Sunday, January 31, 2016

Not for the Self-Sufficient

David Mathis:  All the Poor and Powerless

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.2 Corinthians 8:9
Christianity is not for the self-sufficient. It’s not a religion for the rich and the strong. Jesus didn’t come to comfort the well-to-do and rally those who have their lives all in order. He didn’t come to gather the good, but the bad. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).
This is one of the great paradoxes of the gospel. It is the poor he makes rich, the weak he makes strong, the foolish he makes wise, the guilty he makes righteous, the dirty he makes clean, the lonely he loves, the worthless he values, the lost he finds, the have-nots who stunningly become the haves — not mainly in this age, but in the new creation to come.

The Paradox of the Gospel

It is not the emotionally endowed that he blesses, but the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). It is not the buoyant and boisterous he comforts, but those who mourn (Matthew 5:4). Not the prideful, but the meek (Matthew 5:5).
He promises in Hosea 2:23, “I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’” Our Father loves to show himself strong by being the strength of the weak, by showing mercy to those who otherwise receive no mercy. To take people that typically would hear “not my people,” and make them his people.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

In Luke 18:9–14, Jesus tells us about two different men who came to worship. One, a Pharisee, thinks himself a good, impressive person. The other, a tax collector, comes keenly aware of his unworthiness, not just acknowledging his sin, but feeling deeply undeserving before God.
The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). Meanwhile, all the tax collector can muster is, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Jesus, then, gives us this commentary: It is the unrighteous tax collector whom God graciously declares to be righteous, not the Pharisee. The Pharisee, who trusted in himself that he was righteous, is the one cast out. Explains Jesus, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

This Is Good News

There is a great beauty to our God being the strength of the weak, and the riches of the poor. It is truly good news to those of us who will acknowledge how needy we really are, how weak our hearts can be, how poor we really are in spirit. What good news that we have a God like this: who takes the foolish, the weak, and the lowly — like us — and makes us into trophies of his grace, for his glory and for our joy.
This is indeed a message worth screaming from the mountains and telling to the masses.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Turning Point

Don Carson post:  GENESIS 30; MARK 1; ESTHER 6; ROMANS 1

“THAT NIGHT THE KING COULD NOT SLEEP” (Esther 6:1). What a great dramatic line! Are we supposed to think this is an accident?
Both the Bible and history offer countless “coincidences” brought about in the providence of God, the significance of which is discerned only in hindsight. Even in this chapter, Haman chooses this particular morning to present himself early in the court—to obtain sanction for Mordecai’s execution, at that!—and that makes him the man to whom the king puts his fateful question (Esther 6:4-6). In the meditation for January 25 we observed that the peculiar timing of Agrippa II’s visit to Porcius Festus meant that Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar—and that brought him to Rome. Likewise, in God’s providence, Caesar Augustus, more than half a century earlier, had decreed that the Roman world face a census, and under the local rules that decree brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem just in time for the birth of Jesus, fulfilling the biblical prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
History entirely removed from the canon provides numerous circumstances where the tiniest adjustment would have changed the course of events. Suppose Britain had not broken the “Enigma” code machines. Would the Battle of Britain, and even World War II, have gone another way? Suppose Hitler had not held back his panzers at Dunkirk, sending in his planes instead. Would 150,000 British soldiers have been captured or killed, once again changing the face of the war? Is it not remarkable that Hitler’s persecution of Jews drove some of the best scientific minds out of Germany and into the United States? Had he not done so, is it not entirely possible that Hitler would have invented an A-bomb before America did? What then would the history of the past fifty years have looked like? Suppose Khrushchev had not blinked at the Cuba missile crisis, and a nuclear exchange had followed. What would be the state of the world today? Suppose the bullet aimed at Kennedy had missed. Suppose the bullet aimed at Martin Luther King had missed. Suppose the bullet that took out the Archduke in Sarajevo had missed. Christians cannot possibly suppose that any of these events and billions more, small and great, were outside of God’s control.
So the first verse of Esther 6 sets the reader up for the dramatic developments in this chapter, plunging us into many useful reflections on the matchless wisdom and peculiar providence of God. Then, at the end of the chapter, comes a line scarcely less dramatic: “While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared” (Esther 6:14). What profit should readers gain from reflecting on this turning point?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If I Perish, I Perish

Excerpt from Steven Dilla:  One Reason to Stop Praying


It is almost shocking not to see prayer in this part of Esther’s story. She is told she must risk her life and approach the king—that her people will be murdered if she isn’t successful. Her reply is bold and decisive; she responds without pause for prayer, “I will go to the king… if I perish, I perish.” It’s at this point that Charles Swindoll, in his book Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, remarks:
Is that a great answer or what? Is this a great woman? She's had only a few moments to consider what Mordecai had told her, a brief slice of time to weigh his counsel. It was all she needed. She is determined to make a difference, no matter what the consequences to her personally: 
'If I perish, I perish. If a guard drives a sword through my body, I die doing the right thing.' She has changed from fear to abandonment and faith, from hesitation to confidence and determination, from concern for her own safety to concern for her people's survival. She has reached her own personal hour of decision and has not been found wanting.

Wisdom from Above

David Mathis: Seven Ways to Pray for Your Leaders

Wisdom is one of our greatest needs. As finite, fallen creatures, navigating the twists and turns of a complex, chaotic world, we often find ourselves at a loss for what to do next. And that’s only when we stop to consider the tough decisions.
Perhaps even more significant is the wisdom we exercise intuitively in all the little decisions in life we don’t pause to ponder. The overwhelming majority of our actions are not premeditated, but decided instinctively, without reflection. What comes out in these moments is either a trajectory of life with self at the center, or walking in various measures in step with the Spirit.
And the stakes are even higher for leaders, who are making decisions for others.

Tale of Two Wisdoms

James 3:13–18 draws a clear contrast between two kinds of wisdom: earthly wisdom and “the wisdom that comes down from above” (James 3:15). There is a kind of wisdom, exercised by humans, of human origin, and there is another kind — the true wisdom, exercised by humans, but of divine origin. One is heavenly, spiritual, and godly. The other, “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15).
Fortunately, our Father is an exceedingly generous giver, and he loves to respond with favor when we humbly petition him for wisdom (James 1:3). It is good to pray often for wisdom for yourself — and it is one of the most important things you can pray for your leaders.
Consider James 3:17 as a guide for praying for what our leaders would be.
The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

1) Pure

First, pray for your leaders’ purity. Sexual purity, yes, especially in our highly sexualized society, but “pure” here is so much more than simply that.
Pray that they would be pure in their conduct, blameless, meaning “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2Titus 1:6–7). Pray that their motives would be pure, not mixed (2 Corinthians 7:11). Pray that their minds would be pure, not distracted (Philippians 4:8). Pray that the words of their teaching would be pure, not deceptive (2 Corinthians 2:17). “We who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
Pray that their counsel would be pure and not lead others into sin, and that they would be wise in deciding whom to empower to represent the church as fellow leaders (1 Timothy 5:22). Pray that they would lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and be free to run with endurance the race that is set before them (Hebrews 12:1).

2) Peace-Loving

Pray that your leaders would love peace. Leaders in the church should not be quarrelsome (1 Timothy 3:3), and they should not be indifferent to peace (peace-neutral), but rather peacemakers (literally, “peace-loving”).
Pastors should not be “pugnacious” (the old language for it), quick to argue and pick a fight. Rather, they should be the kind of men who “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels” (1 Timothy 4:7), and who are willing to go the extra mile to keep others from get swamped in silly arguments.
This means that it is essential for church leaders to correct others. Being genuinely peace-loving means loving peace enough to move toward conflict and controversy for the sake of seeing peace come from it. Pastors who are truly peace-loving don’t avoid conflict, and don’t enjoy picking a fight, but are eager to engage with disagreement for the sake of bringing about the peace of agreement in the truth.
Pray that your pastors would “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). And such rebuke is not fight-picking, but peace-making, purging the church from gospel distortions, and ushering in the peace that we enjoy when we share in the truth. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).

3) Gentle

Wisdom from above is gentle. In a world that says you must assert yourself and grab the bull by the horns to make a difference, divine wisdom runs in a different direction. Knowing that our Lord is sovereign and engaged, and building his church, enables the Lord’s servant to “not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
Pray that your leaders would have enough confidence in God to trust his will and ways, and play their part in his plan with patience and gentleness.

4) Open to Reason

Good leaders are good listeners. Wisdom from above teaches a leader that he emphatically does not know it all, and desperately needs the help and insight of colleagues and congregants, and even his critics, to gain fresh perspective and continue to learn as he’s leading.
Leaders in the church are teachers (Hebrews 13:71 Timothy 3:22 Timothy 2:24Titus 1:9); they must do more than listen. They must speak. But it is essential that they be nothing less than good listeners. As James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Yes, “every person” — and every leader all the more.
Pray that your leaders would be quick to hear, open to reason, and easily persuaded by good sense, argument, and rationale.

5) Full of Mercy and Good Fruit

True wisdom is inevitably practical. It comes out in action. “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). And in the church in particular, such good fruit includes mercy.
Leaders who are simply just, and not merciful, have no place in the church. The church is the most mercied collective on the planet. Her leaders must know God’s mercy for them, and show God’s mercy to others. It’s true for every Christian, and all the most important for leaders: “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 1:13).

6) Impartial

Impartiality is an especially important virtue for leaders. It’s bad enough when anyone plays favorites and treats others unfairly, but when it takes root among the leadership, the effects multiply. The whole church soon suffers.
The impartiality of God is a clear, and often overlooked, theme in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:17Galatians 2:6Romans 2:11Acts 10:34Luke 20:21Ephesians 6:9Colossians 3:25). Pray that the wisdom that comes from Christ would make his under-shepherds increasingly fair and impartial (James 2:191 Timothy 5:21).

7) Sincere

Sincerity now brings us full circle to purity at the beginning of the list. The term literally means “without hypocrisy.” Pray that your leaders would practice what they preach, that they would be doers of God’s word and not teachers only.
Pray that they would have the spirit of the apostles: “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Pray that they would be free from people-pleasing and too much concern with public relations.
Pray that the leaders of Christ’s church would renounce “disgraceful, underhanded ways” and “refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word,” but that in a world of spin, posturing, and deception, they would lead “by the open statement of the truth” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

Sunday, January 24, 2016

God Will Never Fail

Fail Us Not from Steven Andy on Vimeo.

Come Thirsty, Empty-Handed, Ready, As You Are

David Mathis:  Any Given Sunday

Our Father is glad when the family gathers. He is eager to work, ready to pour out his favor and give fresh fillings of his Spirit, when his people assemble to worship his Son.
No matter what kind of week you’ve had — no matter how depleted your tank, how distracted your mind, or how disquieted your heart — God may be pleased to turn it all around on any given Sunday.

Come to the Waters

Corporate worship may be the single most important means of God’s grace in the Christian life because it brings together all three essential principles of his ongoing kindness: hearing his voice (in his word), having his ear (in prayer), and belonging to his body (in the fellowship of the church).
“No matter what kind of week you’ve had, God may be pleased to turn it all around on any given Sunday.”
When God’s people gather to worship Jesus together — with the Scriptures open and songs of praise, confession, and thanksgiving in our mouths — the Holy Spirit hovers over our assembly, standing ready to rejuvenate dull hearts and restore languishing souls.
The great invitation of Isaiah 55, crafted some seven centuries before Christ, is a fitting call to the banquet of corporate worship in the new covenant.
   Come, everyone who thirsts, 
      come to the waters;
   and he who has no money, 
      come, buy and eat! 
   Come, buy wine and milk 
      without money and without price.
   Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, 
      and your labor for that which does not satisfy? 
   Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, 
      and delight yourselves in rich food. 
   Incline your ear, and come to me; 
      hear, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:1–3)

Come Thirsty

Jesus is the true bread who came down from heaven (John 6:5058), and he is the true drink (John 6:55), the only drink, who will satisfy our thirsty souls forever.
You were not only made for God, but for the God-man. God himself designed your human soul to be satisfied forever in the personal union of full deity and full humanity in the one utterly unique God-man, in the company of a worshiping throng. You were made for Jesus.
In corporate worship, we taste together what we were made for. Together we sample the feast of the coming new heavens and new earth.
This doesn’t mean every Sunday is pure bliss. Far from it. Fallen humans in a fallen world are only rarely at their spiritual and emotional best. Our bodies are tired, and our spirits are lethargic. Miscues up front, energetic children in the pew, off-key singers in our ear, and unfinished work at home threaten to distract us from the sweetness of singing praises together with God’s people in the beauty of our grace-covered brokenness.
But in the chaos, there are tastes. Thirsty souls sample the life-giving water, the soul-nourishing substance of milk, the heart-gladdening sips of wine, in the experience of truth-inspired praise of the one who is the Truth.
So we can come thirsty, and come expectant by faith, to have our soul’s thirst quenched together in some satisfying measure in the family gathering.

Come Empty-Handed

But to this marvelous banquet, we bring not only empty stomachs, but also empty hands. The bill is taken care of. Jesus paid it all.
Not only do we come to drink, but we come without deeds as payment. The great invitation of his grace is to the one “who has no money.” We come for soul-satisfaction “without money and without price.”
The fuel of corporate worship is not the energy or preparation we bring, but the energy and preparation of God. The source is not our working for him, but the worship-inspiring truth that he works for those who wait for him. We wait; he works. Which makes him utterly unique among all other rivals for our praise.
   From of old no one has heard 
      or perceived by the ear, 
   no eye has seen a God besides you, 
      who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

Come Ready

His working and grace are original and ultimate, and yet he would woo us to take faith-filled steps of preparation to come ready. He works through means. He gives us the dignity of participation. His grace not only meets us despite our undeservedness, but goes the extra mile to engage our wills to prime our hearts for the joys of collective adoration.
“God is sovereign and free, not limited by our failures, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
Anticipating the assembly, and seeking to tune our hearts to sing his praise, prepares our appetites for the tastes of glory to come — a glory in the gathering that is sampled together, not in isolation.
Fellow worshipers encountered before, during, and after worship are not impediments to true worship, but inspirations. Corporate worship is, after all, corporate. We prepare our hearts for the joy of praising Jesus by greeting his people with open hearts, big smiles, and, when appropriate, shared tears.

Come as You Are

While a heart of worship is typically helped by our faithful efforts at preparation, our preparation is never ultimate. In fact, the Holy Spirit is often pleased to “show up” despite our lack, or total absence, of preparation. Which is no cause for abuse, but for adoration. The lesson for us in it is not that Monday to Saturday don’t matter in getting ready for Sunday, but rather that God is sovereign and free, not limited by our failures, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
“No matter how far away you feel from the Father, there is nothing you need more this weekend than corporate worship.”
On any given Sunday, God might be pleased to turn your world upside down, in all the best ways. Like the weary psalmist who came to worship, and finally the fog cleared (Psalm 73:16–17). Or like Martin Luther, who testified, “At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.” Or as countless of us have learned, our Father simply loves to bless the family gathering.
Your sluggishness and lethargy are no reason to stay away from his waterfall of grace. No matter how far away from the Father you feel, there is perhaps nothing you need more this weekend than his bounty in corporate worship.