Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesus is the Great Burden-bearer

"Jesus is the great Burden-Bearer of His people. No other arm, and no other heart, in heaven or upon earth, were strong enough, or loving enough, to bear these burdens but His! He who bore the weight of our sin and curse and shame in His obedience and death — bore it along all the avenues of His weary pilgrimage, from Bethlehem to Calvary — is He who now stretches forth His Divine arm, and makes bare a Brother’s heart to take your burden of care and of grief, dear saint of God, upon Himself."

— Octavius Winslow
The Ministry of Home
(HT: Tony Reinke; Of First Importance)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Theology Matters

A good summary post from Kevin DeYoung on why faithful churches and faithful Christians should be unapologetically theological.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What it means to trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord

“’Trusting in Jesus’…means firmly believing certain things to be true about Jesus – that he came into the world as God’s Son, that he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins, that he rose again to be God’s king, and that he is the only one who can stand as a priest before God on my behalf – and then acting in dependence and reliance upon those things about him….

“Because I know and trust that Jesus is God’s good and  perfect king, I  will fall down before him and submit my entire life to him, knowing that whatever he tells me to do will be excellent and for my good.  And because I know and trust that Jesus has died and risen and ascended to God as my priest, I will completely depend upon him for the forgiveness of my sins and eternal life.  I will place my life in his hands, knowing that he will save me from the judgment I deserve and that submitting to him as my king will mean ‘life’ with a capital L.”

“What part does the Spirit play in this?  He’s the one who changes us on the inside so that we put our trust in Jesus….  By his Spirit, God brings us to  the point where we put our trust in Jesus, making him the king and savior of our lives….  When the Spirit brings you to trust in Jesus, he actually begins a new life in you….  God works in you so that you start living how you were meant to live – with Jesus as the king of your life.  God makes you his by joining you to Jesus in such a way that his death is your death – all your sins are paid for; and his life is your life – you begin to live as someone who loves God.”  

-- Paul Grimmond, "Right Side Up: Life as God Meant It to Be" (Matthias Media, pp. 71-73)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

God's ability to bless

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think . . . .” Ephesians 3:20

“Not above some things that we ask, but all.  Not above some of our dimmer conceptions, our lower thoughts, but above all that we think.  Now just put together all that you have ever asked for.  Heap it up, and then pile upon the top thereof all that you have ever thought of concerning the riches of divine grace.  What a mountain! . . . High as this pyramid of prayers and contemplations may be piled, God’s ability to bless is higher still.”

-- C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1950), III:419.

HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols...

The relevance of massive chunks of Scripture hangs on our understanding of idolatry. But let me focus the question through a particular verse in the New Testament which long troubled me. The last line of 1 John woos, then commands us:

“Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

In a 105-verse treatise on living in vital fellowship with Jesus, the Son of God, how on earth does that unexpected command merit being the final word?

Is it perhaps a scribal emendation?

Is it an awkward faux pas by a writer who typically weaves dense and orderly tapestries of meaning with simple, repetitive language?

Is it a culture-bound, practical application tacked onto the end of one of the most timeless and heaven-dwelling epistles?

Each of these alternatives misses the integrity and power of John’s final words.

Instead, John’s last line properly leaves us with that most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart.

Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?

It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question.

Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?

The undesirable answers to this question—answers which inform our understanding of the “idolatry” we are to avoid—are most graphically presented in 1 John 2:15-17, 3:7-10, 4:1-6, and 5:19. It is striking how these verses portray a confluence of the “sociological,” the “psychological,” and the “demonological” perspectives on idolatrous motivation.

The inwardness of motivation is captured by the inordinate and proud “desires of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), our inertial self-centeredness, the wants, hopes, fears, expectations, “needs” that crowd our hearts.

The externality of motivation is captured by “the world” (1 John 2:15-17,4:1-6), all that invites, models, reinforces, and conditions us into such inertia, teaching us lies.

The “demonological” dimension of motivation is the Devil’s behavior-determining lordship (1 John 3:7-10,5:19), standing as a ruler over his kingdom of flesh and world.

In contrast, to “keep yourself from idols” is to live with a whole heart of faith in Jesus. It is to be controlled by all that lies behind the address “Beloved children” (see especially 1 John 3:1-3,4:7-5:12). The alternative to Jesus, the swarm of alternatives, whether approached through the lens of flesh, world, or the Evil One, is idolatry.

HT: Justin Taylor

Friday, November 25, 2011

Unbelief in three tenses

Guilty regret is unbelief regarding God’s grace and goodness, aimed at the past; envy is that same unbelief in the present, and worry is the same doubt about his goodness, aimed at the future.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

President George Washington's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation


Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You cannot jump out of your skin

"All things are intrinsically made to work in Christ’s way, and, if they do, they work well. The discovery of that fact is going to be the greatest adventure of the future. If we were created by Christ and for Christ, then he is inescapable. You cannot jump out of your skin. If you revolt against Christ, you revolt against yourself. God has us hooked. We may run away in short excursions of freedom, but he reels us in. The facts are against us."

— E. Stanley Jones, quoted by Darrell W. Johnson in
Discipleship on the Edge
(Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2004), 117-118

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"When we watch our friends suffer...."

Gracious wisdom from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

Eliphaz reveals how his suspicions of Job were confirmed.  “A spirit glided past my face” one night with a message (Job 4:12-16).  A profound insight came to him in this striking manner.  What was it?  Nobody’s perfect (Job 4:17).  Wow.  We really needed spiritual illumination to know that.

In Eliphaz’s mind, that glib moralism explains Job’s sufferings.  It gives Eliphaz, he feels, authority to needle Job, to go on and on about how Job should repent and if only he would own up everything would get better, etc.

But more, his simplistic outlook casts a shadow on God: “Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error” (Job 4:18).  In other words, God is the ultimate Fault-Finder.  That is the moral calculus of the universe.

“Nobody’s perfect” is indeed true, but not profound, nor even relevant in Job’s case (Job 1:1, 8).  It does, however, surround Job with an aura of suspicion in the eyes of others.  There is a social dimension to suffering, as friends gather around to insinuate their well-meaning but misplaced criticisms.  Inevitably, a mentality of judgment projects its darkness even onto God himself.  God saw it that way (Job 42:7).

Wisdom, by contrast, makes us suspicious of our own suspicions, critical of our own criticisms.  Wisdom stops, rather than spreads, a spirit of accusation.  Wisdom gives the benefit of the doubt.  Wisdom, like love, “believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), filling in every blank with positive assumptions.

God does sit in judgment over us all — with perfect wisdom, for the sake of Jesus Christ his Son, the Friend of sufferers, the Accused in their place.

Our part?  “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Proverbs 11:12).  And, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What "union with Christ" means in experience

So near, so very near to God
Nearer I could not be
For in the person of his Son
I’m just as near as he.

So dear, so very dear to God
Dearer I could not be
The love wherewith he loved his Son
Is the love he has for me!

-- a poem quoted by Ray Ortlund, Jr. in a tribute he wrote to his father

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What matters most in a preacher?

"If the pulpit be declining in power, it is due in a great measure to the men who mistake error for freshness, self-conceit for culture, and a determination to go astray for nobility of mind. So far from despising brethren of small literary accomplishments who excel in spiritual power and life, it is our duty to have them in abundant honour, to cheer them under their difficulties, and imitate them in their industrious use of their few talents. They can arouse a conscience though they cannot elucidate a problem; they can stir the affections, though they cannot revel in poetic imagery; they can reclaim sinners, though they cannot mystify with subtleties."

-- Charles Spurgeon

(See the rest of this message here.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What should we expect in our daily walk with God?

In this first post, Justin Taylor introduces teaching from Greg Koukl that examines the idea "that a true relationship of intimacy with God requires ongoing private and personal revelations as a normative part of the Christian life."

In this second post, John Koessler discusses a related concern, the possibility of disappointment when it comes to our expectations of 'intimacy with God.'

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Justification: Declared Righteous...

"This is the scandal of justification: How can God declare us righteous if we are not inherently righteous? Isn’t this a legal fiction? Doesn’t it make God a liar? But that’s like thinking that God cannot say, ‘Let there be light’ unless there is already a sun to give it. God himself creates the conditions necessary for the existence of his work. When he says, ‘Let there be light!’ the sun exists. When he says, ‘Let this ungodly person be righteous,’ ‘this barren woman be pregnant,’ ‘this faithless person embrace my Word,’ it is so.

"When we really understand justification, we really understand how God works with us in every aspect of our lives before him. Christ lived the purpose-driven life so that we would inherit his righteousness through faith and be promise-driven people in a purpose-driven world. He did gain the everlasting inheritance by obedience to everything God commanded, driven by the purpose of fulfilling the law for us, in perfect love of God and neighbor, and he bore its judgments against us. His resurrection guarantees that the law of sin and death does not have the last word over us. He fulfilled the original purpose and commission for human existence, glorifying and enjoying his Father to the fullest. And he did this as our covenantal head, our representative, not simply as a moral example. Just as we were ‘in Adam’ at the fall, we were legally included ‘in Christ’ as he fulfilled all righteousness, bore our sins, and rose from the dead in victory."

— Michael Horton
The Gospel-Driven Life
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Books, 2009), 141-142

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Why We'd Be in a Miserable World Without Religion"

Go here for an interview with King’s College President Dinesh D’Souza: why he’ll argue against the motion, “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion,” at the Nov. 15 Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. debate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Baptism is for believers

Justin Taylor has a very helpful interview with Stephen Wellum, summarizing the case for believer's baptism.
Here is the introduction to the blog post:

Stephen Wellum is professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). His essay “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants” (available in PDF online for free) is, in my mind, one of the most helpful pieces showing what the differences between the old and new covenants demonstrate the necessity of credobaptism over and against paeodobaptism. (The chapter is part of a larger collection of essays, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, ed. Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright.) He is also the co-author, with Peter Gentry of the forthcoming book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (forthcoming June 2012), a massive exegetical and biblical-theological look at all of the biblical covenants.....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Spiritual Disciplines and the Gospel

"Spiritual disciplines must be accompanied by a deep saturation in the gospel. The gospel changes the desires and cravings of the heart. The whole purpose of the disciplines, in fact, is to give you opportunity to think about, and meditate on, and move within the gospel. Spiritual disciplines are like wires that connect us to the power of the gospel. They have no power in themselves, but they connect us to the place from which the power flows. They are gateways to the gospel, but not the gospel itself."

-- J.D. Greear,  "Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary" (p. 196). B&H Publishing Group.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Honoring one another

"Outdo one another in showing honor."  Romans 12:10
I wonder if Romans 12:10 is one of the most under-obeyed commands in Scripture.  I wonder if we have lowered our standard to “Do no harm to one another,” which is passive, and if we are not destroying each other we must be doing okay.  But the gospel is all about the glory of God coming down on sinners (2 Thessalonians 2:14).  Honor to one another is an obvious next step.  But how many churches have you observed that made you say, “How they honor one another!”
What might keep us from pressing further in this way?
One, we might fear that honoring one another could appear to be mere flattery, even manipulation.  And yes, we should carefully watch our hearts against insincerity.  But do we ever obey perfectly in any respect?  Obeying imperfectly is better than disobeying for fear of imperfection.
Two, we might think, Who am I to confer honor on anyone?  What is my opinion worth?  Good thought.  Humble thought.  But it isn’t us conferring the honor.  It is God.  Our part is to celebrate the honor and glory God is giving.
Three, we might not know how to show honor.  Some of us grew up in homes where put-downs were how we were managed as children.  But the gospel is all we need to begin a new tradition in every life, every home, every church.  As we reach for nobler things, the God of peace will be with us to help us (Philippians 4:8-9).
Four, we might not see things in other believers worthy of honor.  Well, maybe we need to look more closely.  “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3).  Every saint has some excellence.  But an outlook of negative scrutiny will impute dark things to admirable people.  Maybe we need to repent of an ungenerous spirit toward truly godly people.
As Paul Tournier wrote in Guilt and Grace, pages 15-16, “In everyday life we are continually soaked in this unhealthy atmosphere of mutual criticism, so much so that we are not always aware of it and we find ourselves drawn unwittingly into an implacable vicious circle: every reproach evokes a feeling of guilt in the critic as much as in the one criticized, and each one gains relief from his guilt in any way he can, by criticizing other people and in self-justification.”  This is the spirit of worldliness.
We gospel-centered people are under the command of God to create alternative cultures of honor, called churches, where people are lifted up, their accomplishments celebrated, their strengths admired, their weaknesses forgiven.  This new relational environment has high standards, in keeping with the glory of the gospel.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Believing in the love and power of God

It is easy to believe in the love and power of God when you are seeing it manifested in your circumstances. Believing in God’s love is harder, however, when He’s not answering a prayer the way you think He should. For years, atheists have advanced an argument against God based on the presence of evil in the world. It goes something like this: If there were a God who is infinite in love, He would want to stop pain. If He is infinite in power, He could stop pain. Therefore, since pain exists, God must not. Perhaps you’ve asked a similar question, even as a believer:

God, why won’t You bless my ministry?
Why aren’t I married yet?
God, why isn’t my business prospering? I’d use the profits to bless others!
God, why won’t You heal me?
God, don’t You see?
Why won’t You help? Don’t You care? Do You not love me?

I can’t answer all the “why” questions, but I do know this: We must not reinterpret how God feels about us based on our circumstances. The cross settles forever how God feels about us, and the resurrection shows us how much power He is using to bring about His good plan for our lives.

-- J.D. Greear,  "Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary" (pp. 184-185). B&H Publishing Group

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Because we are in Christ..."

"Preaching the gospel to ourselves every day gives us hope, joy, and courage. The good news that our sins are forgiven because of Christ’s death fills our hearts with joy, gives us courage to face the day, and offers us hope that God’s favor will rest upon us, not because we are good, but because we are in Christ."

— Jerry Bridges
The Discipline of Grace: God's Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness
(Colorado Springs, Co.: NavPress, 1994), 26

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Suffering from Eternity Amnesia

"...Why are our expectations less than realistic? Because in our eternity amnesia we are asking this present world to be what it simply never will be. We want the here and now to behave as if it is our final destination, when actually all that we are experiencing in the here and now prepares us for the destination that is to come.... Human beings were created to live big-picture, long-view lives. We were made to live with something bigger in view than this present moment’s comfort, pleasure, and happiness. Eternity confronts us with the fact that we are not in charge, that we do not live in the center of the universe, and that life moves by the will and purpose of Another. The instantaneous, self-serving, me obsession of our culture never results in inner peace and contentment. Eternity confronts me with the realities that transcend my momentary wants, feelings, and needs."

-- Paul DavidTripp, "Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It"  Zondervan

Friday, November 4, 2011

What does God want for us?

‎"I'm not sure that God particularly wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to be able to love and be loved. He wants us to grow up. We think our childish toys bring us all the happiness there is and our nursery is the whole wide world - but something must drive us out of the nursery to the world of others and that something is suffering."
- C.S. Lewis

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What does it mean to live in hope?

"If you are God’s child, you have hope because God is hope, and you have a hope that will last forever because he has defeated the one thing that stands between you and forever: death.

"Sadly, many of us who by God’s grace have been given hope don’t live as if we have it. We look for hope where hope can’t be found. We place our hope in things that can never deliver. We live hopelessly because we fail to live with forever in view. We live for the next vacation, the next thrilling experience, the next stunning achievement. We put our hope in the hands of flawed and finite people, burdening our relationships with expectations that they can never deliver. We ask inanimate objects to give us a reason to get up in the morning, but they never can.

"Sure, the things in which we put our hope give us a temporary buzz and a temporary rest, but reality always hits. These things all disappoint us in the end. No matter how wonderful the situations in our life are, no matter how beautiful our possessions are, no matter how exciting our experiences are, no matter how fulfilling our accomplishments are, and no matter how loving the people in our lives are, they will only satisfy us temporarily. They simply cannot carry our hope. How different would your life and mine be if we remembered that everything that exists in the created world is meant to be a finger pointing us to the only place where hope can be found?"

-- Paul David Tripp,  "Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It"  Zondervan.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why we have hope...

"If you are God’s child, you can have hope in the middle of all the tough things you face because in all those moments God is with you, but also because the cross of Jesus guarantees you that all that is broken will be made new forever. You can live today knowing that you have a future that is beyond the boundaries of your wildest imagination. If you are God’s child, you have hope because God is hope, and you have a hope that will last forever because he has defeated the one thing that stands between you and forever: death."

— Paul David Tripp
Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 2011), 101-102

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"The most important thing..."

Here is Ray Ortlund's moving tribute to his father (Ray Ortlund, Sr., whose "Haven of Rest" broadcasts really ministered to me early in my Christian life):  

"I think about my dad a lot.  I miss him so much it aches sometimes.  But the most important thing he taught me was this.  There is only one way to live: all-out, go-for-broke, risk-taking enthusiasm for Christ.

"Halfway Christianity is the most miserable existence of all.  Halfhearted Christians know enough about their sin to feel guilty about themselves, but they haven’t given themselves enough to the Savior to become happy in him. Wholehearted Christianity is happy.

"How could my dad get there and stay there?  He really, really knew that God loved him and had completely forgiven all his sins at the cross of Jesus.  He did not wring his hands, wondering what God thought of him.  He believed the good news, his spirit soared and he could never do too much for Jesus.

"I am thankful for what I saw in my dad.  It’s the most valuable thing anyone has ever given me.  I want everyone to have this treasure."