Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Are You Suffering? Jesus Reigns Forever

Excerpt from John Piper:  He Cannot Deny Himself

(Based on 2 Timothy 2:8-19)

Five Foundations for Your Life

And now in verses 8-19 Paul gives five foundations for this kind of confidence and courage in ministry — and in your life! So the way I think you should listen to this message is by asking: are there foundation stones of truth that I should build into the bottom of my life to help me stand in the face of suffering? And to keep me going in what God has called me to do, even if it is embattled? And you will see in the last part of this text how painfully embattled Timothy’s ministry was.

Foundation Stone #1

Verse 8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”
Timothy, never let Jesus Christ be far from your mind. And he mentions two specific ways to remember Jesus. Remember him as risen from the dead. And remember him as the offspring of David. Why these two things about Jesus?
Because if he is risen from the dead he is alive and triumphant over death. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). Which means, Timothy, that no matter how serious the suffering becomes, the worst that it can do on this earth is kill you. And Jesus has taken the sting out of that enemy. He is alive. And you will be alive. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).
The resurrection of Jesus was not a random resurrection. It was the resurrection of the son of David. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David.” Why does Paul say that? Because every Jewish person knew what that meant. That meant that Jesus is the Messiah (John 7:42). And that meant that this resurrection was not a random resurrection, but the resurrection of an everlasting king. Listen to the words of the angel to Mary, Jesus’s mother:
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31–33)
So, Timothy, remember Jesus, the one you serve, and the one for whom you suffer. He is alive and he will reign forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. No matter what they do to you, you do not need to be afraid.
So foundation stone #1 is that Jesus Christ, the son of David, is risen from the dead and reigns over the world forever. If Christ has conquered the last enemy, what can man do to you?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Praise the Lord

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for the Joy and Freedom of Dancing

     You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever. Ps. 30:11-12 
     Praise him (God) with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! Psalm 150:4-6
     Dear Lord Jesus, has there ever have been a king more into dancing than King David? His victory over Goliath was the inspiration for singing and dancing by many in Israel (1 Sam. 21:11). When the ark was returned to Jerusalem, he danced before the Lord with all his might, and very little modesty (2 Sam. 6:14). It’s obvious he wrote this psalm as a dancer, for other dancers—whose joy at the dedication of the temple was uncontainable.
     But King Jesus, you’re the real Lord of the Dance. Though David didn’t realize it, his work and joy simply prefigured yours. Only you can turn the wails of our sin and brokenness into the dance of hope and joy. By your cross, you’ve removed the filthy garments of unrighteousness that we might be clothed us with the white robe of your own righteousness. Astounding, astonishing, and so very true.
     How can we not sing and make music to you in our hearts? How can we possibly remain silent and still in response to who you are and everything you’ve done for us? O, that we may hear the Father speaking these words to us right now: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31)—beckoning us onto the dance floor of his grace (Luke 15:25).
     Lord Jesus, surely, you indeed greater joy in our hearts than we settle for; in fact, you pray that we would know the full measure of your joy (John 15:11). Forgive us for confusing reverence with reserve—even rigor mortis. Forgive us for equating holiness with lifelessness. Forgive us living like we’re en route to a funeral instead of a wedding—the wedding feast of the Lamb! Forgive us for living more by our temperament tests, Myers-Briggs profiles, and personality types than by the lyric, music, and dance of the gospel.
     One day, King Jesus, we will give thanks to you with all our might. All personal inhibitions, cultural limitations, and sinful prohibitions will be gone. May that coming Day have much greater impact on this day. So very Amen we pray, in your gladsome and grace-filled name.

A Redeemed Sinner

Jonathan Parnell post:  Fighting to Be Who You Are

When we believe in Jesus it's not just "well I'm still a dead sinner who just loves Jesus now." No, actually, I've been reborn. I'm a brand-new creature. Yes, I'm still a sinner, but I'm a redeemed sinner. I'm also a saint. I'm also part of the priesthood of believers... I'm not a slave to my sin anymore. That's not who I am.
In this three-minute video Trip Lee talks about how the Bible helps him fight sin and pursue holiness.

Healing Brokenness

Ed Stetzer post:  Jonathan Merritt Shares His Story

Jonathan Merritt is a nationally known writer, blogger and news personality. He has written two books, Green Like God and A Faith of Our Own and has written for USAToday, the Huffington Post, and many others. He's done lots of news appearances-- the last I saw him on television was on "The O-Reilly Factor" a few weeks ago.
Recently, after Jonathan, in a piece written for The Atlantic, defended Chick-fil-A against a potential boycott by gay activists, a "gay, former-evangelical" blogger claimed he had evidence Jonathan himself was gay. In the parlance the effort was to "out him." Merritt's defense of Chick-fil-A had already exploded in the LGBT blogosphere, but this enflamed the issue as many sought to discredit Jonathan after he dared to defend Chick-fil-A.
Jonathan's views have been clear--he considers homosexual practice as sin and is not in favor of redefining marriage (about half of America agrees, btw). Such views make you a target today, regardless of your personal situation.
"Outing," in case you do not know, is the practice of revealing that a certain person is gay without his or her consent, is not an unheard of occurrence though it is not always looked on favorably within the LGBT community. My heart grieves to see such low integrity, particularly when done by a person who claims the title "Christian"--and I am deeply disappointed with a few "Christians" in the blogosphere, who, since they disagreed with Jonathan in the past, seized the moment. Sad.
Yes, Jonathan Merritt is a public figure who lives in the intersection of church and culture, and is accustomed to cars coming from both directions--which appears to be the case now. In the past I have used my blog as a way for leaders to address blogosphere issues (see this interview with Rick Warren, for example) I want to do the same today.
So, I asked Jonathan if he would take a few questions and respond to this situation for himself. He has agreed, and I welcome him to the blog today.

Q: A blogger alleges that you have not been transparent, honest or authentic about who you are because of your religious affiliation. Tell us about the situation.
A: My story begins at a very young age when an older male who lived in our neighborhood sexually abused me. The experience was followed with a tidal wave of shame and guilt so great that I never told anyone for many years. In the years following this event, I mostly stuffed the experience away and didn't deal with it. On rare occasion, oppressive thoughts would enter my mind and bring on periods of depression and questioning. I wondered why this had happened to me and what, if anything, it meant.
I decided to follow Jesus at 13 and quickly realized that this event and the confusion that followed was not my fault. God had allowed an experience of brokenness into my life even if I didn't fully understand it. Rather than run from God, I decided to walk with him in this. And, I believe that helped shape my worldview that sin can be overcome. It's through that lens that I write. And, it's through that brokenness that I try to live.
In 2009, I was contacted by the blogger in response to an article I wrote about just that--that Christians must love people who experience sexual brokenness. We corresponded several times by email and text for a couple of weeks, some of them inappropriate. When I was traveling through a city near him, we met for dinner because we'd corresponded so recently. As we were saying goodbye, we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship. I was overcome with guilt, knowing I had put myself in an unwise situation. We never saw each other again and we ceased contact after a period of time.
Q: What happened after this?
A: When I returned home, I saw a Christian counselor to address the events in my life and sort through my childhood and what I believed God wanted for me. I also began to acknowledge to myself that I have sin in my past, sin for which I accept responsibility. Inappropriate texting, inappropriate actions are inappropriate no matter who the other party is. These were my decisions and no one else's.
It's from my brokenness, that I feel I can now be transparent, honest, and authentic about these accusations. Those close to me know I have actually been planning to share the story of my brokenness for some time. Because it is part of my spiritual journey. And because it underscores the power of the Gospel to transform lives.
Although I was unable to choose when I would share some of these painful memories, I am thankful for the opportunity to share it now. I'm thankful that I am able to make better decisions about how to handle a difficult situation. And, I'm thankful that because of grace, I can identify with those who have dealt with similar situations.
Q: How has this experience shaped you?
A: It's bred compassion in me towards others who wrestle with the baggage they carry in life. People like me who passionately pursue God--on His terms and not ours--experience incredible times of struggle along the way. I know what it is like to experience periods of depression, frustration, and confusion. And that's why I live out my calling the way I do, as best as I can, sometimes stumbling along the way.
I don't identify as "gay" because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers. I'm a cracked vessel held together only by God's power. And I'm more sure each day that only Christ can make broken people whole.
Q: How has your church leadership responded, and what is their response now?
A: I'm an active member at Cross Pointe, though I'm not on staff there. I met with our church leaders who have been incredibly supportive. They know I'm committed to living the life God demands for those who follow him. And they know that as I follow Jesus, I'm committed to pursuing his best for me, which includes the Bible's unambiguous standards for sexuality.
Q: What kind of response have you received since this blog posted?
A: Mostly emails and texts and calls from Christian friends who are reaffirming their love for me. I've been overwhelmed by this, and reminded again how important Christian community and accountability can be. That's also why I felt that it was important to tell my story. I'm committed to this journey in Christ, and I'm committed to remaining within the Christian community while maintaining valuable friendships with those who are not Christians. Sometimes this means being vulnerable and transparent when it's tough. But that's also when we can lean in and know that the truth is never something to be ashamed of and that in our brokenness we can find strength.

I am thankful that my struggles are not public discussion, but I appreciate Jonathan sharing what he has--and am praying for him in the days ahead.
Please commit to pray for Jonathan as he allows God to heal his brokenness while using him in the midst of it.
That's probably a good prayer for each of us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Trust Him

Ray Ortlund post:  The peace of Christ

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  Colossians 3:15
The tsunami of sin flooding the world today touches us all.  We add to it.  We suffer from it.  It is flooding our churches.
If somehow we could all get together and gently swap stories, my hunch is we would be shocked at the mistreatment that has been dished out to many of us by churches – both by abusive leaders and by abusive members.  There is, of course, a difference between being hurt and being harmed.  I am not thinking of people who get their feathers ruffled and then howl their complaints.  I am thinking of people who have been harmed and wronged, people who have suffered slander, lies, loss of position, loss of reputation, loss of friends, and more.  Many reading this post have suffered in these and other ways.  It is shocking what churches can do – both leaders and members.
Wouldn’t life be easier if we fought our battles on only one front at a time?  But we usually fight on two fronts at once – not just conflict with others but also conflict with ourselves.  We need God’s help to be especially aware of all that endangers us within.
What can a sufferer easily lose sight of?  Keeping himself, too, under the judgment of the Word of God.  A sufferer looks at the wrongs done to him, and he brings them under the judgment of God’s Word.  Good.  But it is easy to be so focused there that the sufferer doesn’t notice how, in his appropriate indignation, he might mistreat those who mistreated him. 
Never mount a campaign to correct those who wronged you.  The Bible says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19).  The wrath of God is all the wrath this world needs.  It would be nice if unjust people finally owned up.  But they don’t have the self-awareness to do that, which is what makes them unjust in the first place.  They will never see it, until God opens their blind eyes.  But he will.  And only he can.  If you appoint yourself the one to open their eyes, you are putting yourself in the place of God – which is what your abuser did to you.  Don’t let your abuser make you an abuser.  Sit tight, and trust in the Lord.  This is extremely difficult.  But your own moral fervor will inevitably make things worse.  So, the extremely difficult choice you are left with is this: a bad situation (of their making) versus a worse situation (of their and your making).  That really stinks, doesn’t it?
Heaven will be a relief.  But for now, while we’re still in this mess, our primary business is with God.  In fact, our primary battle might even be with God.  My recommendation, as a pastor, is that you wave the white flag of surrender to him.  Not to them, but to him.  Rather than be frustrated that he isn’t fighting for you the way you’d like, why not do what the Bible says and trust him to deliver you in his own time and way, and maybe not until we are all standing before him above?  There is no danger in trusting the Lord.  If you’re going to err, err toward waiting on him to vindicate you.  When he does – not if he does, but when he does – it will be much more satisfying.  What could be greater than for Almighty God to rise up and say about you, “This one you mistreated is my beloved, my friend, my servant.  Back off“?  That moment is coming.  “He will deliver you” (Proverbs 20:22).
Trust him.  Trust him.  Trust him.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Point of Marriage is the Point of Life

Ed Stetzer post:  Date Your Wife: An Interview with Justin Buzzard

I'm in Myrtle Beach this week with my family for a few days. While I'm here, I'll make a priority of taking my wife out for a nice date. This is not something we do occasionally, though. We do this often. Donna and I make it a priority to make time for one another.
That's why I was encouraged to see Justin Buzzard's new book Date Your Wife. Justin is a church planter in San Jose, Cali., and our paths have crossed a few times in the past. Throughout the book, Justin emphasizes the role the gospel should play in marriage. It reminded me of Erwin Lutzer's well-known phrase: "In marriage, the goal is holiness, not happiness." Happiness comes as a result of the holiness.
Justin will be hanging around the site today to answer questions and respond to comments. As a special bonus, I have three prizes to give away to commenters today-- a pair of $25 AMC Movie Theatres gift cards, and a copy of Justin's book. Just comment on the post below, ask a question, or tweet about the post to be entered in the giveaway.

What is the last foundational truth you want men who read your book to remember?

The difference maker in your marriage isn't you, it's Jesus. Jesus' presence is what changes everything, not your presence. Your exciting calling is to date your wife, to love your wife, to help your wife become her future glory-self--to help her become the woman she will one day be on the other side of the grave. But your job is not to be your wife's savior. Your wife needs only one Savior. Your wife needs only one Jesus.
You be you. And let Jesus be Jesus. Date your wife. And let Jesus save and sanctify your wife. The point of your marriage isn't you. The point of your marriage isn't your wife. The point of your marriage is to date your wife in such a way that showcases Jesus and his power to a world of husbands and wives, men and women, boys and girls, in desperate need of a God who can rescue, reconcile, restore, and redeem their broken lives. Marriage isn't ultimate. God is ultimate.
God created marriage so that we could better know and enjoy him. As we date our wives, as we experience the good, the bad, and the new in our marriages--the cycle of failure and grace and growth--we get to know what God is like. Marriage becomes a place where God shows up. We get to know a God who loved us, saw us leave, and fought to get us back. The point of marriage is the point of life: to know, enjoy, glorify, and experience our Triune God.

Simply Being Remembered

Practical Theology for Women post:  Just Checking In

For the vast majority of us who love God and His Word, the great gulf between what God declares good and the reality of our lives and the lives of our loved ones can be overwhelmingly discouraging. And we want to fix it. To change it. Christian society as well often projects onto us the need to CHANGE things. What we do less often and not as well is pressure each other to endure in grace long term with someone who is struggling. I wrote about this at Desiring God last year. 
I want control of my circumstances and gravitate to suggestions of things to try to fix situations. But at some point, as things continue without change, I tire of suggestions to try. In one such situation, I sat with a wise older friend and listened as she spoke words that poured over my parched soul. Her advice? Rest. Endure. Love. After time in her presence, I felt free—free from the guilt that I wasn't doing enough to change my loved one, free from pressure to come up with the thing that will most help them, free to love them unconditionally the way God has loved me, free to bare my soul to God in confidence that He would hear me, and free to leave my fears at His feet when I was done. 
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing. Love never ends (1 Cor. 13:7-8). 
. . . walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, (Eph. 4:1-2)
Bearing long with hurting friends is a means through which God powerfully ministers His grace. But what does bearing long look like? Maybe it looks like Job's friends, who sat with him for days on end without saying a word. But over the long haul with someone who is in the midst of long-term adversity, it can be as simple as just checking in. It has ministered to me at dark times to have someone call, text, or email with the simple question, “How are you?!” A friend might say something along the lines, “I remember you were concerned about [some issue]. How has it gone since we last talked?” It means much to me that they remembered my burdens. Sometimes, a friend will ask, “How can I be praying for you right now?” When they follow up the next week on the same topic with me, I feel remembered and loved.

This has been my MO with friends of late. But I don't say that to pat myself on the back. I do this now because I dropped the ball with a friend a few years ago. She shared with me a big issue in her life and then fell off my radar. And I didn't followed up for months and months. Finally, when I checked in with her, it was clear she had been struggling deeply and had felt abandoned by her friends through it all. I learned my lesson. When a friend falls off the radar, check in with them. Don't assume they'll call me if they need to talk. Some people who are hurting already feel abandoned by friends or family and likely struggle with feeling abandoned by God. Don't wait on those friends to pick up the phone and call you. When you check in, it doesn't need to be wordy or stressful. I have a friend who every few weeks just drops me an email – “I was thinking of you today and prayed for [that thing we last talked about]. How is that going?” You don't have to take a long time. You don't have to give advice. You don't have to do something big. Just check in and listen. There is something about simply being remembered that ministers to our souls. 
Proverbs 27:10 NAS Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend, And do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity ; Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Grace That Can Free Us

Paul Tripp post:  4 Debilitating Fears

Four fears tempt every pastor. They are:

1. My fear of me.

Few things better reveal the full range of sin, immaturity, weakness, and failure than ministry. Few things will expose your weaknesses so consistently. Few endeavors will put you under such public expectancy and scrutiny. Few things are so personally humbling. Few endeavors have the power to produce in you such deep feelings of inadequacy. Few things can be such a vat of self-doubt. There is a great temptation for your ministry to be sidetracked and harmed by your fear of you.
God finds Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress, because he was afraid of the Midianites, and greets this fearful man with one of the most ironic greetings in the Bible: "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor." Gideon essentially says, "Well, if you're with us, why is all this bad stuff happening?" God responds, "I have chosen you to say Israel from the Midianites." Gideon says, "You have to have the wrong address. I am from the weakest clan in Israel, and I am the weakest person in my father's house. You can't really mean me." And God said, "I will be with you."
God's response to Gideon's fear of Gideon is very helpful. He didn't work to pump up his self-confidence. He didn't work to help Gideon see that he brought more to the table than he thought. Gideon's problem was not first that he feared his inadequacies. His problem was awe. Gideon failed to fear God in the sense of "God is with me, and he is able." So Gideon was terrified at the thought of leading Israel anywhere.
My pastorate in Scranton, Pennsylvania, exposed the full range of my immaturity and weakness, and in ways that had been very painful, these were often on public display. I thought I was so ready. I had done very well in seminary, and I was ready to take on the world. But God called me to a very broken, very difficult place, and used this place to yank me out of my pride and self-righteousness to a place where I would find my hope in him. I was hurt, disappointed, tired, overwhelmed, angry, and a bit bitter. I felt God had set me up, and people had treated me unkindly. All I wanted to do was run. I had an education degree and thought I would move somewhere far away and run a Christian school. I had announced to my board my plan to resign. They pleaded with me not to go, but I was determined. So the next Sunday I made my announcement and had a momentary sense of relief. My little congregation was not relieved, so I had many conversations after the service. Much later than I normally left the church, I made my way out the door only to be greeted by the oldest man in our church.
He approached me and asked if we could talk. "Paul," he said, "we know that you're a bit immature and need to grow up. We know you are a man with weaknesses, but where is the church going to get mature pastors if immature pastors leave?" I felt as if God had just nailed my shoes to the porch. I knew he was right, and I knew I couldn't leave. In next several months I began to learn what it means to minister in weakness but with a security-giving, courage-producing awe of God. I am still learning what it means to be in such awe of him that I am no longer afraid of me.

2. My fear of others.

Most of the people you serve will love and appreciate you and will encourage you as they are able. But not all of them. Some will love you and have a wonderful plan for your life. Some will assign themselves to be the critics of your preaching and leadership. Some will be loyal and supportive, and some will do things that undermine your pastoral leadership. Some will give themselves to the ministry in sacrificial acts of service, and some will complain about the way they are being served. Some will approach you with loving candor, and some will give way to the temptation to talk behind your back. Some will jump in and get involved, while others will always relate to the church with a consumer mentality. You will connect with some easily, and with others you will find relationships much more difficult.
Because your ministry will always be done with people and for people, it is vital that you put people in the right place in your heart. You cannot allow yourself to be so afraid of them that you are closed to their perspectives or unwilling to delegate ministry to them. At the same time you cannot be so afraid of them that you let them set the agenda and wrongly control the direction of the ministry to which God has called you. You cannot allow yourself to minister with a closed door, and you cannot be so sensitive to the opinions of others that you are unable to lead.
Because all the people you minister with and to are still dealing with indwelling sin, relationships to them and ministry with them will be messy. People will hurt you and damage your ministry. People will demand of you what they should not demand and respond to you in ways they should not respond. In the middle of all this, particular people---the influential and vocal---will loom larger than they should in your thoughts and motives. They will be afforded too much power to influence you and the way you do ministry. Rather than working for the glory of God, you will be tempted to work for their approval. Or, rather than working for the glory of God, you will work to disarm or expose them. In both cases your ministry is being corrupted by an ancient human fear: the fear of man.
The power of the fear of man to divert or delude ministry is vividly portrayed in Galatians 2:11-14. Peter not only compromises, but he actually forsakes the ministry to the Gentiles to which God has called him (Acts 10) because he was afraid of "the circumcision party." Paul observed Peter's conduct "was not in step with the truth of the gospel," so he confronted Peter. How much ministry is diverted by actions, reactions, and responses not rooted in fear of God but fear of man? How often does this compromise the work of the gospel? How often does this cause people to stumble? How often are we tempted to act in a way that does not accord with what we say we believe? How much is fear of man setting the agenda in our churches? With openness and humility we need to keep asking these questions.
I wish I could say I am free of this fear, but I'm not. There are times when I have found myself thinking, as I was preparing a sermon, that a particular point would finally win over one of my detractors. In that moment my preaching was about to be shaped, not by my zeal for God's glory, but by my hope that what I said would cause someone to finally see my glory. I understand that this is an ongoing war for the rule of my heart for which I have been given powerful, ever-present grace.

3. My fear of circumstances.

Since you don't author your own story, and since you haven't penned the script of your own ministry, life and ministry is constantly unpredictable. In this world of the unexpected, you are always living in the tension between who God is and what he's promised and the unexpected things on your plate. In the intersection between promise and reality, you must guard your mediation. You have to be very disciplined when it comes to what you do with your mind. Permit me to explain.
Abraham had been told by God that his descendants would be like the sand on the sea shore, and he had staked his life on this promise. Normally his wife, Sarah, would give birth early and often. But that did not happen. All throughout Sarah's child-bearing years she could not conceive. Now both she and Abraham were old---way too old to seriously think they would be blessed with the promised son. Old Abraham was now living in the tension between God's promise and his circumstances. When you're in the intersection between the promises of God and the details of your situation, what you do with your mind is very important. In this intersection, God will never ask you to deny reality. Abraham did not deny reality. Romans 4 says that he "considered the deadness of Sarah's womb." Faith doesn't deny reality. It is a God-focused way of considering reality.
But the passage tells you more. It tells you what Abraham did with his meditation. He didn't invest himself in turning his circumstances inside out and over and over. He considered his circumstances, but he meditated on God. And as he meditated on God, he actually grew stronger in faith, even though nothing in his circumstances had yet changed. For many people in ministry, waiting becomes a chronicle of ever-weakening faith. Meditating on the circumstances will leave you in awe of the circumstances. They will appear to grow larger, you will feel smaller, and your vision of God will be clouded. But if you meditate on the Lord, you will be in greater awe of his presence, power, faithfulness, and grace. The situation will seem smaller, and you will live with greater confidence even though nothing has changed.
Have the circumstances captured your meditation? Are there ways in which you have grown weaker in faith? Or do the eyes of your heart focus on a God who is infinitely greater than anything you will ever face?

4. My fear of the future.

You always live and minister in the hardship of not knowing. In both life and ministry you are called to trust, obey, and believe that God will guide and provide. You and I do not know what the next moment will bring, let alone the next month or year. Security can never be found in our attempt to figure it all out or in trying to divine the secret will of God. His secret will is called his secret will because it is secret! Yet we still desire to know, to figure things out ahead of time. The more you concentrate on the future, the more you'll give way to fear of the future, and the more you'll be confused and de-motivated in the here and now.
Not knowing is hard. It would be nice to know if that elder is going to succumb to the temptation of being divisive. It would be nice to know if the finances of the church are going to rebound. It would be nice to know how that new preaching series will be received, if those young missionaries will make all the adjustments they need to make, or if you'll get the permits to build that needed worship space. We find questions of the future hard to deal with because we find it difficult to trust God. The One we promise to trust knows everything about the future, because he controls every aspect of it. Our fear of the future exposes our struggle to trust him, and in trusting him, to rest in his guidance and care, even though we don't really know what comes next. Awe of God is the only way to be free of fearing what is coming next. When my trust of God is greater than my fear of the unknown, I will be able to rest, even though I don't have a clue what will greet me around the corner.
Do you load the future on your shoulders, with all of its questions and concerns? Or do you give yourself to the work of the present, leaving the future in God's capable hands? How much are you haunted by the "what ifs"? Do you greet the unknown with expectancy or dread? Do God's presence and promises quiet your unanswerable questions about the future?
Meditate on the questions posed on this article, honestly answer each one, then humbly cry out for the grace that can free you from the fears you have not yet escaped. Then celebrate the patient King you serve, who lifts your burden of fear rather than condemning you for it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Above All Else

Ray Ortlund post:  Inevitability in the life of a church

“Whenever a change occurs in the religious opinions of a community, it is always preceded by a change in their religious feelings.  The natural expression of the feelings of true piety is the doctrines of the Bible.  As long as these feelings are retained, these doctrines will be retained; but should they be lost, the doctrines are either held for form sake or rejected, according to circumstance; and if the feelings again be called into life, the doctrines return as a matter of course.”
Charles Hodge,  “Address to the Students of the Theological Seminary,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 5 (1829): 92.
Hodge is not asserting that feelings are more important than doctrine.  He is observing that feelings precede doctrine by creating a bias toward certain doctrines.  If a church’s heart is tender and warm toward the Lord, that church will love the Bible as his Word.  If a church’s heart cools off toward the Lord or becomes simply distracted, that church will be doctrinally unstable.  The heart works with such power that it creates inevitability in a church’s theological future, for good or ill.
It’s why we pastors work so hard to help our churches love the Lord, above all else.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thriving Grace

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer of Assured Triumph and Fresh Grace

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Rom. 16:20
     Dear Heavenly Father, this promise of ultimate victory holds so much hope and timely encouragement for your people. Even as Satan was crushed—dethroned, defeated and demoralized, by Calvary’s cross, so we will live to see the day of Jesus’ triumph played out under our very feet! What a remarkable image, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Hallelujah, for this assurance!
     In the present kingdom reign of Jesus, things are not always as they appear. At times it feels like we are the ones being walked on by a gloating devil; yet it is he who is actually getting ready to know our dancing feet on his head. And according to your Word, this will happen “soon”! Lord, our weary yet joyful cry is, “Make soon, real soon!”
      We especially pray for your persecuted church, Lord Jesus, and for those who are laboring in the arena of overt spiritual warfare. Encourage our friends who are fighting the good fight against all forms of human slavery and trafficking. Refresh those who are planting churches in the hard soil places of graceless secularization, demonic strongholds and Pharisaic moralism. We also pray for the overt and covert attack of Satan on so many marriages in our midst. O, how Satan hates the story of your passionate love for such an ill-deserving bride, as us.
     Jesus, here’s why our hope is so great. The reason you came into this world was to destroy him who holds the power of death (that is, the devil) and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 2:14). Indeed, you have come to destroy the devil and all his works (1 Jn. 3:8).
     You’ve already fulfilled the first gospel promise; indeed, your “bruised heel” secured the “crushed head” of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Our foe is defeated and waiting to be utterly destroyed. His present flurry of fury is actually a sign he knows his time is short (Rev. 12:12). Lord, our weary yet joyful cry is, “Make short, real short!”
     O God of peace, grant us your peace that passes all understanding when the battle rages most fiercely and the schemes of Satan seem to be winning the day. O triumphant Lord Jesus, we boldly ask not just for surviving grace but for thriving grace, until the day you return to finish making all things new. O, God the Holy Spirit, grant us all the strength we need to be a people to the praise of grace and the glory of Jesus. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ triumphant name.

Good People Get Good Stuff - Bad People Get Bad Stuff?

Tullian Tchividjian post:  You Believe in Karma

The following is another excerpt from my forthcoming book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free
“Good people get good stuff. Bad people get bad stuff.” Or as the Beatles sang with their last gasp on Abbey Road, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Now I love John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but I take issue with them here, and I know I am in the minority. After all, the world runs on retribution. “This for that” comes as naturally to us as breathing. Moralists interpret misfortune as the karmic result of misbehavior. This for that. “You failed to obey God, so He gave your child an illness.” Such rule-based economies of punishment and reward may be the default mode of the fallen human heart, but that doesn’t make them any less brutal!
This does not mean that sin doesn’t have consequences. If you blow all of your money on booze, you will likely reap poverty, loneliness, and cirrhosis of the liver. Simple cause and effect. But to conclude that suffering people have somehow heaped up trouble for themselves on the Cosmic Registry and that God is doling out the misery in direct proportion would be more than mistaken; it would be cruel. The humorist Jack Handey perceptively parodied such ideas in his Saturday Night Live-featured book Deep Thoughts:
If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is “God is crying.” And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, “Probably because of something you did.”
Hahaha…not really.
The truth is that while we laugh at something as silly as Handey’s “deep thought”, most of us are naturally governed by this kind of thinking regarding God.
So, while no one can deny that our actions have consequences—that if you put your finger in a light socket you will “reap” a shock—we do God (and ourselves!) a great disservice when we project this schema onto Him. That is, when we moralize our suffering and that of others. The lab test results come back positive, and we interpret it as some sort of punishment. Or your loved ones interpret it that way. Your marriage falls apart, and you assume God is meting out His judgment on your indiscretions. Most of us—not all, I’m afraid—would stop short of blaming the citizens of New Orleans for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but that doesn’t mean we don’t moralize our suffering in other, more subtle ways.
The truth is that when you and I insist on that all-too-comfortable paradigm of cosmic score keeping, we’re no longer talking about Christianity. In fact, what we reveal is that we’ve adopted (unwittingly) a Westernized form of Hinduism. We are talking, in other words, about karma. If you are a bad person and things are going well for you, it is only a matter of time before karma catches up with you and “you get yours.” If you are good person, the inverse is true: just be patient and your good deeds will come back to you. This is a simplification of the complex Hindu understanding of history as determined by the past lives of others: that we are all stuck in an eternal cycle of suffering perpetuated by reincarnation.
Westerners are understandably reticent to embrace the notion that the universe is paying us back for a prior life of boozing, spousal abuse, or tax evasion. We believe in the inherent goodness of human beings, after all! We prefer to keep the cycle within the confines of a single life. But the appeal of this perspective should be fairly obvious: no one gets away with anything. If someone harmed you, she will suffer. If you do good, you will have a good life. Karma puts us in control. The problem in this worldview comes, as it always does, when we flip it around. If you are suffering, you have done something to merit it. Pain is proof.
No doubt many of us would object to the accusation that we share or agree with such a mind-set. That’s simplistic nonsense, we might think. No one with any education or experience would ever hold to such a juvenile relational bartering system. But hold on for a moment. Think about the last fight you had with your significant other—was there an element of deserving tucked into the conflict? “You hurt me, so now I’ll hurt you”? I can’t tell you how much self-abuse I’ve come across in my years of ministry that had some element of inward-directed retribution at its core: the teenage girl who punishes herself by cutting her arms; or men who sleep around to prove that they deserve the contempt of their wives. If we cling to quid pro quo when dealing with others and ourselves, why wouldn’t we project it onto God (or the universe)? We are all helpless moralizers, especially when it comes to suffering.
On the opposite end of our natural tendency to moralize life and suffering stands the counter-intuitive affirmation of Christianity. Christianity affirms that Jesus severed the link between suffering and deserving once for all on Calvary. God put the ledgers away and settled the accounts. The good news of the gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It’s not that life is cyclical and that “what comes around goes around.” Rather, it’s that the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth, and the slave becomes a son (Rom.5:8).
Because the truth is, that it’s just misery to try to keep count of what God is no longer counting. Your entries keep disappearing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fighting to Love God Most

Jennie Allen post:  The Fight for Glory  

I sat just outside the main venue all day interviewing others. I had a few minutes before John Piper would be sitting down with me---he was still on the platform speaking---so I snuck in the back and sat on the floor. He was nearly 4,000 people away, so I just sat and stared at the carpet. But I had walked into something.
God with us.
God was showing himself to a room full of women, and staring at the carpet felt like the right thing to do.
Piper said, "If you love the glory of man you do not love the glory of God." I started shaking, but the room was already trembling. We weren't trembling before a man, we were trembling at our souls before God. Scary thoughts raced through me as he spoke.
Do I even love God?
Why do I crave everyone's approval?
I want to fear you, God, above all else.
I want to tremble before you every day.
Piper prayed, and I looked up. He was gone and on his way to sit down with me.
I wiped tears and ran to the chair and the cameras rolled. We planned to talk about the conference and the women, but it all seemed small and trite after tasting God. International peace treaties would have felt small at this point. So instead we talked about the glory of God and the day Piper will face Jesus.
With hundreds standing around wanting time with him we stood. I was going to say "thank you" and find a corner where I could fall apart. Instead he looked me in the eyes and said, "Tell me about you."
The war unleashed in me fell out in a few words. "I've just begun my journey into the world of publishing and speaking about God, and I am scared I am going to lose my soul. I am scared I will crave the glory of man more than the glory of God. I would rather die loving God most than die having had a successful ministry. I want to run from this."
He smiled at my tears and then spoke words that will mark my spiritual life. "When I was just beginning to write and receive praise for it, I felt the same fight. So I quit. I went back to being a professor."
An exit strategy from my new writing career began formulating in my mind as he continued. "But the fight followed me. I found myself fascinated with accolades and longing to hear about the lives of students who were changed by me."
He continued, "If the fight for my affection was going to be everywhere, I decided to fight in the place I loved. I love to write. I don't know why, but I love it. So I am going to fight this war here. We aren't alone, Jennie. The apostle Paul even fought it. We all are fighting to love God most."
I gave him thin words of thanks and handed him over to the many waiting to try to thank him, too.
How do you thank someone who gives you God?
As I write about this today I am burning. Our God is worth this fight. And if there is a sober, honest bone in your body you'll admit that this is a fight! It is a full-on war to love God more than any visible thing or person on this earth, even more than ourselves.
In the moments I tremble before God I wonder how I could ever, ever love anything but him. He is better. He is joy. He is where our souls were made to be.
You can't run from the fight. It will follow you wherever you go.
Tremble on. Fight on. You are not alone.
Where are you fighting?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Start Your Day in Gospel Alignment

Dane Ortlund post:  In Christ I'm Not a Sinner

I'm learning that the more I see of the gospel, the more I see how little I see it. For every inch gained in gospel understanding, I gain a foot in seeing how little I grasp it. I peer over the ledge of grace and see a new hundred-foot drop, which enables me to see also that the cliff extends another mile beyond that.

There is an entire psychological substructure that, due to the Fall, is a near-constant emission of relational leveraging, fear-stuffing, nervousness, score-keeping, neurotic controlling, anxiety-festering silliness that is not something I say or even think so much as something I breathe. You can smell this on people, though some of us are good at hiding it. And I'm seeing more and more, bit by bit, that if you trace this fountain of scurrying haste, in all its various manifestations, down to the root, you don't find childhood difficulties or a Myers-Briggs diagnosis or Freudian impulses. You find gospel deficit. All the worry and dysfunction and resentment is the natural fruit of living in a mental universe of Law. The gospel really is what brings rest, wholeness, flourishing, shalom---that existential calm that for brief, gospel-sane moments settles over you and lets you see for a moment that in Christ you truly are invincible. The verdict really is in; nothing can touch you.
From another angle: Living by law, which we all believe we're not really doing (those silly Galatians!) is deep and subtle and pervasive. More pervasive than the occasional moments of self-conscious works-righteousness would indicate. Those moments of self-knowledge are indeed gifts of grace and not to be ignored. But they are only the visible tip of an invisible iceberg. They are surface symptoms. Law-ish-ness (in Gal 3:10 Paul uses the phrase, literally, "those who are of works of law") is by its very nature undetectable because it's natural, not unnatural, to us. Feels normal.
But the gospel calls us to believe the unbelievable: The radiant sun of divine favor is shining down on me, and while the clouds of my sin and failure may darken my feelings ofthat favor, the favor cannot be lessened any more than a tiny, wispy cloud can threaten the existence of the sun. The sun is shining. It cannot stop. Clouds, no clouds---sin, no sin---the sun is shining on me. Because of Another.
The Lord looks on his children with utterly unflappable affection. At one level, I believe, there is a dimension of affection in the fatherly heart of God that kicks into gear precisely when his children fail. I am not saying the more we sin, the more he loves us. But on analogy with human fatherhood, which I know from the inside as a father of three, I can say a latent part of my heart is engaged when I see my son sin. Perhaps it is also true of the Lord. We read the most amazing things in the Old Testament prophets, the doom and gloom guys of the Bible, as they struggle to find language to portray Yahweh's hesed, his covenant love. His compassion "grows warm and tender"---remember, it was on the heels of recounting Israel's spiritual fornication (not faithfulness) that we read that in Hosea.

Be Who You Are

How strange the gospel is. In one sense I am not restored. How painfully obvious. Sin clings, weaknesses and failings abound. Anxiety, anger, idolatry. But in another sense, a deeper sense, I am restored. Perfectly, already. Simul justus et peccator. Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time. It really is true.
According to the sweep of New Testament teaching, the latter now defines me. That is the fundamental reality defining my existence. New birth, new life. Eternal life, as John says---the life of the Age to Come, of the New Realm---has already begun for me. The eschaton longed for in the prophets is here. And by faith, not by sight, I have been swept up into it. Justified: my end-time judgment has already happened and the verdict is acquittal, because I am in Christ, in whose cross the end-time judgment of condemnation was borne. In the middle of history rather than the end. The restored Dane Ortlund therefore trumps, outstrips, swallows up, the unrestored Dane Ortlund. Not the other way around.
As a Christian I'm in the process of bringing my sense of self, my Identity with a capital 'I', the ego, my swirling internal world of fretful panicky-ness arising out of that gospel deficit, into alignment with the more fundamental truth. Richard Hays argues in The Moral Vision of the New Testament that the essence of the New Testament ethic is "Be who you now are." There it is. You are this new being, fundamentally, as one united to Christ. So wake up tomorrow and do whatever you have to---with a Bible, singing, prayer, meditation, a friend, listening to a sermon, a walk around the block---do whatever you must to start your day in gospel alignment. William Hulme, the Lutheran professor and counselor, says in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Augsburg, 1981) that the gospel allows us to bring our subjective guilt feelings in line with our objective guilt eradication.
I am a sinner. I sin. Not just in the past but in the present. But in Christ I'm not a sinner but cleansed, whole. And as I step out into my day in soul-calm because of that free gift of cleansing, I find that actually, strangely, startlingly---I begin to live out practically what I already am positionally. I delight to love others. It takes effort and requires the sobering of suffering. But love cannot help but be kindled by gospel rest.
How can you possibly stiff-arm this? Repent of your small thoughts of God's love, your resistance to swallowing Christ's atoning work whole. Repent and let him love you.