Monday, July 29, 2013

Blessed Be Your Name

Elizabeth Dias at TIME post:  Pastor Rick Warren Preaches First Sermon Since His Son's Suicide

Rick Warren has preached thousands upon thousands of sermons, but this message was different. The last time he had stood the pulpit at his Saddleback Church, in Southern California, was on Easter, seventeen Sundays ago — and five days before his youngest son, Matthew, 27, shot and killed himself, ending a lifelong struggle with mental illness. On Saturday night, for the first time since their son’s death, Rick and his wife Kay returned to their 20,000-member congregation. Together they faced the question tens of thousands of Christians have been asking: How are they — two of the world’s most famous Christians — able to hope in God in the midst of their despair?
Thousands of parishioners packed the auditorium and three overflow tents on Saturday for the first of Saddleback’s five-weekend worship services. A dozen local pastors all sat in the front row in a show of support for the Warrens, along with Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, producers of the hit television series, The Bible. When Rick and Kay walked hand in hand onstage, the crowd stood to their feet in appreciation and applause. Kay began to cry, and Rick kissed her on the forehead as he too grew teary. “Love you too,” he told the audience. He paused for just a few moments, and then he began to preach.
First he thanked his staff, his church, and, the hundreds of people who have supported them over the past four months. Above all, he thanked the Warrens’ other two children, Amy and Josh, who, he said, had loved Matthew and “talked him off the ledge” time and time again. “They really are my heroes,” he said, voice breaking.
The Warrens spoke honestly about their spiritual struggles with Matthew’s mental illness. “For 27 years, I prayed every day of my life for God to heal my son’s mental illness. It was the No. 1 prayer of my life,” Rick preached. “It just didn’t make sense why this prayer was not being answered.” Kay spoke of how she couldn’t even read certain Scripture passages about hope for months after Matthew’s death.
Rick and Kay shared publicly for the first time about how they found out that Matthew had died. On the morning of April 5, both of them had a sense of foreboding that Matthew was not doing well. At 10 a.m., Rick was at the doctor’s office. He had just been diagnosed with double pneumonia, and so he decided to ask his brother-in-law to give the upcoming sermon, entitled, “What to do on the worst day of your life.” At home, Kay put on her necklace that said, “Choose joy.” Neither of them could shake the feeling that something was wrong, so the two of them went to Matthew’s house to check on him. His truck was in the driveway, but the house door was locked, and no one was answering. They wept together as they waited for the police to arrive. Then their worst fears were confirmed.
In the four months that followed, the Warrens have drawn comfort from the community of faith, both ancient and new. They have treasured old biblical passages from the prophet Isaiah — “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown” — and from the Apostle Paul — “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” Friends and family have also held them close. “I am in this family of spiritual redwoods,” Rick said. “Satan picked the wrong team to pick on.”
Ultimately, they both hold to the hope that God is with people during their times of trouble, and that God will raise the dead. Matthew’s body was buried in brokenness, Kay said, but will be raised in strength. Rick reminded everyone that heaven is coming. He quoted the Book of Revelation: “Then God will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.”
Rick then made a promise: Saddleback’s next big ministry push will be to remove the stigma associated with mental illness in the church. “Your illness is not your identity, your chemistry is not your character,” he told people struggling with mental illness. To their families, he said, “We are here for you, and we are in this together.” There is hope for the future: “God wants to take your greatest loss and turn it into your greatest life message.”
For the next six Sundays, Rick will preach a sermon series entitled, “How to get through what you’re going through.” He will devote a message to each of the six stages of grief: shock, sorrow, struggle, surrender, sanctification and service. A larger program to address the specifics of mental illness has yet to be revealed, but it will be similar, Rick said, to the way their church has helped to tackle the HIV crisis.
Then, as the service closed, Rick joined the worship team in singing a favorite evangelical hymn, “Blessed Be Your Name.” He lifted his Bible high above his head and declared boldly to the God he serves: “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.”

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Feels Like Wisdom

Practical Theology for Women post:  Just Obey

Years ago, an intern at our reformed, grace-focused, gospel-centered church preached a sermon on the Ten Commandments. He opened with an illustration about how many of us in grace-focused churches secretly, subtly resist the words righteouslaw, or obey. He said something then that has stayed in my head ever since. “If the idea of a sermon on righteousness fills you with dread, you've been listening to the wrong people.” I have at points in my life had exactly that reaction to a message or article on obedience. I believe looking back that this reaction was because those teaching on righteousness and obedience talked about it in a vacuum. They did not do it in the atmosphere of gospel grace. And righteousness and obedience removed from gospel-grace become unattainable obligations. They become oppressive weights. God hates law apart from grace, and Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of this day in very clear terms over exactly this issue.

But when taught in the atmosphere of the gospel, obedience stops feeling like an obligation and starts feeling like wisdom. Righteousness is no longer a weight about our necks but a benefit that is strongly helpful in life. Instructions to obey become truly the light at our feet illuminating an extremely treacherous path. 
Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
I just got back from a long trip to visit family on the east coast. I got to talk with two friends who are finally emerging from struggles, particularly in marriage, that lasted at least a decade. Both of them, in different states and who do not know each other, told me how incredibly important and powerful obedience was in the midst of the worst parts of their crises. Just obey. That was key. And neither felt like that obedience in the middle of their crisis was an obligation that weighed them down. It was a blessing. God's instructions in His Word on how to respond in crisis were HELPFUL. Those instructions and commands helped my friends avoid pitfalls that would have seriously complicated their already stressful situations.

One of my friends was in a long struggle in her marriage, and I won't share the details of what they endured. But the oppressive weight of obedience that actually became a tender blessing was the instruction in Ephesians to wives to respect their husbands. Unconditional respect to a husband removed from the atmosphere of gospel grace immediately feels like an unfair obligation. But much like unconditional love to a wife, her obedience in giving unconditional respect to her husband (as God gave His unconditional grace and love to her) ministered great grace to her husband. That command became a sweet, HELPFUL instruction that aided them in their recovery. I plan to write more on unconditional respect in the coming weeks--it's such a beautiful, helpful instruction.

After both of those conversations during my trip, the last remnant of suspicion over the words obedience or righteousness has been fully washed away in my own heart. After years in a fundamentalism that made me cringe when the words were uttered, I now fall on my knees in thankfulness to God for giving us instructions in His Word that are so very helpful. If you need wisdom and helpful advice in the midst of crisis, my first loving encouragement to you is to simply OBEY GOD. Whatever His instructions in His Word, trust the Spirit as He speaks to you through reading the Word on your own and the preaching of the Word. And just obey. 
Psalm 85 
8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. 
10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. 12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.

Gospel Unity

Matthias Media | Phillip Jensen post:  In what are we united?

Organizational unity instead of gospel unity is death. The failure of Christian ministries, be they church or para-church, commences when they lose their direction and become organizations that demand organizational unity over theological unity in the service of the gospel.
We look at the great churches of the past and lament their decline in congregations or worse in gospel ministry, theological faithfulness or moral integrity. However, the same can be said for many para-church ministries set up in previous generations by Christians that today are hardly recognizable as Christian at all. Some even go out of their way to hide their Christian foundations.
The beginning of this downward fall is nearly always the loss of gospel clarity. The theological reason for establishing a ministry of the gospel is put on the back burner while the practicalities of running an organization become paramount. In next to no time, the organization is fighting to maintain the loyalty of its supporters and fighting with other organizations about their rights and relationships.
A classic in this slide is when non-denominational ministries start to function as inter-denomination ministries or worse still denominational organizations.
A non-denominational ministry is one that has no relationship or regard for denominationalism. This is quite different to an inter-denominational ministry, which is set up with equitable representation of all the denominations that support it. On a non-denominational committee there may be many, or no members of your particular denomination; nobody is there representing their denomination. All are involved because they believe in the particular cause of ministry. While on an inter-denominational ministry there will be careful balance of all denominations as each person is serving as a representative of their denomination. Consequently, there may be little theological agreement or there may be great unanimity, but either of these situations is an accident of history not the basis of membership. The next person on the committee will be chosen not because they believe anything in particular but because of their representation of a denomination.
The slide from ‘non’ to ‘inter’ usually happens un-noticed as politically sensible decisions are made. We are looking for a new committee member or a speaker for a conference, and it is pointed out that if we had somebody from denomination ‘X’ they would be able to bring greater support to our cause. The politics are right—broadening our base can bring greater strength to our organization, but the basis for the decision is poisonous to the whole ministry.
For a non-denominational ministry to stay on course it must always seek contributions from the person most committed to their cause and most able to make the contribution needed. Genuine non-denominational ministries are totally unconcerned whether every speaker comes from the same background or different ones, for the only concern is whether the new person will be most effective in advancing their cause. When people of less ability are included because of their denomination, the ministry is weakened. When people of great ability who do not share the common theology or vision are included the ministry will inevitably be weakened. Fellow travellers are more dangerous than enemies.
In Christian ministry unity comes from the centre drawing people in, not from the edges making alliances and coalitions. These alliances work in the short term, increasing the numerical power and resources of the organization, but usually undermine the cause in the long term as they shift the central focus of the original ministry.
Here is the failure of the 20th century Ecumenical Movement. It was always about organizational alliances rather than theological agreement—let alone truth.
Denominations are para-church organizations with all the strengths and weaknesses that go with being ‘para-church’. They exist beside (para) the church to enable it to do its work or to extend the gospel beyond the work of the church. Often, they have planted the church and can be holding the title deeds of the property. But the more the denomination places organizational unity over theological unity in gospel ministry—the more it becomes an obstacle instead of a help to the individual church.
This is not to say denominations have no place or the individual congregation is sovereign. It is the word of God, which should rule our activities and fellowship. Within the New Testament the church is neither one organizational unity nor totally independent congregations. Paul consulted with the ‘influential’ leaders in Jerusalem but knew his commission came directly from Christ and they could not add anything to him but should in fact be opposed when they were in error (Gal 2). Yet he can talk of practices that should be followed as a rule laid down for all the churches (1 Cor 7:1711:1614:33). So within the New Testament the churches are not independent congregations with nothing in common nor centrally organized as one singular entity.
However there is great danger when denominations take to themselves the title of “The Church of God”. For there is one church—the bride of Christ, gathered in heaven around his throne, and all Christians are baptized into that one body. Yet there are many churches of God in this world, each with as much claim to the title as the others (1 Cor 10:3211:162 Thess 1:4).
Any church is the church of God when by Christ’s Spirit it gathers in his name, prayerfully preaching his gospel, believing his word, seeking in his mercy to be obedient to his will. Or as the Anglican denomination has it:
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance. (Article 19)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

More of God

Christina Fox:  The Most Frightening Prayer I Could Pray for My Children

The most frightening prayer I could pray for my children is the one they need the most.
Now, I always pray about their behavior, their health, their progress in school, and their friendships. I also pray about their future and their jobs. I pray that my boys would marry “nice Christian girls.” But to be honest, when I pray for my children, it is easiest to ask that their lives be smooth and stress-free. It is easy to pray for their comfort and ease, for their lives to be absent of pain and grief.

When It Gets Uncomfortable

Yet when I reflect on my own life and look back on my faith journey, I see all the challenges and trials I have faced along the way, and the good God accomplished through them. I see the heartaches I’ve endured and the suffering that brought me to my knees. I also see the sins I’ve struggled with and the idols God graciously stripped from my hands. I see how God used all those valleys and painful circumstances to draw me closer to himself, to refine me, and to teach me to rely on him.
They have been the most important events in my life, but it’s not easy to ask this sort of thing for my children. It is hard to ask that God reveal their sin to them, that they see their need for a Savior, that they would be broken over their corruption and truly learn to cling to the gospel.
That kind of prayer is uncomfortable.

The Path to More of Him

It means that they will have to dig through rocky terrain like I’ve experienced before. They will have to walk through their own story of sin and repentance — of learning what it means to have empty hands. What’s frightening for me as a mom is to realize that their lives will not be smooth, comfortable, or safe — not if they will learn most deeply what it means to rely on God. In fact, my children may yet have to endure great trials, walk through dark valleys, and experience great sorrow. That could be God’s pathway to giving them more of himself.
I don’t want my children to treat God like a vending machine or like a fire insurance policy. I want them to have a passionate love for him that is alive and outgoing, bowing to his supremacy and anchored gladly in his gospel. I want them to love God’s word and hold to it firmly in times of uncertainty. I want them to show Jesus to the world. This is what I want.

Nothing More Important

And it will mean that my children have to see that they have sinned against a holy God and that it is only through the grace and sacrifice of his Son that they can be forgiven. Jesus said that those who have been forgiven little will love little (Luke 7:47). My children need to know what that means. They have to see the utter depths of their sinfulness and that without Jesus, they are without hope. And they have to trust in Jesus as their only source of hope and righteousness. Only as they acknowledge their need for him and his forgiveness will they grow to love God in the way I most want for them.
The path could be hard, and praying for this can be frightening, but there really is nothing more important. . . . Father, give my children more of you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

He Loves Us

Sovereign Love

Matt Smethurst:  Heart at Risk, Heart at Rest

Four years ago, Julie Manning drove to the hospital for a planned C-section. Doctors would discover an irregular heartbeat—not in her baby, but in her. Six weeks later, Julie's cardiologist explained that her heart was malfunctioning, that she may need a transplant, and that she wouldn't have another child. Julie lives at virtually constant risk for sudden cardiac death. "There are hundreds of times a day I'm reminded that my life is not my own, and that at any moment Jesus could take it," the wife and mother of two says. "But I trust that he is in control, and that includes every breath and every heartbeat."
Julie is convinced that suffering is a stewardship. "This story isn't about some girl who has a heart problem," she explains. "It's about how God is sanctifying and winning my soul for his name, and how he's turning one of his people to praise him despite circumstances of this life."
Watch the 9-minute film, pray for Julie, and praise God for giving her a steadying vision of his sovereign love and her ultimate home.
The Storyframes Collective is a collaborative effort between The Gospel Coalition and the Austin Stone Church for the purpose of celebrating the extraordinary work of God in the lives of ordinary people. Through excellence in the art of storytelling (film, photojournalism, spoken word, and writing), this project aims to recount God's redemptive, transforming work in the lives of our brothers and sisters. In form, this website collects encouraging stories about God's grace. In function, we want these stories to inspire you to praise God.
As a collective, we hope that people from around the world will join us in collecting and telling the amazing stories of God's grace and the power of the gospel. We hope this project will increase your faith, encourage your spirit, and open your eyes to the extraordinary work of God every day in your life and in the lives of others around you.
While these stories differ in characters, formats, and locations, they share the same hero: God. Whether highlighting addiction recovery, healing, renewal, transformation, or any other form of good news, they testify to God's power and grace, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
We hope you not only enjoy reading, hearing, and seeing these stories, but also take time to observe the stories of those around you. Tell others the story of what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, and tell us your story—what God has done in you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

To Him Be Glory Forever

John Piper:  Books Don't Change People, Paragraphs Do

I have often said, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences.”
This may not be fair to books, since paragraphs find their way to us through books, and they often gain their peculiar power because of the context they have in the book. But the point remains: One sentence or paragraph may lodge itself so powerfully in our mind that its effect is enormous when all else is forgotten.
It might be useful to illustrate this with two books by Jonathan Edwards that have influenced me most. Here are the key paragraphs and lessons from these books. Most of the rest of their content I have long forgotten (but who knows what remains in the subconscious and has profound impact?).
Outside the Bible this may be the most influential book I have ever read. Its influence was inseparable from its transposition into the syllabus on Unity of the Bible in a course by that name with Daniel Fuller in seminary. There are two massive truths that were settled for me. First:
All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. (Yale, Vol. 8, p. 526)
The book was an avalanche of Scripture demonstrating one of the most influential convictions in my life: God does everything for his glory. Then came its life-changing corollary:
In the creature’s knowing, esteeming, loving, rejoicing in, and praising God, the glory of God is both exhibited and acknowledged; his fullness is received and returned. Here is both an emanation and remanation. The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God, and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God; and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair. (Yale, Vol. 8, p. 531)
To me this was simply beautiful. It was overwhelming as a picture of the greatness of God. The impact was heighted by the fact that the last line is a manifest echo of Romans 11:36: “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
But the central, life-shaping impact was the sentence: “In the creature’s knowing, esteeming, loving, rejoicing in, and praising God, the glory of God is both exhibited and acknowledged.” And even more specifically: “In the creature’s rejoicing in God, the glory of God is exhibited.” God’s glory is exhibited in my being happy in him. Or as Edwards says earlier: “The happiness of the creature consists in rejoicing in God, by which also God is magnified and exalted” (Yale, Vol. 8, p. 442.) If not being supremely happy in God means robbing him of his glory, everything changes.
That has been the unifying message of my life: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
This was a breathtaking book. The scope and rigor of its argument made it one of the most demanding books I have ever read. David Wells calls it a watershed book: How you judge this argument decides where all waters of your life will flow. My judgment was:irresistibly compelling. Here’s the unforgettable summary sentence:
God’s moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls, warnings, expostulations, promises, threatenings, rewards and punishments, is not inconsistent with a determining disposal of all events, of every kind, throughout the universe, in his providence; either by positive efficiency, or permission. (Yale, Vol. 1, p. 431)
God governs all events of every kind, including my acts of will, yet in such a way that I am still liable to rewards and punishments. His sovereignty and my accountability are compatible. The implications of this are vast.
One of the most important insights for me in working this out was Edwards’s distinction between natural inability to do something and moral inability to do something. Here’s the key paragraph:
We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we can’t do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature don’t allow of it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the will; either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects. Moralinability consists not in any of these things; but either in the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. (Yale, Vol. 1, p. 159)
If we are naturally unable to do something, we are not accountable to do it (like trying to get out of a chair if we truly want to but are chained in it), but if we are morally unable to do something, we are still accountable to do it (like trying to keep the law of God, though we can’t because we hate it). This insight was crucial in understanding Romans 8:7 (“the mind of the flesh cannot submit to God”), and 1 Corinthians 2:14 (“the natural mancannot understand the things of the Spirit”).
As I look back over my life and what I have been able to see and savor in God’s word, I give thanks for momentous sentences and paragraphs, and for the God-besotted people who wrote them. In this case, I thank God for Jonathan Edwards.

Unless The Soul Be Saturated with Prayer and Faith

Ray Ortlund:  From the journal of Andrew Bonar

16 July 1842:  I feel that, unless the soul be saturated with prayer and faith, little good may be expected from preaching.
4 September 1842:  Prayer should be the main business of every day.
22 February 1846:  God will not let me preach with power when I am not much in Him.  More than ever do I feel that I should be as much an intercessor as a preacher of the Word.
4 June 1848:  It is praying much that makes preaching felt.
29 December 1849:  My chief desire should be . . . to be a man of prayer, for there is no want of speaking and writing and preaching and teaching and warning, but there is need of the Holy Spirit to make all this effectual.
21 February 1862:  I am convinced that living in the spirit of prayer from hour to hour is what brings down the blessing.
9 September 1876:  A time of impotence rising from want of much prayer.  Nothing but constant intercourse with the Lord will carry on the soul.  I got last Saturday set apart as a day of prayer; and I trace much of my help to that day.
22 June 1878:  Ask much, for this is the way to grow rich.
12 May 1888:  Found time to give the whole of this day entirely to prayer and meditation.  There will be fruit of it to me and my people.
Recorded in Philip E. Hughes, Revive Us Again (London, 1947), pages 22-24.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

God Alone

Scotty Smith post:  A Prayer for Trusting in God’s Unfailing Love

     The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love. Ps. 33:16-18
Dear Lord Jesus, though it’s not fun, it is a good thing to come to the end of ourselves—to be in situations where all our of resources and strength, all of our life experiences and smarts are simply not enough. Indeed, it is a gospel thing to feel the pain of realizing that whatever worked in the past is not working in the present moment; to feel the confusion of not knowing what to do next; to feel the helplessness of being out of control—to be in a place of actually needing you.
For only in those times do we abandon ourselves to the God who alone can part Red Seas (Ex. 14); who can overthrow whole Midianite armies with three hundred gun-less soldiers (Judges 7); take down Goliaths with a pebble (1 Sam. 17); feed multitudes with a few fish and pieces of bread (Matt. 14); raise a dead man for the salvation of his people and the transformation of the cosmos (1 Cor. 15). Indeed, some things happen to us that “we might not rely on ourselves but on the God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9).
Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you today, for you are that dead man who now lives. You are the One who is redeeming his bride and making all things new. It is your unfailing love that we can and must hope in. There is no other supply sufficient to the need. There is no other strength sufficient for the task. There is no other balm sufficient for the pain. There is no other rest sufficient for the exhaustion. There is no hope sufficient for the multiple issues in front of us.
We bring our broken, conflicted and wandering hearts to you. We bring our struggling marriages to you. We bring our divided churches to you. We bring our hurting friends to you. We bring our wayward children to you. We bring our unbelieving neighbors to you. We bring the needs of our community to you. We bring our crazy world to you. We bring it all to you, Jesus. We will trust in you and your unfailing love. Astonish us by bringing much glory to yourself. So very Amen we pray, in your merciful and mighty name.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

God Is the Hero of Every Story

Excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian post:  We Don't Find Grace, Grace Finds Us

I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible.  A piece of it goes like this:
“Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but…most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.”
She’s right. I think that most people, when they read the Bible (and especially when they read the Old Testament), read it as a catalog of heroes (on the one hand) and cautionary tales (on the other). For instance, don’t be like Cain — he killed his brother in a fit of jealousy – but do be like Noah: God asked him to do something crazy, and he had the faith to follow through.
Running counter to this idea of Bible-as-hero-catalog, I find that some of the best news in the Bible is that God incessantly comes to the down-trodden, broken, and non-heroic characters. It’s good news because it means he comes to people like me — and like you. It’s very interesting to note that even the characters we think have spotless records (like Noah) need the direct intervention of the true “lamb without blemish.”
Noah is often presented to us as the first character in the Bible really worthy of emulation. Adam? Sinner. Eve? Sinner. Cain? Big sinner! But Noah? Finally, someone we can set our sights on, someone we can shape our lives after, right? This is why so many Sunday School lessons handle the story of Noah like this: “Remember, you can believe what God says! Just like Noah! You too can stand up to unrighteousness and wickedness in our world like Noah did. Don’t be like the bad people who mocked Noah. Be like Noah.”
I understand why many would read this account in this way. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Pretty incontrovertible, right?
Not so fast.

Run with Faith the Race

Jon Bloom post:  Lay Aside the Weight of "Not Feeling Like It"

What do you not feel like doing today?
You know what I mean. It’s that thing that’s weighing on you, which you know would honor God because it obeys his law of love (John 15:12), or is a work of faith (2 Thessalonians 1:11), or puts “to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). You know it would be good for your soul or body or family or vocation or neighbor or church.
But you don’t feel like doing it. You know that God promises you more blessing if you do it than if you don’t. But you’re struggling to believe it because it feels difficult. It’s like you have weights on your ankles. You don’t want to muster the energy, and every distraction glows with attraction.

The Strange Pattern of Progress

While it’s true that this is our indwelling sin of which we must repent and fight to lay aside (Hebrews 12:1), the experience of “not feeling like it” also can become for us a reminder of a gospel truth and actually give us hope and encouragement in this battle.
Think about this strange pattern that occurs over and over in just about every area of life:
  • Healthy, nutritious food often requires discipline to prepare and eat while junk food is convenient, tasty, and addictive.
  • Keeping the body healthy and strong requires frequent deliberate discomfort while it only takes constant comfort to go to pot.
  • You have to make yourself pick up that nourishing but intellectually challenging book while popping in a DVD is as easy and inviting as coasting downhill.
  • You frequently have to force yourself to get to devotions and prayer while sleeping in or reading the sports or checking Facebook is almost effortless.
  • Learning to skillfully play beautiful music requires thousands of hours of tedious practice.
  • Excelling in sports requires monotonous drills ad nauseum.
  • Learning to write well requires writing, writing, writing and rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. And usually voluminous reading.
  • It takes years and years of schooling just to make certain vocational opportunities possible.
You get the idea. The pattern is this: the greater joys are obtained through struggle and difficulty and pain, while brief, unsatisfying, and often destructive joys are right at our fingertips. Why is this?

Why the Struggle and Difficulty and Pain?

Because God, in great mercy, is showing us everywhere, in things that are just shadows of heavenly realities, that there is a great reward for those who struggle through and persevere (Hebrews 10:32–35). He is reminding us almost everywhere to walk by faith in a promised future and not by the sight of immediate gratification (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Understood this way, each struggle becomes an invitation by God to follow in the faithful footsteps of his Son, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Those who are spiritually blind only see futility in these struggles. But for those who have eyes to see, God has woven hope (faith in his future grace) right into the futility of creation (Romans 8:20–21). Each struggle becomes a pointer saying, “Look ahead, past the struggle itself, past the temptation of the puny, vapor joys to the great, sustained, substantial Joy set before you!”

Endurance, Not Indulgence

So today, don’t let “not feeling like it” reign as lord (Romans 6:12). Rather, through it see your Father pointing you to the reward he has planned for all who endure to the end (Matthew 24:13). Let it remind you that his call is not to indulgence but endurance.
Then lay this weight aside and run with faith the race he has set before you.
This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17–18)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Christ Gets the Glory

Excerpt from John Piper sermon:  God's Good News Concerning His Son

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord...
We saw from verse 1 last week that Paul is a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, that is, he was bought and is owned and ruled by Christ. He lives to please Christ. And, lest we get the wrong idea of Christ somehow being dependent on Paul's initiative and Paul's slave labor, we should notice in Romans 15:18 that Paul depends on Christ for all that Paul himself does in the service of Christ: "I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed." In other words, Paul serves Christ in the power with which Christ serves Paul. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45; see also 1 Corinthians 15:101 Peter 4:11). We will skew the whole meaning of Romans from the outset if we don't see that Paul serves Christ in the power that Christ supplies, so that Christ gets the glory for Paul's service (see 1 Peter 4:11).
This sovereign, all-supplying Christ is the one we met in the next phrase, "called to be an apostle." Christ called Paul on the Damascus road and commissioned him to be his authoritative representative in founding the church with true teaching. Then we saw God's sovereign, all-planning hand in the next phrase, "set apart for the gospel of God." God set Paul apart before he was born, Galatians 1:15 says. God is so jealous for the arrival and revelation of his gospel that he leaves nothing to chance.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Now To Him Who Is Able

David Mathis post:  Ten Passages for Pastors to Memorize Cold

Here’s one way to cool down during a sizzling hot July: ice-cold memorization.
Grab an iced tea, find some air-conditioned space, and put these ten passages to memory. You’ll never regret any extended time given to memorizing God’s word — especially when it’s the passages that come up again and again as particularly useful in the Christian life and in ministering to others.
These are ten that will prove especially useful for pastors and Christian leaders, but we think this is a good list for all Christians as well. See which ones you already know. Put a little polish on those, and perhaps tackle a new passage or few you don’t yet have to memory.
It’s one of the Bible’s best-known texts, and one of the most wonderful for steadying our own souls and others in the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:1John 10:11–18), in life’s best times and toughest.
However frequently our churches celebrate the Table (the more often, the merrier, it would seem), here’s the passage many pastors (should) recite in public more than any other. Speaking these “words of institution” with your eyes graciously scanning the congregation, rather than reading from a Bible or piece of paper, can make for a powerful moment in the life of the gathered church.
Hopefully the Great Commission is such an important text in focusing the mission and direction of our individual lives and especially our corporate life together, that you’d have this one ready to go at the drop of a hat. The generals and commanders should have this mission plan put to memory.
This psalm of confidence in God as our refuge and strength — a very present help in trouble — can be deeply comforting personally, but in particular in consoling others in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances, whether it’s at the bedside, or in the hospital, or at the scene of the tragedy. When you’re called on unexpectedly to say a word of comfort about the nearness and unshakable strength of God, it’s hard to beat a gentle but confident reciting of Psalm 46, chased by a short prayer tailored to the trouble at hand.
Any good shortlist of passages to memorize cold needs a good Christological anchor text, about Jesus’s objective work for us and outside of us. It’s easy to gravitate toward the more subjective texts that may feel more immediately applicable to our posture of heart and outward actions. But Christianity begins with Christ’s objective accomplishments, not the subjective application to us, essential as it is. And Colossians 1:15–20 may be the most power-packed six consecutive verses in the Bible for forming and shaping a distinctly Christian worldview. This is a potent little stick of dynamite to have hidden in your heart (along with Hebrews 1:1–4 and Philippians 2:5–11).
Here’s the good-as-it-gets subjective passage to complement the great objective accomplishments in Colossians 1:15–20. This is where we want to live daily, and lead those who are following us, “count[ing] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Even though the world, the flesh, and the devil almost constantly keep us from extended experiences of what Paul describes here, we love our tiny tastes and glimpses — and desperately want to keep realigning and recalibrating our heart-life, and our church, with this emotional North Star.
Many of us have discovered that the longer we live the Christian life, the more admired and appreciated is the fruit of the Spirit at the end of Galatians 5. It’s a seriously profound list. The more and more our life is genuinely characterized by the virtues here, the more and more we are learning to live by the Spirit, in the kind of trust and reliance that makes our everyday lives surprisingly supernatural to the patterns of this age.
Okay, so just memorize the whole of Romans 8. Some have called it the most important chapter in the Bible. It very well may be that. Perhaps resolve with some ministry partner to tackle the chapter together, five verses each week, for two months. Meet weekly to stay accountable and recite the chapter as far as you’ve learned it so far, for some listening ears other than your own. But if making that kind of commitment is too much in this season of ministry, at least try to button down the final dozen verses. These are the biblical Himalayas. And they are omni-relevant in the Christian life and in ministry.
This is the so-called “Aaronic Blessing” of the old covenant. God instructed Aaron (Moses’s brother and Israel’s first high priest), and his sons after him, to bless the people in this way. The threefold repetition of “Lord” rings of our Trinitarian Sovereign, and the use of this particular name makes it easily transferable to new-covenant Christians with the sovereign Christ as our “Lord.” A clear, well-paced and pastoral reciting of this blessing makes for a beautiful benediction for weekend corporate worship, or for a wedding or funeral, or for putting the kids or grandkids to bed.
These concluding verses from the short little missive by Jesus’s half-brother Jude also make for a wonderful doxology in ending a service or speaking a goodnight blessing. Or for asking God’s blessing on some new ministry endeavor. And so we end with Jude’s words as a prayer for any fresh initiatives God is calling us to in Scripture memorization…
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.