Cornerstone Christian Fellowship

In Christ. In Community. In Lebanon.

Sunday Worship at 10:30am

The Things of Earth

This month's book response comes from Paul Davis who serves on the building team at Cornerstone.

As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.

What should believers do with the "things of earth"? Enjoy them? Reject them? Appreciate them with a twinge of guilt? What? Even the Bible seems to have two opinions. The apostle Paul in Colossians 3:2 says: "Think about the thing of heaven, not the things of earth," while in 1 Timothy 4:4 he says: "since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks."

When I first approached this book, with its rather bland and innocent-looking cover, I expected it to be a long elaboration on the idea that of course it's okay to enjoy children, human relationships, ice cream, music, warm sunshine, lakes, trees, and the Pittsburgh Steelers as long as we don't enjoy any or any combination of them more than we enjoy God. How wrong I was. The book is so much more than that.


Joe Ridney, the author, studied in seminary under John Piper, the well-known pastor, author, theologian and coiner of the term "Christian Hedonism." Rigney is now an assistant professor of theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. Piper has written the forward to this book, and I can't imagine a higher endorsement of Rigney than what he says in the first sentence of the forward:

"If there is an evangelical Christian alive today who has thought and written more biblically, more deeply, more creatively, or more practically about the proper enjoyment of creation and culture, I don't know who it is."

Christian Hedonism is best summed up in the statement, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." And this book can best be summed up as an elaboration on the basics of Christian Hedonism laid down by John Piper.

The first five chapter are the foundation for the more practical concluding seven chapters. They get into some rather serious theology including topics such as the mystery of the Trinity, attempts to reconcile God's sovereignty with human responsibility, and even the problem of evil. And that's all I'll say about those five except to note that they may just be the clearest exposition of basic theology that I have ever read.

So how do we reconcile the above pair of verses, and dozens of similar pairs that could be set in seeming opposition to each other? Rigney suggests there are two ways of relating God to His gifts - the comparative and the integrated approaches.

In the comparative approach we separate them and evaluate them against each other. Since God is infinite and even His best gifts are finite, the gifts will always be as nothing compared to God. In the integrated approach, however, when we love God supremely, we are able to unite our joy in Him and our joy in His gifts, receiving the gifts as tiny flashes of His glory. Since God's excellence is present in the gifts, we are free to enjoy them for His sake, and they become a way of our enjoying Him.

In the following chapters, Rigney introduces the concept he calls "godwardness," which he simply defines as our attempt to live out the apostle Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 10:31: "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."

He differentiates between direct and indirect godwardness. Direct godwardness is experienced when God Himself is the center of our attention, in activities such as prayer, corporate worship, or Scripture reading. Indirect godwardness is everything else - all our mundane or occasionally not-so-mundane daily activities.

Since we are creatures limited by time and space, we can only orient ourselves in one of these directions at a time. So we need to find what the author calls "rhythms of godwardness" - appropriate times for each of them.

He uses what I think is a great analogy. Our eyes can only directly focus on one thing at a time, although at the same time there are many things in our peripheral field of vision. We never see what is behind our heads at any given time, however. Likewise, we can legitimately directly concentrate on any of the things or activities of earth, as long as we keep God in our "field of vision" and don't put Him out of sight behind our heads.

What about the many places in Scripture where we are called to self-denial - the voluntary giving up of some gifts? Rigney insists that biblical calls to self-denial are always accompanied by the promise of obtaining some-thing better, although the better may not always be immediately apparent to us.

As an example of this, he mentions specifically missionaries, especially those serving in radically different cultures from their own, who have voluntarily given up many of God's good gifts for the sake of bringing the light of the Gospel to persons lost in sin and darkness. He cites the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, as the supreme example of this. Paul gladly gave up many of God's good gifts to establish churches that would, among many other things, recognize that things created by God are gifts to be thankfully enjoyed.

Self-denial is voluntary, but how about the involuntary giving up of good gifts that we all will inevitably face?

An extreme example: A young Christian couple who have been struggling with infertility for several years finally manage to conceive and bear a child. Two years later the child develops an incurable illness and dies. What do we say to the heartbroken, devastated parents who have lost their most precious earthly gift? Probably nothing. Just cry with them and love them. Why does God allow things like this to happen? We don't know in any specific instance, but we know we live in a fallen world under a curse, and Christians are not immune from tragedies. Bad things do happen to good people. God is till good, and there are still good gifts in the world, although it may be quite some time before the couple in this example will be able to see any of them.

But what about our ultimate loss of all earthly gifts? I'm going to die, you're going to die, and Vladamir Putin and Miley Cyrus are both going to die. For those of us who have put our faith and trust in Christ for salvation, after death there are even greater gifts to come. In addition to the unimaginable gift of our Savior's presence and the almost unimaginable gift of being re-united with family and friends, there will be "pleasures forevermore."

In conclusion, a quote from Michael Reeves, professor of theology at Union School of Theology in Oxford, England:

"Reading this [book] will be a sweet moment of profound liberation for many. With wisdom and verve, Rigney shows how we can worship our Creator through the enjoyment of His creation. This is going to make a lot of Christians happier in Christ - and more attractively Christlike."

Read this book, fellow believer. You will not regret having done so.


Transformation, Part 3 – The Head, The Heart, and the Conscience

This month's three-part book(s) response comes from D. Jay Martin who serves as Pastor at our sister church, Drexel Hill Church.

As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.

If you are interested in being assigned a book to review and respond to, contact


In Part 3 of this series I’m going to attempt to synthesize Crabb’s and Benner’s change theories and then add some of my own reflections to the discussion.  

For me to experience transformation (the ongoing change of my character and desires into the image of Christ), the primary input into my mind must be the Word of God.  I’m not saying this from a “work harder!!” perspective.  I’m saying this from a value standpoint.  The most valuable thing to me, when it comes to the things I choose to consume, must be the Word of God.  When I invite the Word of God (The living Son and His written words through the ministry of the Spirit) to consistently wash over my mind and heart, profound change is accessible.  Abide in Him, He will abide in you, and you will bear much fruit. 

The Word will then filter down through the rest of my soul washing clean my unconscious mind (“In the night also my heart instructs me” – Psalms 16:7), my will (“Not my will, but yours” – Luke 22:42), my heart (“Let us draw near with a true heart…our hearts sprinkled clean” – Hebrews 10:22), and my emotions (“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing…and clothed me with gladness” – Psalms 30:11).  The Word also teaches me how to perceive the world.  As I learn to listen to the Spirit of God, the Spirit interprets the Word and imparts new ways of thinking that align with Christ.  Thus, through His word and the indwelling of the Spirit of God I have been invited by God to perceive the world with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2). 

When my reality (my perception of the world) is that of Christ’s, I can perceive God’s goodness and perfect love.  Having perceived and believed that God is truly and totally good I can give my heart in trust to His will and learn to experience the joy of submission.  When I submit to His love, I can surrender my life to His love.  When I have submitted my will to the Father – surrendered to God’s love – I have joined Christ in Gethsemane.  I have been transformed.

We need the Word of God through the Spirit of God to renew our minds.  But we actually need God to give us a totally new heart.  In popular depictions of the heart and mind we tend to see the heart as weak and fickle and the mind as strong and rational (think Star Trek).  But it is actually the heart that ultimately has the strength to determine my life’s direction.  The mind will always be limited by the amount of freedom and protection granted to it by the heart.  I think this, in combination with the total sickness of our fleshly hearts, is why God chooses to give us a new heart.  Our mind can be renewed.  Our hearts must be totally new.  To Ezekiel the Lord said, “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (ESV, Ezekiel 36:26).

Spirituality is a posture of the heart that restfully receives the presence and love of God.  Theology is a posture of the mind that intentionally and meditatively studies and searches the Word and character of God.  As we search we must receive.  As we receive we must heed the call to seek and follow after Jesus.  A transformation of the mind that doesn’t include the heart will grow dry and lifeless.  A transformation of the heart that does not recognize the vital importance of the renewal of the mind will lead to idolatry.  True worshipers of the Father worship in spirit and truth, with both hearts and minds transformed by Christ. 

Transformation takes place in the context and with the input of spiritual community.  We are our brothers’ keeper.  The extent to which I am personally open to transformation greatly impacts the extent to which my community can experience transformation.  The converse is equally true.  Our hearts must be made new.  Our minds must be renewed.  His Word among us makes this possible. 

I want to add one final wrinkle to the discussion, the role of our consciences.  I’ve been asking God about the conscience lately, asking Him to teach me what it is (I’ll admit, I think I’ve had some confusion around what exactly its role and purpose is meant to be).  We’ve all seen the images of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other – but clearly this is a pretty shallow understanding of the human soul’s conscience.  What I’ve heard Him say in response to my prayer, to the best that I can understand it is this:

our consciences are the way that our minds perceives the spiritual state of our hearts. 

My conscience is how my mind views my heart.  Think of it this way, when my mind perceives that my heart is impure, I will not draw near to a pure God.  

Apart from Christ, I’m not sure that the conscience can perceive anything other than basic principles of morality.  Thus the great sales pitch of our age (always given with a touch of feel-good morality), “You should do whatever makes you happy, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”  But, because of the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit – conviction of both sin and righteousness (John 16:8) – the conscience can become concerned with more than basic principles of morality and actually concern itself with the spiritual state of the heart before God.  Only with a clean conscience can I give myself freely to worship.  And worship, probably more than anything else, is what transforms our hearts. 

The book of Hebrews focuses in on this concept in some pretty remarkable ways.  Here are a few key statements about the conscience found in chapters 9 and 10.

  • “For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them.  For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies.” 9:9-10, NLT
  • “Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity.  Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.” 9:13-14, NLT
  • “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” 10:19-22, NLT

Notice that in 9:13 it says that the blood of Christ “purifies our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God.”  Our consciences need purification.  Our ability to perceive sin and righteousness must be made new in Christ.  And most importantly, we cannot worship God apart from a cleansed conscience.  Thus, the further developed thought offered a chapter later, “Let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean.”  Let us go right into God’s presence.  Let us go right into His house to worship the living God!  Tragically, for so many of us our minds do not perceive our hearts in a way that allows us to enter into our Father’s presence so confidently and boldly.  This is truly tragic.  The sacrifice of Christ is so entirely perfect, powerful, and effective that it not only allows for a renewed mind, and offers us a newly transplanted heart, but His blood even sprinkles clean our guilty consciences!  With a renewed mind, I want to perceive accurately the state of my heart.  

These are some of the things I’ve been reading about, meditating on, and learning from over the past several months.  I believe deeply in the hope of transformation in Christ.  I truly believe that God wants to heal and change us.  I believe that he desires for us to be more than conquerors, to be overcomers, and to walk faithfully with Him, abiding in Jesus.  All this, ultimately, is for His Great Name’s sake.  Personal transformation is always for the sake of Christ and the strengthening of His body.

Here’s my final thought for this series.  A perfect Son requires a perfect Father.  Jesus, as the firstborn and perfect Son is the embodiment of our perfect Father.  If we have learned to trust the Son, let us learn to trust our Father and the Spirit who reveals Him and indwells us.  May we receive new hearts from the Father.  May our minds be renewed to have the mind of the Son.  May the Spirit cleanse and redeem our consciences.  May we be changed into His image with transformed minds, hearts, and consciences for His name’s sake.

Transformation, Part 2 – Role of the Heart

This month's three-part book(s) response comes from D. Jay Martin who serves as Pastor at our sister church, Drexel Hill Church.

As we read through book responses, may our ears be attentive to the Spirit and may our minds discern and consider truth well. Also remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes: The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments.

If you are interested in being assigned a book to review and respond to, contact


Here I think it is helpful to introduce David Benner’s understanding of transformation.

While acknowledging that the mind plays a significant role in transformation, Benner suggest that only when a person’s heart is utterly transformed will they be able to experience lasting change.  He writes, “My attachment to sinful ways of being is much too strong to ever be undone by mere willpower.  There is no substitute for surrender to divine love as the fuel to propel such undoing” (Benner, p. 73).  I relate to this statement.  Willpower goes a little ways, but ultimately sputters out. 

Based upon our experiences with pain, rejection, brokenness, and sin we are fearful of surrendering our personal will to God.  This is actually pretty understandable.  Think about it this way: the failure of our parents and other authority figures has grossly disfigured our understanding of the character of God, for we always tend to see the Father as a grand projection of the character of our own human parents.  Thus, we refuse to surrender to God’s will.  Based upon our very real experiences with other humans God simply cannot be fully trusted.  Sin, and our ongoing return to destructive behavior, is on one level a way of coping with this pain.  I can certainly think of some pretty destructive behaviors and desires in my own life that have been born out of an attempt to cope with the aches of my heart. 

I believe that it is absolutely true that our human experience with our parents sets us on a trajectory for how we will view God.  If our human father was distant, cold, or not around at all, we will certainly tend to see God that way.  If our parents were violent or abusive, God will surely resemble the same.  Even for those of us who had loving parents, it is difficult to fully trust in the loving goodness of God as Abba, Daddy – though it is probably at least initially easier than those from overtly abusive pasts.  All this to say, Benner is right – until we surrender to God’s love, we cannot fully submit to His will.  But we won’t surrender to His love, until out hearts believe and experience His love.  Benner writes, “If you look at how people actually relate to their god, it becomes apparent that large numbers of people live in a universe they consider to be unfriendly.  Even among Christians…their God is still a God who requires appeasement – gestures and beliefs to earn favor and escape wrath” (Benner, p. 37).  So, one of the first steps towards lasting change is allowing the perfect love of God to help us let go of the ways that we wrongfully fear God.

According to Benner, transformation begins when we experience God’s perfect love.  God is unlike our fickle human authorities.   He is utterly and completely perfect in His love.  Love is not just an attribute of God; it is His very character.  When we learn to fully accept and rest in God’s love we will begin to trust His will.  God’s will is an extension of His love and His will is therefore always loving.  When we learn to surrender to God’s love we can submit to His will – because we actually trust it.  When we are submitted to the will of God, surrendered to His love, we are changed.  Benner explains, “Love and love alone is capable of making a person willing to give up his or her own life in loving others” (Benner, p. 87).  He continues, “If God’s heart is to become mine, I must know his heart.  Meditating on God’s love has done more to increase my love than decades of effort to try to be more loving” (Benner, p. 88, emphasis mine).  Meditation and resting in God’s love saturates our hearts, compelling us towards love of God and love of others.

Benner’s exploration of the role of the heart is very helpful.  But, it perhaps does not give enough credence to the reality that wrong thinking and wrong ideas about God exist firstly in our minds (since our minds are how we perceive the world).  My heart will not be open to submission to God’s will until my mind is convinced of His perfect love and the goodness of His character. 

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