Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"If you're not praying..."

"If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money and talent are all you need in life."

- Paul Miller, A Praying Life

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ray Ortlund, Jr. on a Gospel-centered Church

Ray Ortlund, Jr.:

“. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  Luke 7:34

What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?  That’s a popular concept these days.  Good.  What if we were scrambling to be law-centered?  But the difference is not so easy in real terms.

A gospel-centered church holds together two things.  One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe.  Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us.  Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us.  Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige.  The good news of substitution.  The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone.  Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there.  That message, that awareness, that clarity.  Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into its sociology.  The good news of God’s grace beautifies how we treat one another.  In fact, the horizontal reveals the vertical.  How we treat one another reveals what we really believe as opposed to what we think we believe.  It is possible to say, “We are a gospel-centered church,” and sincerely mean it, while we make our church into a law-centered social environment.  We see God above lowering his gun, and we breathe a sigh of relief.  But if we are trigger-happy toward one another, we don’t get it yet.

A gospel-centered church looks something like this album cover — my all-time favorite.  A gospel-centered church is a variegated collection of sinners.  What unifies them is Jesus, the King of grace.  They come together and stick together because they have nothing to fear from their church’s message or from their church’s culture.  The theology creates the sociology, and the sociology incarnates the theology.  And everyone is free to trust the Lord, be honest about their problems, and grow in newness of life.

The one deal-breaker in a gospel-centered church: anyone for any reason turning it into a culture of legal demandingness, negative scrutiny, finger-pointing, gossip and other community-poisoning sins.  A church with a message of grace can quickly and easily stop being gospel-centered in real terms.

A major part of pastoral ministry is preaching the doctrine of grace and managing an environment of grace.  The latter is harder to accomplish than the former.  It is more intuitive.  It requires more humility, self-awareness and trust in the Lord.  But when a church’s theological message and its relational tone converge as one, that church becomes powerfully prophetic, for the glory of Jesus.

May the Friend of sinners grant beautiful gospel-centricity in all our churches.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Power of Being Amazed by Grace

"How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?

"What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.

"The way in which we maintain ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’ is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still ‘amazing’ to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace."

— Sinclair Ferguson
Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Drive out the mocker...."

"Get rid of the one who makes fun of wisdom.
    Then fighting, quarrels, and insults will stop." -- Prov. 22:10 (New Century Version)

The NIV translation of this person is "the mocker", and the NET Bible's note says that this is the person who refuses to be "changed with discipline or correction, but who despises and disrupts anything that is morally or socially constructive."  Think of what this might mean for family, church, or work situations,....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Four Kinds of People

It seems to me there are essentially four kinds of people:

1.  Those who believe the truth about life, God and reality, etc., and act in accordance with that belief.
2.  Those who “believe” the truth about life, God and reality, etc., but act contrary to that belief (in substantial ways).
3.  Those who believe what is false about life, God and reality, but act contrary to that belief (in substantial ways).
4.  Those who believe what is false about life, God and reality, and act in accordance with that (false) belief.

There is a lot to say about each group, but for now: the people in group #3 are often nicer or nobler than those in group #2.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Why It's Essential for You to Become a Christian

Both Scripture and now many years of observation have convinced me of this:  unless a person comes to the place where they are truly devoted to God, over any other devotion, their lives -- at some point or another -- are going to break down and fail.  We were made to know and love and serve God; and if we won't or don't, our lives will not work.

"You shall have no other gods before me. (Ex. 20:3)
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 Jn. 5:21)
'There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.' (Prov. 14:12)
"...ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”  (Rom. 3:16-170
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)
 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) "But the way of the transgressor is hard."

'Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.' (Tim Keller)

The Alternative?: Living in Idolatry (‘God-substitutes’)

Here is a list of various ‘god-substitutes’ and the particular kinds of brokenness and damage that each one brings into a life:

• If you center your life and identity on your spouse, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems and flaws will be overwhelming to you.

• If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.

• If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.

• If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.

• If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the ‘escape strategies’ by which you try to avoid the hardness of life.

• If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.

• If you center your life and identity on a ‘noble cause,’ you will divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.

• If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, you guilt will be devastating.

In pride we become obsessed with whatever interferes with people making much of us.

Our besetting sins are warning signs that our characteristic idolatry is at work.

‘Only if your identity is built on God and his love and grace can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything.’

-- based on chapter 10 (“The Problem of Sin”) of Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” (Dutton)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How He has loved us...

There is no other solution to the marvellous mysteries of His Incarnation and Sacrificial Death but this: Christ has loved us.

There is not a circumstance of our Lord’s history which is not another form or manifestation of love.

His incarnation is love stooping.
His sympathy is love weeping.
His compassion is love supporting.
His grace is love acting.
His teaching is the voice of love.
His silence is the repose of love.
His patience is the restraint of love.
His obedience is the labor of love.
His suffering is the travail of love.
His cross is the altar of love.
His death is the burnt offering of love.
His resurrection is the triumph of love.
His ascension into heaven is the enthronement of love.
His sitting down at the right hand of God is the intercession of love.

Such is the deep, the vast, the boundless ocean of Christ’s love!

— Octavius Winslow
The Sympathy of Christ

He came to seek and to save...

"Jesus was born in a dungheap because that's where he knew he'd find us." -- Jerome

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"...In the absence of human assistance..."

Today I was talking to a friend about how much I wish I could talk to Dr. Grier (who went to be with the Lord this past year) to get his advice and insight on a very challenging situation I've been facing. I'm sure I would benefit from his wisdom as I did so many times before. But then I came across this quote today, which both encourages and challenges me....maybe it will be helpful to others too: "God sends people in and out of your life to exercise your faith and develop your character. Whey they’re gone, they leave you with the reality that your God is with you to deliver you wherever you go! Joshua never would have learned that while Moses was there. In the absence of human assistance, we learn the magnitude of God’s favor." (Jorge Bergoglio)

Friday, December 20, 2013

"Christmas is for those who hate it most"

from Matt Redmond:

We are by now accustomed to hearing about how Christmas is difficult for many people. The story of Scrooge and his—ehem—problems with this season is no longer anecdotal. It is now par for the course. Maybe it always has been. Maybe the joy of the season has always been a thorn in the side of those who can scarcely imagine joy.

Not too long ago, I heard from someone about how difficult Christmas would be because of some heartbreak in their family. There was utter hopelessness and devastation. Christmas would be impossible to enjoy because of the freshness of this pain. It's been a story very hard to forget.

I get it. I mean, it makes sense on the level of Christmas being a time in which there is a lot of heavily concentrated family time. The holidays can be tense in even the best of circumstances. Maneuvering through the landmines of various personalities can be hard even if there is no cancer, divorce or empty seat at the table. What makes it the most wonderful time of the year is also what makes it the most brutal time of the year. My own family has not been immune to this phenomenon.

But allow me to push back against this idea a little. Gently. I think we have it all backwards. We have it sunk deep into our collective cultural consciousness that Christmas is for the happy people. You know, those with idyllic family situations enjoyed around stocking-strewn hearth dreams. Christmas is for healthy people who laugh easily and at all the right times, right? The successful and the beautiful, who live in suburban bliss, can easily enjoy the holidays. They have not gotten lost on the way because of the GPS they got last year. They are beaming after watching a Christmas classic curled up on the couch as a family in front of their ginormous flat-screen. We live and act as if this is who should be enjoying Christmas.

But this is backwards. Christmas—the great story of the incarnation of the Rescuer—is for everyone, especially those who need a rescue. Jesus was born as a baby to know the pain and sympathize with our weaknesses. Jesus was made to be like us so that in his resurrection we can be made like him; free from the fear of death and the pain of loss. Jesus’ first recorded worshipers were not of the beautiful class. They were poor, ugly shepherds, beat down by life and labor. They had been looked down on over many a nose.

Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to "wing night" alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer, and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when he wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for prostitutes, adulterers, and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune—they want "home" but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray.

Christmas is really about the gospel of grace for sinners. Because of all that Christ has done on the cross, the manger becomes the most hopeful place in a universe darkened with hopelessness. In the irony of all ironies, Christmas is for those who will find it the hardest to enjoy. It really is for those who hate it most.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Searching for a Savior

"You see, whether we know it or not, every human being lives in search of a savior. We are all propelled by a quest for identity, inner peace, and some kind of meaning and purpose. And we’ll all look for it somewhere. Here’s the bottom line: looking to [something in] creation to get what only the Creator can give you will always result in addiction of some kind. The thing that you hoped would serve you pulls you into its service. What seemed like freedom ends up being bondage. The thing is not the problem; what you’ve asked of it is."

-- Paul David Tripp, "Sex and Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies" (Crossway)

What Christmas Tells Us about God

Christmas means "God is with us" (Matt. 1:23); the Cross means "God is for us" (Rom.8:31).

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!." (2 Cor. 9:15)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Why could we not cast it out?"

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

“You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power.  You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it.  You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. . . . You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you.

"must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness.  You must realize that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God. . . .

"We must ask ourselves how we can succeed if we do not have this authority, this commission, this might and strength and power.  We must become utterly and absolutely convinced of our need.  We must cease to have so much confidence in ourselves, and in all our methods and organizations, and in all our slickness.  We have got to realize that we must be filled with God’s Spirit.

"And we must be equally certain that God can fill us with his Spirit.  We have got to realize that, however great ‘this kind’ is, the power of God is infinitely greater, that what we need is not more knowledge, more understanding, more apologetics, more reconciliation of philosophy and science and religion, and all modern techniques – no, we need a power that can enter into the souls of men and break them and smash them and humble them and then make them anew.  And that is the power of the living God.

"And we must be confident that God has this power as much today as he had one hundred years ago, and two hundred years ago, and so we must begin to seek the power and to pray for it.  We must begin to plead and yearn for it.  ‘This kind’ needs prayer.”

-- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival (Wheaton, 1987), pages 18-19.
HT:  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Worry is a waste...

“Don't waste your life in doubts and fears: spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours or ages that follow it.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

"He knows..."

"'But He knoweth the way that I take [-- Job].' In the grip of the mystery of God's providential dealings with us, this is the very acme and apex of faith. To put it very simply, it means that our resting place, as we may be faced with the mystery of God's secret will is, 'I do not know, but I know that God knows.' The judge of all the earth will do right." -- John Murray (cp. Job 23:10-12)  "Collected Writings" vol. 3, p. 164.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Gifts of the Magi

Frederick D. Bruner on the gifts of the magi (‘wise men’): 

“When people are drawn to, find, and worship God’s Christ, they also find themselves wanting to bring him their finest resources. Christmas gift-giving has its origin here. The first gift-giver is God. Now the first human gift-givers are Magi. Regenerate humanity’s first response to Christ is giving itself to his honor and service. The question of life’s meaning begins to be answered: it is to devote one’s gifts to God’s King.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"If God does not exist...."

"Nor can anyone argue that the horrors of the twentieth century were unanticipated.  Although they came as a shock, the did not come as a surprise.  In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov exclaims that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted.

"Throughout the nineteenth century, as religious conviction seeped out of the institutions of Western culture, poets and philosophers had the uneasy feeling that its withdrawal might signal the ascension of great evil in the world.  In this they were right...."

-- David Berlinski, "The Devil's Delusion:  Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Counting the Cost

"It costs something to be a true Christian. It will cost us our sins, our self-righteousness, our ease and our worldliness." ~ J.C. Ryle

Saturday, December 7, 2013

God's Holy Love

"The deepest truths about God’s character are not simply about his holiness, or his love, but about his holiness in its bond to his love, the one expressing the other, each deepening the paradox of their belonging to each other, of belonging together. Each in relation to the other leads us into the glory of who God is in his character." -- David Wells

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"You are the light of the world..."

"The Bible is not the light of the world, it is the light of the Church. But the world does not read the Bible, the world reads Christians! 'You are the light of the world.'" -- Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Carson on "The Gospel"

"The gospel is the great news of what God has graciously done in Jesus Christ, especially in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, his ascension, session, and high priestly ministry, to reconcile sinful human beings to himself, justifying them by the penal substitute of his Son, and regenerating and sanctifying them by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as the down payment of their ultimate inheritance. God will save them if they repent and trust in Jesus." -- D.A. Carson

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

At the Foot of the Cross

"Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is here, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size."

— John Stott
"The Message of Galatians"
(Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1968), 179

HT:  firstimportance.org

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Don't Let Christmas Distract You from Jesus"

from Jared Wilson...

"There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.

"I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by 'Jesus.' This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Alive to God

"The atoning death of Christ, and that alone, has presented sinners as righteous in God’s sight; the Lord Jesus has paid the full penalty of their sins, and clothed them with His perfect righteousness before the judgment seat of God.

"But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God’s presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin.

"The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, ‘It is finished.’ The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes.

"Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God."

— J. Gresham Machen
"Christianity & Liberalism"