Tuesday, June 30, 2015

God Is Not Limited

Don Carson post:  Joshua 2; Psalms 123-125; Isaiah 62; Matthew 10

I ONCE HEARD A LEARNED SOCIOLOGIST, by confession an evangelical, explain with considerable erudition why even a major revival, should the Lord choose to send one to a country like America, could not possibly speedily transform the nation. The problem is not simply the degree of biblical illiteracy in the controlling echelons of society, or the extent to which secularization has penetrated the media, or the history of the Supreme Court decisions that have affected the curricula and textbooks of our schools, and countless other items, but also how these various developments interlock. Even if, say, a million people became Christians in a very short space of time, none of the interlocking social structures and cultural values would thereby be undone.
To be fair to this scholar, he was trying, in part, to steer us away from shallow thinking that fosters a glib view of religion and revival — as if a good revival would exempt us from the responsibility to think comprehensively and transform the culture.
The element that is most seriously lacking from this analysis, however, is the sheer sweep of God’s sovereignty. The analysis of this sociologist colleague is reductionistic. It is as if he thinks in largely naturalistic categories, but leaves a little corner for something fairly weak (though admittedly supernatural) like regeneration. Not for a moment am I suggesting that God does not normally work through means that follow the regularities of the structures God himself has created. But it is vital to insist that God is not ever limited to such regularities. Above all, the Bible repeatedly speaks of times when, on the one hand, he sends confusion or fear on whole nations, or, on the other, he so transforms people by writing his Law on their heart that they long to please him. We are dealing with a God who is not limited by the machinations of the media. He is quite capable of so intruding that in judgment or grace he sovereignly controls what people think.
As early as the Song of Moses and Miriam, God is praised for the way he sends fear among the nations along whose borders Israel must pass on the way to the Promised Land (Ex. 15:15-16). Indeed, God promises to do just that (Ex. 23:27), and promises the same for the Canaanites (Deut. 2:25). So it should not be surprising to find the evidence of it as the Israelites approach their first walled town (Josh. 2:8-11; cf. Josh. 5:1).
God may normally work through ordinary means. But he is not limited by them. That is why all the military muscle in the world cannot itself guarantee victory, and all the secularization, postmodernism, naturalism, and paganism in the world cannot by themselves prevent revival. Let God be God.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Prevailing Prayer

Steven Dilla Park Forum: TBT: Prevailing Prayer in Times of National Trouble
Psalm 119.90Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. 
TBT: Prevailing Prayer in Times of National Trouble | by John Collins (c. 1632–1687)
Human strength and human wisdom may be able to do little; the power and policy of enemies may be too hard for the wisdom and strength of the godly: but when you can do least yourselves, you may engage God, by prayer, to do most. “He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength.”
Think, how many times have the prayers of the saints prevailed with God in the like cases. Moses’s prayers prevailed to deliver Israel, when the Egyptians so closely pursued them: “Why do you cry to me?” and at other times. Asa’s prayer prevailed against Zerah and his Ethiopian army, and Jehoshaphat’s against the Ammonites.
And if prayer has been so prevalent, why may it not be so still? It is an old, tried means, which has not failed: do not say that these were more eminent saints, and so could do more with God by prayer than you can. You have the same God to pray to that they had, and he delights as much in prayer now as then he did, and can do as much for us as he could for them.
You pray with the same kind of faith that they did. Your faith is grounded on the same promises; they are still the same. The Mediator, who is to present your petitions to God, is still the same. His interest in those that fear him, and his concern for them, is still the same as it was. Then why wouldn’t prayer prevail as much now as formerly?
If you do prevail, it will be both your honor and comfort, to have been instrumental in keeping off public judgments, and procuring public mercies. So far as your prayers have been of use for the obtaining such mercies, so far they are your mercies, and you will have comfort in them. Any mercy is sweet, when obtained by prayer; much more, such as are of advantage to others as well as yourselves. 
If you should not prevail for public deliverance your prayers shall not be lost. They shall “return into your own bosom,” in deliverance for yourselves. It will be no small comfort to have done your duty and to suffer without the guilt of negligence. 
If you that are godly do not prevail in prayer, none else are likely to do it.

Never Out of Fashion

What you say goes, God,
    and stays, as permanent as the heavens.
Your truth never goes out of fashion;
    it’s as up-to-date as the earth when the sun comes up.
Your Word and truth are dependable as ever;
    that’s what you ordered—you set the earth going.
If your revelation hadn’t delighted me so,
    I would have given up when the hard times came.
But I’ll never forget the advice you gave me;
    you saved my life with those wise words.
Save me! I’m all yours.
    I look high and low for your words of wisdom.
The wicked lie in ambush to destroy me,
    but I’m only concerned with your plans for me.
I see the limits to everything human,
    but the horizons can’t contain your commands!

Ps 119:89-96(MSG)

Thursday, June 25, 2015


David Mathis: Workers for Your Joy

We live in a society that has become painfully skeptical about leadership — some of it for good reason.
Stories of use and abuse abound, and the letdowns make for big headlines. We all have felt the sting of being let down by some leader in whom we had placed our trust. The pain and confusion are real. The wounds can be deep. We learn to guard ourselves from future disappointment, and cynicism feels like a trustworthy shield.
But the high-profile failures of famous leaders can mask the true source of our discontent with being led: our love affair with self and autonomy. And coupled with it is a distorted sense of what leadership is. When leadership has become a symbol of status, achievement, and privilege, we’re happy to be leaders ourselves and get our way, but we’re reluctant to grant anyone else that place over us.

Led by God Through Leaders

Into such confusion, the Christian faith speaks a different message. You need leadership. It is for your good. You were designed to be led. Yes, ultimately by God — through the God-man who wields all authority at the Father’s right hand. But there is more.
The risen Christ has appointed that there be human leaders on the ground in his church. Precious as the priesthood of all believers is — a remarkable truth that was radically counter-cultural from the first century until the Reformation — today we have a growing need to articulate afresh the nature, and goodness, of leadership in the local church.

A Christian Vision of Leadership

One of the ways Christ governs his church, and blesses her, is by giving her the gift of leaders: “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12).
The mention of “shepherds and teachers” is of special significance, because that includes the pastor(s) of your local church. You’ve never met one of Jesus’s apostles, but chances are you know a pastor. Pastors are a gift from Christ to guide and keep his church today.
Are they flawed? Yes. Sinful? Absolutely. Have some pastors made terrible mistakes, fleeced their flocks, and injured the very ones they were commissioned to protect? Sadly, yes, too many have. But it is not because they were fulfilling the vision of what true Christian leadership is, but because they were falling short of it. In fact, their failures show — by contrast — what real leadership in the church should be.

Leaders Are for Your Joy

The letter to the Hebrews gives this important glimpse into the dynamic of Christian leadership:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
Here is a beautiful, marriage-like vision of the relationship between the church and her leaders. The leaders, for their part, labor for the advantage — the profit — of the church. And the church, for her part, wants her leaders to work happily, not with groaning, because the pastors’ joy in leading will be for the church’s own benefit. The people want their leaders to labor with joy because they know their leaders are working for theirs.
Leaders in the church, then, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:24, are workers for your joy. Christ gives leaders to his people for their joy. That turns the world’s paradigm for leadership upside down.

For Your Advance and Advantage

Paul saw himself as such worker for joy in the lives of the Philippians. “I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25–26).
He saw his leadership as a laboring for the church’s “progress and joy in the faith.” How eager, then, must the people have been to submit to such a leader? It drastically changes the prospect of submitting to a leader when you know he isn’t pursuing his own private good, but genuinely seeking what is best for you, what will give you your deepest and more enduring joy. “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).
You who are skeptical of leaders in general, what if you knew that “those who are over you in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:12) were not in it to stroke their ego, or garner private privilege, or assert their will to control others, but actively were laying aside their rights and comforts to self-sacrificially take initiative and expend energy in working for your joy?
And you who are leaders in the church or in the home or in the marketplace, what if those under your care were convinced — deeply convinced — that your place of authority was not for self-aggrandizement or self-promotion, but that you were working for their joy? That your joy in leadership was not a selfish joy, but a satisfaction you were finding in the joy of those whom you lead?

No Greater Joy

Leaders taste the greatest joy when they truly look out for the interests of others — when they do everything in their power to bring about the thriving and flourishing of those in their care. They know the delight of the apostle who says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). They can say, “What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19–20).
When undershepherds in the church show themselves to be workers for the true joy of their flocks, they walk in the steps of the Great Shepherd — the great Worker for your joy — the one who tells us to pray “that your joy may be full” (John 16:24), and speaks to us “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11; also John 17:13).
Christian leadership exists for the joy of the church. Such a vision changes everything, first for pastors and then for their people.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Faith and Work Movement

Bethany Jenkins: What Nashville and Denver Have in Common

As I picked up my mild drip coffee, I asked the Whole Foods barista where I could find the milk and sugar. “Behind you,” he replied. “Right under the guitar.” Turning around, I looked up to see a colorful guitar mounted on the wall. Yep, I thought. I must be in Nashville.
Despite the number of decorative guitars strewn throughout the city, and the popular TV show that bears its name, “Music City” isn’t a company town, and country isn’t its only tune. Every day, almost 900,000 Nashvillians go to work at health care companies, universities, government offices, banks, and elsewhere, making it the 14th best-performing city in the U.S.
To drive from Nashville to the 12th city on the list, Denver, you only need two roads, I-24 and I-70—and 16 hours. The “Mile High City” sits between the Rockies and the High Plains, an ideal spot for tourism to flourish. With even more economic opportunities than Nashville, Denver has almost 1.5 million people working in high-tech, manufacturing, banking, mining, and more.
In the midst of these vibrant cities, where over 2 million people are deploying their vocational talents, a new trend in the faith and work (FAW) movement is emerging—and, unlike most faith and work initiatives of the past, the local church is at its center.

City-Wide, Church-Driven

After 30 years attending a church that “never once” asked him about his work, former sales manager Bill Diehl concluded his church didn’t have “the least interest” in whether or how he ministered in his daily work. That was 1976. By 2006, according to Dr. David Miller, not much had changed. Instead of waiting on local churches to care about their work, though, practitioners launched their own FAW groups apart from the local church.
Miller acknowledged the dangers and limitations of the faith and work movement being isolated from the church, but he imagined only two ways for churches to get involved—either “develop an in-house FAW group” or “participate in an existing group.” Churches in Denver in Nashville, though, are trailblazing a third way.
Jeff Haanen, a graduate of Denver Seminary and former pastor of a Spanish-speaking church in Colorado, heads the Denver Institute for Faith and Work (DIFW). Launched in January 2014, DIFW isn’t an in-house FAW initiative (like Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith & Work), but it’s not strictly a parachurch organization either.
“We’re driven by small local churches in Denver who otherwise wouldn’t be able to dedicate resources to faith and work,” Haanen explains. To date, 15 local churches are in the network, and 9 pastors sit on the church advisory council. “We don’t say to churches, ‘Send your people to us,’ but, ‘How can we support you in your work?’” Haanen says. That perspective drives how many, and what type of, events and conversations they host.
In Nashville, Missy Wallace directs the Nashville Institute for Faith & Work (NIFW). Unlike Haanen, Wallace comes from a practitioner’s background, having received her BA from Vanderbilt and MBA from Northwestern and having worked 17 years in the corporate sector—from Chicago to Southeast Asia to New York.
Launched in May 2015, NFIW is currently housed at Christ Presbyterian Church, where Scott Sauls, author of Jesus Outside the Lines [review], serves as senior pastor. Yet they’re working to develop a city-wide partnership with other gospel-driven churches in the area. For example, their Gotham Fellowship, which starts this fall, is “intentionally ecumenical” in order to serve “the diverse and complex culture of Nashville.”

Something to Celebrate

What drives most people to engage in the FAW conversation is a longing to live a holistic, integrated life in which they can live out their faith at work. Such integration has significant ethical and moral implications at a personal level, but can also impact economies and communities on a city level, as we seek the common good of our neighbors.
Imagine if all Christians in Nashville and Denver went to work every day with a robust understanding of how they might honor God and love their neighbor through their work. If they got passed over for a promotion, would they respond differently because they’d know they’re adopted children of God, who has given them all things for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3)? Would their relationships with co-workers change because they’d embrace the freedom of self-forgetfulness? Would their deals be fairer because they know God delights in justice?
When this conversation is disconnected from the local church, two things happen. First, Christians (like Bill Diehl) get the message that the church doesn’t care whether or how practitioners minister in their daily work; all it cares about is how they contribute to the church’s in-house ministries. Second, practitioners don’t get equipped with the deep implications of the gospel on their work—and, in a culture where pizza restaurant owners are forced to shut down their businesses because they’re trying to integrate their faith and work, practitioners desperately need the tools and counsel to process these questions.

What’s happening, then, in Nashville and Denver is something to celebrate. For the most part, the past 40 years in the FAW movement have been marked by a distance from the local church. By God’s grace, though, the next 40 years—and beyond—will be marked by thoughtful and vibrant collaboration between practitioners and pastors.

Multiplied Grace and Peace

John Piper:  May Grace and Peace Be Multiplied to You

The apostle Paul starts all of his letters with the prayer that “grace and peace” will come to the reader. But he never uses a verb. He never says, “Grace and peace be to you,” or, “Grace and peace come to you.” He assumes the verb.
Peter makes it explicit. He begins both his letters, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” Paul would be very happy with this verb. It’s what he means when he says thirteen times, “Grace to you and peace.” The verb behind “be multiplied” is used twelve times in the New Testament and always means “increase” — move from lesser to greater.
There are at least seven important implications in these words for our lives.

1. Grace and peace are experienced.

Grace and peace are not only the objective status we enjoy before God. They are also the experiential enjoyment of that status. It is gloriously true that God made an objective peace between him and us by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:14–15). And he did it by a historical act of divine grace that was firm and unchangeable (Ephesians 2:8).
But Peter says that grace and peace are “multiplied” to us. They are not static. They are not only a status. Peter is offering to us, and praying for us, that weexperience an increase of grace and peace.
He does not mean that God is variable, as if he were a gracious God some days and not others. Nor does he mean that the objective status of peace between us and God comes and goes. If we stand in the unshakeable grace of God (Romans 5:2), and if we are reconciled to God in unchangeable peace (Romans 5:1), then what is multiplied to us is an increased and deepened experience of grace and peace. This reality is not simply status. It is the overflow of status in serenity, strength, and sweetness.

2. Grace and peace vary in measure in our lives.

That is what the word “multiply” means. “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” May there be an increase of grace and peace in your experience. Grace and peace are not static. They go up and down in our lives.
Hour by hour, and day by day, our enjoyment of grace and peace changes. It ebbs and flows. One moment we are carried by a wave of grace into a harbor of peace. An hour later, after a painful phone call, we are storm-tossed out of sight of land again. That is reality. We need to own it and seek continually to receive the gift of these words: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” New measures for new moments.

3. There is always more grace and peace to be enjoyed.

Paul and Peter never assume your present experience of grace and peace cannot or should not be increased. They assume the opposite. They do not say, or imply, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you, unless you have all there is to have.” You never have all there is to have. That’s why this prayer is at the beginning of every letter. You always need more grace, more peace.
Piper: “Every day, we need new measures of grace and peace for new moments.”
Since Paul doesn’t use a verb (“grace to you and peace”), you might try to water down his meaning to something like: “I pray you are now enjoying grace and peace.” No increase implied. You would try in vain. The word “to you” implies movement. Grace and peace are on the way. More is coming.
With Peter, there is no doubt what he means. He makes it explicit with a verb. The word “be multiplied” means “be increased,” “be more,” “be expanded.” He assumes we need more grace and peace. And we do. In this life we will never be able to say, “I have arrived. I have all the grace and peace I can use.” No you don’t. If there is more coming, you can have more. And you need more.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). The Christian life is not static. It is movement. We are growing in grace and peace, or we are going backward.
Real life in a fallen world is a river. You go upstream with growth, or you go downstream. There’s no standing still. Your anchor is not straight down. It’s in heaven (Hebrews 6:19) — the headwaters. And it is pulling you in.

4. Grace and peace are multiplied by God.

Peter uses the passive voice, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” The implied actor is God. We are stewards of “God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace does not just happen, it comes from God. “God gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Peter’s prayer is that Godact. “May God multiply grace to you and peace!”

5. Grace and peace are multiplied by God through human means.

If God did this multiplication without respect to human means, Peter would not say these words. They would be pointless. He says them because he believes his words are God’s means of multiplying grace and peace.
We need to see this truth because of how common it is today to think of grace only as unconditional. There is unconditional grace and there is conditional grace. Paul speaks of the “election of grace” (Romans 11:5). That grace is unconditional. God’s election is not a response to conditions we can meet.
But there is grace that is a response to conditions we meet: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). God responds to humility with more grace. Humility is a condition of receiving this grace.
Of course, humility itself is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). But the fact that “God is at work in you to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) does not lessen your responsibility to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12). In other words, to say that receiving some grace has conditions does not mean we are left to fulfill the conditions by ourselves. “Command what you will, and grant what you command” (St. Augustine).
But it is a serious mistake to bring in the doctrine of justification at this point in a way that says, “Christ fulfilled the conditions of God’s blessing, so we don’t have to.” Christ performed some conditions in our place; namely, the ones necessary for God to be 100% for us in spite of our sin. But when he died, he also obtained for us the gift of the Spirit by which we fulfill other conditions for “multiplied” grace and peace. That is what Peter and Paul are praying for.

6. One means of multiplied grace and peace is prayer.

The unique thing about a spoken blessing is that it is bi-directional. It is addressed both to man and God. When we say, “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24), we are asking the Lord (vertically) to bless you (horizontally). So it is with Peter’s words, “May grace and peace be multiplied (by God) to you.” God is being addressed. And the church is being addressed.
And these words are not spoken in vain. Peter speaks them because he believes they matter. They are a means of bringing about what they aim at. They aim at more grace and more peace. So Peter believes that asking God to do this work will in fact be an instrument in bringing it about. God answers prayer. We should believe that too when we say these words over ourselves or others.

7. Another means of multiplied grace and peace is the epistle these words introduce.

It is astonishing that Paul begins every letter with some form of “grace be to you,” and ends every letter with some form of “grace be with you.” “To you” at the beginning. “With you” at the end. This pattern is unvarying. Why?
My suggestion is that at the beginning the letter is about to be read. And in being read, grace and peace will come to us. The letter itself — the word of God — will be the means of multiplying grace and peace to us. Then, at the end of the letter, Paul sees us leaving our encounter with the word and going out into the world, and he prays that grace go with us.
Peter confirms this understanding. In 2 Peter 1:2, he says explicitly that grace and peace are going to come “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). In other words, not only am I praying for grace and peace to increase, I am writing a letter to give knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as kindling for the fire of this increase.


God always has more grace and more peace for you to experience. He has appointed that you experience it “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ.” He has inspired Scripture to bring you this multiplied grace and peace. Therefore, to experience these overflowing increases of grace and peace in your life, give yourself to this book. And as you listen to him, pray.