Thursday, May 31, 2012

Only Real Source of Help

Don Carson post:  Deut. 5; Psalm 88; Isaiah 33; Revelation 3

WHAT IS MOST STRIKING ABOUT Psalm 88 is that there is no relief. Heman begins the psalm by crying to the Lord, disclosing his discouragement in various ways, and he ends in gloom and despair. Most psalms that deal with discouragement and despair begin in gloom and end in light. This one begins in gloom and ends in deeper gloom.
When Heman begins, although he cries to the Lord, “the God who saves me” (the only note of hope in the entire poem), he plaintively observes that he cries out before God “day and night” (Ps. 88:1). He frankly feels he is not being heard (Ps. 88:214). He is not only in difficulty but feels he is near death: “For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave” (88:3). Indeed, Heman insists that others treat him as if he is doomed (Ps. 88:4-5). The only explanation is that he is under divine wrath: “Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves” (Ps. 88:7; cf. Ps. 88:16). Not the least of his miseries is the loss of all his friends (Ps. 88:8).
Worse yet, Heman is convinced his whole life has been lived under the shadow of death: “From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death,” he writes (Ps. 88:15). Did he, perhaps, suffer from one of the many ugly, chronic, progressive diseases? “I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me” (Ps. 88:15-17).
But what makes the psalm utterly grim is the closing line. Not only does Heman charge God with taking away his companions and loved ones, but in the last analysis, “the darkness is my closest friend” (Ps. 88:18). Not God; the darkness.
One of the few attractive features of this psalm is its sheer honesty. It is never wise to be dishonest with God, of course; he knows exactly what we think anyway, and would rather hear our honest cries of hurt, outrage, and accusation than false cries of praise. Of course, better yet that we learn to understand, reflect, and sympathize with his own perspective. But in any case it is always the course of wisdom to be honest with God.
That brings up the most important element in this psalm. The cries and hurts penned here are not the cheap and thoughtless rage of people who use their darker moments to denounce God from afar, the smug critique of supercilious agnosticism or arrogant atheism. These cries actively engage with God, fully aware of the only real source of help.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mix In

Ed Stetzer post:  Subversive Kingdom: Start Small

Last week, I wrote on the risk associated with using growth as the major indicator of church health. I also expound on this idea in my latest book, Subversive Kingdom. That excerpt is below.
Also, you can check out this post for more about the book including video, the smartphone app, audio versions, and opportunites to get the book for free.

We tend to think big is good, and bigger is better. When something is big--a church, a business, a movie, a movement--good things must be going on. Size is a sure sign of success.
I've spoken at dozens of the largest churches in America-- several with more than ten thousand in attendance. These churches have all the marks that make people think they are successful. Yet ironically, the best of those megachurches are not fooled by their own size. They know that the small interaction of disciples, lives, and groups is what makes their life together matter.
But that's what makes the kingdom of God so baffling and backward-sounding to most people. Successful kingdom activity doesn't have to come with brisk retail sales, a snazzy logo, celebrity endorsements, and a marketing campaignIt doesn't have to generate ten million user hits or get written up in Newsweek. In fact, it's often just the opposite. Kingdom work is typically most recognizable by how small it is.
The kingdom is like a mustard seed, Jesus said (Matt. 13:31-32). You seen one? You may keep a little jar of them in your spice rack at home. They're tiny. They're nondescript.
In our Subversive Kingdom small-group curriculum that accompanies this book, we shot video about this (and the other parables). We brought along some mustard seeds to illustrate the point of the small seed. My job was to hold them so all could see. The only problem? The seeds were too small. So in the video I held a handful to make the point--that's small.
The kingdom is also like yeast (v. 33)--another household item that hides behind the much larger items on your pantry shelf. A person who didn't know any better would think it was just some sort of dust or powder. Nothing special. Probably unnecessary.
But something significant is happening here with mustard seeds and yeast. And whatever it is, it's not going to stay small for long.
As agents of transformation in God's subversive kingdom, we don't have to apologize for being few in number, focusing on one little area or need around us, making what seems to be a small impact. Our King's own teaching tells us not to be thrown off or discouraged by worldly perspectives that minimize what we're doing or try to stop us from getting started altogether, making us perceive our kingdom work as being too insignificant to matter.
Small strides are actually God's deliberate design for effective growth. It's how his kingdom happens. Jesus was born in a manger in a little town on the backside of nowhere, and today more than a billion people on the planet consider themselves His followers. That's kingdom economy. A mustard seed "becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches" (v. 32). Little by little it produces shocking, unexpected growth until "birds of every kind will nest under it"-- representing all the nations of the world--"taking shelter in the shade of its branches" (Ezek. 17:23).
Eric Geiger, until recently at Christ Fellowship Church in Miami (and now my colleague at LifeWay), explained this verse in the context of their church. God has blessed their growth to more than seven thousand people each week. They have resources and reach beyond most churches. They've become a "tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches" (Matt. 13:32). They seek to serve the community so that others might "take shelter" in the ministries of the church. Each small group, for example, is challenged to participate in mission projects designed to serve the community. They believe the communities surrounding each campus should benefit from the church's presence in that particular context.
That's subversive. That's a turn back against the flow of culture in both the religious and irreligious sectors. Christ Fellowship is not focused merely on getting the city of Miami to attend their church (although no one would argue if they did). Christ Fellowship is obsessed with getting the people of their church into the city. That's counterintuitive to even we church people who have reduced the mission of God to Sunday morning attendance.
Again, this doesn't mean the kingdom is going to overtake the enemy completely during this age. The time when Christ will visibly rule "from sea to sea and from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth" (Ps. 72:8) is awaiting the chosen moment of his return when all will look around and know that "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign forever and ever!" (Rev. 11:15).
But for now we plant seeds. We watch them grow. We subversively permeate a culture that only seems able to judge big things by how big they currently appear. They would never guess that at this moment the lives and activities of kingdom agents like you and me are working "like yeast that a woman took and mixed into 50 pounds of flour until it spread through all of it" (Matt. 13:33). The word for "mixed" here could also be translated "hidden." Yeast is hidden in bread dough. Once it's in there, you can't sort it back out. It's already made its subversive impact. It's already started turning a lump into a loaf. How's that for transformation?
That's what we and our churches are intended to do--not to stay in our Christian closets but to get out and mix with the confused society around us, sowing seeds through our gospel message and our acts of Christian mercy. Just as yeast can do no good for the flour if it's never pulled out of the jar, isolated believers do little of kingdom benefit if they keep themselves removed from a culture held captive to the evil one.
Your church (and mine) does not exist to keep us away from the world. Parables like this remind us of that. Yet we each experience a lot of energy pulling us the other way--to stay away from "those people" and only be with people like us. But that misses the point and ignores the parable. We are to "mix in" not so we might be like the world but that the world might know King Jesus and see his kingdom impact.
This is a kingdom secret of Jesus--one that will either land and take effect in your receptive heart or will blow by you into thin air if you're not honestly wanting to be changed, challenged, and obedient to his truth. Spiritual growth and maturity shouldn't lead us away from contact with unbelievers but rather right into the midst of them (see Christ Fellowship). We cannot subvert the kingdom of darkness by lighting nothing other than our own homes and churches. We only succeed as agents of transformation when Jesus "spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place" (2 Cor. 2:14).
Small things, subversively placed, lead to big things in God's kingdom.

Hidden From the Wise

Ray Ortlund post:  Nobodies

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”  Luke 10:21
“Our Savior’s joy lay very much in this, that this revelation to men was being made through such humble instruments.  We read that ‘He lifted up his eyes to his disciples and said, Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’  There was not among the twelve or the seventy one person of any social status.  They were the common people of the field and the sea. . . . The grandest era in the world’s history was ushered in by nobodies, by persons who, like their Leader, were despised and rejected of men.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), I:793.  Italics added.
Don’t underestimate what God can do through you and your church.  The grandest era of all is still to come.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Portion Forever

Practical Theology for Women post:  Post Mothers' Day: Reflections on Imperfect Affirmations

I had a nice Mothers' Day. But it wasn't perfect. My husband is good about realizing I have expectations that don't naturally occur to him. So he usually asks me what I need on a given day to have my needs and desires met. I told him what was important to me, and he was glad to give me what I needed. He loved and affirmed me and all I do for our boys. That was meaningful. Yet, at the end of the day, it didn't meet my deepest needs for affirmation.

I have learned with time and maturity that, generally speaking, I have a black hole of need in my heart. At holidays, on date nights, on vacation, with my husband, with my children, with extended family, with friends. I have needs beyond anyone's earthly ability to fulfill.

Holidays, birthdays, and so forth can have the exact opposite of their intention (a special day to recognize someone) if our expectations of the day are too high. Expect or need nothing from the day, and everything else will be a blessing. That's great advice, but how do you get to that place? How do you expect or need nothing from someone?

Many years ago, I heard Beth Moore say something along the lines that the Spirit is the one to fill us to the very top. He is the sustenance, and everything else is only sprinkles on top. You can't live without sustenance. But sprinkles you can. If you get sprinkles and sustenance backwards, you'll never be satisfied. Envision yourself trying to fill up on sprinkles from a shaker meant to decorate cupcakes. That's us when we look to people or days to meet needs in us that are black holes only filled by an eternal, supernatural God.

I've thought lately how my husband's love is like a fine glass of wine. It's an enjoyable blessing when I am fully sated after a meal of steak. But if I'm starving, wine can't provide the sustenance I need. Mother's Day this year didn't meet my deepest need for affirmation, but I was able to receive from my family what they imperfectly gave me. That is a sweet gift of God's grace. He supernaturally meets me in my deepest longings, and then, and only then, can I fully enjoy the secondary blessings from my family.

I shared this with another friend, and she responded, “That's the essence right there - to be able to receive from our family and friends what they imperfectly give us knowing it won't meet our deepest needs for affirmation, but we know the One who will.” It's amazing to me how wonderful the blessings, the sprinkles if you will, have turned out to be once I stopped grasping for them in an effort to get them to meet such deep seated needs in my heart.

I never tire of reading Psalms 73's answer for this deep, very real longing in our hearts. 
1 Truly God is good to Israel,     to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,  my steps had nearly slipped. 
... 21 When my soul was embittered,  when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;     you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel,  and afterward you will receive me to glory. 
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26  My flesh and my heart may fail,  but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ... 
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ultimate Servant-Warrior

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Memorial Day: The War that Ends All Wars

     Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. Rev. 19:11-16
     Triumphant Lord Jesus, on this Memorial Day we honor the men and women who’ve served our country in various branches of the armed forces. In a world filled with “wars and rumors of war,” we don’t take our servicemen and servicewomen for granted. There’s has increasingly become a thankless, even despised calling. We remember those who have lost their lives; those currently serving, at home and abroad; and the families of our servicemen, who pay an enormous sacrifice.
     But on this particular Memorial Day, we want to honor you, Lord Jesus, as the ultimate servant-warrior—the quintessential man of service, the one who on the cross waged the war to end all wars. No one hates warfare among vying nations more than you. No one is more offended even by the petty and pointless squabbles between spouses and friends (James 4:1-2). No one paid a greater price to bring the final and full peace for which we intensely long and hope.
     Having secured the defeat of the prince of darkness on the cross, you’re now the rider on the white horse—alone worthy of the name Faithful and True. You are faithful to fulfill every promise God made for the salvation of his people and the restoration of creation. You are presently, actively completing this good work of redemption, for your name is also the Word of God. We praise you. We bless you. We worship and adore you, Lord Jesus!
     Though evil hates beauty, your love trumps all evil. Evil will not prevail. It has been defeated and it will be eradicated. You are already the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Your kingdom has come and your kingdom is coming. Consummate peace will replace all petulance and pettiness, hating and being hated, fuming and fighting, of every variety and expression. Hallelujah, several times over! So very Amen we pray, in the memory and victory of your matchless name.

God's Goodness

Tullian Tchividjian post:  My Biggest Regret

Guest Post by Chuck Collins (read more about Chuck here)
I marvel when someone says, “I have no regrets.”  That’s not me; I have plenty. Perhaps my biggest regret, outside of not spending more time with my kids when they were growing up and not discovering Irish whiskey sooner, is that for much of my 30 years of ordained ministry I have not preached “the gospel.” By-and-large I have been a nice man standing in front of nice people, telling them that God calls them to be nicer (S. Brown). And just about none of it was life-changing.
I have come to see that there are really just two ways to preach: one is the gospel, the other is get-better messages.  The first is based on God’s goodness; the second on self-improvement. Gospel preaching presupposes that, even though we deserve punishment for our sins, Jesus Christ suffered the punishment in our place on the cross. Get-better sermons, on the other hand, is moralistic advice in which a preacher mounts a pulpit to scold the people for not doing more or getting better (F Allison).
For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help” (M Horton). Those who came were vaguely entertained, I think, because I am a fairly entertaining personality (so they tell me on their way out of church), but they left mostly feeling beat up and like they don’t measure up.  Instead of relieving guilt, get-better sermons reinforced guilt and our inadequacies. They didn’t touch people where they need most. “Whenever you feel comforted or elated or absolved as ‘fresh as a foal in new mowed hay,’ then you know you are hearing the gospel” (P Zahl).
My conversion to gospel preaching was gradual.  I don’t remember what the initial catalyst was, except that people weren’t getting better with sermons on discipline and how to improve your marriage. Those moralistic sermons doled out plenty of advice about what to do, but it totally missed what God has done for us in his Son. Christ came, not to help religious people get better, but to help sinners realize that forgiveness and salvation is outside themselves: in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul, in Romans, explains the gospel as God’s power and God’s righteousness (1:16, 17). This is exactly opposite of repairing your nature by a determined will.  It is what God has done for us when we couldn’t do it ourselves.  He fulfilled the law. He took upon himself our sins.  He burst the bonds of death to give us new life. When this message of one-way love – God’s love without strings attached – love when we are not lovely – reaches our hearts, it causes our spirits to come alive to God and it fills us with meaning and purpose. The gospel speaks to our heart’s deepest need.
When you get to church to find out that the preacher is in the third of a 10-sermon series on “10 steps to cure depression” get up and run out of there as fast as your depressed legs can take you.  It’s self-help, not the gospel.  Chalk it up to a well meaning preacher who hasn’t yet realized that our real hope is in God, in the sufficiency of his work on the cross and in the salvation that is not found in get-better sermons.

My Hope

Friday, May 25, 2012

God's Grace In Your Marriage

Jonathan Parnell post:  You Can't Say This Enough

John Piper writes about a conversation with his wife, Noël, when he was preaching a series on marriage a few years ago. After a couple sermons on the foundation and ultimate meaning of marriage he asked for her feedback. "You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church," she replied.
And she is positively right. Marriage as a picture of Jesus and the church is "Marriage 101" for most Christians and yet, we cannot underline the truth enough.
We've heard it helpfully said of the gospel that it's not just the thing that gets you into the Christian life, but also that which empowers your everyday Christian living. There's a parallel here in how we talk about marriage as a model of Jesus and the church.
This reality isn't just for our entry into marriage, as if it's a thing to check off during pre-marital counseling. Marriage as a picture of Jesus and his church roots our day in, day out experiences with our spouse. It "gives marriage a solid basis in grace," Piper writes, "since Christ obtained and sustains his bride by his grace alone" (This Momentary Marriage, 42).
Continually remembering that marriage is about Jesus and his church drives us to considerwhat Jesus has done for his church. And when we bask in our vertical experience of God's mercy it overflows horizontally to transforms our relationships.
Pastor John writes,
In Colossians 2:13–14, Paul writes one of the most wonderful things imaginable:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him [Christ], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Those last words are the most crucial. "This — this record of debt that stood against us — God set aside, nailing it to the cross." When did that happen? Two thousand years ago. It did not happen inside of us, and it did not happen with any help from us. God did it for us and outside of us before we were ever born. This is the great objectivity of our salvation.
Be sure you see this most wonderful and astonishing of all truths: God took the record of all your sins that made you a debtor to wrath (sins are offenses against God that bring down his wrath), and instead of holding them up in front of your face and using them as the warrant to send you to hell, God put them in the palm of his Son's hand and drove a spike through them into the cross. It is a bold and graphic statement: He canceled the record of our debt . . . nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).
Whose sins were nailed to the cross? Answer: My sins. And Noël's sins. My wife's sins and my sins. The sins of all who despair of saving themselves and who trust in Christ alone. Whose hands were nailed to the cross? Jesus' were. There is a beautiful name for this. It's called a substitution. God condemned my sin in Christ's flesh. "Sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh" (Romans 8:3). Husbands and wives cannot believe this too strongly. It is essential to our fulfilling the design of marriage. (45)
This is the grace upon which our lives depend — and the grace that fuels a husband's sacrificial love and a wife's glad submission. Pastor John sums it up, "Let the measure of God's grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse" (46).
Download a free copy of This Momentary Marriage (PDF). Also check out the small group special, 24 books for a donation of $75.

Rejoice in Finished Righteousness

Ray Ortlund post:  "It is finished, there is enough"

“If today you feel that sin is hateful to you, believe in Him who has said, ‘It is finished.’  Let me link your hand in mine.  Let us come together, both of us, and say, ‘Here are two poor naked souls, good Lord; we cannot clothe ourselves,’ and He will give us a robe, for ‘it is finished.’ . . . ‘But must we not add tears to it?’  ‘No,’ says He, ‘no, it is finished, there is enough.’
Child of God, will you have Christ’s finished righteousness this morning, and will you rejoice in it more than you ever have before?”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), II:675.  Style updated.

Leaving Graciously

Kevin DeYoung post:  How to Leave Your Old Church

Yesterday we looked at how to begin at your new church. But sometimes the harder move is leaving your old church. I don’t want to give advice on when to leave a church. Let’s assume the reasons make sense and now the question is how to leave. What should you do?

  1.  Try to leave graciously. When someone voluntarily leaves a church (not because of a move or a graduation or a deployment) it is usually a painful experience. You’ve probably been hurt or disappointed. Maybe you dislike the new pastor or the new direction of the church. The temptation in these situations will be toward bitterness. You may want to leave with all your guns ablazin’ but the approach that feels good isn’t always the one that is good. Better to air on the side of gentleness and let the Lord repay your enemies. This also makes it easier for you to admit wrong if you should find some down the road.
  2. Tell the pastor you are leaving. This may be the most important point. Please let someone know you are going. You may want people to notice you are gone, and a good elder board will notice, but if you’ve already decided to leave now is not the time for sour grapes. If you tell the leaders you are leaving, they can pray for you. Maybe they can clear up a misunderstanding. Or maybe they need to learn from your experience. Just don’t go silently into that good night.
  3. Leave off a ledge. I got this imagery from a dear member who recently left our church and did so with great grace and magnanimity. He told me that as he thought about leaving he decided he didn’t want to drift away, slowly pulling away and dropping his commitments. He said he’d rather take a leap off the ledge and be fully engaged until the moment when he decided it was time to go. Be in while you are in, and then when you are out, jump right out.
  4. Learn how to kindly and honestly answer the question “Why did you leave?” People will ask you, so figure out your answer. Don’t kill someone’s character or disembowel the whole church with your reply. Don’t lie either. A simple, straightforward answer will suffice. We didn’t agree with the direction of the church. We disagreed with some of the doctrines being taught. We didn’t feel like we could submit ourselves to the authority of the church any longer. Tell the truth, but speak it in the manner you would want the church to speak about you.
  5. Develop a plan right away for how you will look for a new church. It may take you some time to settle in a new place, but start working on your plan right away. Will you visit these ten churches? Or two churches? Will you visit them once or three times? What is important to you (and your family, and God!) in finding a church? Don’t allow yourself to float aimlessly for months and years. Too many church floaters just float away.
  6. Don’t burn bridges. If you were a faithful member of your previous church, you will keep running into those who are still there. You’ll see them at weddings, funerals, open houses, and school functions. Maybe even family reunions! It’s bound to be a little awkward but do what you can to keep the relationships intact. Many of them are worth saving. And you may need them later.
  7. Keep praying and ask others to pray for you. The ties that bind are not broken easily. In some ways they don’t have to. Obviously, the relationship changes when you leave a church, but you should still want what is best for all those you left behind. And hopefully they still care for you. It never hurts to have more prayer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is There Nothing We Can Do?

Excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian post:  Are You Righteous?


If any kind of obedience, regardless of what motivates it, is what God is after, he would have showcased the Pharisees and exhorted all of us to follow their lead, to imitate them. But he didn’t. Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs”-clean on the outside, dead on the inside. They had been successful in achieving “behavioristic righteousness” and thought that’s what mattered most to God. But Jesus said, “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). Again, Jesus shows that real righteousness is a matter of the heart-what’s on the inside matters more than what’s on the outside. This is what he meant in Matthew 5:20 when he said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wants to set us free by showing us our need for a righteousness we can never attain on our own, an impossible righteousness that is always out of our reach. The purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to demolish all notions that we can reach the righteousness required by God-it’s about exterminating all attempts at self-sufficient moral endeavour.
External righteousness is something we can all achieve on our own with a little self-discipline and a lot of self-righteousness. But Jesus wants us to see that regardless of how well we think we’re doing or how righteous we think we’re becoming, when “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” becomes the standard and not “how much I’ve improved over the years”, we realize that we’re a lot worse than we fancy ourselves to be-that unrighteousness is inescapable, that “even the best things we do have something in them to be pardoned.”
In Matthew 5:17-48, Jesus shows me that whatever I think my greatest vice is, my situation is actually much worse: if I think it’s anger, Jesus shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, Jesus shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, Jesus shows me that it’s actually idolatry. This painfully reveals my righteousness for the house of cards that it really is. It cuts to the heart and shows me my deep need for outside help, for an “alien righteousness.”
Only when our understanding of righteousness “exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees” and goes beyond outer conduct, will we see the impossibility of achieving our own righteousness and the necessity of receiving Christ’s righteousness. There is nothing that sinners hate more than to be told that there’s nothing they can do, that everything has been taken out of their hands, that no matter how hard they try, their best is never good enough. And yet, we’ll never be free until we give up fighting for a righteousness we can claim as our own.
In a sermon entitled “The Death of Self”, Gerhard Forde shows how the work of Christ on our behalf finally kills any presumption that there’s something acceptable we can bring to God:
At the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane when the crowd comes out against Jesus with swords and clubs, the disciples want to do something. They still want to do their bit for God. They want to take up the sword and risk their lives, perhaps, and fight. One of them grasps a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the assailants. But Jesus will have none of it: “Put up your sword,” he says, “for there is absolutely nothing you can do!” In Luke’s account, Jesus even stretches out his hand to undo what the disciple had done-he heals the wounded man. At that point, no doubt, everything within us cries out in protest along with the disciples. Is there nothing we can do? Could we not at least perhaps stage a protest march on God’s behalf? Could we not seek, perhaps, an interview with Pilate? Could we not try to influence the “power structures”? Something -however small? But the unrelenting answer comes back, “No, there is nothing you can do, absolutely nothing. If there were something to be done, my Father would send legions of angels to fight!” But there is nothing to be done. And when it finally came to that last and bitter moment, when these good “righteous” men finally realized that there was nothing they could do, they forsook him and fled.
Can you see it? Can you see that hidden in these very words, these very events, is that death itself which you fear so much coming to meet you? When they finally saw there was nothing they could do they forsook him and fled before this staggering truth. You, who presume to do business with God, can you see it? Can you see that this death of self is not, in the final analysis, something you can do? For the point is that God has once and for all reserved for himself the business of your salvation. There is nothing you can do now but, as the words of the old hymn have it, “climb Calvary’s mournful mountain” and stand with your helpless arms at your side and tremble before “that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete! It is finished; hear him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die!”
In the cross, “God has stormed the last bastion of the self, the last presumption that you really were going to do something for him…He has died in your place! He has done it. He made it. It is all over, finished, between you and God! He died in your place that death which you must die; he has done it in such a way as to save you. He has borne the whole thing! The fact that there is nothing left for you to do is the death of self and the birth of the new creature” (Forde).
As everything, he became nothing so that you, as nothing, could have everything. You bring nothing to the table except the unrighteousness that makes Christ’s righteousness necessary. The perfect righteousness of Christ has been freely credited to your bankrupt account forever (what theologians call “imputation”). The gospel is good news for those who have finally been crushed under the weight of trying to make “righteousness” happen on their own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Our Work Matters

What's Best Next post:  The Fruit of the Spirit and Your Work

So, in what areas of life are we to manifest the fruit of the Spirit? Just at church?
We are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in all areas of life.
We so easily miss that. It’s easy to think of the fruit of the Spirit and other Christian virtues as applying to some abstract realm, rather than being the character qualities we are to manifest every day, in all areas of life — which includes our work.
The fruit of the Spirit, in fact, have a massive application in our daily work, if you think about it.
For example, the first fruit of the Spirit is “love.” How does this apply at work? It means that our aim in all that we do should be the good of others. It means we should put others before ourselves — not just in some abstract realm of life, but in the concrete situations of our everyday life, which includes our work.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “peace.” This means that the notion of “stress free productivity” is actually, in some sense, biblical. Christians are not to be frazzled, crazy people tossed to and fro by the urgencies of the day. We are to have a peace and equanimity of mind in how we go about our work. A productivity system helps with this, but it isn’t the ultimate source of our peace — our peace ultimate comes through faith, not our ability to organize ourselves.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “kindness.” To be kind means to be proactive in doing good. This means that in our work, we shouldn’t simply do the minimum required of us, but should seek to go beyond and be excellent. We should not cut corners, but always be on the lookout to make things better for others — the customers we ultimately serve as well as our colleagues, managers, and direct reports. This is another way of saying that we should work with a spirit of generosity. A Christian does not simply do the minimum; he seeks to do the kind of work that goes the extra mile in improving people’s lives and making their lives better. A Christian is not just generous in what he does with his money, the fruit of his work; he is generous in how he goes about the work itself. 
Another fruit of the Spirit is “faithfulness.” This means Christians should be dependable and reliable and stand by their word. This is what we typically think of when we think of a Christian doctrine of work, and it is indeed right here in the fruit of the Spirit. Part of faithfulness also means not playing games with people, not spinning things, and not being a political trickster to advance yourself by stepping on others.
God’s call to work is not simply a call for us to work, but for us to work in a certain way — diligently, thoughtfully, generously, and for the good of others.
And, this also helps us see why our work matters. For when we are doing our work, we aren’t just doing work. We are engaging in an opportunity to display the fruit of the Spirit and manifest the character of God all day long, right here in the concrete realities of everyday life.

Good Intentions

Ray Ortlund post:  Our disastrous rightness

“In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25
The book of Judges tells a story of chaos, wasted years, stupidity, outrage and tragedy.  It narrates a significant season in the history of God’s people.
What went wrong?  The author sums it up in the last verse of his book: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  They were not doing what they thought was wrong.  They were doing what they thought was right.  But what was right in their own eyes created disaster after disaster.  They needed a king, a Christ-figure, to save them from their wretched rightness, their good intentions, their moral fervor, going by their “gut.”  “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).
We have a King who declares to us in the Bible what is right in His eyes.  For us, how He sees things is an adjustment.  Sometimes, a big adjustment.  Big enough to qualify as repentance.  But a careful, observant, humble, constant, lifelong searching of the Scriptures is how He saves us from our disastrous rightness and leads us into green pastures and beside still waters we could never find on our own.

Every Tongue and Every Language

Ed Stetzer post:  Monday is for Missiology: A Thread of Hope for God's Mission - Part III: Tongues in Pentecost and Revelation

Today, we continue our series about the linguistic thread in scripture. This series is based on an exploration of the issue in a book Jerry Rankin and I wrote Spiritual Warfare and Missions: The Battle for God's Glory Among the Nations.
In part 1, I talked about the need for more speaking in tongues. In part 2, we touched on the Old Testament, watching God relentlessly pursue his people so they might praise him in the tongues of all the nations.
In part 3, we begin to see clearer pictures of what God wants through the thread in the New Testament.
The nations, scattered at Babel, were supposed to come up to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. That was God's call to the Old Testament believers-- to go to the nations and bring them to Jerusalem. It was a centripetal mission: to take the scattered nations and gather then in Jerusalem for worship.
As I explained in the last post:
Between Babel and Pentecost we see Israel as the missionary to the nations. Yes, God called missionaries before the New Testament. He always wanted His people to make His name known among the nations. God's Old Testament agenda was that people would come up to Jerusalem, the city on a hill. Isaiah explained, "In the last days the mountain of the LORD's house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it." (Isaiah 2:2).

So, God scattered that at Babel so he could later bring them up to Jerusalem. The people of God in the Old Testament were to be on mission, going to the nations, to bring them with them to Jerusalem to worship him in the tongues of the nations.
Yet, something unique happened when people gathered for a Jewish festival called Pentecost. It is important to notice that there was, to some degree, that nations present at that Jewish agrarian festival. Some tongues, tribes, and nations were represented. However, this celebration took a surprising turn. Pentecost contained a surprise -- tongues. Acts 2:5-11 explains:
There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were astounded and amazed, saying,[a] "Look, aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages."

Why all the detail? Why the list? Why the names? Because God cares about the nations-- he cares that He be praised in the tongues of the nations.
When the people of God did not bring all the nations to Him, he supernaturally brought the tongues of the nations to Jerusalem for a supernatural moment-- a fulfillment of His prior command a picture of his future victory.
The linguistic thread was evident again through the speaking of multiple tongues heard in one voice. Pentecost, and its tongues, were a sign. Regardless of your view on the gift of tongues today, and people have different views, you cannot miss the importance here. This moment was a spiritual fulfillment of the unfulfilled Old Testament mission command and a picture of the completed task.
So the Jerusalem tongues moment (combined with Acts 1:8 preceding the coming of the tongues of fire) is essential to gain an understanding of the mission of God and the linguistic thread. In the Old Testament, the nations came up to Jerusalem. In the New Testament, Jerusalem represented a turning point for the centrifugal (outward) mission. Now, the mission of God goes out from Jerusalem.
In Revelation 7, every tongue, tribe, and nation reunites for the last (and forever) time. The linguistic thread is seen complete around the throne. The mission of God is accomplished. God wins.
Missionary commissioning services and special offerings will no longer be necessary. In a sense, the mission age has ended and the worship age begins. God uses the fruit of earthly mission efforts populates the ethnolinguistic celebration. A few thousand went out from Jerusalem after Pentecost. Billions will surround the throne in one voice though with many tongues.
Every tongue and every language will celebrate His greatness-- as was always God's desire and plan.
Don't miss my next post-- I will continue to address why all this matters and talk about a lesson from the thread.

Remove the Noise

Seth Godin post:  Ranking for signal to noise ratio

A whisper in a quiet room is all you need. There's so little noise, so few distractions, that the energy of the whisper is enough to make a dent.
On the other hand, it's basically impossible to have a conversation (at any volume) in a nightclub.
Signal to noise ratio is a measurement of the relationship between the stuff you want to hear and the stuff you don't. And here's the thing: Twitter and email and Facebook all have a bad ratio, and it's getting worse.
The clickthrough rates on tweets is getting closer and closer to zero. Not because there aren't links worth clicking on, but because there's so much junk you don't have the attention or time to sort it all out.
Spam (and worse, spamlike messages from organizations and people that ought to treasure your attention and permission) are turning a medium (email) that used to be incredibly rich into one that's becoming very noisy as well.
And you really can't do much to fix these media and still use them the way you're used to using them.
The alternative, which is well worth it, is to find new channels you can trust. An RSS feed with only bloggers who respect your time. Relentless editing of who you follow and who you listen to and what gets on the top of the pile.
Until you remove the noise, you're going to miss a lot of signal.

God's Blessing

Henri Nouwen Society:  Jesus, the Blessed One 

Jesus is the Blessed One.  The word benediction, which is the Latin form for the word blessing, means "to say (dicere) good things (bene)."  Jesus is the Blessed One because God has spoken good things of him.  Most clearly we hear God's blessing after Jesus has been baptised in the river Jordan, when "suddenly there was a voice from heaven, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him'"  (Matthew 3:16-17).

With this blessing Jesus starts his public ministry.  And all of that ministry is to make known to us that this blessing is not only for Jesus but also for all who follow him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

End to All That Navel-Gazing Nonsense

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer About the Final Word

     In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3
     Dear heavenly Father, after 26, this is my last Sunday as pastor of a remarkable community of faith—an amazing family of brothers and sisters just as needy of your grace and grateful for your love as the first day we gathered before you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the privilege and honor of getting to serve you in Christ Community Church. You’ve done exceedingly beyond all I could’ve ever hoped or imagined. Great is your fatherly faithfulness; daily your measureless mercies; exquisite and lavish, your steadfast love.
     So what is a last sermon—the final word by an outgoing founding pastor supposed to be? When I first asked myself that question, I felt pressure—as though everything would be on the line; I’d need to “hit it out of the park,” to bring “a word for the ages”. But fortunately, that didn’t last very long, for it’s never been about my performance, but that of your Son, Jesus. Only foolishly and destructively, do we (myself included) allow ourselves to fall back into performance-based living and acceptability. The gospel is the end to all of that navel-gazing nonsense.
     In fact the “final Word” has already been spoken—spoken by you to us, through Jesus about Jesus. Hallelujah, Jesus is your last sermon, Father. Jesus is the “last sermon” from which all last sermons derive their meaning! You have nothing more to say to us that what you shout and sing to us in Jesus. We dare not add anything more than Jesus, or offer anything less than Jesus.
     It was by Jesus that you made the universe, and by Jesus’ word that every molecule, atom and all of life is being sustained. It is Jesus, himself, whom you’ve appointed to be the heir of all things; and because you’ve hidden our life in him, you’ve made us co-heirs with him.
     Jesus is your exact representation, because he shares your nature and has lived with you forever within the Godhead. We’d never know what you are like apart from Jesus. Indeed, to see Jesus is to see as much of your glory as we are capable of sustaining, this side of our life in the new heaven and new earth.
     And, O so wondrously, Father, you presented Jesus, once and for all, as the sacrifice for our sins. Because of Jesus’ death for us on the cross, we enjoy eternal life by you and with you. After he made purification for our sins, he rose, ascended and is now sitting at your right hand—not passively, but actively interceding for us, graciously redeeming his Bride from the nations and gloriously making all things new, until the Day he returns.
     Father, thank you, thank you, thank you for your final Word. May my final sermon simply hold up a megaphone to everything you’ve said and are saying to us in Jesus. Hallelujah, what a Savior! Hallelujah, what a salvation. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ tender and triumphant name.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Heart Filled With Faith

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for a Passion to Praise God, No Matter What

     When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and pleas before his God. Dan. 6:10-11
     Heavenly Father, I’m so drawn to the heart which beat in Daniel’s breast—a heart filled with faith, not fear. He was much more committed to your eternal glory than to his personal survival—much more take up with the occupied throne of heaven than with an escape plan out of Babylon.
     Daniel had just learned of a decree that anybody praying to any other god or man but King Darius would become lions’ lunch. So what did he do? The same thing he’d been doing for decades in Babylon. The windows were open, his knees were bent, his gaze was set, and even before he asked you for help, he offered you thanks. He was neither paranoid nor presumptuous, but most definitely at peace.
     What freedom, what beauty, what intimacy with you this aging son and servant of yours enjoyed. But why am I surprised? Haven’t you promised, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green” ? (Ps. 92:12-14)
     Father, you never commanded that Daniel get on his knees three times a day. There wasn’t anything in your Word demanding this practice. You didn’t have to, for it was Daniel’s delight. No government decree could keep him from praying to you, loving you, seeking you, worshiping you.
     I want more of Daniel’s peace and praise to mark my life, Father, and it should. For though “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), he is a defeated foe. He is filled with fury for he knows his days are short (Rev. 12:12). I live in the day of kingdom triumph and expansion Daniel anticipated from afar. I have even less reason to fear the lions of Babylon or Rome.
     Indeed, Jesus, your Son, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (Rev. 5:5). He is the only Lion with whom I want to be thoroughly preoccupied. I praise you for the perfect and complete work of Jesus. Death has been defeated; eternal life is free for all who trust him! Your kingdom has come; your kingdom is coming in fullness! Hallelujah many times over!
     Father, as I get older, please keep me fresh and green and fruitful through the gospel of your limitless grace. Fill my heart with your glory and love, and use me however you choose, all the remaining days you give me in this, your world. So very I pray in, Jesus’ magnificent and merciful name.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chase the Lion

Mark Batterson post:  LION CHASER’S MANIFESTO

I thoroughly enjoyed giving the commencement address for Southeastern University last week.  At the end of my address I shared the Lion Chaser’s Manifesto from In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted it.
Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God. Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails. Criticize by creating. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don’t try to be who you’re not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself. Don’t let fear dictate your decisions. Take a flying leap of faith. Chase the lion!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fully Trustworthy

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Those Raw with the Pain of Broken Trust

     The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the LORD   than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princesPs. 118:6-9
     Lord Jesus, I’m just waking up, and though I’m yawning my way into your presence, you are fully alert and engaged. What a Savior you are! You never sleep or slumber; you never need a break or vacation; you’re never moody; you never get bored with us; you never roll your eyes and say, “When will they ever get it?” You will never look for greener pastures or better sheep. I praise you for the constancy of your love.
     Jesus, it’s because your love is so unwavering that you’re so easy to trust. We can trust you fully for only you are fully trustworthy. I’m so thankful to affirm this truth with confidence this morning, especially as I pray for many friends who are raw and reeling with relational pain. Thank you for caring so deeply and so daily. You are the one and only constant in our lives.
     As broken people, we fail one another. I get that. But the gospel’s not supposed to make us immune to the pain of bruised trust, broken trust, or battered trust. Broken confidences and broken promises still hurt, no matter who they come from; but certainly they hurt much more when they come from the very people we should be able to trust.
     ”What can man do to me?” the psalmist asks (Ps. 118:6). Plenty, Jesus, plenty. But with you as our refuge, with you as our very present help, with you as our advocate, intercessor, sovereign Lord, and gracious Redeemer—with you as the only prince who can be trusted, the Prince of Peace, we don’t have to grow more angry, flint hard, and dangerously isolated.
     I bring hurting spouses, pained employees, used-up pastors, to you, Jesus. I bring parents whose children have emptied their emotional banks, and children whose parents have abandoned them for the American dream. I bring you broken friendships in which distance has replaced dancing, pretense has replaced prayer and illusion has replaced intimacy. Whatever the issues are, melt and mercy hard, hurting hearts.
     Hold these whom you love close to your compassionate and strong heart, and help them deal with the betrayals. Don’t let them squirm away in fear and anger. Time alone heals nothing. It only creates calluses and chasms. Jesus, write stories of gospel reconciliation and redemption. Be big and beautiful. This is your day and today matters forever. So very Amen I pray, in your singularly trustworthy name.