Thursday, October 31, 2013

Look for the Hand of Providence

David Mathis post:  The Reformation:  Trick or Treat?

It’s no accident that October 31 is both Halloween and the day remembered for the start of the Reformation. Both key off November 1, All Saints’ Day — or All Hallows’ Day (Hallows from the Latin for saints or holy ones).
On All Hallows’ Eve, October 31, 1517, the Roman Church received the world’s most memorable trick-or-treater at its door — though barely noticed at the time — when a lowly priest named Martin Luther approached the threshold of the Wittenberg branch in Germany and posted his 95 measly theses (they aren’t nearly as impressive as you would expect). The coming All Saints’ Day seemed like an excuse for sparring about the Church’s deplorable sanctioning of indulgences, and Luther was angling for some good-spirited debate.

The Spark That Set the Church Ablaze

But the Church was centuries overdue for major reform, the kindling was in place, and Luther’s little, almost accidental spark set the whole thing ablaze. Some nameless visionary translated his theses from the Church’s Latin into the people’s German and sent them far and wide through the printing press. In time, this lowly monk proved to have what it took to hold his ground against the Church and the world — “Here I stand,” he said courageously before the emperor — and under God, he became the human tip of the spear for massive reform.
Of course, that’s the reductionistic version of the story. Save his own Son, God doesn’t change the world through a single person, but through people. With and behind every remembered individual is some great collective. Luther had a significant supporting cast in his Wittenberg work, and on the grander scale, it took many others — like Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Thomas Cranmer, John Knox, and many more, all with their associates and assistants — to usher in reform far and wide. God gave Luther the bullhead to do the pioneering. He was the battering ram. But five centuries of Protestant Christianity wouldn’t have followed in the wake of Luther alone.

Enter the French Humanist

In particular, Calvin’s thinking, writing, and systematizing played a complementary role to Luther’s pioneering flair. Born in 1509 in France, Calvin was only eight years old when Luther played his Halloween trick in 1517.
Calvin was trained as a humanist and converted sometime between 1528 and 1532, while at university, and by All Saints’ Day, 1533, he had himself in hot water. Sixteen years after Luther posted his theses, Calvin’s friend Nicolas Cop delivered an All Saints’ convocation heralding Christ as the sole mediator (not the “saints”). Some suspected this patently Protestant address was written by Calvin, and he soon found himself on the run.
As an exile, Calvin spent time in Basel, and seemingly by accident came to Geneva for a single night in 1536 on his way to Strasbourg for an ivory-tower, academic life of study and writing. The fiery Swiss reformer William Farel learned Calvin was in town and prevailed upon him to join the reformation cause in Geneva. Calvin acquiesced, and stayed there in Geneva — minus a three-year exile from 1538–1541 — until his death in 1564 at age 54.

The “Accidents” of Providence

Reformation Day is ripe for remembering an array of biblical truths — that the Scriptures are our only final authority (sola Scriptura); that God accepts us by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone (justification); that God often uses the unlikeliest of people to turn the world upside down; that God doesn’t just raise up great individuals, but collections of people, veritable teams, each with his lot, and his own local cohort, to bring about widespread change; and all these conspiring to the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria).
But here’s one to keep on your radar this year. God loves to use the seeming accidents in our lives to bring about his purposes. It’s the “accidents” that remind us we’re emphatically not the captain of our own soul, we’re not piloting our own destinies, we’re not on the block for planning the whole thing out and executing on it. How sad a course it would be if we cooked up the whole thing out as we came of age and spent the rest of our lives living out our boring and uncreative little visions?
That such a Reformation began almost 500 years ago, and continues to this day — this is your story too — is not the result of any human plan. It has been the “accidents” which have given it the markings of divine fingerprints — Luther’s accidental spark that first lit the flame and Calvin’s accidental lone night in Geneva that changed the course for that city and for a major branch of Protestant theology.
Reformation Day is a reminder to embrace the “accidents” in our lives, look for the hand of providence, and trust that his plans for us are better than our wildest dreams. For those who are his, he truly works together for their good all things — even and especially the seeming accidental — to do for us far more abundantly than all that we ask or think (Romans 8:28Ephesians 3:20).

Rub Hope Into the Reality of Death

Nancy Guthrie post: Those Who Sleep in the Dust Will Awake

We buried our daughter, Hope, in the heat of June. Nothing in my life has ever felt so wrong as putting her body in the grave and simply walking away. Then came that October morning when there was frost on the ground and a nip in the air and the heat came on in our house for the first time, giving off the smell of burning dust. I lay in bed, feeling a wave of resistance and resentment toward the cold. I thought about the cold earth surrounding Hope's body and I wept, feeling a sense of helplessness in surrendering her body to the coming winter. It's a mom's job to keep her child warm, isn't it?

Around that time, our neighborhood began the annual ritual of decorating for Halloween. When my neighbors hung their orange lights on October 1, it seemed a bit early, but I told myself it was no big deal. I didn't want to be the Grinch of Halloween. I love a carved pumpkin, bales of hay, a few corncobs, and a silly costume. And I'm all for loading up on bite-size candy bars. But then came the afternoon in late October when I drove through the neighborhood and passed a house showcasing a hearse with a casket coming out the back. A few doors down, several skeletons were hanging from trees. It felt like a punch in the stomach.

In those days my thoughts were regularly drifting toward the decay of Hope's body in the grave. I wondered how long it would take until there was little left of her except for bones. So I felt assaulted by my neighbors' seemingly harmless hanging of skeletons in the trees. It seemed like they were celebrating the very thing that brought me intense pain. I couldn't help but want to ask them, Have you ever had to bury someone you love? For the next few weeks, when I drove by, I did my best to look the other way.

People want to tell grieving people, "That's not her, that's just her body in the grave. She's in heaven." But they don't understand. I loved and cared for that body. I knew her and loved her in context of that body. And so I'm grateful to know that her body matters to God too.

Made Like the Man of Dust

Genesis 2:7 tells us that "the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." God chose the most lowly and humble matter possible—dust from the ground—and infused it with the most significant and glorious of all substances—his own breath. As Adam and Eve ate freely from the tree of life, all was well in the Garden. But then the serpent slithered in tempting them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did, everything changed. Sadly Adam and Eve could not avoid the effects of the curse that infiltrated all creation. The work that was supposed to fill Adam's life with meaning would become frustrating. "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground," God said to Adam, "for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19). Adam would now be buried in the ground, and his body would turn back into its dust.

Though the effects of this curse were devastating to Adam and to all who have descended from him, it was also laced with grace—the promise of an offspring of the woman who would one day walk in the dust of this earth, one who would come to put an end to death. Paul writes, "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Gal. 4:4). He who existed in glory before the foundations of the world became a human, vulnerable to death—the kind of death that caused him to identify with the author of Psalm 22, who wrote, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death." On the cross, Christ took upon himself the curse that destines every baby born on the earth to one day return to its dust. Yet because God did not let his Holy One see corruption (Psalm 16:10 cf. Acts 2:27), we know that we are not destined to be dust forever.

Re-Made like the Man of Heaven

We aren't told everything we'd like to know about the bodies we will be given when Christ returns. But we do know that God intends to use the matter long buried in the ground or ashes that have been spread on the sea or stored in a box as the source material for bodies fit for the new heaven and new earth. He will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Once again, God will breathe his own life into dust, but this time our bodies will not be vulnerable to disorder, disease, and death. We will be glorious!

It finally got cold enough this week for the heat to kick on at our house. And once again I smelled that familiar smell of dust being burned off the heating coils, and was reminded of the bitter reality of Hope's body in the grave. It still moves me to tears. But it doesn't have the power it once had to sink me into sadness. Tim Keller says that we have to "rub hope into the reality of death," and I'm finding my confident hope in resurrection grows as the hope presented to us in the Scripture more thoroughly saturates my thoughts and emotions. Paul writes, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive . . . Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:22, 49).

I believe that day is really coming. The sin of the man of dust will not get the last word in Hope's life and death, nor mine. Instead, the man of heaven will come and call us to life. Everyone joined to him by faith can anticipate the day to come when once again, God will breathe his very own life into bodies that have become dust. We will experience all God promised when Isaiah prophesied, "Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead" (Isa. 26:19). This hope enables us to endure life and death in the winter of this world.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

His Promise Precedes Our Faith

Excerpt from Tullian Tchividjian post:  What Is Reader's Digest Christianity?


That sounds like a lot of preaching these days. “Do for God and then he’ll do for you”, “Do your best and then God will do the rest.” It’s Reader’s Digest Christianity.
I’ve said before that for every good story in the Old Testament, there is a bad children’s song. Perhaps one of the most well-known is “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” You know the one:
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho;Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, And the walls came tumbling down!You may talk about your men of Gideon,
You may talk about your men of Saul;
But there’s none like good old Joshua and the battle of Jericho.
I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, Tullian. Don’t be such a cynic. It’s just a cute, harmless way of helping children remember the story.” Ok, ok. I’m not saying that knowing, liking, or even singing that song is bad. But the song doesn’t really tell the story. Or, more accurately, it leaves out the most important part of the story.
But it’s not only the children’s song that leaves out the most important part of the story. More concerning to me is the fact that most sermons and Sunday School lessons do too.
You remember the story, don’t you? Joshua comes up against the city of Jericho. The people of Jericho built huge walls around their city because they wanted to protect themselves from this “God” they had heard so much about—a God who split the Red Sea in half for his people. Verse 1 says that the inhabitants of Jericho hid behind those walls, “not going out and not coming in.” And God’s big plan was to have Joshua’s army walk around the city for six days and then on the seventh day, walk around the city seven times concluding with a huge shout from God’s people. When the walls of Jericho “come tumbling down,” it seems as though Joshua’s faithfulness (and willingness to follow through on this ridiculous plan) is being rewarded. So this Joshua-at-Jericho story seems, at first glance, to fit perfectly with Reader’s Digest Christianity.
We read the story (or hear the sermons) and sing the song and make this whole account about Joshua and how he bravely fought the battle of Jericho and how as a result of his great faith, the walls came tumbling down and he led his people into the Promised Land. And then we turn it into nothing more than a moral lesson: “If we, like Joshua, have great faith and bravely fight the battles in our lives, we will see our personal walls of sin come tumbling down and enter into the Promised Land of spiritual maturity.”
When we read the story of Joshua this way, we demonstrate that we’ve completely missed the hinge on which this story turns. This whole story hinges on the placement of one verse: “See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers” (Joshua 6:2). The key point is that God hands Jericho over to Joshua BEFORE Joshua does what God wants! We expect God to say something more like, “If you do this crazy thing—if you prove your faith to me—I’ll reward your faithfulness by being faithful in return.” But in God’s economy, his promise precedes our faith! In fact, his promise CAUSES our faith. So, as it turns out, this story completely breaks down Reader’s Digest Christianity. It’s like a wrecking ball. God’s economy is the opposite of Desert Pete’s: you get before you give!
God’s word is creative (his words “let there be light” actually create light): when he calls someone “faithful” they become so. When he declares someone “righteous,” they are righteous. God makes his pronouncements at the BEGINNING, before any improvement or qualification occurs—before any conditions are met. God decides the outcome of Joshua’s battle before anyone straps on a shield or picks up a sword. And he not only decides to deliver unconditionally; he does so single-handedly. No one lifts a finger to dismantle the wall—the promised victory is received, not achieved. So, in the end, the seemingly harmless song is wrong and misleading because Joshua did NOT fight the Battle of Jericho. God did. Joshua and the Israelites simply received the victory that God secured.
Of course, this battle points us to another battle that God unconditionally and singlehandedly fought for us. It points us to another victory that God achieves and that we receive. We are the ones trapped inside the fortified walls of sin and death—of fear and anxiety and insecurity and self-salvation—and Jesus’ “It is finished” shout from the cross alone causes the walls of our self-induced slavery to come tumbling down. Real freedom, in other words, comes as a result of his performance, not yours; his accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his victory, not yours.
That’s good news!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

As Far as the East from the West

Trevin Wax post:  God's Commitment to Forgetfulness

For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing,and I will never again remember their sins.(Hebrews 8:12)
It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake 
and remember your sins no more.
(Isaiah 43:25)
Last Wednesday, my daily devotional reading was near the end of the book of Judges, where Samson met his fateful end after a life of disordered love and disobedience. As I closed my Bible that morning, I recalled how the sad epitaph on Samson’s life in Judges (“he killed more in his death than he did in his life”) is not repeated in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews lists Samson as a man of faith. Period. How kind of the Lord, I thought, to put Samson’s flawed legacy in the background and simply list him as a hero, one who “gained strength after being weak.”
Later that day, Johnny Hunt spoke at LifeWay’s chapel and delivered a truth-filled message about how God’s grace overcomes past regrets. He brought up God’s promise to “forget” our sins, to never bring up our past again, and he pointed to the New Testament’s discussion of Old Testament heroes as proof.
Think about it. No matter how flawed our heroes are shown to be in the Old Testament, they are presented at their best in the New.
Noah’s story doesn’t have a flattering end. The one righteous man who obeyed God and survived the flood winds up drunk and naked in his tent. But the New Testament makes no mention of Noah’s drunken escapade. We see him as a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) who condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7).
Lot seems to be a half-hearted believer, waffling between his position in Sodom and his faith in the Lord. His family members laugh at him when he warns them of judgment, perhaps due to his lack of godly credibility. In the end, the angels must compel him to leave the city. Then, after Sodom’s demise, there’s a tragic scene of incest between Lot and his daughters. But the New Testament holds up Lot as an example of righteousness, someone “distressed by the unrestrained behavior of the immoral” (2 Peter 2:7).
Abraham is the father of the faithful, but he had moments of significant weakness. He was willing to put his wife’s life at risk by lying to Pharaoh, and he slept with a slave in order to produce an heir. But these stains on Abraham’s record are not mentioned in the Hebrews account of his life. He was looking forward to the city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).
Moses’ anger and pride kept him out of the Promised Land, but the New Testament refers to him as “faithful as a servant in all God’s household” (Hebrews 3:5) who “persevered as one who sees Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27).
Then there’s David. The great king of Israel covets his neighbor’s wife, steals her for himself, lies to cover up his sin, and then has her husband killed. But David is never remembered for his wickedness. In fact, the New Testament quotes more heavily from the book that bears the name of this philandering murderer than any other Old Testament book.
God Promises to Forget
What do these examples show us? When God promises to forget your sin and never bring up your past indiscretions, your flaws, failures, and rebellious deeds, He is serious. He will never again bring up your sins. As far as the east is from the west, our sins have been removed.
As Gil would remind us:
“Isn’t that a glorious promise? That God won’t ever bring up our sin again? Takes a lifetime of determination to get that truth planted deep in your heart. We commit to memory. God commits to forgetfulness.” - Clear Winter Nights

Monday, October 28, 2013

Greater Joy

Jonathan Parnell post:  Three Prayers for Facing Monday (Or Any Tomorrow)

This is one of those really deep, common truths — one which Jonathan Edwardsexpounds with the intellectual horsepower of a genius, and to which our most common experience testifies:
Essential to our present joy is the anticipation of greater joy to come.
This is why, for example, the best part of going on vacation is often the day before we start it. The glad anticipation of what will be compounds in the present and gives us a good feeling. But the closer we get to the last day of vacation, the more the joy diminishes. Sound familiar?
In American culture, the weekend can be a miniature version of this experience. After five days of work, many of us look forward to two days off on Saturday and Sunday. The height of anticipation comes Friday — TGIF! — but by Sunday evening the cheer is gone. Tomorrow we face Monday, with all its certain trials and trying uncertainties.
So how will you face it? How can we make the most of Sunday to prepare for the less-than-enthusiastic tomorrow?
In complement to corporate worship, here are three prayers for facing Monday:
1. Give me a brazen trust in your greatness and your goodness.
Whatever circumstances may come our way tomorrow, the most foundational truth we need to know is that God is in control, and that he is good. Many of us can recite the dinnertime prayer “God is great, God is good…” — but we need more than a good memory for this fact to take effect. We need faith. We need a brazen trust — an indomitable confidence — that our God rules the kingdom of men, that no purpose of his can be hindered, that all he pleases to do he does (Daniel 4:17Job 42:2Psalm 115:3). And that he abounds in steadfast love, that he is compassionate and merciful, that his nearness is our good (Exodus 34:6James 5:11Psalm 73:28).
Saying it is one thing; believing it is another. So we ask God for this faith.
2. Give me a humble heart towards the people I will encounter.
Most circumstances we face involve faces. Real people. People with their own stories. People with eternal souls. This means oftentimes how we face situations is really about how we relate to others. And what we need is humility. We need a deep, sincere sense that we are creatures. If the first prayer is to know the greatness and goodness of God, this second prayer is to know that greatness and goodness are original to him, not us. We are not that great. We are not that good.
Admitting this doesn’t come natural. So we ask God for this heart.
3. Give me the deep joy that because of Jesus, the best is always yet to come.
This is no cliché. No too-good-to-be-true platitude. For the Christian, the best is always,always, yet to come. The first two prayers come together in this one: a great God will judge all evil, a good God will show mercy, and Jesus vividly showed both for the helpless.
On the cross, Jesus simultaneously absorbed God’s wrath for sinners and demonstrated God’s love for sinners (Romans 3:255:8). And because he did this, because we are united to him by faith, no circumstance in this life is worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us. The best is always yet to come. Even in eternity, as Edwards explains, we will never stop saying this.
And that is reason for unwavering celebration. So we ask for this deep joy.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Jon Bloom post:  What to Neglect to Have a Rich Life

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
This verse from Colossians is so full of nourishment that there is no way to put the whole thing in our mouths at one time. It’s going to take a few blog bites to chew on it.
Today, all I want to do is chew on the first word: “let.” Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Another way to say it is, don’t stop the word of Christ from filling you to satisfaction. Or stop stopping it.
Here’s the thing: we are frequently impoverished spiritually by our own not lettingourselves be rich. On our shelves or bed stands or in our tablets or computers is a bank vault of “true riches” (Luke 16:11). But the pawnshop trinkets of worldly words are deceptively attractive. We can even be on our way to spend our time (the currency of life) on the riches in the vault and end up spending it in the pawnshops along the way.
What Paul wants us to do is neglect things that make us poor and not neglect things that make us truly rich.

What to Neglect

If the word of the Wall Street Journal or World Magazine or Wired Magazine or David Brooks or David Letterman or David McCullough, or John Mayer or John Steinbeck or John Paul II or John Calvin or Richard Dawkins or Richard Branson or Richard Baxter or Bono or Bach or blogs (even this one) dwells in you more richly than the word of Christ, you’re poor. You might be impressive at a dinner party or around a conference table or at small group. But you’re poor. You’re storing up dust.
You don’t need to be in the know.
You don’t need to be admired among the literati or respected in the guild. You don’t need an impressive net worth. You don’t need to be well traveled or well read. You don’t need to be conversant in Portlandia or know how many Twitter followers Taylor Swift has. You don’t need to be politically articulate, or up on the mommy blogs or the young, restless and reformed buzz. You don’t need to see the movie. You don’t need to read the novel. You don’t need to look hip.

What Not to Neglect

But what you desperately need, more than anything else in the world, is the word of Christ dwelling in you richly.
No one speaks like Jesus Christ (John 7:46). He is the Word of God and the Word that isGod (John 1:1) He is the Word of Life (1 John 1:1) and when he speaks, his word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and he shows you the path of life (Psalm 16:11) and his words give you hope and joy and peace (Romans 15:13).
Jesus is the one human being in all of history who speaks the very words of eternal life (John 6:68) and when you listen and believe his word, it becomes your life (Deuteronomy 32:47), your food (John 6:51), your drink (John 4:14) and your light (Psalm 119:105).
Only Jesus has the words of life. Only him. That’s why the Father pleads with us, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
Everyone else’s words are dust in the winds of time and to chase them is to chase the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). The precious few helpful, enlightening, even mortal life-preserving words are only of superficial help to us and in the end will blow away.
The only exceptions are those that help us (and others) listen to the word of Christ.

Let It!

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Don’t neglect it. Listen to his word. Soak in his word. Memorize his word. Eat and chew it slowly. Don’t stop it from benefitting you.
Neglect the TV, blogs, social networks, video games, theaters, magazines, books, hobbies, chores, and pursuits that keep you from the Vault. Neglect the impoverishing pawnshop trinkets of words that will turn to dust in a day, a week, or a few years.
When it comes to life, time really is money. Time is how you spend your life. Don’t waste it. Spend your best time buying “true riches.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Glimmers of His Goodness

Trillia Newbell post:  Our Children for Our Joy

I dropped my son off at his school and yelled my usual through the rolled down window, “I love you. Make good choices. Obey your teacher.” As I began to roll up the window and drive away, my little first grader took his small hand to his mouth and blew me a kiss.
It was like everything stopped at that moment.
I realized how quickly this season would last. Would he blow me a kiss when he’s 16 years old? I don’t know. I blew him a kiss back and he waved to me, mouthing the words “Bye, Mom.” I was overwhelmed. I wished I could freeze that point in time.

Sweet Ragamuffins

I like to call my children sweet ragamuffins. Motherhood is challenging. My kids don’t obey me every time I ask them to do something. They are rambunctious, loud, and messy. And they are sweet. They are gifts. Like many moms, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. What I think we can so often forget, though, is that motherhood isn’t a task to be checked off like laundry. It is a calling.
Maybe the word “calling” makes you want to run and hide. For many, “calling” can sound as if motherhood is your only identity, that is all encompassing and you never get a break from your endless responsibilities. This is not true. You are likely called to be a wife and church member and friend as well (and the list could go on). So motherhood is not your only identity; it is a part of your identity. And there is a weight to that. Mothers are more than just mothers, but we are never less. God’s word instructs us to train up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). I can’t think of a greater challenge given to us parents. As one in the throes of raising and teaching young children, I am desperate for Jesus.

Gifts to Enjoy

But I don’t think remembering the responsibility to train our children is the best way we embrace and savor these short days we have with them. Remember that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). Our children are not tasks to complete, but gifts to enjoy. And we do this by remembering that they are truly gifts from God. Yes, even when they stand in the hall refusing to put away their socks, or when they throw their cereal on the floor, or when they make it almost impossible to complete a trip to the grocery store. Those are trials mothers face weekly and yes, even they are gifts.
Paul, instructing Timothy to challenge the rich to put their hope in God instead of their wealth, reminds us that it is God who provides all things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). Our children aren’t meant to be checked off a list. They are to be delighted in. As with every gift we receive, we must be careful not to idolize our children. Only God should be worshipped. But what if we began to think of our kids as true gifts from God aimed at our enjoyment, both in our kids and in God through them.

A Call to Treasure

I think of how much I enjoy looking at colorful birds at the zoo. They are exotic creatures, each with their unique beaks and beautiful mosaic of feathers. They are a wonder of God’s creation, and he cares for them. But not more than he cares for us: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
In a similar way, I can think of many things I enjoy, but I value my kids more. I love looking into my kids’ precious eyes. I want to get into the world of their God-given personalities and take in their laughs and answer their questions. I want to enjoy them.
Maybe that’s precisely what the main thing of this mommy calling is all about. Maybe it’s not as much a call to train your kids as it is a call to treasure them.
Our children won’t be our little children forever. Let’s enjoy these days that God has given us. They are his gifts, glimmers of his goodness, which leads us to say with Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this!”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beginning - Middle - End

Excerpt from Mark Galli at ChristianityToday:  Whatever Happened to Grace?


It is understandable why we're tempted to shift the message of grace to a form of works. The radical grace outlined in Romans and Galatians seems too good to be true. It's hard to fathom that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8), or that, before we had done anything, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Before we had created the doctrine of salvation to believe in. Before we had enjoyed any religious experience. Before we had reformed our lives.
Let's be fair. In fact, salvation is a doctrine that we will at some point believe in as an intellectual proposition. And normally an encounter with almighty God will result in powerful religious experiences. And, yes, there is a measure of truth that life in Christ is a hard and narrow road.
But in the beginning is grace. In the middle is grace. In the end, "all manner of thing shall be well" (Julian of Norwich) because of grace. What I'm hearing time and again, in every corner of the church I visit, is not the soaring message of grace but the dull message of works—that I have to believe a certain theological construct, or have a certain feeling, or perspire in effort before I can be assured of God's radical acceptance and my future salvation.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Creature of the Gospel

David Mathis post:  What the Church Can Learn from Chick-fil-A

The cows started writing on billboards in the Twin Cities metro earlier this year. End of Burgerz — Koming Soon.
These bovines can’t spell, but we got the message — especially those of us Minnesotans who are transplants from the South. Here comes Chick-fil-A, at long last. Time to Eat Mor Chikin.

Christian Roots and Controversy

It’s no secret the chain was founded by an unapologetic Christian from the Atlanta-area. Now in his nineties, Truett Cathy has operated his restaurants on overtly Christian principles since the 1940s. His son, Dan, the franchise president, is known for his support of Christian causes and his opposition to so-called same-sex marriage, which drew national attention last year.
For the Cathy family, it goes deeper than closing on Sundays, playing Christian music, and putting “glorify God” in the corporate purpose statement. For decades, they have tried to apply the biblical worldview and ethic not just to the surface, but to press it into the culture of the chain, not only in the dining room but behind closed doors.

Learning Bible from Chick-fil-A

As I made my first visit to a stand-alone Chick-fil-A here in the Twin Cities last week, and then consulted Truett’s book, I noticed five biblical principles, among others, at work in the corporate culture — principles our local churches and leaders might benefit from being reminded of.
Let this much be clear: The church doesn’t need Chick-fila-A. We don’t need successful Christian businesses, athletes, films, and reality shows for the advance of the gospel. The tip of the spear is the local church. But when we can glean a few pointers from another body reading our Book, we might as well take notice.

1. Numbers Are Not the Name of the Game.

This may be the key insight for Chick-fil-A over and against other franchises. From the beginning, Truett has strained to show that it’s not simply about the bottom line. “Profit is not the name of the game,” he says. “It is only the scorecard for some of our accomplishments” (How Did You Do It, Truett? 55).
The effects of this emphasis are pervasive in the company’s culture. It makes it possible to close all day Sunday, and observe the six-and-one creation principle (Genesis 2:2), when other restaurants make more than 20% of their sales this day. It encourages the leadership to focus relentlessly on long-term health and stave off the endless temptations to cut corners for short-term growth and “success.” It leads to concentration on the quality of the chain, and each individual operator and restaurant, rather than outrunning the supply lines and compromising quality for quantity of stores and sales. Which means growing more slowly — and taking so long to get to Minnesota! — rather than swelling as quickly as possible. Truett writes,
To succeed we knew we had to start small and grow slowly. This is where so many start-up companies today make their mistake. Dreamers dream big, and they want to reach their goals quickly. There’s nothing wrong with big dreams. But my experience tells me that we’re more likely to reach our dreams if we climb with care and caution, putting one foot in front of the other. To some, this may be the biggest sacrifice of all — giving up the dream of instant “success.” (17–18)
It’s a helpful reminder in the church about something we should have learned long ago. It’s not a numbers game. Discipling the nations (Matthew 28:19) is not only about quantity, but mainly quality. When well-established and constantly called to mind, this principle has a pervasive effect in the local church as well.

2. Keep the Bathrooms Clean.

Truett says, “Keeping [the restroom] clean doesn’t require special skill, just discipline that comes from being concerned for the customer” (47). Put another way, Do unto others — it’s Jesus’s “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12Luke 6:31), which, “You can’t beat . . . as a business philosophy.” One of Truett’s most common sayings is “Courtesy is cheap, but it pays great dividends” (35).
Sadly, some local churches drift into the mindset that the cleanliness of the facilities and the care of the grounds aren’t important — after all, the church’s real business is spiritual. But such is a failure to demonstrate Christian love and kindness. It’s a missed opportunity to consider others more significant than ourselves and look to their interests (Philippians 2:3–4) and serve.
“If you really aren’t interested in serving others,” says Truett, “you don’t need to be in the restaurant business in the first place” (37). The same is true for pastors, elders, and church staff. The church’s leaders and employees are there not to be served, but to serve.

3. Go the Extra Mile — With Joy.

It’s my pleasure. That’s the response you’ll often get when you thank a Chick-fil-A employee for their service. And those of us at Desiring God like to point out that it’s not just Christian, but Christian Hedonistic. It’s part of “second-mile service,” with roots inMatthew 5:41. It’s not just the Golden Rule, but more — making the extra effort and taking the initiative to serve the customer in surprising ways.
How much more should this be true in church leadership. We both aim at creating joy, and do so fueled by joy. We pastors and elders endeavor for our people’s “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). We are workers with our people for their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). And we bend every effort to “do this with joy and not with groaning” (Hebrews 13:17). It’s my pleasure, as an authentic expression of a joy-filled heart of service, is a beautiful pastoral response to our people’s words of gratitude.

4. Cultivate Trust Among the Leadership.

Fostering trust among a growing leadership team is seriously time-consuming. Without being free from a bottom-line-only focus, it’s doubtful it will happen. But such trust-building, says senior vice president Perry Ragsdale, is “the biggest key to our success” (56).
Chick-fil-A won’t take on new franchise owners just because they have the money. More important than funds is character, integrity, and trust. Which makes finding new operators a lengthy process and slows down the speed of how quickly the chain could expand otherwise. But it’s worth it in the long run. Says Truett, “The most important decision we make at Chick-fil-A is selecting restaurant Operators . . . . Our franchise Operators determine the success of the chain” (64).
But not only does the franchise carefully guard the gate, but once leaders are in, they seek to cultivate among them an openness to dialogue, discuss, and disagree. When leaders have been carefully chosen on the front end, and there’s intentional effort to grow trust among the team, asking questions and expressing concerns becomes a huge asset, rather than threat, to the organization. And so with pastors and elders in the local church.

5. Keep the Main Thing Central.

The name Chick-fil-A has limited what the chain can do. There is plenty of room to try new things and add waffle fries, chicken nuggets, or desserts, but with chicken in the name, they won’t offer pork or beef. And that unbending commitment to what is central has produced big payoffs in the long haul with brand and mission clarity.
The Christian church is a “creature of the gospel” — created and sustained by the gospel, for the defense and advance of the gospel. The church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” of the gospel (1 Timothy 3:15). It is the good news that Jesus saves sinners that is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3), that is our heart and center, that must be affecting and shaping all we do. The church is a veritable Gospel-fil-A.
We do more than just preach the gospel. We must. But we must the other things in right relationship with our essential message. It is so easy to get distracted from the main thing. It’s so common for wonderful peripheral things to slowly displace the center.
Amidst all the complexities of growth and contextualizing for new locations and demographics, Chick-fil-A has kept chicken central. How much more must the church labor and strain — with great gladness and deep joy — to keep the gospel of Jesus at the very heart of who we are and all we do.