Monday, March 31, 2014

Gospel Culture

Ray Ortlund post:  Nullifying the grace of God

I do not nullify the grace of God.  Galatians 2:21
“What eloquence is able sufficiently to set forth these words: ‘to nullify grace,’ ‘the grace of God,’ also that ‘Christ died for no purpose’?  The horribleness of it is such that all the eloquence in the world is not able to express it.  It is a small matter to say that any man died for no purpose.  But to say that Christ died for no purpose is to take him quite away.”
Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, on Galatians 2:21.
Paul asserted that he did not nullify the grace of God.  By implication, Peter was nullifying the grace of God when his conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14).  How on earth did Peter do that, and is there any chance we could do that again today?
With Paul, Peter believed the gospel at the level of doctrine.  Speaking for Peter and himself, Paul writes, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).  Peter’s theology was right.  He nullified the grace of God by conduct – not doctrine, but conduct – that was not in step with the truth of the gospel.
That is astounding to me.  I am instructed and warned.  It was possible for no one less than an apostle to nullify the grace of God in Jesus Christ crucified.  He did that not by rejecting gospel doctrine but by injuring the relational culture consistent with the gracious doctrine.  Gospel doctrine without gospel culture nullifies the grace of God.  Gospel doctrine, however pure, cannot stand alone.  Faithfulness to the gospel is a matter of both profession and conduct.  Paul thought so.  He was so certain about it and felt so strongly about it that he rebuked Peter publicly over it.
If nullifying the grace of God was possible for an apostle in the first century, it is also possible for us and our churches and organizations today.  Nullifying the grace of God, as Luther points out, is a horrible thing.  But it isn’t hard for us to do a horrible thing without even realizing it.  It is easy for us, as it was for Peter and these other Christian leaders, to be witnesses against the gospel even as we think we are being witnesses for the gospel.  All we have to do, to counteract our own doctrine, is fail to build a culture that embodies that doctrine.
Words, blog posts, tweets, emails, personal encounters, and so forth – these are how we can build a gospel culture with one another every day, and these are how we can tear it down.  We are either living proof of the grace of God, or we are a living denial of the grace of God, but we are never neutral.  And pointing to our orthodox doctrinal statements, wonderful as they are, is no refuge.  Faithfulness is also a matter of pressing the grace revealed in our doctrine into our every relationship all the time.  This is not a matter of personal niceness; it is a matter of biblical authority.  We have no future without it.
Theological acuity matched by relational obliviousness nullifies the grace of God.  But bold theological proclamation embedded in beautiful human relationships makes it obvious that the grace of God is working among us in power.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The World Runs by Ungrace

Tullian Tchividjian post:  March Madness And The Mathematics of Grace

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace sounds a startling note of contradiction, of liberation, and every day I must pray anew for the ability to hear its message.
Eugene Peterson draws a contrast between Augustine and Pelagius, two fourth-century theological opponents. Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing, and liked by everyone. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had a strange relationship with his mother, and made many enemies. Yet Augustine started from God’s grace and got it right, whereas Pelagius started from human effort and got it wrong. Augustine passionately pursued God; Pelagius methodically worked to please God. Peterson goes on to say that Christians tend to be Augustinian in theory but Pelagian in practice. They work obsessively to please other people and even God.
Each year in spring, I fall victim to what the sports announcers diagnose as “March Madness.” I cannot resist the temptation to tune in to the final basketball game, in which the sole survivors of a sixty-four-team tournament meet for the NCAA championship. That most important game always seems to come down to one eighteen-year-old kid standing on a freethrow line with one second left on the clock. He dribbles nervously. If he misses these two foul shots, he knows, he will be the goat of his campus, the goat of his state. Twenty years from now he’ll be in counseling, reliving this moment. If he makes these shots, he’ll be a hero. His picture will be on the front page. He could probably run for governor. He takes another dribble and the other team calls time, to rattle him. He stands on the sideline, weighing his entire future. Everything depends on him. His teammates pat him encouragingly, but say nothing.
One year, I remember, I left the room to answer a phone call just as the kid was setting himself to shoot. Worry lines creased his forehead. He was biting his lower lip. His left leg quivered at the knee. Twenty thousand fans were yelling, waving banners and handkerchiefs to distract him. The phone call took longer than expected, and when I returned I saw a new sight. This same kid, his hair drenched with Gatorade, was now riding atop the shoulders of his teammates, cutting the cords of a basketball net. He had not a care in the world. His grin filled the entire screen.
Those two freeze-frames—the same kid crouching at the free throw line and then celebrating on his friends’ shoulders—came to symbolize for me the difference between ungrace and grace.
The world runs by ungrace. Everything depends on what I do. I have to make the shot.
Jesus calls us to another way, one that depends not on our performance but his own. We do not have to achieve but merely receive. He has already earned for us the costly victory of God’s acceptance.

It Has Been Granted to You On Behalf of Christ

Don Carson post:  Exodus 38; John 17; Proverbs 14; Philippians 1

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27)? The expression is striking. It is also adverbial—that is, it describes the manner of our conduct, not us. Paul does not say that we ourselves are worthy of the Gospel, for that would be a contradiction in terms: the Gospel, by definition, is good news to people who are not worthy of it. But once we have received the Gospel, however unworthy we may be, we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of it.
The way Christians are to do this (Philippians 1:27-30) is by standing firm together (“in one spirit,” Phil. 1:27), “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [them]” (Phil. 1:27-28). People who have benefited from the Gospel are certainly not conducting themselves in a way worthy of the Gospel if they are ashamed of it (Rom. 1:16). Of course, in a time when the surrounding culture ridicules Christians or even persecutes them, it takes courage to stand together in bold and transparent witness to the power of the Gospel. But there, too, another element of what it means to conduct oneself in a manner worthy of the Gospel comes into play. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29).
What a remarkable notion! Paul does not say that these Christians have been called to suffer as well as to believe, but that it has been granted to them to suffer as well as to believe—as if both suffering for Christ and believing in Christ were blessed privileges that have been graciously granted. That, of course, is precisely what he means. We often think of faith as a gracious gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9), but suffering?
Yet that is what Paul says. On reflection, it is easy to see why. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that in God’s good purposes Jesus suffered on our behalf, bearing our guilt and shame and atoning for our sin. Surely it should be no surprise, then, that conduct that is worthy of such a Gospel includes suffering for Jesus. In fact, that theme is part of what makes this paragraph transitional. For on the one hand, it looks back to the example of the apostle Paul (Phil. 1:12-26). He ends the paragraph by referring to his own “struggle” (Phil. 1:30), of which his Philippian readers have just read—a “struggle” so severe he was not certain he would survive. And on the other hand, the chapter ahead is one of the most powerful New Testament descriptions of Jesus’ humiliation and death. We are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of that kind of good news.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Love Beyond Love

843 Acres post:  The Grace Beyond Grace of Election

Order: In Ephesians 2:1-10, we read the order of salvation from our perspective—being dead in sin, becoming alive, developing faith by the Spirit, doing good works. Here, in Ephesians 1:1-14, however, we read the order of salvation from God’s perspective—choosing, redeeming by the blood of Christ, forgiving, adopting, keeping safe forever, being brought into glory. Why does the order matter?
Chosen: Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” [1] Here, Paul makes it clear that God chooses us before the foundation of the world. But what does that mean?
Non-Meaning: First, it does not mean that we don’t have free will. We choose what we want. Yet the Bible teaches us that we are incapable of wanting God; apart from Christ, we are at “enmity” against Him. [2] Second, it also does not mean that we lose any incentive to do good because, in Christ, our incentive to live out the gospel is rooted in love, not fear. What, then, does it mean? 
Implication: Tim Keller says, “As long as you make your choice the ultimate reason for your faith, then the real bottom line is that you’re better—more open, more humble. That goes against everything Scripture teaches. As Paul says, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am.’ [3] This is the doctrine of election. You cannot make yourself a Christian; you did not make yourself a Christian. You can’t even want to be a Christian unless God has opened your heart. Therefore, pride and superiority are excluded.” He continues, “When you realize that His choice is ultimate and your choice is penultimate, then when someone asks you whether you’re a Christian, you can say, ‘Yes, it’s astonishing. It’s amazing. It’s almost a joke. Why me? But it’s true.’”
Prayer: Lord, The doctrine of the your sovereignty in election, the doctrine of the ultimacy of your choice, the doctrine of the absolute sheer graciousness of your love means that we will always have a sense of humor about ourselves. There’s no reason in us that we would ever want you. But we do. For you have given us grace beyond grace and love beyond love. Amen.

Yahweh's Worth and Honor

Jason DeRouchie post:  We Are Made for Praise

At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lᴏʀᴅ. (Zephaniah 3:20)
Zephaniah was one of Yahweh’s prophets of judgment, who foretold the day of the Lᴏʀᴅ — both the near day of judgment against Judah (Zephaniah 1:4–13; 2:2; 3:7) and the future day of judgment against the entire world (Zephaniah 1:1–3, 14–18; 3:8).
Such warnings, however, only provided the context for the book’s main purpose, which was to muster tireless trust in God’s faithfulness to preserve and ultimately satisfy his believing remnant, even through judgment. Zephaniah’s summons to submit by “seeking” and “waiting upon” Yahweh becomes a summons to satisfaction, culminating in the joy of the redeemed in their King and in his salvation, and the joy of the Savior in those whom he has saved (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:8, 14–15, 17).

At That Time

With the shadows of judgment looming, Zephaniah’s greatest motivation for patiently pursuing God comes in his glorious vision of future hope that is held out for all who persevere in faith. Growing out of the fires of judgment will come a new creation that will include transformed worshipers from the nations of the world (Zephaniah 3:8–10). And with God’s wrath now satisfied, having been poured out on the sinners or on the Substitute, the implications of this renewal are glorious for the faithful remnant of Judah (Zephaniah 3:11–20).
The book’s final verse includes a magnificent portrait of hope. It begins “at that time” — when the proud are removed and the God-dependent are preserved (Zephaniah 3:11–13), when the saving King’s irreversible victory gives rise to shouts of joy from those rescued (Zephaniah 3:14–15), and when Yahweh both delivers and takes delight in his remnant (Zephaniah 3:16–19).
“At that time” Yahweh will rally his redeemed together for a key reason. The NASB, ESV, and NIV all treat the admiration and acclaim (in Hebrew, “name” and “praise”) as something the remnant of Judah receives from the onlooking world: “I will give you renown/honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth” (NASB/NIV); “I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth” (ESV).

Whose Praise?

Elsewhere, God clearly promises to exalt his own before the world’s eyes. Fulfilling their original mission, his people would stand as a kingdom of priests and holy nation, mediating and displaying God’s greatness to the world (Exodus 19:5–6; 1 Peter 2:9; cf. Deuteronomy 4:6–8; 28:1; Isaiah 60:18; Revelation 5:10). And then God would give them a new and exalted name (Genesis 12:2; Isaiah 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; 66:22; cf. Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 1:7; 5:4).
However, this text does not say that Yahweh would give his redeemed fame and acclaim. Instead, using the preposition “to/for,” the verse declares that Yahweh will set his people in the center of the world “for a name and for praise.” Whose name and whose praise is at the fore? The closest parallel texts suggest that Yahweh’s worth and Yahweh’s honor is the ultimate goal of the new creation.
It is God’s name, God’s fame that is to be exalted in the lives of his saints. As asserted by Zephaniah’s younger contemporary Jeremiah, Yahweh originally set his people apart in order “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen” (Jeremiah 13:11; cf. Deuteronomy 26:19).

Transformed for Worship

Nevertheless, in the new covenant, when sins are forgiven and loyalty is enabled, Yahweh declares that his people “shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 33:9; cf. Isaiah 55:12–13; 61:10–62:3). That is, as Ezekiel would testify, by Yahweh’s doing a transforming work within his people by his Spirit before the eyes of the nations, he would act “for the sake of my holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22–23, 26–27; cf. 39:25).
The prophet Zechariah captured the meaning well when he asserted that the delivered flock of God would be “like the jewels of a crown” that would magnify God’s “goodness” and God’s “beauty” (Zechariah 9:16–17).
The ultimate end of new covenant transformation is worship. All things are from God, through God, and to God (Romans 11:36; cf. Colossians 1:16). The new creation, now inaugurated through Christ and his church is about God (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). It is about his glory, his Son, his greatness, his exaltation among the peoples of the planet.
Even today as we gather for worship, may our lives be marked by the matchless worth of God in Christ, that all “may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16; cf. 9:8; John 15:8; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Philippians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:10).

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Henri Nouwen Society post: A Still Place in the Market  

"Be still and acknowledge that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).  These are words to take with us in our busy lives.  We may think about stillness in contrast to our noisy world.  But perhaps we can go further and keep an inner stillness even while we carry on business, teach, work in construction, make music, or organise meetings.

It is important to keep a still place in the "marketplace."  This still place is where God can dwell and speak to us.  It also is the place from where we can speak in a healing way to all the people we meet in our busy days.  Without that still space we start spinning.  We become driven people, running all over the place without much direction.  But with that stillness God can be our gentle guide in everything we think, say, or do.

Yet, God

Jonathan Parnell post:  Ten Thousand Things We Can't See

“The nearness of God is my good,” says the psalmist.
Though the wicked prosper, though evil carries on, though the circumstances of God’s people are bleak, everything makes sense in God’s presence (Psalm 73:17). There the embittered soul is revived. The beastly attitude is tamed. “Nevertheless,” the psalm goes, “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me into glory” (Psalm 73:23–24).
From start to finish, God is with his people. It’s what makes us distinct (Exodus 33:14–16). Where we go, he goes. Always. The nearness of God is our good (Psalm 73:28).
But then there is Psalm 74.
Immediately after this resolve to remember God’s presence, to dwell on his nearness, the next installment from the psalmist named Asaph begins, “O God, why do you cast us off forever?” (Psalm 74:1). It directly opposes the good news of the previous psalm. Psalm 73 says God’s presence is our good, but Psalm 74 says,
The enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary! (verse 3)
Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place. (verse 4)
They set your sanctuary on fire; they profaned the dwelling place of your name. (verse 7)
They burned all the meeting places of God in the land. (verse 8)

When He Does Nothing

Do you see it? The language here is all about God’s presence. And the picture is destruction. The attack of the enemy pinpoints the very thing that God’s people have held onto for hope. And worse, God doesn’t appear to care. He isn’t doing anything about it, so it seems. So verse 11 says,
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
In other words, God, do you see what is happening? Your enemies are prevailing over us and you have your hands in your pockets. Please do something!
It makes sense to us, right? God’s presence, the very thing the psalms teach us to prize, to esteem above all else, even that is not out of the enemy’s reach. Or is it?

He Does Everything

The shift comes in verse 12. “Yet,” the psalmist says — that glorious turn — “Yet, God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalm 73:12). In this moment of disarray, when everything is turned upside down, when everything we expected is dismantled, the psalmist stops and remembers. He remembers that even when the circumstances don’t add up, God is always at work. God is always doing 10,000 things we can’t see. Always.
He knows that God acts. “You divided,” he recounts, and “You broke” and “You crushed” and “you gave” and “you split” and “you dried” and “yours is the day” and “yours also is the night” and “you have established” and “you have fixed” and “you have made” (Psalm 74:12–17). He takes his eyes off of himself, off of his surroundings, and he remembers.
10,000 things, he tells us.

Because He Did This

And we know. We’ve seen this before. We have the whole picture.
There was another day when God’s enemy pinpointed the very thing his people held onto for hope. It was a day when God’s presence was not only ransacked, but the very embodiment of God’s presence — God with us — was ravished. His foes prevailed with no inhibition. The Son of God hung on the cross, and the Father had his hands in his pockets, so it seemed. Even the Messiah was not out of the enemy’s reach. Or was he?
See, it was in this moment of disarray — in this Chaos of chaos — that everything “looked” destroyed and turned upside down. But it was here, by all visible accounts, when things were the most over, that in fact they were the most not.
It appeared evil had won. That God was dead. That his enemies triumphed. But no.
It was in his dying, when our hope looked lost, that Jesus was actually securing it. It was when darkness covered the land, over against the Son’s forsaken cries, that light began to dawn and the Father realized his eternal purpose for the world. Beyond what it seemed, beyond what the circumstances would suggest, God was the one in triumph. Sunday morning made it sure.
So just when we thought he’d be gone forever, he was actually lifted up as the one who would never leave us, nor forsake us — the one who would say, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Ten thousand things, remember. And here is at least one.
Yes, the nearness of God is our good.

A Heart That Will Not Trade Microsoft for M&Ms

John Piper post: Lesbian Sex, HIV, Esau, and Christ 

It was a vexing, soul-stirring, Sunday morning.
First came my devotions, flaming with the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Second was a New York Timesarticle about the transmission of HIV through lesbian sexual relations. Third came a powerful sermon, from the pastor at the church we’ve been attending, about Esau from Hebrews 12:12–17.
Here’s how they relate — and vex and stir — in reverse order.

The Insanity of Sin

Esau “sold his birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16). This is insane. His desire for food had made him irrational: “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32). Besides the spiritual aspects of primogeniture, the firstborn was to receive twice the inheritance of other brothers (Deuteronomy 21:17).
The pastor compared this to Bill Gates asking you for some M&Ms, and you saying, “Make me majority stockholder in Microsoft, and you can have some.” And he says, “Fine.” Such is the insanity of sin. All sin. That’s the deal. You get M&Ms; you lose eternal joy.
But here’s the hook: The writer to the Hebrews makes this an example of sexualcraving, not gluttony. Verse 16: “See to it that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau.” This helps make sense — if senselessness can make sense of anything — of presidents and pastors who risk their entire presidency and ministry for brief sexual pleasures. From Clinton to Swaggart to Haggard, legacies and souls are peddled for lentil soup.

When Esau Is the Hero

Which brings us to the New York Times article, titled “In Rare Case, Woman With H.I.V. Infects Female Sex Partner, C.D.C. Says.” Same-sex desires are disordered and sad, yet they don’t have to become sinful acts. But what kind of strange force is at work, when two lesbians engage in reckless and repeated sexual activity, knowing that one of them is infected with HIV? Answer: insane force. Esau-like force.
But be careful not to think this Esau-like insanity is owing to the passions of the moment. It is, in fact, what we are taught by the very Center for Disease Control that is supposed to protect our nation’s health. Here is their counsel, quoted at the end of the article:
C.D.C. officials advised that all infected people having sex with uninfected people stay on daily antiretroviral drugs, which can reduce virus levels in blood and bodily fluids so much that transmission is highly unlikely.
Translation: When you play Russian roulette with each other, be sure there is only one bullet in the gun. This is not the fruit of momentary passion. This is the considered counsel of cultural insanity. Esau is the hero in this story.

The Striking Parallel

Which brings us, finally, to Jesus. In Hebrews 12, Jesus is contrasted with Esau. Esau could not endure missing one meal for the joy of his inheritance (Hebrews 12:16). But Jesus “endured the cross for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). It is a striking parallel in the original Greek, evident in our English:
who for a single meal
sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:16)
who for the joy set before him
endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)
We are all cursed with the madness of Esau. We inherit it from Adam and Eve who chose one bite of fruit over eternal joy with God. We are all afflicted with congenital, culpable irrationality.

Awake to Real Joy

Here’s the good news. The remedy for this insanity is to wake up from the stupor and blindness that makes sin more desirable than God. Jesus modeled for us what that clear-eyed wakefulness looks like: “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
But far more than modeling, he was paying and purchasing. He was paying the debt for all the Esau-like insanity of our preferring sin to God. And he was purchasing a new heart — a seeing heart, a rational heart, a heart that will not trade Microsoft for M&Ms.
When Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it was the scream of the damned — damned in our place (Isaiah 53:5–6; Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:14). If we will repent and trust him, no Esau, no lesbian, no president, no pastor, no person will be condemned. Our sight and our reason will return to us.

Eternal Perspective

Gloria Furman post:  Glorifying God in the Routine

Kiss, hug, monkey blanket, book, pray. That’s the summation of my preschool-age son’s bedtime routine. His simple bedtime routine must mean the world to him because if I miss a beat or shake up the order, he lets me know that the universe is falling apart. If you want accountability for keeping a disciplined routine, just let preschoolers know of your intentions, and they will tirelessly remind you to stay the course.
Order and predictability go a long way to reassure young children that their world is stable. Routines work the same way in reassuring us big kids, too. Consider how disconcerting your morning would be if the coffeemaker suddenly sputtered sparks onto the countertop and broke.
When Life Seems Boring
Although we can all appreciate the stability that routines bring (Thank you, God, for causing the sun to rise this morning), a life of “all things ordinary” may sound, well … boring. We live in the mundane, and life-altering, dramatic moments are, by definition, extraordinary. Whatever your “normal” is, I think we can all agree that that’s where we live. Even so, we long for significant work, unique callings, and uncommon opportunities.
It’s tempting to view everyday life as a monotonous cycle of making your bed only to lie in it again. Our perspective on the everyday business of our lives is important because when we forget about God’s activity in the world, we become functionally hopeless. What’s the point of anything if “all is vanity”? Often our view of the ordinary is ruled by the “have-to’s”: I have to take out the trash; I have to go to work; I have to change another diaper; and so on. We hear Paul’s instruction of “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31) and we wonder how that squares with the “have-to’s” of our everyday lives. Grace sheds light on our mundane. Grace can transform the “have-to’s” into “get-to’s” as we live for His glory.
Here are just three of the ways the grace of God governs the areas of our lives that seem ordinary and unimportant:
1. We get to live outside of the garden. Live. We get to live. Let your heart soar with thankfulness as you consider that God continues to give us life even though we have all sinned against His holiness. Let your mind be blown by the reality that Jesus is currently, intentionally holding our very lives together by the word of His power. The gracious gift of life in spite of our sin is overwhelming. Surely this mercy is cause for unceasing praise to our Creator. Job teaches us that whatever condition our lives are in, God is to be praised. As recipients of such astonishing grace, far be it from us to lament that life is boring. Instead, let us spill over with praise to the Author of Life with our every breath.
2. We get to live forever in Christ. Each of us is just a breath away from meeting the Lord face-to-face. Because of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, we will behold our God and live, and we will live forever in His presence where there is fullness of joy. In the meantime, we are comforted by the indwelling Holy Spirit and we can have fellowship with God even now. God uses ordinary means to conform us to the image of His beloved Son. This is just one way the gospel of grace gives new meaning to the seemingly unimportant routines.
3. We get to participate in God’s cosmic plan. The penal substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, His resurrection from the dead, and His subsequent exaltation above every name change how we view our ordinary lives because, indeed, they change everything. In order to experience joy in the work that God has for us, we must seek to understand the mystery of God’s will that He purposes “to unite all things in [Christ]” (Eph. 1:9– 10). While we’re tempted to fret over arranging our schedules perfectly, Jesus is infallibly putting the cosmos back in order. This big-picture theology of God’s cosmic plan sees through the morning commute and the dishes piled up in the sink to scan the horizon of the new heavens and the new earth. What remarkable grace we’ve been given to participate in God’s plan to reconcile all things to Himself (1 Cor. 15:27–28).
Stamp Eternity on Our Eyeballs
An eternal perspective is something you carry around in your heart. With the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which God has called you. Look through this lens of eternity when you’re tempted to walk by sight. Watch how the grace of God transforms the way you see another business trip, another potty training accident, another afternoon in gridlock traffic, another meeting, another bill, or another load of laundry. Enduring joy can be had in the ordinary stuff of life today because everything you’ve been given was ordained by Jesus, exists for Jesus, and will testify forever in eternity as a tribute to His glorious grace.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Desiring Deep Love That Orders All Other Loves

Bethany at 843 Acres post:  Changing Our Daily Choices

Daily: Our character is determined by our daily choices. As C.S. Lewis writes, “Good and evil increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line …” How easy is it, though, to change our daily choices?
Change: It’s not. Proverbs says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” And Augustine writes, “The key to life change is not the acts of the will but the loves of the heart.” In other words, our daily acts spring from our deep loves, and our deep loves are almost impossible to change. Our loves are disordered. We take good things and make them ultimate—money, success, power, etc. And we have no power to change this. As Emily Dickinson says, “The Heart wants what it wants—or else it does not care.”
Gospel: But Jesus came, saying, “I am the way,” not, “I will show you the way.” He took the loss of the ultimate ridge or railway line so that we may know victories we never dreamed of. Therefore, we do not give God a righteousness to placate Him; He gives us a righteousness to redeem us. When we take the gospel into our hearts, we find a deep love that orders all other loves. This changes our daily choices—even though it may not happen all at once: “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
Prayer: Lord, Your love is astounding and, when this reality becomes true to our hearts, the springs of life flow as mighty waters. Yet we confess that our loves are disordered and, therefore, our daily choices are misguided and unwise. Forgive us. For we are unable to change our lives. You must change our hearts. Therefore, lift our eyes to Christ and open the gates of paradise that we may walk in. Amen.

Theological Plumbing

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Romans

Here's a great quote in this post:
“The theological plumbing in the church these days is fixed in such a way that if you try to pour the pure water of mercy down the pipe of people’s hearts it backs up and the theological plumber gets called to come clear the clog with the plunger of a few “ifs” and “buts”. I’m convinced the old plumbing has to be totally replaced, not repaired. And this only happens when it fully breaks–through suffering and failure–not arguments.”     Jono Linebaugh 

I’m currently preaching through the book of Romans. That’s right, ROMANS! Crazy, I know. I swore I wouldn’t even attempt to preach through Romans till I was at least 50 years old but I decided to do it now because it was reading through Romans last fall that rescued me from a season of doubt and discouragement.
My confidence in the radicality of the gospel was resurrected after waking up one morning and desperately grabbing my Bible from my nightstand and reading the first eight chapters of Romans in one sitting. I got out of bed that day much different than I went to bed the night before. I told the people I serve at Coral Ridge that I was going to preach through Romans just as much for me as for them.
I regularly confess to our church that I’m a desperate man. In fact, I heartily disagree with Robert Murray McCheyne who said, “The greatest gift I can give my church is my personal holiness.” I have the utmost respect for McCheyne, but that is ridiculous. The greatest gift I can give my church is the good news that Jesus has done for train-wrecks like me what I could never do for myself. The second most important gift I can give my church is my desperation. Don’t listen to a preacher who isn’t desperate.
As Paul makes clear throughout this letter (and as I say in the sermon below), if Christianity is fundamentally about our performance, we’re all in big trouble. If it’s about our purity, our strength, our cleanliness, our obedience, our anything…we are without hope! This whole thing is riding on the shoulders of Another: one who eternally succeeded where we perpetually fail, one who was strong for us, obedient for us, pure for us, righteous for us. The whole point of the verses I preach from below is that God is not the God of second chances–he’s the God of one chance and a second Adam.
Not long ago, my friend Jono Linebaugh wrote this note to me: “The theological plumbing in the church these days is fixed in such a way that if you try to pour the pure water of mercy down the pipe of people’s hearts it backs up and the theological plumber gets called to come clear the clog with the plunger of a few “ifs” and “buts”. I’m convinced the old plumbing has to be totally replaced, not repaired. And this only happens when it fully breaks–through suffering and failure–not arguments.”
Right on!
Romans is replacement plumbing. I dare you to read it. As Robert Capon so eloquently put it:
The Epistle to the Romans has sat around in the church since the first century like a bomb ticking away the death of religion; and every time it’s been picked up, the ear-splitting freedom in it has gone off with a roar. The only sad thing is that the church as an institution has spent most of its time playing bomb squad and trying to defuse it. For your comfort, though, it can’t be done. Your freedom remains as close to your life as Jesus and as available to your understanding as the nearest copy. Like Augustine, therefore, take and read–and then hold onto your hat. Compared to that explosion, the clap of doom sounds like a cap pistol.
Romans is theological therapy for the soul.
I’m not even half way through, but you can find all my sermons from this series here. Below is this past week’s sermon. I hope God uses it to set you free as he has used this series to set me free.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pressing On

Jon Bloom post: Nine Practical Points for Plodders

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)

Today is going to be a challenge.

You will not make perfect plans. You will not work your plans perfectly. You’ll find a bog of ambiguity that you’ll need to step through carefully. There will be detours and delays. There will be equipment failures. You will spin your wheels. There will be unexpected phone calls and undesired emails. Social media will keep poking you for attention. Your indwelling sin and others’ indwelling sin will throw you curveballs. There will be some swings and misses. Your creativity won’t flow like you want it to when you want it to. And when you actually get to the project that you’ve scheduled time for at the time you scheduled it for, you won’t feel like doing it.

So what will you do when faced with these challenges? Plod on.

Purpose to be a plodder. A plodder keeps moving. A plodder perseveres. A plodder presses on. A plodder knows the disappointment of unrealized ideals, feels the fear of failure and exposed deficiencies, and the ambiguity of too many demands, options, and tasks. But a plodder isn’t immobilized by them. He or she presses on in the faith that God will supply the needed strength (1 Peter 4:11), wisdom (James 1:5), and direction (Proverbs 3:6).

So with that in mind, here are some practical pointers for making plodding progress:

1. Put a routine in place.

What is it that you want to make progress in? Bible reading? Book reading? Maintaining your budget? Composing music? Practicing hospitality? Keeping the laundry at bay? Writing a book or a blog? The key to progress is a small portion every day, not binging. Choose one thing to make progress on and set a reasonable, sustainable routine in place.

2. Don’t trust resolve euphoria.

Resolve euphoria is what you feel when you resolve to do something. You know, “it’s going to be different this time!” Well, that euphoria is going to fade quickly just like every other time. So harness its optimistic energy to get moving, but don’t trust the unrealistic goals you feel like setting. Let it push you into plodding a little at a time.

3. Don’t trust your inner Eeyore.

Remember Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, the eternally pessimist donkey? Well, you have one inside you. It says, “It won’t be different this time. It’s not going to work. It never works. Why bother?” Plodders learn to ignore Eeyore.

4. A tip for building momentum.

One way to push past your inner Eeyore and actually build some momentum is choosing to do something you don’t want to do. It’s counter-intuitive, but accomplishing something you’d rather avoid has remarkable power to encourage you to get other things done. It reminds you that you’re not a slave to your preferences or moods.

5. Cultivate tenacity.

Don’t think of tenacity so much as intensity as determination. Tenacity is unrelenting resolve. Tenacious people get tired, discouraged, wonder if it’s worth it, and don’t feel like fulfilling their resolve. What makes them tenacious is that they don’t relent. Be a tenacious plodder. Be steadfast and immovable in the work God has called you to (1 Corinthians 15:58). Doggedly keep moving.

6. Learn something.

The Bible is clear that we should “press on” (Philippians 3:14) and make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:16). But it doesn’t give us details on how to do this. God intends for us to “understand what the will of the Lord is” through learning (Ephesians 5:17). This usually means trial and error. Experiment. Don’t be afraid that a routine or system you try is going to fail. That’s how you learn. Learn from your failures, and learn from others’ failures and successes by reading. DG alum and long-time friend, Matt Perman, just wrote a very helpful book, What’s Best Next, which applies the gospel to getting things done. I know no one who has thought more about these things. Learn from him.

7. Less than ideal is still progress.

We all have ideals in our heads about what accomplishment looks like. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Remember, only memorizing five verses this month rather than ten, or only reading 15 minutes today rather than 30 minutes is still a win, not a loss. It’s still progress. Make plodding progress and gradually seek to increase your capacity.

8. Do less.

You only have so much time. As a plodder, you have to be choosy about what you do. God has called you to a few things (Ephesians 2:10), demanding as they may be. Say no to some entertaining or demanding superfluous things and make room for making some progress on important things.

9. Just start.

Okay, enough talking. Just get going on something. Don’t be paralyzed by uncertainty. Let the process teach you.

Today is going to be a challenge. You may only be able to make a few small steps. But remember, a lot of ground is covered over time by an accumulation of small steps. Purpose to be a plodder and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fellowship as a Means of Grace

David Mathis post:  Learn to Fly in the Fellowship 

It’s a shame the word “fellowship” has fallen on hard times in some circles, and is dying the death of domestication and triviality. It is an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith, and one of God’s chief means of grace in our lives.
The koinonia — the commonality, partnership, fellowship — which the first Christians shared wasn’t a common love for pizza, pop, and a nice clean evening of fun among the fellow churchified. It was their common Christ, and their common life-or-death mission together in his summons to take the faith worldwide in the face of impending persecution.
Rightly did Tolkien call his nine a “Fellowship of the Ring.” This is no chummy hobnob with apps and drinks and a game on the tube. It is an all-in, life-or-death collective venture in the face of great evil and overwhelming opposition. True fellowship is less like friends gathered to watch the Super Bowl, and more like players on the field in blood, sweat, and tears, huddled in the backfield only in preparation for the next down. True fellowship is more the invading troops side by side on the beach at Normandy, than it is the gleeful revelers in the street on V.E. Day.

Partnership for the Gospel

Not only did the first Christians devote themselves to the word (the apostles’ teaching, Acts 2:42), and to prayer (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42), but also to “fellowship” (Acts 2:42). First, their fellowship was in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9), and in his Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). They had become fellow heirs (Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6), Jew and Gentile now were fellow citizens (Ephesians 2:19), and soon they shared “all things in common” (Acts 2:44; 4:32). From top to bottom, the gospel creates community like no other.
But this fellowship is no isolated commune or static, mutual-admiration society. It is a “partnership for the gospel” (Philippians 1:5), among those giving their everything to “advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12), knit together for “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). It is the fellowship in which, as Paul says to the Philippians, “you are all partakers with me of grace . . . in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7).
In such a partnership as this, we need not worry too much that we will forget the lost and sequester the gospel. Real fellowship will do precisely the opposite. The same Jesus who joins us commissions us. The medium of our relationship is the message of salvation. When the fellowship is true, the depth of love for each other is not a symptom of in-growth, but the final apologetic: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The Twin Texts of Fellowship

But true fellowship not only labors to win the lost, but serves to keep the saints saved. The relational iceberg, lying just beneath the surface of the Scriptures, is especially close to sea level in Hebrews. Here rise the twin texts of Christian fellowship, stationed as guardians of the heart of the epistle, lest we try to access grace as isolated individuals. First, the better known is Hebrews 10:24–25:
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The remarkable thing is not the summons to keep meeting together, but the instruction that when you do, look past your own nose to the needs of others. There’s no “how” in the original language. A literal translation is, “Consider each other for love and good deeds.” Know each other. Get close. Stay close. Go deep. And consider particular persons, and interact with them, such that you exhort and inspire them to love and good deeds specifically fitting to their mix.
Here we taste how potent, and personal, is fellowship as a means of grace. As partners under God’s word, and in prayer, a brother who knows me as me, and not generic humanity, speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) into my life, and gives me a word “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Be the Means for Your Brother

The twin, then, is Hebrews 3:12–13:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Here the charge lands not on the drifting saint to get himself back on the path, but on the others in the community — to have enough proximity to him, awareness of him, and regularity with him to spot the drift and war for him against the sin. This means of grace, then, in such a circumstance, has a unique function in the Christian life. It is not laid on the spiritually weak to muster their will and do the discipline, but for the body to take up discipline on behalf of the wanderer, to mediate grace to the struggler, to preempt apostasy by putting words into his open ear hole and praying for the Spirit to make them live.

The Glorious Backstop of Grace

Fellowship may be the often forgotten middle child of the spiritual disciplines, but she may save your life in the dark night of your soul. As you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, and the Shepherd comforts you with his staff, you will discover that he has fashioned his people to act as his rod of rescue. When the desire has dried up to avail yourself of hearing his voice (the word), and when your spiritual energy is gone to speak into his ear (prayer), he sends his body to bring you back. It’s typically not the wanderer’s own efforts that prompt his return to the fold, but his brothers’ (James 5:19–20), being to him a priceless means of God’s grace — the invaluable backstop.
It is not only God’s word and prayer that are the means of his ongoing grace, but true fellowship among those who have in common the one who is Grace incarnate (Titus 2:11). The grace of God cannot be quarantined to individuals. The healthy Christian, introverted or not, of whatever temperament, in whatever season, seeks not to minimize relationships with his fellows in Christ, but maximize them.
God has given us each other in the church, not just for company and co-belligerency, not just to chase away loneliness and lethargy, but to be to each other an indispensable means of his divine favor. We are for each other an essential element of the good work God has begun in us and promises to bring to completion (Philippians 1:6). Such is true fellowship.