Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Humility and Faithfulness

Excerpt from Don Carson post: Judges 11; Acts 15; Jeremiah 24; Mark 10


Second, this is such an astounding reversal of popular expectations that it prompts the reader to think of a host of other reversals in the Bible. One thinks of the mighty Egyptian empire against the Israelite slaves; of the rich man and Lazarus; of the beatitudes of Jesus that promise the kingdom to the poor in spirit. Think of as many such reversals as you can, both within the pages of Scripture and in later history. God delights to exalt the humble and to humble the exalted. After all, our Redeemer died on a cross. So why should thoughtful Christians scramble for power and position, instead of for humility and faithfulness?

Silence Speaks Volumes

Michael Kelley post:  How Would Jesus Respond Online?

We are probably more responsive today than ever before, partly because we now have the tools to respond publicly to anyone or anything, and at any time we see fit. We can post, like, tweet, and retweet, and we are delighted to do so. We love to respond. No, we need to respond.
Don’t we?
Sometimes a response is appropriate. Tragic and heartbreaking events happen, and seem to be happening at an increasing rate. It can be good and right for Christians to respond in a timely, grace-filled, and truthful manner. But our compulsion to respond runs much deeper than pivotal events in society and culture. 
What drives this need to respond to even the smallest of things? What fuels our itchy tweeting fingers and twitching lips? What drives our desire to have the last word? Though we might talk ourselves into believing in our own rightness and therefore the right to defend ourselves, our need to respond more likely comes from our inflated ego and our continuing need to justify ourselves.

Our Felt Need to Respond

You know the feeling. Someone brings something against you — an accusation, a criticism, a rebuke. They do something, say something, or insinuate something, and you, in return, feel compelled to return fire. It’s a burning down deep in your gut. I must respond.
Unfortunately, when our response comes, it’s often part and parcel with what has just been dealt to us. If it was anger, we respond in anger. If criticism, we respond with criticism of our own. If accusation, we respond with defensiveness. Whatever the case, we respond in kind.
We should find it curious, though, that Jesus did not seem to feel the same need.
The prophet Isaiah predicted the non-response of Jesus:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion reflect the same silence. 
When he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. (Matthew 27:12–14)
[Herod] questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. (Luke 23:9)
Interesting, right? Maybe even a little maddening? It gets under our skin because of the injustice. Here is Jesus himself being falsely accused and maligned, with all sorts of groundless accusations and insinuations, and he responds with — nothing. Silence. A closed mouth. 

Freedom of Speech

His silence speaks volumes about our urgency to respond. It’s almost as if Jesus has some kind of freedom that we do not have — a freedom producing the fruit of silence — while we are enslaved by a need to have the last word, a clever quip, or some kind of drop-the-mic self-justification. Why, then, does Jesus have this freedom not to respond, this right to remain silent? 
Perhaps Jesus felt this freedom because he knew who he was. From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus knew absolutely who he was and what he was here to do. He was, and is, the Son in whom the Father was, and is, well-pleased. At every moment of his earthly life and ministry, he was completely confident in his identity and mission. Even when the crowds wanted to hoist him on their shoulders and carry him to power, Jesus felt no need to succumb to their praise.
We feel the need to respond in such situations, in part, because we lack the same assurance and confidence. We don’t know who we are, or at least we haven’t fully embraced who we are in Christ. We, because of Jesus, have become the sons and daughters in whom the Father is well-pleased, and because we are, we have no need for any more self-justification. If this truth had deeper roots in our hearts, we might be slower to speak.

For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free

Jesus felt the freedom of non-response not only because he knew himself, who he was, and why he was here. He also felt free because he knew his accusers. In fact, he knew them better than they even knew themselves. He knew they were deceived slaves to the prince of this world, fully indoctrinated into a corrupt and fading worldview. In fact, he pitied them enough, with deep compassion, to pray for their forgiveness even as they put him to death.
What about us? We are often far more concerned with responding than knowing. We are much more focused on our next word than the heart that motivated the criticism or accusation. We forget, in a day and time of easy and cheap social interactions and confrontations, that the ones on the other side of the tweet are actually people made in the image of God. If we knew who they were, we might be much slower to speak and quicker to hold our tongues and listen.
If you find yourself enslaved to your next response, chained by the need to have the next and last word, join me in trying to focus our eyes on Christ who lived in the freedom to remain silent. As we do, perhaps we will be reminded again of who we are in him, and be free enough to invite others — even our accusers and our enemies — with our attitudes and words, to come and enjoy being found in him, too.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sufficient Grace for Today

Jon Bloom post:  Lay Aside the Weight of Tomorrow's Trouble

Fear for tomorrow kills our faith for today. So, having faith for today often means killing fear for tomorrow. 
That’s why Jesus said,
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)
Anxiety over our uncertain, and as yet unreal, future is a heavy burden. It’s a burden Jesus doesn’t want us to bear, because it’s not ours to bear. It’s God’s burden, and for him it’s very light. 
In this command, Jesus wants to give us an easy yoke (Matthew 11:30). He is showing us how to lay aside the unwieldy weight (Hebrews 12:1) of tomorrow’s trouble by freeing us to only be concerned about today’s trouble.

The Only Place We Experience Grace

The past grace of God in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is unspeakably precious to us because of all the benefits it provides us now and into eternity. The future grace of God, all that he promises to provide us in the future, is unspeakably precious because it’s what fuels our faith to keep us moving forward with joy and courage.
But the only place we experience the grace of God is in the present. 
“Fear for tomorrow kills our faith for today.”
And the grace God provides us today is designed for today’s needs, or as Jesus says, today’s troubles. In Matthew 6:34, Jesus is letting us know, as he does elsewhere (John 16:33), that we’re going to have daily troubles. However, as John Piper says, “tomorrow’s troubles are not designed to be dealt with by today’s grace.” The grace God makes available to us today is designed to be completely sufficient for today’s troubles (2 Corinthians 9:8). That’s why Jesus wants us focused on today. 
But Satan, as well as our sinful unbelief, wants us focused on the future — not the real future as defined by God’s promises, but an imaginary future as defined by our fears. From the context of Jesus’s command (Matthew 6:19–34), we know this is the issue Jesus is addressing: the imagined fear that God will not provide for us. 
Our anxiety about tomorrow messes up our lives when we allow it to govern us. It distracts our attention away from God’s gracious provision for us today to an imagined fear in an unreal tomorrow. And it disorients us by turning us away from seeking the kingdom of God to seeking earthly protection from the future we fear (Matthew 6:19–2033). 

What Jesus Isn’t Saying

Now, Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t make provision for our future. We know this because a few sentences earlier he tells us to “lay up . . . treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19–20). He simply wants us making provision for the right future — the only future that ultimately matters. 
“Anxiety fools us into wasting our brief lives trying to do God’s job.” 
Jesus also isn’t saying we shouldn’t plan for the future. When he tells us to look at the birds and consider the lilies he’s not saying, “make no plans” (Matthew 6:2628). He’s simply reminding us of our Father’s care and his power to provide for the essential needs of all of his creatures, so that we don’t waste our brief lives trying to do God’s job. There is a division of labor. We are to focus on the kingdom work Jesus assigns us (John 15:16Ephesians 2:10), and the Father is to provide all we need (Matthew 6:33).
Jesus wants our planning mainly focused on the effort of making disciples (Matthew 28:19–20) — all under the banner of “if the Lord wills” (James 4:15). And he wants us to make financial provision for our future by mainly investing our earthly wealth in the advancement of his kingdom (Luke 12:32–34). 

Receive God’s Grace and Cast Your Cares

This way of life is not meant to be a lofty ideal. Jesus wants it to be our daily reality. His command that we “not be anxious about tomorrow” is a great mercy to us. If we obey him, he will relieve us of a burden too heavy for us to carry. We lay aside the weight of tomorrow’s trouble by exercising two simple acts of faith: we receive and we cast. 
We receive from God his sufficient grace for today. His grace does not always come in the packages we expect. Sometimes his grace looks like abundance and sometimes it looks like need (Philippians 4:12). We must learn that there is sufficient grace for prosperity and affliction, for joy and sorrow, for freedom and prison, for life and for death. They look different, but God will always provide enough grace for what we really need. 
And we cast our anxieties for tomorrow on God because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Our fears for the future are immensely unreliable. We are fools if we allow them to govern us. We don’t know the future, and neither does Satan — and he wouldn’t tell us the truth even if he did know (John 8:44). But God completely knows the future (Isaiah 46:10), so we are wise to trust him with it. We cast our cares on him by bringing our requests to him and letting his peace guard our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:6–7). 
“Today’s grace won’t solve tomorrow’s troubles.”
“Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). And sufficient for today is today’s grace. Today’s grace won’t solve tomorrow’s troubles. The only way today’s grace addresses tomorrow is by helping us cast our anxieties on God. But this is a huge help, because it frees us to focus on the one place we will experience God’s grace today: today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

No One Drifts to Heaven

John Piper:  Legacy of One-Point Calvanism and Casual Churchianity

Whether from fear or ignorance, sizeable segments of the Christian church avoid the New Testament teaching that pursuing purity in this life is necessary for entrance into the next. 
Among other reasons, this is why Christian living in the New Testament feels so wonderfully serious, while so much contemporary Christianity seems obliviously playful by comparison.

Even the One Point Was Missed

I grew up among a few million “one-point Calvinists” who misunderstood their one point: “once saved, always saved.” In general, it meant, if Johnny asked Jesus into his heart at age six, left the church at sixteen, mocked Jesus for ten years, and died in Vietnam with a bullet hole through his playboy bunny, he was in heaven.
In my first year in the pastorate, I told a young woman who was committing fornication that if she didn’t repent and turn to Jesus, she would go to hell. She was not happy with that theology. Later she accepted it. I did her wedding, and for twenty years she wrote me at Christmas to say thank you for the warning. No one had ever told her that growing up in a Christian home.
Then there was a married woman who came to me and confessed she was having an affair. I believe she said they rendezvoused in the man’s truck. She said her husband had found out and wondered what to do. She was a member of the church. She let me know that, among the options, breaking off with her trucker friend was not one of them. Well, I said, in my simple manner, if you don’t repent from this sin, and turn to Jesus for forgiveness, you will go to hell.
This time the blowback was an articulate “No way!” with an exegetical defense and the imprimatur of her former pastor. She took me to Romans 8:38–39. Her paraphrase: Nothing can separate us from the love of God, including “principalities and powers” — and that means the devil. So when the devil lures me into adultery, that can’t separate me from God and heaven. The pastor said so.
As I recall we spent the next fifteen minutes or so looking at the text to see who “us” is. She did not like what she saw as we walked together through Romans 8 noticing who it is that will be glorified with Jesus. Evidently it touched a nerve. She ditched her trucker, reconciled with her husband, avoided excommunication, and stayed at the church for almost thirty years.

Chipper Church Leaders Are Not Paying Attention

I don’t like casual — largely carnal — Christianity where nothing eternal is at stake for professing Christians. Pastors who lead their people in this kind of chipper churchianity are just not paying attention when they read their Bibles. Or not believing. I’m thinking of texts like Hebrews 12:14Galatians 6:8James 2:171 John 1:72:43:142 Thessalonians 2:13Matthew 6:15; and Romans 8:13.
This morning I was reading 1 John in my devotions and was made to tremble again with the necessity of pursuing purity in my life. Necessity. First John 3:3would not let me treat purity as a bit of parsley offered as an optional embellishment beside the meat of Christian faith. It was necessary, in no uncertain terms.

Test Yourself by Your Take on Trembling

By the way, if you stumbled over the word “tremble” in the previous paragraph, that’s the part of the problem I’m getting at. Why would you respond negatively in view of what God has said about trembling: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). 
There is a trembling whose happiness is more deep and durable than the peace of those who close their eyes to serious passages.

The Implications of “Everyone”

When the apostle John says in 1 John 3:3, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself as he is pure” (my translation), the hope he is referring to is the hope he just mentioned in verse 2: “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
So we may restate verse 3 like this: “Everyone who has the hope of being pure like Jesus and the Father, in their presence someday, purifies himself now as Jesus and the Father are pure.” Ponder the implications of the word everyone
Everyone who has this hope purifies himself. If you don’t purify yourself, you don’t have this hope. And if things stay that way, this hope will never be true of you. You will never be like Jesus and the Father. Which means you will never see them face to face, because John says that the reason we will be like him is because we shall see him face to face (see also 1 Corinthians 13:12).

No True Christians Who Do Not Purify Themselves

To put it another way, the word everyone in this sentence — “everyone who has this hope purifies himself” — means that there is no group of people who have the hope of seeing and being like Jesus and the Father, but do not purify themselves. That is, there are no true Christians who do not purify themselves — do not pursue purity of heart and mind and body.
That is, all true Christians do purify themselves. This is one of the necessary marks of true Christians: they purify themselves. 
This is not an isolated idea in 1 John. The grammatical construction he uses here is a favorite. He uses it thirteen times in this letter. In Greek it is pas(meaning “everyone,” or with the negative, “no one”) followed by a participle which we usually translate with a clause like, “who does such and such.” The point is that all Christians do or do not do something. And the all-embracing “everyone,” in effect, makes this a defining mark of true Christians. Here are a few of these thirteen. See how similar they are to 1 John 3:3.
First the form without the negative:
  • Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29
  • Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4
  • Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7
  • Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1
  • Everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning. (1 John 5:18
Now the form with the negative:
  • No one who denies the Son has the Father. (1 John 2:23
  • No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6
  • No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:9
In other words, the requirement of pursuing purity in 1 John 3:3 is not an isolated condition for seeing and being like Jesus and the Father. The same thought runs through the whole letter.

Purification Is Not Arbitrary

Neither is it an arbitrary condition. Holding a ticket is an arbitrary condition for watching the football game in the stadium. Having good eyes is not an arbitrary condition, but an essential one. Eyes are essential for seeing the game. Tickets don’t belong to the essence of seeing.
So it is with purity. Purity belongs to the essence of seeing God. It is the condition of the eyes that can see holiness as the beautiful thing that it is. That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Being pure is the way we see God for who he is. Impurity darkens the God-seeing lens of the soul.

You Cannot Will-Away Blindness

This explains another folly of casual, non-serious churchianity: the folly of thinking we can pursue impure lives, while planning to repent at the end, and thus escape hell at the last minute. This is folly because a lifetime of impurity will have clouded the lens of the soul so badly that it is highly unlikely that suddenly Jesus will appear beautiful at the end. On the contrary, he will probably appear terrifying as you die, and a lifetime of impure preferences for other things above him will probably leave you hardened like Esau (Hebrews 12:17), not tender like the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).
The pursuit of purity now, not in the hour of your death, is the mark of a true Christian. It is not an optional mark. It is necessary: Everyone — not some, but everyone — who hopes to see God, and be pure in his presence forever, purifies himself as he is pure — now (1 John 3:3).

Questions Welcomed

Of course, there are many more things to say about this pursuit of purity. 
  • It is not the ground of justification but the fruit of it. It is not by unaided works of the flesh, but by Spirit-enabled self-denial. 
  • It is not to gain acceptance with God, but because we are accepted by God. 
  • It is not to become children of God, but because we are children of God. 
  • It is not to pay our ransom with religious booty, but to show that we are already blood-bought
  • It is not because we must add our efforts to Christ’s purchase, but because our efforts are included in the purchase. 
  • It is not replacing faith with works, but proving that there are works that come through faith.
  • It is not our working for God, but God working in us.
And so many more. If you have questions, that is good. So good. What is not good, though, is to settle back into the casual way, as if you could drift to heaven. No one drifts to heaven. At the end of Paul’s life, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Fight. Race. All the way home. 
Take your questions to the Bible. The life it offers is glorious. The world cannot understand it — nor can coasting, casual, carnal, professing Christians. It remains to them a baffling paradox. But to you who tremble at his word, it is the only way:
  • I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12
  • Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. . . . For sin will have no dominion over you. (Romans 6:1214
  • Cleanse out the old leaven [every one purifies himself!] that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:7)