Monday, March 27, 2017

No Power In Ourselves

Lenten Reflection: Broken Love
By Steven Dilla


The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep me both outwardly in my body and inwardly in my soul, that I may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

- From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

He Loves Us

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yet Shall He Live

John Piper:  Death Is a Doorway to Paradise (Two-Minute Clip)

Audio Transcript
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). When Jesus died and rose again, he destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” so that those who were held in lifelong bondage by the fear of death might be utterly free (Hebrews 2:14–15). That statement that he made to Martha is paradoxical. It says, “Though you die, yet will you live.” Then it says, “You won’t die.” Death is real — and yet, it’s not ultimately real.
Followers of Jesus have had the sting of death removed. Death has become a doorway to paradise. We walk through it into the presence of Jesus. Therefore, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” for nothing you do in the hope of the resurrection will be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Name of Jesus


Ask Pastor John:  Do We Really Need Musical Worship?

Audio Transcript
Jeremy writes in with today’s question: “Dear Pastor John, I have served for the past seven years as a ‘worship leader.’ Something I’ve had trouble reconciling is how worshiping God turned into singing trendy praise songs in a community setting. Does it derive from the Levites and appointed leaders in the Old Testament? I have a hard time finding something relatable in the New Testament. In fact, one of the Scriptures that I find most denotes what worship is comes from Romans 12 where Paul tells the church in Rome that worship is giving of one’s self completely to God. Long question short, what brings us the corporate musical worship that inhabits almost every church today?”
Let’s just overlook the use of the word trendy, because I doubt that is really what he is asking. I don’t think he expects to find in the Bible a justification for trendy. I think his question really is: Why do we sing for a half an hour in worship services all over the world? Why do we do it that way?
“Look for prescribed patterns and emphases in the New Testament. Singing and preaching are central.”
So, let me try to go at that and see what I can do. I would define worship as anything we do which gives expression to the supreme, all-satisfying worth of God. That is worship, which would include both offering my body to be burned in martyrdom (1 Corinthians 13:3), because I am showing how precious Christ is to me, that I am willing to give up my life for him. And it would include my singing, my heartily offering up my voice and my heart in church as I sing, because I am giving expression to his worth as I sing a God-exalting song. 
What makes them both worship is the experience of the heart which treasures God above all things. That is the essence of worship: the experience of the heart. Jesus says your heart is far from you. You worship me with your lips (Matthew 15:8–9). This is a zero worship. So, the essence of worship is a heart that treasures God above all things. The universe was created so that human beings would do everything we do and use everything we have to display the supreme worth of God. And in an ideal world all is, thus, worship. 
Now, how does it come about that today most evangelical services around the world, at least the parts I have been to and that I look at online, have an extended time of singing at the front-end and preaching at the back-end? Here is my best effort to give an account for this. When you compare — this is the most important thing I am going to say; this is a little observation here — when you compare the Old Testament and the New Testament, something startling emerges with regard to worship. In the Old Testament, there is an extremely detailed set of guidelines for how everything should be done in relationship to the tabernacle and the sacrifices and the way people come to God. In the New Testament, those details are almost completely lacking. I am tempted to say completely lacking. There is no way anybody could construct a normative worship service from what we have in the New Testament. Lots of people think they can, but I don’t think so. There is more tradition going on there than they realize.
My opinion about why this is so is that the Old Testament was a “come see” religion with all of redemptive history focused on a culturally unified ethnic people called Israel, and the New Testament is a “go tell” religion with no ethnic center, no geographic center, no cultural center. And, therefore, the New Testament is written so as to be a manual of theology and life, useful in all cultures and all the peoples of the world, which is why it should be translated into all the languages of the world. If the New Testament had given detailed guidelines for what a worship service should be, it would have enshrined one first century culture to be imposed on all the cultures of the world. It would have been a colossal failure given what God designs for his church to look like all over the world as it becomes embedded in, incarnate in all the cultures of the world. 
So, to explain why there is so much singing and why there is preaching, I don’t think you look for prescribed patterns in the New Testament. You look for emphases, trajectories, implications, the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of his mind, the nature of his emotions, the nature of salvation, the nature of gifts. And what you find is that there is an extraordinary centrality and emphasis to the word of God in the Christian life, and there is at least one example of preaching mandated in the context of worship: 2 Timothy 4:1–2. And as we would expect from the Old Testament legacy of singing, there is a good bit of singing in the New Testament and pictures of it in the age to come. 
Piper: “I expect we will always be singing new songs and old songs.”
There are a couple of texts, at least, that say it should be done corporately. Let me just give you a flavor of singing in the New Testament. Heaven in Revelation is full of song. “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!’” (Revelation 15:3). And James says, “Is any one [among you] cheerful? Let him sing” (James 5:13). 
Then Paul says, “I will sing with my spirit, and I will sing with my mind” (1 Corinthians 14:15). And, again, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). And then he says the same thing, almost, in Ephesians 5:18–19, only here he makes it clear that it is corporate. He says, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” 
And you got this same Paul — bless his heart; I just love this guy — at midnight, feet in stocks, having been beaten with many blows, and he and Silas are singing (Acts 16:25). They are singing hymns to God, which means he knew some hymns by heart. Singing was so much a part of Paul’s life. You don’t usually think of Paul as a singer, but as a logician who pounds out Romans on an anvil of truth. You are like: No, no, no, no. He sang in tongues and he sang intelligible language and he sang in prison. He probably sang on the road and sang in the boats and sang while he was clinging to the shards of wood in the sea. This man was a singer big time. And where did he get that? Jesus sang. He sang. Mark 14:26, “When they had sung a hymn” — he and his apostles — “they went out to the Mount of Olives.” The last thing he does with his disciples, almost, is sing with them.
And, of course, the New Testament loves the Psalms, and the songs are full of commands to sing over and over. Five times I think it says: Sing a new song (Psalm 33:340:396:198:1149:1). And Jesus says that his new covenant scribes, the writers, are going to be “like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). So, I expect we will always be singing new songs and old songs, and I don’t know if the word trendy is helpful. I think new is great. I hope we will, anyway.
“Worship is anything we do that gives expression to the supreme, all-satisfying worth of God.”
So, it doesn’t seem at all surprising to me that over the centuries Christians would come together to corporately express the infinite value of God by lifting their voices and lifting their hearts in song about his worth, and that they would crave to hear the voice of God heralded from his word. Of course, lots more could be said about why we do what we do in worship. But that is pretty much why I feel so at home today in worship services like this, provided — this is a huge provision — provided the preaching and the singing are radically God-centered, Christ-exalting, gospel-rich, Bible-saturated, singable, and authentic through and through.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Shine Like Stars

Trevin Wax:  Complaining Never Wins the Culture

What if the biggest danger ahead for Christians today is something we don’t expect, but should? 
Of course, there are some dangers of which we’re all very aware and conscious. In a pluralistic world, we know the pressure on Christians to abandon the truth that Jesus is the only way to God, so we proclaim loudly the exclusive salvation that we find in Christ. In the midst of a moral revolution, we see the temptation for Christians to deny or downplay the truth about sexuality and marriage, so we rightly seek to defend the Bible’s teaching on these issues. 
Naturally, we think that to be faithful in this time means shoring up our commitments in these spheres where cultural pressure is intense. But what if there’s a bigger danger on the horizon? Something that goes beyond the truths we uphold to the hearts that uphold them?

An Unexpected Exhortation

After reciting one of the most glorious hymns in the New Testament, showcasing the beauty of Jesus’s incarnation, crucifixion, and exaltation (Philippians 2:6–11), Paul commands the church to adopt the same mind of our risen Lord. 
“The Christian who grumbles will neither stand out in this generation, nor hold firm to the gospel.”
And his first command — the first way he expects us to “work out your own salvation” (Philippians 2:12) — is, “Don’t grumble.” 
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14–15)
Why start with grumbling? We might expect an exhortation to spiritual disciplines, or strategies for thriving as pure and faultless people in a sinful world. And yes, Paul does speak about blamelessness and purity and holding firm to the word of life (Philippians 2:16). But this purity in action is somehow connected to the first command to do everything without grumbling. Somehow, grumbling will keep us from faithfulness.

Grumbling over Gratitude

Why start here? Because Paul knows the story of Israel.
Remember the children of Israel? The passover lamb was sacrificed on their behalf; they were set free from bondage to Egypt; they went out through the waters of the Red Sea into the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Having been graciously redeemed through an act of deliverance none of their generation could have imagined . . . they began to grumble. 
This was the big sin of Israel. They chose grumbling over gratitude. Grumbling stalled their journey and led to actions that were anything but “blameless and innocent.”

Gratitude in the Wilderness

Fast-forward to first-century Philippi. The church — like Israel — had been brought out of slavery to sin and death. Through the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, they had received atonement for their sins. They’d passed through the waters of baptism and were headed toward the Promised Land. In the dark wilderness of the first century, lying “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), Paul knew that grumbling and arguing would keep them from shining like stars in a dark world.
Two thousand years later, much of our world feels like a wilderness. We, too, live in a “crooked and twisted generation,” where crooks are elevated and perversion celebrated. 
“It’s hard to joyfully and consistently proclaim the gospel when all you do is complain about your mission field.”
Jesus still speaks to his church: Do everything without grumbling. You want to be blameless and pure — faultless in this generation? Then you better start right here. Why? Because the Christian who grumbles will neither stand out in this generation, nor hold firm to the gospel. 
Grumbling about this cultural moment usually leaves us wistful for another. But we will never be faithful in the present as long as we are yearning for the past. The only era we should long for is a future one, when the kingdom comes fully on earth as it is in heaven.

No Ministry in Murmuring

Furthermore, grumblers are neither persuasive nor appealing when they share their faith. In fact, they rarely share their faith at all. It’s hard to joyfully and consistently proclaim the gospel when all you do is complain about your mission field. Murmuring does not further God’s mission.
The root issue, of course, is a lack of faith (Psalm 78:19–20). Whenever we look at the state of the world and wag our fingers, shake our heads, or wish that we had been born in another time or place, we question God’s sovereignty and resent the task he has given us. Grumbling over the good that we think God has withheld is, in reality, nothing short of rebellion (Psalm 78:17).
Faithfulness starts with gratitude. We trust in the God who knows where we are and when we are. This is our time. Holding firm to the word of life is a thrilling adventure. We’re not digging in, like cranks who resent societal shifts or cultural changes. No, we’re standing, with the smile of faith that knows God is good and sovereign and that his everlasting joy will spread to all peoples. 

Only Joy Gives Life

Paul himself employs a military metaphor in reference to Epaphroditus, his “fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25). Armed with the divine weapon of the gospel message of Christ, the church is equipped to plunder Satan’s house, destroy strongholds, and proclaim Jesus’s freedom to those captive to sin (Mark 3:27Luke 4:182 Corinthians 10:4–5). In this spiritual campaign, a grumbling soldier is a dangerous liability, fighting on the edge of treason.
“We trust in the God who knows where we are and when we are. This is our time.”
Christians are joyful because we follow a King who endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Whether we are given suffering, chains, imprisonment, or worse (Hebrews 11:36–38), or whether we conquer kingdoms, stop the mouths of lions, escape the sword, and put armies to flight (Hebrews 11:33–34), we must know that only joy in and gratitude to Jesus will win the war for our culture. Christians who run the race experience the glorious combination of exhaustion and exhilaration that comes from knowing the Spirit empowers us to spend our every last bit of energy for the sake of Jesus’s glory. 
Yes, we may face obstacles, setbacks, and tough days ahead. But in it all, and under it all, we are also joyful. And this cheerful courage comes not from ignoring darkness or looking only for the bright side, but from believing that the Light will overcome the dark. 
Do you want to shine like stars? Then do everything without grumbling.