Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashJoshua 23 is the penultimate chapter in the book and a call for Israel to make an ongoing, ultimate commitment to Yahweh. Here are ten things about this chapter to help us understand its main point with applications for us today.

1. Joshua 23 is the second of three assemblies that close the book of Joshua.

In the last three chapters of Joshua, the book comes to a close with three assemblies. In chapter 22, an emergency meeting is called when the Western tribes fear that the Eastern tribes committed idolatry by building an altar on the banks of the Jordan. In chapter 24, Joshua leads the nation to renew their covenant with Yahweh. But in Joshua 23, before that formal process of agreement, Joshua gives a more personal appeal for Israel to love God with all their heart and to guard themselves from idolatry.

In this way, Joshua 23 serves as a bridge between Joshua 22 and Joshua 24. It unites the three chapters with the theme of idolatry—or rather, a warning against idolatry. More specifically, this chapter focuses on the leaders in Israel, who are listed in verse 2: “elders, leaders, judges, and officials.” Importantly, as Joshua comes to the end of his life (vv. 1–2, 14), he is looking to this next generation of leaders to keep covenant with God. This shows how the nation prospers when the nation has faithful leaders (cf. 24:31). Continue reading

Don’t You Want to Thank *Someone*: A Thanksgiving Meditation

As we enter thanksgiving week, it is good to reflect on the nature of giving thanks. Many have observed praise is fundamental to what it means to be human, yet, not all praise honors God in a way he deserves. Therefore, we should consider how we might give thanks and give thanks in a way that makes God the object of our gratitude.

Ingratitude: The Arrhythmia of Man’s Heart

If we think about it, one of humanity’s greatest ‘sins’ is our quickness to complain and our slowness to give thanks. In the Old Testament, Israel was rebuked strongly because of their murmuring. And personally, it happens too often that my own heart moves towards complaint instead of contentment.

In fact, Romans 1:21 indicts all of us when Paul says that part of humanity’s idolatry stem’s from our unwillingness to honor God as God or to give thanks to him.

Sadly, ingratitude is the arrhythmia of every fallen heart. It can only be ‘reset’ by the new birth. When God gives us a new heart, he exchanges our thankless heart for a heart that longs to thank someone.

Indeed, when we are born again God gives us new impulses that beckon us to give thanks; and not just generic thanksgiving, but thanksgiving directed to the One who has given us every good and perfect gift. As we enter thanksgiving week, therefore, it’s good for us to consider the posture of our hearts.

One place to pursue such recalibration is Psalm 111. It is a powerful psalm of thanksgiving that praises God for his creation and his redemption. It calls us to worship him not based on the strength of our gratefulness but on the splendor of his grace. Consider Psalm 111’s words.

Praise the Lord! 
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever! Continue reading

Get a Rhythm with Christ and his People: Communion, Culture, and Co-Mission (pt. 2) (1 Corinthians 10:14–22)

sermon photoLast week we saw the covenantal nature of communion and how the Lord’s Table not only creates a thick relationship with Christ but also with one another. This week’s sermon furthered that discussion looking at ways we must resist the pulls of demonic-inspired idols. In an applicational message on 1 Corinthians 10:14–22, I argued

  1. Communion creates culture—for good or bad; therefore,
  2. Gospel culture reinforces communion with Christ; and
  3. Godless culture resists communion with Christ; so
  4. We resist the table of demons by taking our gospel culture public.

From these four points, we considered further how to recognize and resist modern temples, false gospels, and demonic idols. Specifically, we looked at the way iPhones function as modern-day temples with gospel promises, inviting us to make them our functional idols.

Sermon audio can be found here and sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below. Continue reading

Liturgical Lathes: Idolatry, Imagination, and James K. A. Smith’s ‘Homo Liturgicus’

jkasFew books have been more illuminating for me in 2016 than Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College. In fact, his anthropological observations have provided much background to the dangers of idolatry that we find in 1 Corinthians 10 (our church’s current sermon series).

In what follows, I will trace a few of his main points, to show how Christians who don’t want to worship idols yet create them through the rhythms of their lives. This post is the first in a brief series to interact with Desiring the Kingdom and the modern challenge of identifying idols and the liturgical lathes that create them.

Homo Liturgicus

In biology, the human species is called homo sapiens. Sapiens, or sapient, is a term for wisdom and intelligence (e.g., God is omni-sapient, all-wise). Compared to all other species, humans possess a higher degree of rationality and intelligence, hence we are called homo sapiens. 

Smith takes this idea and shows how philosophers and theologians have defined humanity in terms of rationality (“I think, therefore I am”) and belief (“I believe, therefore I am”) (40–46). In contrast, he argues we should understand humans as basically affective–“the human person as lover” (46ff). He critiques purely-cerebral anthropologies, and argues we must consider the human body and the heart: “If humans are conceived almost as beings without bodies, then they also are portrayed as creatures without histories, without any sense of unfolding and development over time” (47).

While his argument may, at first, sound as if he is denying the place of the intellect, it must be remembered that this philosopher (whose vocation trades on the intellect) is offering a corrective to disembodied anthropologies which forget how much our bodies impact our thinking, feeling, and believing. In fact, Smith’s taxonomy of thinking, believing, and loving anthropologies helps us recover an Augustinian view of humanity, with its attention to affections and desires. In our hyper-visual, über-sensual world, we desperately need this corrective. So, let’s dig in. Continue reading

Let the Reader Understand: Interpretation That Sanctifies (1 Corinthians 10:1–13)

sermon photoTypology. Intertexuality. Biblical interpretation. Sanctification.

Those are esoteric subjects for a nerdy few, right? Well, I don’t think so. At least, according to 1 Corinthians 10, we see how the Apostle Paul cites ten different events in Israel’s history, which he says were written down for the church, as a means of instruction and sanctification.

In a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul continues to confront idolatry, Paul teaches us how to read the Bible and what ongoing purpose the Old Testament Scripture has for New Testament churches. You can listen to or read this week’s sermon. Below are discussion questions and resources for further study.  Continue reading

Loving God By Loving Others (1 Corinthians 8:7–13)

sermon photo

A chapter on “meat sacrificed to idols” may not, at first glance, look like the most relevant subject for us modern technophiles, but as is always the case—the eternal Word of God is living and active and never dull in bringing piercing insight to our lives. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addresses the strong and weak consciences of the Corinthian believers and challenges those with “knowledge” (a key idea in this chapter) to use that gift to care for and edify their weaker members in the church.

This chapter is one of a few key passages that deal with conscience (the others include Romans 14–15; Galatians 2; and Colossians 2). It also shows how love must be worked out in matters where Scripture does not give a specific command. From the love God has shown us in Christ, we are to love in steadfast and sacrificial ways, to people who are not like us, with the goal of spiritual unity and edification.

In preparation for this message I found great help from a book on the conscience (Conscience by Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley) and from considering the the nature of idolatry and meals in Corinth. You can find a few reflections on Naselli’s book here and notes on the culture here.  For further reflection, you can listen to the sermon, read the sermon notes, or discuss the questions and resources below. Continue reading

Loving the One, True, Triune God (1 Corinthians 8:1–6)

sermon photoIn the Gospels, Jesus says the “Great Commandment” is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (e.g., Mark 12:29–30). Indeed, it is impossible to love God and hate others (1 John 4:20–21). Just the same, it is ultimately unloving to do good to others without reference to the God of love; true love labors and suffers to increase another’s joy in the love of God.

This week our sermon considered this intersection, how knowing God means loving God and then loving others. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, love for God looks like rejecting culturally-acceptable idols and sacrificing our own rights to serve the needs of others, especially our church family. You can listen to the sermon here or read the outline here.

Below you can find discussion questions and further resources on the love of God and fighting idolatry in our day. Continue reading

NASA and the Spirit of Babel

To the moon…to Mars…and beyond

Don’t get me wrong, I like NASA, astronauts, the space program, and the whole enterprise of exploring the wonders of God’s cosmos. This affection probably finds its root in the countless times as a child that I watched The Right Stuff, a cinematic production dramatically chronicling the United States space race of the 1950’s and 60’s. Today my support of NASA comes from the fact that the images generated by the Hubble Telescope expand our finite ability to worship the God of creation. Hubble’s images present glimpses of heavens that illustrate the grandeur of Psalm 19:1 : “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies above proclaim his handiwork.” I say all that to say: I am not out to bash NASA or any of its dedicated and heroic employees. Instead, I only seek to raise a question: How similar is NASA’s spirit of cosmic optimism to the spirit of Babel found on the plains of Shinar?

Visiting the Kennedy Space Center this week was well… out of this world. The size, the technology, the history, the massive cooperative effort the engineer vehicles that travel the galaxy is in a word, “impressive.” And NASA holds nothing back from celebrating its 50-years of space exploration. In the past 50 years, astronauts have visited the moon, walked in space, and have orbited the earth countless times. In all of this, the ever-improving technology that has allowed this stretches the imagination.

Consider the V.A.B., the Vehicle Assembly Building, which houses the world’s largest and most precise crane. This building is the second largest in the world according to volume (second only to Boeing’s plane assembly plant), and the crane it stores has not only the ability to lift millions of pounds (the shuttle, twin rockets, and fuel tank), but also the capacity to delicately move this massive assembly 1/64 of an inch in any direction and 1/50,000 of an inch up or down. This is absolutely amazing. And of course, these facts along with countless others are told and retold at KSC to expound the NASA lore.

Yet, after spending half a day admiring the power, collective genius, and the sustained economic capital needed to create such vehicles, I began to wonder if Cape Canaveral was anywhere near the plains of Shinar (Gen. 11). You see, in between the well-organized bus tour, the array of multimedia presentations retelling the glories of America’s space race, and the celebrity-narrated IMAX movies, there was this refrain: “Back to the moon…to Mars…and beyond.” Carried on the tune of space age symphonies, there was a noticeable melody of human achievement, man-made power, and scientific ingenuity. In this sense, the Kennedy Space Center and NASA offers its own “gospel”–complete with its explanation of the universe, its compelling cosmic history, its impressive operations on earth and in the heavens, its manifest destiny to go where no man has gone before, and its concluding invitation to believe and follow. “Child, will you be the next (wo)man on the moon?”

All of this was eerily familiar because of how much it resembled the construction of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Six millenia ago, when the sons of Ham (Gen. 10:6), pre-historic astronauts in their own right, set out to build “a tower with its top in the heavens” (Gen. 11: 4), they did so by rejecting God and turning the work of their own hands. In order to “make a name for ourselves” (v. 4), they said, we will build a temple-like ziggurratt or tower. And why? “Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). The result of course is that God “came down” from heaven to confuse their speech and disrupt their plans (v. 7).
Not surprisingly, humanity is still looking to the works of their own hands, still seeking self-preservation, global protection from foreign enemies, and the right to boast in our scientific achievements–all of which were deep-seated motivations in NASA’s own push for supremacy. Today, the Kennedy Space Center is a monument to this. But this is nothing new. Since the Fall, when Adam’s small step became a giant leap downward for mankind, humanity has looked for new and improved ways to establish monuments to honor and protect themselves. The testimony of Scripture and history is that we are a people who look to deify those things which we have built. This was true in Babel’s tower, in Herod’s Temple, in Greece’s Parthenon, in China’s Great Wall, and in the United States space program.

I am not denying the validity of space exploration, but I am cautioning against the corollary idea that can come with it: the limitless capability that men, in their intelligence and cooperative effort, can accomplish anything they want. This is exactly what God violently opposed in Babel (Gen. 11:7-9). This is the spirit of Babel, a spirit that was cast out from the garden of Eden, a spirit that resides within the heart of every son and daughter of Adam, and a spirit that will not remain in the presence of God because it is the spirit of the Antichrist. For in the presence of Christ, the maker and sustainer of the heavens and the earth, humanity has no place to boast.

My visit this week to the Kennedy Space Center was impressive, and I would encourage anyone who can to visit. However, at the same time, I would offer a word of caution. You will encounter more than just shuttles, simulators, and space suits, you will encounter the spirit of the antichrist himself who casually charms people into thinking heaven is available to all through the innovation of scientists and the accleration of spacecraft. The Scriptures teach something more earthy. Heaven is only available to those who have trusted in the intercession and mediation of a savior, not a scientist, and who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ’s shed blood, not supercooled rocket fuel. For you see, the Kennedy Space Center might lead you to believe that the most powerful things in the world are the rockets used to propel the shuttle into orbit, but the truth is that the gospel is far more powerful (Rom. 1:16)–raising the dead to new life in Christ.

NASA may not mention this, but their whole reason for being is based on the existence of a universe created, sustained, and rhythmically controlled by God. Their endless explorations of the heavens was and is furnished by God. They claim it as their own discovery, and rob God of his glory, but we who know Christ know better. In every discovery on this planet or the Red Planet, we footnote our findings and give Jesus Christ the glory. The psalmist David footnoted did this well, making him a faithful scientist and a perhaps a model “astronaut,” and so it is with him I close:

When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which your have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? // O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is you name in all the earth. (Psalm 8:3-4, 9)

Sola Dei Gloria, dss