Sunday, March 31, 2013

Amazing Love

Kevin DeYoung:  What You Can’t Sing Without Penal Substitution

The notion that Christ died as our sin-bearing substitute who bore the curse for our sakes is considered, by some, too primitive, too violent, and too narrow. Penal substitution is only a theory of the atonement, just one idea among many, maybe not even a good theory, at the very least not the best or the most important once. I would argue that texts like Isaiah 53, Mark 10, Romans 3, 2 Corinthians 5, Galatians 3, and Philippians 3 demonstrate that Christ is not only our wrath-sustaining Savior, he is also the Lord our Righteousness. The Son’s propiatory sacrifice for sinners is the best news of the good news, the biblical truth that holds the gospel together.
But besides the testimony of Scripture in support for penal substitution, I would point to the history of our hymnody.
Man of Sorrows! What a Name
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinner’s gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with they favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.
Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended
Who was the guilty who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.
Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed
Was it for crimes that I had done he groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
Tell me, ye who hear him groaning, was there every grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distres;
Many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.
Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.
What Wondrous Love is This
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!
A Debtor to Mercy Alone
A debtor to mercy alone, of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with your righteousness on, my person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God with me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood hide all my transgressions from view.
And Can it Be That I Should Gain
And can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Without penal substitution there is no salvation. And there isn’t nearly as much to sing about.

He Is Risen!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Take Heart

Excerpt from Chris Castaldo:  The Death of Despair


Deliver Us from Darkness

Followers of Jesus Christ, of all people, have reason not to despair. On the night of the Lord's impending departure, however, despair was in the air.

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace," Jesus told his disciples in the upper room. "In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
Have peace. Take heart. In the world. Amid tribulation. Don't fear or despair. Why? Because Christ has overcome the world. How?
In the garden, he let anguished drops of blood fall to the ground. He endured betrayal, arrest, and desertion. Before the Sanhedrin, he withstood mockery and slaps in the face from those who ought to have worshiped him. He was silent before the self-indulgent foolishness of Herod Antipas. Before Pilate, he allowed the unjust sentence of death to remain. With the Roman soldiers, he absorbed the crown of thorns, the whipping, the loss of his clothing. On the cross he endured exposure before the vulgar masses, the agony of nails through his wrists and feet, the torture of asphyxiation, the catcalls. In his soul he experienced the shock of his Father's withdrawal and wrath.
That scene doesn't seem like the kind of overcoming that will enable us to take heart. But it is. Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). Death, it turns out, is not the end; it is theentrance to life, the passageway to escape sin, fear, and despair. We must die so that we may live.
Christ died, paying the penalty for our sins, and was raised three days later, demonstrating our forgiveness with God. Now united through faith with Christ, we too are called to die to all that enslaves us, all that tempts us to despair. The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, revealing the entrance to a new life for believers, where the forces of fear, decay, and despair can never have the last word. We too, because of Christ, can overcome this tribulation-filled world . . . even as we await the next one.

Good News

No wonder, then, that the message entrusted to the church is called gospel—literally, good news. The church has been given the good news that liberates men and women from despair . . . providing daily freeom and eternal hope, no matter the fear du jour.
It is a joyful task, but it can be a difficult one, as well. The same forces that drive our neighbors to despair can block our best efforts to share this good news: issues of ignorance, access, economic and political barriers, persecution, cultural clashes, and more. We live in a tribulation-filled world that sometimes chooses despair over good news.
Things may seem to be falling apart now; the center may indeed be crumbling. Yet because Christ has overcome, we can take heart. We can also take his good news to the ends of the earth with confidence, knowing that despair can never have the last word.

Power Belongs to God

Excerpt from John Piper (July 13, 1980):  The Wisdom of Men and the Power of God (John Piper's Installation)


Paul's question was not so much, "What good can I do for Christ?" but rather, "What good can Christ do for the world through unworthy me?" It was not, "How much power can I muster for Jesus?" but, "How much power can Jesus show through my weakness?" Remember 2 Corinthians 12:8 and following? Paul said about some special infirmity that he had: "Three times I besought the Lord about this that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
Paul knew that, if he was to be an agent of the crucified Christ to win people to faith in him, then he had to follow the way of Calvary. That is, he had to draw people's attention not to his own power, wisdom, status or flair, but to the power of God made perfect in weakness. He knew that if human power or beauty or intelligence or class got center stage, whatever conversions happened would not be conversions to the crucified Christ.
If it is the power of God manifest in the weakness and death of Christ that kindles and sustains saving faith (as 2:5 says), then the way to reflect that power in our lives for the sake of others is to carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies. This is how Paul described the power of his own ministry. He said in 2 Corinthians 4:7–11: "We have this treasure (of the gospel) in earthen vessels (our weak bodies) to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh."

Friday, March 29, 2013

Consequences of the Resurrection

Does the resurrection of Christ matter? Does it truly make a difference? The apostle Paul sure thought so. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul was faced with the startling news that some in Corinth denied the future resurrection of the body. Such a view was adopted by many in the Greco-Roman world. Death was the end. Actually, not much has changed since the first century. Today, the same view is held by skeptics of the faith.

What was so shocking, however, is that in Paul's day, some Christians, who affirmed the bodily resurrection of Jesus, nonetheless denied the future resurrection of the body. Paul responds with boldness, arguing that you cannot have one without the other. If there is no future resurrection for believers, then Christ himself has not been raised! And if Christ has not been raised, then everything changes. Let's explore the consequences of the resurrection of Christ for the Christian life.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Looking Straight Ahead at Jesus

John Piper:  Running the Race, Looking to the Finisher

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
Hebrews 12:1–2 tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Part of our motivation is that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” These are the runners from chapter 11 who finished the race of life before us. They have come around to line the way and cheer us on because “apart from us they will not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). When the last Christian crosses the finish line of death, Jesus will return and raise us together from the dead, made perfect (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
But we do not look sideways to the saints as we run. Our main motivation comes from looking straight ahead at Jesus. He finished the same race of human life. Only he never sinned, and so his race was perfect. When he finished his race, he finished our salvation. So we run, “looking to Jesus, the founder and finisher of our faith.”
When Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30) and died, he crossed the finish line. He became the “finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The resurrection was the elevation of the one perfect finisher to the podium called “the right hand of the throne of God” (verse 2).
This is where we look as we run — not to the side, but straight ahead, through the finish line of death to the one exalted for his perfect race.
There is more. We are told to look not only to his exaltation, but to his motivation. Joy. A joy so strong it made shame powerless. That is what we look at tomorrow.

New Command

Kevin DeYoung:  Maundy Thursday

Like millions of Christians around the world, we will have a Maundy Thursday service tonight. If you’ve never heard the term, it’s not Monday-Thursday (which always confused me as a kid), but Maundy Thursday, as in Mandatum Thursday. Mandatum is the Latin word for “command” or “mandate”, and the day is called Maundy Thursday because on the night before his death Jesus gave his disciples a new command. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
At first it seems strange that Christ would call this a new command. After all, the Old Testament instructed God’s people to love their neighbors and Christ himself summarized the law as love for God and love for others. So what’s new about love? What makes the command new is that because of Jesus’ passion there is a new standard, a new example of love.
There was never any love like the dying love of Jesus. It is tender and sweet (13:33). It serves (13:2-17). It loves even unto death (13:1). Jesus had nothing to gain from us by loving us. There was nothing in us to draw us to him. But he loved us still, while we were yet sinners. At the Last Supper, in the garden, at his betrayal, facing the Jewish leaders, before Pontius Pilate, being scourged, carrying his cross, being nailed to the wood, breathing his dying breath, forsaken by God-he loved us.
To the end.
To death.
Love shone best and brightest at Calvary.
Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy, cast off that I might be brought in, trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend, surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best, stripped that I might be clothed, wounded that I might be healed, a thirst that I might drink, tormented that I might be comforted, made a shame that I might inherit glory, entered darkness that I might have eternal life. My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes, groaned that I might have endless song, endured all pain that I might have unfading health, bore a thorned crown that I might have a glory-diadem, bowed his head that I might uplift mine, experienced reproach that I might receive welcome, closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on unclouded brightness, expired that I might for ever live. (The Valley of Vision, “Love Lustres at Calvary”)  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Central Problem

Ray Ortlund:  Counterculture Spirituality

As the latest volume in the new Crossway series, Theologians on The Christian Life, William Edgar’s Schaeffer on The Christian Life compels my respectful attention.  The subtitle, in particular, “Countercultural Spirituality,” combines two things attractive to me, true to Francis Schaeffer and prophetic in our time.
Countercultural.  Counter, especially, to a compromised church culture.  Biblical Christianity is a radical adjustment.  We would gain immeasurably from being confronted, even opposed, by the biblical witness.  Our gracious Justifier, who is for us (Romans 8:31), also says to us, “But I have a few things against you” (Revelation 2:14).  Are we willing to face that honestly and find out what he means and receive his correction?
Spirituality.  Personal reality with the living God, according to Scripture.  The Bible is not there for us to polish our theories.  It is not there to reinforce any status quo.  It is there to bring us to God and move us to deeper change and empower us for bold witness in our generation.  This is the rugged, costly spirituality nothing on earth, nothing within the church, can withstand, because God is in it.
Schaeffer: “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism [or postmodernism] . . . . The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them” (page 148, italics original).
Such a stance lifts this book above merely speculative interest, thought-provoking though it is.  The entire outlook of Francis Schaeffer, well summarized on pages 189-192, demands personal and corporate reassessment at a basic level.
I needed to read this book.  Maybe you do too.

Stop and Gaze

Trevin Wax:  Take Time to Stop

Our lives are filled with frenetic activity. We race from home to work, to school, to appointments, practices, restaurants, and sporting events. Even the church adds to our calendar, as we shuffle back and forth from group meetings, Sunday School, Bible studies, and mission trips.
But there are a couple of times a year when the body of Christ comes together to sit. To stare. To stop and gaze. Christmas and Easter are those quiet, holy, time-stilling moments of the church.
Have you ever been in a moment where it seemed like time stood still? Maybe it was your wedding day as you made your vows before God and others. Maybe it was a crisis – a car accident that seemed to happen in slow motion. Maybe it was the day your baby was born. Or the day your loved one died. Whatever the event, time stopped. And you sat, stared, and pondered.
Holy Week is a time for stopping. When you read the Gospel of John, you find Jesus talking a lot about “his hour” and the “time that is coming.” John tells us over and over again, “his hour had not yet come.”
But beginning in chapter 12, the narrative slows down and crawls through the next thirty-six hours. Jesus talks to His disciples in the upper room. He comforts them. Challenges them. Provokes them. And then the hours pass by as Jesus goes from the Garden to the palace and then to the hill where His heart will stop beating.
The best way to celebrate this week is to sense the stopping of time, and to remember the moments at the heart of our faith. To simply marvel at the Word of God and what these precious events mean. To listen for the Old Testament echoes, to catch the Old Testament overtones and familiar melodies that resound through the Gospel writers’ symphony of the cross. To look at Jesus – the One crucified in our place, who loved us and died for us.
Behold! That’s an old biblical word that says, “Stop and look.” So take time this week to stop and gaze at the crucified One.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Success and Legacy

Jonathan Parnell:  Dads, Let's Learn from the Dying Edwards

Today in 1758 Jonathan Edwards died. He was 54 years old.
It was a fever he had contracted from a small-pox inoculation just a month before. After weeks of worsening weakness and the recognition of his immanent death, he spoke his last words to his daughter, Lucy, who attended him. Toward the end he said,
As to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father who will never fail you.
There is so much to say of Edwards, of his vision of God, of his shortened life, of his influence. But consider for a moment this scene just before he died — a scene that took place this very day 255 years ago.
We would think that Edwards, with the mind he had, must have been overwhelmed with the thought of leaving so many unfinished works. I mean, what about A History of the Work of Redemption? We’re talking about a massive, comprehensive theology in the form of a history — “a body of divinity in an entirely new method.” He had only talked about it before 1758. It was a dream waiting to be realized, one that makes scholars get wide-eyed to this day. Maybe he would at least have some final instructions. Or maybe something for Princeton? He had just become the president. But no. It was none of this.
Jonathan Edwards, in his last breath, commends God as the better Father who will never fail his children. His last words were about the goodness of God.
God is who it is all about. It’s not the work, not the writing or the thinking or the enduring intellectual influence on America. It really is all about God.
As a dad, this scene grips me. Of all the things Edwards’s last energy could have been spent on, he tells his kids to trust God. On one level we could ask ourselves, “What would our last energy be spent on?” “Would I encourage the faith of my children?” “Would I commend the faithfulness of God with my last breath?”
But the truth is, we won’t commend with our dying breath what we don’t commend with our living. We won’t induce faith then if we don’t encourage faith now. Edwards on his deathbed actually drives us to ask what we’re spending our energy on today. Sure, work hard. Deadlines loom heavy. Tasks pile up. But success and legacy isn’t measured by how empty our inboxes are, or how many projects we ship, or how good we feel about Sunday’s sermon. Have we shown our children God?
If our children see a vision of God’s goodness through us, that, brothers, is a good day.
And that is what we can learn from Edwards on this March 22.

Jesus's Intentionality

David Mathis:  Every Calvary Step Was Love

Today is Palm Sunday, and so begins our journey with Jesus from Jerusalem’s gate to Golgotha’s cross to Easter’s triumph.
In this Holy Week, we begin with “Hosanna,” walk solemnly toward “Crucify him,” and finish elatedly with, “He is risen!”
Here we see Jesus’s love for us in every intentional step. In one sense, every step he ever took was for us. He was born to die. He came to give his life. His public ministry was ever a steady drumbeat toward Calvary. But in his last week, the quickly moving story begins to run in slow motion. Roughly half the Gospel accounts are dedicated to chronicle these final days.
Five years ago, John Piper wrote a memorable Holy Week meditation on Jesus’s intentionality and intensity. As intentional as were his steps toward death, so intense was his love for us.
If he was intentional in laying down his life, it was for us. It was love. Every step on the Calvary road meant, “I love you.”
And so to feel more deeply the love of Jesus for us, it helps to see more clearly how intentional he was in doing it. Here are the five ways Piper mentions for seeing Jesus’s intentionality in dying for us.

1) Jesus himself made choices precisely to fulfill the Scriptures.

“Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52–54)

2) Jesus repeatedly expressed his commitment to go to Jerusalem — into the very jaws of the lion.

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33–34)
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)

3) Jesus spoke of his suffering in the words of Isaiah.

“I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)

4) Jesus handled the injustice of it all by trusting his Father.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

5) Jesus was under no constraint, but acted completely voluntarily.

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17–18)
Piper concludes,
When John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16), we should feel the intensity of his love for us to the degree that we see his intentionality to suffer and die. I pray that you will feel it profoundly. (The Intensity of Christ’s Love and the Intentionality of His Death)
May his love for you be evident in every intentional step we track this Holy Week.

What Other King?

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer of Great Hope, on Palm Sunday

     Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you doubleZech. 9:9-12
Dear Lord Jesus, I’ll exhaust the wonder of this passage as soon as I drink Niagara Falls dry; as soon as I memorize the names of every star you’ve launched into the heavens; as soon as I finish climbing all the Alps in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and France. So great is your glory, matchless your mercies and lavish your love!
On this Palm Sunday morning, I’m overwhelmed with everything this Scripture says about you—your humility, sovereignty, your generosity. What other king could conquer warhorses and warriors by riding the foal of a donkey? What other king could break the battle bow and the backbone of all warfare by the brokenness of the cross? What other king could ever replace all politics of tyranny and power with a dominion and reign of peace, everywhere and forever? No other king but you.
What other king would offer his life and death for the redemption and restoration of rebels, fools, and idolaters like us? What other king could possibly make prisoners of sin, death, and “waterless pits” into prisoners of hope? No other king but you.
Who is the King of Glory? It is you, Lord Jesus, and only you. Who is the King of Grace? It is you, Lord Jesus, and only you. Who is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? It is you, Lord Jesus, and only you.
I join my brothers and sisters today in great rejoicing, for you have come to us, righteous and victorious; and you’re coming again to finish every good work you have begun. Yet our hosannas are laced with the sobering news of every costly thing required of you for our redemption. As we survey your cross this week, may it fuel within us gratitude for so great a salvation and hope for the fullness of your kingdom.
Lord Jesus, may your cross and your crown continue to free us from all other imprisonments, so that we may live as prisoners of hope and agents of redemption. So very Amen we pray, in your peerless and triumphant name.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

One Way Love

Tullian Tchividjian post:  The Fruit of Grace

Hollywood is not known as a culture of grace. Dog eat dog is more like it. People love you one day and hate you the next. Personal value is very much attached to box office revenues and the unpredictable and often cruel winds of fashion. It was doubly shocking, therefore, when one way love—and its fruit—made such a powerful appearance on the big stage in 2011. The occasion for it was Robert Downey Jr receiving the American Cinematheque Award, a prize given to “an extraordinary artist in the entertainment industry who is fully engaged in his or her work and is committed to making a significant contribution to the art of the motion pictures.” A big deal, in other words. Downey Jr. was allowed to choose who would present him with the award, and he made a bold decision. He selected his one-time co-star Mel Gibson to do the honors.
To say that Mel’s reputation had taken a serious nosedive in recent years would be a severe understatement. An arrest for drunk driving in 2006 in which the actor-director spewed racist and anti-Semitic epithets was followed by public infidelity and a high profile divorce in 2009 and then culminated in 2010 when tapes of a drunken Gibson berating his then-girlfriend in the most foul manner imaginable were released online. Reprehensible does not even begin to describe it. Downey Jr’s ceremony took place a little more than a year after that final incident, the one that rightly cemented Gibson’s place as pariah numero uno in Tinseltown.
Of course, Downey Jr was no stranger to ostracization. In the 1990s, he became something of punchline himself as someone notoriously unable to kick a violent addiction to drugs and alcohol. Arrest after arrest, relapse after relapse, people both in Hollywood and elsewhere began to think of him less as an actor and more as a junkie. Professionally he became a liability—even those who wanted to work with him couldn’t because insurance companies wouldn’t underwrite a film if he was part of the cast. Bit by bit, and with the notable help of some good friends, Downey Jr eventually got sober and his career slowly got back on track. In 2008 he was cast as Iron Man and the rest, as they say, is history. Today he is one of the most beloved and highest grossing actors in the business. So the award coincided with the very height of his popularity and the nadir of Gibson’s. This was his moment of glory.
Instead of using his acceptance speech to give an “aw shucks” to the crowd of adoring colleagues, and doff his hat to his agent and family, Downey Jr did something unprecedented. We’ll let him speak for himself:
I asked Mel to present this award to me for a reason. Because when I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope, and he urged me to find my faith—didn’t have to be his or someone else’s—as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired so he cast me in the lead in a movie that was actually developed for him. He kept a roof over my head, and he kept food on the table. And most importantly, he said that if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoings and embraced that part of my soul that was ugly—”hugging the cactus” he calls it—he said that if I “hugged the cactus” long enough, I would become a man of some humility and my life would take on new meaning. And I did and it worked. All he asked in return was that some day I help the next guy in some small way. It’s reasonable to assume that at the time he didn’t imagine the next guy would be him. Or that some day was tonight.
Anyway, on this special occasion… I humbly ask that you join me—unless you are completely without sin (in which you picked the wrong… industry)—in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate you have me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He’s hugged the cactus long enough. [And then they hug].
The short speech not only testifies to the amazing power of one-way love, it is itself a beautiful example of the ‘fruit” of one-way love. At his lowest point, Downey Jr. was shown mercy by Mel Gibson. He didn’t deserve it, his track record was abysmal, but Mel, for whatever reason, took a risk—at great cost to himself. He personally paid down the massive insurance premium for Downey Jr. on 2003′s The Singing Detective so that his friend could get back on his feet. You don’t forget something like that.
Downey Jr’s response was one of gratitude and generosity. His speech may have phrased things in terms of repayment, but Mel’s injunction was obviously an after-the-fact suggestion rather than a condition. Downey Jr’s gesture goes so far beyond any sense of “owing”, especially considering the choice of moment and venue. To associate with Mel in such a public manner, indeed to advocate for him, meant putting Downey Jr’s own reputation on the line. It was a self-sacrificial and even reckless move. There was no possible gain for Downey Jr.; such was the antipathy that Mel inspired. No, his defense of the indefensible was the uncoerced act of a heart that’s been touched by one-way love. There is a direct line from the love Downey Jr was shown to the love he then shows. His supreme generosity is the fruit of grace.
Mel clearly had no idea about what Downey Jr. was planning to do. And Downey Jr’s tone and demeanor make it very clear that he was not putting himself out there under duress—he did it because he wanted to. His ability and desire to show mercy seems almost directly proportional to his personal experience of it, his firsthand knowledge that he is just as much in need of mercy as “the chief of sinners”. His plea, in other words, was rooted in humility about his own sin and gratitude for the love he has been shown, which asserts itself in kind. Belovedness births love. Grace accomplished what no amount of court-ordered, legal remedies ever could: it created a heart that desires to show mercy to the “least of these.”
Of course, as powerful of a story as it is, the episode is not a one-to-one analogy for the Gospel—no story could be. As impressive as Iron Man is, he is not God. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t close. Thankfully, when it comes to God’s grace, there is not even a hint of exchange. No suggestion of payback, or pay it forward. There are no strings attached. Only grace can change a heart and produce law-fulfilling works of mercy, but grace is not dependent on a changed heart or law-fulfilling works of mercy. Grace alone produces the conditions that induce change, but grace is not conditional on change. It is pure gift. Our greatest hope. Our only comfort. Our deepest relief.
It is one way love.
(Excerpted from my forthcoming book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World)

Friday, March 22, 2013

His Reasons Are Only Love

Jon Bloom post:  When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain

The reason there was a “Palm Sunday” was because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17–18). It was perhaps the most powerful, hope-giving miracle Jesus ever performed during his pre-cross ministry; the capstone sign of who he was (John 5:21–25).
That’s why the Apostle John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6).
The word “so” connecting those two sentences is stunning. The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.

“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”
Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul — the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.
But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?
And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Martha hurried out.
When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus laid his hand on her head.
He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live (John 5:25).
Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished (Luke 12:50).
But Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.
When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”
His living words revived her hope. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.
“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.
He replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but as he spoke it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:54). No one ever spoke like this man (John 7:46).
She answered, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

We know how this story from John chapter eleven ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.
And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).
When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child's deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18).
Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.
So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?”


Matt Reagan post:  Ten Big, Daily Reminders

I wake up lost every morning. At least that’s what it feels like. Perhaps something similar is true of you.
Somehow during the night I’ve forgotten the big realities about God and the universe and myself and the gospel. I desperately need to steady myself with biblical truth rather than stumbling forward to live from unbelief.
I tend to forget the big realities during the day as well. I regularly catch myself living on the idiotic assumption that I will constantly remember the things that really matter — and that I will act in line with them. I assume that the realm of the seen and touched will not overwhelm the realm of the unseen and hoped for.
But in reality, whether it’s night or day, I don’t stay awake to what’s truly important for very long. I am like that college kid who sits in church on Sunday morning trying to keep his eyes open after an irresponsibly late Saturday night. My eyelids droop by default, and my mind wanders from the glories of the Bible to superfluous, naturalistic daydreams (that may or may not end with an embarrassing full-body twitch that snaps me awake again).
So I’ve learned over time to put structures in place that remind me of those unseen things, especially during my bleary-eyed, half-conscious mornings.
One effort is this list of ten truths. I hung it up next to our dining room rocking chair (my preferred spot for study and contemplation). It’s developed over the years as a list of the daily reminders I need most. Many of them overlap substantially, but a double reminder only reinforces the original purpose.
I’ve added a short commentary for each in hopes that something here might help you in your pursuit of remembering the biggest truths that we can be prone to assume and forget.
1) God exists. (Exodus 3:14John 8:58)
It seems so simple, so basic, but I tend to wake up a naturalist, and a narcissistic one at that. I assume that all there is in the world is what is in front of my face. My bed, my wife, my kids, and most importantly myself. The simple yet ultimate existence of God immediately clears my lens, makes me small, and infuses meaning into every step. God exists — and that changes everything.
2) God loves you. (Romans 5:8John 16:27Jeremiah 32:40–41)
Another massive biblical reality, this immediately counters my hesitation to embrace God’s ultimate authority, reminding me that he has set his affections on this little speck of a person. He is far from indifferent toward me.
3) Jesus died for you, and the Father has now bound himself to give you only good things. (Romans 8:28Romans 8:32)
This draws me quickly to the central reality of all history: the cross. It is an objective truth set in time and space, so it immediately draws my gaze away from my own capacity to garner acceptance from God through my efforts. Furthermore, the outworkings of the cross make clear that even the harshest trials will come to me as blessing, for my ultimate good, no matter how bad I feel at the time.
4) God sees you as perfect. (Hebrews 10:142 Corinthians 5:21)
My self-absorption, anxiety, and self-pity know no bounds. They must be beaten into submission by the beauty of imputed righteousness. The question, “How am I doing?” is met head-on with the answer, “Perfect.” In that regard, every day is a good day.
5) That is because of Jesus’s perfection, not yours. You deserve hell. (Romans 3:101 Timothy 1:15)
There are two main purposes here: first, to counterpunch when my flesh looks for a way to subtly claim credit for the perfection that is mine only in Jesus; second, to maintain a sense of trembling gratitude for my salvation. While I enjoy the glory of the gospel, there should always be an awestruck voice in the back of my mind that is whispering, “I shouldn’t be here.”
6) You will die. (James 4:14Hebrews 9:27)
Nothing brings clarity to me like this simple and straightforward reminder. How quickly I assume my earthly immortality, and how often I need to think of myself as a terminal cancer patient.
7) You will live forever in the new heavens and new earth. (Romans 8:18Hebrews 10:34)
I don’t want to be a clear-headed fearer of death, like some atheistic poet. I want to glory in the guarantee of indescribable bliss that is just around the corner. And I want to live like it’s real — because it is.
8) For now, you are an exile on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13–16)
This keeps me from feeling at home when I’m not at home (especially in my own home). It prepares me for not fitting in, for weird looks when I speak with conviction about Jesus, and for holding loosely to every bit of earthly life.
9) Nothing on earth is truly worth putting your hope in. (Jeremiah 2:13Galatians 6:14)
This is a practical specification of #8. It is right for me to remember that I will inevitably be disappointed by every earthly pursuit or relationship or emotional experience. It runs me back to my true Home and the true Bridegroom.
10) You have no right to be unhappy. (Philippians 4:41 Peter 1:8–9)
This is a summarizing application of all the previous reminders, but it merits its own slot. How quick I am to become “blah” when there is a treasure trove of happy reality at my disposal! I must beat this into my discontent little brain. I can be plenty unhappy, but I have no right to be.
These reminders flee from my mind like stray socks in an armful of laundry. Every time I pick one up, another falls. By the time I read #10, #1 is beckoning again. What a grace that #4 is still true!