Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mission Work Is Not Missional If We Change the Message

Eckhard Schnabel:

"If we avoid speaking of God’s wrath, of God’s justice, of the coming day of divine judgment, of Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice for us, we are not changing the form of the missionary presentation of the gospel but its content. The foundational centrality of “Christ crucified” is of critical importance for the existence of the local church. In mission and evangelism the search for a presentation of the gospel that will convince listeners is misguided if the fact of Jesus’ death on the cross and the significance of this death are not central to that message.

"The cross has been and always will be regarded as a religious scandal and as intellectual nonsense. The search for a message that is more easily comprehensible must never attempt to eliminate the provocative nature of the news of Jesus the messianic Son of God who came to die so that sinners can be forgiven by God who hates sin and judges sinners on the Day of Judgment. Paul knows that it is only the power of God, the “proof” of God’s Spirit working in people, that convinces unbelievers of the truth of the news of Jesus and that leads them to faith in Jesus the Messiah and Savior."  (Paul the Missionary, 399-400)

HT: Kevin DeYoung

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wave upon wave of grace

from the book "Rid of my Disgrace" by Justin Holcomb:

"O God of grace, teach me to know that grace precedes, accompanies, and follows my salvation; that it sustains the redeemed soul, that not one link of its chain can ever break.

"From Calvary's cross, wave upon wave of grace reaches me, deals with my sin, washes me clean, renews my heart, strengthens my will, draws out my affection, kindles a flame in my soul, rules throughout my inner man, consecrates my every thought, word, work, teaches me Your immeasurable love.

"How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus. Without him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast; in him I draw near and touch His kingly scepter. Without him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes; in him I gaze upon my Father-God and friend. Without him I hide my lips in trembling shame; in him I open my mouth in petition and praise.

"Without him all is wrath and consuming fire; in him is all love, and the repose of my soul. Without him is gaping hell blow me, and eternal anguish; in him its gates are barred to me by His precious blood!

"Without him darkness spreads its horrors before me; in him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon. Without him all within me is terror and dismay, in him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace. Without him all things external call for my condemnation; in him they minister to my comfort and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.

"Praise be to you for grace and for the uspeakable gift of Jesus."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do you think faithfulness to God will mean you'll live a good and comfortable life?

Here's a summary from Matt Chandler (see my previous post; here is the link to his entire essay):

Here are a few men who loved our great God and King and were obedient beyond the norm:

-- Moses spends his whole life with grumbling whiners and dies without getting to walk into the promised land.
-- Samson suicide bombs the Philistines, and when the dust settles, he is dead and the Philistines still rule over Israel.
-- One of David's sons rapes his sister and another leads a rebellion against him, dethroning him for a season.
-- Jeremiah ends up in exile with the rest of the country after repeatedly getting beaten for preaching what God commanded him to preach.
-- John the Baptizer is beheaded by a pervert who gives his head to a 15-year-old stripper.
-- Peter is killed, reportedly crucified upside down.
-- Paul is killed in Rome but only after he spends his life (with thorn intact) being beaten, rejected, lost at sea, and consistently dealing with people coming in behind him and destroying what he built.

"Success is a hollow goal"

Matt Chandler writes a powerful essay about what ought to motivate Christians for life and ministry.  Here is a brief excerpt:

"...If your hope is set on anything other than Jesus, how do you survive when it goes bad? How do you remain passionate and vibrant when no one comes or the baptismal waters are still for long stretches? How do you maintain doctrinal integrity or teach hard things if he isn't the treasure? How do you worship when your wife gets sick or your son goes for a ride in an ambulance?

"If Jesus is the goal, the treasure, the pursuit, then those things are fuel that presses you into his goodness and grace all that much more. I am not saying they are pleasant or enjoyable but only that if he is your goal then you will find your faith sustained."

-- Matt Chandler

You can read the entire essay here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

For those with tired souls...

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

...from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

"The sacred center of Christianity is Christ himself.  Coming personally to the Person.  Coming directly to the Mediator.  No one but Jesus can call us with such authority, and no one but Jesus can encourage us with such a promise.  No one else can give us rest.

"If our primary purpose in church is to connect with one another, that’s what we’ll get — one another.  And we’ll end up angry.  Only Jesus gives us rest.  If we will put him first and come to him first, then we’ll have something to give to one another.

If our primary purpose in church is outreach and mercy and justice, we’ll end up exhausted.  Only Jesus gives us rest.  If we will put him first and come to him first, we’ll be renewed for endless mission.

"There are as many false and disappointing centers as there are impulses in our hearts.  Everything else will let us down.  Everything.

"Only One has ever said and can ever say, 'Come to me, and I will give you rest.'

"His offer stands.  And we don’t have to deserve it.  He gives it.  But he does come first."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Deeper Revelation?

"There is no deeper revelation of the Spirit beyond the revelation of the Bible. The authentic work of the Spirit is seen, not when people get excited by some new message or miracle, but rather when their eyes are opened and their hearts are filled with an ever-deepening appreciation of the Bible's teaching about what God has done for them in Christ and a growing longing to live in light of all they have received from him."

-- Vaughan Roberts. Authentic Church: True Spirituality in a Culture of Counterfeits. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011

Sunday, March 25, 2012

True Christianity is Supernaturally Spirit-ual

"The Christian life in all its aspects -- intellectual and ethical; devotional and relational, upsurging in worship and outgoing in witness -- is supernatural; only the Spirit can initiate and sustain it.

"So apart from him, not only will there be no lively believers and no lively congregations, there will be no believers and no congregations at all."

-- J.I. Packer

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The hand of God's providence...

A great quote from a great Bible scholar--Alfred Edersheim a rabbi who became a Christian teacher, summarizing the lesson of Genesis 27: 

"...a higher hand guides the threads of history, so that neither sin nor error can ultimately entangle them. Each one weaves the threads which are committed to him according to his own views and desires; but at last, when the texture is complete, we behold in it the pattern which the Master had long devised, and towards which each labourer had only contributed one or another feature.”

Edersheim, A. (1997). Bible History: Old Testament (Gen 27:1-28:9). From Logos Bible Software
HT: Craig Miller

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Benefits of Delighting in God

via Ray Ortlund, Jr.:  

Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of delighting ourselves in God.  Updating the language a little:

1.  Delight in God will prove that you know him and love him and that you are prepared for his kingdom, for all who truly delight in him shall enjoy him.

2.  Prosperity, which is merely the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt you or transport you.

3.  Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not much grieve you or easily deject you.

4.  You will receive more profit from a sermon or good book or conversation you delight in, than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities.

5.  All your service will be sweet to yourself and acceptable to God; if you delight in him, he certainly delights in you (Psalm 149:4; 147:11; 1 Chronicles 29:17).

6.  You will have a continual feast with you, to sweeten all the crosses of your life and provide you with joy greater than your sorrow in your saddest condition.

7.  When you delight in God, your created pleasures will be sanctified to you and warranted in their proper place, which in other people are idolatrous or corrupt.

Lord, “you are good and you do good” (Psalm 119:68).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Christ came chiefly for this reason..."

"Christ came chiefly for this reason: that we might learn how much God loves us, and might learn this to the end that we begin to glow with love of him by whom we were first loved, and so might love our neighbor at the bidding and after the example of him who made himself our neighbor by loving us."

— Augustine, quoted by Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang in
Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful
(Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 61

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

For those who are suffering...

More pastoral, practical wisdom from Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”  1 Peter 5:10-11

And after you have suffered a little while.  Your suffering is real.  “A little while” does not trivialize it.  But suffering is not the rest of your story.  It will end, and soon – as measured by the real grandeur of your life, as grand as “eternal glory in Christ.”

the God of all grace.  He has remedies, comforts and powers for every need, every occasion, every moment.  “All grace” cannot be exhausted and need not be deserved.

who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ.  As C. S. Lewis said, someday you will get in.  God has so removed every barrier that nothing exists now to forbid your immediate entrance.

will himself.  Not mediated, not through angels, not through other people, but God himself directly and personally.  Not bare luck but his own loving involvement.

restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  Terms upon terms, because God has thought of everything.  Whatever you have lost he will restore.  However you are weak he will confirm, strengthen and establish you, so that you emerge whole, formidable, happy forever.

To him be the dominion forever and ever.  No one, however malicious or just stupid, can overrule his purpose of grace for you in Christ, but only serve his purpose.

Amen.  Very few things in life deserve absolute affirmation.  But here is one.

-- Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Is this what you believe?

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic [universal] church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Man-pleaser or God-pleaser?

From Ray Ortlund, Jr....

'Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” . . . And Samuel said to Saul, “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”  1 Samuel 15:24-26

As a friend said to me years ago, if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fear of man is the beginning of folly.  Saul was given leadership.  But he was removed from leadership.  Why?  He feared the people more than he feared the Lord.  Pressured by that fear, he disobeyed the word of the Lord in order to obey the voice of the people.  In God’s eyes, this was not just any old sin; it was a disqualifying sin.

We who lead want to please people, of course.  We love them.  Paul said, “I try to please everyone in everything I do” (1 Corinthians 10:33).  But sometimes we can’t please people.  Sometimes we have to disappoint people we love dearly, in order to obey the Lord we love more dearly.  So Paul also said, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?  If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

When Paul faced a choice between pleasing himself and pleasing others, he pleased others.  When he faced a choice between pleasing others and pleasing Christ, he pleased Christ.

How do we elders know, at any given time, which way to go?  The Bible.  Not church politics.  Not long-standing friendships.  Not complaints and threats from influential members.  But the Bible.

Elders with open Bibles, searching the Scriptures together with honest openness, will find their way.  They will not be perfect.  But they will please the Lord, even when they have to displease people.  They will retain their moral authority in God’s sight.  And it’s his judgment, his alone, that brightens the future of their church."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Jesus is not a spectator on Sunday morning..."

from Josh Blount...

'In the halls of University College London, a wandering visitor may chance upon a strange sight: the skeleton, hay-stuffed clothes, and wax head of Jeremy Bentham, an 18th century philosopher and the spiritual father of University College. (It seems an odd fetish to me, but to each his own I suppose.) It’s even reported that at the 100th and 150th year anniversaries of University College Bentham was wheeled into board meetings where he was recorded on the minutes as “present but not voting.” At least they didn’t ask him to give the closing address….

'Now, here’s the question: when we gather on Sunday mornings, how often is our functional view of Jesus something like “present but not voting?” Yes, we know we’re singing to Him and talking about Him, and we’re sure that He’s pleased with what we’re doing – but do we think of Jesus as anything more than a spectator at a party someone else has thrown for Him? Is our view of the Sunday gathering a mostly bottom-up, us-to-God kind of endeavor, the sort of thing Jesus might notice, smile down on, and say, “That was thoughtful of you!”

The reality is that Jesus is not “present but not voting” in His church. Listen to how Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck describes Jesus’ ongoing ministry as our resurrected and exalted Savior:

“In the state of exaltation, consequently, he has also been given the divine right, the divine appointment, the royal power and prerogatives to carry out the work of re-creation in full, to conquer all his enemies, to save all those who have been given him, and to perfect the entire kingdom of God….It is the living and exalted Christ, seated at the right hand of God, who deliberately and with authority distributes all these benefits, gathers his elect, overcomes his enemies, and directs the history of the world toward the day of his parousia” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. III, p. 474).

'The next time you gather together with the people of God at your local church, meditate on this fact: Jesus is present and active among us by His Spirit. He is present and active to break through layers of unbelief, hard-heartedness, and sin’s deceitfulness to change us from the inside-out through the preaching of the Word. He is present and active to open the eyes of those still blinded by Satan and to bring them into the glorious light of His gospel. He is present and active to stir and animate and deepen our praise as we sing. You have never been in an “ordinary” Sunday meeting. Sometimes quietly, sometimes obviously, but always actively and faithfully, our risen Lord Jesus  Christ is at work in our Sunday gatherings to sustain, equip, and transform the people He bought with His own blood until the day when “the kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord.”

'Could there be a better reason to gather on Sunday mornings?'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Today's Christian Radio

When I first became a Christian, in my early teens, Christian radio stations were a huge help to me, with a good blend of solid teaching and Christ-centered, Biblical lyrics (in different song styles).  I have to say that today's Christian radio, much of the time, is just not as good (in either of these categories).

This article echoes some of my own concerns.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

'All that I am, I am for you'

"God’s ‘I am’ had enormous relevance for Israel. It has no less relevance for us as Christians. For the point God made in the burning bush He made mare clearly than even in the ministry of Jesus. In the one He said to an ancient people,‘All that I am, I am for you’; in Jesus God said it again, not in a bush that burned, but in a man who came and spoke and died. In the bush it is a momentous message to Moses and to Israel; in Jesus of Nazareth it is a definite statement to the human race."

— Peter Lewis
The Glory of Christ
(Chicago, Ill.: Moody Publishers, 1997), 91

HT: Of First Importance

A man of grace and truth...

"Steven Curtis Chapman Is Not a Good Man"...       An insightful, encouraging article from Andrew Peterson (via Justin Taylor).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why the Father Said No to the Son

Thabiti Anyabwile on "Five Reasons the Father Silently Said 'No' to the Son"

Here's an excerpt:

"We’re not to think no answer was given on that amazing night in Gethsemane.  Neither are we to think that the Father’s silent “No” indicated purposeless neglect, as though God the Father were a divine deadbeat dad.  We’re to understand that the only Perfect Father found occasion to deny the only Perfect Son because such denial achieved the only perfect ends–a perfectly qualified High Priesthood, reconciliation through the only God-man Mediator, loving atonement for the sins of men, the vindication of the Father’s righteousness, and the ever-redounding glory of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father!  Gethsemane’s silent answer will eternally be heard in the loud joyous praises of the universe"!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

All I Need Is Christ

“We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ.  We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.   If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is of him.  If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing.  If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth.  For by his birth he was made like us in all respects, that he might learn to feel our pain.  If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge.  In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.”

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.16.19.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Friday, March 9, 2012

"How Jesus Fought in the Dark Hour"

Bible-based, life-related wisdom from John Piper:

"When something drops into your life that seems to threaten your future, remember this: the first shockwaves of the bomb are not sin. The real danger is yielding to them. Giving in. Putting up no spiritual fight. And the root of that surrender is unbelief — a failure to fight for faith in future grace. A failure to cherish all that God promises to be for us in Jesus...."

"Jesus shows us another way..."

Read the entire post here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"And they shall never perish..."

"Believers shall never fall totally, finally, and completely. They shall always rise again from their falls by repentance, and renew their walk with God. Though sorely humbled and cast down, they never entirely lose their grace. The comfort of it they may lose—but not the existence of grace. Like the moon under an eclipse, their light is for a season turned into darkness; but they are not rejected and cast away. Like the trees in winter, they may show neither leaves nor fruit for a time; but the life is still in their roots. They may be overtaken by a fault, and carried away by temptation. But they never perish." (John 10:28)

~ J.C. Ryle

Tract: Perseverance

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Odious or Glorious?

"What was shameful, even odious, to the critics of Christ, was in the eyes of his followers most glorious.… There is no greater cleavage between faith and unbelief than in their respective attitudes to the cross. Where faith sees glory, unbelief sees only disgrace. What was foolishness to Greeks, and continues to be to modern intellectuals who trust in their own wisdom, is nevertheless the wisdom of God. And what remains a stumbling-block to those who trust in their own righteousness, like the Jews of the first century, proves to be the saving power of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25)."

— John Stott
The Cross of Christ
(Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 40

HT: Of First Importance

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Spirit's Persuasion: You are loved by God!

"God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us".  Romans 5:5

“The Comforter gives a sweet and plentiful evidence and persuasion of the love of God to us, such as the soul is taken, delighted, satiated withal.  This is his work, and he doth it effectually.  To give a poor sinful soul a comfortable persuasion, affecting it throughout, in all its faculties and affections, that God in Jesus Christ loves him, delights in him, is well pleased with him, hath thoughts of tenderness and kindness towards him; to give, I say, a soul an overflowing sense hereof, is an inexpressible mercy.”

-- John Owen, Works (Edinburgh, 1980), II:240.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prodigal you?

"Do you believe, truly believe, that if you had been the prodigal, that the Father would have come running down the lane to welcome you?"

(Luke 15:11-24)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Because of the Ascension...

"Because of the ascension, there are now two ‘histories’: the history of this passing evil age, subject to sin and death; and that of the age to come, subject to righteousness and life. Because Jesus Christ is Lord, we are made alive by the Spirit, drawn away from our allegiance with death, and made cosufferers as well as co-heirs with Jesus Christ. It is the ascension that both grounds the struggle of the church militant and guarantees that one day it will share fully in the triumph of its King."

— Michael Horton
The Christian Faith
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 2011), 535

Thursday, March 1, 2012

When God seems unreal

From Ray Ortlund, Jr:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”  1 John 1:7

"Sometimes God seems unreal, remote, theoretical.  When that is so, there is a reason.  God is in fact real.  So are we.  That it doesn’t seem so demands an explanation.

"The problem might be intellectual in nature.  We might have doubts.  God wants to satisfy our doubts with reasonable assurances.  God loves our minds.  He made our minds to know him.  So this barrier to reality with God is significant but surmountable.

"The primary problem might be more personal in nature.  1 John 1:7 says that God is in the light.  That’s where he locates himself.  It’s where he has made himself findable.  If we want him, that’s where we need to go — out into the light, where he already is.

"To walk in the light, in the context of 1 John, is an honest relationship with God and with one another.  Honesty about our sins and failings.  No denial.  No sweeping the past under the rug.  No evasion.  It’s humbling, even painful, to face ourselves.  But entire openness to God about who we are and what we’ve done is how we step out of the shadows into the light of truth.  That is where God becomes real again.  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light . . . .”

"And the blessings he has for us there in the light are renewed fellowship with one another, as the walls fall down, and cleansing by the blood of Jesus his Son, as our sins pour out in confession.

"God is real, when we are."