Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Future Grace



The Liberating Power of Forgiveness
By John Piper

“Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)
A woman comes to Jesus in a Pharisee’s house weeping and washing his feet. No doubt she felt shame as the eyes of Simon communicated to everyone present that this woman was a sinner and that Jesus had no business letting her touch him.
Indeed, she was a sinner. There was a place for true shame. But not for too long.
Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). And when the guests murmured about this, he strengthened her faith by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50).
How did Jesus help her battle the crippling effects of shame? He gave her a promise: “Your sins have been forgiven! Your faith has saved you. Your future will be one of peace.” He declared that past pardon would now yield future peace.
So, the issue for her was faith in God’s future grace, rooted in the authority of Jesus’s forgiving work and freeing word. That is the way every one of us must battle the effects of well-placed shame — not false shame, but shame that we really should feel, but shame that threatens to linger too long and cripple us.
We must battle the unbelief of crippling shame by taking hold of the promises of future grace and peace that come through the forgiveness of our shameful acts.
  • “With you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4)
  • “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6–7)
  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
  • “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
All of us need forgiveness. And we will need it tomorrow. Jesus died to provide it today and tomorrow. Today or tomorrow the reality is this: God’s forgiveness liberates us for our future. It frees us from crippling shame. Forgiveness is full of future grace.
When we live by faith in future grace, rooted in God’s forgiveness, we are freed from the lingering, paralyzing effects even of the shame we deserve to feel. That’s what forgiveness means.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fearless



Five Reasons to Be Fearless
By John Piper

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
The reason God wants us not to be afraid concerning money or other things of the world is because that fearlessness — that freedom from anxiety — will magnify five great things about him.
First, not being afraid shows that we treasure God as our Shepherd. “Fear not, little flock.” We are his flock and he is our Shepherd. And if he is our Shepherd, then Psalm 23:1 applies: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” — that is, I shall not lack anything I truly need.
Second, not being afraid shows that we treasure God as our Father. “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We are not only his little flock; we are also his children, and he is our Father. He really cares and really knows what you need and will work for you to be sure that you have what you need.
Third, not being anxious shows that we treasure God as King. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He can give us the “kingdom” because he is the King. This adds a tremendous element of power to the one who provides for us. “Shepherd” connotes protection and provision. “Father” connotes love and tenderness and authority and provision and guidance. “King” connotes power and sovereignty and wealth.
Fourth, not being afraid shows how free and generous God is. Notice, he gives the kingdom. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He doesn’t sell the kingdom or rent the kingdom or lease the kingdom. He is infinitely wealthy and does not need our payments. So, God is generous and free with his bounty. And this is what we magnify about him when we are not afraid, but trust him with our needs.
Finally, not being afraid — not being anxious — shows that we trust that God really wants to do this. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” It delights him. He is not begrudging. It makes him glad to give us the kingdom. Not all of us had fathers like this, who were made happy by giving instead of getting. But that sorrow is not the main thing any more, because now you can have such a Father, and Shepherd, and King.
So, the point of this verse is that we should treasure God as our Shepherd and Father and King who is generous and happy to give us the kingdom of God — to give us heaven, to give us eternal life and joy, and everything we need to get there.
If we treasure God in this way, we will be fearless and God will be worshiped.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mercies .. One Day at a Time



Mercy for Today
By John Piper

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)
God’s mercies are new every morning because each day only has enough mercy in it for that day. God appoints every day’s troubles. And God appoints every day’s mercies. In the life of his children, they are perfectly appointed. Jesus said, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Every day has its own trouble. Every day has its own mercies. Each is new every morning.
But we often tend to despair when we think that we may have to bear tomorrow’s load on today’s resources. God wants us to know: We won’t. Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles. Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.
Sometimes we wonder if we will have the mercy to stand in terrible testing. Yes, we will. Peter says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). When the reviling comes, the Spirit of glory comes. It happened for Stephen as he was being stoned. It will happen for you. When the Spirit and the glory are needed, they will come.
The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time. There was no storing up. That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy. You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens. You are given mercies today for today’s troubles.
Tomorrow the mercies will be new. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

Sunday, April 15, 2018

I am the LORD


Leviticus 19; Psalms 23-24; Eccl. 2; 1 Timothy 4


Don Carson


PERHAPS THE MOST STRIKING FEATURE OF LEVITICUS 19 is the repeated clause, “I am the LORD.” In each case, it provides the reason why the Israelites are to obey the particular command.
Each must respect his mother and father, and must obey God’s Sabbaths: “I am the LORD” (19:3). They are not to succumb to idolatry: “I am the LORD” (19:4). When they harvest, they are to leave enough of the produce behind that the poor may find something to eat: “I am the LORD” (19:10). They are not to swear falsely using the name of God: “I am the LORD” (19:12). They are not to play foul jokes on the handicapped, such as cursing the deaf or putting a stumbling block in front of the blind: “I am the LORD” (19:14). They are not to take any action that endangers a neighbor’s life: “I am the LORD” (19:16). They are neither to seek revenge nor bear a grudge against a neighbor, but each is to love his neighbor as himself: “I am the LORD” (19:18). Upon entering the Promised Land, after planting any fruit tree they are not to eat its fruit for three years, and then must offer all the fruit to the Lord in the fourth year, before eating the fruit from the fifth year onward: “I am the LORD” (19:23-25). They are not to mutilate or tattoo their bodies: “I am the LORD” (19:28). They are to observe God’s Sabbaths and have reverence for his sanctuary: “I am the LORD” (19:30). They are not to resort to mediums or spiritists: “I am the LORD” (19:31). They are to rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly, and revere God: “I am the LORD” (19:32). Foreigners resident in the land must be treated as one of the native-born: “I am the LORD” (19:33-34). Business standards must be aboveboard: “I am the LORD” (19:35-36).
Although some of the commandments and prohibitions in this chapter do not end with this formula, they are nevertheless blessed with the same motive, for the closing verse wraps the chapter up: “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the LORD” (19:37).
Moreover, judging by the opening verse of the chapter, the formula “I am the LORD” is in fact a reminder of something longer: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy’” (19:1). We have already meditated a little on what holy means (cf. April 8). Here, what is striking is that many of these commandments are social in their effect (honesty, generosity, integrity, and so forth); yet the Lord’s holiness is the fundamental warrant for them. For the covenant people of God, the highest motives are bound up with pleasing him and fearing his sanctions.

Always Be Enough




Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Encouragement and Hope


16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2
 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Shared Wonder

Mark Merker:  Does Your Heart Run on Hype?

Have you ever felt like the odd one out at a church service, the only one who’s not “feeling it”? Does it sometimes seem like everyone else is on the emotional mountaintop and you’ve been left behind in the valley?

For some time now, many churches have structured worship gatherings to heighten natural emotional stimulation. Dim the lights. Pick songs that tug the heartstrings, despite their thin context. Make sure the choir or band swells at just the right moment. Deliver the sermon to land with a poignant climax, a welling up of feeling that may not even necessitate the new birth.

All of this may be well-intended. But we will not find any evidence in Scripture that a marked emotional “high” is the normative experience for Christian worship. Will we be moved emotionally, and often? Yes. And hopefully with spiritual affections, not simply natural feelings. Can we depend on a weekly jolt of euphoria? I don’t think so.

In corporate worship we find something far better than a typical rush of feeling. Here are three reasons why we shouldn’t expect each Lord’s Day to produce an off-the-charts mountaintop experience, and why we can instead delight in the regular, ordinary, supernatural joy of engaging with God together.

Ordinary Means, Extraordinary God

First, God has ordained that churches worship him through ordinary means. The elements of a Christian service are quite plain: texts recited and preached; prayer; human voices singing out loud; bread and wine; the water of baptism. The churches of the New Testament didn’t model their worship primarily on the rich ceremonies of the temple, with its incense, sacrifices, and golden trappings. Rather, it seems that they adapted the simpler format of the Jewish synagogue meeting, where the focus was on hearing the word of the Lord (Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, 36).

There is an asymmetry here. We worship a supernatural God. But the building blocks of our worship are natural and unremarkable on their own. Their ordinariness should help us focus less on what we’re doing — and even what we’re feeling — when we’re worshiping, and more on the God whom we’re worshiping.

Since the Spirit of Christ now dwells in us (2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:5), we don’t need certain external aids — whether incense or organs or subwoofers or fog machines — to “feel” his presence. When we engage with God through Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit, using the simple elements of worship he’s given us, our hearts rise before his beauty, strength, and wisdom.

To be clear, Scripture says we should experience joy when we meet together. Our gladness as Christians, though, is grounded in the character of God and built on his work for us at the cross. We can cheerfully obey the psalmist’s command, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalms 32:11). We distinguish the sturdy, supernatural joy of knowing Christ, which endures throughout various seasons of life, from the natural, hyped-up, full-tilt, caffeinated intensity that many today often seek in worship.

Christian joy is supernatural, but that doesn’t necessarily mean our hearts always feel transported to the emotional mountaintop. Rather than granting us the cotton-candy rush of a particular natural feeling, God instead feeds our hearts with the supernatural joy of a wholesome dinner over a lifetime of Sundays.

My Emotions or Your Edification?

Second, the New Testament instructs us to give special attention to others in the body when we gather. In other words, though corporate worship can be wonderfully refreshing to our own souls, we also gather to build up God’s people and find our own good in the good of others.

We might summarize the Bible’s priorities for corporate worship using two words: exaltation and edification. Exaltation is oriented toward God. It involves praise, singing, prayer, proclaiming Christ’s work in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and magnifying God by heralding his glorious word (Hebrews 13:15; Ephesians 5:19; 1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Corinthians 11:26; 2 Timothy 4:2). At the same time, everything done in the public gathering is “for building up” the church, or edification (1 Corinthians 14:26). This involves public reading, exhortation, and teaching (1 Timothy 4:13); “addressing one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19); and mutually stirring one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).

Notice what is absent from those verses. They don’t reference the emotional state of the worshipers. Certainly, gathered worship will often stir godly feelings. If the message of God’s grace to undeserving sinners, through Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, does not stir our souls, we may be showing up to church, but we’re not worshiping. If we mainly gather to receive a personal jolt of inspiration, we’ve missed the point. God calls us to assemble to pursue his glory and to build others up. Ironically, our own emotional experience in worship will grow and deepen as we’re increasingly focused on God and his people.

Worship in the Already and Not Yet

Third and finally, we worship in between Christ’s two comings. This is an age of both joy and sorrow, satisfaction and yearning mingled together. Psalms of lament provide us with a vocabulary for pilgrims who have “no lasting city” in this broken world (Hebrews 13:14). Our hearts are deep wells (Proverbs 20:5), sometimes still prone to the deception and sickness that characterized us before redemption (Jeremiah 17:9). This means that on this side of glory, our emotions can be wonderful servants, but woeful masters.

When we join the angelic throngs in praising Christ on that final day, we will experience a full-bodied encounter with God that far transcends any emotional “mountaintop” experience we felt in this age. Until then, our emotions will likely move in fits and starts in this life. And that is why it is better to drop our expectations of natural, high-octane passion every single week in worship, even as we raise our hopes for genuine, God-exalting spiritual affections.

From time to time, or even often, God may graciously bless us with satisfying emotional highs, but there is something far greater we can seek. This is what we get to enjoy each time the church meets: shared wonder at the glorious God who made us and redeemed us for his own praise.