Thursday, January 31, 2013

His Perfect Patience

Excerpt from Collin Hansen:  Dare to Be Immoral


We are not the moral majority. We are sick sinners. But neither can we remain silent. We shout good news about a Savior who wants more than morality from us. We do not shy away from the political process when we can enact and enforce laws that will serve the common good. Indeed, we seek common ground even with political opponents. But we do not argue on the basis of our numerical or moral superiority. We tread carefully knowing how sin inclines all of us to judgment and self-righteousness, whatever our politics. We all have blind spots. So neither lament nor activism ever outpaces our gratefulness for grace. Along with the apostle Paul, we say,
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
These are your marching orders: lean on the "perfect patience" of Jesus so that through your example many might "believe in him for eternal life." Dare to be immoral in society's eyes for the sake of the kingdom. And return kindness for insults, "so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:16).

Captives Set Free

Excerpt from The Resurgence:  Why is sex trafficking at the Super Bowl?


On Resurgence, we’ve worked to raise awareness of human trafficking and sexual assault, but our hope is in more than just awareness and government initiatives; what we look forward to is the opposite of the patriarchal world system: the kingdom of God.
This kingdom is the rule and reign of God, the sphere in which God’s intentions for the world are carried out. Sinclair Fergusondefines the kingdom of God this way: “The kingdom is the rule and reign of God, the expression of his gracious sovereign will. To belong to the kingdom of God is to belong to the people among whom the reign of God has already begun.”
In Luke 17, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, and he replied, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20–21). (Darrell Bock explains that a better translation is “among you” or “in your midst.”)
The point is that Jesus is the King and the sign that God’s kingdom has come. Bock writes, “The Pharisees confront the kingdom in Jesus. They do not need to look all around for it [the kingdom] because its central figure is in front of their eyes . . . to see the kingdom, look to Jesus and what he offers. . . . The way to God’s kingdom is through Jesus. He controls the kingdom’s benefits and represents its power and presence.” The kingdom has come—it has come in Jesus Christ, and those who are united to him through faith have entered the kingdom.
In God’s vision for the world, captives are set free, and women and children have no need to fear violence, abuse, or exploitation. Male domination over and exploitation of women, in any form, should be resisted because it is evil. God calls his people to stand with the vulnerable and powerless and to resist those who use their power to oppress and harm others. When Jesus declared that he had come “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18), he showed that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the very center of his mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Now his people, the church, can join in his mission to work against evil and oppression and proclaim liberty.
Our hope is in Jesus as King, not primarily in politics, though we do believe that God can work through political systems to do good (Rom. 13:1–7). As Scot McKnight puts it, “The Christian’s primary ‘politic’ is a church that follows Jesus as King, that votes its conscience not on the basis of a political ideology but on the basis of the gospel, and that strives to influence society through the church. That is, its politic is not the eschatological hope of the federal government but in the one who is King over all.”
If you are moved to take action against modern-day slavery, the answer is not to boycott the Super Bowl. Instead, here are 14 things you can do to fight human trafficking and help victims. Specifically, please pray for the perpetrators on sexual exploitation. You can also read about how churches can work toward ending trafficking in their city

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thank You Father

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Remembering God’s Big Story of Redemption

     Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Gen. 12:1-3
Gracious and sovereign Father, remembering your big story of redemption is not only a great joy, but a critical discipline. For many different narratives compete for our hearts, days, energy, and resources. This Scripture reminds us today of the main storyline which progressively unfolds in the Bible, connects all of history, and reveals your generous and loving heart. By the grace of the gospel, help us, once again, to find our place in this story.
We praise you for making incredible promises to Abram, an unsuspecting, not-seeking-you pagan—promises you alone can keep. Indeed, from beginning to end your story is a story of sovereign grace. You are the only true seeker in your story, and that which you seek you find. Hallelujah!
Father, thank you for the promise of the land. It began in the Garden of Eden, continued in the land of Israel, and will culminate in the new heaven and new earth. People, places and things matter to you. You’ve promised to redeem and restore your entire fallen world, not just one part of it. We praise you for your inviolate plans and tenacious faithfulness.
Thank you for the promise of the seed. From the one man Abram, you created a great nation as the birthing canal of the Messiah, Jesus. You promised the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), and you didn’t lie. Jesus came into the world to destroy the work of the devil, and he has succeeded. His cross and resurrection guarantee that just like Abraham, we are counted righteous in your sight by faith (Gen. 15:6; Rom 4). We praise you for the everlasting gospel of your saving grace.
Thank you for the promise of the blessing. Father, it’s always been your plan to redeem a family from all families on the earth. Indeed, you made Abram (Abraham) the father of many nations. All of history is bound up with your commitment to redeem your people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). We praise you for your magnanimous heart and measureless generosity.
Father, thank you for making us characters in and carriers of your great story of redemption. So let us live and so let us love. How we long for the Day when Jesus returns to finish making all things new. Hallelujah what a Savior! Hallelujah what a salvation! So very Amen we pray, in his great and gracious name.

Encouraging Freedom

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Freedom is Serious Business

A golden word from Robert Capon–a word that the church must heed:
If we are ever to enter fully into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we are going to have to spend more time thinking about freedom than we do. The church, by and large, has had a poor record of encouraging freedom. It has spent so much time inculcating in us the fear of making mistakes that it has made us like ill-taught piano students: we play our pieces, but we never really hear them because our main concern is not to make music but to avoid some flub that will get us in trouble. The church, having put itself in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), has been so afraid we will lose sight of the need to do it right that it has made us care more about how we look than about who Jesus is–made us act more like subjects of a police state than fellow citizens of the saints.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Graciously Perseveres

Don Carson:  Genesis 30; Mark 1; Esther 6; Romans 1

WHEN I WAS A CHILD IN SUNDAY SCHOOL, I learned the names of the twelve tribes of Israel by singing a simple chorus: “These are the names of Jacob’s sons: Gad and Asher and Simeon, Reuben, Issachar, Levi, Judah, Dan, and Naphtali – Twelve in all, but never a twin – Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.”
But many more years passed before I grasped how important are the twelve tribes in the Bible’s storyline. Many of the dynamics of the rest of Genesis turn on their relationships. The organization of the nation of Israel depends on setting aside one tribe, the Levites, as priests. From another son, Judah, springs the Davidic dynasty that leads to the Messiah. Over the centuries, the tribe of Joseph would be divided into Ephraim and Manasseh; in substantial measure, Benjamin would merge with Judah. By the last book in the Bible, Revelation, the twelve tribes of the old covenant constitute the counterpoint to the twelve apostles of the new covenant: this twelve by twelve matrix (i.e., 144, in the symbolism of this apocalyptic literature) embracing in principle the whole people of God.
But what tawdry beginnings they have in Genesis 30. The deceit of Laban in Genesis 29, which resulted in Jacob’s marrying both Leah and Rachel, now issues in one of the most unhealthy instances of sibling rivalry in holy Scripture. Each of these women from this family is so eager to outshine the other that she gives her handmaid to her husband rather than allow the other to get ahead in the race to bear children. So self-centered and impetuous are the relationships that another time Rachel is prepared to sell her husband’s sex time to her sister Leah for a few mandrakes. Polygamy has taken hold, and with it a mess of distorted relationships.
From these painful and frankly dysfunctional family relationships spring eleven sons and one daughter (the birth of the last son, Benjamin, is reported in chap. 35). Here are the origins of the twelve tribes of Israel, the foundation of the Israelite nation. Their origins are not worse than those of others; they are merely typical. But already it is becoming clear that God does not deal with this family because they are consistently a cut above other families. No, he uses them to keep his covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He graciously perseveres with them to bring about his grand, redemptive purposes. The tawdry family dynamics, the sort of thing that might generate a B-grade movie, cannot possibly prevent the universe’s Sovereign from keeping his covenantal vows.

In the Gap and Starting to Grow Weary?

Halim Suh post:  Trusting God in the Gaps

In the life of Abraham, we catch a glimpse of "resurrection" faith---the kind that results in life from death---when Abram looked at his own body and saw that no life would be possible from him. He saw that the only hope of producing life had to come from God acting in his life, making something possible that was impossible for Abram to accomplish on his own.

That is the essence of our faith too. We look at our lives and see there is no possibility of life coming from us on our own. We contemplate our realities and are moved to see the need for a Savior. We are incapable of life without Someone to save us from ourselves. The faith that comes as we realize our need for God is the exact kind of faith we see in Abram. This is what characterizes "resurrection"---saving---faith.

Saving Faith, Not Perfect Faith

But there is still that pesky gap, isn't there? We believe God, but when confronted with circumstances that cause us to wonder if God will really come through, we see that saving faith is not always perfect faith. Abram himself cried out to God, immediately after God had just reminded him of the promise he would keep: "Lord GOD, how can I know that I will possess it?" After everything, Abram's heart still says, "Yes, I believe you, but how will I know that you are going to come through?"
Saving faith brings righteousness, but it also has fears, doubts, and struggles; ultimately its only hope is God. That is exactly what we see from Abram, who lived in the great gap between promise and reality. And that is where we live too.
In Abram's day, a covenant was made by two people passing through the cut-up pieces of animals arrayed on the ground, with this understanding: If one party broke the covenant, then may what happened to these animals happen to them as well. Both parties were on the hook and subject to the penalty if they broke their promise to the other.
Yet when God made the covenant with Abram in Genesis 15:17-21, we see something unique. Who passed between the animal pieces? Not Abram and God, but God alone passed through.
As Abram was wondering, "God, how can I know with 100 percent certainty that you are going to fulfill these things you have promised?" God answered by assuming the full risk of the covenant. He walked through the slaughtered animals as a sign of his faithfulness to Abram. In other words, if he didn't fulfill his promises, then let his holiness and perfection be chopped into pieces like the animals. God provided a reminder. In essence, God was letting Abram know that nothing would stand in the way of his faithfulness to him.

Loose Grip

What about us? That sounds great for Abram that God came down and gave him that reminder, but what about those of us in the gap right now? We're tired. We feel like we are hanging on by a thin thread. We know in our minds that God will keep his promises, but every day that passes in the gap seems to loosen our grip on that trust.
Can't God give us something, just as he did with Abram? If he would just give us something to help us remember that he is faithful, then maybe we could make it through. I don't see any flaming pots or cut-up animals around here, do you? How can we know, like Abram, that we will possess all of God's amazing promises?
God answered our question 2,000 years ago, not with the blood of bulls and goats but with the broken body and spilled blood of his only Son. We see that God did not keep the promises just to prevent himself from becoming like the divided animals; instead, he went as far as becoming like a slaughtered animal so he could keep his promises, so we would know there is nothing he won't endure to remain faithful to his Word.
When you find yourself in the gap and starting to grow weary, remember the covenant. Let your heart be overwhelmed by the greater reminder---greater than smoking pots and goats---that God has put before you in his crucified Son so that you never have to wonder if he loves you and will come through.
This is an excerpt from The Gospel Project for Adults Bible Study from LifeWay. The Gospel Project is an ongoing 13-week Bible study curriculum for all age groups that helps people see Scripture as one over-arching story that points to what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Find out more and download one month to review free at
Halim Suh and his wife, Angela, have three kids and live in Austin, Texas, where he is the pastor of equipping at The Austin Stone Community Church. He is the author (with Matt Carter) of two Threads studies: Creation Unraveled and Creation Restored. Halim has a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Events That Deepen the Wisdom of our Hearts

Daily Meditations by Henri Nouwen:  Healing Our Memories

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.
Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.

Your Neighbor Has Need of You

Andre Yee post:  Business As Ministry

Anyone working in a “secular” job will be tempted to think of work as less significant or less God honoring than that of, say, a pastor. I have struggled here, and over the years I have met many others who struggle with a sense of purpose in their daily work — wondering if they need instead to give themselves to pastoral work or Christian ministry in order to truly “do God’s will.”
Done rightly and in the fear of God, ministry is an excellent God-honoring vocation, but ministry is not the only work that can be God-honoring. So often businessmen like me think this way because we fail to really take hold of the doctrine of vocation. To put it simply, vocation is the specific work that God has called each of us to. And vocation is not limited to those who serve in Christian ministry.
In fact, God calls the vast majority of Christians to “common” spheres of work such as business, or academia, or carpentry, or law, or healthcare, or homemaking. As we faithfully give ourselves to this calling, we are God’s agents to love others and to even accomplish his will on earth.
Assuming your work is honorable and honest, assuming it is a means to serve the needs of others, that work is ministerial in nature. In that sense, your work is no different from that of a pastor or missionary.
Here are three reasons that our work is ministerial.

First, our work is ministerial when our labors are first and foremost an avenue of faith in God and worship of God, not in self-reliance and personal glory.

In short, our work really isn’t about us. Paul spells this out in Ephesians 1:11–12:
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
For the Christian, life and work is not primarily about the self — self-achievement, self-accolades, or even self-wealth, or a surplus of monetary rewards. A Christian’s labor is foremost about working in a way that expresses faith in God and worship to God. It is in the way we conduct our work and the substance of our work that provides us with a means to proclaim his excellencies.
So what does this look like? It will appear differently for each of us. For one, working to the glory of God might mean celebrating God’s kindness in the outcome of a successful project. To another, it may involve trusting God in the midst of difficulty and even failure. In my career, I have experienced both (but the latter being more challenging). Yet, it is trusting God during those challenging circumstances that speak most loudly of the rich sufficiency of knowing Christ.

Second, our work is ministerial when it serves other people rather than mere projects or profits.

People, made in the image of God, matter more to him than profits. Our take-home commission is not as important as Christ’s commission to love our neighbors in the workplace. And that means we must seek the interests of our coworkers, our customers, and our business partners.
For me, this is a simple, but too easily forgotten truth. In the urgency of my day, I frequently forget the people around me, viewing my day as nothing more than a series of tasks to check off. When I adopt that task-oriented mindset, I easily overlook the people that God has placed in my path. In my thoughtlessness, the people in my workplace quickly become incidental to my day, or they get misused as either resources for my personal gain or hindrances to my personal productivity.
As a Christian, I am called to love my neighbor, and God has given me a workplace where he intends for this to happen. So in this setting, taking the time to encourage a co-worker is ministerial. Going the extra mile to help a customer is ministerial. Serving your manager by providing an update report is ministerial. When we accomplish tasks, even the most mundane tasks, with a heart of serving and loving our neighbors at work, we are instruments of God’s kindness to them.

Third, our work is ministerial because we are ambassadors of Christ to the specific realm of work he’s called us to.

We love our neighbors best when we bring the good news to them. Like Paul, we must see ourselves as ambassadors, bearing the message of reconciliation to an unbelieving world (2 Corinthians 5:20).
For many years, I viewed my career in the software industry as incompatible to “Christian ministry.” During those years, I failed to appreciate the privilege of representing Jesus to my co-workers and my customers. I wasted my vocation, and I overlooked the fact that God has called me to represent him in the business realm.
You are not in your present career by accident. It may have felt like you landed there due to random circumstances, but God has been sovereignly guiding you. Your line of work is no accident. Your workplace is no accident. Your vocational ship has sailed to where it is thus far because God has been guiding you. He has placed you where you are because he has need of you — or, better, as Luther puts it — your neighbor has need of you. May we joyfully and faithfully pursue this high calling of God.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Children of Promise

Tell me now, you who have become so enamored with the law: Have you paid close attention to that law? Abraham, remember, had twosons: one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. The son of the slave woman was born by human connivance; the son of the free woman was born by God’s promise. This illustrates the very thing we are dealing with now. The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is from Mount Sinai in Arabia. It corresponds with what is now going on in Jerusalem—a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah. Remember what Isaiah wrote:
Rejoice, barren woman who bears no children,
    shout and cry out, woman who has no birth pangs,
Because the children of the barren woman
    now surpass the children of the chosen woman.
Isn’t it clear, friends, that you, like Isaac, are children of promise? In the days of Hagar and Sarah, the child who came from faithless connivance (Ishmael) harassed the child who came—empowered by the Spirit—from the faithful promise (Isaac). Isn’t it clear that the harassment you are now experiencing from the Jerusalem heretics follows that old pattern? There is a Scripture that tells us what to do: “Expel the slave mother with her son, for the slave son will not inherit with the free son.” Isn’t that conclusive? We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
Galatians 4: 21-31  [The Message]

Fellowship with God

Jonathan Parnell post:  Thanking God for a Courageous Missionary

John G. Paton believed in doing missions when dying is gain. The 19th century Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, a chain of islands in the South Pacific, was no stranger to suffering. Soon after he arrived to the islands in 1858, he buried both his wife and newborn child. He had left the ease of Europe for the hardships of the Hebrides, and he would become well acquainted with pain.
Over the next several years his life was characterized by loss and sickness, criticism from respected friends, dangers from the cannibalistic natives, and deep communion with Jesus.
Perhaps it is his fellowship with God that is most fascinating. Against the background of so much affliction, Paton walked close to Jesus. In one particular story, he hid high in a tree as a band of natives hunted him. Shots from their muskets rang out along with their yells, all the while he quietly stayed put. He tells about it in his autobiography,
Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior's spiritual presence, to enjoy his consoling fellowship. (Autobiography, 200)
Paton lived many years after that night in the tree. Today, January 28, marks the anniversary of when he died in 1907 and met the Savior he knew so deeply. To help commemorate his life, we’d like to highlight John Piper’s ebook biography of John G. Paton with hopes that you find it inspiring, and even life-changing. Download the ebook for free as PDF, MOBI, or EPUB, and help us spread the word.
Thank you, God, for John G. Paton. Would that we learn from his life and so serve the gospel overseas, in our homes, and on our streets like dying is gain!

Thanks Be To God

Tullian Tchividjian post:  The Burned Over Place

One of the best books I’ve read in years is a short book originally published in 1983 by Paul Zahl entitled Who Will Deliver Us? The Present Power of the Death of Christ. Dr. Zahl plumbs the depths of the Gospel for everyday life in a paradigm shifting way.
Of the book, J.I. Packer writes:
Zahl knows the authentic gospel and the 20th Century human heart and probes deeply into both.
And John Stott wrote:
A brave and honest book. An unusual combination of pastoral compassion and theological integrity.
His grasp of the demands of God’s Law and the deliverance of God’s Gospel is both deep and wide. But what makes this book a cut above the rest is Zahl’s ability to connect the Law and the Gospel to our everyday fears, expectations, relationships, shattered dreams, and insecurities.
Speaking of Law and Gospel, Zahl paints a vivid picture that reveals our helplessness before the devastation and comprehensiveness of Divine expectation and how that helplessness creates the space for God’s amazing grace and the freedom it produces:
I’m a little like the duck hunter who was hunting with his friend in a wide-open barren of land in southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon, he could hear the sound of crackling. A wind came up and he realized the terrible truth: a brush-fire was advancing his way. It was moving so fast that he and his friend could not outrun it. The hunter began to rifle through his pockets. Then he emptied all the contents of his knapsack. He soon found what he was looking for-a book of matches. To his friend’s amazement, he pulled out a match and struck it. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the brush fire to come. They did not have to wait long. They covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near-and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt. They weren’t even touched. Fire would not burn the place where fire had already burned.
The law is like the brush-fire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, where law has already burned its way through, then I will not get hurt. Not a hair of my head will be singed. The death of Christ is the burned-over place. There I huddle, hardly believing yet relieved. Christ’s death has disarmed the law. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Not One Whit

Ray Ortlund:  That blessed doctrine

“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God—the grace of God which depends not one whit upon anything that is in man, but is absolutely undeserved, resistless and sovereign.  The theologians of the Church can be placed in an ascending scale according as they have grasped that one great central doctrine, that doctrine that gives consistency to all the rest; and Christian experience also depends for its depth and for its power upon the way in which that blessed doctrine is cherished in the depths of the heart.  The center of the Bible, and the center of Christianity, is found in the grace of God; and the necessary corollary of the grace of God is salvation through faith alone.”
J. Gresham Machen, quoted in Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids, 1955), page 396.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

God Sovereignly Rules

Don Carson:  Genesis 27; Matthew 26; Esther 3; Acts 26

ALL FOUR OF THE PASSAGES contribute to the theme of the providence of God.
Genesis 27 is in many ways a pathetic, grubby account. Earlier Esau had despised his birthright (25:34); now Jacob swindles him out of it. In this Jacob is guided by his mother Rebekah, who thus shows favoritism among her children and disloyalty to her husband. Esau throws a tantrum and takes no responsibility for his actions at all. Indeed, he nurses his bitterness and plots the assassination of his brother. The family that constitutes the promised line is not doing very well.
Yet those who read the passage in the flow of the entire book remember that God himself had told Rebekah, before the twin brothers were born, that the older would serve the younger (25:23). Perhaps that is one of the reasons why she acted as she did: apparently she felt that God needed a little help in keeping his prediction, even immoral help. Yet behind these grubby and evil actions God is mysteriously working out his purposes to bring the promised line to the end he has determined. Certainly God could have arranged to have Jacob born first, if that was the man he wanted to carry on the line. Instead, Esau is born first, but Jacob is chosen, as if to say that the line is important, but God’s sovereign, intervening choosing is more important than mere human seniority, than mere primogeniture.
In Matthew 26, the authorities hatch a nasty plot to corrupt justice and sort out a political problem; Judas, one of Jesus’ intimates, sells his master; Jesus is in agony in Gethsemane; he is arrested and betrayed by a kiss; the Sanhedrin condemns and brutalizes its prisoner; Peter disowns Jesus. Yet who can doubt, in the flow of the book, that God remains in sovereign control to bring about the desired end? Jesus will give his life “as a ransom for many” (20:28), and all the failures, pain, and sin in this chapter issue in redemption.
The book of Esther does not even use the word God, but here too, even Haman’s gross government-sanctioned genocide is heading toward God’s salvation. And Paul (Acts 26) apparently would have been acquitted if he had not appealed to Caesar — yet that very appeal brings him in the end to declare the Gospel at the heart of the Empire.
Providence is mysterious. It must never be used to justify wrong actions or to mitigate sin: Isaac and his family are more than a little sleazy, Judas is a deceitful wretch, Haman is vile, and the Roman court trying Paul is more than a little corrupt. Yet God sovereignly rules, behind the scenes, bringing glory out of gore and honor out of shame.

God With Us

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Real You

Ray Ortlund post:  A better way

“They asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’  He said to them, . . . ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.’”  Acts 1:6, 8
The disciples could have made a biblical case for their kingdom scenario.  But their question “must have filled Jesus with dismay” (Stott, Acts, page 41).  They wanted to regain something they had lost (note “restore”), probably a projection of their own self-idealization.  But God’s purpose was to give them something better.  His true kingdom had always been spiritual, and the Holy Spirit was about to come down upon them in unprecedented power.
We long for our kingdoms.  We see them in the Bible and enthuse over them as God’s kingdom.  But he has a better way — the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s plan for you is not to restore a lost ideal you of your own imagining.  God’s plan is the real you clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:48).
The you that you are by creation and redemption is not fundamentally a problem you have to work around, but fundamentally a strategy God can work through.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Story of Redemption and Restoration

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Recovering Legalists, Pragmatists and Moralists

     I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Cor. 9:23-27
Dear Lord Jesus, as a recovering legalist, this is one of those passages I used to avoid. I didn’t know what to do with it. Once I came to rest in your righteousness alone for my salvation, it was Scriptures like this one that confused me, at times activating that part of me that still thinks I can make you love me more by my doing—a myth, lie and lunacy, indeed.
So I praise you for the ongoing teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. I praise you for showing me more about living in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14). I praise you for all the freedoms you have won for us, including the freedom to obey you from our hearts. I praise you that obedience isn’t a four-letter word, but a grace-fueled lifestyle.
The gospel sets us free from working for wages; we now run for a crown. Ultimately, every crown will be laid at your feet, Jesus, for you have earned our salvation for us. Our obedience merits nothing, but it does show that we love you (John 14:15). How can we say we love you if we disregard what you say to us, call us to be about, will for every aspect of our lives?
Thankfully, the gospel sets us free from running aimlessly and beating the air. We now live in a story of redemption and restoration—doing the works prepared for us by you. All of history is bound up with your commitment to redeem your people from the nations and to make all things new. We praise you for rescuing us from a little narrative of self-fulfillment for a life of kingdom advancement. There is enough grace for the whole race. We can make no excuses.
You’ve set us free from beating ourselves up because of shame or pride. We now train ourselves for godliness. Your grace now frees us to bring our appetites and bodies in submission to the gospel (1Tim. 4:7-8). Hallelujah, many times over!
Jesus, you are the one who has “won the prize” for all of us. Only the gospel qualifies us to “share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). We do not fear losing our salvation. But do let us fear, and grieve, misrepresenting you and “frittering away” this one short life you’ve given us. Show us how to do all things for the sake of the gospel and by the grace and truth of the gospel. So very Amen we pray, in your most holy and loving name.

Strategically Rest

Mark Batterson:  SELAH

I’ve read two books in the past two weeks that encourage choosing ONE WORD for the year.  One is titled One Word that Will Change Your Life. The other is My One Word. I’ve spent several weeks drilling down on this.  I started out with a laundry list. Then I got it down to a short list.  Then I thought I had landed on the word margin, but I changed my mind.  My 2013 word is selah.
I think it’s one of the most mysterious words and important words in Scripture. It appears74 times in the Hebrew Scripture. To be honest, biblical scholars aren’t 100% exactly what it means.  And that’s why I like it. Here’s my take on it.
It probably refers to a musical pause.  And I like that concept, even though I’m not a musician.  Like music, our lives have a time signature.  And we need to strategically rest so that we keep in harmony, in melody.
Here are some random takes on selah.
It’s change of pace + change of place = change of perspective. It’s being 100% present–listening with your heart, thinking with your soul, and laughing from your gut.  It’s living each day like it’s the first day and last day of your life. Or in the words of Martin Luther, it’s living like Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose today, and is coming back tomorrow!  It’s enjoying the journey.
It’s considering the lilies–Matthew 6:28. It’s numbering your days–Psalms 90:12. It’sredeeming the time–Ephesians 5:16.  It’s being still and remembering that He is God–Psalm 46:10. It’s casting your cares upon Him–I Peter 5:7.
At some point, most of us stop living out of imagination and start living out of memory.  We get into a relational, spiritual or emotional rut. Selah is the solution.  It’s the margin we need to daydream.  It’s the one day in God’s courts that is far better than the thousand days spent elsewhere. That is when and where and how we dream God’s dreams.  The more we pray, the more we dream. And the more we dream, the more we have to pray! Selah.
According to Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher, “All of man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Corrie Ten Boom said, “If the devil can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy.”
One of my defining moments last year was our anniversary trip to Mackinaw Island. Wesat on the porch of the Grand Hotel and let the world pass us by for a few days!  That’s selah.  There are no motorized vehicles on Mackinaw.  Just the clip-clop of horses hooves!  That’s selah.
By personality, I’m driven.  And I’m certainly not advocating for anything less thanworking like it depends on you.  But you also need to rest like it depends on God. The Sabbath is selah.  It’s reminding yourself that God is the one who keeps the planets in orbit.
Selah is resting in God’s mercies the same way you put your full weight in a hammock and swing back and forth on a beautiful spring day.
Selah is controlling your calendar so your calendar doesn’t control you. Selah is Spirit-led spontaneity. Selah is the willingness to go out of your way.
Life isn’t measured in minutes. It’s measured in moments. It’s the difference betweenchronos and kairos.  Don’t make a living. Make a life!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Soul Renovation

John Piper post:  We Know They Are Killing Children - All of Us Know

One biblical principle of justice is that the more knowledge we have that our action is wrong, the more guilty we are, and the more deserving of punishment (Luke 12:47–48). The point of this blog is that we know what we are doing — all America knows. We are killing children. Pro-choice and Pro-life people both know this.

But before I show that, let’s clarify what the Supreme Court did forty years ago today. InRoe v. Wade the Supreme Court in effect made abortion on demand untouchable by law. The way this was done was with two steps.
One step was to say, laws may not prevent abortion, even during the full nine months, if the abortion is “to preserve the life or health of the mother.” The other step was to define “health” as “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.”
For forty years this has meant that any perceived stress is a legal ground for eliminating the child. We have killed fifty million babies. And what increases our guilt as a nation is that we know what we are doing. Here’s the evidence that we know we are killing children.

1. Anecdotally, abortionists will admit they are killing children.

Many simply say it is the lesser of two evils. I took an abortionist out to lunch once, prepared to give him ten reasons why the unborn are human beings. He stopped me, and said, “I know that. We are killing children.” I was stunned. He said, “It’s simply a matter of justice for women. It would be a greater evil to deny women the equal right of reproductive freedom.” Which means women should be no more encumbered by the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy than men. That equal freedom from the burden of bearing unwanted children is the basis for abortion that President Obama refers to again and again when he talks about equal rights for women. We know we are killing children.

2. States treat the killing of the unborn as a homicide.

We know what we are doing because 38 States (including Minnesota) treat the killing of an unborn child as a form of homicide. They have what are called “fetal homicide laws.”
It is illegal to take the life of the unborn if the mother wants the baby, but it is legal to take the life of the unborn if she doesn’t. In the first case the law treats the fetus as a human with rights; in the second case the law treats the fetus as non-human with no rights.
Humanness is defined by the desire of the strong. Might makes right. We reject this right to define personhood in the case of Nazi anti-Semitism, Confederate race-based slavery, and Soviet Gulags. When we define the humanness of the unborn by the will of the powerful we know what we are doing.

3. Fetal surgery treats the unborn as children and patients.

High risk pregnancy specialist, Dr. Steve Calvin, in a letter some years ago to the Arizona Daily Star, wrote, “There is inescapable schizophrenia in aborting a perfectly normal 22 week fetus while at the same hospital, performing intra-uterine surgery on its cousin.” When the unborn are wanted, they are treated as children and patients. When they are not wanted, they are not children. We know what we are doing.

4. Being small does not disqualify personhood.

The five-foot-eight frame of a teenage son guarantees him no more right to life than the 23-inch frame of his little sister in her mother's arms. Size is morally irrelevant. One inch, 23 inches, 68 inches — does not matter. It is morally irrelevant in deciding who should be protected. We know what we are doing in killing the smallest.

5. Not having developed reasoning does not disqualify personhood.

A one-month-old infant, nursing at his mother's breast, does not have reasoning powers. But only a few dare argue that infanticide is therefore acceptable. Most know better. Outside and inside the womb the infant cannot yet reason, but is a human person. We know what we are doing.

6. Being in the womb does not disqualify human personhood.

Location or environment does not determine a right to life. Scott Klusendorf asks, “How does a simple journey of seven inches down the birth canal suddenly transform the essential nature of the fetus from non-person to person?” We know what we are doing.

7. Being dependent on mommy does not disqualify personhood.

We consider persons on respirators or dialysis to be human beings. The unborn cannot be disqualified from human personhood because they are dependent on their mother for food and oxygen. In fact, we operate on the exact opposite principle: The more dependent a little one is on us, the more responsibility we feel to protect him, not the less. We know what we are doing.
(Those last four observations, #4-7, were summed up by Scott Klusendorf under the acronym SLED: Size, Level of development, Environment, Degree of dependence — none is morally relevant for the definition of human life.)

8. The genetic make up of humans is unique.

The genetic make up of a human is different from all other creatures from the moment of conception. The human code is complete and unique from the start. Once that was not known. Now we know. 

9. All the organs are present at eight weeks of gestation.

At eight weeks of gestation all the organs are present. The brain is functioning, the heart pumping, the liver making blood cells, the kidney cleaning the fluids, the finger has a print. Yet almost all abortions happen later than this date. We know what we are doing.

10. We have seen the photographs.

The marvel of ultrasound has given a stunning window into the womb that shows the unborn, for example, at 8 weeks sucking his thumb, recoiling from pricking, responding to sound. Watch this four-minute video of the developing unborn child. We know that they are children.

11. When two rights conflict, the higher value should be protected.

We know the principle of justice that when two legitimate rights conflict, the right that protects the higher value should prevail. We deny the right to drive at 100 miles per hour because the value of life is greater than the value of being on time or getting thrills. The right of the unborn not to be killed and the right of a woman not to be pregnant may be at odds. But they are not equal rights. Staying alive is more precious and more basic than not being pregnant. We know what we are doing when we kill a child.

For Christians who believe the Bible, we could add at least ten more reasons why we know we know what is happening in abortion, and why it is wrong. But the aim here is threefold.
  1. To make clear that we will not be able to defend ourselves with the claim of ignorance. We knew. All of us.
  2. To solidify our conviction to resist this horrific evil.
  3. To intensify our prayer and our preaching toward gospel-based soul-renovation in our land, because hardness of heart, not ignorance, is at the root of this carnage.