Thursday, January 28, 2010

Help Fight Human Trafficking

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Luke 4:18,19
Please take a moment to read and consider signing this petition calling on President Obama to "make the eradication of slavery and trafficking a hallmark of his presidency," especially in light of the recent devastation in Haiti and the exploitation that goes hand and hand with it (read this short post by my pastor for more details about this).

Fight Human Trafficking

And then please spread the word. But most importantly, pray.
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
Lord, please have mercy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Becoming More Gospel Saturated, Part 2

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
As church members, our aim is to understand the gospel so deeply, so intimately, that it animates every area of our lives. We want the gospel central to our communication with others, central to how we encourage and correct, central to individual career and relationship decisions, central to the decisions the church makes corporately, and central to all our habits of life. We want the gospel, the God of the gospel, to take priority in every area of life. Gospel-saturated church members should consider any number of strategies for organizing their lives around the good news of Jesus Christ:
  • intentionally frequenting the same stores (cleaners, restaurants, etc.) with the aim of building relationships and familiarity with the store personnel, and hopefully having gospel conversations;
  • using vacations for short-term mission trips;
  • volunteering in community organizations to influence for the gospel;
  • hosting home discussions regarding religion and philosophy;
  • inviting neighbors over for dinner or for holiday parties and talking with them about Christ;
  • hosting Bible studies in the work place;
  • joining neighborhood clubs (garden clubs, cycling clubs, etc.) to build relationships and further gospel opportunities;
  • inviting friends to church and special religious events where the gospel is sure to be center stage.
We want to recognize that there is no risk in sharing the gospel, only the reward of faithfulness. We want to be "at the ready" with the words of life.

--Thabiti Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member?, p.42-43

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Becoming More Gospel Saturated, Part 1

Saturate -
  1. to soak, impregnate, or imbue thoroughly or completely
  2. to soak, fill, or load to capacity
The Gospel -
The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ is that God the Father, who is holy and righteous in all his ways, is angry with sinners and will punish sin. Man, who disobeys the rule of God, is alienated from the love of God and is in danger of an eternal and agonizing condemnation at the hands of God. But God, who is also rich in mercy, because of his great love, sent his eternal Son born by the Virgin Mary, to die as a ransom and a substitute for the sins of rebellious people. And now, through the perfect obedience of the Son of God and his willing death on the cross as payment for our sins, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, following him as Savior and Lord, will be saved from the wrath of God to come, be declared just in his sight, have eternal life, and receive the Spirit of God as a foretaste of the glories of heaven with God himself.

It is this message--briefly stated here--that we must imbibe and delight in if we are to be healthy church members.

--Thabiti Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member?, p.40-41

Becoming Gospel Saturated
We must cultivate and protect a ravenous desire for this message. Regularly hearing and plumbing the depths of the gospel increases our knowledge of the message, our affection for the Savior, and our skill in sharing the message.

So we should listen actively for the gospel and gospel implications in sermons. Don't turn off your ears when the pastor begins to appeal to non-Christians with the gospel message. Listen to it afresh. Reaffirm your belief in its truth, promises, and power in your life. Appropriate it for any sins that you become conscious of through the sermon or self-examination. See your sins nailed to the cross as you hear the good news. Consider whether there are any new promises or aspects to the gospel included in the sermon. How will you hold onto those truths?

Listen so actively and longingly for this news that you feel your poverty and malnourishment when it's missing in a sermon. And when you find yourself dissatisfied or longing, preach the gospel to yourself. It's a message that comes to you, for you. Own it. Rather than merely listening to others, or listening to that voice that plagues you with doubts, worries, and fears, listen to the voice of God in the gospel by proclaiming it to yourself when the need arises. C.J. Mahaney, in his excellent and helpful book Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, suggests that we memorize the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, review how the gospel has changed us, and study the gospel.

--Thabiti Anyabwile, What Is A Healthy Church Member?, p.41-42
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-4 (emphasis added)
In my place, condemned He stood. Wonder of wonders. Thank You, Father. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

God is Good

You are good and do good...
Psalm 119:68

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, "God is great!"
Psalm 70:4

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
Psalm 63:3

Friday, January 22, 2010

Helping Haiti

I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, "Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack."
2 Corinthians 8:13-15
Churches Helping Churches

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Bitter Must Come Before The Sweet

I just began reading the second part of Pilgrim's Progress. In the first part, the fictional character Christian flees from the City of Destruction (the world) in pursuit of the Celestial City (heaven), leaving his family behind because they have no desire to go with him. In the second part, Christian's wife Christiana is awakened to her need for salvation and--taking her four children with her--decides to follow her husband to the Celestial City.

Just like Christian encountered many characters and situations that sought to discourage him from the narrow path as he traveled towards the Celestial City, Christiana does also. The same holds true for every believer down through the ages. What follows is an exchange between Christiana and the first of many such characters Christiana will meet in her journey, Mrs. Timorous [= fearful]. As one of her neighbors in the City of Destruction, Mrs. Timorous seeks to bring Christiana's journey to the Celestial City to an end before it even begins.
[Mrs. Timorous]: Oh! the Madness that has possessed thee and thy husband! to run yourselves upon such Difficulties! You have heard, I am sure, what your husband did meet with, even in a manner at the first step that he took on his Way, as our neighbor Obstinate can yet testify, for he went along with him; yea, and Pliable too, until they, like wise men, were afraid to go any further. We also heard over and above, how he met with the Lions, Apollyon, the Shadow of Death, and many other things. Nor is the Danger that he met with at Vanity-Fair to be forgotten by thee. For if he, tho' a man, was so hard put to it, what canst thou, being but a poor woman, do? Consider also, that these four sweet babes are thy children, thy flesh, and thy bones. Wherefore, though thou shouldest be so rash as to cast away thyself; yet for the sake of the fruit of thy body, keep thou at home.

But Christiana said unto her, tempt me not, my neighbour: I have now a price put into my hand to get gain, and I should be a Fool of the greatest size, if I should have no heart to strike in with the opportunity. And for that you tell me of all these Troubles that I am like to meet with in the Way, they are so far off from being to me a Discouragement, that they shew I am in the right. The Bitter must come before the Sweet, and that also will make the Sweet the sweeter.

--John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress, Second Part, p. 212.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
Acts 14:21-22

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Extravagant Love

...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17-19

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Bruised Reed

If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation...
2 Corinthians 1:6

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Avatar Is Boring!

No, I haven't seen the movie. And neither has Piper. So this statement needs context. Here it is:

One of the many reasons I love John Piper! =)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Glorious. Weighty.

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!
Isaiah 43:6-8 (emphasis added)

What in the world does verse 8 mean? Are the sons and daughters in verses 6 and 7 the same group of people being referred to in a different way in verse 8, or is verse 8 referring to another group? Idols (Psalm 115:4-5)? The meaning is ambiguous.

But could it be speaking of men and women like Patrick Hughes (below)? Whether or not verse 8 applies to Patrick Hughes, there's no doubt that verses 6 and 7 do.

HT: Noel Piper

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Confessions Of A Calvinist Pharisee

I don't like theological labels. But sometimes they are necessary. And helpful. So, for the sake of this discussion, I'm a Calvinist. And at heart I'm a Pharisee.

Here are five heart-penetrating, insightful, convicting reasons why Calvinists so often live like Pharisees:

1) We are precise, we insist on "getting things right"
2) We are suspicious, especially of other people's joy
3) We are fearful
4) We are angry
5) We are selfish

I highly recommend each of these posts, especially if you embrace the theology that has come to be known as "Calvinism" or "the doctrines of grace." I really appreciated the truth and honesty in each of them, even though they were all hard for me to read because--as I read each one--the Holy Spirit was putting His finger on the sins in my heart. For instance, as I began reading the post about Calvinist Pharisees being angry, I immediately thought to myself, "I'm not angry." But the more I read, the more I realized that I am angry. It just doesn't express itself in loud outbursts but rather in the more quiet, socially acceptable colors. No matter how much I try, I can't escape the words of the One who knows the hearts of all men (John 2:24-25):
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder [= anger, Matthew 5:21-22], adultery [= lust, Matthew 5:27-28], coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within...
Mark 7:21-23
And neither can you.

Even though many of us may deny being Calvinists, none of us can altogether deny being Pharisees, can we?

Tis' so sweet to trust in Jesus. Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

HT: Pure Church

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2010: Courage

Perhaps the best message on courage I've ever heard:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:1-9

Another compelling call to courage (because each one strengthens me and I need as much strength as I can get):

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
2 Timothy 1:1-12

Friday, January 01, 2010

Growing Downward In Humiliation, Upward In Adoration--Inseparable

Growing downward in our humiliation before God and upward in our adoration of Him are inseparable. You can't pursue one without pursuing the other. Every believer wants to pursue the latter. But most of us don't want to pursue the former. That's because it hurts. But the truth of the Bible is that we can't pursue the latter without pursuing the former.

David knew this. Moses knew this (see previous post). And the apostle Paul certainly knew this as reflected in the different ways he refers to himself as his years increase:

Written during his third missionary journey:
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church.
1 Corinthians 15:9
Written (most likely) while on house arrest in Rome, after his third missionary journey:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ...
Ephesians 3:8
Written (most likely) during a fourth missionary journey (after being released from house arrest in Rome) as Paul drew near to the end of his life (probably one of the final books Paul wrote--with only Titus and 2 Timothy to follow):
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. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:15-17
Do you see the progression? Writing to Corinth, Paul refers to himself as the least of all the apostles, a select group of men chosen out of all the saints. Writing to Ephesus, he then refers to himself as the least of all the saints, now casting the net a little wider by saying that he is the least out of all who have been redeemed by Christ. And then, writing to Timothy as his life draws near to the end, he then refers to himself as the foremost of sinners, now casting the net as wide as it can go by saying that he is the least of all who are descendants of Adam--every human being (with the exception of Jesus) who has ever lived or ever will live. In other words, Paul refers to himself as the least of all humanity. What is going on here?

I think that Paul is growing downward in humiliation before God the longer he lives. He sees more and more of his sin and it humbles him. The longer he lives, he discovers that the sin disease that plagues him is more serious than he ever conceived that it was. He grows more desperate for Jesus. And at the very same time, with the infinite availability of free pardoning and sanctifying grace that flows from the cross, he soars higher and higher in adoration of the God who not only showed him mercy on the road to Damsacus, but the God who daily continues to show mercy and patience to the wretched man that he is (Romans 7:24). And that's why he can't help but break into a song of adoration immediately after he refers to himself as the foremost of sinners:
To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 1:17
Growing downward in our humiliation before God and upward in our adoration of Him are inseparable. The more we are humbled, the more we will sing. The lower we go, the louder we sing.

Not only was this true in the life of the saints recorded in Scripture, but it was true in the lives of many of the saints throughout church history. One such man who experienced this to be the case was Charles Simeon, a pastor in England in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Listen to Simeon (all of the following quotes are taken from The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce, written by John Piper):
I have continually had such a sense of my sinfulness as would sink me into utter despair, if I had not an assured view of the sufficiency and willingness of Christ to save me to the uttermost. And at the same time I had such a sense of my acceptance through Christ as would overset my little bark, if I had not ballast at the bottom sufficient to sink a vessel of no ordinary size.
--Charles Simeon (p. 107)

With this sweet hope of ultimate acceptance with God, I have always enjoyed much cheerfulness before men; but I have at the same time labored incessantly to cultivate the deepest humiliation before God. I have never though that the circumstance of God's having forgiven me, was any reason why I should forgive myself; on the contrary, I have always judged it better to loathe myself the more, in proportion as I was assured that God was pacified towards me (Ezekiel 16:63)...There are but two objects that I have ever desired fore these forty years to behold; the one, in my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together; just as Aaron confessed all the sins of Israel whilst he put them on the head of the scapegoat. The disease did not keep him from applying the remedy, nor did the remedy keep him from feeling the disease. By this I seek to be, not only humble and thankful but humbled in thankfulness, before my God and Savior continually.
--Charles Simeon (p.108)

I would have the whole of my experience one continued sense--first, of my nothingness, and dependence on God; second, of my guiltiness and desert before Him; third, of my obligations to redeeming love, as utterly overwhelming me with its incomprehensible extent and grandeur. Now I do not see why any one of these should swallow up another.
--Charles Simeon (p.110)

Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honor God, that I seek that above all. The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit, are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust...I feel this to be safe ground. Here I cannot err...I am sure that whatever God may despise...He will not despise the broken and contrite heart.
--Charles Simeon (p.110)

By constantly meditating on the goodness of God and on our great deliverance from that punishment which our sins have deserved, we are brought to feel our vileness and utter unworthiness; and while we continue in this spirit of self-degradation, everything else will go on easily. We shall find ourselves advancing in our course; we shall feel the presence of God; we shall experience His love; we shall live in the enjoyment of His favor and in the hope of His glory...You often feel that your prayers scarcely reach the ceiling; but, oh, get into this humble spirit by considering how good the Lord is, and how evil you are, and then prayer will mount on wings of faith to heaven. The sigh, the groan of a broken heart, will soon go through the ceiling up to heaven, aye, into the very bosom of God.
--Charles Simeon (p.111)
Listening to what Simeon says probably can make you feel depressing in more ways than one. It makes us feel depressed because to encounter our sin, to feel it for what it is, and to turn from it in repentance produces a broken and contrite heart. Our hearts weren't originally created to be broken. So the ache that we feel when our hearts are broken is by design. Precisely because our hearts weren't originally designed to be broken, broken hearts are supposed to hurt (this reminds us that the world isn't what it should be, that we live in a fallen world, Romans 8:18-25). But none of us wants to hurt. So instead of "laboring incessantly" to pursue this broken and contrite heart, we are content to be passive and just let it comes when it comes or, even worse, to labor incessantly to avoid a broken and contrite heart.

Another way that what Simeon says makes us feel depressed is that it might cause us to feel like we have to be the ones who produce this broken and contrite heart by trying to continually think about how sinful we are. And yet no matter how much we may try, 1) it doesn't produce in us genuine brokenness of heart but perhaps only feelings of guilt (they are not the same thing) and 2) it feels forced, contrived, and inauthentic, just doing it for the sake of doing it.

In response to the second feeling of depression we might feel when we hear Simeon's words, listen to one of Simeon's biographers describe exactly how it was that Simeon "labored incessantly" to cultivate this broken heart:
Self-humiliation for Simeon consisted not of belittling the gifts that God had given him or pretending that he was a man of no account, or exaggerating the sins of which he was very conscious. He went about it by consciously bringing himself into the presence of God, dwelling thoughtfully on his majesty and glory, magnifying the mercy of his forgiveness and the wonder of his love. These were the things that humbled him--not so much his own sinfulness but God's incredible love.
--Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge as quoted by John Piper in The Roots of Endurance, p.112
In other words, we don't "labor incessantly" to grow downward in humiliation and cultivate a broken heart by incessantly meditating on our sin. We "labor incessantly" to grow downward in humiliation and cultivate a broken heart by incessantly meditating on our God, and letting those meditations reveal to us who we really are in relationship to who He truly is. The experience of both the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7) and Simon Peter (Luke 5:1-11) is that they saw the depths of their sin not by looking inwardly upon themselves but by looking out of themselves to the glory of God in the gracious revelation of His perfect attributes.

In response to the first feeling of depression that we might feel when we hear Simeon's words, listen to these words that Simeon spoke, describing why the broken heart is essential in the life of the believer:
So unfathomable are the counsels of divine wisdom contained in [the cross] that all the angels of heaven are searching into it with a thirst that is insatiable. Such is its efficacy, that nothing can withstand its influence. By this then, you may judge whether you are Christians in deed and in truth, or whether you are only such in name...For a nominal Christian is content with proving the way of salvation by a crucified Redeemer. But the true Christian loves it, delights in it, and shudders at the very thought of glorying in anything else.
--Charles Simeon (p.113-104, The Root of Endurance)
Affections stem from the heart. And the more our hearts are broken in response to "laboring incessantly" to grow downward in humiliation, the more our hearts will be kept soft and capable of loving, delighting, singing about, and glorying in the gospel above anything else. If the heart is viewed as a muscle, the pursuit of growing downward in humiliation is analogous to the painful breakdown of muscle tissue when we lift weights. But the only way that the muscle will grow in being able to do what it is meant to do with greater strength and greater endurance (rejoice more deeply and with greater endurance as we adore the glory of God in Christ) is if it is continually being broken down in exercise. And we cannot be indifferent to this kind of growth like we might be when it comes to exercise and our bodies. Our hearts never remain in the same state. Our hearts will either soften (muscle growth) as they glory in the gospel or harden (muscle atrophy) as they inevitably, yet often subtly, glory in something else.

It’s only by growing downward in humiliation before God--in understanding the mystery that at the same time that we are His precious children we are a worm before God (Isaiah 41:14)--that we will be able to better understand the gospel and more fully apply it in all of our lives, including our prayers (see previous post), at the same time growing upward in adoration of Him.

So please resolve with me in this new year, and at the start of each new year—or as frequently as God would have you—to “labor incessantly” to grow downwardly in humiliation before God and upward in adoration of Him so that, if He wills by His grace, when we usher out 2010 and usher in 2011 we will be lower down in humiliation and higher up in adoration than we were as we now usher out 2009 and usher in 2010.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every good work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
Only by Your grace, Father. Only by Your grace. Thank You for another year of the quiet constancy of Your steadfast love and faithfulness. Because of this we sing. But we want to sing more frequently. We want to sing louder. We want to endure longer in our singing. So please show us still more of your steadfast love and faithfulness in the year that lies ahead so that, laboring incessantly, we may go deeper into debt to grace, downward in humiliation and upward in adoration. In Jesus’ name, Amen.