Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hungry for the Lord

Don Carson:  Numbers 7; Psalms 42-43; Song of Songs 5; Heb. 5

MILLIONS OF CHRISTIANS HAVE SUNG the words as a chorus. Millions more have meditated on them in their own quiet reading of Scripture: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God”(Ps. 42:1).
It is a haunting image. One pictures the buck or the doe, descending through the forest’s perimeter in the half-light of dusk, to slake the thirst of a hot day in the cool waters of a crystal stream. When Christians have applied the image to themselves, they have conjured up a plethora of diverse personal circumstances: semi-mystical longings for a feeling of the transcendent, courageous God-centeredness that flies in the face of cultural opposition, a lonely longing for a sense of God’s presence when the heavens seem as bronze, a placid contentment with our own religious experience, and more.
But whatever the possible applications of this haunting image, the situation of the deer — and of the psalmist, too, as we shall see — is full of enormous stress. The deer is not sidling up to the stream for the regular supply of refreshment; it is panting for water. The metrical psalter adds the words, “when heated by the chase”; but there is no hint of that here, and the application the psalmist makes would fit less well than another possibility. The psalmist is thinking of a deer panting for refreshing streams of water during a season of drought and famine (as in Joel 1:20). In the same way, he is hungry for the Lord, famished for the presence of God, and in particular hungry to be back in Jerusalem enjoying temple worship, “leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng” (42:4). Instead, he finds himself “downcast” (42:5) because he is way up the Jordan Valley, somewhere near the heights of Hermon, in the far north of the country.
Here the psalmist must contend with foes who taunt him, not least regarding his faith. They sneer all day long, “Where is your God?” (42:10). The only thing that will satisfy the psalmist is not, finally, Jerusalem and the temple, but God himself. Wherever he finds himself, the psalmist can still declare, “By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me — a prayer to the God of my life” (42:8). So he encourages himself with these reflections: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (42:11).
Sing the chorus, repeat the ancient lines. And draw comfort when you are fighting the bleak bog of despair, and God seems far away.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Your Light Shined in the Darkness

Grace Draws Its Own Back Home

Tullian Tchividjian post:  A Father's Love

When I was 16, my parents kicked me out of the house. They had tried everything. Nothing worked. And it got to the point where my lifestyle had become so disruptive to the rest of the household, that they were left with no choice but to painfully say, “We love you but you can’t continue to live this way and live under our roof.”
A couple years after they kicked me out I was living in an apartment with a couple friends and I called my dad (after losing yet another of my many dead-end jobs–I only called him when I needed something) and said, “Rent’s due and I don’t have any money.” My dad asked, “Well, what happened to your job?” I made up some lie about cutbacks or something. He said, “Meet me at Denny’s in an hour.” I said okay. After we sat down, he signed a blank check and handed it to me, and said, “Take whatever you need. This should hold you over until you can find another job.” He didn’t probe into why I lost my job, or yell at me for doing so. He didn’t give a limit (here’s a $1000).  And I absolutely took advantage! I not only remember taking that check and writing it out for much more than I needed, I remember sneaking into my mom and dad’s house on numerous occasions and stealing checks from out of his checkbook. I had mastered forging his signature. I went six months at one point without a job because I didn’t need one! Any time I needed money I would go steal another check and forge his signature –$500, $300, $700. I completely took advantage of his kindness—and he knew it!
Years later he told me that he saw all those checks being cashed, but he decided not to say anything about it at the time. It didn’t happen immediately (the fruits of grace are always in the future), but that demonstration of unconditional grace was the beginning of God doing a miraculous work in my heart and life. My dad’s literal “turning of the other cheek” gave me a picture of God’s unconditional love that I couldn’t shake.
My father died in 2010, twenty-one years after he sent his disrespectful, ungrateful son on his way. And it was his unconditional, reckless, one-way love for me at my most arrogant and worst that God used to eventually bring me back. Until the day he died, my father was my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. I miss him every day.
Steve Brown once said, “Children will run from law and they’ll run from grace. The ones who run from law rarely come back. But the ones who run from grace always come back. Grace draws its own back home.” I ran from grace. It drew me home.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

In Desperate Need of More and More Grace

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer about Why God Loves Us

     The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers. . . . Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Deut 7:6-89:6
Dear heavenly Father, I’ve been thinking about our future life in the new heaven and new earth a lot lately—the ultimate “good land” you’ve given us. The more aware I am of my brokenness and the brokenness all around me, the more I long for the amazing inheritance you’ve promised your children.
The more I ponder images of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-22:6), the more I experience doxological overload and grace-fueled wonder. A life devoid of chaos and evil—a world permeated with goodness and grace has never looked so good, as it does today. Hasten that Day of consummate perfection!
Father, forgive us when we’re still tempted to believe there’s something we did to earn the love you’ve lavished on us, and the inheritance you’ve secured for us. And forgive us when think there’s something we can do to lose for favor and love. Our arrogance and unbelief have infected every cell of our being.
We’re your treasured people only because you made us your treasure. Indeed, we’re a chosen people, not a choice people. Apart from the gospel we’d still be hating you, rebelling against you and trying our best to ignore you. But you set your love upon us in eternity and revealed this great affection when you sent Jesus to be our Redeemer. And we wouldn’t love Jesus unless you’d given us a new heart by the Spirit and the faith we need to receive eternal life. It’s all of grace, from beginning through eternity.
Apart from Jesus’ righteousness, we have none. We’re still a stubborn people, in desperate need of more and more grace. Our stubbornness is seen most clearly in our refusal to believe the gospel; in the ways we still give our hearts to other gods and saviors; and in our multiplied failures to love each other as Jesus loves us. We praise you for hiding our lives securely in Christ.
Father, you justified us by grace and we are trusting you to sanctify us by that same grace. Free us, increasingly, to love and serve you with our whole being. Hallelujah, what a salvation! Hallelujah, what a Savior! So very Amen we pray in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Receive Grace and Mercy

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Sufferers Comforting Sufferers

Over at Mockingbird, my good friend R-J Heijmen has a great post regarding why preachers of the Gospel always talk about sin:
The Gospel preacher [recognizes] that life is often (perhaps mostly) hard, and that as much as we might crave a word of optimism, a little fuel for the part of us that longs to live in blissful ignorance (or denial), what we really need is not to have our humanity built up, but rather put to death. True hope – hope in God and his unbreakable love for us in Jesus Christ – comes only when we let go of our false hopes, and this happens only in the crucible of real, hard, life. In this view, church ceases to be a venue for fairy tales and bedtime stories, but rather a haven for sufferers. Church is the place where we come together to hear and tell the truth about our lives, our sin, and to receive grace and mercy. As Luther poignantly said, “If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear a true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners.”
You can read the whole thing here.

Head, Heart and Hands

David Mathis post:  What's the Big Deal with the Puritans?

He was the kind of adolescent who would keep secret reading material stashed under his mattress. Long after he was supposed to be fast asleep, the teenage Joel Beeke would lay in bed with the light still on, pouring over the pages. He had stumbled across his father’s forbidden collection, and long before most youths are exposed to the adult world, Beeke was getting acclimated.
By Beeke’s own admission, he was raised in a hyper-Calvinist home, and his wandering heart found a haven for indulgence. It was the Puritans.
These old English pastors and theologians, from the second half of the 16th century and the entirety of the 17th century, informed his mind, wooed his heart, and began guiding his life. He was only nine years old when he found the Puritans on his father’s shelf and began devouring the grace they exuded. Far from the staid and prudish caricatures we hear far too often, Beeke was finding the Puritans to be “the happiest group of people who ever lived on the face of the earth.”
Beeke now has been enjoying the Puritans for over 50 years, and he has authored, with Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology, the book he says he’d dreamed of writing as a teenager. He’s eager to help as many as he can “get a flavor for the incredible riches of their spirituality.”
In this new episode of Theology Refresh, we asked Beeke, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Puritans, to put them on the bottom shelf for us. This short interview is Puritanism 101 — a primer on the Puritans — not just for those who know them some, but especially for those who would ask, “So what’s the big deal anyway with the Puritans?”
To get this 12-minute episode, subscribe to Theology Refresh in iTunes, listen at the resource pagedownload the audio, or watch below.

He Really Believed in Jesus

Jon Bloom:  Faith That Made Jesus Marvel

Jesus… marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9)
Jesus, the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), once marveled at the great faith he found in a man. And it’s the only instance recorded in the Gospels when Jesus responded that way. Who was this man? A rabbi? No. A disciple? Nope. A Roman soldier.

Jesus had walked down from the brow of the low mountain outside of Capernaum, his adopted home (Matthew 4:13). He had just delivered what would become the most famous sermon in history.
When Jesus entered the town, he was met by a group of Jewish elders. They had an urgent request. Would Jesus come quickly to the home of a Roman centurion whose servant was so ill he was near death? The centurion himself had sent these elders to Jesus to make this request.
This was strange. Jewish leaders were not in the habit of being fond of Roman soldiers.
Feeling the obvious oddness of the request, one of the elders quickly added, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”
This was also strange. Roman soldiers were not in the habit of being fond of Jews.
Jesus discerned the Father’s direction in this and so he set off with them to the centurion’s home. He had also just been preaching a on the importance of loving one’s enemies. This was something to encourage.
As they neared the house another group of men intercepted them. They huddled in a brief, hushed conference with the confused elders. Some observers figured it was too late.
Then a representative of the interceptors stepped over to Jesus and said respectfully, “Teacher, I have a message for you from my Roman friend. He says,
Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, “Go” and he goes; and to another, “Come,” and he comes; and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.
A murmur wove through the crowd. He didn’t want Jesus to come.
Jesus’s eyes held the man’s as he pondered the profound words. From a Roman soldier.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lᴏʀᴅ been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1)
Jesus’s mouth eased into a smile. He shook his head slightly.
For that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isaiah 52:15)
This emissary of Israel’s enemy understood what even these Jewish elders didn’t grasp. He looked at the elders.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lᴏʀᴅ’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22–23)
Then he turned to his disciples and the small crowd that had followed him off the mountain and said in a loud voice, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (verse 9).

Jesus “marveled” at this man’s faith. When Jesus marvels, we must meditate.
Luke chose the Greek word thaumazo (thou-mad’-zo, also in Matthew 8:10), which we translate “marveled” or “amazed,” to describe Jesus’s response to the centurion’s faith. The only other time this word is used to describe Jesus’s response to someone else’s faith is in Mark 6:6, when he marvels at the lack of faith in the people of Nazareth, those who knew him best.
It is a gospel irony that the only person recorded in the gospels whose faith made Jesus marvel was a Roman soldier. The only reason he was in Palestine was to help keep the Jews under the domineering rule of the pagan Tiberius.
It amazed Jesus that a Gentile soldier of all people, a stranger to the covenant, a man with limited understanding of the Scriptures at best, saw what few of the covenant people saw when they looked at Jesus: the Son of God. Jewish crowds flocked around Jesus. Jewish leaders lobbied and debated him. But like Peter in the boat full of fish (Luke 5:8), the Centurion recognized divine holiness in Jesus and sinfulness in himself and knew he was not worthy of Jesus’s presence.
He also recognized Jesus’s authority. While Jewish elders asked Jesus questions like, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23), this foreigner knew exactly who Jesus was. He knew Jesus had authority from the Father to command the natural world. He knew proximity was no factor. Jesus could speak disease out of existence from any distance.
And Jesus marveled that in this Centurion he saw a first fruit and foreshadow of what he had come to bring about: that “many [would] come from the east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
This man whose faith made Jesus marvel was not a disciple, did no miracles, planted no churches, had no degree, and no religious title. His spiritual résumé was unimpressive. The man with the greatest faith in Israel was a Centurion who simply knew who Jesus was, what he was able to do, humbly asked him, and trusted that he would receive what he needed. He really believed in Jesus.
That is still the faith that makes Jesus marvel.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

God Given Personalities

Excerpt from Amie Patrick:  Four Lies About Introverts

The lie I'm most tempted to believe is that the way God has wired me is incompatible with the life he's called me to live. The logical conclusion of this lie is that joy and contentment aren't possible—and that constant frustration is inevitable.
It took a while for me to unearth and articulate that lie under the layers of fear, doubt, and insecurity it was producing. I knew these beliefs didn't line up with God's character or promises, but it's taken extended immersion in the truth of God's Word to renew my mind and dismantle that deception. Along the way, I've discovered some subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions I'd unwittingly latched onto over time.

1. Extroversion is the biblical ideal.

There's little question our culture leans toward idealizing extroverts. Those with intrinsically good social skills, who appear to thrive in party-type atmospheres and exude confidence when meeting new people, are often considered worthy of emulation. I spent many years wondering why small talk felt so awkward for me when it seemed so effortless for my friends. In some churches, an appropriate focus on community life can inadvertently favor those who are most comfortable socially, quickest to share their thoughts and feelings, and most likely to throw a party. But there's no biblical precedent for idealizing extroversion, just as there's none for idealizing introversion either. I know extroverts who feel condemned because a quiet environment and time alone are somewhat distracting. They find it difficult to avoid comparing themselves to more introverted, contemplative types and avoid attributing their struggle to a lack of self-discipline when, in fact, a preferred environment has little to do with self-discipline at all.
The comparisons aren't helpful and neither is holding up an ideal the Bible does not. The body of Christ includes persons at all points on the introversion/extroversion continuum, and no one's contribution is more important than another's. We're all responsible to spend time both privately and corporately with God and others in worship, study, prayer, and service. Caving to a cultural standard that doesn't line up with scriptural truth is destructive to individuals and to the body of Christ.

2. Introverts don't like people.

This has perhaps been the lie that's stung most for me. I care deeply about people, but I need time alone to recharge in order to be able to give them my best. It's taken me years to view this as good stewardship rather than some sort of flaw I need to overcome. Actually, and perhaps ironically, the chief thing that's kept me from loving people well has been my attempt to be someone I'm not. The more I've tried to be that "life of the party" girl, endlessly accommodating others without considering what I need to recover, the less capacity I've had to actually love people well.
We're all responsible to obey biblical commands related to loving people sacrificially and living hospitably and generously. And it's a cop-out to use introversion as an excuse for self-protective isolation. But there's not just one or even ten "right" ways to love people well. I've learned to get better at small talk and interacting with strangers, because it's important and necessary, but it's never going to be my greatest strength. I've become much more comfortable in opening our home to small and large groups of people, both in planned and spontaneous ways, but going deep with one or two people over coffee is always going to be a place where I thrive. Accepting my God-given introversion, I still allow myself to be stretched or uncomfortable. But I passionately pursue opportunities where I can love people deeply with my gifts and life, and then humbly take responsibility for what it looks like for me to be refreshed.

3. Solitude is selfish and indulgent.

Now there's a reality here that can be true. If my choice to be alone is primarily to serve myself and intensify a me-oriented focus, it is a problem. But for a long time I believed solitude for the purpose of prayer, Bible study, or worship is necessary, but anything beyond that is probably frivolous. However, I've come to experience great benefits from a variety of solitary activities. Solitude in itself isn't inherently helpful or harmful, but the underlying purpose is pivotal. I can go for a run by myself to clear my head and enjoy God's gift of nature—or to sinfully distract myself from something I need to confront. I can sit alone in a coffee shop in order to think deeply and process life events—or to worry about things beyond my control. When I cooperate with the way God has designed me, and surrender my solitude to him, he uses it to refresh my soul in often unexpected and powerful ways.

4. Introversion is incompatible with teaching and leadership gifts.

Last year, after an acquaintance watched my husband and me team-teach in front of a few thousand people, he remarked in a good-natured way that I couldn't possibly be an introvert. I knew he meant this as a compliment, and I also understood his confusion. People who are confident and capable in front of large audiences don't exactly fit the introverted stereotype. And while it's true many introverts aren't comfortable in front of people, I am. How much of that is due to my natural personality, gifting, or years of training in music, theater, and teaching, I don't know, and it probably doesn't matter. What I do know is that once the adrenaline wears off after such an event, I need some silence and solitude in order to be replenished. I'm passionate about teaching God's Word, and I love to get to use my gifts in this area, but it's equally important for me to take necessary steps to make room for quiet rest. By God's grace I'm learning to see my more public and more private sides not as incompatible or inauthentic, but as balances to each other. 
Additionally, my leadership gifts aren't expressed in the same way as my extroverted husband. I tend to lead best from a more contemplative place. My creativity flourishes, and my best ideas rise to the surface when I have time to be alone more so than when I'm brainstorming with others in a highly dynamic environment. Since there is no one-size-fits-all model for leadership, our churches will be best served when there's room at the table for extroverted and introverted leaders alike.
Accepting the realities of my God-given personality has been a process of sanctification. I've had to repent of people-pleasing and trying to be someone I'm not. I've had to humbly acknowledge my limits and weaknesses and to live in God's strength rather than my own. Ultimately, this process has been about God and his kingdom, not me. The more I rest in his gracious acceptance of me in Jesus, the more free I become to be myself for his glory. And that's a place where joy and contentment abound.
Amie Patrick is wife to Darrin, lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis. Married for 20 years, Darrin and Amie have 4 children, ages 3 to 12, and have served in a variety of ministry roles together. Amie holds a degree in music education and is passionate about leadership, teaching women to practically apply the gospel to all areas of their lives, and helping pastors' and church planters’ wives thrive in their calling.

Power Made Perfect in Weakness

Mark A. Howard post:  Peter:  Hope for Pastors

I was happy in my previous job as a fundraising consultant. I never dreamt of full-time church ministry, and I definitely didn't think of myself as a good fit for youth ministry. I don't have a jazzy personality, and I'm not naturally outgoing. I much prefer to be in the background than in the spotlight. 
But, in an unexpected twist of life, circumstances, and calling—I have now been in youth ministry for nearly four years. In that time, God has pushed me to grow personally and as a minister. He's exposed many weaknesses, yet he's also shown that he is faithful to those who trust in him.
It's been a bumpy road—as those of you who've been in ministry far longer already know, and those of you who are just starting are probably learning. 
n this journey, I've found the apostle Peter to be a great source of comfort and hope. Here's an ordinary man, a fisherman by trade, who heard the call of Jesus and responded with his usual impulsiveness to Christ's appeal.
I admire Peter's zeal and find inspiration in his willingness to put himself "out there" for Jesus. I need to be encouraged and spurred on by his boldness. Yet I really appreciate the way the Spirit not only preserves stories of Peter's zeal and faith but also (and often in quick succession) gives to us stories of Peter's failures, lack of faith, and struggle to overcome his shortcomings.

Bold Talk

Peter was the first disciple to proclaim Jesus as the Christ (for which Jesus called him "blessed"), only quickly to stand in Jesus' way to be the type of Christ the Father required (for which Jesus called Peter "Satan"). 

Peter was the only disciple who asked to join Jesus as he walked across the water, yet shortly after leaving the boat Peter began to sink as he took his focus off of Jesus as his faith failed him.
Peter alone drew his sword and struck one of the men coming to arrest Jesus (being willing, apparently, to die before seeing his teacher taken captive). Yet not much later, this same Peter thrice denies even knowing Jesus, presumably for fear of death (for which he later bitterly weeps).
Peter, through the Spirit's prompting, was one of the first disciples to reach out to Gentiles; yet even after seeing the Spirit's miraculous work—some 14 years after Jesus resurrection—Peter still must be rebuked by Paul for hypocrisy in his unwillingness to associate with Gentiles in the presence of members of the circumcision party.
How often do we begin with the best of intentions and lofty hopes in ministry, only to find ourselves lacking? How often to we feel like we're finally seeing progress in our personal sanctification only to lapse? How often do we talk big but live small in relationship to the gospel?

Imperfect Love

After finishing their breakfast with the resurrected Jesus beside the sea, Jesus twice asks Peter if he loves him (John 21). Twice Peter responds, saying, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Finally Jesus asks Peter a third and final time: "Do you love me?" John tells us this third question grieved Peter. I can almost see Peter's pain as he responds, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Peter owns up to the inadequacy of his love for Jesus; he knows that his love is imperfect—and this he does (likely) in front of the other six disciples. 
After prophesying the awful death Peter will experience because of his faith, Jesus says to Peter, "Follow me." 
And, amazingly, he does.
There are many times in my ministry when I feel like Peter. I know my love is inadequate. I know I fall short of God's glory. I know my witness to the gospel in my thoughts and actions—more often than I'd like—declares my desperate need for a savior.
God knows this about us, just has he knew this about Peter. As Jesus once revealed to the apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9).
He can use even me. He can use even you.
Part of the beauty of Peter's witness is that he wasn't perfect—but God still used him in mighty ways. Peter firmly knew God's love for him through Jesus, despite his faults and inadequacies. 
In a letter he wrote near the end of his life, Peter encourages the church to "set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13). It's a good reminder for those of us in ministry. Peter was confident in God's grace, and that is where our confidence needs to be as well. Peter, like Paul, had learned the truth that God's grace alone is sufficient for our weakness.

What Can I Do to Serve You?

J.D. Greear post:  One Transforming Question

In Ephesians 5:21, the Apostle Paul gives a principle for how all Christians should relate to one another: submission to one another out of reverence for Christ. If we were to understand submission in the right light, it would literally alter every relationship we have.
To make this tangible, think of what Paul is saying in terms of one simple but transforming question:[1]
What can I do to serve you?
It’s simple—almost trite—but what if this was on your mind and on your lips in all of your relationships? Literally, what if you asked this question to people on a daily basis? Husbands, what if you took this attitude with your wife? Wives, what if you took this attitude with your husband? What if you asked this question to your parents, your children, your roommate, your boss?
Here’s what would happen: for many of you, everything would change.The gospel would begin to saturate your marriage, your home, your workplace. And when the gospel saturates an area, it makes things new. It regenerates and recreates what was broken and dying.
If this is so simple, why don’t we do it? What keeps us from asking, “What can I do to serve you?” The answer is almost as simple as the question—fear. We fear what the other person might actually say. Maybe they will ask too much. Maybe they will take advantage of us. And maybe by asking how we can serve others, our needs will never be met. For many of us, the possibility of what might follow this transforming question is more frightening than it is invigorating.
So are you afraid to obey? Well, to a certain extent, that’s just par for the course in being a follower of Jesus. Faith always involves a little bit of fear. But let me give you a little consolation from my experience: most of the things you fear will never happen. Are you afraid that treating people like this will enable them and prevent them from changing? More often than not, the opposite is the case. Paying people back and making them feel the pain for how they’ve wronged us—that doesn’t change people. Giving people their just desserts only intensifies a vicious cycle.
The gospel secret is that grace is the most powerful change agent on the planet. That is how God changed me—not through threats of the law, but by graciously taking my sin. That is how my wife and closest friends have changed me—not by paying me back, but by extending forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it.
Are you afraid that living like this will keep you from being happy? That’s not necessarily the case either. The most joyful person ever to live was Jesus, and he spent his life washing feet and dying for sinners. There is a joy in being like Jesus that you will never experience when you are the defender of your tiny, dark, self-centered kingdom.
The big question, though, is: where do we get the power to do this?It’s a great idea to serve one another, but no one has that power in themselves. The power to submit your life to others is a supernatural power that the Spirit of God has to give you, and he does it through the gospel. Paul says that we submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” In serving one another, we are really responding to Jesus’ grace to us. Our spouse, parent, roommate, or employee may not be worthy of it. But Jesus is.

For more on this, be sure to listen to this sermon.

[1] Presenting Ephesians 5:21 through the lens of one overarching question is an idea I first heard from Andy Stanley.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Faith and Joy

Tony Reinke post:  In God We Joy

Our joy in God is bound up with our trust in God. The two cannot be separated — not ever. Trust is the backbone of joy. And joy is the outflow of trust in one who is fully Trustworthy.
We see this connection made throughout the Bible.
The Psalmist unites trust and joy:
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. (Psalm 5:11a)
The Lᴏʀᴅ is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. (Psalm 28:7)
For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:21)
And the Apostle Paul unites trust and joy:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)
I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:25)
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)
And the Apostle Peter unites trust and joy:
Though you have not seen him [Christ], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)
This is only a bare sampling of texts, the point is made repeatedly in Scripture. Confident faith and joy are bound up together.

The Fight for Faith and Joy

Nineteenth-century Anglican Henry Donald Maurice Spence-Jones summarizes the connection well: “Trust is an indispensable element of a happy life. A suspicious, distrustful soul is like one walking in a fog, chilling, perplexing, distorting. One of a trustful nature who has no one to trust is like a lonely traveler, hungry and homeless.” 1
To be a trusting person, but to have no trustworthy object to trust in, results in tragic lostness. And to know One who is fully trustworthy, but to not trust him, is a chilling tragedy of its own, and yet we experience it in our daily Christian lives. How often do we walk in the chilling and perplexing fog of unbelief!

Calling Out Unbelief

Disillusionment and disappointment will always strike where genuine trust in God grows thin. And that’s why when trust is missing, joy will also go missing. There can be no joy in God where there is no firm trust in God, and no confidence in his all-sufficiency. And this is why we all feel the inner battle for joy, because we face a daily battle for faith. Our hearts are prone to trust in self, in money, in occupations, in a spouse, or in any other worldly security or circumstance. And when our faith wanes and we no longer trust God, we are set up for a disastrous fall into spiritual dehydration.

Unbelief, the Enemy of Joy

Eighteenth century pastor John Newton saw the challenge of unbelief in the Christian life, and employed the strongest language possible to confront it. “Unbelief is the primary cause of all our spiritual discomforts. This inability to take God at his word, should not be merely lamented as an infirmity, but watched, and prayed, and fought against as a great sin. A great sin indeed it is; the very root of our apostasy, from which every other sin proceeds. It often deceives us under the guise of humility, as though it would be presumption, in such sinners as we are, to believe the declarations of the God of truth. Many serious people, who are burdened with a sense of other sins, leave this radical evil out of the list.” 2
Unbelief in the Christian life is serious business. Joy will not grow where faith is absent. “But,” writes Paul, “we work with you for your joyfor you stand firm in your faith” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Until we have our confidence in God settled (what we call faith), our joy in God will remain elusive.
Unbelief evaporates joy. And very often the pathway to renewed joy in God begins when we evaluate the false securities of our lives and honestly assess whether we are trusting in our all-sufficient and all-trustworthy Christ for our eternal security and all our daily needs.

Living to the Praise of Your Glorious Grace

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Wisdom in Investing the Rest of Our Days

     O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Surely a man goes about as a shadow! Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? my hope is in you. Ps. 39:4-7
Dear heavenly Father, what a great Scripture to pray through today, reminding me of the brevity of life and the importance of wise choices. Though I have no desire to know the exact day or means by which you will take me home, I’m more committed to live with that day in view.
Because the gospel is true, I have no fear of dying. I really believe that to be absent from my body will mean that I am immediately present with you. The sting of my death has been removed. The grave has been robbed of its victory over me. I can honestly say with Paul that it is better by far to depart and be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23).
But until that departure, what’s the best investment of my remaining days and sweat, tears and laughter in this world? I’ve spent enough years bustling about in vanity, heaping up stuff that will only end up on the ash heap one Day. Should you give me one more, ten more, twenty-five more years, how  the gospel of your kingdom and the riches of your grace claim and fill the span of those very brief years? I’ll never retire; but I do want to reframe, refocus and refuel.
Show me what to make a bigger deal about—and a lesser deal of? Of what things do I simply need to let go? Who should I be spending more time with or, quite honestly, less time with?
The two things which define the rest of history are your commitment to redeem your people through the gospel and your commitment to make all things new through Jesus. How do you want me to engage with both of those stories with my family, friends and church?
Father, give me greater love for people who don’t know Jesus. I spend a disproportionate amount of my time predominately with other Christians. Give me your welcoming heart for outsiders, unbelievers, skeptics—people who are foreigners to your grace. And help me live more intentionally as an agent of redemption and restoration in my community and city.
You are my hope and joy, peace and contentment, my passion and my delight… my everything. Free me more fully to live to the praise of your glorious grace and name. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ bold and beautiful name.

I'd Rather

Ray Ortlund post:  George Beverly Shea, 1909-2013

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  Hebrews 13:7
It doesn’t say, “Imitate their style,” but “Imitate their faith.”  George Beverly Shea was a man of profound faith in Christ.  He put the Lord first.  That was a personally costly thing for him to do.  But he did it, by faith.  And he moved thousands, even millions, of others to put the Lord first, by their own faith.  His singing at the Billy Graham crusades moved people to tears, showing them Jesus in his grace and glory.
One of the sins of our generation is treating both preaching and music as a “gig,” as a platform for self-display, as a way of getting ahead.  Do we want those who follow us to imitate that?  Where would that take us, in another two or three generations?
As I watch Mr. Shea singing in this video, it seems to me that this is what it means to sing in the Holy Spirit.  He is utterly sincere, wholehearted, all-out for the glory of Christ alone.  I find this very moving.
Where are the men and women today who will remember selfless leaders like George Beverly Shea, who spoke (or sang) to us the priceless word of God?  Where are the men and women who will consider the outcome of this older, humbler way of Christian life and service?  Where are the new leaders now who will, in their own style, imitate this powerful faith that puts Jesus first, whatever the cost?
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I’d rather be His than have riches untold
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame
I’d rather be true to His holy name
Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today
A faith worth imitating!

On A Mission

Henri Nouwen Society Daily Meditation

Fulfilling a Mission

When we live our lives as missions, we become aware that there is a home from where we are sent and to where we have to return.  We start thinking about ourselves as people who are in a faraway country to bring a message or work on a project, but only for a certain amount of time.  When the message has been delivered and the project is finished, we want to return home to give an account of our mission and to rest from our labours.

One of the most important spiritual disciplines is to develop the knowledge that the years of our lives are years "on a mission."