Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Greatest Human Evidence For The Sovereignty Of God In Salvation: The Conversion And Life Of Saul Of Tarsus

We sing the glorious conquest before Damascus gate,
When Saul, the church's spoiler, came breathing threats and hate;
The rav'ning wolf rushed forward full early to the prey;
But lo! the Shepherd met him, and bound him fast today.

O glory most excelling that smote across his path!
O light that pierced and blinded the zealot in his wrath!
O voice that spake unto him the calm, reproving word!
O love that sought and held him the bondman of his Lord!

O Wisdom ord'ring all things in order strong and sweet,
What nobler spoil was ever cast at the victor's feet?
What wiser masterbuilder e'er wrought at thine employ
Than he, till now so furious thy building to destroy?

Lord, teach thy church the lesson, still in her darkest hour
Of weakness and of danger, to trust Thy hidden pow'r:
Thy grace by ways mysterious the wrath of man can bind,
And in Thy boldest foeman Thy chosen saint can find.

-John Ellerton, quoted in Paul: Missionary Theologian by Robert Reymond, p.55
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy be cause I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life...
1 Timothy 1:12-16
How do you respond to what can only be described and explained as a pure work of sovereign grace? Doxology:
...To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17
Therefore, let us continue to pray boldly and without ceasing to the immortal King who overflows with grace for the conversion of the most rebellious and hardened unbelievers we know and love, whose salvation right now seems unimaginable.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Both/And Of Biblical Evangelism

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
2 Corinthians 4:5
I don't think I have a "life verse." But if I were to choose one, I'd be hard pressed to find a verse that better sums up what my life in this world is about.

I once heard John MacArthur talking about why we as Christians are in the world. There's really only one reason. We're not here to enjoy the world because it's not our home. We're not here to worship because our worship here is so messed up and doesn't come anywhere near what God is worthy of and what it will be like in heaven. We're not here to live holy lives because the holiness we attain here as we struggle with the flesh is nothing compared to what it will be when we are in heaven. Everything we do here, we will do better in heaven. Except for one thing: proclaim the gospel. Because there won't be anyone there to tell. So we're here for one reason: evangelism.

This verse is short. It's to the point. It's crystal clear, which well suits a guy like me who is so black and white and linear in his thinking. But every part of it oozes with meaning.

In a day when there are so many methods for sharing the gospel, this verse is so helpful for me. It beautifully sums up the life of evangelism.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves...

The first thing that marks Paul's life of sharing the gospel is proclamation. Evangelism is first and foremost about proclamation. He didn't say share. He didn't say suggest. He said proclaim. The Greek word behind proclaim is the same word that we translate as preach. It is what a herald does when he cries out in public, "Hear ye! Hear ye!" It makes an announcement. It makes a declaration. It has authority because it is based on what really is true. According to Matthew, the first thing that Jesus did after He was baptized was to "preach (same word - proclaim), saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' " (Matthew 4:17). Jesus' first task before anything else was to make an announcement. It was to make a declaration. And it was done with authority. There was no doubt that Jesus had authority in His life and preaching (Matthew 7:29, Matthew 21:23). He had received it from His Father (Matthew 28:18). And then He says of us:
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
John 17:18
Jesus was sent with authority. Likewise we are sent with authority (Matthew 28:18-20). We are given this authority in large measure because we are sent to proclaim. And we can't proclaim without authority.

...but Jesus Christ as Lord...

The message that we are given to proclaim is simple. It has one point to communicate. Jesus Christ is Lord. This is supposed to be the essence of all of my proclamation. It is supposed to be the essence of my life. Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth who made me and you and everything in it and is worthy of all worship and praise and adoration. And He's not just my Lord. He's Lord of all. That's what the psalmist means when he uses two words to call God Lord in Psalm 8:
O LORD (Yahweh), our Lord (Adonai), how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8:1
Yes, Jesus is my Master. But before that He is Yahweh, the One who rules over all and governs all, infinitely glorious and perfectly satisfied in Himself without me or any of His creation. We don't just proclaim a Lord who has revealed Himself to us. We proclaim a Lord who simply is and commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

... with ourselves as your servants ...

But in case we thought that gospel proclamation was simply about saying something, Paul throws in this phrase. It's easy to just say something to someone and be done. In fact, it's really tempting (at least for me), especially when you feel like you aren't "doing" enough evangelism, to feel like you need to tell someone the gospel because that's what you are supposed to do. If I could just let the words come out of my mouth that God is holy and we are all sinners by birth but Christ died to receive the punishment for and give eternal life to all who will trust in Him, then I would feel so much better about myself. I'd feel less guilty. At least until a couple of weeks go by and this same feeling returns. But there are at least a couple of problems with this.

The first problem is that having such a mentality tends to cause us to think that we are "off the hook" and have done our duty. Therefore, I don't necessarily have to share the gospel again today because I already did with so and so. Or I can feel better about not sharing the gospel today because I did so yesterday. The reality is that even if we were sharing the gospel once a day, we wouldn't even be close to doing "enough" evangelism. There is no such thing as "enough" evangelism, especially when you become convinced it's the only reason you're still in the world. There are too many perishing sinners around us to ever let such Satan-originating thoughts (I mean that) enter our minds. But maybe I'm the only one who thinks such thoughts.

The second problem is that having such a mentality leads to cultivating a heart that is the opposite of what it should be in our evangelism, one that is broken-hearted and longing for the salvation of perishing souls. What I mean is that our evangelism becomes focused on me (the proclaimer) when it is supposed to be focused on them (the one who is perishing). I'm serving myself because I simply need to find someone to share with so that I can get rid of my own guilty feelings rather than serving the perishing by enabling them to escape from the wrath to come. My main motivation becomes the ease of my conscience rather than the eternal life and joy of another.

But Paul says that we are their servants. The true meaning of the Greek word is slave. We are to seek their eternal well being in the way that a slave in all things lives to seek the well being of his master. We are to feel the burden that this person is perishing and ache for them to come to know Christ. This is what Paul means when he says of his fellow Jews who don't know Christ, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:2, 3). How many nights of sleep do you think this caused Paul to lose? Alot more than I have lost over even any of my own family members who don't know the Lord.

What is so challenging about this phrase is that it makes evangelism anything but cookie-cutter. In a certain sense, it's so easy to do cookie-cutter evangelism. I can "just do it," move on, and forget about it. But to be someone's slave is to meet their needs. That takes being interested in their needs and taking the time to learn what those needs are and then getting down on your knees and washing someone's feet. It means saying to them not just what I'm supposed to say ("Repent and believe"), but saying to them that which will minister to them in their need ("Yes you are guilty before God, but Christ died so that though you feel abandoned you would have a Father in heaven who has promised to never leave you nor forsake you"), which I can only say after I've taken the time to get to know how the gospel speaks to their specific need. Slavery is a time investment. It's a resource investment. It often means doing what I don't necessarily feel like doing, not because I feel guilty but because I'm indebted to someone. It means I regard the one I am enslaved to with honor (1 Timothy 6:1).

Where did Paul get this idea? From Jesus:
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Mark 10:44, 45

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, thourhg he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing , taking the form of a servant (slave)...
Philippians 2:5-7
Whose slave? Ours.

... for Jesus' sake.

Though our focus should be on the other person rather than ourselves when we do evangelism, our focus ultimately should be on Jesus when we proclaim the gospel. This is what He has commanded us to do. And it is our love for Him that causes us to keep His commands (John 14:15). Our longing for the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing through the praises of as many men and women as possible from all tribes and peoples and languages is what the deepest motivation for our evangelism should be (Revelation 5:11-13, 7:9-12). The Lamb deserves nothing less than everlasting praises for spilling His blood. That's what my salvation is ultimately about. That's what their salvation is ultimately about. Therefore, that's what my evangelism is ultimately about.

I titled this post the way I did because there seems to be a contradictory nature to a couple of the aspects that I believe Paul lays out for our evangelism. How in the world does a slave proclaim? How does one walk in humble meekness while meeting the felt needs of others and at the same time declare with authority to these same people that they are blind to what their greatest need is?

When I look around the landscape of the church today, I see mostly one or the other. I see slaves who love to go around meeting felt needs but shy away from proclaiming with authority that apart from Christ "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The problem when we shy away from proclaiming with authority is that we do the very opposite of what Paul aims not to do: though we think we are proclaiming Christ, if we don't proclaim Him as Lord over all then what we are really proclaiming is ourselves in our own benevolence rather than Him.

Or I see "triumphalist" proclaimers who breathe down fire when they tell the world with authority that God is going to judge them in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed (Acts 17:21) and therefore you must repent and believe, start reading your Bible, and do what it says. Ourselves as your servants?

The devastating part of this is that the slaves who are hesitant to proclaim look over and see the "triumphalist" proclaimers and how others are responding to them and move farther away from a desire to proclaim with authority rather than closer to. And the "triumphalist" proclaimers look over and see the slaves who who are hesitant to proclaim and how others respond to them and move farther away from a desire to serve and meet needs rather than closer to. Both sides, instead of helping each other are hurting each other. Slaves refuse to proclaim. Proclaimers refuse to serve. But we must do both. It is not either/or. It is both/and.

What, then, is the answer? What it always is. We look to Jesus, in order that we might imitate the One who most beautifully and mysteriously shows us what it means to be a felt-need meeting slave who proclaims with authority for the glory of His Father.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Mark 1:15

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"
Mark 10:51
Oh, the admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Your Son, Father! Thank You for those words that You gave Jonathan Edwards. It is so stunningly and beautifully true that at the same time that Your Son can cause the mountains to tremble by His infinite power He will not quench a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed. Please make that true of me in my evangelism. Give me a heart that proclaims with authority being rooted in a true servant's heart of love. Make me a man who makes His proclamation with broken-hearted contrition over the sins of those who reject You. In other words, conform me more into the image of Your Son. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

The Only Reason For Being

"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
Isaiah 6:8


HT: Christ Is Deeper Still

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Half Our Miseries Caused By Fancying

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34
J.C. Ryle's thoughts concerning these words of Jesus:
Let us watch and pray against an anxious and over-careful spirit. It deeply concerns our happiness. Half our miseries are caused by fancying things that we think are coming upon us. Half the things that we expect to come upon us, never come at all. Where is our faith? Where is our confidence in our Saviour's words? We may well take shame to ourselves, when we read these verses, and then look into our hearts. But this we may be sure of, that David's words are true, "I have been young, and now am old, yet never saw I the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread." (Psalm 37:25).

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume 1, p. 61.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why Is It Easier to Obey God Than To Trust Him?

Book Review:

Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

By Jerry Bridges

Jerry Bridges begins this book with the assumption that it is easier for us to obey God than it is for us to trust Him. When God commands us to do something, it usually makes sense to our rational minds. Usually. But often when God brings us through experiences of suffering, it isn't clear to us why. And it is in these times that He calls us to trust Him most. Trust seems to imply that there isn't a clear explanation that our minds and heart can peacefully rest on. Trust requires that instead we rest our hearts and minds in God Himself.

Bridges spends the rest of the book explaining why the only way we can trust God fully is if He is completely sovereign, if there isn't a single movement of an atom in the universe that happens apart from His careful, purposeful design. If there is anything that can happen outside of God's control, Bridges argues, then we cannot trust God. We have no ground for that trust. And we would be fools to do so. When confronted with the problem of reconciling the seemingly contradictory attributes of God's goodness and God's absolute sovereignty, we cannot abandon either. A God who is good but not sovereign by necessity cannot exercise that goodness in and through every circumstance of our lives. A God who is sovereign but not good by necessity will not exercise that sovereignty for our good. The good news is that the Scriptures, our final authority, show us that both of these attributes stand together even if our minds have much difficulty in grasping how.

Bridges begins by showing God's absolute sovereignty over every aspect of His creation: nature, people, nations, and such. He then relates this absolute sovereignty to the wisdom of God and the love of God for His children in order to show why God can and should be trusted no matter painful or difficult circumstances we find ourselves in.

Bridges is uniquely qualified to write this book as a man who has walked with God through a lifetime of unique trials. And he does so masterfully. He writes with winsome clarity, simplicity, careful attention and faithfulness to Scripture, and the warmth of a pastor's heart. In light of the different opinions held regarding the sovereignty of God, this book couldn't be more biblically balanced in its approach to the topic. This would be a good book to recommend for someone who is beginning to grapple with or trying to better understand God's absolute sovereignty over all things, especially if the topic has hit close to home.

Here are some of my favorite (most helpful for me) excerpts from the book:
Trusting in God does not mean [that I] do not suffer grief, that [my] heart does not ache. It means that in the midst of [my] heartache and grief [I] can say something to the effect of, “Lord, I know You were in control of this dreadful event. I do not understand why You allowed it to happen, but I trust You” (p.51-52).

Trusting God is not a matter of my feelings but of my will. I never feel like trusting God when adversity strikes, but I can choose to do so even when I don’t feel like it. That act of the will, though, must be based on belief, and belief must be based on truth. (p.52)

I will say this next statement as gently and compassionately as I know how. Our first priority in times of adversity is to honor and glorify God by trusting Him. We tend to make our first priority the gaining of relief from our feelings of heartache or disappointment or frustration. This is a natural desire, and God has promised to give us grace sufficient for our trials and peace for our anxieties (see 2 Corinthians 12:9, Philippians 4:6-7). But just as God’s will is to take precedence over our will (in Matthew 26:39 Jesus Himself said, “Yet not as I will but as You will”), so God’s honor is to take precedence over our feelings. We honor God by choosing to trust Him when we don’t understand what He is doing or why He has allowed some adverse circumstance to occur. As we seek God’s glory, we may be sure that He has purposed our good and that He will not be frustrated in fulfilling that purpose (p.52-53)
We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances (p.160).

While growing up in Texas, I enjoyed my mother’s buttermilk biscuits made from “scratch” every morning before breakfast. But there was not a single ingredient in those biscuits that I would have enjoyed by itself. And even after they were mixed together, I would not have cared for the raw biscuit dough. Only after they were mixed together in the right proportions by my mother’s skillful hands and then subjected to the fire of the oven were they ready to be enjoyed for breakfast.
The “things” of Romans 8:28 are like the ingredients of the biscuit dough. By themselves they are not tasteful to us. We shun them. And we certainly shun the heat of the oven. But when God in His infinite skill has blended them all together and cooked them properly in the oven of adversity, we shall one day say it is good (p.162).
Father, is this not why Your Son taught that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of God? Oh to become like a child! Please give me such childlike trust that I do not have, trust that doesn't require clear answers but rests in Your infinitely trustworthy love and wisdom with unshakable confidence that You do all things well. Rescue me from the unbiblical notion that as we grow into greater maturity in Christ we are becoming less like children. Thank You that it isn't so in Your kingdom. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Jerry Bridges was a keynote speaker at the 2007 Desiring God National Conference on the theme "Stand: A Call For The Endurance Of The Saints." I highly recommend his message from that conference. Bridges gave four main points in explaining how we can cultivate lives in which we endure to the end:

1) A daily time of focused communion with God
2) A daily appropriation of the Gospel to ourselves
3) A daily offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice
4) A firm belief in the sovereignty of God

You can watch or listen to it here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Greatly Loved On My Birthday

At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved.
Daniel 9:23

O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.
Daniel 10:11

O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.
Daniel 10:19
What does God do when He wants you to know that You are greatly loved? One thing He does, as was the case for His prophet Daniel, is He sends someone to tell you.

I had a terrible day on Monday. Waking up over an hour before your alarm clock is supposed to go off is not the best way to start your day, especially when all you can think about from that point forward is how long the day is going to be and how tired you are going to be as a result. Then I went to work and had one of those days in which I accomplished absolutely nothing because the same problem I was trying to figure out how to fix when I got to work is the same problem I was trying to figure out how to fix when I left. It was like I spent eight hours that day staring at the same screen on the computer. And it made me not care very much about the fact that the next day would be my birthday.

When my roommate asked me how I was doing that evening when I got home from work, I told him the truth: terrible. I told him about my horrible day at work and the trouble I had sleeping, which has recently been an ongoing problem. When he asked me what I was doing for my birthday the next day, I told him I had no plans and I would simply wake up and thank God for giving me breath and sustaining me for these twenty five years.

Well, the next morning I woke up at 5:30am, an hour earlier than I usually set my alarm for (so that I can get to work early and leave early to go to Tuesday youth group at church). Still trying to wake up as I walked to the bathroom, I noticed some merchandise on the chair in the living room. A few minutes later after coming out of the bathroom (and now a little bit more awake), I went to sees what it was. It was a set of bedsheets, two pillows, a blanket, and a birthday card with this message from my roommate:
May God keep you strong with good nights of sleep. Psalm 23. Happy Birthday.
That meant the world to me. My roommate had seen me cleaning my room the night before and heard me talking about needing to get new bedsheets so he decided to go and buy me a whole new set of bedding! My birthday couldn't have started out any sweeter. O man greatly loved!

Then I went to work. And before I knew it I had found a solution to the problem that I had spent the whole previous day trying to fix without making any progress. O man greatly loved!

I've now worked at Adobe for over 3 years. Of all the birthdays that have come and gone while being employed there, I don't remember anyone I work with ever taking note of my birthday (maybe one or two people). Yet for some reason, it seemed like my whole group (and some) that I work with knew that it was my birthday. One by one, they would knock on my door and wish me a happy birthday. I kept asking each one, "How did you know it was my birthday?" Yet none of them would tell me how they knew. And then, completely unexpectedly, a group of my co-workers show up at my office ten minutes before noon to ask me where they are taking me out for my birthday. It wasn't a question of if I wanted to go. They rounded up about eight people to take me to one of our new local favorites: an Indian/Pakistani buffet. And of course, they wouldn't let me pay for my lunch. O man greatly loved!

At about 3pm, I received a text message from my roommate to let me know that a bunch of people were going to be meeting up at a restaurant to celebrate my birthday (and they would be bringing gifts) so I should plan to be there. I smiled when I read the message because I thought it was outrageous that someone would plan to celebrate another person's birthday with a bunch of people even though they didn't know for sure whether that person could be there or not. Who does that? No one has ever done that for me. And that's why it meant the world to me. O man greatly loved!

When I went to high school youth group, all the jr. high and high school students decided that they wanted to sing me happy birthday...opera style. I think that last part was a bad idea because they all embellished their voices so that it was probably the worst sounding singing of happy birthday I have ever heard in my life. I'm not kidding. But I love them all for doing it and it meant alot to me. When we broke up into our small groups and I was getting ready to lead the young men in our discussion, these young men decided that the group singing wasn't good enough so they wanted to sing for me again. And so they did. Men only. No embellishing. I really appreciated that. O man greatly loved!

Then after youth group I went to a restaurant where over a dozen people had gathered that night to celebrate my birthday. They brought gifts. They brought cards. They bought me dinner (yes, after 9pm!). O man greatly loved!

And God saved the best for last. One of my friends who came to the restaurant didn't stay very long. He called me about half an hour after he left to tell me that he hadn't brought me a gift because he was low on his finances. Before I could even tell him that that didn't matter to me, he told me that he wanted to do something else for me instead. Instead of buying me a gift, he told me that he had blocked out half an hour that night to spend in focused prayer for me. Thirty minutes in which he would do nothing but lift me up before the throne of grace! Wow. If I could trade all my gifts in the future for that from each person who wanted to give me a gift on my birthday, I would do it in a heartbeat. That blew me away. O man greatly loved!

I've never been one to think much of my birthdays. Through all my years growing up, I only remember having a birthday party when I was four years old (why exactly I cannot tell you, but it is distinct in my memory). Having a birthday in the summer meant that school wasn't in session whenever my birthday came around so I didn't have a bunch of people to invite to a party (this probably was a good thing once jr. high came around and having a birthday meant you got a beating, one hit for each year of your age). And I've been fine with that.

I wonder if this is what makes it so hard for me to experience the reality of what God says to Daniel in my own life. O man greatly loved! I understand those words in my mind. Why? Because the message that God is love (1 John 4:16) is all over the Bible. Yet I don't know if I feel them in my heart. But I know that I want to. And I need to. Desperately. On this birthday, it was like God was shouting to me what at most times feels like a whisper and what, as of late, feels to have fallen silent.

Abba, Father, thank You for twenty five years of unfailing love. Thank You for a special birthday. Please grant me to experience every day more and more of what I tasted yesterday. Almost every page of Your Word tells me that it is there if I would have the eyes to see and ears to hear. Please open these blind eyes. Open these deaf ears. And give me a heart to feel what it means to be greatly loved by the everlasting God who does not change, all because of Christ. In His precious name, Amen.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prophetic Words From A Suffering Man

As his 18 year old son Connor lies paralyzed in a hospital bed 60 days after the dive into Hume Lake that would forever change his life, his father Eric writes:
If Jesus is truly "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8, John 8:58); if God is "not man that He should lie" (Numbers 23:9); if Jesus Himself told the parable of the persistent widow and asked whether He would find such faith when He returned (Luke 18:1-8); and if He Himself also said "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours"(Mark 11:24) - if all these things are true, then why is it that we do not see people doing such things as Christ's early followers did?

I can only see two answers to that question - either A), God has changed and is no longer the way He once said He was; or B), they don't happen because we (collectively and individually) don't believe they can. I take a look around at the state of the church these days - pastors who have their own business jets; deacons and elders wrapped up in all sorts of shenanigans; many people for whom the primary concern appears to be to further their own security and comfort; and most importantly, the pathetic state of my own relationship with Christ; and I wonder what the likely answer to that question really is.
Read the entire post here.
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119:71
Father, the pain is deep and real. More than I know. But even though we often don't feel it, Your grace is still greater. Thank You for Your sustaining grace in the lives of Connor and his family. I pray that You would comfort my brother Eric as You grant Him to know You more intimately and see You more clearly. Thank You for blowing away the fog from his eyes so that there is less haze for him around the reality of who You are and who You have called us to be as Your people. Strengthen his faith I pray. Strengthen his family by the power of Your Holy Spirit in their inner being so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. And may You raise Connor up according to the great might with which You raised up Your Son from the grave. Do it for the glory of Your name. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Theology Is For Real Life Pain And Brokenness

I'm really looking forward to this soon to be released book by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle,WA:

Death By Love

HT: Between Two Worlds

Sunday, August 10, 2008

When God Boasts In His Servants

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?"
Job 1:6-8
And this was the beginning of Job's walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

I have often thought that Satan looks for the most influential and fruitful followers of Christ to make his targets of ambush because if he can make them fall, not only will he derail them, but the ripple effect will be great in negatively affecting the faith of the many who they influence. This is one reason why leaders in the Church are usually the most vulnerable to spiritual attack and should be the most vigilant.

But notice in these verses that Satan is NOT the one who takes initiative in seeking someone to torment. Who is? God Himself.

When the sons of God (not really sure who these are) come to present themselves before God (as it seems like they did on some sort of regular basis), it just so happens that Satan comes along with them on this particular occasion. And from the text, we don't know anything about Satan's agenda. All we know is that he's been walking up and down the earth, going to and fro. Of all the things that God could have said to Satan, what did He choose to say? He chose to call attention to one of His servants:
"Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth , a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?"
Job 1:8
What is God doing? He is presenting before Satan one of His trophies of grace. He is boasting before Satan. I wonder what tone of voice God said this with. I can't help but to believe that His soul was beaming with delight as He took pleasure in His servant Job.

"In spite of what you did in the Garden to turn all of humanity against Me, here is one who still walks in My ways. And there is nothing you can do about it."

And, of course, Satan wasn't happy. And he wanted to prove God wrong. The rest of the book unfolds his plan for trying to do so. But we know that, in the end, he fails.

When God first told Satan about Job, He didn't do so in ignorance. He knew that the name Satan means adversary. He knew that Satan would want to oppose Job because Job had aligned himself with the only One that Satan has set himself against. So He was, in effect, placing Job in the path of opposition. He was placing Job in the path of suffering. He was placing Job in the path of pain.

So why did He do it? Because He was angry at Job? Because Job had sinned against Him? Because He wanted to discipline Job? Contrary to what Job's friends would tell him, God didn't do what He did for any of these reasons. According to these verses, one conclusion we could arrive at is that God did what He did to Job because He was pleased with Job.

Satan's aim in the lives of human beings is to cause them to turn from God. Therefore, Satan doesn't care to bother with those who aren't wholly turned from evil. Satan doesn't care to bother with those who don't cultivate in their hearts a trembling fear of God. He is satisfied with them the way they are. And God wouldn't call Satan's attention to them because it would be reason for Satan to boast rather than God.

But when there is one who trembles with fear before the Lord and is ceaselessly laboring to turn away from all evil, here is one that Satan is unhappy with. And, therefore, here is one that God is happy with. Here is one that God can boast in. And God loves to boast because He is the only One who is qualified to do so. He is the only One whose boasting is not a gross distortion of reality.

What, then, are some of the implications?

1) May we beware the prosperity gospel that tells us that when God is pleased with us, things go well for us in this life. In other words, we prosper. The message of Job seems to be the opposite. When God is pleased with us, He boasts in us and this leads to our suffering.

2) May our sufferings, if we have a clear conscience before the Lord, cause us to walk in the radiance of His smile upon us so that we would joyfully strive all the more to give God more reason to boast and have pleasure in spite of all that Satan tries to do to cause us to doubt Him.

3) May we strive to know God more fully according to His Word so that we wouldn't be mistaken in our thinking about Him or His motivations in the midst of the things we experience.

4) As we grow in godliness, may we daily heed the words of our apostle Peter:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
1 Peter 4:12
Father, please make me a a man who validates your pleasure in me rather than reacting to trials in such a way that would prove it unfounded. Continue to so transform me so that I would live with a greater awareness of the fact that my life is ultimately about Your pleasure and not mine. And in this, may you enable me to make this, Your pleasure in me, the basis of rejoicing in my sufferings, which otherwise feels impossible. For Jesus' sake I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Our Greatest Need

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
1 John 3:4-6 (emphasis added)
Last week I had the great privilege of spending a week at Hume Lake as a counselor for 11 high school young men. Here I was for the first time ever at Hume, as a counselor, while pretty much all of my campers were seemingly Hume veterans. It was a great time in the Word and having lots of fun in recreational competition, all for the glory of God. I'd love to go back.

For each day we were there we had a memory verse. And for each camper (and counselor!) who correctly recited the day's memory verse, our rec team would earn points. What a great way to encourage Bible memorization! The first verse we had came Monday: 1 John 3:4-6 (see above).

I was particularly struck by the second half of verse 6: no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

As I have meditated on this phrase, the theological implications to me seem huge. Plain and simple, John is saying that those who live in sin ultimately have one problem: they haven't seen or known Jesus.

Now I believe that John is talking about those who have not been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit because he later goes on to make a similar statement about continual sinning, in which he declares that this is impossible for those who have been born again:
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
1 John 3:9
But the reality for all those who have been born again is that though we don't make a practice of sinning, there is a way that we keep on sinning. And we do so daily. We become angry, fearful, anxious, impatient, jealous, covetous, lustful, and the list goes on and on. Why? One answer is that we have remaining corruption in our flesh. Though some Bible interpreters would argue that Paul is writing Romans 7 as an unconverted man, I believe that it is a born again, inspired apostle who writes these words:
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 7:16
So, yes, born again Christians have sin living in them that causes us to continue to sin. But I think there is something we can take from the apostle John's words that gives us insight into what else contributes to our ongoing sin problem. If an unbeliever's continuing in sin is owing to the fact that he hasn't seen or known Jesus, then could it be that the believer's continuing in sin is owing to the fact that he doesn't see or know Jesus enough?

If this is true, then the greatest need of the unbeliever is to see and know Jesus Christ. And the greatest need of the believer is to see Jesus Christ more clearly and to know Jesus Christ more fully. To see Jesus Christ is to know Him. To know Jesus Christ is to see Him.

But is this true biblically?

When it comes to unbelievers, the apostle Paul seems to agree with his fellow apostle John when he says:
In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Corinthians 4:4
Paul is saying, just like John, that the unbeliever's problem is that he can't see the glory of Christ. And then notice how he relates this seeing to knowing two verses later:
For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6
Verse 4 describes what unbelievers don't have. Verse 6 describes what believers have. Therefore, verse 4 also describes what believers have and verse 6 describes what unbelievers don't have. According to verse 6, unbelievers don't have "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." What does Paul mean when he says "the light of the knowledge"? I think he is relating, just like John, seeing to knowing. He is saying that to see the light is to have the knowledge. To have the knowledge is to see the light. Seeing is knowing. Knowing is seeing. This is a seeing with the eyes of the heart because that is where Paul says the light shines. Just like John, Paul is saying that the unbeliever's greatest problem is that he hasn't seen Christ. He doesn't know Christ.

So does Paul believe that the believer has the same problem? That he doesn't see Christ clearly enough? That he doesn't know Christ fully enough?
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe...
Ephesians 1:15-19
Paul goes out of his way to make sure that we know that he is addressing believers and not unbelievers. But notice what he is praying would be given to those who believe:
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know...
Paul prays that believers would be able to see and know. And according to Paul's prayer for the believer, there is no separating this seeing and knowing. He is praying that the believers would have more light shed in their heart so that in their hearts they would see Christ more clearly and so that they would know God more fully.

The unbeliever's greatest need is to see and know Jesus. The believer's greatest need is to see Jesus more and to know Jesus better. Understanding this truth helps us to get at the problem beneath all the different symptoms so that we might know that the solution is the same whatever the symptoms.

Is lust the problem? Then, according to Paul, we are like the Gentiles who do not know God:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
Therefore, the solution is to know Him better so as to not be like those Gentiles.

Is anxiety the problem? Then, according to Jesus, we are like the Gentiles (who do not know God):
Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Matthew 6:32
Therefore, the solution is to know Him better so as to not be like those Gentiles.

I'm full of anxiety. I'm full of fear. I'm full of all kinds of filth that governs my thinking. I don't trust God enough. Why? I don't see Christ as clearly as I need to. I don't know Christ as fully as I need to. How do I come see Him more clearly? I have to get to know Him more. How do I come to know Christ more fully? I have to see Him more clearly.

One way that I want to give myself to seeing and knowing Christ more is by beholding Him in the gospels since that is where He is most clearly and fully manifested. What might my life be like if there wasn't a day during the year when I wasn't reading and meditating on Christ in the gospels? I think it would be radically different. So my tentative plan is to, once I finish my latest journey through the wisdom books for my evening Scripture reading (a few more days as I only have the Song of Solomon left), I will give my evening Scripture reading to the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. And where will I go after I finish John? Back to Matthew. I'm greatly looking forward to it.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
2 Corinthians 3:18
Even still, I know that in this life I will never see Christ clearly enough and I will never know Christ fully enough. But I will give all that I am to have in this life more of the fullness of what will be had in that day when finally I behold Jesus face to face.
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
How shall we be like Him? We will no longer sin. Why? Because we will see Him perfectly. It is this lack of perfect seeing and knowing that is our greatest problem here in this life.

Oh Father, help me, help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Much Needed Reminder For This Single Guy

Watch, listen to, or read the whole sermon here.

Holy Spirit, please burn this reality on my heart. For Christ's sake I pray, Amen.