Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter 14 ~ The Dance of God

Ni Hao Yall

This is the last chapter, y'all!  If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to read this entire book, and listen to Tim Keller's sermons on line.
Here is the summary from Stefanie's blog:

Keller quotes from Simone Wiel’s book Waiting for God, to start the chapter, “In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that [Christ possession], of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God.” (p. 222)

Keller writes, “I believe that Christianity makes the most sense out of our individual life stories and out of what we see in the world’s history,” and he uses the previous chapters to prove his point. This final chapter’s goal is to, “…draw together the various threads of the narrative.” (pp. 222-23) Keller continues, “The Bible has often been summed up as a drama in four acts — creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” (p. 223)

The Divine Dance

So, what is the difference in Christianity Keller wants us to understand?

Christianity, alone… teaches… The doctrine of the Trinity…means that God is, in essence, relational,” Keller answers. (p. 223) John’s Gospel is quoted to describe the unique positions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and how the relationship is for the glorification of the Three. Keller explains to glorify each other means, “To glorify something or someone is to praise, enjoy and delight in them… To glorify someone is to serve or defer to him or her… Your ultimate joy is to see them in joy.” (p. 223)

There is no self-centeredness in the Triune God and it shows us how we are to interrelate. Keller writes, “When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other.” (p. 224) This is exactly how They interact. None wanting the glory but rather Each pursuing to glorify the other. “Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others,” Keller says. (p. 224) He continues by explaining the Greek word perichoresis, “…means literally to “dance or flow around”… they [Greek Christians] meant that each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being.” (p. 224)

The Dance of Love

So, who is God and what you think of Him, according to Keller, can give us an idea of what you think of love. “If God is unipersonal… Power is primary… if God is triune… God really has love at his essence… Eastern religions believe the individual personality is an illusion, and therefore love is, too… for the Christian… it [love] is the purpose of God because he is essentially, eternally, interpersonal love,” Keller argues. (pp. 225-26)

Community, represented by the Triune God, Keller writes, is the ultimate point of our reality and result of our loss of self. (p. 226) “When Jesus said you must lose yourself in service to find yourself (Mark 8:35), he was recounting what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been doing throughout eternity… Unless you are willing to experience the loss of options and the individual limitations that comes from being in command in committed relationships, you will remain out of touch with your own nature and the nature of things,” Keller postulates.

This is born true in the community of the world, as Christians understand its creation. “We [Christians] believe the world was made by a God who is a community of persons who have loved each other for all eternity,” Keller writes. (p. 226) God created a world that works only based on who He is. Therefore, community is the essence of love, and selfishness is the essence of hell. In actuality, “Self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made,” Keller concludes. (p. 227)

The Dance of Creation

“Jonathan Edwards… concluded that God is infinitely happy,” Keller says. (p. 227)


Within God is a community of persons pouring glorifying, joyful love into one another,” Keller continues, “…God is infinitely happy, because there is an “other-orientation” at the heart of his being, because he does not seek his own glory but the glory of others.” (p. 227)

Keller then rebuts the argument that God does not want to be glorified by saying, “He wants our joy… and the only way we… can have this same joy, is if we center our entire lives around him instead of ourselves.” (p. 227) Historian George Marsden summarized Jonathan Edwards thoughts on the subject of creation, “The ultimate reason that God creates… is not to remedy some lack in God, but to extend that perfect internal communication of the triune God’s goodness and love…” (p. 228)

Keller continues, “God did not create us to get the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification, but to share it.” (p. 228) We are not separate but rather sharing in the glory of the creation. In that sharing, we are not central either; Jesus is. “We were made to center our lives upon him, to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting and resembling him,” Keller contends. (p. 228)

Losing the Dance

When did the perfection of the Trinity, man, and the earth screech to a halt?

Keller says, “…in Genesis 3 we read of the Fall.” (p. 229) Adam and Eve were given explicit instructions about the Tree and fruit of the Tree in the Garden of Eden. Rather than follow the instructions out of love, “…Just for my [God] sake… we failed. We became stationary, self-centered.” (p. 229) Through our failure, the relationship unraveled and creation’s dance was interrupted. We tried to become the center and have everything spin around us and we simply cannot exist in the intended position God is to have held. Our self-centeredness disengages us from the physical, mental, moral, natural and spiritual worlds. “Nothing makes us more miserable than self-absorption, the endless, unsmiling concentration on our needs, wants, treatment, ego, and record.” (p. 229)Thankfully, God has not left us to our own devices.

“The Son of God was born into the world to begin a new humanity, a new community of people who could lose their self-centeredness, begin a God-centered life, and, as a result, slowly but surely have all other relationships put right as well.” (p. 230) Jesus obeyed His calling and died on a tree for us while Adam abandoned his calling for a tree and to the detriment of us. Our Lord “…came into the world and died on the cross to deal with our sins, he was circling and serving us.” Jesus received nothing from it so why do it? “He began to do with us what he had been doing with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity. He centers upon us, loving us without benefit to himself.” (p. 230)

Returning to the Dance

If the beauty of what Jesus did moves you, that is the first step toward getting out of your own self-centeredness and fear into trust relationship with him… He invites you to begin centering everything in your life on him… If you respond to him, all your relationships will begin to heal… sin is centering your identity on anything but God.” (pp. 230) Without him, you are only committing to those relationships and activities that lead to your fulfillment but, when you feel Jesus speaking to you, you must make a choice. “We can make him the new center of our lives and stop trying to be our own Savior and Lord. We can accept both his challenge to recognize ourselves as sinners in need of his salvation, and his renewing love as the new basis of our identity.” (p. 231) If we accept, then we begin to recognize that a life lived for others is a true life. You only reach your full potential by reaching it for others because C.S. Lewis says, “…outside the system of self-giving is… simply and solely Hell… that fierce imprisonment in the self… Self-giving is absolute reality.” (p. 231)

The Future of the Dance

So, what is the future? If you follow Jesus what happens in the end? “…in the final book of the Bible… we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection,” Keller says (p. 232) This will be the new Garden of Eden, per Isaiah. “The Trinity virtually “rejoiced” the world into being. Out of delight God created a universe of beings to step into his joy, and the new-made stars sang of it… God moves toward his world in care and love… and though sin and evil have marred the world… at the end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory and we with it.” (p. 232) The end will really be the beginning as God restores the world and us to the glory He intended originally. Keller states, “The human race finally lives together in peace and interdependence.” (p. 233)

The Christian Life

“…Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it,” according to Keller, “The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but to care and cultivate the face of the earth…” (p. 233)

Keller says no other religion has this as a central tenant. He quotes Vinoth Ramachandra, “The Biblical vision is unique. That is why when some say there is salvation in other faiths too, I ask them — “What salvation are you talking about?” No faith holds out a promise of eternal salvation for the world — the ordinary world — that the cross and resurrection of Jesus do.” (p. 234)

So, what does authenticate Christian life and faith look like?

Keller answers, “God made us to ever increasingly share in his own joy and delight within himself. We share his joy first as we give him glory… second, as we honor and serve the dignity of other human beings made in the image of God’s glory; and third as we cherish his derivative glory in the world of nature…” (p. 234)

Another view Keller states is, “Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God. To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success.” (p. 235)

The Gospel makes sense to our God-given senses. It in no way violates anything of, from or for God. Only in our fallen state do we lose sense of the purpose. We are to meet in community with others and God. The Trinity is a community and so God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit call us to a life of community. Here Keller adds, ” …the Christian life means not only building up the Christian community through encouraging people to faith in Christ but building up the human community through deeds of justice and service [mercy].” (p. 235)

So the point of this adventure called life is reach the point where we can exclaim along with all the other adventurers, “I’ve come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I’ve been looking for all my life, though I never knew it,” Keller ends. (p. 236)

Question: Has reading this book strengthened your convictions? If so, how? Is there a particular chapter or truth that stands out?

*My Response*
Reading this book has caused me to evaluate my relationships - with the Lord and with people.  After all, my relationship with God is reflected in how I relate to people.  I have been too focused on my self and my own feelings, too easily offended by things that really don't matter.  No thing is more important than a person!  I am learning to focus more on the heart and soul of everything ~ the person.  There are broken and hurting people all around me.  Each exhibits his or her hurt in a different way.  I don't have to know why they are hurting, but I can serve them by simply loving.  Several chapters in this book resonated with me, but the final chapter has touched me most.  I love this statement: 
To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success.
We have adopted such an 'entitlement' attitude, and it's easy to get caught up in that.  What do we really 'deserve'?  I desire the joy that comes from a right relationship with Jesus, and that includes loving with abandon.  Even with the expectation of suffering and hardship.  Not to earn His favor.  But if God humbled Himself to the point of death, for my sake, then surely I can stop living for myself.  Living for self is ultimately so isolating and unfulfilling.  I have looked into the eyes of the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed.  I have seen their joy in receiving even the slightest attention, affection and love.  That God might use me to show His love is unfathomable.  But as long as I have breath, that is my desire.  Imagine walking into a dark room.  It takes only a bit of light to make an impact.  Conversely, it takes a lot of dark to impact light.  Lord, help me to be the little bit of light.  And together, as the body of Christ, imagine the measure of our love!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Khaos

Corn harvest 2013 is officially over!!!

But let's recap...

Our faithful 5 a.m. sorting help!  We couldn't do it without them.

 The sales crew.                The cuteness factor.
The high tech equipment.

The office space.

 The corn cutters.

Day after day.  We cut 6 bags of corn this year!
(that's 456 ears cut off the cob)

God's bounty! 

 The electronic bagger and counter.  Priceless!

From picking cukes and cants...

 ... to shucking ears, we have awesome help!

I love serving breakfast to the crew!  
I stuck to 4 things...
Monkey bread...

Eggs in biscuits or eggs in tortillas...

And in a pinch, One Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie :)

The Kutest crop of all...

It was nearly 5 exhausting weeks.  But we always look forward to next year.  God raised an amazing crop this year.  And He brought the people to buy the corn.
To our customers, we thank you!!!
Lord, we thank You for Your abundant provision!!!
To HIM be glory!!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mama Talk!

Friday I had the privilege of meeting a bloggy friend (and prayer warrior) in person!

Many of you know Laurel from Our Journey of Faith.
I found Laurel's blog a few years ago when we were going through a rough patch in adoption.  Laurel is so transparent, and her blog is a haven for families needing prayer, seeking advice from someone who's been.there.done.that. or just needing the assurance they are not alone.

I've also had the privilege of getting to know her better on our recent fitness journey, and I can tell you, she is quite an inspiration and a beauty inside and out!!!

Laurel and four of her Treasures stopped for a much-too-short visit as they traveled through our state.  I look forward to our next visit where we will pick up right where we left off!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter 13 ~ The Reality of the Resurrection

Ni Hao Yall

Here is the summary from Stefanie's blog:

Keller begins with a quote from Leo Tolstoy that resonates with many who fail to recognize the power of Jesus’ resurrection, “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?” (p. 209)

Keller describes his own college experience, “I was taught that the resurrection of Jesus was a major historical problem, no matter how you looked at it.” (p. 209) Whether coming at the resurrection through philosophical or historical method, you must wrestle with the growth of the early church and the mystery, or lack thereof, of miracles. Keller argues, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” (p. 210) To the early believers, Keller says, the resurrection changed everything. It also meant that there was nothing to fear. “If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything,” Keller finishes.

There are many arguments against the resurrection, just as one would expect of such a life changing account and philosophy. The first that Keller presents is that the early believers were unsophisticated and prone to believe in the supernatural so the death of Jesus and there heartbreak over it caused them to believe he was there and then write the gospels to support the belief. (pp. 210-11)

The Empty Tomb and the Witnesses

He presents the second argument: the four Gospels were written well after the actual events so the writers created – and therefore lied about – the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses. Historically, this is impossible as the earliest works of Paul, where the narrative is also found, was a mere 15 – 20 years after the event, per Keller. (p. 211) Paul not only mentions historical facts but also names eyewitnesses, the exact same eyewitnesses who would have still been alive at the time of the writing and certainly would have argued against any errors, omissions or outright lies during the public readings of Paul’s letters. Keller states it this way, “…he also appeared to five hundred people at once, most of whom were still alive at the time of the writing and could be consulted for corroboration.” (p. 212) Keller continues, “…Paul is claiming that the reports of the resurrection he conveys were taken intact from the mouths of the people who actually saw Jesus.” (p. 213)

If one were to attempt to concoct such a tale, they would not mention eyewitnesses who could argue against their distortions. And they would surely not create a scenario which violates the most widely held and strongly believed tenants of their society at the time. Women during this time were not allowed to be witnesses in a court proceeding or have their opinions counted. So, it would be utter foolishness to make the first witnesses of an empty tomb be women, in a society that shunned women as second class citizens at best. The only possible explanation is that it was true, according to Keller, and the repeated retelling of the greatest event in human history would have solidified the account of women as the first witnesses and therefore stymied anyone trying to change or adapt the accounts to meet the requirements of societal norms. (p. 213)

“[N.T.] Wright argues, the empty tomb and the accounts of personal meetings with Jesus are even more historically certain when you realize they must be taken together,” writes Keller. (p. 213) If they are separated into just an empty tomb or just an eyewitness account then, “…no one would have concluded it was a resurrection…” (p. 213) Only if they are taken together then can one conclude a resurrection took place. “Paul’s letters show that Christians proclaimed Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the beginning.” (p. 214)

Resurrection and Immorality

Keller says, “There is, therefore, very strong evidence that the tomb was empty and there were hundreds of people who claimed they saw the risen Christ.” (p. 214) The argument then proceeds that the witnesses (i.e. believers) wanted the resurrection so much to be true they created it. Keller says the problem with this is that resurrection, just like today, is not only not credible but would have been viewed with even more skepticism than women being witnesses. Why? “To all the dominant worldviews of the time, an individual bodily resurrection was almost inconceivable… the universal view of the people [east and west] of that time was that a bodily resurrection was impossible.” Keller answers. (p. 215) Greeks and Romans saw the physical and material world as things to escape – salvation was seen as liberation from the body. Death was an escape from this world not a way to get back to it. “The goal was to get free of the body forever,” Keller reminds us. (p. 215) Likewise, the report of a resurrection would have confounded the Jews because they believed death was a tragedy and the resurrection would be the end of this world and the beginning of the reign of the Messiah. Keller says, “The idea of an individual being resurrected, in the middle of history, while the rest of the world continued on burdened by sickness, decay, and death, was inconceivable.” (p. 215) Jesus’ resurrection would be met with skepticism at best and blasphemy at worst for the person delivering such news. “The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek.. [and] to be as impossible as the people of our own time, though for different reasons,” Keller writes.

The Explosion of a New Worldview

So, “After the death of Jesus the entire Christian community suddenly adopted a set of beliefs that were brand-new and until that point had been unthinkable. The first Christians had a resurrection-centered view of reality… This was not simply a resuscitated body like the Jews envisioned, nor a solely spiritual existence like the Greeks imagined. Jesus’s resurrection guaranteed our resurrection and brought some of that future of new life into our hearts now,” Keller says. (p. 217)

Any new way of thinking takes time but this adoption of completely disparate views from the surrounding cultures happened immediately and without warning. What caused the change? Keller answers, “There was no process of development… They [his followers] were just telling others what they had seen themselves.” (pp. 217-18)

Keller then says the history of the church following the resurrection, if it is not true, then is equally puzzling. How did a group of Jews begin worshipping, as Divine, another Jew? “Eastern religions believe that God is an impersonal force… Western religions believed that the various gods often took on human guise… Jews, however, believed in a single, transcendent, personal God. It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshipped…” Keller explains. (p. 218) Even more questions are raised by the sheer fact that nearly all the disciples were martyred for the contrary beliefs they held until their very public and very painful deaths. Keller asks, “Why did Christianity emerge so rapidly, with such power… What changed their worldview overnight? How do you account for the hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection who lived on for decades and publicly maintained their testimony, eventually giving their lives for their belief?” (p. 219)

The Challenge of the Resurrection

“…the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact much more fully attested to than most other events of ancient history,” Keller begins. “Every effort to account for the birth of the church apart from Jesus’s resurrection flies in the face of what we know about first-century history and culture.” (p. 219) The modern thinker – rather than arguing about the resurrection of Jesus and its historical fact or fiction – resorts to the trick of discounting miracles and thereby discounting resurrection by caveat.

So many of these modern American skeptics find it difficult to explain why so many do not seek justice even though their own views help hinder this very thing. “Why sacrifice for the needs of others if in the end nothing we do will make any difference? If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world,” Keller says. (p. 220)

N.T. Wright says, per Keller, “The message of the resurrection is that the world matters! Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things — and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.” (p. 221)

Question: Have you ever doubted the validity of the resurrection? If so, what happened to erase those doubts? How has doubt affected your relationship with Jesus?

*My Response*
Before my salvation I knew nothing of the resurrection, but since then I have not doubted the validity of the resurrection.  Do I always live as if I'm going to heaven?  Sadly, no.  But the resurrection of Christ is my hope.  The same Christ who overcame death lives within me.  There is a battle waged every day in me, but I know He is victorious, and it is He that gives me the power, strength and courage to persevere.  Before the resurrection there was death.  My Christ was tortured and murdered.  For my sin.  And then He rose.  For my life.  When I think I am tested or hurt beyond imagination, I am reminded of the scorn and death of my Christ.  He endured it in human form, and He overcame it as God.  To Him I owe everything, and that causes me to depend on Him and praise Him.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why Can't I...

...get anything done?
It doesn't matter how early I rise, it seems I don't finish all the things I should.  And then I am reminded of the work in progress...
Two Littles...

Five Middles...

And three Teens... of which is a senior this year, but these are the things of which we do not speak!

I fall short every single day, but with the Lord's constant help, surely I will finish well *only because of HIM*.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter 12 ~ The (True) Story of the Cross

Ni Hao Yall

Here is the summary from Stefanie's blog:

“The primary symbol of Christianity has always been the cross,” begins Chapter Twelve. (p. 193) Keller goes on to say that what we as Christians see as Good News – the Gospel – our society views as difficult at best and horrific at worst. “In the Christian account, Jesus dies so that God can forgive sins. For many, that seems ludicrous or even sinister,” according to Keller. (p. 194) Society is okay with good news but the idea of a good God causing injury and death to his own son is too far from their normative belief of what constitutes good. Apparently some believe the cross even moves from questionable to evil, “While the Christian doctrine of the cross confuses some people, it alarms others.” (p. 194)

So, Keller asks, “Why did Jesus have to die?” (p. 194)

The First Real Reason: Real Forgiveness Is Costly Suffering

Keller runs through an illustration of how someone who damages your property with a car would either have to pay for the damage caused, or you would. In other words, there is a cost when someone has been wronged. Keller says it, “When we are seriously wronged we have an indelible sense that the perpetrators have incurred a debt that must be dealt with.” (p. 195)
When someone has been wronged and a debt has been incurred, there are only two responses — and both require a payment.

The first option is to have the perpetrator(s) pay. “You can withhold relationship and actively initiate or passively wish for some kind of pain in their lives commensurate to what you have experienced,” per Keller. (p. 195) There are multiple ways to accomplish this but it eventually leads to, “Cycles of reaction and retaliation [which] can go on for years. Evil has been done to you — yes. But when you try to get payment through revenge the evil does not disappear. Instead it spreads, and it spreads most tragically of all into you and your own character.” (p. 195)

The second option is to forgive the perpetrator. Keller brings up an excellent point about the results of this choice; “However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering. You not only suffer the original loss of happiness, reputation, and opportunity, but now you forgo the consolation of inflicting the same on them.” (p. 196) The anger may slowly subside, Keller tells of C.S. Lewis realizing, at the moment, he has forgiven someone it took him 30 years to forgive. The cost is emotional but not evil. The decision to forgive, Keller says, “…must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection. It is the only way to stop the spread of the evil.” (p. 196)

But forgiveness is not non-confrontational. It is not taking on a victim mentality nor is it weakness. In fact, it is the only way to truly love the perpetrator. When children do something wrong, it is best to confront them and teach them boundaries out of love. It is the same when you are wronged. “The best way to love them [perpetrator] and the other potential victims around them is to confront them in the hope that they will repent, change, and make things right,” Keller writes. (p. 197)

Keller uses the inspiring example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the Christian classic The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in a Nazi concentration camp just weeks before the liberation of the camp and then end World War II for his bold resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. Despite his circumstances during the time, he still forgave those he was confronting. “He did not ignore or excuse sin. He resisted it head on, even though it cost him everything… He passed through the agonizing process required to love our enemies, so his resistance to their evildoing was measured and courageous, not venomous and cruel,” Keller says. (p. 198) Of someone who witnessed the execution it was said, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.” Bonhoeffer lived and died a life that exemplified Christ.

The Forgiveness of God

Keller posits, “Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t God just forgive us?” (p. 199) He has already answered the question earlier when he discussed the cost of forgiveness but continues for the sake of teaching, “Forgiveness means bearing the cost instead of making the wrongdoer do it, so you can reach out in love to seek your enemy’s renewal and change… Forgiveness means absorbing the debt of sin yourself.” (p. 199) Jesus is obviously the ultimate example but Stephen also – as he was being stoned – asked God to forgive his killers. In addition, Bonhoeffer did the same. Sin has a cost, and forgiveness means taking on the cost yourself. As Christians we see Jesus as God, and fundamentally believe that He punished Himself for our sin. He understands the cost because, “..this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us… Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering,” writes Keller. (p. 200) For the Christ follower, Jesus paid the ultimate penalty and absorbed the ultimate cost to remove our guilt and alleviate our indebtedness.

“… the death of Christ was necessary to vindicate the righteousness of God in justifying the ungodly by faith. It would be unrighteous to forgive sinners as though their sin were insignificant, when in fact it is an infinite insult against the value of God’s glory. Therefore Jesus bears the curse, which was due to our sin, so that we can be justified and the righteousness of God can be vindicated.” — John Piper

The Second Reason: Real Love Is a Personal Exchange

So, Keller asks, “Why can’t we just concentrate on teaching about how God is a God of love? The answer is that if you take away the Cross you don’t have a God of love.” (p. 201) Agape love, demonstrated by Jesus, requires sacrifice on our part while western society’s overly marketed romantic love does not. Keller states it thus, “All life-changing love toward people with serious needs is a substitutional sacrifice. If you become personally involved with them, in some way, their weaknesses flow toward you as your strengths flow toward them.” (p. 202) This substitution is the very message of the Cross. Keller quotes John Stott, “The essence of sin we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We… put ourselves where only God deserves to be: God… puts himself where we deserve to be.” (p. 202)

The Great Reversal

The message of the Cross – that Jesus died as a substitute for our selfishness and sin – means the outcasts of society have hope in the Cross. And the exalted of this world, without the Cross, have hopelessness. “On the Cross, Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away,” Keller says. (p. 204) Jesus reversed the pattern of the world and created a new paradigm. Keller explains, “Those who are shaped by the great reversal of the Cross no longer need self justification through money, status, career, or pride of race and class. So the Cross creates a counterculture in which sex, money, and power cease to control us and are used in life-giving and community-building rather than destructive ways.” (p. 204)

“On the Cross neither justice nor mercy loses out — both are fulfilled at once… Jesus identified with the oppressed. Yet we should not try to overcome evil with evil.” Keller says. (pp. 204-05)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:21

The Story of the Cross

Keller writes the meaning of the Cross can be found in the movies that move us emotionally. We are enamored with the story of the innocent who substitutes themselves, at great cost of life, money, power or position, for the wrongdoer. The story isn’t new — Jesus did this on the Cross. Where the difference lies is that the truth of Jesus on the Cross should propel us to actual change while the resolutions we develop when watching fiction or human non-fiction are easily forgotten; they inspire nothing more than a passing thought as we return to life.

According to Keller, “The Gospel… is not just a moving fictional story about someone else. It is a true story about us. We are actually in it.” (p. 208)
Seeing the story of the Cross from the outside can only tickle our thoughts but once you realize you are a part of the story, you are changed. Keller finishes, “The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride. The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear.” (p. 208)

Question: Before reading this chapter, had you fully grasped the weight of your sin? What Jesus did on the Cross to purchase your forgiveness? If so, has that understanding led to a true change in you? If not, do you think reading this chapter might be the impetus for such a change?

*My Response*
Whenever I am reminded of the depth of my sin, I'm brought to my knees.  The very thought that Jesus would suffer and die for ME is both devastating and awesome to me.  I don't think I will ever fully grasp the weight of my own sin or the true cost that Jesus paid.  This I know: the closer I am to Him, the clearer my vision.  The revelation of my pride and selfishness is blinding!  My only hope is in Christ.  Without Him I am hopeless.  And this realization leads me to see others through His eyes.  Changing my character is a s.l.o.w. process, and it begins with coming face to face with who I am without Christ and who He is in me.  I am left humbled, thankful and in awe.

I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  ...but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from the body of death?  Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Romans 7:15-25

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Happy Birthday, Khloie Nicole!!!

Guess who turned 3 this month!
We celebrated Khloie's first birthday since coming home...

Look how she's doing following her surgery!

What a precious gift you are, baby girl!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Reason for God ~ Chapter 11 ~ Religion and the Gospel

Ni Hao Yall

Here is the summary from Stefanie's blog:

“Christianity teaches that our main problem is sin,” according to Keller (p. 180) he continues if this is true than why must one select Christianity and Jesus? Keller says only Jesus claimed to be the way to salvation whereas other major religion founders only show the way to salvation.

For the purposes of the discussion in Chapter 11, Keller defines religion as “salvation through moral effort,” and the Gospel as, “salvation through grace.” (p. 181)

Two Forms of Self-Centeredness

Keller uses the illustration of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to demonstrate how pursuing moral effort for salvation is a slippery slope. Dr. Jekyll believes he could do more if his bad nature wasn’t holding back his good nature so he creates a potion to separate them. Most of us know what happens next… the good Dr. Jekyll realizes the evil Mr. Hyde is overtaking him and the lack of his good nature’s ability to prevent the despicable acts of his evil side drive him to stop taking the potion and attempt to do only good deeds. As Jekyll reflects on all the good he is now doing, his comparison of self to others and resultant pride lead to a shocking transformation of himself – without the use of the potion – into Mr. Hyde. Keller explains, “Like so many people, Jekyll knows he is a sinner, so he tries desperately to cover his sin with great piles of good works. Yet his efforts do not actually shrivel his pride and self-centeredness, they only aggravate it. They lead him to superiority, self-righteousness, pride and suddenly…Jekyll becomes Hyde, not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.” (p. 183)

Two forms of sin and evil Keller states are: 1) ignoring all the rules, being defiant and celebrating your badness (fierce independence) or 2) following all the rules and feeling superior because of it (saving yourself). Keller says, “Both religion (in which you build your identity on your moral achievements) and irreligion (in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit or relationship) are, ultimately, spiritually identical courses to take. Both are “sin.”" (p. 183) in fact, Keller reminds us Jesus railed against the Pharisees. And Satan prefers them because, “They are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage.” (p. 184)

The Damage of Pharisaism

According to Keller, Pharisees “…build their sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance, as a kind of resume to present before God and the world.” (p. 184). He quotes Richard Lovelace for the cause of the damage of pharasitic religion is, “…Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger.” (p. 185) Keller then backs this idea up, “Pharisees and their unattractive lives leave many people confused about the real nature of Christianity.” (p. 186)

The Difference of Grace

Grace is radical because of one supremely significant difference: God accepted us not because of what we do but because of what Jesus did. Keller states it this way, “Religion operates on the principle “I obey–therefore I am accepted by God.” But the operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done–therefore I obey.”" (p. 186)

The primary difference [between religion and the gospel] is that of motivation,” Keller writes, “While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear or rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.” (p. 186)

Identity and self-regard are other differences. Keller says, “…whether your religion is of a more liberal variety (in which case you will feel superior to bigots and narrow-minded people) or of a more conservative variety (in which case you will feel superior to the less moral and devout).” (p. 187) Only the Good News of the Gospel provides the way to escape both these fatally flawed camps. “… the gospel contained the resources to build a unique identity. In Christ I [Keller] could know I was accepted by grace not only despite my flaws, but because I am willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me…I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less,” Keller says. (p. 187)

Another difference is how others are treated. Post-modernists believe that the definition of self is discovered by comparing yourself against others to see what you are not. The Gospel, however, gives someone a different view of self. Keller describes it, “A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance… That means I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do… The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. The Christian’s identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God’s valuing of you in Christ.” (p. 188)

Finally, another difference is how the two deal with troubles and suffering. Keller states the difference, “Moralistic religion leads its participants to the conviction that if they live an upstanding life, then God (and others) owe them respect and favor… The Gospel, however, makes it possible for someone to escape the spiral of bitterness, self-recrimination, and despair when life goes wrong. They know that the basic premise of religion — that if you live a good life, things will go well for you — is wrong.” (p. 189) Just look to the life of Jesus to see that living a good life does not necessarily lead to peace, harmony, justice, equality or riches.

The Threat of Grace

The initial gut reaction of many to the argument of the supposed ease of grace is, according to Keller, that it is too easy. He continues by stating that they do not understand that grace is actually threatening because – if it is given freely – the One who gives is now owed everything. If you accept grace, you also accept the debt of no longer being your own and having the right of self. Instead now you must give up self and do whatever Jesus asks of me — no matter how big or small in your sight. “This may seem the greatest paradox of all. The most liberating act of free, unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life… It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion,” Keller writes. (p. 191)

Keller wants the reader to see and understand the radically fundamental difference between religion and the gospel. Christianity’s foundation in Jesus means it differs tremendously from religion. Keller finishes by saying, “Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (though he was that as well). Jesus says, “I am the divine come to you, to do what you could not do for yourselves.” The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record. So Christianity is not religion or irreligion. It is something else altogether.” (p. 192)

Question: Have you personally experienced the grace of God? And how does experiencing His grace cause your heart to well up in worship to Him?

*My Response*
This is probably my favorite chapter so far!  It isn't an easy pill to swallow because it leaves me questioning my own pharasitic actions and attitude.  In my head I understand the concept of 'no longer being my own and having the right of self,' but if I check my heart, I see so many areas I still seek control over

I really like Keller's statement, Pharisees and their unattractive lives leave many people confused about the real nature of Christianity.

I wonder how confused I may leave people.  Not that I'm looking for approval, but that I truly want my life to reflect Christ. My reflective question is: am I legalistic, critical, judgmental, self-righteous?  O.u.c.h.

Oh, the difference grace makes!  It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion, says Keller.

This statement resonates with me because I have experienced radical grace!  For 4 years I did the 'good things' - reading God's Word, praying and serving.  I was deceived.  I was confident - in my works.  And by God's grace, He brought me to my knees with the realization that I didn't have a relationship with Christ.  I was humbled as Jesus became my Lord and Savior.  Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.

As I have grown in Christ over the last 12 years, I find it easy to obey as a result of my love for Him.  But my struggle is with pride, defensiveness and self-righteousness.  This chapter is up in my face, and I'm having to deal with it.  I've started spending 10 to 15 minutes each day just worshipping and praising God.  I'm not talking about thanking Him for all He's done for me; rather, for Who He is. 

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  2 Cor 12:9b

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