Friday, May 31, 2013


Speak O Lord

Saved By Grace But Living By Performance?

Excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian post:  Introduction To One-Way Love


Sadly, too many churches have helped to perpetuate the impression that Christianity is primarily concerned with legislating morality. Believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything, it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good. Too many people have walked away from the church not because they’re walking away from Jesus, but because the church has walked away from Jesus. Ask any of “religious nones” who answered their census questions differently in past years, and I guarantee you will hear a story about either spiritual burn-out or heavy-handed condemnation from fellow believers, or both. Author Jerry Bridges puts it perfectly when he writes:
My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever “‘well”‘ is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the “‘sweat”‘ of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘”try harder’.” We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.
What Bridges describes is nothing less than the human compulsion for taking the reigns of our lives and our salvation back from God, the only One remotely qualified for the job. “Works righteousness” is the word that the Protestant Reformation used to describe spiritual performancism, and it has plagued the church—and the world—since the Garden of Eden. It might not be too much of an overstatement to say that if Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom for the oppressed, sight to the blind, then Christianity has come to stand for, and in practice promulgate, the exact opposite of what its founder intended (Luke 4:18–19).
It is a terrible irony that the very pack of people who claim that God has unconditionally saved and continues to sustain them by his free grace are the very ones who push back most violently against it. Far too many professing Christians sound like ungrateful children who can’t stop biting the very hand that feeds them. It amazes me that you will hear great concern from inside the church about “too much grace,” but rarely will you ever hear great concern from inside the church about “too many rules.” Indeed, the absurdity of God’s indiscriminate grace always gets “religious” people up in arms. Why? Because we are by nature glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks–—God-wannabe’s. That’s why.
But the situation is more than ironic, it is tragic. It is tragic because this kind of moralism can be relied upon to create anxiety, resentment, rebellion, and exhaustion. It can be counted upon to ensure that the church hemorrhages the precise people that Jesus was most concerned with: sinners.
Are you exhausted? Angry? Anxious? Fearful? Guilty? Lonely? In need of some comfort and genuinely good news? In other words, are you at all like me? Then this book is for you. I can’t promise it will answer all your questions or cover every theological base. But I can promise that you won’t hear any “buts,”, you won’t feel the tapping of the brakes, and you won’t read a list of qualifications. What you will encounter is “grace unmeasured, vast and free,”, the kind that will frighten and free you at the same time. That’s what grace does, after all.
It is high time for the church to honor its Founder by embracing sola gratia anew, to reignite the beacon of hope for the hopeless and point all of us bedraggled performancists back to the freedom and rest of the Cross. To leave our “if’s,” “and’s,” or “but’s” behind and get back to proclaiming the only message that matters—and the only message we have—the Word about God’s one-way love for sinners. It is time for us to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe religion, and, as Robert Farrar Capon so memorably put it, get drunk on grace. Two- hundred-proof, unflinching grace. It’s shocking and scary, unnatural and undomesticated—…but it is also the only thing that can set us free and light the church, and the world, on fire.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

For His Name's Sake

John Piper post:  Prayer:  We Get the Help, He Gets the Glory

One of the unique things about God is that he displays his glory by helping rather than demanding help. “No eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). “He is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17:25). “He exalts himself to show mercy” (Isaiah 30:18).
This changes the way we pray.
When we ask him for help, we know that he will give it for his name’s sake, not because we deserve it. His helping us highlights his riches. “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Jesus died to obtain all the help we need. So not just our praises, but also our petitions, become ways of glorifying God. They draw attention to his riches, not our rights.
The principle is this: We get the help; he gets the glory.

Attention to His Riches, Not Our Rights

For example, the psalmist prays,
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name's sake! (Psalm 79:9)
We get help and deliverance and atonement; he gets an exalted name. So it is again and again in the Old Testament:
For your name’s sake, O Lᴏʀᴅ,
pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)
For your name’s sake, O Lᴏʀᴅ, preserve my life! (Psalm 143:11)
O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, pay attention and act.
Delay not, for your own sake. (Daniel 9:19)

Giving Help, Not Demanding It

Similarly, when Jesus comes, the first thing he tells us to pray for is the glory of God’s name: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
And when Paul prays, all his petitions are to this same end:
It is my prayer that you be . . . filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9–11).
We always pray for you, that our God may . . . fulfill every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12).
This is wonderful. God exalts his grace and power by giving help rather than demanding it. He designs the Christian life so that we get the joy as he gets the glory.
But this does require that we be born again.

Happy for God to Be God

Before the new birth, we are allergic to such humility. We didn’t just want to be happy, we wanted to be happy by being somebody. We did not like the idea that God gets all the glory while all we get is help from him and joy in him.
But when we are born again, we are happy for God to be God. We are content for God to get all the glory, while we remain cheerful supplicants of mercy. So pray without ceasing and put God’s glory on display.
You are coming to your King,

Large petitions with you bring;

For his grace and power are such

None can ever ask too much. (John Newton)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Don Carson:  Deuteronomy 1; Psalms 81-82; Isaiah 29; 3 John

“OPEN WIDE YOUR MOUTH and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10): the symbolism is transparent. God is perfectly willing and able to satisfy all our deepest needs and longings. Implicitly, the problem is that we will not even open our mouths to enjoy the food he provides. The symbolism returns in the last verse: while the wicked will face punishment that lasts forever, “you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you” (Ps. 81:16).
Of course, God is talking about more than physical food (though scarcely less). The setting is a common one both in the Psalms and in the narrative parts of the Pentateuch. God graciously and spectacularly rescued the people from their slavery in Egypt, responding to their own cries of distress. “I removed the burden from their shoulders,”God says. “In your distress you called and I rescued you” (Ps. 81:6-7). Then comes the passage that leads to the line quoted at the beginning of this meditation:
Hear, O my people, and I will warn you –
if you would but listen to me, O Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not bow down to an alien god.
I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it (Ps. 81:8-10).
Historically, of course, the response of the people was disappointing: “my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me” (Ps. 81:11). In that case, they were not promised the satisfaction symbolized by full mouths. Far from it, God says, “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Ps. 81:12).
Of course, the nature of the idolatry changes from age to age. I recently read some lines from John Piper:
The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable (A Hunger for God, Wheaton: Crossway, 1997, 14).
“Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”

Entrust Yourself to Him Who Judges Justly

Ray Ortlund:  Going Soft Against Wrath

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
What is the wise response to an angry person who says something cruel, false or demanding? Proverbs 15:1 helps us in those awkward moments at home, at work, in our churches.
The key is “a soft answer.”
So, you’re standing there, stunned by those words that have just exploded in your face. In that instant of decision, as your mind is forming a response, “a soft answer” is the category you need. What is that?

Maybe, for Sure

The word “soft” means tender, delicate, gentle, even weak. We don’t like being weak, especially when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of anger. We would rather justify ourselves. It is hard to be wronged. It is doubly hard to be wronged and not fight back but respond softly.
Of course, if the angry person is a heretic, bent on wrecking your church, he or she must be confronted strongly. But if that person is not a danger but only immature, then a tender, delicate, soft, weak answer might help that person see things in a new way. Maybe not. Maybe nothing will help. When God himself answered Jonah’s anger softly, Jonah wasn’t satisfied (Jonah 4:1–11). But with the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1, the tension in the air might not escalate. The awkward moment might even be turned into something positive.
But dishing out anger in response to anger will surely go badly. Here is what we can always expect: “. . .a harsh word stirs up [more] anger.” A harsh – literally, “painful” – response can include words with sharp edges, a tone of sarcasm, implied threats of retaliation. There are many ways for the encounter to escalate quickly.

God Gets the Last Word

The Bible gives us many encouragements to restrain ourselves when people are unkind. For example, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17). “Let your reasonableness be known to all” (Philippians 4:4). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15).
Most wonderfully, we have in our Savior the perfect example of wisdom: “When Christ 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).
That helps, doesn’t it? It helps to remember that God sees, and God judges justly. Sometimes people judge unjustly. They don’t mean to. They just do. But God always judges justly. So, we don’t have to get in the last word. On that great and final day, God will finish every conversation in this life that didn’t go well. He will do so with perfect justice, fully satisfying to every redeemed heart. Let’s trust him for that now, whenever we are under this kind of pressure.
Venting is the world’s foolish way, intensifying conflict. Restraint is the Lord’s wise way, spreading shalom. And the Lord’s way succeeds. It might satisfy our aggressor, and it will surely safeguard us.

Global Urbanization

Matt Smethurst post:  Are You Ready for the Urban Future?

Like it or not, it's true: more people are living in cities than ever before. This migration cityward doesn't appear to be waning, either; in fact, it's projected that within the next 35 years our world will be 70 percent urban. (In 1800, that number was 2 percent. In 1900, it was 14 percent.)
So what bearing should this reality have on today's church? In Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church (Crossway), Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard seek to address such pressing questions and trends. Their aim, as Um explains in the video below featuring Buzzard and Christ + City author Jon Dennis, isn't to insinuate that city ministry is superior. It is, however, uniquely strategic.
"This book is not about why cities matter more. We need gospel-preaching, gospel-shaped churches wherever there are people," Um says. "But more people are moving into cities than ever before. Around the world 5.5 million people per month are moving into cities. That's another San Francisco every month."
I corresponded with Um, senior minister of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, aboutWhy Cities Matter, why American believers are often urban pessimists, how rural and suburban friends can champion God's work in cities, and more.
What prompted you to write this book now? To whom is it addressed? 

No matter where you live, it's an established reality that the world is rapidly becoming very urban. In 1900, the world's urban population was only 14 percent. As I write, that number has reached 52 percent. By 2050, the number is projected to be near 70 percent. It's hard to wrap our minds around this kind of enormous shift. So Why Cities Matter is addressed to anyone seeking to understand rapid global urbanization and its implications for our world, particularly as it relates to gospel mission. The book isn't only written for people living in cities, but also for those in rural and suburban areas who want to prayerfully understand and support the work of God in urban centers.

We're hoping the book is winsome enough to help the conversation move beyond the perceived divisions between urban, suburban, and rural ministries. We need churcheswherever there are people. That's something that we can all agree on. But we must also be honest about the fact that more people than ever before are moving to the cities of the world.
Tim Keller has observed, "Christians, particularly in America, are generally negative toward cities. . . . Very few American Christians have lived in urban centers or even like them." Why do you think this is so?
Unfortunately, leaders like Keller are often subjected to the charge of being "anti-suburban" because of their willingness to speak clearly about a very real phenomenon. Research has shown that 68.1 percent of American evangelicals live in suburban and rural areas, while only 31.9 percent live in urban areas.1 Numbers like these force us to be honest with ourselves. The majority of evangelicals appear to have a preference for non-urban places, while the majority of the world's population increasingly has a preference for urban areas. Simply put, if evangelicals stay where they are, in 35 years our geographical statistics will be the exact opposite of the rest of the world's (i.e., we'll be roughly 30 percent urban and 70 percent suburban/rural while the world's population is roughly 70 percent urban and 30 percent suburban/rural). That ought to give us pause.
You remark that in 35 years the world is likely to be almost 70 percent urban. What kinds of challenges or opportunities does this trend present to believers?
The challenge will be keeping up with the combined phenomenon of rapid population growth and global urbanization. In the foreword to our book Keller observes, "In the next 20 years, China's cities will add an additional 350 million people to their current population, more than the entire population of the United States." Needless to say, if there isn't a strategic gospel-centered church planting movement ahead of this curve, we'll be playing catch-up for the next century or more. And this is just one example of how our world is shifting. But the opportunities for believers are endless. We can actually identify the urban areas to which millions of aspirational, marginalized, and explorational individuals will be streaming in the coming decades. These are people who are in great need of the gospel, and who will be uniquely open to hearing the gospel as a result of the cosmopolitan spirit so prevalent in cities.
Where do we see cities in Scripture, and what can we learn from those passages?
The Bible has much to say about the city, and we cover a lot of that ground in the third chapter of the book, so I'll give just one example here. In Hebrews 11, we're told Abraham was called by God to leave his birth city and to live "in tents" on the way to the land of promise (v. 9). The author assumes that this wasn't an ideal way of life, and Abraham is seen to be "looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (v. 10). In this way believers are seen as "not yet" sojourners en route to a city prepared by God (Rev. 21).
But in the next chapter, Hebrews 12, the author encourages his readers by stacking up the blessings they already have in Christ. Among those "already" blessings is this: you "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (v. 22). The implication is that while we're still awaiting the full consummation of the new city of Revelation 21, we already experience the blessings of our heavenly citizenship. Citizenship in a future city shapes our approach to our penultimate citizenship in our present cities.
How can those who don't live in cities be obedient to the call to love cities as God does?
It can begin with personal prayer to discern whether or not you've unknowingly adapted an anti-urban bias. What happens in your heart when you hear about cities or about city-specific ministries? If you find yourself getting defensive or polemical, you might ask God to disinfect your approach to cities. Not everyone is called to live in an urban area—many are called to live in suburban and rural areas—but everyone is called to pray for the spread of the gospel and the health of the church. If you have a hard time celebrating, supporting, and enjoying what God is doing in cities, then this may be an occasion for evaluating your heart posture toward God's global kingdom work. The same goes for Christians in urban settings. We must be careful not to downplay or demonize the great work God is doing in rural and suburban areas. Justin and I lay out additional suggestions in the book.
What would you say to brothers and sisters serving in obscure places who may read a book like Why Cities Matter and feel like they're missing out—perhaps even selling out—by not ministering in a city context? 
First, anyone who goes to the city because they feel they're missing out or selling out needs to re-evaluate their sense of calling to the city. Though there's much to love about cities and their culture(s), God's call has little to do with what is culturally savvy. That said, if you've been called to an "obscure" place, Why Cities Matter isn't a threat or a challenge; it's a resource we hope will aid you in situating your own contextual ministry within a broad understanding of our world's shifting cultural currents.
We are in this together. God is calling some to cities. He's calling others to suburban and rural areas. We hope that Why Cities Matter will be an occasion for confessional evangelicals to be self-reflective and strategic as we think about what gospel mission might look like in an increasingly urban world.

1 Mark T. Mulder and James K. A. Smith, "Subdivided by Faith?: An Historical Account of Evangelicals and the City," Christian Scholars Review XXXVIII, no. 4 (2009), 430The numbers are even more striking when race is factored in: "Only 18.4% of white evangelicals live in urban areas, while 51.8% live in sub-urban/exurban contexts (just 29.8% live in rural areas)."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Abundantly Free!

3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

Ephesians 1 [Message]

Friday, May 24, 2013

Trusting Jesus to Change the World

Peter Krol post: How to Win Your City

World-changers are a rare breed. But they don't have to be. If displaced youths can revolutionize the kingdoms of the earth in God's name, you and I can transform our communities with the gospel.

Consider the year 605 B.C., as the nation of Judah is losing power and significance. Babylon rules the world, with Nebuchadnezzar as king and general.

Then the unthinkable happens. Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem, and the city falls becauseGod hands it over to him. Thus begins the book of Daniel: clarifying who truly controls the situation, thereby revealing Daniel's secret confidence that inspires him in three key world-changing behaviors. Since he knows God rules all earthly kingdoms, he can settle down, start small, and win big.

Settle Down

Daniel and his three friends are abducted, transported to Babylon, and enrolled at the state university (Dan 1:3-4, 6). They take classes and study the liberal arts, but this state-sponsored education smells more like religious coercion than intellectual stimulation. They're learning the literature and language of a hostile nation. They're being groomed for civil service as cultural elites (Dan 1:4). They're training to embody new customs (Dan 1:5) and proclaim the glories of false gods—like Bel and Nebo/Nego—by bearing their names (Dan 1:7).

But they don't stage a protest or instigate a riot. They don't plot a rebellion. They don't even refuse to participate. They take it right on the chin and keep moving.

Imagine that you attend Georgetown, but al-Qaeda attacks and levels Washington, D.C. You're taken away and forced to study at the State U in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they interrupt classes five times each day for mandatory prayer, and the cafeteria closes during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan. Upon arrival, they change your name from Christopher Smith to Mohammed Allahu Akbar. Would you take that sitting down? How did Daniel and friends do it?

The Lord knew they'd need help, so he inspired the prophet Jeremiah to write them a letter (Jer 29:1). He told them to "build houses . . . plant gardens . . . take wives . . . multiply there. . . . Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jer. 29:4-7). He told them it would be 70 years until God brought them back, so they should make the most of the time (Jer. 29:10-11).

Daniel obeyed. He settled down and served the neighborhood. He became a model student and a pillar of the community.

Jesus gave us a similar set of commands. Go to all nations to make disciples (Matt 28:18-20, Luke 24:47). Do not love the world, or the things in the world (1 Jn 2:15), but love your neighbor as yourself (Jas 2:8). Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Pet 2:17). In other words, settle down and be good citizens.

Start Small

Although seeking to be a good citizen, Daniel resolves not to defile himself (Dan 1:8). The problem, however, is that he doesn't have much control over his life. He appeals to the chief eunuch, but his request is denied (Dan 1:9-10). So Daniel goes down the chain of command to the steward, but this time he proposes a 10-day test (Dan 1:11-13). Note these things about the test:
  • The test is small. Daniel does not protest, petition, refuse, or revolt. He simply proposes a new menu with a trial period.
  • The test is tentative. The fact that Daniel proposes a time period implies that he's willing to go back to the defiling food (and try a different plan) if it doesn't work.
  • The test is out of Daniel's control. Picture this New Year's resolution: "I'll eat healthy food for 10 days. If I come out fatter, prettier, and smarter than the rest of my generation, then I'll know it was a good idea, and I'll persevere." Yeah, right. He's obviously expecting God to do something supernatural.

Daniel doesn't get anxious about stuff he can't control. He focuses on what he can control (not his menu or his health, but his ability to request a slight change), and he begins there. After all, if God is really in control, it just might work! And of course, it does (Dan 1:14-16).

How do you handle big problems? The economy tanks. The election doesn't go your way. Your company is failing. Your name is mud. The world is full of evil, envy, abuse, and pain. What can you do about it?

Start small. You can pick up a piece of litter at the park. You can submit your report before the deadline. You can donate a can of soup. You can talk to one person about your hope in Christ. You can do the next thing, whatever it may be.

Win Big

Daniel settles down and starts small, but his influence reverberates through the ages. Notice how much he wins.

First, he wins Nebuchadnezzar's respect (Dan 1:18-20). At the final exam, Daniel and his friends win first prize. It's as though President Obama came to your church, interviewed the teenagers, and concluded they were 10 times more useful to him than his chief of staff. Only God can give such wisdom (Dan 1:17). But that's not all.

Second, he wins Babylon's empire (Dan 1:21). Why does the chapter conclude with a throwaway detail—that Daniel's tenure continued until the first year of King Cyrus? That detail is important because Cyrus was king of Persia, not king of Babylon. Cyrus was the guy who destroyed Babylon and set up a new empire. So God's man Daniel not only outlasted Nebuchadnezzar, he also survived the Persian takeover and maintained his influence. Nebuchadnezzar thought he was building his empire by capturing Daniel, but God was really building his. That detail is also important because we know Daniel's tenure survived at least until Cyrus's third year (Dan 10:1). So why does chapter 1 end with Cyrus's first year? Because that year was 539 B.C., roughly 70 years after the initial exile. It was the year Cyrus permitted the Jews to return and rebuild (Ezra 1:1-4). And Daniel was there, advising King Cyrus to issue the proclamation.

But that's not all.

Third, Daniel wins the world's attention. More than 500 years later, his influence is still being felt when advisers from Babylon (remember that "magi" is a Persian word) trek across the world to see the one who was born King of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-2). Daniel always directed people to the true King (see Dan. 2:20-21, 4:17, 7:13-14). He told them the signs of the King's advent (see Dan. 8-12, especially chapter 11), so they watched and waited until they finally saw his star in the east and went to worship him.

Daniel rested in God's sovereignty and paved the way for the Messiah to take over the world. What phenomenal influence!

"Winning big" is not about getting what you want. It's not even primarily about changing the world or making it a better place. It's about trusting Jesus to change the world.

We can't fix all that is broken. We can't repair the ruins of our communities or give people lasting hope and peace, unless we give them Jesus. We can settle down and start small. And if God is truly in control, there's a good chance he'll use us to win big.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Knowing God's Love and Approval

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Grace Mobilizes Performance

My friend Steve Brown tells a story about a time his daughter Robin found herself in a very difficult English Literature course that she desperately wanted to get out of.
She sat there on her first day and thought, “If I don’t transfer out of this class, I’m going to fail. The other people in this class are much smarter than me. I can’t do this.” She came home and with tears in her eyes begged her dad to help her get out of the class so she could take a regular English course. Steve said, “Of course.”
So the next day he took her down to  the school and went to the head of the English department, who was a Jewish woman and a great teacher. Steve remembers the event in these words:
She (the head of the English department) looked up and saw me standing there by my daughter and could tell that Robin was about to cry. There were some students standing around and, because the teacher didn’t want Robin to be embarrassed, she dismissed the students saying, “I want to talk to these people alone.” As soon as the students left and the door was closed, Robin began to cry. I said, “I’m here to get my daughter out of that English  class. It’s too difficult for her. The problem with my daughter is that she’s too conscientious. So, can you put her into a regular English class?” The teacher said, “Mr. Brown, I understand.” Then she looked at Robin and said, “Can I talk to Robin for a minute?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “Robin, I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no  matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?” My daughter is not dumb! She started sniffling and said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give  you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.”
Later the teacher explained to Steve what she had done. She explained how she took away the threat of a bad grade so that Robin could learn English. Robin ended up making straight A‘s on her own in that class.
That’s how God deals with us. Because we are, right now, under the completely sufficient imputed righteousness of Christ, Christians already have an A. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. We’re in-forever! Nothing we do will make our grade better and nothing we do will make our grade worse. We’ve been set free.
Knowing that God’s love for you and approval of you will never be determined by your performance for Jesus but Jesus’ performance for you will actually make you perform more and better, not less and worse. In other words, grace mobilizes performance; performance does not mobilize grace.
If you don’t believe me, ask Robin!

God's Word, Not Our Feelings, Constitutes Reality

Chris Castaldo post: When You're in the Crosshairs of Anxiety

A beloved relative is dying before your eyes; the syncopation of an EKG monitor punctuates each heartbeat. Bleep . . . Bleep . . . Bleep . . . . It's not the sound of hospital equipment, however, that is dragging your soul into despair; it's the conflicted thoughts and emotions swirling within. Memories, tender and most lovely, give way to the cold sterile confines of a deathbed. You seek to apply your faith in God's providence, but the torrent of emotions rains down mercilessly upon you, causing you to feel hopeless.

Such an experience can be replicated in a thousand different scenarios. We've all been there at some point. Some of us live there. You understand quite well the concept of Philippians 4: think on things that are praiseworthy and true, with prayer and supplication, shunning worry in favor of thanksgiving, and God's inscrutable peace will guard you heart. Indeed, this is a precious, altogether true promise. But in some moments of crisis you're so exceedingly distracted that you feel unable to control your thoughts and thus incapable of finding peace. What then?
Essential Problem

The Lord of glory unifies creation under the reign of Christ in the Holy Spirit's bond of peace; the Devil, on the other hand, comes to steal, kill and destroy. He divides and conquers. It is a strategy that has been around from the inception of sin. The Son of Man sows good seed into his field, producing a harvest of life that redounds to God's glory; the Devil sows weeds that threaten to choke it out. Such is the pattern. The Father extends his hand of redemption to subdue and organize the chaotic creation under his care; sin manufactures more and more chaos.

When the chaos of sin engages one's soul, anxiety naturally follows. The word translatedanxiety in Philippians 4:6 comes from the Greek word merimnao. It gathers meaning from the words merizo "to divide" and nous "mind." This divided mind is the unhappy condition of the man whom the Apostle James describes as "double-minded, unstable in all his ways" (1:8). Such instability routinely focuses on the object of anxiety to the exclusion of God. In such moments, the sick feeling in our stomach and shortness of breath in our chest confirms that flaming darts have pierced our spiritual armor. We've been hit, and we are in trouble.
Reality Check

If you find yourself in this situation, seize the first opportunity to get before the Lord. Anxiety imposes a hypnotic trance, which must be broken. If you've ever read The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, for example, this sort of phenomenon is depicted in the scene in which the evil Green Lady, ruler of the underworld, seeks to bewitch Prince Rilian and his friends. You may recall that just when she seemed to have enslaved them with her lies, Puddleglum stamps out the enchantress's magical fire and breaks her spell. Rilian then awakes, kills the serpent, and leads the travelers to safety. Our Prince of Peace, Jesus, says, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

The truth of God's Word, regardless of our feelings, constitutes reality. The challenge, though, is opening the eyes of the heart to embrace this truth, especially when fiery darts are flying at us fast and furiously. A time of solitude before God is precisely what we need in such moments. Even as I write this sentence, I am looking out upon a quiet pond. Only water with this degree of calmness can possibly reflect heaven above. Likewise, we will reflect the Lord's peace when we sit in the quietness of his presence.
Humble Prayer

Truth is recognized in quietness and galvanized in prayer. While the Greek legacy says "know thyself," the Roman says "rule thyself," the Buddhist says "annihilate thyself," the Muslim says "submit thyself," and New Age religion says "love thyself," Jesus says, "Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Why nothing? Because without Christ we are stuck in the underworld of anxiety without hope of release. Sure, one can pretend to have escaped anxiety, distracting himself through drink or amusement, but these merely provide a momentary release. Only in childlike dependence on Christ, expressed through humble prayer, do we realize genuine liberation.

When you're in the crosshairs of anxiety, get alone with God, read aloud his promises of salvation—which are more certain than the breath that we breathe—and, as you cast your cares upon him, may the peace of Christ be yours.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Can These Bones Live?

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for the Life-giving Power of the Holy Spirit

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley. . . . I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”Ezek. 37:1-6

Dear heavenly Father, I would do well to meditate on this portion of your Word once a month—no, make that at least once a week. For it “calls out” my unbelief, confronts my complacency, and deconstructs every excuse I offer for giving up on spiritual dryness and discouraging situations.

Many of us hurt for churches, friends and marriages that fulfill Ezekiel’s description of piles of dry, breathless bones. Some of us put ourselves right in the center of the prophet’s vision. Vibrant green has become ashen grey. The music and dance of the gospel have faded away. Delight in the Lord has been replaced with disconnect, distrust, and for some, despair.

But it’s not Ezekiel who asks about the possibility of renewal, redemption, and restoration; it’s you, Father. It’s you! “Can these bones live?” you ask. The question is rhetorical, for you are the God of resurrection! I’ll not presume on the process, but I’ll trust in your great promises.

Father, for your glory, I ask you to breathe on the bone-dry marriages of a few dear friends. I pray the same for a few pastor-friends of mine and their church families. Where there’s little life, and less hope left, bring a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a renewed affections for Jesus. Do what you alone can do as God. Things impossible with us are more than possible with you!

What but the love of Jesus can transform stubborn hearts into supple hearts; what but your grace can replace mean with mercy; what but the Spirit’s power can supplant self-protective willfulness with gospel willingness? Who but Jesus can transform cold antipathy into kindhearted intimacy? These are my rhetorical questions, Father, for I know of no other hope for cold marriages, dead churches, or hard hearts but Jesus and his great love lavished on us in the gospel.

Indeed, Lord Jesus, you are the resurrection and life. Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, I pray with joy and anticipation. You are actively making all things new! Bring life—your life, to our places of dryness and death. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, the hope of your resurrection, a passion for your glory. So very Amen I pray, in the tender mercies of your great name.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sending of God

Ed Stetzer post:  Monday Is for Missiology:  What Missional Is and Why It Matters

An oft-quoted portion from the movie "The Princess Bride" has Inigo Montoya responding to the Sicilian Vizzini's constant use of "Inconceivable!" with "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Several years ago, I and group of other missiologists, pastors and theologians produced the Missional Manifesto to encourage believers to live missional lives and to clarify what we mean when we use the term "missional." Essentially we were a group of Christians putting forward a definition to help people to say what they mean and for it to mean what they think it means when they use the term - and to encourage others to do the same. We don't think that we are the owners of the term, and others certainly have equal claim, but we did want to say what we meant when we spoke the term.
Beyond definitions, the meat of the Missional Manifesto is found in the affirmations, designed to encourage us toward biblical fidelity and missional engagement. For example:
We affirm that the missio Dei is the mission of the triune God to glorify Himself. God does so in this world by redeeming sinful humans and, in the future, restoring corrupted creation. The Father sent the Son to accomplish this redemption and sends the Spirit to apply this redemption to the hearts of men and women. Included in God's mission is the missio ecclesia whereby He empowers the church for witness and service that leads to witness. Believers are called to share the gospel with people so they can come to know Christ. Moving from God, through the church, to the world, God's redemptive work results in people of every tribe, tongue and nation responding in lifelong worship of the God. Ultimately the missio Dei will encompass all of creation when God creates a new heaven and new earth.

When we begin to talk about "the mission of the triune God to glorify Himself," it must start with the idea of the missio Dei. This important concept is a Latin phrase for the "sending of God" or, the "mission of God."
During the past half-century, there has been significant shift from understanding mission as simply the geographical expansion of the Christian faith from the West to the non-Christian world towards a more expansive understanding of mission as God's mission-- particularly within a Trinitarian theological framework. This tenant has become known as the missio Dei, which has become the milestone concept of the twentieth century's theology of mission. In other words, today just about everyone believes in the missio Dei idea as one rooted in Scripture but more recently emphasized in theology.
In short, "mission" refers back to its fixed basis - to the movement of the Father in sending His Son and Spirit. God, who is ontologically "missionary" and, as God is the acting subject in His self-revelation, He maintains the initiative in this activity.
This divine missionary activity includes yet another noteworthy shift in thought: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world. Mission is therefore God's work in the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a church because there is a mission, not vice versa.
The mission of God calls us toward action. Christians, individually and corporately are called to live pressing toward missional activity in the world.
A "Kingdom mentality" draws on the prevailing missionary text of John 20:21 - Christ, in His own "sentness" commands the sending of the Christian community.Missio Dei, therefore, expresses this missionary existence of the Christian community. We are to live sent.
The New Testament undoubtedly places the mission of the church within the larger context of God's purpose to restore the whole creation (Rom. 8:18-25; Col. 1:20). But it also gives the church a focal occupation in the life of the Kingdom: God's biblically mandated vessel for His redemptive agenda in the world.
The goal of the missional journey on which we find ourselves is the end-game described in the Scriptures-- a redeemed people dwelling with God in a redeemed creation; a creation which will have experienced people of every tribe, tongue and nation responding in lifelong worship to King Jesus.

Inscrutable Ways


I’m inclined to think the best way to respond to the tragedy that struck our community today is simply to say nothing. I have little patience for those who feel the need to theologize about such events, as if anyone possessed sufficient wisdom to discern God’s purpose. On the other hand, people will inevitably ask questions and are looking for encouragement and comfort. So how best do we love and pastor those who have suffered so terribly?
I’m not certain I have the answer to that question, and I write the following with considerable hesitation. I can only pray that what I say is grounded in God’s Word and is received in the spirit in which it is intended.
I first put my thoughts together on this subject when the tsunami hit Japan a couple of years ago. Now, in the aftermath of the tornado that struck Moore and other areas surrounding Oklahoma City, I pray that those same truths will prove helpful to some. Allow me to make seven observations.
(1) It will not accomplish anything good to deny what Scripture so clearly asserts, that God is absolutely sovereign over all of nature. He can himself send devastation. Or he may permit Satan to wreak havoc in the earth. Yes he can, if he chooses, intervene and prevent a tornado, a tsunami, and all other natural disasters. In the end, we do not know why he makes one choice and not another. In the end, we must, like Job, join the apostle Paul and say: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
(2) God is sovereign, not Satan. Whether or to what extent Satan may have had a hand in what occurred we can never know. What we can know and must proclaim is that he can do nothing apart from God’s sovereign permission. Satan is not ultimately sovereign. God alone is.
(3) Great natural disasters such as this tell us nothing about the comparative sinfulness of those who are its victims. Please do not conclude that the residents of Moore, Oklahoma, are more sinful than any other city that has not as yet experienced such devastation. Please do not conclude that we are more righteous than they because God has thus far spared us from such events. The Bible simply won’t let us draw either conclusion. What the Bible does say is that we all continue to live and flourish not because we deserve it but solely because of the mercy and longsuffering of God. Life is on loan from God. He does not owe us existence and what he has mercifully given he can take back at any time and in any way he sees fit.
(4) Events such as this should remind us that no place on earth is safe and that we will all one day die (unless Jesus returns first). Whether by a peaceful natural death at the age of 90, or by a sudden heart attack at 50, or in a car accident at 15, or by a slow battle with cancer at virtually any age, we will all likewise die. We are not immortal. The only ultimately and eternally safe place to be is in the arms of our heavenly Father from which no tornado or earthquake or tsunami or cancer or car wreck can ever snatch us or wrench us free.
(5) We should not look upon such events and conclude that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history are at hand, but neither should we conclude that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of history are not at hand. What we should do is humble ourselves before the Lord and prepare our hearts for the day of his return, whenever that may be, whether in our lifetime or some distant date centuries from now.
(6) We must learn to weep with those who weep. We must pray for them, serve them, help them, give to them, and do all within our power to alleviate their suffering (even if their suffering is caused by God). We do not have to agree with them religiously or politically to shower them with the love of Christ. Jesus calls upon us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it. The fact is, none of us deserves it. That’s why the Bible calls it mercy: it is undeserved kindness. Remember Luke 6:27 where Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
(7) Pray that God will use such an event to open the hearts and eyes of a city and a state immersed in unbelief and idolatry (and I have in mind not merely Oklahoma, but also America as a whole), to see the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and turn in faith to him, lest something infinitely worse than a tornado befall them: Eternal condemnation. Eternal suffering.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace ... Means More Every Day

You Are All I Want

An Asaph Psalm

73 1-5 No doubt about it! God is good—
    good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it,
    missed seeing his goodness.
I was looking the other way,
    looking up to the people
At the top,
    envying the wicked who have it made,
Who have nothing to worry about,
    not a care in the whole wide world.
6-10 Pretentious with arrogance,
    they wear the latest fashions in violence,
Pampered and overfed,
    decked out in silk bows of silliness.
They jeer, using words to kill;
    they bully their way with words.
They’re full of hot air,
    loudmouths disturbing the peace.
People actually listen to them—can you believe it?
    Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.
11-14 What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
    Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything;
    they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
    what has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what—
    a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.
15-20 If I’d have given in and talked like this,
    I would have betrayed your dear children.
Still, when I tried to figure it out,
    all I got was a splitting headache . . .
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
    Then I saw the whole picture:
The slippery road you’ve put them on,
    with a final crash in a ditch of delusions.
In the blink of an eye, disaster!
    A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare!
We wake up and rub our eyes. . . . Nothing.
    There’s nothing to them. And there never was.
21-24 When I was beleaguered and bitter,
    totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
    in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
    but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
    and then you bless me.
25-28 You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!
The Message (MSG)