Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Call to Greatness

Marshall Segal post:  What Will Make You Great 

God wants you to be great.
What would make your life feel great? Would it be a spouse or children or more children? Would it be a better job — more pay, better boss, more responsibility? Maybe it would be more time buried in your reading list or watching football on Sundays or shopping without a budget. All great, but are they great enough?
God refuses to define the greatness of your life in dollars or cents, family or friends or kids, promotions or raises, accomplishments or recognition or fun. He loves you too much, and there’s too much at stake. When Jesus said he came that you might have a full and abundant life (John 10:10), he wasn’t promising less debt, longer vacations, or more power in the company. His promise is real, and following him will satisfy us beyond our wildest imaginations, but it won’t look like so much other so-called greatness around us.
The greatest people in our little world — George Clooney, Ellen Degeneres, Tim Cook, BeyoncĂ©, Lebron James, etc. — are beloved by millions and yet most of them are missing the real meaning of their talent, their influence, their life. Even the greatest only taste the cheap hors d'oeuvres of life and greatness. Stars are insanely enjoyed, celebrated, even worshipped, sometimes for 10, 25, even 100 years. But the most famous and successful are settling for the potato skins of greatness, rather than the real thing.

The Greatest Among You

Jesus walked with his disciples for months, even years, ministering with them in town after town, spreading the news of the greatness of the kingdom of God. Over and over again, he said that the kingdom had come with him (Mark 1:15). His kingdom was to expand and overwhelm every other kingdom (Mark 4:30–32). It was a kingdom of power, and exclusivity (Mark 4:10–12), and it was coming soon (Mark 9:1).
In Jesus, the disciples had found a king that promised them more than they’d ever known filling their boats with fish. He was their ticket to true greatness. This was their time to win, their time to reign. All of the sudden, with the Christ, they had their chance to be known, respected, and obeyed. “Kingdom” sounded like power and authority, freedom and fame.
When Jesus finally explained just what kind of king he was — just what it meant to be truly, deeply, lastingly great — they totally missed it. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). Sobering, confusing, even offensive. How do they respond? They walked away arguing over which one of them was the greatest — the chief among the otherwise forgettable fishermen (Mark 9:34).
Instead of hearing Jesus talk about his death and redefining greatness in terms of sacrifice — in terms of coming in last for the sake of love — they fought to be first. Jesus said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Ambition in this life for greatness in this life will end up stealing your life. According to Jesus, the greatest among you won’t look very great after all. In fact, true greatness will often look like weakness, surrender, defeat, and even death.
“Ambition in this life for greatness in this life will end up stealing your life.”

Slaves Will Be Kings

A little later, Jesus explains his greatness to them again in greater detail, “They will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him” (Mark 10:34). Then in the very next verse, James and John ask Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. . . . Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:3537).
Jesus had barely finished describing the humiliating and excruciating death he would die for them — betrayal and mockery and spitting and flogging and murder — and they’re already conspiring to grab some glory of their own. When he’s about to be brutally slaughtered in front of everyone for their sin, they’re scheming behind the scenes, looking for ways to use him to exalt themselves.
We healed people in your name. We hung with you when others rejected you. We handed out the bread and fish to the 5,000. Don’t we deserve a little more than everyone else? It’s ironic and foolish, but it’s also outrageous and tragic.
And it’s the sinful disposition of many of us who love and follow Jesus. Somehow we think we’ve earned something from him for our commitment and sacrifice. We expect him to make life a little more comfortable or relationships a little easier or ministry a little more fruitful or affirmation a little more regular.
But Jesus confronts this ignorance with another primer on greatness. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). Servants in this life will rule the next. Slaves in this life will be kings forever.
“Servants in this life will rule the next. Slaves in this life will be kings forever.”

Greatness and the Grave

“. . . For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
When the greatest Greatness came into our world, he was born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough. He walked from town to town without a home, without a place to stay. He made some headlines with his message and miracles, but he made many more enemies. When the Son of God came, calling lowly fishermen to be his disciples, he kneeled and washed their filthy, undeserving feet. The King of kings — the greatest of all time — humbled himself to the point of death, even the most shameful, painful kind of death. True Greatness lost his life in love for us. And true Greatness was revealed and glorified, not defeated at that grave.

Where We See Greatness

A third time (two chapters earlier), Jesus unfolded the gravity and beauty of his greatness, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). And then Jesus called the disciples — and us all — to follow him, to follow that counter-cultural, humble, sacrificial, servant-hearted greatness. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34–35). The call to live and be great is a call to serve and even die.
True greatness isn’t the kind that appears in bold letters on your favorite website. No, it shows up in the details of other people’s lives. If you aspire to be great, give yourself to the small, mundane, easily over-looked needs around you. God died that you might live. And that life — your new, blood-bought, forgiven, grace-filled life — was meant to be great. It was meant to be laid down in love for others.
“The call to live and be great is a call to serve and even die.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Trevin Wax post: Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ

By God’s grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers are assured of “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph 1:3).
  • We are justified; that is, we receive here and now advance declaration by God of the verdict of his court on the day of judgment, that we are included among those whom we will declare righteous on account of our faith in Jesus and his obedience unto death.
  • We are saved; that is, we are delivered from the wrath to come, rescued from the anger of God against all wickedness and rebellion.
  • We are reconciled; that is, the enmity between us and God has been removed, because God himself bore our sins in the person of his own Son on the cross.
  • We are forgiven; that is, God chooses to “carry” (the Hebrew word usually translated “forgive”) our sins, rather than repay them to us, because they have been “carried” by Jesus on the cross. They will never be held against us.
  • We are redeemed; that is, God has achieved our liberation from all the bondage of sin, as he rescued the Israelites out of Egypt, through the sacrificial blood of Christ.
  • We are adopted; that is, God includes us among his children, or more specifically, treats us as firstborn sons (whether male or female), and thus as his heirs, sharing in the inheritance that belongs to Christ.
  • We are made alive; that is, from the death of sin we are given new life, the resurrection life of Christ himself.
  • We have the Spirit; that is, the promise that God made to Israel, that would bring about their renewal and “resurrection” and obedience (as, e.g., in Ezek. 37), is now poured out in us, bearing the fruit of transformed lives.
– Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People193.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Broken By Grace

Ivan Mesa post:  Broken: The Power of Conversion in Louie Zamperini's Life

Louie Zamperini’s amazing life is the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for almost four years (a remarkable feat!), and on Christmas Day the much-anticipated movie adaptation is slated for release. Although it is one of my favorite books, I have to agree with Collin Hansen: “The title is all wrong.” After the war, Louie returned home a broken man.
Louie survived 47 days adrift in a lifeboat after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He narrowly escaped marauding sharks and strafing from passing Japanese airplanes. And he survived on rainwater, fish, and seabirds until he was picked up by a Japanese patrol boat. After two brutal years as a prisoner of war in Japan, World War II ended, and Louie returned home a hero.
Soon thereafter, he married a beautiful blonde woman named Cynthia. On the outside all seemed well, but hatred for one of his captors metastasized. “A once singularly hopeful man now believed that his only hope lay in murder,” Hillenbrand writes. Louie’s life spiraled downward as he gave himself over to drunkenness and reckless behavior. Money he had invested in get-rich-quick schemes foundered. Despite appeals and warnings from friends, he made no reform. His wife initiated a divorce.

Conversion Under Billy Graham

In September 1949 a young Billy Graham came to Los Angeles for a three-week campaign to bring the city to Christ. Cynthia attended and received Christ as Savior. She returned home, informed Louie of her new life in Christ, and made clear she would no longer pursue a divorce. Although relieved, Louie wanted no part of this religious awakening. Nevertheless, eventually Louie also attended and, although indignant at first, on the second day he came forward to receive Christ. Here is his account:
I dropped to my knees and for the first time in my life truly humbled myself before the Lord. I asked him to forgive me for not having kept the promises I’d made during the war, and for my sinful life. I made no excuses. I did not rationalize, I did not blame. He had said, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” so I took him at his word, begged for his pardon, and asked Jesus to come into my life.
His new life had begun.
Joy replaced anger in Louie’s heart, and he freely forgave his former captors. Throughout his life he gave testimony of Christ, particularly with troubled youth near his home in Los Angeles. He was a faithful husband until Cynthia died in 2001 of cancer. Louie died earlier this year at 97.

Portrayal of Conversion in Zamperini's Life

The inclusion of the tent meeting and Billy Graham's sermon in Hillenbrand’s Unbroken was an answer to prayer for Louie. “Unbroken is Laura’s book,” Louie later told the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, “so all I could do was pray that she would somehow have the gospel in it.” We should all be thankful that Louie’s conversion was included, even if not explained in robustly theological terms. 
Not surprisingly, however, major news outlets have minimized Louie's conversion and offered man-centered interpretations. For example, the New York Times devoted only one sentence to this transformation in its obituary for him: “Mr. Zamperini straightened out his life . . . after hearing a sermon preached by Billy Graham.” According to The Guardian Louie “was overcome and born-again as a Christian.” But perhaps most disappointing was Hillenbrand’s own eulogy:
What made his life transcendent, what made it resonate in millions of hearts, was not the hardship he encountered, but the way in which he greeted it, how he turned it to joy, and what that told the rest of us about the potential that sleeps within ourselves. (emphasis mine)
In a recent profile of the upcoming film (directed by Angelina Jolie) on Louie’s life, the Los Angeles Times indicates that the movie will end with Zamperini’s liberation and will not include his alcoholism, Billy Graham's preaching, or Louie's conversion. This is tragic. Louie was clear that one could not tell his story apart from his new birth in Christ. When CBS wanted to air a documentary of his life in the 1990s, he insisted on including his conversion: 
My whole life is serving God. If you want this to be authentic, you have to have my conversion in there. . . . I want you to show a picture of Billy Graham to confirm it. When people hear the name Billy Graham they think of one thing: the gospel.
The first trailer of the film included some small hints of Christianity. We hear Louie addressing God, “If you get me through this, I swear I'll dedicate my whole life to you,” which is a bargain he made at sea while in the raft. At this point, it is too early to tell what will or will not be included, but we can be hopeful that Louie's faith in Christ will be highlighted. Nothing else would honor the memory of Louie.

Broken by Grace

Louie’s life story is not about the innate human power to forgive. In fact, when we consider his life we see the complete opposite: a total inability to overcome sin and the reaping of its disastrous fruit apart from God's grace. Louie’s survivor instincts—those same instincts that kept him alive at sea and in prison—offered no help when he returned home. “(U)nlike the war, when I had faced obstacles and overcome them, this time I did not have the same self-confidence,” he later recounted. “Then I’d taken survival-training courses, knew I was in great physical shape.” He had realized the greatest enemy was not without but within. Although no longer a prisoner of war, he had remained a slave to sin (John 8:34).
Conversion for Louie was not a postscript or an unobtrusive footnote in an otherwise heroic life; no, conversion was the preface that put his entire life in context. The Lord’s sovereign work in saving Louie—in breaking him with a reality of his sin and turning him toward Christ in faith—made sense of all that had gone before and all that followed. 
In short, the story of Louie Zamperini is that of a man unbroken by war but broken by grace. And as David reminds us, a broken and contrite heart God does not despise (Ps. 51:17).

Every Tribe, Tongue, People and Family

Ryan Shelton post:  Corporate Worship Is Better Than Your Quiet Time

It’s Sunday morning. You finally made it through the one lane of traffic not quarantined by the orange cones that descended overnight like locusts. You carefully maneuver the parking labyrinth as your child kicks the back of your car seat. By the time your small tribe disembarks the fun bus, you consider the hike to the lobby and wonder if you should ration food for the journey. You temporarily sign over your parental rights to the twitchy-eyed nursery staff, and sneak a contraband coffee cup into the worship center. As you slide into to a back pew and let out a sigh, you think to yourself, Finally, I’m ready for some God-and-me time! Right?
Wrong. Well, incomplete to say the least.
Certainly, you are right to come expectant to encounter God in a special way on a Sunday morning. But there’s an important difference between a collective quiet-time and corporate worship.

The Joy of the Assembly

Jesus’s Bible was divided into three sections: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Writings make up the final section, and depict the joy and blessings of living in covenant relationship with Yahweh. Interestingly, the references to “the assembly” of God’s people escalate dramatically as we approach the end of the Hebrew canon. It’s as if the Hebrew Bible flares out in celebration over the assembly as one of the chief gifts of covenant life. The overwhelming majority (over half!) of these references are in the ruthlessly optimistic final book, the Chronicles.
Chronicles depicts David as one who assembles all Israel (1 Chronicles 11:113:28) to worship Yahweh together.
Then David said to all the assembly, “Bless the LORD your God.” And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed their heads and paid homage to the LORD and to the king.” (1 Chronicles 29:20)
It is a good and precious thing to commune with the Living God. But the Writings ring with the peal that it is even more joyful to share that experience together with your brothers and sisters.

The Wisdom of the Church

Chronicles launches the reader to anticipate one of the great realities of the New Testament — the creation of the Christian Church. The Messianic hope of the Chronicles makes us look for a new anointed king who will assemble together the people of God. We are not surprised, then, when a new Son of David makes this climactic pronouncement:
“I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
After all, that word “church,” or ekklesia, is the same word that the Greek translation of the OT uses for the “assembly” of Israel. Jesus fulfills the Messianic profile found in Chronicles by assembling a New Covenant people. And this assembly cannot be stopped by all of Hell’s fury:
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
Through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10)
The assembly of the people of God was a marvelous thing, even a few times a year in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant. And now, in God’s wisdom and grace, he manifests his spiritual presence in unique and special ways in the Church (seeMatthew 18:17201 Corinthians 3:16), the regular assembly of New Covenant people across the world.
So when you make it to your pew on Sunday morning, you are encountering God. But in a remarkable way, you are doing so with others. Worshiping God shoulder-to-shoulder is one of the greatest joys of covenant relationship with God.

Honoring the Host

It might help to think of an analogy. If you host a dinner party and invite a few friends from different social circles, how disappointing would it be if your friends only chose to interact with you? One of the great joys of hosting is connecting people you love to one another.
We worship Jesus together.
When we treat corporate worship like it’s our private meeting with God, we not only dishonor our great Host, but we rob ourselves of the joy of sharing our mutual love for the King who has invited us to his banquet. Only we gather not from different social circles, but from every tribe, tongue, people, and family (Revelation 5:9). We honor the host when we say with that famous Assembler King, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).
Don’t neglect the great gift of the covenant. We worship Jesus together.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kingdom Shrewdness

Jon Bloom post: Be Generous with Your Master's Money

Jesus once told his disciples an odd parable where he used a dishonest manager as an example of how we should be shrewd with our money. What did he mean? Imagine his disciples Simon (the Zealot) and Matthew (the tax collector) discussing this parable.
“Matthew, you know more about these things than I do. Why did the Master commend the dishonest manager’s shrewdness?”
Simon’s question stung a little, and Matthew’s look said so.
“Oh. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” said an embarrassed Simon.
Simon and Matthew were unlikely friends. And they hadn’t liked each other much in the beginning.
Simon had been a zealot with a lethal hatred of the Romans. He had once sworn himself to the sacred cause of driving them out of Israel. But even more than the Romans, Simon loathed Jews who helped the Emperor subjugate and pillage God’s people. Jews like Matthew.
Matthew had collected taxes for Rome — and himself. He had simply seen it as a shrewd and lucrative career move. Prior to Jesus calling him from his booth, Matthew had had zero time for the idealism of foolish zealots like Simon. Theirs was a utopic delusion — a handful of angry Jews taking on Caesar’s legions. It was a death wish, an appointment with a Roman cross.
Now the former zealot and former tax collector were fast friends. Only Jesus could have made that happen.
“What did you mean?” Matthew asked.
“I just meant . . . you used to be . . .”
“A shrewd dishonest manager?”
“I’m not saying you were just like . . .”
“Stop tripping over yourself, Simon,” said Matthew, laying aside the vestiges of his pride. “I was every bit as shrewdly dishonest and worse. I know it. It’s just painful to remember what I used to be. So which master are you saying commended the manager?”
“Well, that’s where I’m confused,” replied Simon. “It almost sounded like Jesus commended the self-protective actions of the manager. But I know that’s not right. How is this corrupt scoundrel supposed to be an example for ‘the sons of light’?”
Matthew smiled and said, “Generosity.”
“Generosity?” said Simon incredulously. “The only thing he was generous with was his master’s money!”
“Exactly. Simon, that’s our Master’s point. The manager used his master’s money to win favor with those who could provide him a place to live when he lost his job.”
“And that’s supposed to be a good thing?” said Simon, confused.
“No, Jesus isn’t saying the man’s dishonesty was good. He’s saying that, as a ‘son of this world,’ the man knew how this world works. He used worldly shrewdness so he wouldn’t be homeless, and even his worldly master appreciated his cunning. Jesus is saying that the ‘sons of light’ need to be at least as shrewd about how the kingdom works.”
“Which is completely different,” said Simon.
“Completely,” agreed Matthew. “But what we do is similar to what the dishonest manager did.”
“You mean we’re generous with our Master’s money.”
Simon thought for a moment. “So, in a sense it’s another way of saying, ‘sell your possessions, and give to the needy’ so that we will have ‘a treasure in the heavens that does not fail’ (Luke 12:33). Shrewd ‘sons of light’ give away ‘unrighteous wealth’ and make friends of God, who is our eternal dwelling (Deuteronomy 33:27).”
“Exactly. That’s the financial shrewdness our Master commends.”

Our heavenly Master has made us all managers of “unrighteous wealth” (Luke 16:9). As John Piper says,
The possession of money in this world is a test run for eternity. Can you pass the test of faithfulness with your money? Do you use it as a means of proving the worth of God and the joy you have in supporting his cause? Or does the way you use it prove that what you really enjoy is things, not God? (“Preparing to Receive Christ”)
These are questions we all must ask ourselves, because Jesus wants us to be shrewd with our money (Luke 16:8–9). Kingdom shrewdness looks like this:
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32–34)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sinners Who Need a Savior

Matthew Westerholm post: Three Reasons to Attend Corporate Worship

“Why do we have to go to church again?”
Children ask this question on a semi-regular basis. I know my three boys have given me many opportunities to answer it. As a worship pastor, I am embarrassed to admit that I have found myself facing another service and asking the same question: Why again? Did we fail last week, or do it wrong? Was last week’s service not enough?
I have not always had good answers at hand, beyond a biblical command not to neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), but over time I’ve drawn encouragement from a broader view of Scripture and godly Christian authors. Having faced the challenge to frame those encouragements in ways that kids can understand, and my own heart will accept, allow me to pass on my best three answers:
So why should we attend corporate worship?

1. Because Jesus is alive.

We are going to church today because Jesus is alive. You may not remember this, but Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. As the news spread, all of his friends spent that whole day telling each other the story and talking about what it all meant. They named it “The Lord’s Day.” It was a thrilling way to spend the day, and so they decided to do it again the next week. And every week ever since for two thousand years.
So, think of it like your birthday. The day you were born is so special to the people who love you that we celebrate it every single year. The day that Jesus rose from the dead is so special to the people who love him that we celebrate it every single week.

2. Because we want to remember and practice the gospel.

We are going to church today to remember and practice the gospel. Some words are easier to learn than others. It seems that no one needs to teach us words like “mine” and “no!” Other words are more difficult and take a lot of time to learn — words like “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.” But those words are also important and we need to learn them.
Church is a place where we can practice these words in the most important ways. We can see our sin and what it means, we can feel regret in our hearts and say, “I’m sorry, God, for sinning against you.” We can hear his words of forgiveness to us and say, “Thank you, Jesus, for saving me.”
And just like we don’t always feel sorry or thankful when we say these words, sometimes our broken hearts don’t feel sorrow for our sin or thankfulness for our Savior. But we gather together to ask the Lord to mend those hearts and to help us feel the truth of what we are saying. And we see the words that used to be natural — “mine” and “no!” — become harder and harder to say.

3. Because we want to learn to love people different from us.

We are going to church today to love people who are different from us. Almost everybody only wants to spend time with people who they feel most comfortable around. People generally want to hang out with people who have their same amount of money, have the same skin color, are their same age, like the same food, and watch the same TV shows. Other kinds of people are strange to them.
But there is a big danger with that, because the world is filled with many people who are very different. If we only spend time with people like ourselves, we will be tricked into believing that we are better than those who are not like us.
“The most basic thing about us is that we are sinners who need a Savior.”
At its best, our church helps us avoid that problem. It reminds us that, fundamentally, the most basic thing about us is not our money, our skin color, our age, or our favorite tastes. The most basic thing about us is that we are sinners who need a Savior. Because of that, our church is filled with people who are different from us, all of us learning that we are not better than others, but are all in need of the same grace.
We gather with strange people and remember that we are also strange, and recognize that the gospel reunites estranged people with their God.