Saturday, March 31, 2012

Different Priorities .. Better Life

Jon Bloom post:  When the Angel Didn't Come

Luke says it so quickly, so matter-of-factly: “[Herod] killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2). In the flow of the story this little phrase sets the stage for Peter’s dramatic prison rescue by the angel. So that’s what we remember. When Peter later wrote, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9), this is the sort of rescue that easily comes to mind.
But the night that James sat in prison the angel didn’t come. I’m sure he prayed for an angel. He knew God could send one if he wanted to. An angel had already rescued him and the other disciples once before, in chapter 5. But this night there was no bright light, no chains falling off, no sleeping guards. Just desperate prayers and fitful dozing — if he slept at all.

Intentionally No Different

In the morning James was still in jail when the dreaded voice of the captain of the guard shouted, “Bring out the prisoner!” There was an anxiety-filled, prayerful walk to the place of execution. There was a pronouncement of guilt. Possibly there was an offer of pardon in exchange for recanting, followed by a refusal. There was a raised sword. There was a wince of fearful anticipation. No deliverance.
Or was there?
Jesus allowed the sword to fall on James as intentionally as he opened Peter’s prison door. So the death of James is as crucial for us to remember as the rescue of Peter. Why did God let James die?
This question is relevant because at some point most of us will find ourselves facing death, pleading for deliverance, and not receiving what we think we are asking for. And it points to a difficult lesson that all of Jesus’ disciples must learn: Jesus often has different priorities than we do. What may feel desperately urgent to us may not be urgent to him — at least not in the same way.

Afraid of the Wrong Thing

Remember how Jesus slept in the boat during the storm? The disciples panicked at the fear of drowning and cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). He calmed the storm and then said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus’ lesson was clear: you’re afraid of the wrong thing. Don’t fear what or who can kill your body, but fear and trust me because I rule over storms and death (Matthew 10:28). Jesus knew that there were more dangerous “storms” ahead for the disciples, ones that would kill them. They needed to know whom to fear.
And so do we. Unless Jesus returns first (maranatha!), every one of us will face a storm that will kill us. And our initial response may be similar to the disciples’ in the boat: Jesus, don’t you care that I am perishing? In that moment we need to remember that he cares deeply. He who wept beside Lazarus’ tomb will weep with us — and he will raise us. And we need to remember that he knows what death is like and will be with us and help us say as he said to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

A Better Life to Give

And we also need to remember James, who faced death “refusing to accept release that [he] might rise again to a better life” (Hebrews 11:35). There is the real key to understanding Acts 12:2 — Jesus let James die because he had a better life to give him. James was not being neglected by Jesus. He was in fact the first of the Twelve to experience what Jesus prayed for in John 17:24: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me from the foundation of the world.” Peter’s deliverance from prison was remarkable. But he lived to die another day. James experienced the true deliverance: death being swallowed up by the Resurrection and the Life.
And that is what Jesus longs and intends to give to us too. That’s what he endured the Father’s wrath on the cross to purchase for us. He wants us to see and enjoy and rejoice in his glory forever.
There will come a time when Jesus’ prayer for us to be with him will overrule our prayer for prolonged earthly life. And when it does, we will experience a life so far better, richer, fuller, purer, and more joyful that we will shake our heads in wonder that we were ever reluctant to leave here.
May God cause this reality to become more real to us all.

The Cross

Kevin DeYoung post:  Mission Work Is Not Missional if We Change the Message

Eckhard Schnabel:
If we avoid speaking of God’s wrath, of God’s justice, of the coming day of divine judgment, of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for us, we are not changing the form of the missionary presentation of the gospel but its content. The foundational centrality of “Christ crucified” is of critical importance for the existence of the local church. In mission and evangelism the search for a presentation of the gospel that will convince listeners is misguided if the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross and the significance of this death are not central to that message.
The cross has been and always will be regarded as a religious scandal and as intellectual nonsense. The search for a message that is more easily comprehensible must never attempt to eliminate the provocative nature of the news of Jesus the messianic Son of God who came to die so that sinners can be forgiven by God who hates sin and judges sinners on the Day of Judgment. Paul knows that it is only the power of God, the “proof” of God’s Spirit working in people, that convinces unbelievers of the truth of the news of Jesus and that leads them to faith in Jesus the Messiah and Savior. (Paul the Missionary, 399-400)

Friday, March 30, 2012


Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about the Names by Which We Live

     He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Rev. 2:17
Dear Lord Jesus, who’d have thought that a quick run to Publix would result in a painful study in “naming”? I’m sure that little boy who was straining for his favorite box of cereal has another name than “So-much-trouble” and “Such-a-bother.” I hope the husband who shared the paper goods aisle with me calls his wife other things—more endearing things than “Slow,” “Indecisive,” and “Wasteful.” Naming is such an important part of life. We rise or shrink by the names we are given, and we harm or heal by the names we give.
Jesus, only you have the name that is above every name. Your name charms our fears and bids our sorrows cease. It’s music and life, health and peace to us. By your name, and everything your name signifies, we’re forgiven and declared righteous; we’re being set free from every bondage and fitted for service in the your kingdom. How powerful and precious your name is to us. And it’s at your name, Jesus, one Day we’ll gladly bow our knees with everyone in heaven and on earth and under the earth—declaring you are Lord, to the glory of God our Father (Phil. 2:9-11). On for the appearing of that glorious day!
Jesus, your name is Overcomer. It’s only because you overcame sin and death for us that we dare call ourselves “overcomer.” Your name is Our Righteousness. It’s only because you lived in our place and died in our place that we’ll feast on the “hidden manna” of eternity.
Your name is Redeemer. It’s only because you’re renewing and renaming us in the gospel that we’re finding freedom from every demeaning and damaging name we’ve ever received, or given ourselves. Your name is Healer. It’s only because of your patience and kindness with us that we’re learning to be far more careful how we label and name others. Forgive us for the harm we bring, even to members of our own families.
Whether or not there’s literally a new name you’ll give us in heaven, we don’t know. But that today you look at us and call us “my beloved bride,” that’s enough for now and eternity. So very Amen we pray, in your merciful and matchless name.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Proclaim His Power

Mark Batterson post:  Talking to Trees

Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. Mark 11:14
One of the most fascinating miracles in the gospels is Jesus cursing the barren fig tree.  Most of the other miracles bring life. This one brings death.  Most of them pronounce blessing.  This one is a curse in a sense.  All of us have barren fig trees that undermine our spiritual productivity.  We need to curse them!  You need to kill what is killing you.  If you really want to come to life, then barren fig trees need to die!  But let me focus on one unique element in this story.
Jesus isn’t talking to the disciples. Jesus speaks to the tree!  We tend to overlook this little detail, but I think it’s significant. And Jesus just talk to trees. Jesus also commanded us tospeak to the mountains in our lives. “If you say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you.”
Is it possible that Jesus was speaking figuratively?  Perhaps.  But I think there is some literalism to it.  There comes a time when you need to quit talking to God about the mountain in your life and start start talking to the mountain about your God. You need to proclaim His power.  You need to declare His sovereignty.  You need to recall His faithfulness.  Then you need to speak to the tree, speak to the mountain.
Maybe it’s time that you quit talking to God about your problem and start talking to your problem about God.

Word to Proclaim

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Law and Gospel:  Part 2

If we are going to understand the Bible rightly, we have to be able to distinguish properly between God’s two words: law and gospel. All of God’s Word in the Bible comes to us in two forms of speech: God’s word of demand (law) and God’s word of deliverance (gospel). The law tells us what to do and the gospel tells us what God has done. As I mentioned in my previous post, both God’s law and God’s gospel are good and necessary, but both do very different things. Serious life confusion happens when we fail to understand their distinct “job descriptions.” We’ll wrongly depend on the law to do what only the gospel can do, and vice versa.
For example, Kim and I have three children: Gabe (17), Nate (15), and Genna (10). In order to function as a community of five in our home, rules need to be established–laws need to be put in place. Our kids know that they can’t steal from each other. They have to share the computer. Since harmonious relationships depend on trust, they can’t lie. Because we have two cars and three drivers, Gabe can’t simply announce that he’s taking one of the cars. He has to ask ahead of time. And so on and so forth. Rules are necessary. But telling them what they can and cannot do over and over can’t change their heart and make them want to comply.
When one of our kids (typically Genna) throws a temper tantrum, thereby breaking one of the rules, we can send her to her room and take away some of her privileges. And while this may produce sorrow at the revelation of her sin, it does not have the power to remove her sin. In other words, the law can crush her but it cannot cure her–it can kill her but it cannot make her alive. If Kim and I don’t follow-up the law with the gospel, Genna would be left without hope–defeated but not delivered. The law illuminates sin but is powerless to eliminate sin. That’s not part of its job description. It points to righteousness but can’tproduce it. It shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly. As Martin Luther said, “Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.”
While there are a host of great resources available to help you better understand the important distinction between the law and the gospel, I found the most helpful resource to be John Pless’ easy-to-read Handling the Word of Truth: Law and Gospel in the Church Today. In the first chapter he summarizes C.F.W. Walther’s six ways in which the law and the gospel are different. I will highlight the first three today and the second three later this week.
First, the Law differs from the Gospel by the manner in which it is revealed. The Law is inscribed in the human heart, and though it is dulled by sin, the conscience bears witness to its truth (Romans 2:14-15). “The Ten Commandments were published only for the purpose of bringing out in bold outline the dulled script of the original Law written in men’s hearts” (Walther, 8). That is why the moral teachings of non-Christian religions are essentially the same as those found in the Bible. Yet it is different with the Gospel. The Gospel can never be known from the conscience. It is not a word from within the heart; it comes from outside. It comes from Christ alone. “All religions contain portions of the Law. Some of the heathen, by their knowledge of the Law, have advanced so far that they have even perceived the necessity of an inner cleansing of the soul, a purification of the thoughts and desires. But of the Gospel, not a particle is found anywhere except in the Christian religion” (Walther, 8). The fact that humanity is alienated from God, in need of cleansing and reconciliation, is a theme common to many belief systems. It is only Christianity that teaches that God himself justifies the ungodly.
Second, the Law is distinct from the Gospel in regard to content. The Law can only make demands. It tells us what we must do, but it is impotent to redeem us from its demands (Galatians 3:12-14). The Law speaks to our works, always showing that even the best of them are tainted with the fingerprints of our sin and insufficient for salvation. The Gospel contains no demand, only the gift of God’s grace and truth in Christ. It has nothing to say about works of human achievement and everything to say about the mercy of God for sinners.  “The Law tells us what we are to do. No such instruction is contained in the Gospel. On the contrary, the Gospel reveals to us only what God is doing. The Law is speaking concerning our works; the Gospel, concerning the great works of God” (Walther, 9).
Third, the Law and the Gospel differ in the promises that each make.  The Law offers great good to those who keep its demands.  Think what life would be like in a world where the Ten Commandments were perfectly kept. Imagine a universe where God was feared, loved, and trusted above all things and the neighbor was loved so selflessly that there would be no murder, adultery, theft, lying, or coveting. Indeed such a world would be paradise. This is what the Law promises. There is only one stipulation: that we obey its commands perfectly. “Do the Law and you will live”, says Holy Scripture (Leviticus 18:5Luke 10:25-28). The Gospel, by contrast, makes a promise without demand or condition. It is a word from God that does not cajole or manipulate, but simply gives and bestows what it says, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Luther defined the Gospel as “a preaching of the incarnate Son of God, given to us without any merit on our part for salvation and peace. It is a word of salvation, a word of grace, a word of comfort, a word of joy, a voice of the bridegroom and the bride, a good word, a word of peace.” This is the word that the church is to proclaim throughout the world (Mark 16:15-16). It is the message that salvation is not achieved but received by grace through faith alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9).  The Gospel is a word that promises blessing to those who are cursed, righteousness to the unrighteous, and life to the dead.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Free Us From Needing Anything More Than the Gospel

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for God's Transforming Presence in our Worship

The secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” 1 Cor. 14:25
Gracious Father, it’s the Lord’s Day, and as we prepare to gather as your sons and daughters, we’re not afraid for the secrets in our hearts to be laid bare—to be openly exposed and revealed. For we’re confident that you won’t deal with us according to our sin but according to the unsearchable riches of the gospel. For you’ve dealt with Jesus according to our sins and have rewarded him according to our iniquities, to which we respond with several loud “hallelujahs”!
Otherwise, we’d surely fear and despair of such exposure. For in the gospel we find the generosity and kindness of your heart “laid bare” and poured out—your welcome and provision for rebels, fools, and idolaters just like us. O, the greatness and grace of it all…
Indeed, the gospel is the sanctuary where ours heart cry the loudest, “God is really among you!” Only the gospel of your grace frees us to fall down and worship you in humility, not humiliation; in gratitude, not groveling; in repentant faith, not uncertain penance; in the assurance of Christ’s righteousness, not the condemnation of our unrighteousness.
Father, we pray our whole church family will enjoy this same freedom, whenever we gather to worship you. In a day when we seem to need more gadgets and gimmicks to create “worship experiences,” free us from needing anything more than the gospel to worship you the way you deserve and delight to be worshiped. Indeed, convict us quickly when we slip into worshiping worship more than we worship you.
Teach us how to be stewards of technology, not slaves to technology. Teach us how to be creative, not cute; faithful, not manipulative; simple, not spectacular. Reel us back in anytime we move away from “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Don’t let us ever forget that you’re not seeking “great worship” but true worshipers—those who worship you “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Don’t let us be consumers of worship, but those who are consumed with you, as we give you the adoration and adulation of which you alone are worthy…
May our worship be so saturated with the truth and grace of the gospel that nonbelievers (as well as believers!) will be overwhelmed with your presence and captured by your love. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ most wonderful and worthy name.

Distinction Between Do and Done

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Law And Gospel:  Part 1

For centuries, Reformational Theologians have rightly noted that in the Bible God speaks two fundamentally different words: law and gospel. The law is God’s word of demand, the gospel is God’s word of deliverance. The law tells us what to do, the gospel tells us what God has done. So, when we speak of the distinction between law and gospel we are referring to different speech acts–or what linguist John Austin calls “illocutionary stances”–that run throughout the whole Bible. Everything in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is either in the form of an obligatory imperative or a declaratory indicative“Hence,” wrote Martin Luther, “whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between the law and the gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture.”
This may seem like a distinction that would fascinate only the theologian or linguist. But, believe it or not, every ounce of confusion regarding justification, sanctification, the human condition, God’s grace, how God relates to us, the nature of the Christian life, and so on, is due to our failure to properly distinguish between the law and the gospel.
Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity. (Theodore Beza)
Virtually the whole of the scriptures and the understanding of the whole of theology–the entire Christian life, even–depends upon the true understanding of the law and the gospel. (Martin Luther)
Obviously, both God’s law and God’s gospel come from God which means both are good. But, both do very different things. Serious life confusion happens when we fail to understand their distinct “job descriptions.” We’ll wrongly depend on the law to do what only the gospel can do, and vice versa. As Mike Horton says, “Where the law pronounces us all ‘guilty before God’ (Rom 3:19-20), the gospel announces ‘God’s gift of righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (vv 21-31). The law is unyielding. It commands, but doesn’t give. The law says, “Do!”, but the gospel says, “Done!”
So, I’m going to be doing a series of posts that will spell out this distinction and hopefully explain why it’s so important. If we are ever going to experience the unconditional freedom that Jesus paid so dearly to secure for sinners like me, we must have a clear understanding of this crucial distinction.
To get things started I thought I would post this poetic and helpful hymn from Ralph Erskine where the job descriptions of both the law and the gospel are clearly spelled out and distinguished. Enjoy…
The law supposing I have all,
Does ever for perfection call;
The gospel suits my total want,
And all the law can seek does grant.
The law could promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be;
But grace does promise life upon
My Lord’s obedience alone.
The law says, Do, and life you’ll win;
But grace says, Live, for all is done;
The former cannot ease my grief,
The latter yields me full relief.
The law will not abate a mite,
The gospel all the sum will quit;
There God in thret’nings is array’d
But here in promises display’d.
The law excludes not boasting vain,
But rather feeds it to my bane;
But gospel grace allows no boasts,
Save in the King, the Lord of Hosts.
Lo! in the law Jehovah dwells,
But Jesus is conceal’d;
Whereas the gospel’s nothing else
But Jesus Christ reveal’d.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Henri Nouwen Society Daily Meditation post:  Friendship in the Twilight Zones of Our Heart 

There is a twilight zone in our own hearts that we ourselves cannot see.  Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves - our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and drives - large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness.

This is a very good thing.  We always will remain partially hidden to ourselves.  Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can.  The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves.  We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends.  That's a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility but also to a deep trust in those who love us.   It is in the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.

Friday, March 23, 2012

All Marthas At Times

Jon Bloom post:  Whom Are You Really Serving?

When Martha welcomed Jesus and his contingent into her home in Bethany (Luke 10:38–42) there could have been a hundred or more people. The seventy-two had just rejoined Jesus after their itinerant ministry tours. And considering his fame at this point, no doubt his visit attracted a number of locals.
And when the group had packed inside, Jesus taught them. But Martha wasn’t one of “them” because she was too busy to listen. Luke describes her as “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40).
Now, removed from the situation it’s tempting to be condescending. Oh for goodness’ sake, Martha! Jesus is in your house and you’re too busy to listen to him?

What About You?

But put yourself in Martha’s place for a moment. How distracted would you be if a hundred people crowded into your home? Add to this your high cultural value of Near-Eastern hospitality with its keen fear of dishonoring guests, especially important ones. Then remember that it’s Jesus in your home. He’s the Messiah, the most important person in your nation’s history, and, in fact, human history.
Would you be distracted by how your place looked or how you would to feed this crowd or how many trips must be made to the well (no pre-packaged food or running water to help)?
It seems to me that Martha isn’t the strange person in this story. Mary is. What’s remarkable is that Mary wasn’t distracted. She ignored the insistent to-do lists so she could listen to Jesus. 
And this irritated Martha. She was working like crazy while Mary just sat there. Martha considered this either laziness or negligence. Exasperated, she finally appealed to Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:40).

How Jesus Called It

Now, Jesus loves to commend diligent serva/nts:
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. (Matthew 24:45–46)
But in this case Jesus didn’t commend Martha. He reproved her:
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41–42)
To just about everyone else present, Martha’s serving probably appeared to flow from a gracious servant heart. But Jesus discerned differently. He saw that Martha was serving out of anxiety, not grace.

Subtle and Deceptive

What was making Martha anxious? We know she was anxious about “many things.” But we need only examine our own similar anxieties to guess the likely root. I think Martha was anxious over how she pleased or impressed Jesus and her guests. She was troubled at the thought that her home and serving might reflect poorly on her and her family. And this anxiety blinded her to the “one thing necessary” — listening to Jesus — and made many unnecessary tasks feel compulsively urgent.
This kind of anxiety is very subtle. It has a selfish root but its fruit looks deceptively like unselfishness. It’s the desire for approval dressed up to look like the desire to serve. It’s my caring what you think of me dressed up to look like my caring for you. It can be so subtle that we don’t see it clearly. It looks so much like the right thing that we believe it is the right thing. That’s why Martha was confident that Jesus would agree with her about Mary.
But Mary had chosen the “one thing necessary,” the “good portion.” At that moment, Mary was more enthralled with Jesus than with Mary. She cared more about what Jesus said than what others thought of her or her home. And because of this Jesus commended her choice not to serve.

Stop, Rest, Listen

Jesus’ gentle rebuke of Martha was an act of love — to her and to us. We are all Marthas at times. And through this correction Jesus is asking us: whom are we serving in our serving? No one’s motives are ever completely pure. But when we feel compelled to “serve” out a self-conscious anxiety over what others think, it’s likely we are serving our own glory and not Jesus’ glory.
And Jesus seeks to free us from this slavery by inviting us to stop working, rest at his feet, and listen to him.


Excerpt from Didn't See This Coming post:  Thursday, March 22, 2012


Though no one can explain this entire event, I was dead well over 6 hours. My body temperature was below 26 degrees Celsius; my  organs were shutting down. I had no muscle tone and did not respond to pain they 'inflicted'.  I asked my first doctor later, did my heart stop beating?  The answer is yes. My neurologist explained to Jim, Bill, Donna and Peggy,  I would not recover.  The Dr's believed I had about two days left and that would be controlled by a ventilator, warming blankets and medication.  They wanted my family to be able to see and speak to me for the last time on this side of heaven.
   Though the miraculous power of God,  I came back.  I started breathing on my own  No more ventilator.  I talked, I fought,  I got up from my bed.  Jim said I asked for my clothes.  : )  I realize this is hard to comprehend.  I cannot comprehend it myself.  I've listened to stories.  I have no  memories until Thursday of that week.  Even those memories are not fully intact.  
I am altered physically but not in anyway that you would recognize.  
I am altered in other ways.  That is a slower process.
More than anything....I know how I felt this morning.   I woke up early enough to see the sunrise break over the Sandia's.  As Kristin read the other day..."God goes before us into this new day...he already knows every moment."  Such a promise.  I trust those words...because they are words of Life.  Whether alive in this body or not.