Friday, August 31, 2012

Redeem Our Work for Kingdom Use

Bobby Giles post:  God of Shop and Marketplace

God of shop and marketplace,
Of farm and studio,
Factory and shipping lane,
Of school and busy home:
Bless the produce of our hands.
Redeem our work for Kingdom use.
By Your grace, our efforts stand,
All offered up to You.
There in Eden, You proclaimed
That we should work the earth --
Stewards over all we named,
Delighting in their worth.
Through our fall we brought decay,
Lost access to Jehovah's rest.
Through the cross, we rest in faith
And all our labor's blessed.
In Your image we are made:
Creative, like You are,
Forming goods for use and trade
Just like You formed the stars.
Send us out in power and skill
To worship through each task assigned.
By Your Spirit we fulfill
The holy, grand design.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pursue God-ordained Passions

Mark Batterson post:  Chase the Lion

I heard that ESPN profiled Matt Barkley, USC quarterback, and referenced In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.  The one night I don’t watch Sports Center!  Love the way that little phrase “chase the lion” has become a mantra in so many sports circles.  Every once in a while I like posting the lion chaser’s manifesto. Cut and paste at will.
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!

Telling the Gospel

Tim Keller:  The Faith to Doubt Christianity

Believing has both a head and a heart aspect, so while some non-Christians will need more help with one than the other, we can't ignore either one.
So what can we say when we are called upon to present the reasons why we believe?
First, I try to show that it takes faith to doubt Christianity, because any worldview (including secularism or skepticism) is based on assumptions. For example, the person who says, "I can only believe in something if it can be rationally or empirically proven" must realize that this itself is a statement of faith. This "verification principle" cannot actually be proven rationally or empirically, making it an assertion or a claim, not an argument. Furthermore, there are all sorts of things you can't prove rationally or empirically. You can't prove to me that you're not really a butterfly dreaming you're a person. (Haven't you seen The Matrix?) You can't prove most of the things you believe, so at least recognize that you have faith. I normally make this point by considering an objection to Christianity, to show that at the heart is some sort of faith assumption.
Let's take the example of suffering---someone will say, "I can't believe in God, because how could a good God allow such suffering?" Put another way, they are saying, "I know for a fact that there can't be any good reason that a good God would allow this specific thing to happen." Really? There could be all sorts of good reasons why God allowed something to happen that caused suffering, despite our inability to think of them. If you've got an infinite God big enough to be mad at for the suffering in the world, then you also have an infinite God big enough to have reasons for it that you can't think of.

Arguing with God

You have to show people that it takes faith to doubt Christianity. C. S. Lewis argued with God before his conversion that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But then he asked himself, "But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? . . . Atheism turns out to be too simple" (Mere Christianity, Book 2, Part 1). In the natural world the strong eat the weak, and there's nothing wrong with violence. Where do you get the standard that says the human world shouldn't work that way, that says the natural world is wrong? You can only judge suffering as wrong if you're using a standard higher than this world, a supernatural standard. If there's no God, you have no reason to be upset at the suffering in this world. It takes faith to get mad at this world.
A gospel-shaped apologetic starts not with telling people what to believe, but by showing them their real problem. In this case we are showing secular people that they have less warrant for their faith assumptions than we do for ours. We need to show that it takes faith even to doubt.
British critic and former atheist A. N. Wilson wrote about losing his faith as a young man, influenced by British intellectual society, which assumed only stupid people actually believe in Christianity. "As a matter of fact however," he argues, "it is materialist atheism that is not merely an arid creed but totally irrational. Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals, and it has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love, or heroism, or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat."
A campus evangelist I once heard during the Vietnam protests pushed atheist students to recognize the clash between their moral relativism in regards to sex, and their moral absolutism with regards to international genocide. They had no answers. If there's no God, everything is permitted. Without God we're left with no basis for all that is most important to our lives: human dignity, compassion, justice. We have a problem.

Believing the Beauty of the Gospel

Which brings us to the final point, the solution to our problem. At some point you need to tell the Christian story in a way that addresses what people most want for their own lives, what they are trying to find outside of Christianity, and show how Christianity can give it to them. Alasdair MacIntyre said this about narratival apologetics: "That narrative prevails over its rivals which is able to include its rivals within it, not only to retell their stories as episodes within its story, but to tell the story of the telling of their stories as such episodes." Read that sentence again.
There is a way of telling the gospel that makes people say, "I don't believe it's true, but I wish it were." You have to get to the beauty of it, and then go back to the reasons for it. Only then will many believe, when you show that it takes more faith to doubt it than to believe it; when what you see out there in the world is better explained by the Christian account of things than the secular account of things; and when they experience a community in which they actually do see Christianity embodied, in healthy Christian lives and solid Christian community.
A version of this article originally appeared on Redeemer Presbyterian Church's City to City Blog.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Such Enduring Faith

Practical Theology for Women post:  Forsaken by God -- When Our Fears Become Our Reality

The older I get, the more I feel a need for God's protection. I've been through enough things the first time to put all kinds of barriers around myself to keep me from experiencing it again. Miscarriage? Been there, done that. Do NOT want to do it again. Marriage struggles? Been there, done that. Do NOT want to do that again. Conflict with family? Been there, done that. Most certainly do not want to go through that again. Church conflict? Yes. Personal failures? Yes. And so forth.

I talked with several friends recently who each shared with me in separate conversations that God allowed them into EXACTLY the situation they were trying to not find themselves in again. I was struck that this was not a unique situation, but one in which many of my friends found themselves. We wrestled together with God. Why, Lord?! Why, when we know it's a problem and we make wise choices in an attempt to avoid it and we pray for Your protection, do we find ourselves in exactly the same situation again? Why didn't You protect us?

It's a vulnerable question. Why didn't God protect my friend from the very situation she did everything she knew to do to avoid? She had a more mature response to it than I did for her, and I started to note something forged in her character through that experience. 

Our pastor preached this week from Psalms 22, and I received it as a gift of God's grace to us for exactly these situations. God doesn't leave us to navigate such situations on our own. No, in His Word written and preserved for us, He acknowledges that these situations will happen and then gives us a model for engaging Him when it does. 
Psalm 22 A Psalm of David. 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
David cries it under the inspiration of God, and God preserves it in His Word for the generations that follow. It is finally and fundamentally fulfilled when Christ echoes it on the cross. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” By Christ's final act on the cross, the issue of being ultimately forsaken by God is finally put to rest for good. God will NOT turn His back on us. He will NOT forsake us. He gives us these words to cry out to Him in prayer even as He reminds us that Christ was forsaken in our place that we would never be separated from God again.

Psalms 22 ministers to us when we struggle with a God who didn't move for us as we expected, who didn't save us from a painful road of life that we prayerfully tried to avoid. I have no simple answers otherwise for how to deal with such disappointment—disappointment in your circumstances as well as disappointment in your God who did not act as you expected. The only encouragement I have is that He invites you to stay engaged with Him, to wrestle with Him. He may very well touch your thigh so that you limp the rest of your life, yet like the wrestling of Jacob of old, you will emerge on the other side with something forged in your heart, some bond in your relationship with Him, that others of us who haven't similarly struggled will note from afar. I do NOT like watching my friends struggle as their fears become their reality. I long to protect them (and myself) from such things. Yet, I have to admit that their faith afterwards as they limp forward in life has blessed me. Really, it has convicted me! Such enduring faith is a precious gift of God, to be valued highly, though it is not forged in easy ways.

God's Unconditional Love

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Insecurity Produces Pride

If you have the reputation of being somewhat critical, “hard edged”, and defensive–it may reveal much more than you realize. Believe it or not, there is a direct and explicit connection between a lack of confidence in God’s unconditional love for you and your tendency to be critical, assertive, and defensive. When you function as if God’s love and acceptance of you depends on your spiritual achievements, your obedience, and your performance, you develop a “defensive assertion of your own righteousness and defensive criticism of others.”
Big thanks to Tom Wood for highlighting these insightful words from Richard Lovelace:
Christians who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously insecure persons–much less secure than non-Christians–because they have too much light to rest easily under the constant bulletins they receive from their Christian environment about the holiness of God and the righteousness they are supposed to have. Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce defensive assertion of their own righteousness and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger. They cling desperately to legal, Pharisaical righteousness. But envy, jealousy and other branches on the tree of sin grow out of their fundamental insecurity.
It is often necessary to convince sinners of the grace and love of God toward them, before we can get them to look at their problems. Then the vision of grace and the sense of God’s forgiving acceptance may actually cure most of the problems.
This may account for Paul’s frequent fusing of justification and sanctification.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Upward I Look

Fearless Preachers

Ray Ortlund post:  They unlocked their door

“It is noteworthy [in Acts chapter 2] that the disciples, who appear to have been hiding away from their enemies in the spirit of John 20:19, immediately became different people.  They unlocked their door, and went down to the most public place they could find and there preached Jesus boldly.  This change from cringing cowards to fearless preachers was permanent.  We read of Christians making all sorts of mistakes afterwards, and they are far from being perfect.  But we do not again read of them hiding away for fear of men.  The Spirit altered all that.  From now on they became fearless vehicles of the Spirit in proclaiming to men the message of the gospel.”
Leon Morris, Spirit of the Living God (Chicago, 1960), page 53.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Everyday Life

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Facing the Messiness of Daily Life

     Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet. 1:3-7
     Heavenly Father, today we need a fresh supply of persevering grace, for the “all kinds of trials” of life are sapping our spirits and weighing us down. We need to be reassured that you are refining our faith and not just ignoring us. Many of us feel tired, weary and disillusioned. However, because the gospel is true, giving up, bucking up or just pulling up our boot straps is not the way forward. You give us a much better way—a new and living way.
     Though, unlike many of our brothers and sisters in Jesus, most of us didn’t go to sleep hungry or thirsty last night; we didn’t hear and fear gunfire echoing through our neighborhoods; there’s no plague pillaging our doctor-less communities; no roving band of thugs threaten to steal our Bibles and torch our churches… nevertheless you take our hearts and stories very seriously. You never roll your eyes at us or shame us with a disappointing glare. How we praise you for your love for us in Jesus.
     For many of us, life is presently more like swimming in a pool of tiny piranha just nibbling away at our joy, energy, and peace. It’s no one thing, but many little things that are taking the toll.
     Please give us grace perfectly suited for the demands and the daily-ness of normal life—in our bodies with aging joints and leaking memories; among fellow sinner-saints who, like us, love inconsistently; in unresolved stories from the past, and present stories of brokenness and weakness; in the face of minor injustices and a lack of common mercies; when cars, plumbing, air conditioners, and other stuff breaks; when people don’t say “thank you,” people drive like maniacs, and pets pee on the freshly cleaned carpets.
     Lord, in all these things, we want your hand and heart to be at work. we want to know what a people of faith look and love like, not just is we have to face a firing squad one day, but, also when we facing the multiplied messes and normal messiness of everyday life. So very Amen we pray in Jesus’ tender and triumphant name.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Law-Gospel Community

Tullian Tchividjian post:  The Pastoral Practicality of Law-Gospel Theology

Our church was recently hit with a high-ranking moral tragedy. It was discovered that a staff member (and close friend) was engaging in marital infidelity. I was both shocked and saddened. I didn’t see it coming. None of us did. Of all the crises I’ve faced and had to deal with over the last 17 years of pastoral ministry, this was a first for me. I have dealt on numerous occasions with husbands and wives in the throes of an extramarital affair, but never a staff member. Never someone this close to me. It’ll take me a long time to get over this one.
On top of having to deal with this on a very personal level, I had the weighty responsibility of leading our church through this. How do you handle something like this? What do you tell people? I reached out to a small handful of older, wiser, more seasoned friends of mine who are pastors and counselors that have lived and led through situations like this. Their help and counsel and encouragement and insight were indispensable life savers for me. What would I do without these people in my life?
One week after we discovered the affair, I had to stand up on my first Sunday back from vacation and tell our church what happened. I, of course, did not share much. I steered clear of details. I simply told our church that this man had been engaged in marital infidelity and the situation was such that it required him to be removed from his position. I shared with our church the detailed ways that we were caring for the families involved and communicated our long-term commitment to continue caring for the families involved. It was a tough morning for me. It was a tough morning for everybody. The hurt, the anger, the sadness, the confusion.
I preached from Gal 5:13 that morning, and among the things I emphasized and explained to our church was that we are not a one word community (law or gospel) but a two word community (law then gospel). A law-only community responds to a situation like this by calling for the guy’s head (sadly, many churches are guilty of this). These churches lick their chops at the opportunity to excommunicate. A gospel-only community responds by saying, “We’re no better than he is so why does he have to lose his job? After all, don’t we believe in grace and forgiveness?” A one word community simply doesn’t possess the biblical wisdom or theological resources to know how to deal with sinners in an honest, loving, and appropriate way.
Explaining that we are a law-gospel community, I showed how pastorally this means we believe God uses his law to crush hard hearts and his gospel to cure broken hearts. The law is God’s first word; the gospel is God’s final word. And when we rush past God’s first word to get to God’s final word and the law has not yet had a chance to do its deep wrecking work, the gospel is not given a chance to do its deep restorative work. Sinners never experience the freedom that comes from crying “Abba” (gospel) until they first cry “Uncle” (law).
I illustrated this point by reminding our church that the Father of the prodigal son in Luke 15 did not fall to his knees and wrap his arms around his sons legs as the son was leaving, but as he was returning. He had been waiting, looking to the horizon in hope. When he saw his son coming home, crushed and humbled, he ran to him. But he didn’t stop him from leaving. He didn’t rescue his son from the pigsty. If we really love people and want to see them truly set free, we have to get out of God’s way and let the law do its crushing work so that the gospel can do its curing work. I’ve seen way too many lives ruined because parents, pastors, families, and friends have cushioned the fall of someone they love–robbing that person from ever experiencing true deliverance because they never experience true desperation. As John Zahl has said, “God’s office is at the end of our rope.” Grace always runs downhill–meeting us at the bottom, not the top.
With tears in my eyes and deep longing in my heart, I ache for the day when I can look out on the horizon and see my crushed friend walking toward me. On that day I’ll know that God’s law has done it’s work. And when that happens, I will run to meet him, fall on my knees, wrap my arms around his legs, and throw a party. No questions asked. Just a party.
I’m waiting for you, my brother!

Value Civility

Ed Stetzer post:  A Statement on Civility: A Desperate Need for Cooperative Spirit, Collective Vision, and a Common Goal in Politics.

This big civility news this week is Rick Warren's explanation for canceling the Saddleback Civil Forum. The fact that a civil forum was cancelled due to a lack of civil discourse is akin to a psychic convention being cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
Though I am aware of some debate about the circumstances, Rick Warren was certainly right about the lack of civility. I think the United States is in a civility crisis.
As we approach this election, one can't help but notice the continual decline in civility we have seen in Washington. It's getting ugly.
There are many reasons but here are a some I have observed:
1. We are too quick to label others who disagree with us. I wrote last week about the shooting in Washington D.C. at the Family Research Council offices. This shooting led to a conversation about the danger of the "if you're not for gay marriage, you are a hater" idea. It does not foster civility on either side. It creates inaccurate perceptions and puts people on the defensive. A defensive posture is a cynical and closed posture. Cooperation does not result from a defensive posture.
2. We misrepresent others' views to make them look stupid or evil.Political campaign ads are full of misrepresentations. Voting records are twisted, legislation is misstated, and generalizations are made. Then the other side just ups the ante and the vicious cycle continues. This happens because, in many cases, it is easier (and often more beneficial politically) for us to point out the faults and gaffs in our opponents rather than make the case we have.
3. We use fear as a weapon against the uninformed. In our soundbite culture, if commercials or pamphlets say something enough, people who know no better will begin to believe it as truth. That's what worries me the most about undecided voters. Some voters are engaged and informed on issues and candidates. However, many are not, and many times they are the ones who unfortunately cast the deciding votes.
So where do we go from here?
I wish it was an easy answer. I do see three things that might help, however. We need a cooperative spirit, a collective vision, and a common goal.
A cooperative spirit is essential to success in any process. With more than 300 million Americans, this is nearly impossible to enact all at once. However, you can foster a cooperative spirit in your neighborhood, your community, your city, and so on. We don't have to agree on everything, we just have to cooperate and be willing to understand things from others' perspectives-- for the common good. We can learn from one another if we would simply talk with those who disagree with our political positions. We can't have civility if we don't assume that the other person has the best in mind for the community and country.
A collective vision is desperately needed in our nation. As terrible as this sounds, the only time we as a country seem to be in agreement collectively on anything is during times when we have been attacked. National tragedies rally us together. But that is not at all what I'm advocating here. I'm simply stating that to show that it is possible for us to work together. We should use that same mentality in times of peace and prosperity. We don't have to have a common enemy to bring us together, we simply need a common vision for a better country-- less divided, more concerned about the common good.
A common goal might be the most difficult part-- as if the other two were simple. It's difficult because someone has to set the goal, and we can't even agree on who that should be. A common goal can't be pushed down onto the people. It must rise from the people. It is a result of the cooperative spirit and the collective vision-- but we can and must work toward figuring that out together.
Recently, I was part of a national gathering in Washington D.C. for the Faith and Politics Institute to talk about such cooperation. This was a small meeting of a diverse group of religious leaders including a handful of evangelical leaders, along with several Senators and Members of the House.
The group created a statement to rally around and foster civility in our country. I was glad to speak into the draft, but was leaning against signing. Politics, Senators, religious leaders, and statements are not my thing. However, the events of the last few weeks-- arguing, calling people "haters" for disagreeing on marriage, the coarsening political culture, the Rick Warren cancellation, and some prayer and reflection-- changed my mind. So, that statement, which I have signed, was released today.
This "Better Angels Statement" is an attempt by respected religious leaders from across the country to call for a more civil tone before our country is torn apart. It has been signed by diverse leaders such as Richard Land of the SBC, the James Forbes of Riverside Church, Pierre Bynum of the Family Research Council and Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. That is, to say the least, an unusual list.
Like any group statement, it is not exactly how I would word things, but I hope it helps our cultural conversation and provokes politicians to value civility just a little bit more. It reads:
I. As people of faith in leadership positions, we will seek to model civility and achieve the following goals in our personal spheres of influence: 
1. Lead by example, modeling civil discourse with and respect for those with whom we disagree.

2. Lead by recognizing that our deeply held beliefs, values and principles will not be compromised by courteous, respectful and civil disagreement when we interact with those with who whom we disagree.

3. Lead by tackling the controversial issues of our time without resorting to clich├ęs, resorting to stereotypes or putting people into preconceived boxes.

4. Lead by establishing relationships that will allow each of us to express our convictions openly in our interactions with each other knowing that we will be heard and respected.
II. We agree to the following "Commitment to Reconciliation."
We are faith leaders from various Christian traditions and have different, sometimes opposite, opinions on important subjects of religion and politics. While we do not agree on some issues, we are concerned that excessive polarization in politics is harming America. We affirm that differences on some matters should not create polarization on all issues. We believe that where we disagree, we should do so in a spirit of mutual affection, showing honor to one another. We believe we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. We shall make our best effort to seek understanding of and respect for our differences and identifying areas where we can work together with mutual respect.

III. We agree to begin working toward a broad initiative that will influence church members, media, and all of society toward greater civility.
IV. We agree to pray for each other and for our leaders of all different political views.
I will share more about this soon, but since they released the statement today, I wanted to share it here. I don't do interfaith things often due to my theological convictions and views on such approaches (read the cover story I wrote in Christianity Today about multifaith engagement). But, in this case, I hope that religious standing together as co-belligerents against incivility will help in some small way.
That's my prayer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Christ Alone

David Crabb post:  When Tradition Trumps Truth

When Tradition Trumps Truth

"I come to church for tradition, not this," a visiting women told me as she vigorously pointed at her Bible. I had just finished preaching Jesus' denunciation of the rabbinical teachings that had come to overshadow and even contradict God's law (Matt. 9:14-17). I had exhorted Christians to not allow anything, even helpful forms and traditions, replace Christ in their hearts.
Naturally, I was dumbfounded. Unsure of how to respond, I mumbled something vaguely pastoral as she brushed quickly past. As I reflected on her words later that afternoon, I realized what was so unusual about her statement. This lady said something almost no evangelical would explicitly affirm but many nevertheless confirm in their practice. We love our traditions. And sometimes (in ways often imperceptible to us) we value them more than God's Word.
The average Christian church runs largely on tradition. Everything from the time we meet, to the shape of our meetings, to the clothes we wear, to the music we use, is guided by tradition. And that's a good thing. Traditions provide order and structure that enable us to function well in community. They connect us to our heritage and deepen and strengthen our worship. Indeed, the apostle Paul commended the Corinthian church for holding firmly to the traditions he had taught them (1 Cor. 11:2), and he admonished the Thessalonian church to do the same (2 Thess. 2:15). Christians ought to nurture an appreciation and respect for their various ecclesiastical traditions.

Never Confused

But traditions must never be invested with the authority of God's truth. Traditions change with time and culture, while God's Word is eternal, timeless, and unchanging. Blurring the line between the two (tradition and truth) can have devastating results. Jesus continually denounced the Pharisees for precisely this error.
Healthy tradition flows out of truth and enhances the ministry of the truth. Our sinful tendencies to absolutize our traditions will only serve to hinder the work of the ministry. "The conscience can be needlessly condemning in areas where there is no biblical issue," John MacArthur says. "In fact, it can try to hold you to the very thing the Lord is trying to release you from!"
So how can we guard against elevating tradition to the level of biblical truth?
(1) By recognizing our traditions for what they are--necessary, helpful, and man-made. Doing so allows us to embrace traditions, while at the same time holding them loosely.
(2) By attending a church that regularly preaches the main themes of the Bible, exalts Christ and his gospel, and conscientiously avoids placing application on the level of scriptural truth.
(3) By embracing the function of tradition as servant, not master. The newness of the kingdom demands the wineskin of humble flexibility. Our traditions exist to serve the ministry of the gospel, not the other way around.
(4) By faithfully applying God's Word personally and corporately, while recognizing where God's truth ends and our application begins, and then relating to other Christians accordingly.
You may not be as explicit as the lady I encountered after the service that Sunday, but perhaps you've raised preference to the level of truth. Perhaps you have begun to filter Scripture through the lens of an ethnic tradition, or simply loved a liturgical pattern more than the Savior it was designed to help you worship. Maybe your Christian fellowship has been hindered because other believers don't fit your expectations.
Let us repent of where we have loved our forms and traditions more than Christ. And let us measure all things in light of Scripture, remembering that the substance and heart of our faith is Christ, who alone is worthy of our worship.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Divine Strength

Ray Ortlund post:  When really weak in ourselves

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9
“Christ says to those who seek deliverance from pain and sorrow, ‘It is enough that I love you.’ . . . Most Christians are satisfied in trying to be resigned under suffering.  They think it is a great thing if they can bring themselves to submit to be the dwelling-place of Christ’s power.  To rejoice in their afflictions because thereby Christ is glorified is more than they aspire to.  Paul’s experience was far above that standard. . . .
When really weak in ourselves, and conscious of that weakness, we are in the state suited to the manifestation of the power of God.  When emptied of ourselves, we are filled with God.  Those who think they can change their own hearts, atone for their own sins, subdue the power of evil in their own souls or in the souls of others, who feel able to sustain themselves under affliction, God leaves to their own resources.  But when they feel and acknowledge their weakness, he communicates to them divine strength.”
Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, 1973 reprint), pages 287-289.


Practical Theology for Women post:  Good Intentions and Utter Failure

Matthew 26 
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd,     and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
This scene from the days preceding Jesus' crucifixion comforts me. These guys were sincere. They loved Jesus. They still didn't exactly understand Him. Even after 3 years, they didn't fully comprehend the cost of following Him. Yet, they were sincere with what they understood at that point, and I believe in their minds they truly couldn't comprehend denying Him.

But none of them had understood what Jesus was saying when He predicted His death. Each time Jesus brought it up, He and the disciples seemed to talk past each other. Only Mary of Bethany who poured perfume over Jesus in John 12 seems to understand what was going to happen.

The neat thing about this scene from Matthew 26 is that Jesus doesn't just predict the disciples' denial of Him, but He also predicts that He will rise again and gather them back to Himself, which He does a few chapters later. These disciples have walked with Jesus IN PERSON for 3 years. They have heard His instructions, thought they understood what He came to do, yet missed some pretty important truths. They have boldly declared their fidelity only to fall away exactly as He predicted. And He gathers them back up after His resurrection, reaffirms His plans for them, and sends them off with His affirmation of power and authority. And they change the world! It's really quite beautiful and encouraging.

These are the very guys standing on the sidelines as the Cloud of Witnesses of which Hebrews speaks in encouragement to you and I. 
Hebrews 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Thinking on their denial of Jesus and Jesus' grace to them in return encourages me just as Hebrews says – to run with perseverance the marathon before me; to fix my eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of my faith that I may not grow weary and lose heart. Because it's usually the unbelief within myself that most undoes me. It's not persecution or outside sin with which I most struggle. It's my own lack of trust in light of it all. It's my fears of denying Jesus when I'm faced with troubling circumstances. Yet the disciples failed utterly despite their best intentions, and God used them anyway. And they cheer us on from the sidelines in our own walk with sin and unbelief outside of us and the sin and unbelief within us. Endure, friend, and look to Jesus. Such instruction never grows old. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Mark Batterson post:  714

In the 1st century BC, a Jewish sage named Honi the Circle Maker “saved a generation” with one bold prayer for rain. He drew a circle in the sand, knelt down, and prayed this prayer, “Sovereign Lord, I swear before your great name that I will not leave this circle until you have mercy upon your children.”  What if we followed his example?  Here’s what I know for sure: bold prayers honor God and God honors bold prayers!  I leverage that story in The Circle Maker to talk about the idea of prayer circles.
There is nothing magical about circling something in prayer, but there is something biblical about it.  Just as the Israelites circled Jericho, we need to circle the promises of God.  That’s what Circle 714 is all about. We’re circling II Chronicles 7:14 because we believe that God always delivers on His promises!  In fact, He cannot over promise or under deliver!  If we humble ourselves and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways, then God will send revival.  It’s as inevitable as the sun rising in the east.  It’s not a question of if.  It’s only a question of when.
Keep circling 714!

Quiet Fanatics

Ray Ortlund post:  Changed

“It is a growing conviction of mine that no parish can fulfill its true function unless there is at the very center of its leadership life a small community of quietly fanatic, changed and truly converted Christians.  The trouble with most parishes is that nobody, including the pastor, is really greatly changed. . . .
We do not want ordinary men.  Ordinary men cannot win the brutally pagan life of a city like New York for Christ.  We want quiet fanatics.”
John Heuss, Our Christian Vocation (Greenwich, 1955), pages 15-16.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Come Boldly to Merciful Savior

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for “Paralyzed” Friends

      They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. Mark 2:2-4 
     Merciful Lord Jesus, all of us have friends who are paralyzed by a variety conditions. We lift them up to your throne of grace today, thankful we don’t have to fight crowds or remove any roof tiles to get to you. We come boldly; we come expectant; we come with great joy, for you are a wonderful merciful Savior.
     We bring you our friends still paralyzed by sin and death—strangers to your grace, bereft of your life. There’s no greater paralysis than spiritual death—whether one is bound in the grave-clothes of unrighteousness or self-righteousness. So, for the praise of your glory, we ask you to grant our friends the righteousness that comes only by faith. Save them from both religion and non-religion. Give them faith that they might receive your grace.
     Lord Jesus, we bring you our friends paralyzed by shame, guilt, and contempt. Breathe gospel healing into our friends who are being constantly assaulted by “the accuser of the brethren”—about real and imaginary failures. Let them experientially know—in their innermost being, that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
     Lord Jesus, we bring you our friends paralyzed by old wounds, still raw with pain and grief. For our friends who have suffered various degrees of abuse and trauma, please bring the gospel to bear with great power and healing hope. And give us wisdom about the best way to love and serve them. When we are tempted to “fix” them, or avoid them, give us fresh compassion and patience.
     Jesus, we bring you our friends paralyzed by various obsessions and addictions. Before your throne of grace, we bring those who are hooked into pornography and other sexual entanglements, chemical and drug abuse, eating disorders, self-righteousness and legalism, greed, gossip, preoccupation with physical beauty, and so many other conditions for which the gospel alone provides sufficient power and grace.
     Lastly, Jesus, we bring you our friends paralyzed by the demands of care-giving—whether for aging parents or special needs children, and for those who are counselors and case workers for justice and mercy. On behalf of those called to heroically love in situations that deplete them emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically, we cry for great mercy, Jesus.
     Thank you for the privilege of both praying for our friends and being sent as a part of the answer to these prayers. So very Amen we pray, in your faithful and merciful name.

Rich in Mercy

Tullian Tchividjian post:  The Good News

I love the way Sean Norris of South Side Anglican Church in Pittsburgh describes what the gospel is on their church website.
The “good news” of Christianity begins by describing the way things are. There is much beauty and joy in our lives, but there is also pain, loss, dissatisfaction, and trauma. We wish we didn’t war with each other, but we do. No one wants to become an addict, but we do. No one wants their marriage to end in divorce, but it happens. We are not as free as we think. We are unable to fix ourselves, our family, or our world. Are we left alone?
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5).
The Gospel—literally the “good news”—is that God has descended into the depths of our failure, even into hell itself to rescue us. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). In Jesus, God himself took the consequences of our ignorance, our selfishness, our cowardice, and ultimately our rejection of him. Jesus alone reveals that God is not an angry judge but a loving father gathering his hurting children to himself to heal, to forgive, to redeem.
We are reconciled to God by faith through grace alone. As a result, we believe that the gospel is the same for all people, Christian and non alike. Only God’s grace unleashes freedom—the kind of freedom to accept, to forgive, to walk in love, to live boldly. “It is for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). God’s forgiveness means that we are motivated by love instead of fear. The fruit of that freedom of the Gospel is a spontaneous, creative, and compassionate life.
We believe that the very thing that makes a Christian—namely, the Gospel—is the same thing that grows a Christian.
I’m grateful for Sean and his gospel witness. If you live anywhere near Pittsburgh, I recommend that you visit Sean’s young church plant.

Redeeming Love

There Is a Fountain | William Cowper

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.


Friday, August 17, 2012

God Speaking

J.D. Greear post:  5 Corrosives to Faith

For most believers, the greatest danger to faith is not some cataclysmic event that dramatically pushes them away from God. Rather, it’s the slow, gradual dulling of their hearts toward Him. They lose all ability to “see” God, to perceive His activity on earth. The author of Hebrews enumerates 5 such dangers (from the message this weekend.)
1. Division (Heb 12:14) – Division and strife have a way of making us forget all about the Kingdom of God. Someone offends us and our pride gets riled up–we are consumed with our rights and our interests. The author of Hebrews encourages us to “seek peace,” which means that we are to be the first to offer forgiveness, even when wronged. It means that we take the towel and wash the feet of those in conflict with us, like Christ did. It means that we serve our “enemies” and seek their well-being. This has a way of immediately renewing our commitment to the Kingdom of Christ. Humility in service and forgiveness is a grace God gives us to renew our faith.
2. Worldliness (Heb 12:14) – The author of Hebrews tells us to pursue holiness, a word the Hebrews used to describe both God’s absolute perfection and “otherness.” The opposite of holiness is worldliness (which means both a toleration of impurity as well as a fixation on material things). When our minds are saturated with worldly pursuits, we will never be able to “see” God.
The Greek word for “pursue” literally means “persecute” or “hunt.” We are supposed to hunt it down relentlessly. Think Jason Bourne. As Charles Spurgeon said,
“You will never gain holiness by standing still. Nobody ever grew holy without agonizing to be holy. Sin will grow without sowing, but holiness needs cultivation. Follow it; it will not run after you. You must pursue it with determination, with eagerness, with perseverance, as a hunter pursues its prey.”
This doesn’t come any more naturally to me than it does to you. I have to discipline myself to read the Bible, to memorize Scripture, to listen to good podcasts, read good books, and be in accountability where I confess my sins. I hear a lot of objections from people that they are “too busy” to read Christian books that stoke their faith. You would be surprised what you can accomplish if you set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes a night. The greatest danger to most Christians’ faith is not a Richard Dawkins book but the slow rot of American Idol (which isn’t necessarily wrong in and of itself). “Distraction” is usually a more effective weapon against our faith than unbelief.
Worldliness slowly destroys our ability even to “see” God, i.e. to perceive by faith His beauty and activity on earth.
3. Bitterness (Heb 12:15) – Idolatry is like a poisonous weed, or as the author of Hebrews says, a “root of bitterness.” It starts very subtly, but soon infiltrates the entire garden. Tragically, a lot of us will miss the grace of God because we are distracted by idolatry. We allow something to carry more weight in our heart than God: for some it is money, for others it is the approval of their peers, for others it is the ambition for success. It’s when a good things becomes a God thing.
What dominates your thoughts? What makes you jealous? What has made you bitter? Whatever that thing is, it is an idol to us, and if we aren’t vigilant, it will choke out desires for God. Idolatry removes our ability even to see God.
4. Sensual pleasures (Heb 12:16) – Think about how much people arrange their lives just to “feel good.” Rolling Stone carried an article recently about how the best Hollywood parties go from Friday night to Monday morning and are just flowing with great food, alcohol, ecstasy, and sex.
There has to be more to life than bodily sensations! But for many of us, the addictiveness of immorality or bodily comforts is drugging us and keeping us from thinking about what really matters. Like Esau, we trade the eternal for a fleeting sensation. Can anything be more insane?
5. Inattention (Heb 12:25) – If the Israelites standing before Mt. Sinai, a mountain flaming and shaking with God’s presence, would not have ignored God, how much more should we heed the God speaking out of Mt. Calvary, when God took the lightning and thunder of His wrath into His own body? Isaiah says that he was beaten so brutally that he no longer looked like a human. He became our sin, dying the death of sin in our place.
If God did all this to save us, how could we make His word only a secondary matter? This is God speaking, a God so holy a violation of His law demands death, yet a God so loving that He took that death for us. Our eternity depends on whether or not we listen. J. C. Ryle said that for many people, a lack of seriousness and a carefree attitude are keeping them from eternal life:
“God is serious is observing us. Christ is serious in His death for us. The Spirit is serious in striving with us. The truths of God are serious. Our spiritual enemies are serious in their endeavors to ruin us. Poor lost sinners are serious in hell. Why then should we not be serious, too?
The preaching of the word of God is not religious entertainment. People’s lives depend on it.

The Creator Has Breathed Out a Book

Excerpt from John Piper at Desiring God:  All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God, Continue in It 


5. The Scriptures are God-breathed (verse 16).
  • One is that Jesus saw his own teaching on a par with Scripture (Matthew 5) and having the authority of God (John 14:10, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”).
  • Another is that Jesus prepared for his apostles to speak with divine authority for the sake of the church (John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”).
  • Another is that the apostles claimed to be inspired by God (1 Cor. 2:13, “We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit.”).
  • Another is that Peter said that Paul’s letters were part of the authoritative Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16, Some twist his letters “as they do the other Scriptures.”). 
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10)

Verses 14–16a: “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, (1) knowing from whom you learned it and (2) how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which (3) are able to make you wise for salvation (4) through faith in Christ Jesus. (5) All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
This is one of the most important statements in the Bible. “All Scripture is God-breathed” — inspired, we usually say. Uniquely. Not like we might say a beautiful musical performance was “inspired,” but breathed out by God so as to make the Scripture God’s own words.
The Scriptures in view here are the Old Testament. That is what the Jewish family of Timothy and Lois and Eunice knew and believed and loved. But there are really good reasons for treating the New Testament as having the same God-breathed authority.
So when Paul speaks in 2 Timothy 3:16 of the Scripture being inspired, it refers by implication to the Old and New Testaments.
A Focus on the Writings Themselves
Now contrast what Paul says here about the Scripture with what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So what Peter emphasizes is that the writers of Scripture were inspired. God “carried them” so to speak — influenced their minds — so that God’s word is spoken truly by the prophets.
But Paul focuses on the writings themselves, not the writers. He tells Timothy (in verse 16) not to forsake the truth of these writings because the writings themselves (pa◊sa grafh\) are God-breathed. God’s influence was not simply on the mind of the writers in general, but his attention to the process of Scripture creation was such that when their minds and hands  composed actual Scripture words, these words were so much God’s words that Paul says the writings themselves are God-breathed.
The Very Words of God
This is the main reason that the Elder Affirmation of Faith at Bethlehem begins in Section 1.1, “We believe that the Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.” The term “verbally inspired” and the reference to the “original manuscripts” both flow from the focus of 2 Timothy 3:16 on the very writings themselves.
Timothy, continue in what you have learned and believed, because the holy writings your mother and grandmother taught you are the very words of God. Bethlehem, we hold in our hands the very words of God translated into English. Have you ever been half as amazed at this as you should be? The Creator of the universe has breathed out a book. A book. We can read the mind of God revealed in this book. We have access to knowledge that is unshakably true and infinitely valuable. Infinitely. Do you treasure and love and read and meditate and memorize and study this book in accord with its infinite worth?
One Divine Voice
We are in the process of one of the greatest transitions this church has ever been through. It is inevitable and it is good. And God has wrought wonders for us in the last eight months. One human voice will replace another human voice.
But the divine voice sounding from this pulpit stays exactly the same. For his word never changes. It is fixed forever in God-breathed Scripture. If there is any key to God’s merciful blessing on the history of this 141-year-old church it is this: We have continued  in (stayed in, remained in) the God-breathed, Gospel-centered, inerrant word of God. It has been our salvation and our treasure and our sweetness.
More to be desired are they than gold, 
And so I say to the elders, and to Jason Meyer in particular, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed.” If for the next thirty years Bethlehem is to be a place of salvation, and a place of treasure, and a place of sweetness, continue in the Scripture — these holy, God-breathed, inerrant, infinitely valuable words of the living God.
That is the most foundational reason, Timothy, why you should continue in the truth you have learned and believed. It is the truth of God-breathed Scripture.