Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pray and Not Lose Heart

Jon Bloom:  A Picture of Prevailing Prayer

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Bartimaeus was blind. And his soul-weariness over his blindness was beyond description. As soon as he understood that it was Jesus passing by, he began shouting to him. He did not want the Son of David to pass him by, not without giving him what he so longed for.
His first shouts got no response from Jesus. But he did get a bunch of “be quiets!” from nearby Jesus watchers. Bartimaeus was not about to be quiet though, not when the one person who had the power to give him sight was this close.
This was no time for courtesy. This was no time to observe the social taboo of blind beggars violating a holy rabbi’s sacred space. This was no time for the passive fatalism of “I guess God just doesn’t listen to me.”
No, this was a time for desperation. This was a time for prevailing. This was a time for holy demanding. If the Son of David wasn’t hearing his shouts, then Bartimaeus was going to shout louder. He was going to be heard. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Suddenly the rebukes stopped. The crowd buzz quieted. Adrenaline flashed through Bartimaeus when someone said to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” He leaped up and fairly pushed his guide to wherever Jesus was.
When the guide stopped, a voice spoke: “What do you want me to do for you?” The voice was patient and kind but confident like nothing Bartimaeus had never heard before. The words seemed to rest on immovable authority, as if Mount Zion were speaking.
Bartimaeus suddenly felt his unworthiness to address Jesus. He now spoke his desperation with deference. “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”
There was a silent pause. Bartimaeus’s heart was pounding; his palms were clammy.
Then the voice spoke again: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Before the words had finished Bartimaeus could feel a strange sensation in his eyes. Revived optical nerves detected first brightness, then swimming images. Could it be? Tear ducts began to overflow, both to lubricate the conjunctiva and to express a joy just dawning after darkness. As his pupils contracted from the brilliance of the midday sun, Bartimaeus rubbed his eyes.
When he opened them again, Bartimaeus was looking into the intense eyes of a young man. A wave of dissonance passed over him. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but Jesus somehow didn’t look like he had expected. The extraordinary voice was housed in a man who looked surprisingly ordinary. He looked like . . . a man. Then he noticed all searching eyes in all the faces surrounding him. And then a cheer went up from those who could see that the blind man could see.
When Bartimaeus looked back at the Son of David, he saw his back. Jesus was already headed toward Jerusalem. His words, “Go your way,” were still ringing in Bartimaeus’s ears. It took no time for him to decide that Jesus was now his way.

Bartimaeus Teaches Us How to Pray

Bartimaeus teaches us something very important about prayer. This story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46–52) is a picture of prevailing prayer, not in its time scale, but in its dynamics.
Real prayer begins with real desire, often with real desperation. We cry to God, but he does not seem to respond. We are discouraged by circumstances, and sometimes by people, from continuing to ask. How does God want us to respond to this? He wants us to keep asking and cry out louder!
Don’t be polite in prayer. God is not looking for polite prayers — he is looking for persistent, prevailing prayers. The widow’s persistence in Luke 18:1–8, the nagging that irritated the unrighteous judge into action, is precisely the quality God is encouraging in us. He’s looking for those willing to “cry to him day and night” (Luke 18:7). He’s looking for desperate Bartimaeus’s who will insist on being heard, who won’t take a non-response for an answer. He’s looking for those who will “always . . . pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). He’s looking to “find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8).
Hear this amazing question from Jesus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Do you know? What are you desperate for? Don’t be vague, be specific. Don’t be reticent, be bold. The Son of David is near. Follow Bartimaeus’s example and do not let him pass without giving you an answer. Whatever his answer is, it will open our eyes to mind-blowing glory.
God promises to give justice to his prayerfully persistent elect speedily (Luke 18:8). We’ll let him define what “speedily” is. For our part, let us determine to cry out louder, to cry night and day, to nag him incessantly in faith until he answers us. He loves that kind of faith.

Monday, September 28, 2015

He Never Wastes a Drop of Pain

Landry Fields post:  Injury Interrupted My Idolatry

If you struggle to believe God loves you, and God just keeps bringing trials into your life, don’t panic. They’re more related than you realize.
I hobbled on one crutch to grip my cell phone from my back pocket. I was a starter for the New York Knicks and then the Toronto Raptors. And then I got injured, and then injured again, and then injured again. An elbow, a hand, a hip — an unholy trinity that slowly, progressively, and painfully dragged away my ability to play basketball for several seasons. My dream, my deepest desire, my identity were all suddenly in danger. It felt like life had been written in dry-erase marker, and God came and smudged what had been clear before. Once a star basketball player in Madison Square Garden, and now through three years of unplanned, unwanted physical issues, in my house straining just to check my phone.
John Piper’s tweet grabbed my attention: “NFL player Garrett Gilkey blew out his knee last night. He writes about God’s ‘grand and glorious sovereignty.’” Click. Like a rescue worker down in a sunken-in mine, God seized my soul from the death of sin and despair.

What Is God Doing?

I’ve never struggled to believe in God. But I’ve lived a lot of my life as a person who believes in God, but lives as if he doesn’t exist. I already had a “gospel” of my own — the promise that love and wealth are the world’s to give to the popular and gifted. I didn’t need to trust God, because I already trusted another god: the NBA.
Three years ago, Christ slowly started to change all of that. God gave me a gift through multiple season-ending injuries. In the same way that God gifted Garrettjoy through his suffering, God gifted me faith through my suffering.
That’s how God works. He never wastes a drop of pain. If you’re in the midst of suffering — especially if it’s long-term, complex, or confusing — here are three gifts of faith that grow out of suffering in ways that will last (1 Corinthians 3:15).

A True Faith

Through suffering, God molds in us “godly sorrow that brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is the funeral that God puts on for our idols. God lets us feel the pain of loss so that we can experience the joy of him carrying our burdens (Matthew 11:30).
Suffering is the hook that God uses to bring us back to himself, collapsed and tired from slaving for sin, which Jonathan Edwards calls our “cruel task-master, which oppresses and chastises.” It’s the earthquake that exposes idols and dethrones sin in our hearts. When I was playing for the Knicks, I knew God existed and disapproved of the life I was living (overindulging in alcohol and sexual promiscuity), but I preached a gospel of cheap grace to make myself feel better. With the injuries, God exposed that I was relying on something other than grace painted to look like grace — a cheap grace that was as useful for my suffering as a cardboard cutout of Jesus.
When the injuries came, I started reading Scripture. I had the odd, unsettling thought, “I don’t think I’m really saved.” I read in James, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). My casual Christianity needed to be told, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” (James 2:19).
God dims the light of our life with suffering, so that our hearts embrace a grace that really sustains. Suffering is a time to mourn the loss of that which could never save.

A Better Hope

Like a meticulous watchmaker, God folded true faith into me through the creases of suffering, through all of the injuries, the waiting, and the disappointment. Not all at once, but day after day, over the course of years, God brought new clarity. The joy that God gives in suffering is a game-changer. It changes pain. It drastically transforms the first sixty seconds of your day. It course-corrects the next sixty years of your life.
My three years (and counting) of injuries have given me a chance to see just how much basketball was my gospel. By God’s grace, he’s transforming me into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). My suffering made me ask, “Why would I put all my joy, hope, and future in something that won’t last?” The only thing that lasts in this life is Christ. I started putting all my joy, hope, and life in God’s hands.

A Humble Heart

I call my first season of injuries, “The Wilderness.” Three years ago, I was getting injured on the court. And off the court, my girlfriend became pregnant. By God’s grace, now she’s my wife, but we had only been dating for a few months at the time. At the time, I didn’t know what to do.
God has made life harder for me than I ever would have chosen for myself. And he has made life happier for me than I ever could have chosen for myself as a selfish, short-minded sinner.
Through suffering, God gives us humility. When I first started getting injured, I prayed, “God, leave it up to me, and leave me alone.” Now, I pray, “Thank you, Lord, for doing this and driving me back to you.” Suffering magnifies Christ to me, and in me, and through me. I’m thankful for my injured elbow, hand, and hip, because they make me depend on God in a way that I never would have without them.

The Blessing of Brokenness

Suffering is beautiful because it sets us free. Now, my wife is a believer. We’re raising our son to love Jesus. God’s continuing his work on my heart through the latest hip surgery. My faith is in a God who is sovereign, who is sanctifying me, and who gives me the gift of himself through sufferings and joys in this life.
Suffering has made the gospel real to me. And God will use suffering to make the gospel real to you too. If you’re going through something painful or difficult, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. It means God wants to win you to true faith in him, a better hope in his salvation, and deep humility and joy in his grace.

Adopted Sons and Daughters

Steven Dilla at Park Forum:  The Spirit of Adoption

Galatians 4.5[Christ redeemed] those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The borrowed use of the word adoption in the context of new technology and puppies has diffused our understanding of an ancient concept once associated with honor and legacy. Adoption for the purpose of redefining family and future was common in ancient Rome; records recovered from the ashes of Pompeii reveal nearly one in every ten city senators grew up in adoptive homes.
In Roman adoption the adoptee legally rescinds their past — canceling debts and expunging records — and receives a future defined by the rights, status, and inheritance of their adoptive family.
Adoption ceremonies in Roman Culture began with the adoptive father paying the price for the adoption. The name of this part of the ceremony, mancipatio, shares a root from which we derive the English word emancipation. Because of the price paid in mancipatio, the past no longer held sway over the adoptee’s future.

The adoption ceremony continued with a legal justification for the transference of fatherhood. This presentation placed the adoptee under the rights and record of the new father — including giving the new child full rights to participate in the inheritance. For most adoptees in Roman culture this was a significant step up — so much so the Romans called this part of the ceremony vindicatio — vindication.
The message of the New Testament announces to Christians the price God paid for our adoption. The Holy Spirit, through Paul’s words in the first part of Romans, lays out the legal argument both for our emancipation as well as our vindication and future.
Because of Christ’s work we can rest in the rights, status, and inheritance of our adoptive family. The Scriptures assure us:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. — Colossians 3.1-3
The modern cultural desire to imbue consumption (of devices, animals, or otherwise) with the deeper meaning of adoption should not only make us leery of ascribing unnecessary value to the temporal, but point us toward the richness of our lives as adopted sons and daughters of the King.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Seek First the Kingdom

Jon Bloom:  Unlock God's Storehouse of Grace

Nothing will deplete your faith like looking at what you lack.
I find that the more I fixate on my lack of resources, the strengths I don’t have, the weaknesses I do have, the heavier the weight of unbelief becomes and the harder the race of faith becomes (Hebrews 12:1).
Looking at a deficit fuels our fear and drains our hope. A deficit says we don’t have enough to make the payment, meet the need, make the deadline, preach the sermon, fix the marriage, instruct the child, counsel that hard case, defeat the sin, or overcome the weakness. We don’t take risks with a deficit in view.
Looking at a surplus, on the other hand, fuels our courage and fills us with hope. A surplus means there is more than enough to meet our needs. And a surplus encourages expansive dreaming and generosity toward others.

You Have No Deficit

Left to ourselves, we have deficits that are horrifyingly real. Without God in this world we would have very good reason to feel hopeless (Ephesians 2:12).
But the good news is that if you’re a Christian, you no longer have any deficits. None. Christ not only paid your unfathomable sin debt (Colossians 2:14), he also purchased for you “all things” (Romans 8:32). That’s all things! What you have is an oil jar of God’s provision that will never run out (1 Kings 17:14). You have a bank account you cannot overdraw.
If this hasn’t been our experience, we are tempted to qualify this nearly incredible claim. But we cannot qualify it and be faithful to the Bible. This is not some prosperity theology’s over-realized eschatology. It’s what the Bible unequivocally and unapologetically tells us we should expect to experience right now in this age:
And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
They are astounding promises. They aren’t promises of unfailing health (Philippians 2:25–27) or extravagant wealth (Philippians 4:12). But they promise that God will provide for every need so that we will abound in every good work and be “enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

The Key to the Storehouse

These promises of provision are unequivocal and unapologetic, but they are not unconditional. The condition is faith (Matthew 17:20John 11:40James 1:5–7). We open the jar of God’s provision and access God’s bottomless bank account by exercising faith. We must act on the promises, or their contents remain untapped.
Unbelief looks at what we perceive to be a deficit and loses heart. Unbelief doesn’t think there will be anything in the jar and so doesn’t open it. Unbelief doesn’t think the funds in the account will be available and so doesn’t draw against them.
Unbelief can exist with alarming ease alongside an assent to sound doctrine. We can affirm the truth of these promises, but if we are unwilling to act on them they do us no good. Because we don’t in fact believe them.
In these promises, God shows us his storehouse of abounding provision. Faith is the key that opens the storehouse. And God wants us to open his storehouse! He wants us to have his abounding grace! Yet he requires faith because “without faith it is impossible to please him . . . [but] he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Stop the Deficit Review

Now, if you’re like me, at this point you say, “I know! But telling me that I don’t have enough faith doesn’t help me have more. It just shows me my deficit and makes me feel defeated! Show me how to have more faith!”
Good! When we’re sick and tired of being a disciple with “little faith” (Luke 12:28), we’re ready to take steps to change.
And change begins by stopping our deficit review. We must stop looking at our lack: our lack of resources, wisdom, and power, even our lack of faith. Our deficits discourage and defeat. Our deficits deplete faith. That’s why Satan accuses you, tries to point out your bankruptcy, and overall encourages you to think about yourself as much as possible. He does not want you to look to Jesus and all the abounding grace that he purchased for you.

Seek First the Kingdom

But if we look to Jesus, he shows us how to increase our faith. First he says,
“Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:29–31)
Jesus tells us not to look at the world’s deficits, but to the Father’s kingdom. Make kingdom priorities our top priorities and he will provide every need of ours. What specific priorities? Ask God and look to the Scriptures. He will make that clear.
Then Jesus says,
“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)
Jesus tells us to exercise faith by actually divesting ourselves of our security idols and giving away more than we believe we can. Jesus’s challenge: Put the promise to the test and do not be afraid. Our Father delights in giving us the kingdom and all its treasures!
Lay aside the weight of your deficits by:
  • Looking away from deficits
  • Instead, look to your Source of abounding grace and never ending surplus, which is available to you right now
  • Seek the Father’s kingdom first
  • Take steps to liquidate your false securities and give with radical generosity.
God’s promise is that if we do this, we will see him act and our faith will increase.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Enter With Hopeful Heart

Phillip Holmes:  Enter with Eagerness and Expectancy

Church has been a part of my life since I was a kid. Anytime the church doors were open, we were there. Whether it was choir rehearsal, Bible study, prayer meeting, mid-week worship, Sunday school, or Sunday worship, my mom and grandmother made sure I was in attendance.
As I got older, they didn’t insist I attend every single function. I could occasionally skip meetings held during the week. But there were few excuses that could get me out of Sunday worship. Unfortunately, the Sunday service soon became routine, and I would come absent of any eagerness or expectancy.
For many Christians, the weekly repetition of Sunday worship has become mundane and monotonous. But the Lord’s Day is quite the opposite. It’s supernatural and exciting. The family of God is given the opportunity to come together and worship our Creator. We get to adore him through song, public reading of Scripture, preaching of the word, and the Lord’s Supper. This is a habit of grace, not to bore or burden us, but for our good. We should enter with eagerness and expectancy.

Eager to Meet God

When we wake up on Sunday morning, there is good reason to have an eagerness in our hearts to gather and worship with the saints. Sunday worship becomes routine for many because we forget, or fail to recognize, the privilege it is to worship the living God with members of the body of Christ. Therefore, we’re not eager to enter.
The night before service, stop and meditate on the reality that you know the only true and living God. His title alone has vast implications, and he’s more than worthy of our worship. The Scriptures reveal that God has always existed and sustains everything that currently exists (Colossians 1:17). He created everything out of nothing (Genesis 1:1) for himself (Colossians 1:16). Everything that you see around you belongs to him because the earth is his (Psalm 24:1–2) and he rules it all (Psalm 29:10). There is nothing he doesn’t understand, and he is never surprised. His wisdom and knowledge have no limit (Psalm 147:5), and he is able to do anything but fail (Matthew 19:26).
He reigns and rules over every aspect of our lives. Nothing is an accident, nor can anything happen to you that he has not ordained. Sickness, tragedy, pain, or want will never strike without his permission. Everything has a purpose that will result in his glory and our good.
Our awareness of his mere existence and our inability to exhaust his greatness should leave us in awe. But he isn’t detached — he’s near to us and expresses his goodness towards us.

Expecting to Experience Goodness

Many struggle to believe God is good. Others may be able to conceive that he is good to others, but struggle to believe that God will be good to them. We often personify God in the worst ways. We picture him as this angry critic that sits on his throne, annoyed by all of our imperfections and failures. If we’re honest, we believe that he withholds good things from us and is hardly concerned with what is going on in our lives. This can cause us to become disinterested in Sunday worship.
The Scriptures paint a strikingly different picture of God. The Book of Exodus tells the story of the people of Israel groaning because of their slavery. They cried out to God to rescue them from their misery. God’s response to his people should bring us great comfort:
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew (Exodus 2:23–25).
God was aware of the pain of his people and remembered the covenant that he made with their forefathers (Genesis 15:1446:4). He wasn’t distant or unconcerned. He saw what they were going through, knew their pain, and responded out of his goodness and grace.
The Scriptures loudly proclaim God’s goodness. The Psalmist says that everything that God is and does is good (Psalm 119:68). He is good to everyone and extends compassion that we don’t deserve (Psalm 107:1). He’s the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), and he blesses those who rest in him (Psalm 34:8).
As you prepare for worship, expect to experience the living God who is supremely good.

Expecting Change

Every Sunday, we have the privilege of hearing the gospel preached. The preaching of the word is vital because in it God is revealed and our lives are changed. When we enter worship, we should expect to leave differently than we entered. Why? The gospel is proclaimed in order to prepare “your minds for action” and “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
God is so good that he doesn’t just forgive our sin, but delivers us from our slavery to sin. His goodness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We have “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
So as you gather together with the church this weekend to worship, seek to come readily and with a hopeful heart, knowing that you get to meet with God and taste his goodness afresh. What is about to happen is supernatural and exciting. You get to worship God, and you can find comfort in the fact that your anxiety, guilt, weariness, and other struggles are not ultimate because you are in Christ.
Enter with eagerness and expectancy.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Trust Your Gardener

Jon Bloom post:  There Is Hope in Your Struggle for Light

In the tiny front yard of our little inner-city plot in Minneapolis live two crabapple trees. My wife and I bought them from the same nursery and planted them on the same day fourteen years ago. But if you were enjoying a late summer stroll down our street today and noticed them, you would wonder why these two trees look so different.
The tree just off the north corner of the house is the picture of a fine-looking young crab. It stands about fifteen feet high with branches spreading in pleasing proportion in all directions. It is just beginning to develop the familiar gnarled beauty of a mature crab tree. As summer gives way to autumn, almost every branch is hanging heavy with its beautiful, deep red fruit — so much fruit, in fact, that most of its leaves have dropped just to make room.
But the tree just off the south corner is much different. At first you might not think it a crab tree at all. It is nearly thirty feet tall and oddly slender. Its branches are full of leaves, and though it’s producing fruit in similar quantity to its north-side sister, the berries are growing almost entirely in the top third of the tree.
So why are these two crab trees so different?

The Altering Influence of Struggle

Actually, for their first seven years of life they weren’t much different at all. Both trees grew at similar rates and proportions. Then something happened that changed the life of the south-side crab. A mulberry tree began to grow in the hedge just a few feet away.
Our neighbors to the south had always carefully maintained the hedge. Then they moved, leaving me with hedge-trimming duty — and a problem. An embankment put the front end of the hedge out of my reach, even with my ladder. As I put off buying another ladder, the hedge front grew and in it the unforeseen mulberry.
This mulberry tree grew with amazing speed. But it began to look nice, drew lots of birds, and people even made mulberry jam from it. So I let it be. But the larger the mulberry became, the more it blocked sunlight from the young south-side crab tree. This forced the crab to struggle for nourishing sunrays. For years the mulberry adversity pushed the crab to grow oddly tall while its north-side sister grew “normally,” basking in unimpeded sun.

The Lord of the Mulberries

Perhaps you’ve had a mulberry in your past. It may be gone now, but its effects linger. And it has shaped you in ways you wouldn’t have chosen. You feel different, abnormal.
Or perhaps right now you’re living in the shadow of a mulberry, struggling for light. Jesus invites you to ask what you wish (John 15:7). He will give you what you ask in faith, for he is the Great Remover of mulberries (Luke 17:6), though do not be surprised if it feels like he’s taking too long.
But whether your mulberry is removed or you’re waiting for its removal, the Lord of the Mulberries is your gardener. Unlike me, he knows where the mulberries grow. He foresaw your mulberry, and therefore your unique growth is not an accident.
Your dimensions as a tree in the garden of God may look different from other trees, perhaps conspicuously so. But there are purposes in your dimensions (Romans 8:28). They will have unforeseen benefits, and you will still bear fruit as you trust your gardener (John 15:15). You also will have a unique ability to comfort those who are struggling against their mulberries (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

Remember the Mulberries and Be Patient

Those who pass our yard and observe the south-side crab tree may wonder why it is the way it is. So it is with us. Others who observe us, but don’t know our history of struggle, may misunderstand why we are the way we are.
Perhaps they have not dealt with a mulberry. Or more likely, their mulberry experience was different. They may not understand how our mulberry’s shadow affected our growth and so misunderstand our different dimensions. They might judge with wrong judgments and reach erroneous conclusions. We might do the same to them.
Past mulberries can result in painful present misinterpretations, so be careful. Remember the mulberry and the crab tree, and let love be patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). And rather than see each other’s atypical dimensions as defects, look for the gardener’s grace in them. Likely they have benefits we haven’t yet seen.
In the care of the Lord Gardener, all our mulberry struggles change us for good.