Thursday, February 28, 2013

From Love Not For Love

Tullian Tchividjian:  Does Grace Make You Lazy?

The gospel doxologically declares that because of Christ’s finished work for you, you already have all of the justification, approval, security, love, worth, meaning, and rescue you long for and look for in a thousand different people and places smaller than Jesus.

The gospel announces that God doesn’t relate to us based on our feats for Jesus but Jesus’ feats for us.

Because Jesus came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves, life doesn’t have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, validate ourselves.

He came to rescue us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. He came to relieve us of the burden we inherently feel “to get it done.”

The gospel announces that it’s not on me to ensure that the ultimate verdict on my life is pass and not fail.

This means you don’t have to transform the world to matter, you don’t have to get good grades to secure your own worth, you don’t have to be a success to justify your existence.

Because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one; Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary; Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose.

But hold on…wait a minute…

Doesn’t this unconditional declaration generate apathy–an “I don’t care” posture toward life?

If it’s true that Jesus paid it all, that it is finished, that my value, worth, security, freedom, justification, and so on is forever fixed, than why do anything? Doesn’t grace undercut ambition? Doesn’t the gospel weaken effort?

Understandable question.

But the truth is, gospel grace actually empowers risk-taking effort and neighbor-embracing love.

You see, the thing that prevents us from taking great risks is the fear that if we don’t succeed, we’ll lose out on something we need in order to be happy and so we live life playing our cards close to the chest…relationally, vocationally, spiritually.

We measure our investments carefully because we need a return–we’re afraid to give because it might not work out and we need it to work out.

But, because everything we need in Christ we already possess, we can take great risks, push harder, go farther, and leave it all on the field without fear. We can invest with reckless abandon because we don’t need to ensure a return of success, love, meaning, validation, and approval. We can invest freely and forcefully because we’ve been freely and forcefully invested in.

The fear of not knowing whether I’ll get a return is replaced by the freedom of knowing we already have everything: because everything I need, in Christ I already possess, I’m now free to do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me.

I can now actively spend my life giving instead of taking, going to the back instead of getting to the front, sacrificing myself for others instead of sacrificing others for myself.

The gospel alone liberates you to live a life of scandalous generosity, unrestrained sacrifice, uncommon valor, and unbounded courage.

When you don’t have anything to lose, you discover something wonderful: you’re free to take great risks without fear or reservation.

This is the difference between approaching all of life from salvation and approaching all of life for salvation; it’s the difference between approaching life from our acceptance, and not for our acceptance; from love not for love.

So, what are you going to do now that you don’t have to do anything…

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Ray Ortlund:  In between

“How long, O Lord? . . . How long . . . ?  How long . . . ?  How long . . . ?”  Psalm 13:1-2
There is an in-between-ness to this life.  God gives us great promises in the gospel.  Then he calls us to wait for their fulfillment.  He doesn’t give us everything right away.  He calls us to wait.
In between the giving and the fulfilling of God’s promises, the waiting can be hard.  Sometimes it can seem impossible to endure, because what we’re stuck in for now doesn’t just fall short of God’s great promises.  Our experience can be the opposite of God’s great promises.  Living in-between is not easy.
But God’s greatest gift is not always what we think.  God’s greatest gift is himself.  And he does give himself right now.  His own reality and presence and nearness and immediacy and smile: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18), “The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).
That is not a consolation prize, not something we have to settle for.  There is nothing greater in all this world.  We don’t understand how God draws near and we can’t control him.  But this is real, very real, very wonderful.
As we stumble forward, God’s real presence gives us strength to wait without self-pity but with resilient good cheer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

For His Glory

Ed Stetzer post:  Monday is for Missiology: God's Mission, Our Mission

Yes, God has a mission.
In many ways it wouldn't really matter what his mission is. If it is God's mission, then it outranks whatever other mission we've decided we want to build our lives around as Christian believers. If it is God's mission, then it should define what his redeemed people are more concerned about than anything else. If it is God's mission, then it should also be the church's mission. It should orient our schedule and priorities. It should dictate our activities and why we do them.
Because actually, the church doesn't have a mission; the mission has a church. God, who by nature is on purpose and on task, has invited people like us, gathered in churches like ours, to join him in fulfilling his chief desire.
And that mission is this: for God to be glorified.
"The heavens," for example, "declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). He has done this on purpose, Scripture says. The beauty and precision of nature work together to advance his stated goal. He has deliberately fashioned the world so it manifests his glory and gives ample, visible evidence of his power, wisdom, and grandeur.
But something happened on the heels of creation and at the center of paradise. Sin entered the hearts of God's image bearers. The fabric of God's good creation was stained and torn. Men no longer desired God's presence; they hid from him. Relationships at every turn were affected. Between God and humanity. Between man and woman. Between brothers. And this story continues for all of history.
To restore God's perfect place for creation, the wonders of creation weren't enough. So God selected a historic moment in time to send his only Son to walk the earth in human flesh, to reveal himself and his goodness to creation (John 1:8). This Son came to establish a kingdom and redeem a people. And knowing that mankind would naturally reject this humble, loving initiative on his part, God chose the perfect vehicles of Christ's death and resurrection to redeem fallen sinners through his "glorious grace" so that we who put our hope in him "might bring praise to His glory" (Eph. 1:6, 12). God is known ultimately by his glory being revealed in the face of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). His kingdom expands through the salvation of people (Col. 1:14-15).
God's mission is God's glory.
He is creating a kingdom for his glory.
He saves people through the gospel for his glory.
His purposes will all be accomplished for his glory.
And so he has placed us here in the church for one reason: to participate in his mission.
To bring him glory.
So for us to be invested in declaring the gospel is not just the memorization of bullet points and Bible verses. It's not the development of a hunter's mentality, seeing how many people we can witness to in a given period. It is so much bigger and more all-encompassing than that. What we do in living, breathing, sharing, and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus Christ--in a wide and ever-growing number of ways--we do for his glory. That's it. This is your purpose and mine every day of the week. To bring him glory. That is God's mission.
And because it is his, it is ours as well.
And because it is ours, we perform it through his church.
Adapted from Subversive Kingdom (2012, B&H Publishing Group)

Grace Produces Love

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Belovedness Engenders Love 

In his book 2000 Years of Amazing Grace: The Story and Meaning of the Christian Faith, Paul Zahl autobiographically recounts what happened to him many years ago when he discovered the indispensability of grace to produce the good works toward our neighbor outlined in the Bible:
My doing of the good deeds [Jesus] taught actually hinged on Him saving me-I, who had found myself paralyzed and blocked from doing those good deeds.When I felt myself loved in my chains, in my paralyses, that feeling of being loved seemed to trigger the very motivation and strength that had failed me before. Being treated forgivingly in my faults and fears freed me up. The faults themselves lost some of their binding strength. The confining fears ceased to restrict so tightly. There was an empowering connection between Jesus’ saving me (who he was for me) and the fuel to do what he said I should do (what he taught).
I take this connection between saving and the response to being saved that results in morally good actions (loving service to our neighbor), to be the heart of Christianity. It is the relation of being loved to loving. Being loved creates an environment inside a person by which the works of love begin to take place naturally. Loving is born from being loved…”Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovelier be” is a seventeenth-century way of saying it.
As I’ve said on numerous occasions here, the motivation and fuel to do good (which the Bible always describes horizontally in terms of loving service to others) comes from being moved by the completed work of Jesus for us. The impulsion to “do” comes only out of this undomesticated declaration that everything has already been done. Those who obey more are those who increasingly “get” that their standing with God is not based on their imperfect obedience to Jesus, but Jesus’ perfect obedience for them. The secret of grace is that we actually perform better as we grow to understand that God’s love for us is based on Christ’s performance, not our performance.
Another way to put this is to affirm that grace, not law, produces love-the love for God and neighbor that Jesus teaches (Luke 10:27). His love for us begets love from us.

Easy to Be Self Deceived

Don Carson:  Exodus 9; Luke 12; Job 27; 1 Corinthians 13

YOU’VE SEEN THE BUMPER STICKER: “The person with the most toys wins.” Wins what? The person with the most toys takes out of this life exactly what everyone else does. A billion years or so into eternity, how many toys we accumulated during our seventy years in this life will not seem too terribly important.
Yet in a materialistic culture, it is horrifying to begin to recognize just how endemic greed is, how it seeps into all kinds of priorities and relationships. In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus is confronted by someone who begs him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” We do not know whether this individual had a just complaint or not. From Jesus’ perspective, it did not matter, for a more fundamental issue was at stake. For this individual, a share of the inheritance was more important than a godly relationship with his brother. Not only does Jesus insist he did not come to be an arbiter of such minor matters (12:14), he warns, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15). Perhaps the person with the most toys does not win after all.
This precipitates the parable of the rich farmer whose rising stores of grain prompt him to build bigger and bigger barns (12:16-20). In our culture, we might easily substitute builder or software producer or real estate agent for farmer. In a culture that fixates on present possessions, it is distressingly easy for believers to get sucked into the same vortex of greed. What starts as an entirely proper commitment to do one’s best for Christ’s sake degenerates into a selfish competitiveness and a bottomless acquisitiveness. You busily plan your retirement; after all, you tell yourself, you have “plenty of good things laid up for many years” (12:19). Because everyone is telling you how well you are doing, you do not hear the voice of God: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (12:20).
The problem is not wealth itself. The Bible bears witness to some rich people who used their wealth for God, people who were not so attached to their wealth that it became a surrogate god. Yet one hesitates to point out this fact, for most of us are so good at deceiving ourselves we inevitably think this concession lets us off the hook. Others are greedy or miserly; I am hard working and frugal. Others are materialistic and hedonistic; I am realistic and believe that a merry heart does good like medicine. So meditate onLuke 12:21.

Monday, February 25, 2013


What's Best Next:  How Then Should We Work?

I’m really looking forward to Hugh Whelchel’s recent book How then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of WorkI’ve had a chance to dip into it a bit, and one of its stand-out features is a very helpful, succinct, and clear history of the different views on work and calling through the ages. I especially love his summary of Luther’s recapturing of the biblical view, especially his points that:
  • Vocation is the specific call to love our neighbors. That’s the essential meaning of the doctrine of vocation.
  • We live out this calling in the world, not by retreating from it. “Accord to Luther, we respond to the call to love our neighbor by fulfilling the duties associated with our everyday work.”
  • “We can only truly serve God in the midst of everyday circumstances, and all attempts to elevate the significance of the contemplative life are false.”
Hugh is executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, whose mission is to equip Christians with a biblical theology of work and economics. They are doing excellent work, and I highly recommend them and their work.

Priceless Treasure

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about Fears, Heart and Treasure

     Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:32-34
Dear Lord Jesus, on this beautiful Lord’s Day, I’m poised to hear your calming voice and to experience your transforming presence. What a great Scripture for remembering we begin our week in the rest you have won for us. So I gladly own my place among your little flock—one of your beloved lambs who’s no stranger to uncertainty and fear. The best news is that this little flock is your little flock. There’s no safer place than to be in your hand and heart.
Lord Jesus, I totally understand why you warned us against setting our hearts on the wrong treasure, especially when we’re feeling vulnerable. When threatened, we often look to the wrong things and wrong people for safety, stability, and security. But I’ve lived long enough to see what happens when we choose anything or anyone besides you as our ultimate treasure.
I have friends who’ve inherited millions and others who’ve inherited the wind. I’ve seen families deeply stressed as they prepare for the reading of a will and then permanently divided over the execution of the same will. I’ve seen windfall profits turned into landfill waste in a matter of months. I’ve seen dads and moms drink away enough money in a couple of years to have built two orphanages in Haiti and educated their kids and grandkids for a couple of decades.
There are all kinds of wear and tear and thieves and moths, that diminish and destroy the temporal things and temporal places. Bu nothing, absolutely nothing threatens you and your everlasting kingdom. Right in the middle of our chaos and confusion, we reaffirm that you, Jesus, are our priceless treasure and most to be desired inheritance. Because of you we call God “Abba, Father” and the new heaven and new earth our inheritance. Hallelujah!
Lord Jesus, during the whole season of Lent, melt our fears with your peace; strengthen our hearts with your grace; and send us forth into kingdom service with your irrepressible love. So very Amen we pray with gratitude, in your sane-making, soul-centering name.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gained the World and Found It Lacking?

Matt Smethurst post:  Do You Still Want to Be Like Mike?

If you've watched ESPN at any point in the last week, you know Michael Jordan just turned 50. With six NBA titles, five MVPs, ten scoring titles, 14 All-Star appearances, and many other feats posterized on my childhood bedroom wall, Jordan's legacy on the basketball court is unmatched. But life off the court, particularly since his final retirement in 2003, hasn't been so pristine.
In anticipation of Jordan's 50th birthday, ESPN senior writer Wright Thompson spent some time with Number 23. The product is an Outside the Lines article titled "Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building," a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the mind of the man who revolutionized the world of sports.

Unquenchable Fire

Thompson's piece pulsates with the sense that Jordan isn't happy. "I would give up everything now to go back and play the game of basketball," the Hall of Famer confesses. When asked how he replaces it, Jordan simply states, "You don't. You learn to live with it."
For almost three decades on basketball's supreme stage, Jordan lived for the next challenge, the next challenger. Naysayers became friends, for they brought the nightly fuel that reignited his drive to perform, to conquer, to vindicate his name. This insatiable drive to prove himself propelled Jordan to the pinnacle of the sporting world—and motivated him to remain there. Even today, Thompson writes, he cares what his critics say. "He needs to know, a needle for a hungry vein."
Jordan might have stopped playing basketball, but the rage is still there. The fire remains, which is why he searches for release, on the golf course or at a blackjack table, why he spends so much time and energy on [the Charlotte Bobcats] and why he dreams of returning to play.
The man has left the court, but the addictions won't leave the man.

Even 'Yahweh' Ages

Jordan's surroundings only reinforce a perception of otherworldly status. Thompson remarks:
Jordan is at the center of several overlapping universes, at the top of the billion-dollar Jordan Brand at Nike, of the Bobcats, of his own company, with dozens of employees and contractors on the payroll. In case anyone in the inner circle forgets who's in charge, they only have to recall the code names given to them by the private security team assigned to overseas trips. Estee is Venom. George is Butler. Yvette is Harmony. Jordan is called Yahweh—a Hebrew word for God.
Yahweh. I am who I am. I will be what I will be. Not exactly the sort of nickname that fosters meekness.
"My ego is so big now that I expect certain things," Jordan admits. But, as Thompson observes, this is a natural consequence of life at the very top. "Jordan is used to being the most important person in every room he enters and, going a step further, in the lives of everyone he meets. . . . People cater to his every whim."
Imagine that life for a moment. Put yourself in his shoes (Air Jordans, of course). You can't recall the last time you weren't the most important person in the room. No matter where on Planet Earth you go, you're king. Thirty years and counting. What would that recognition do to someone? To you?

The Flicker that Fades

Such an abnormal existence brings certain abnormal hopes, promises, expectations. As Thompson observes:
Most people live anonymous lives, and when they grow old and die, any record of their existence is blown away. They're forgotten, some more slowly than others, but eventually it happens to virtually everyone. Yet for the few people in each generation who reach the very pinnacle of fame and achievement, a mirage flickers: immortality. They come to believe in it. Even after Jordan is gone, he knows people will remember him. Here lies the greatest basketball player of all time. That's his epitaph.
There's a fable about returning Roman generals who rode in victory parades through the streets of the capital; a slave stood behind them, whispering in their ears, "All glory is fleeting." Nobody does that for professional athletes. Jordan couldn't have known that the closest he'd get to immortality was during that final walk off the court. . . . All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. His self-esteem has always been, as he says, "tied directly to the game." Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing? For the past 10 years, since retiring for the third time, he has been running, moving as fast as he could, creating distractions, distance.
In his supercilious 2009 Hall of Fame speech, Jordan called the game of basketball his "refuge," the "place where I've gone when I needed to find comfort and peace." Three years later, the restlessness remains.
It turns out the voracious drive that turned a shy North Carolina youngster into a household name comes with a price tag. And as the flicker of immortality fades, Jordan stares in the mirror, wondering where to turn. "How can I enjoy the next 20 years without so much of this consuming me?" he ponders. "How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?"

From Chicago to Calvary

As a Christian, it's easy to read a piece like Thompson's and feel discouraged, even disgusted, by Jordan's egotism. Yet as psychologists clamor to diagnose Jordan's condition, we feel no surprise. The distance between him and us is, after all, uncomfortably slim. We want to be the most important person in every room; he is. As the apostle might say, who is sufficient for these things?
In the world, status is tethered to performance. It's the same in the gospel. The difference, however, is that our status as believers is not tethered to our performance, but Christ's. Only the gospel can offer the resources to combat our pride, expose our emptiness, and flood our hearts with peace.
"How can I find peace away from the game of basketball?" the aging legend asks.
Michael, you never had peace. Triumph and fame, yes, but not peace. James Naismith invented a game that brought you a sense of purpose, of value, of calm. But it was only that—a sense, a counterfeit of the real thing. You will never find life outside the game for the same reason you never found life in it. It's not there.
The peace you seek isn't available on a basketball court or a golf course but on a little hill outside Jerusalem. There, Yahweh incarnate hung in the place of sinners—wannabe Yahwehs like you and like me.
You've gained the world and found it lacking, Mike. Don't lose your soul.

He Himself Is Our Reward

Ray Ortlund post:  What is your goal?

Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky, recommended to me by one of the most effective evangelist/organizers I’ve ever met, includes this aside:
“Each year for a number of years, the activists in the graduating class from a major Catholic seminary near Chicago would visit me for a day just before their ordination, with questions about values, revolutionary tactics, and such.  Once, at the end of such a day, one of the seminarians said, ‘Mr. Alinsky, before we came here we met and agreed that there was one question we particularly wanted to put to you.  We’re going to be ordained, and then we’ll be assigned to different parishes, as assistants to — frankly — stuffy, reactionary, old pastors.  They will disapprove of a lot of what you and we believe in, and we will be put into a killing routine.  Our question is: how do we keep our faith in the true Christian values, everything we hope to do to change the system?’  That was easy.  I answered, ‘When you go out that door, just make your own personal decision about whether you want to be a bishop or a priest, and everything else will follow.’”
Saul Alinsky, Rules For Radicals (New York, 1971), page 13.
How to be insignificant: reach for your own self-defined significance.  Big-deal-ness undermines itself.  Ambition demotes.
How to be significant: forget about your big plans and obey Jesus radically in sacrificial ways that make no sense unless he himself is the reward.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Faith in the King of Kings

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Repenting of Political Cynicism and Unbelief

     Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Pet. 2:13-17
     I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior. 1 Tim. 2:1-3
Dear heavenly Father, these Scriptures convict me—they expose my unbelief, my lack of prayer and my bad attitude. I stand convicted of how little I’ve prayed for our past presidents and how very little I pray with faith for our sitting president. Forgive me, and by the power of the gospel, give me a better attitude.
I confess, I’ve been more of a cynic than your servant with respect to supporting our government. I haven’t been living with the confidence that you set up and sit down kings, presidents, premiers, and governors at your bidding. At times, I’ve been more irritated by the Oval Office than comforted by the occupied throne of heaven.
In many ways, I’m one of the “foolish men” Peter wrote about in this passage—someone whose “ignorant talk” should be silenced by the gospel. Show me what “doing good” looks like as a dual citizen of the United States and the kingdom of God. Show me how to use my freedom wisely and how I’m to show proper respect to everyone, including our president. You’re not calling me to be passive, but neither are you calling me to be a pest or a pessimist.
Father, I’m ashamed and humbled to realize that when Peter and Paul wrote their letters, the megalomaniac Nero was the sitting “president” in Rome. It’s obvious that Peter lived with more faith in the King of Kings than fear of the madman of madmen. Help me to do the same, Father; help me to do the same.
Lord Jesus, yours is only everlasting kingdom, and you are the only King worthy of my unqualified submission and obedience. I honor you as my King. I worship you as my Savior. I love you as my Bridegroom. So very Amen I pray in your name—the name above all names.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Strings

Tullian Tchividjian:  Distinguishing Law And Gospel

In my last post, I shared a testimony I read recently from a man who experienced the devastating on-the-ground, real life consequences of the failure to distinguish between God’s Law and God’s Gospel (both are good but both have unique job descriptions). Well, a couple months back I sat down with my good friend Jono Linebaugh (Professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary and Content Manager of Liberate) to discuss the all important distinction between the Law and the Gospel. In my opinion, no one speaks more clearly and intelligently about this than Dr. Linebaugh. His explanation in the short video below is really helpful. Enjoy…
(about 12 min)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Encouraging Conversations

Colin Marshall:  Church Was Great! Let's Not Talk About It

We've just heard the Word read and proclaimed, sung the praises of our great God, and petitioned him for mercy in our time of need. And then we spend our time afterward talking about last night's movie, the game, the hobby, the state of the nation, or whatever.Anything but the great truths of the gospel we've just heard and by which we're saved. Why do we do this?
"Drive-thru church" doesn't help. We have six other commitments on Sunday, so we aim to get through church as efficiently as possible on the way to the next thing. Some of us have just never thought about having conversations about the sermon (apart from pestering the preacher about something). Others know it's crazy to talk about everything but God, yet they still feel uncomfortable striking up "spiritual" conversations. We've never been in a context where this is normal. Sometimes, perhaps too often, we leave the service with no sense of engaging with God by Word and Spirit, and so we have nothing to say to anyone.
For still more, the underlying problem is our consumer view of church---an unsurprising consequences of "what's in it for me" contemporary Western culture. "Church is put on for me by the professionals and their teams," we assume. With this mindset, engaging in spiritually encouraging conversations certainly won't be on the agenda.
Ironically, those with a serving mindset---the antithesis of consumerism---can also find it difficult to get into "God talk" at church. The busyness of serving can keep us from stopping to encourage others and can let us feel we've done enough by helping to organize things.

Why We Meet

But why should we use our conversations at church to encourage one another in the faith? Because that is the reason why we meet.
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Heb. 3:13)
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:24-25)
The church gathers God's people to hear his Word, respond in obedience, and use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another in the faith. All believers are involved in building Christ's church. Therefore, we shouldn't see ourselves merely as part of an organization called "St. Hubert's Church," but as servants of God's people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means stepping out of our comfort zone.

Not the Only Ones

I love our heritage of expository preaching delivered by godly, studious, articulate pastors. But somehow we've inadvertently communicated that they're the only ones (plus a few others on the stage, perhaps) who do the work of encouraging and building. If that's your assumption, read the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 12-14; 1 Pet. 2) again with an eye toward how the whole body builds itself up, with each part doing its work by speaking gospel truth in love (Eph. 4:15-16).
Perhaps some of you are thinking, I may not talk much about God and what we've learned in the sermon, but I do show love in lots of other ways, through caring for people in need and asking how to pray. But encouraging someone isn't only putting our arms around them and urging them to press on. What gives courage is the truth of the gospel. We see a clear example of this in 1 Thessalonians 4:18: 'Therefore encourage each other with these words." In context, "these words" that encourage are the words of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Here's my question for you: Do you come to church expecting God to use you to minister to others, to encourage them in faith, hope, and love through the Word? Are you asking him to provide such opportunities?

What to Ask

So how do we start these encouraging conversations after church? Asking "What did you get out of the sermon?" might work, but often you'll get a blank look or worse. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Pray during the service that God would lead your conversations, and pray for specific people around you.
  • Listen to what God is saying to you through the sermon (or songs, creeds, and so on) and formulate a comment or question to start a conversation. This past week at our church, the sermon was on what it means to praise the Lord, from Psalms 146-150. Since I was thinking about this article (and, I hope, for more godly reasons), I picked out two things to try as conversation-starters after church.
  • With another couple we somehow got into a conversation about their blended family, and I reminded them of God's favor towards the alien, orphans, and widows (Ps. 146). Since the husband is not yet a believer, I was deliberately talking about God's character. I have no idea what effect it had on him.
  • Even if the conversations don't always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible and knowing God will be contagious. And non-Christians will see that church isn't dull and boring but fascinating and life-shattering.
  • These intentional conversations after church will sometimes lead to prayer for one another. Why not stop for a moment and give thanks or petition God for some need?
  • Another way to deepen our fellowship is to ask each other how we came to salvation in Christ. Sometimes we've been in church with people for years without ever learning their story. The other day at church I asked a guy named Phil how he became a Christian, and we discovered God had worked in us in very similar ways as young men. The door is now open to building a friendship with this brother. What a joy!

Family, Not an Audience

The benefits of working at these encouraging conversations go way beyond the few minutes after church. Our gatherings are enriched, and our partnership with one another in the gospel is enhanced. We know each other as God's family, not as anonymous audience members at a performance.
Moreover, I'm convinced we don't "gossip the gospel" with our unbelieving neighbors and friends at least in part because we've never learned to talk about God and our Christian life, even with other Christians. How will we engage unbelievers about God's grace in Christ if we don't talk with our brothers and sisters about these great truths—especially after listening to a sermon together?
If your church gathering doesn't include coffee and refreshments after the service, let me encourage you to consider doing so. You'll set the pattern of staying afterward to minister to others, and, after a while, it will be quite normal.
Too costly? Going deeper in Christian friendship and stirring up one another to love and good deeds? I don't see much cost there.

No Hero But God

Don Carson:  Exodus 2; Luke 5; Job 19; 1 Corinthians 6

IN THE MOST CRUCIAL EVENTS IN REDEMPTIVE HISTORY, God takes considerable pains to ensure that no one can properly conclude that these events have been brought about by human resolve or wit. They have been brought about by God himself – on his timing, according to his plan, by his means, for his glory – yet in interaction with his people. All of this falls out of Exodus 2:11-25.
The account is brief. It does not tell us how Moses’ mother managed to instill in him a profound sense of identity with his own people before he was brought up in the royal household. Perhaps he enjoyed ongoing contact with his birth mother; perhaps as a young man he delved into his past, and thoroughly investigated the status and subjugation of his own people. We are introduced to Moses when he has already so identified with the enslaved Israelites that he is prepared to murder a brutal Egyptian slave overlord. When he discovers that the murder he committed has become public knowledge, he must flee for his life.
Yet one cannot help reflecting on the place of this episode in the plotline that leads to Moses’ leadership of the Exodus some decades later. By God’s own judicial action, many Egyptians would then die. So why doesn’t God use Moses now, while he is still a young man, full of zeal and eagerness to serve and emancipate his people?
It simply isn’t God’s way. God wants Moses to learn meekness and humility, to rely on God’s powerful and spectacular intervention, to await God’s timing. He acts in such a way that no one will be able to say that the real hero is Moses, the great visionary. By the time he is eighty, Moses does not want to serve in this way, he is no longer an idealistic, fiery visionary. He is an old man whom God almost cajoles (Ex. 3) and even threatens (Ex. 4:14) into obedience. There is therefore no hero but God, and no glory for anyone other than God.
The chapter ends by recording that “the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham” (2:23-24). This does not mean that God had forgotten his covenant. We have already seen that God explicitly told Jacob to descend into Egypt and foretold that God would one day bring out the covenantal plan. The same God who sovereignly arranges these matters and solemnly predicts what he will do, chooses to bring about the fulfillment of these promises by personally interacting with his covenantal people in their distress, responding to their cry.


Henri Nouwen Society:  The Basis of Our Security

What is the basis of our security? When we start thinking about that question, we may give many answers: success, money, friends, property, popularity, family, connections, insurance, and so on. We may not always think that any of these forms the basis of our security, but ouractions or feelings may tell us otherwise. When we start losing our money, our friends, or our popularity, our anxiety often reveals how deeply our sense of security is rooted in these things.

A spiritual life is a life in which our security is based not in any created things, good as they may be, but in God, who is everlasting love. We probably will never be completely free from our attachment to the temporal world, but if we want to live in that world in a truly free way, we'd better not belong to it. "You cannot be the slave both of God and of money" (Luke 16:13).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Misty Moment

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about a Brief Life and a Big Gospel

     Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
Dear heavenly Father, you haven’t made us for “fifteen minutes in the spotlight,” but for an eternity of glorifying you and enjoying you forever. As this day begins, I praise you for such a hope and future—a future that’s already begun for us in Jesus. Our eternal life began the day you “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6), to the praise of your glorious grace (Eph. 1:6).
Yet, Father, these verses in James remind us that our lifespan in this body isn’t very long at all. We’re more like a brief mist than an aging oak. I feel this more than ever, and I’m both sobered and gladdened by the thought. Life in the new heaven and new earth has never looked so good; so equally true, the gospel of your grace has never seemed to precious and huge.
So how would you have me live the rest of my “misty moment”? Only you know when I’ll “vanish” from this body. Only you know what’ll happen tomorrow. I’ll keep on planning, but it’s you who orders my steps (Prov. 16:9); there’s so much peace in that affirmation, so much. Your sovereignty is my sanity…
Father, in light of the gospel, what should I spend more time doing and less time doing? What have I been putting off that really matters to you? With whom do I need to spend more face-to-face and heart-to-heart time? Who am I still holding hostage by the chains of my unforgiveness and bitterness? What am I allowing to bug me that isn’t all that “bug-worthy”? Where should I invest more of your money and less of my worries?
Father, I praise you that I’m not going to merit any more of your affection by doing a better job with any of these things. None of these questions has a scorecard attached to it. It’s Jesus’ performance and record I boast in, but your grace frees me to ask the right questions and live a freer, more intentional life. You make my “gospel bucket list” for me. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ matchless and magnificent name.


Ray Ortlund post:  Work is more than pay

“A very able surgeon put it to me like this: ‘What is happening is that nobody works for the sake of getting the thing done.  The actual result of the work is a by-product; the aim of the work is to make money to do something else.  Doctors practice medicine, not primarily to relieve suffering, but to make a living — the cure of the patient is something that happens on the way.  Lawyers accept briefs, not because they have a passion for justice, but because the law is the profession which enables them to live.  The reason why men often find themselves happy and satisfied in the army is that for the first time in their lives they find themselves doing something, not for the sake of the pay, which is miserable, but for the sake of getting the thing done.’”
Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, 1974), page 52.

Preaching to the Control Center

Tim Keller post:  Preaching that Cuts to the Heart

Recently, a couple of books and websites have referenced me as a good example of how to exegete and "engage culture" in the task of preaching. They include citations of certain cultural references in my sermons. While I know this is meant as a compliment, for which I am grateful, I also have some concerns about the way this practice has been described. I can easily imagine that some (especially younger) preachers will aspire to imitate the method and miss the underlying principle.
I think it may be possible to say that every sermon should have three aspects or purposes. First, you need to preach the text in its scriptural context; second, you need to preach Christ and the gospel every time; and finally, you need to preach to the heart. Put another way, you should preach the truth, not just your opinion; you should preach the good news, not just good advice; and you should preach to make the truth real to the heart, not just clear to the mind. The first is often discussed under the heading of expository preaching, the second is often called Christ-centered preaching, and the third is usually named "application" (though I think each aspect contains more than these traditional categories might imply).
In that schema, where does "cultural engagement" come into my sermons? Most people would say that it does not fit into the scheme—preach the text, preach Christ, and preach to the heart. They might be tempted to add a fourth category. But that might suggest that cultural references are principally there to give the preacher some personal credibility. That would be a mistake. To make references for that purpose would tempt you to basically show off your learning or maybe your cultural hipness. That is not what I'm trying to do.
You might be surprised to hear me say that my use of cultural references is actually part of my effort to reach the heart. But, you may respond, aren't those references to Nietzsche or de Kooning highly intellectual, designed to appeal to the mind and not the emotions? Not exactly. One of the keys is in how we define "the heart." Remember that according to the Bible, the heart is not primarily the emotions but rather the seat of our fundamental commitments and trusts, and therefore it is the control center of the whole life. So to preach to the heart means to go right for the commanding commitments of people's lives that drive their desires, thinking, feeling, and action.

Collective Heart

There are many working definitions of "culture," but I think one of the best is that culture is a collective heart. It is a set of commanding commitments held and shared by a community of people. My hearers—both Christians and non-Christians—live in the highly secular, late modern (some would say postmodern) cosmopolitan culture of Manhattan. This ethos is pulling on the hearts of all its residents. It is the source of so many of their deep aspirations, unspoken fears, and inner conflicts.
The "cultural references," then, are simply my way of entering the world of my hearers, helping them understand at a deep level what is shaping their daily work, their romantic and family relationships, their attitudes toward sex, money, and power. I seek to make plain the foundations of our city's culture in order to help people understand themselves more fully and imagine what it means (or would mean) to live as a Christian here.
So it would be a mistake to merely imitate any preacher who makes a lot of cultural references in his sermons. In many parts of the world, citing Kierkegaard is not all that unusual, and if done rightly can lead people to say, "Oh, so that's why I tend to think and feel that way." That's what you want to achieve. But in many other parts of the world it might only make people say, "Wow, he's really intellectual and smart." If that latter response is what you get from people (or worse yet, what you want from them) then you need to make some changes. The universal principle is found in Acts 2:37—preaching must "cut to the heart." The means and methods we take to get to that end depend a lot on, well, your culture.
Editors' NoteThis is a cross-post from Tim Keller's blog at Redeemer City to City.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Advanced Beyond the Need to Hear the Cross Preached?

Tullian Tchividjian post:  A Treadmill of Merit

I recently read this testimony from a guy who grew up in the pop-Evangelical culture of the late 20th century and who, for 7 years, was a full-time staffer at a large, well-known Evangelical para-church ministry. Sadly, I’ve heard this same kind of testimony from numerous people who grew up inside the church. As you can see from how he describes his experience, distinguishing law and gospel is not simply a theological exercise. Perhaps you can relate:
I experienced what happens when the Law and the Gospel are not understood and therefore distinguished. My Christian life, truly begun in grace, was now being “perfected” on the treadmill of the Law. My pastors did not end their sermons by demanding that I recite the rosary or visit Lourdes that week in order to unleash God’s power; instead, I was told to yield more, pray more, care more about unbelievers, read the Bible more, get involved in church more, and love my wife and kids more. Not until I came to the [theology of the Reformation] some 20 years later, did I understand that my Christian life had come to center around me and my performance: my life, my obedience, my yielding, my Bible verse memorization, my prayers, my zeal, my witnessing, and my sermon application. I had advanced beyond the need to hear the cross preached to me anymore…What had my Evangelical training done to me? The Gospel was critical for me at the beginning, critical for me to share with others, and still critical to get me to heaven, but it was of little other value. The “evangel” in Evangelicalism was missing. My training had me on a treadmill of merit.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't Forget - Easter Is Coming

Chuck Colson post:  Why Bother with Lent?

Typically, evangelicals are shy about Lent. The 40 days prior to Easter—Sundays excepted—are known popularly as a season for giving up chocolate or other extras in order to show God how much we love him. With such impoverished notions, it is no wonder that Lent has fallen on hard times.
So should evangelicals bother with Lent?
Whatever the popular conceptions, the season can encourage gospel-centered piety. But, before considering Lent's value, let's briefly discuss the benefits of the church calendar, in general.
Some evangelical traditions reject the notion of the church calendar wholesale, believing that the Lord's Day is the only God-given measure of time for the church. Some Puritans discarded all special holidays on this principle. But, no matter our efforts, we organize our lives according to some seasonal calendar that's not prescribed by God (semesters, financial quarters, and months, for example).
Recognizing this, the church's liturgical calendar seeks to order time around the major events of our redemption in Christ. During these seasons, we encourage certain theological emphases, spiritual practices, and corresponding emotions to instruct and train the church in godliness. Of course, the calendar does not limit the celebration of a truth or the experience of a particular emotion to one season or day. For instance, observing Easter Sunday as a joyous and festive holy day does not deny that every Lord's Day celebrates Jesus' resurrection. Rather, a joyous Easter Sunday anchors and gives shape to all other Sundays throughout the year. So it is with the liturgical calendar.

Five Benefits

That said, let's explore five benefits to observing Lent.
1. Lent affords us the opportunity to search the depths of our sin and experience the heights of God's love.
With Good Friday approaching, visions of Jesus' gruesome death remind us of the dreadful reality of sin. Here, our individual and corporate brokenness is on display as the Lord of glory dies under the weight of our just judgment, inspiring personal introspection. Though self-examination can turn into narcissistic navel gazing, such abuses should not foreclose on a godly form of self-examination that encourages humility, repentance, and dependence on Christ.
But for such introspection to remain healthy, we must hold together two realities that converge at the cross—our corruption and God's grace. If we divorce the two, then our hearts will either swell with pride and self-righteousness, losing touch with our sinfulness, or sink into anxious despair and uncertainty, failing to grapple with mercy.
Confident of God's grace in Jesus Christ, we are free to probe the inner recesses of our hearts, unearthing sin's pollution. God's grace liberates us to explore our soul, facing its filth, rather than suppressing or succumbing to its contents. With David, we are free to pray,
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Ps. 139:23-24)
Searching us, God discovers nothing unknown to him (Ps 139:1-3), but discloses the secrets of our hearts, allowing us to know ourselves. Under his tender scrutiny, God exposes, not to shame, but to heal. Thus, turning inward, we are led upward to find consolation, hope, and transformation through Jesus Christ. Certainly, such piety isn't the exclusive property of any church season, but Lent provides a unique setting for this self-examination.
2. Lent affords us an opportunity to probe the sincerity of our discipleship.
Jesus bore the cross for us, accomplishing our salvation, yet he also bestows a cross on us (Mt. 10:38-39Lk. 9:23). Following him, Jesus guarantees unspeakable comforts and uncertainties (Jn. 16:32-33). Frequently, these uncertainties test the genuineness of our discipleship. Consider the following examples from Jesus' ministry.   
In Matthew 8:18-22, two people approach Jesus, proclaiming their desire to follow him. One, a scribe, offers his undying devotion saying, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus responds by instructing the scribe about the rigors of following him, explaining that foxes and birds enjoy more comfort than he does. Perceiving selfish ambition, Jesus reminds the scribe that following him is not a means for advancing in the world, but rather involves forsaking it. We don't know how this scribe responded to the challenge, but Jesus leaves us with the question, "Will we follow him when it is inconvenient or only when comfortable and to our advantage?"
The second, a disciple, requests to attend his father's funeral before going on with Jesus. Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal the disciple's heart, unveiling his ultimate affections. He says, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead." Remember, Jesus warns us that we cannot love father and mother, or anything else, above him (Mt. 10:37). Obviously, Jesus does not forbid loving our parents or attending their funerals, but he does insist on being first in our hearts. Jesus is not a commitment among other commitments, but rather the commitment of our lives. Therefore, as Augustine points out, we must take care to order our loves properly, ensuring that our affections are set on Christ and not another.
In this way, Lent provides opportunity to question and examine ourselves, exploring the integrity of our discipleship.
3. Lent provides us an opportunity to reflect on our mortality.
Pursuing eternal youth, our culture seems to live in the denial of death. But ignoring death does not erase its impartiality—everyone who draws a first breath will take a last one. It is a certainty we can't escape (Heb. 9:27). Fortunately, death is not the last word. For all who belong to Christ, there is a promise stronger than death—we will die, but Jesus will return to raise our bodies, wiping the tears from our eyes and making all things new (1 Cor. 15:12-28Rev. 21:1-8).
The most difficult moment I face each year, as an Anglican pastor, is to apply the ashes, in the sign of a cross, to the foreheads of my wife and children on Ash Wednesday. It is an intimate and haunting moment. Echoing the words of Genesis 3:19, I say, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It is jarring. Every year, I cry.
Yet the ashes are applied in the shape of Jesus' cross—the only means for escaping the dust of death. When God raised Jesus, he raided death, destroying its power. Jesus' resurrection marks the death of death and welcomes us into a living hope (1 Pt. 1:3). This is our consolation and joy in the midst of our mortality.
Lent provides an unmistakable opportunity for disciplined reflection on this neglected certainty and God's radical solution.
4. Lent gives us the opportunity to move towards our neighbor in charity.
Long misunderstood as a form of works-righteousness, Lenten fasting is not about scoring points with God, but rather emphasizes simplicity for the sake of others. By temporarily carving away some comforts or conveniences, good gifts from God himself, we hope to de-clutter our hectic lives, allowing us to focus. Simple living allows us to reserve time for others while also serving to curb our expenses. It is fitting to allocate these savings, along with other gifts, for charitable purposes, especially directing those funds to the poor and marginalized.  
So search your heart and go simple. Consider fasting from types of food, technology, and/or sources of entertainment. Live frugally, and do so for the sake of charity. Find a cause, or better yet a person, and give sacrificially. And, in so doing, may you know the joy of Jesus who gave himself fully to us.
5. Lent prepares us to celebrate the wonder and promise of Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Here, Jesus trampled down sin and death, defeating the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15). After a season of depravation, highlighting the grim reality of our broken creation, Jesus' resurrection floods our grief with life and light. In other words, Lent prepares us to join the disciples in their joy and bewilderment on that strange morning long ago (Mt. 28:8Mk. 16:8Lk. 24:12). Our Easter worship is a dress rehearsal for our Lord Jesus' return when he comes to unite heaven and earth, making all things new (Eph. 1:10Rev. 21:1-8).
And so, I invite you to a holy Lent. Take up the opportunity to dwell upon the grief of our broken world, the sin within your heart, and the deep love of God that exceeds these realities. Reflecting on the hospitality of God, consider the needs of your neighbor, especially those without life's basic needs. And, most importantly, in the gritty details of Lent, don't forget—Easter is coming!