting the reduction in solubility due to temperature increase.

Most superficial popular analysis doesn’t address these points (although since first thinking about this, the movie The Day After Tomorrow portrayed the ice age angle). I’m sure these have been considered as part of scientific analysis, but that makes me wonder if there really is much cause for popular concern. I confess that my own grasp of this issue is only at a popular level.

Some links of interest:

Written by Scott Moonen

February 7, 2006 at 7:19 am