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crying woman's eye, black and white image, low key, selective focus Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of looking by faith to the Lord, as to no other, for our deepest delight.  Updating the language a little:

1.  Delight in God will prove that we know him and love him and that we are prepared for his kingdom, for all who delight in him shall enjoy him.

2.  Prosperity, that is, the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt us or transport us.

3.  Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not excessively grieve us or easily deject us.

4.  We will receive more profit from a sermon or book or conversation that we delight in than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities.

5.  All our service will be sweet to ourselves and acceptable to God; if we delight in him, he certainly delights in us.

6.  We will have a continual feast within, to sweeten all the crosses of our lives and to provide us with joy greater than our sorrow in our saddest condition.

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“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” 

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A lot of debate has swirled around the similarity (or dissimilarity) of Christianity and Islam lately. What do people think? |

Christianity and Islam: Evangelicals and Americans Are Not on the Same Page About the "Same God"

Just a few months ago, in October, LifeWay Research published a good amount of data on how Americans, pastors, self-identified evangelicals, and religious service attendees see Christianity and Islam. Today, I wanted to share just a bit of data with you regarding how similar or dissimilar these groups of people see the two most popular monotheistic faiths in the world.

Do Muslims and Christians Worship the “Same God?”

In the last week or so, the debate about whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the “same god” has been stirred up due to a controversial situation at Wheaton College, about which I wrote last week. (Full disclosure, I’ve written on several occasions that Muslims and Christians do not pray to the same god and saying so is not helpful.)

Perhaps the reason for the controversy around such “same god” issues is that the country is split, though you would think that country overwhelmingly believes they do worship the same god based on the responses.

But, the nation is actually split down the middle.

Forty-six percent of Americans agree Christians and Muslims pray to the same God, 47% disagree, 8% are not sure.

Of course, we look for statistically different sub-groups of people who believe differently about this issue. Interestingly, they include:

  • Northeasterners (56%) are more likely to Agree than Southerners (40%) and Westerners (44%)
  • Those age 25-34 (56%) are more likely to Agree than those 35-44 (42%), 45-54 (40%), 55-64 (44%), and 65+ (41%)
  • Those age 18-24 (52%) are more likely to Agree than those 45-54 (40%).
  • Nonreligious (56%) are more likely to Agree than Christians (41%).
  • Catholics (52%) are more likely to Agree than Protestants (38%).
  • Self-identified evangelical Protestants are less likely to Agree (35% v 50%).
  • Those attending a religious service at least about once a week (34%) are the least likely to Agree.

Hard times come with hard questions, and our cultural context exerts enormous pressure on Christians to affirm common ground at the expense of theological differences. But the cost of getting this question wrong is the loss of the Gospel.

Is this true?

The answer to that question depends upon a distinctly Christian and clearly biblical answer to yet another question: Can anyone truly worship the Father while rejecting the Son?

The Christian’s answer to that question must follow the example of Christ. Jesus himself settled the question when he responded to Jewish leaders who confronted him after he had said “I am the light of the world.” When they denied him, Jesus said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). Later in that same chapter, Jesus used some of the strongest language of his earthly ministry in stating clearly that to deny him is to deny the Father.

Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. Christians worship the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and no other god. We know the Father through the Son, and it is solely through Christ’s atonement for sin that salvation has come. Salvation comes to those who confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). The New Testament leaves no margin for misunderstanding. To deny the Son is to deny the Father.

To affirm this truth is not to argue that non-Christians, our Muslim neighbors included, know nothing true about God or to deny that the three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — share some major theological beliefs. All three religions affirm that there is only one God and that he has spoken to us by divine revelation. All three religions point to what each claims to be revealed scriptures. Historically, Jews and Christians and Muslims have affirmed many points of agreement on moral teachings. All three theological worldviews hold to a linear view of history, unlike many Asian worldviews that believe in a circular view of history.

And yet, when we look more closely, even these points of agreement begin to break down. Christian trinitarianism is rejected by both Judaism and Islam. Muslims deny that Jesus Christ is the incarnate and eternal Son of God and go further to deny that God has a son.

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Bad News, Indeed — Playboy Opened the Floodgates and Now the Culture is Drowning

by Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Wednesday • October 14, 2015

porn

A venerable parable from Confucian China told of an elderly man who had seen emperors and events come and go, and observed from his Confucian worldview that good news and bad news were often difficult to tell apart. “Good news? Bad news? Who’s to say?,” he would reply to any news from his neighbors.

I thought of that parable when I read the headlines that announced the news that Playboy would cease the publication of nude photographs of women in its magazine. From any moral perspective, that should appear as good news. The headlines might suggest that Playboy has had a change of heart. A closer look at the story, however, reveals a very different moral reality. Playboy acknowledged that its decision had nothing to do with any admission that pornography is morally wrong. Instead, the publishers of the magazine were acknowledging that their product was no longer commercially viable as explicit pornography because pornography is so pervasive in the Internet age hat no one need buy their product.

Scott Flanders, Playboy CEO, told the media that his product had been overtaken by the larger culture. “You’re just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And it’s just passé at this juncture.”

That is one of the most morally revealing statements of recent times. Playboy has outlived its ability to transgress and to push the moral boundaries. As a matter of fact, it was a victim of its own sad success. Pornography is such a pervasive part of modern society that Playboy is now a commercial victim of the very moral revolution it symbolized and promoted for decades.

Reporting on the story, Ravi Somaiya of The New York Times commented: “Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.”

That is a stunning and sadly accurate assessment on all three fronts. The iconic magazines of the sexual revolution, the very magazines that promoted the sexual revolution and opened the floodgates to even more explicit and graphic pornography, have lost their ability to shock, their ability to sell themselves to the public, and their cultural relevance — and it is precisely because the culture has become Playboy and what was once shocking is now a feature of mainstream American culture.

Playboy once had a paid circulation of near 8 million. According to the Times, it has only 800,000 subscribers now. The market is much larger than ever, but the marketplace is now the polymorphous perversity of the digital age.

“That Battle has Been Fought and Won”

Another very revealing comment from Flanders was more ambitious. “That battle has been fought and won,” he said. “That battle,” we should note, was the declared battle to overthrow an entire system of sexual morality that had once defined pornography as sin and affirmed the responsibility of a civilized society to uphold the dignity of sex and the sanctity of marriage.

As Elizabeth Fraterrigo, author of Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America, noted: “Playboy magazine played a significant role in defining an alternative, often controversial, and highly resonant version of the good life.”

That was the goal of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner saw himself as a moral revolutionary, even bragging that Playboy “certainly made it possible to open up the floodgates” to the deluge of sexual libertinism that it encouraged, commercialized, and symbolized.

Flanders told the Times that the world has now adopted the Hefner worldview to the extent that his libertarian views on an entire range of moral and social issues are now so widely shared that the magazine’s ability to package pornography is outdated.

By almost any measure, that statement rings true.  Pornography is now mainstream entertainment and available 24/7 just a click away. The vision of sexuality glorified by Playboy is no longer on the cutting edge of moral change. Playboy won the battle and can now leave the battlefield commercially wounded but culturally victorious.

The Playboy Philosophy and its Underlying Theology

Hugh Hefner was never less than ambitious and he was never covert in his goals. He wanted to transform American sexual morality and break down the Judeo-Christian sexual morality that was once dominant in the culture. He presented what he identified as the Playboy philosophy of life, and he packaged his product as a way of selling men on the sexual objectification of women — while claiming to present a portrait of sophisticated male sexuality that was both glamorous and free from the shackles of traditional morality.

Underlying every moral philosophy there lies a theology. In Hefner’s case, that theology was also in public view. He told journalist Cathleen Falsani that he was a “spiritual person, but I don’t mean that I believe in the supernatural.” He said that he believes in a creator, but not in the God of the Bible.

As he explained: “I do not believe in the biblical God, not in the sense that he doesn’t exist, just in the sense that I know rationally that man created the Bible and that we invented our perception of what we do not know.”

Further: “I urge one and all to live this life as if there is no reward in the afterlife and to do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and those around you., and that leaves this world a little better place than when you found it.”

As Falsani understood, there was a “Playboy Theology” that explained the Playboy Philosophy:

“Hef doesn’t believe in a ‘biblical God,’ but he is fairly adamant about the existence of a ‘Creator.’ He hasn’t been to a church service that wasn’t a wedding, funeral, or baptism since he as a student at the University of Illinois in the late 1940s, but says he worships on a regular basis while walking on the grounds of his own backyard. And he follows a system of morals, but not those gleaned from the Methodism of his childhood–or at least not the ones that pertain to sexuality.”

A theology that rejects the “biblical God” and any notion of divine judgment or the afterlife is integral to the Playboy Philosophy, and the overthrow of Christianity as a belief system precedes the rejection of Christian sexual morality. And all this came as Hugh Hefner made millions exploiting women and mainstreaming pornography.

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“I  believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe God will give us the strength we need to resist in all times of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, After Ten Years in Letters & Papers From Prison, 10. 

One of my favorite scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies appears early in the Fellowship of the Rings when Frodo and company first encounter Aragorn. Frodo and his adventure mates were putting the happy in happy hour at the Prancing Pony Inn, frolicking, tipping mugs of ale, and generally making a public hash of themselves—foolhardy behavior for a party of hobbits and dwarves embarking on a dangerous clandestine mission. Frodo slipped the ring on his finger and instantly became invisible, took it off, and reappeared to an astonished audience of merrymakers. Aragorn appeared from a dark corner of the pub, grabbed him by the collar and slung him into a side room as if he were a side of beef. “Are you frightened?” Aragorn asked the wide-eyed hobbit. Frodo answered a breathless, “Yes.” Aragorn’s counter line is unforgettable, “Not frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”

Ringwraiths. That’s what hunted Frodo. The evil emissaries of the dark lord Sauron were searching meticulously for the ring bearer; they wanted to destroy him and capture the one ring that ruled them all. Indeed, Aragorn was spot-on: the naïve little hobbit did not know what hunted him. And his naïveté was anything but humorous: the future of Middle Earth hung in the balance.

That scene came to mind Thursday night as I watched the sad news about Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton scroll across the screen: Relapsed, again. Drugs and alcohol, again. The sin that has hunted Hamilton since he was a teenager found him, again. I whispered a prayer under my breath: “Father, lavish your mercy on Josh Hamilton and his family. And have mercy on us. Let us never forget what hunts us.” I’m a big fan of our national pastime. I’m a big fan of Josh Hamilton. And like Josh Hamilton and Frodo Baggins, I, too, am hunted. I’m well aware that something hunts me, something deadly, an enemy I can only shake by unilateral grace: sin.

All-World Talent

Hamilton’s story is deeply compelling. At 18 years old, he was an all-world talent with a powerful bat that reminded some of Mickey Mantle and a howitzer arm that conjured memories of Roberto Clemente. He was the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, chosen out of high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, but Hamilton’s path to greatness was blocked by the twin demons of alcohol and drug addiction. Twice he failed drug tests, and on another occasion he was arrested after smashing the windshield of a friend’s car. Major League Baseball suspended him for most of three seasons from 2003 to 2005. His star appeared to have fallen.

But the effectual grace of God found Hamilton after this tumultuous period. God gave Hamilton new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His conversion also breathed new life into his baseball career. Hamilton made his Major League debut in 2007 with my beloved Cincinnati Reds. He was an instant star. During the past seven years he has become what scouts expected him to be from the beginning: one of the best players in the game. He led the perennially mediocre Texas Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and was named American League MVP in 2010. There were hiccups along the way, like a time in 2009 when he was photographed in a bar in a compromising position. And there was a seemingly small slipup 2012 when he admitted to drinking three beers. But Hamilton has mostly kept a strong witness for Christ. His family has helped build an orphanage in Uganda and established an outreach called Triple Play Ministries. Hamilton chronicled his fall and redemption in a 2008 book, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back (FaithWords).

Hamilton has kept accountability partners constantly at his side while away from home. He travels with only a small amount of cash and carries no credit cards. His wife, Katie, shuttles him to and from the ballpark during home games. After the Rangers won the American League pennant in 2010, Hamilton celebrated with ginger ale rather than champagne. I once heard Hamilton quote the apostle Paul, saying that he does not want sin to have mastery over him. No follower of Christ does.

Core Disease

Despite all that, sin continues to want to rule over Josh Hamilton. It wants to rule over us all. As a follower of Christ, Hamilton no doubt knows and agrees. Paul Tripp puts it memorably:

Sin is every human being’s core disease. It is completely beyond the power of any human being to escape it. It separates you from God, for whom you were created. It damages every aspect of your personhood. It makes it impossible for you to be what God created you to be and to do what God designed you to do. It robs you of inner contentment and peace, and it puts you at war with other human beings. It renders you blind, weak, self-oriented, and rebellious. It reduces all of us to fools, and ultimately it leads to death. Sin is an unmitigated, almost incalculable disaster. You can run from a certain situation, you can get yourself out of a relationship, and you can move to another location and choose not to go back again. But you and I have no ability whatsoever to escape from the hold that sin has on us. It is the moral Vise-Grip that has held the heart of every person who has ever lived.

Hamilton’s story could be my story or your story. The world, the flesh, the Devil is an unholy trinity that hunts us all. His story is in the news because of his profession; ours is not. What should we take home from Josh Hamilton’s sad brush with sin?

  • Life between the times is brutal war. We face enemies within and without that relentlessly wage battle against us. We will not defeat them fully in this life, but in the next. Thankfully, Christ has defeated them for us. My own pastor, Tom Schreiner, preached a powerful sermon from 2 Corinthians 10 this past Sunday on this reality. Even Paul, in Romans 7, continued to be hunted by indwelling sin.

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