God's Grace is Not a Ferrari

God says that his grace is a free gift, both the one-time act of justification and the continuing sanctification through the Spirit. He also says that His Spirit is like an eternal spring of water, founting inside of us, that provides sustenance for daily life. My interest today is whether we as Christians actually take that to heart in day-to-day activities. Do we think we only need a certain amount of God’s grace on a day to day basis, after which we can manage life on our own?

We use lots of items every day, and some are more useful than others. Economists have a term for how useful something is, called “marginal utility.” Connected to this is the idea of “diminishing marginal utility,” which is what I’m more interested in. Let me explain. Imagine that I offer to give you a Ferrari worth mega dollars, with only one string attached: you cannot sell it or give it away- it stays with you. You like your Ferrari and are very grateful for the gift, driving it around, zooming about the countryside, showing it off. It’s brilliant. You’ve never been happier in your whole life. But what if I offer to give you three more Ferraris, with the same caveat - only you can drive them. Now what do you do? Sure, you like your Ferrari and all, but you can only drive one at a time (already expensive in and of itself), and you can’t sell the extras for money or give them to friends as gifts. What about if I offer to give you seven more cars? Ten more? You wouldn’t know what to do with all of them, and you’d turn my offer down. This is what I mean by diminishing marginal utility. The usefulness of an item (the Ferrari, in this case) diminishes as you acquire more of them. Value of an item is not just limited to what it’s “worth,” but also by your ability to use it.

My concern is that too often I treat God’s grace like an Ferrari: one is really nice, but what would I do with more? A little bit of grace is nice for justification and adoption and one-time occurrences like that, but wouldn’t more grace just complicate things? I can only handle so much on my plate. ‘Me relying on God for strength in daily tasks is one thing, but there’s no need to get too crazy and help lead that church ministry, talk to that person about Jesus, memorize parts of the Bible, or give money to world missions,’ we say. We’re tempted to minimize grace offered for sanctification and growth in Christ, because we only have so much time. It would be God like directing cars to someone who would turn around and stash them in a garage. We’re already plenty busy.

But I think that when God prompts Christians to do something, we need to do it. That inkling feeling (from the Spirit within us) to talk to the new person at church; that recurring thought to send money to your missionary friends in Asia; your wife’s suggestion to invite the new couple across the street over for dinner: these (and myriad others) are all things that God might prompt you to do. You know these are good things, but you say in your heart, “I don’t want to, because what if that goes somewhere? What if that new person wants to talk longer, or the couple across the street wants to come over more often? Where am I going to find the time for that? And what if I need that money for problems in the future?

In a way, this is thinking about the future without God, and there is a problem with that: it disobeys God. Part of loving Him “with all our heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30) is using our resources to do what he tells us, when he tells us to do it, because when he tells us to do something, he promises to provide the grace necessary to do it (2 Cor. 12:9). We need to include God as we think through the future, assured that he will act for our eternal good (Rom 8:28) and equip us for the good works that he prepared for us ahead of time (Eph. 2:10).

Grace is not like a Ferrari because grace has no diminishing utility. If God, through the promptings of the Spirit, offers us more grace, we will be able to use that grace for good works. There is no disconnect between how much we have and how much we can use - it won’t just sit in a garage, collecting dust. God didn’t call us to a little bit of life in Him - he called us to abundant life, and so we, in faith, should ask God to give us more than we could ever hope for or imagine so that we receive the privilege of adding to the work of His kingdom. God promises that we will be able to use what he offers us, if only we gladly receive it. So, the next time the Spirit prompts you to do something, step out in faith and receive the empowering grace of God, confident that He will use it for your joy and His glory.



Sheffield: First Impressions

Tuesday morning I arrived in Sheffield, UK, where I will be living for the next year. As soon as I got settled I took the opportunity to walk around town and see the sights. One of the first things I noticed was that, apparently, no one cares if you park on the wrong side of the street!

This is a two-way street.

I think the speed bumps are fairly common here as well. Then, as you walk along the sidewalk, you see these delightful little postboxes.

As well as these phone booths. It's refreshing to see a phone booth that does not have the phone ripped out of the wall. This one takes coins and cards!

I love seeing advertising in the wrong context. Here, for example, if you have a mobile that can snap a picture of a QR code, you're probably not looking for a phone booth.

(I can't wait to find out more about ice cream)

 Another thing I noticed was how the streets were labeled. In Japan they are not really labeled, and in America they are labeled with signposts on the corner. But in Britain, they are labeled either with a proper free-standing sign, like this:

Or with a sign pasted onto the side of a building, like this:

There is no way that any property owner in America would let the city post a permanent street sign on the side of their building. 

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A Response to "The Abolition of Sacrifice"

Today, Tyler over at The Supernatural Gospel published a post about the part that sacrifice played in the Old Testament and how the idea of sacrifice should be understood by Christians today as members of the New Covenant of Jesus. His view of sacrifice is negative and summed up in his statement, “...just because something is in the Law doesn’t automatically make it good. Sacrifice is a case in point.” The general narrative of his post tracks sacrifice as something that God created as ”a concession to man’s guilt and bloodlust,” and that “sacrifice under the Old Covenant was to provide an outlet for human violence and to fulfill the human need to feel free of guilt and have a clear conscience.” Basically, ancient man felt guilty sometimes, and to appease that guilt he made sacrifices to deities. God, despite not needing sacrifices, chose to condescend to this base part of human nature and set up a sacrificial system in Israelite culture to give the Israelites a way to assuage their guilt. It was supposed to be a way to let us feel like we are right with God, because God loves us and wants us to be right with him. 

Tyler connects this to the cross by saying that, “[t]he cross didn’t deal with God’s sin consciousness, as if he was hindered from relating with us because of sin. It dealt with our sin consciousness (Hebrews 10:1-3). It doesn’t free God from a need to punish; it frees us from a guilty conscience.” The cross was thus the perfect “liberating device” in showing humanity that they were already in good standing with God. Even when we killed His Son, Jesus, He still loved us. The God portrayed here seems to be a fluffy bundle of love, and the Bible as a history book that keeps pointing us towards that. But is that biblically accurate?

As a fellow Christian, I aim to be gentle in critiquing Tyler’s post. His message that God loves us and sent His Son to die for us (for our benefit) is biblical and glorious. However, I strongly disagree with Tyler's presentation of sacrifice, not just because I think that his biblical exegesis (how he interprets the text) is deficient, but also because his interpretation of the sacrificial significance of the cross, the most pivotal event in human and world history, is biblically off the mark. This post aims to give a more rounded view of the biblical idea of sacrifice, how it relates to God, and how the OT practice of sacrifice is fulfilled in the propitiatory death of Jesus.

First off, let’s avoid a reductionistic view of sacrifice. There are many different types of sacrifices in the OT, including but not limited to, “the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the ordination offering, and the peace offering” (Lev. 7:37).  Not all of these are restitutive; some are for thanksgiving and others are for ceremonial cleanliness. Tyler is right in saying that God doesn’t need our sacrifices (Job 22:2; Ps. 50:8-12; Acts 17: 24-25), but I want to add that God likes them. One of the repeated phrases in Numbers when talking about sacrifices is “an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (15:3, 7, 10, 13-14, 24, 18:17, 28:2, 6, 8, 13, 24, 27, 29:2, 6, 8, 13, 36). When King David prays to thank God for His blessings, he sacrifices “1,000 bulls, 1,000 rams, and 1,000 lambs, with their drink offerings” (1 Chron. 29:21) and blesses the Lord Almighty, along with all Israel. And God likes it. When Solomon dedicates the temple (1Kg. 8), he sacrifices even more animals, and God likes it. So I have trouble with Tyler’s statement that “God never wanted our sacrifices, even under the Old Covenant.” God absolutely wanted our sacrifices: He likes them. So keep in mind that not all sacrifice is atonement for sin.

But some is. When I talk about "sacrifice" now, I am specifically referring to the type that is meant as a payment for sin. Theologians call this "penal substitutionary atonement," and it means that Christ was sacrificed and suffered in our place and absorbed the divine wrath meant for our sins. Human sin is an offense against God and God alone (Ps. 51:4), so much so that the character and nature of God defines what sin is and is not. 

God, as an infinite being, has an infinite number of positive attributes, including infinite wisdom, justice, and holiness. When he says something it comes to pass, and when he moves to act that action is accomplished. When he gives Israel a command or a law (or The Law), it is infinitely pure, perfect, and righteous and any infraction against it is infinitely grievous. In addition, Jesus (Matt. 5:17-18) and David (all of Ps. 119, for starters) both affirm the goodness of the Law, so I have trouble with Tyler’s statement that “just because something is in the Law doesn’t automatically make it good.” Everything that comes from the hand of God is good (Gen 18:25; Ps 71:19). Remember, too, that this is the nation to which God proclaimed: 

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;  and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4-6).

Sacrifice was a response of gratitude to work that God had both already accomplished and was continuing to perform, namely the choosing of a sinful people to be His holy nation. It was a reminder to the nation of Israel that their sin was terrible; that offending an infinitely holy God is deserving of infinite wrath. Animals had to be killed continually (Num. 28:3) because Israel forgot daily. But God, ever gracious and merciful, was waiting until the time was right to submit Himself to the constraints of time and space, pain and suffering, for the sake of His chosen people.

Tyler is right when he says that the animal sacrifices of the OT were eternally ineffective. The blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin (Heb. 10:4). What God set up as a physical ceremony was supposed to prompt a spiritual softening of the heart and a love for God (1 Sam. 15:22; Prov. 21:3; Isa. 1:11-13, 16, 17; Jer. 7:22, 23; Mic. 6:6-8). It is good, therefore, that animal sacrifice is not the end of the story, but rather a type (an event in history that points forward to a greater reality) of Christ.

Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross is the greatest expression of love in human history (Rom 5:8). 
Christ took the Father’s wrath for us, in our place (1 Jn 2:2, 4:10), and this penal substitutionary atonement is effective in reconciling us to God (2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Col. 1:20). This reconciliation is necessary because we sin and God hates sin, as I have pointed out above. When Tyler says that “[t]he cross didn’t deal with God’s sin consciousness, as if he was hindered from relating with us because of sin,” he is in direct contradiction to what Paul makes very clear in Romans, namely that Christ’s blood sacrifice was necessary in order for God to be just in forbearing former sins (3:25) and our believing in the efficacy (Heb. 10:14) of Christ’s work on the cross saves us from divine wrath (5:9). 

Why is this good news for us? Why should we care that Christ, in living a perfect life and dying a horrific death, proved the Father just and righteous while reconciling us to Himself? Because of who God is - a Being of infinite beauty and creativity and goodness. By nature we hate God (Eph. 2:3, Rom. 3:12) and separate ourselves from the splendor of His beauty, creativity, and goodness. Believing that God will reconcile us to himself with no concern for his own holiness, and that Christ’s death is just a brightly lit billboard showing us that, is a massive undercutting of God’s infinite holiness. Without bloodshed, God would not be infinitely just, and we could not trust Him. Apart from Christ’s death, glorification, and eternal intercession on our behalf (Heb. 7:25), there is an infinitely wide chasm between us and God. The wicked have no part in life with God.

The cross is also the assurance that God is for us. The word sacrifice means “giving up something that is valuable for the sake of other considerations.” If Christ is God (which he is) then He shares in the eternal beauty, justice, love, and holiness of God. So when Paul says in Romans 8:31-32 that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”, he is reminding us that God loved His elect so much that He temporarily subjected His son to the wages of sin, even through Jesus was perfect, to redeem them. I am amazed by the reality that God would do that for a people He chose for Himself.

Christians aim to love God because He first loved us - not the other way around. There is nothing we did to merit that love and favor - it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9), and there is no sacrifice that we can give to make God love us more. God loves us because He wants to, and the life and death of Christ proves that. The main motivating urge for me to write this was that I believe that Tyler’s presentation of sacrifice and the cross makes that divine gift of love and favor smaller and cheaper. It is like replacing silver with chrome or diamonds with glass. The entire Bible, both Old Testament and New, forms a cohesive story showing not only who God is and what He is like, but also how He works through history to draw a people to Himself. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross should enlarge your heart to love God more abundantly according to His standard of love and not what we as humans think love should be. Sacrifice is part of God's plan throughout history, and we should humbly worship in response.

_DZ submit to reddit


Ins and Outs of Winter Cycling

SO we're in the dead of winter, and that means that people who bike all winter are in their most extreme season. Jeff over at BikeJerks has posted a rundown of his gear, which I find very interesting. He seems to do that yearly, and it's always fun to see what others are riding. If you already have a few winters of riding under your belt, his gear choices may make more sense to you, but if you're just starting, you might find the cost of his stuff prohibitive. Heck, I find it prohibitive. But Jeff works in the bike industry, and with that comes the perks of using really nice stuff that he can buy at close to wholesale cost (or cheaper). Most of us can't do that. So I want to give a walk-through of my gear to show what it looks like for someone who doesn't have industry access to buy clothes warm enough for riding through the winter. 
Keep in mind that cycling clothing is extremely specific to the individual, and what works for me may not work for you. What I am trying to do here is show how to choose wisely when deciding how to keep warm. How you go about keeping warm may look different, but the general principles of how to keep warm are, I think, generally similar. On the day I took these pictures it was -6F outside in Minneapolis, with a windchill of -24F. I apologize in advance for the crappy phone pictures.

We'll start with my base layer. I use an UnderArmor longsleeve turtleneck thermal (heatgear) on top. It has compression, which boosts circulation. This stuff is not cheap, but it is only for extreme cold, by which I mean below -3F windchill. Above -3F I use a C9 longsleeve thermal (cheaper), and if the mercury reads above 12F windchill, I use a regular old cotton waffle-pattern thermal. But it is cold now, so on goes the UnderArmor. Down under I am wearing a pair of ASICS windproof boxers. These also are not cheap, but there's nothing worse than having to pee when your plumbing is too cold to perform. The boxers prevent that. My feet are clad in some SockGuy WTF socks, because, wtf, it is so cold out right now.

Now at Level 2, I put on a cycling jersey, cotton longjohns, and military-surplus wool socks. The jersey is a mountain biking jersey with a quarter zipper, keeps me reasonably warm and does not bunch up, and has three pockets in the back (one in the middle, with one on either side). The pockets can be useful for carrying extra gear, like granola bars or extra inner tubes or a phone, but I want them primarily for if I need to fill the side pockets with handwarmers. This is a trick I learned from ice divers, the type of guys who do this for fun and profit. Ice divers need to stay warm, too, and one way they do that is to have heating packs over their kidneys. The kidneys are close to the surface of your skin and all your blood passes through them as it circulates through your body. Having heating packs (or, in my case, handwarmers) directly over the kidneys heats up all your blood as it goes around. It really is surprising the difference this makes.

Next, Level 3, is when I put on my Carhartt two-layer beanie, cotton turtle-neck fleece, and wool cargo pants. The pants are made by The Gap and cost me $4 at Goodwill. I wear wool pants because they keep me warm even when wet (important when the roads are slushy or the weather is sleety!) and because they don't show dirt. Pants can get really dirty in the winter, and I want to look as presentable as possible, even if I should slip on ice and fall into slush. The fleece has a drawstring around the bottom so I can cinch it up close to my body to keep wind out. My loins are girded with a (not pictured) Galco reinforced nylon belt, which is a pretty solid system for keeping your pants where you need them.

Before I can put my gloves on, I need to lace up my boots! I wear black combat boots that I bought from a surplus store. They are leather and take a long time to put on. 

The soles are not great - they are rubber and get very hard when exposed to cold. This reduces traction and makes it harder to pedal. Right now I use disposable plastic pedals, which are slippery. If I shelled out and got some metal pedals with spikes, this problem might go away. Once laced up, with my wool pants tucked inside, the boots look like this.

Now I may put on my base layer gloves, which are a pair of Novara Statos'

I like the reflective material on this glove, the snot patch on the thumb, and the drawstring on the cuff. The lobster-like combination of the fourth and pinky fingers is a good idea, but on the inside the fingers are separated, just like a regular glove, and thus cannot rub together to keep warm. What were they thinking? The gloves are also only moderately windproof.

Here's the cuff cinched down.

It's important that I cinch this glove down now, because otherwise my wrist may get cold. If you turn your palm face up and bend your fingers away from you, you should be able to see a bunch of blood vessels right by the surface of your wrist. These need to stay very warm and protected, or else your fingers will get very cold. Over the fleece then I can put my bright yellow Adidas windbreaker shell. 

I bought this over three years ago, and to this day it is the best $2 I ever spent at Goodwill. It keeps the wind out, my body heat in, glows in the daytime, and adds visibility at night. It actually defines what it means to be visible. No, it does not need batteries. 

Next I don my favorite new piece of gear, the 45NRTH Lung Cookie "technical balaclava". This thing is not cheap, either, but boy, is it great. Merino wool means it wicks moisture away. It only comes in one size, but that's OK because it's wool, so if you put it in the dryer for 15 minutes, it will shrink to your my head size. The balaclava gets tucked into the collar of the fleece.

What really sets it apart from other balaclavas, though, is the adjustable facemask. It has a tab so you can move it up and down with big mittens on (this is so key), and is separate from the balaclava itself, sewed on by the ear. This means that when you raise it up over your face, you get a double swath of fabric over your ears, keeping them toasty. It also means that you can fasten a helmet strap under your chip and then raise the mask up and over the straps, i.e. fastening your helmet doesn't lock your facemask in place. I didn't wear a helmet today, so you don't get to see that - sorry.

With the mask in place, I can put on my canvas, military surplus outer mitten.

These are canvas with a leather palm. They have an independent pointer-finger slot, or you can just use them as mittens, which is what I do. The straps on the back allow me to tighten them close to my wrist once I put them on. They are dirty because sometimes in the winter I drop my chain, and I have to put a greasy grimy chain back on. If you want a picture of how the Stratos looks in comparison, here you go.

To this I add a pair of Oakley goggles... 

...and I look like this.

Now to grab the messenger bag. I'm still using the TrashBag that I bought over two years ago, which has served me very well and given me a great deal of sore vertebrae happiness. This is what was inside it today. 

Clockwise from the top: Extra wool socks, tool pouch (with tire levers/patch kit/extra chain links), Lezine micro floor drive pump, adjustable wrench, 15mm wrench, extra inner tube, Crank Bros M17 multi-tool, extra gloves, neck warmer, knife. There's other stuff too, like floss, chapstick, wallet, phone, keys, mints, etc., but nobody wants to see that crap. The tool pouch actually came in really handy this day because I had my first flat tire in over a year. 

Lately I've been riding this machine, my super-dandy Surly Steamroller, maroon, 59cm. 

700x23 tires, 170mm cranks, vintage Unicanitor on a zero-setback post, pink LizardSkin tape
The handlebar mount is for a Niterider Lumina 500. In addition to being obnoxiously bright, the Lumina is also rechargeable. This is good for winter because sometimes normal batteries inside lights have trouble with the extreme cold, what with not wanting to run and other shenanigans like that. Since the sun sets around 4:30, you need light for most evening commutes.

The bike is a fixed-gear. I ride a fixed gear in the winter for several reasons. First is simplicity. I only need a front brake, no derailleurs, and a shorter chain. This means less maintenance and less things to brake break. Oh, and not having to shift is really nice when wearing huge gloves. Riding fixed also means that I have a direct connection to my back wheel and can feel immediately if I start to lose traction. I can also slow down with my legs, which is handy when/if my front brake should take extra time to grab because of a wet rim/cold pads. 

Here's a close-up of the drivetrain. I'm running a 46x18 gear ratio for a development of 66 gear inches. I run cheap cogs and chainrings because I usually replace them after winter.

I like a spinny gear for two reasons. More spinning means I pedal more, which means I heat up faster. I also have to keep pedaling, meaning I stay warm. Pedaling faster means my legs are going around faster, and that circular motion has a gyroscopic effect, making me more stable in the snow and slush. Should I warble, I can recover my balance more quickly than if my legs were lumbering around at 45 rpm. 

Gratuitous winter grime shot
 So that was an overview of what I ride and how I dress. It's exciting to see more and more cyclists out and about in the MPLS winters. Remember to dress warm, ride hard, and enjoy the scenery!

_DZ submit to reddit