Friday, July 31, 2015

Slow and Steady

"There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving. They say, ‘I am going to give my life to the Lord! I am going to change all these terrible habits, and I am really going to transform! Give me another six months and I am going to be a new man or new woman!’

That is not what a walk is. A walk is day in and day out praying; day in and day out Bible and Psalms reading; day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of a church. It is rhythmic, on and on and on. To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress."
            - Tim Keller

(From Daily Keller)

Romans in 1,000 Words

An interesting and difficult mission- summarizing Romans In 1000 Words by Matthew Hosier. How do you think he did? (British spellings from the author)
This letter is about the necessity of the saving power of Jesus for all, and hence the need for the message to be declared to all. It was written to help the church in Rome, but its author, the apostle Paul, is powerfully motivated by his hope that the church in Rome will help him get to Spain to preach the gospel there.
The power of the gospel is so much greater than the power of shame that dogs so many of us. When we respond to the gospel we get included in God’s purpose and plan, regardless of our status in society. The gospel itself looks shameful in the eyes of the world, but it is the way of true honour and power!
We need to know this gospel power because the natural human condition is rebellion against God; a rebellion which has placed us under the wrath of God. As we stand in this position of alienation from God further rebellion against him is our natural attitude. This means there is an on-going spiral of sin, and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. Men and women set themselves all kinds of moral standards, which we imagine put us in the right, but whatever standard we set, it falls short of God’s standard.
This failure to live up to God’s standard applies to everyone. It applies to the very religious as well as to the irreligious. But because the human heart is so deceitful we think our standards are the right ones and can easily regard ourselves as being superior to others. Let’s be clear: Jews are no better than Romans and Romans no better than Jews – so don’t be a hypocrite! Everyone is in big trouble because no one lives in a way that is pleasing to God! Yes, God chose the people of Israel as his special inheritance, but the real Israel are those who are spiritually God’s people rather than those who are genetically descended from Abraham.
It doesn’t matter who you are, who you are related to, or where you come from – the normal human condition is alienation from God, and this is a disaster!
Into this depressing picture Jesus Christ suddenly breaks in. By God’s grace Jesus covers over our sin and has himself absorbed God’s righteous anger against human sin. This changes everything – and the way we receive the good of this is by faith.
Abraham is the great example of faith for us. Abraham-like faith means living by faith, enduring by faith, and inheriting the world by faith. It means knowing the joy of God’s love by the Holy Spirit. By faith we are set free from the old Adam-ish way, which meant death, and are made alive in Christ.
This means that sin isn’t the boss anymore. Without Christ sin is always the boss. Sin is so sneaky it even uses good things (like the law God gave to Moses) to accomplish its ends. But now Jesus deals with sin!
Those who come in faith to Christ and are set free from sin’s power are then empowered by the Holy Spirit, and led by the Spirit, with the certain hope of future resurrection. God’s people know that they are children of God, and more than conquerors!
God keeps his promises. God is sovereign and will get all that he wants. This means that ‘all Israel’ will be saved – God is gathering a great family of people to himself, both Jew and Gentile: God wins!
Surely, then, in the light of all this, we will want to give ourselves to Jesus – body and soul! We’ll want to discover and use the gifts that God has given us, for the strengthening of the church. And we’ll burn with the kind of spiritual passion that makes a practical difference to the lives of our Christian brothers and sisters.
More than that, our experience of God’s mercies will cause us to go the extra mile in loving our enemies; and the radical freedom we have found in Christ will lead us not into rebellion against earthly rulers, but equip us as model citizens.
Our lives together will be determined by the kind of love we have come to inhabit in Christ. This love is perfect and alert and pure, causing us to live in a God-rooted way, blessing our neighbour and building community.
This kind of community building love means that the strong humble themselves to serve the weak, but don’t feel belittled in doing so – after all, this is what Christ has done for us! We’re obliged to live this way – it’s our joy-filled Christian duty! We’re not to let the petty tyrannies of now cause divisions among us. If Jesus is lord of life and death he’s certainly also lord of our diaries and stomachs!
So let’s do all we can to build each other up, being full of hope as we see how the promises of scripture are being worked out in us. God has welcomed us into his kingdom, where there is righteousness, peace and joy! We need to be full of these things, by the Holy Spirit’s power.
The aim of this is that the good news of Jesus Christ might travel to all corners of the earth – that by the enabling of the Spirit the word might be preached everywhere. This is a very practical exercise though, that takes hard work and financial generosity. So don’t hold back: you’ve been blessed by receiving this message, don’t be stingy when it comes to blessing others!
We’re in this together – men and women, Jews and Gentiles, masters and servants, in Corinth and Rome and to the ends of the earth. Everyone in the church counts – those we all know and those who are in the background but work hard and faithfully for Jesus and his church: though we need to keep alert to those who pretend to be part of us but actually intend to harm us. Satan’s head is being crushed by the church, so let’s not get caught out by his schemes.
God is true to his word, revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you as he gathers all his people to perfect obedience in him. So worship God in Christ forever!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pilgrim's Progress Updated...

HT: The Sacred Sandwich


HT:: Crossway

Creative Reading

7 Ways To Get Creative With Bible Reading from Bible Study Tools:
Bible reading plans don't have to follow any set rules or patterns. If you completed something more traditional recently, you could change things up. Here are some suggestions for doing just that:
  • Divide the 66 books of the Bible by months or weeks. Instead of following a set reading plan, you could either shoot for reading five or six books each month or one or two per week. Since some of the minor prophets and letters are short, this isn't as daunting as it may seem. Split the short ones up so that you have at least one each month or save them for weeks that you know you'll be busy.
  • Instead of reading through the whole Bible this year, consider zooming in on one book each month. Read it through several times and take notes about what God's showing you. Use several versions of the Bible for added insight. Then, watch some videos or read study materials on our site to really dig in (you'll find them linked below the reading pane).
  • Read out loud. Sometimes, hearing the words spoken aloud can help you in your studies. You could even read in a group of others so that no one person has to read the whole book.
  • Commit to memorizing one verse from each book you study this year. That may sound scary, but it's not. We memorize things all the time. Plus, it'll help you remember a lesson from each one.
  • Memorize an entire chapter or book of the Bible. This is a big challenge for anyone, but it's well worth the investment. A Psalms 1, Philemon 1, or Jude 1 could be the place to start.
  • Write out verses. Another method of study that some people find helpful involves copyingScripture in a notebook. It can be a slow process, but you might be surprised how well you connect with what you're writing.
  • Learn Greek and Hebrew. There are many sites on the Internet that will teach you these ancient languages. Learning to read the original manuscripts of the Bible is well worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Emotional Health

Most men have issues with friendship and intimacy. Darrin Patrick says the reason is lack of emotional health, and has some helpful advice in The Magic Formula for Manhood:
Intimacy is a dirty word to most guys, unless it is codeword for sex. In fact, most guys would struggle to define intimacy with a woman apart from sex. Then we read in the Bible that we are to have intimacy with other dudes:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
“Having purified your souls by obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” (1 Peter 1:22)
But despite our trepidation, intimate relationships with men are vital for our flourishing as men. The Grant Study, one of the longest longitudinal studies of male development in history (75 years!) has shown that body type, birth order, political affiliation, and even social class are nowhere near as accurate in determining how men will fare in life.
New York Times columnist David Brooks summarizes the findings. “In case after case,” he writes, “the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives.”
To put it even more simply: the secret to true manhood is emotional health.
There are a number of different elements to emotional health, but with regards to relationships, it’s about the ability to know and be known.
Sadly, most guys have zero vision for how to be emotionally healthy. We have few models of affectionate men who are still strong. There aren’t many who feel things deeply without allowing their emotions to drive their lives. So we really don’t know what to do with our emotions or even how to talk about them. And frankly, most guys just don’t want to talk about their emotions. This kind of intimacy feels feminine and seems both time-consuming and inefficient.
But let’s think through the alternative: Men who can’t open up to other men about the inner world of their struggles, fears, hopes, and dreams are neither challenged or celebrated. They’re only condemned by their own voice (that is, if they haven’t become numb and apathetic entirely). Men who harbor this condemnation within are always trying to prove themselves on the outside. But there’s nothing to anchor their masculine identities. They spend countless hours trying to cover over their shame and weaknesses, constantly running around in predictable and destructive behaviors. Does this sound any less time-consuming or inefficient?
What if you pursued one guy who is a bit older than you, a guy who is around your age, and another guy who is younger than you?
Make sure that you respect all of these guys, or the whole thing will fall apart. From the older man, ask for mentoring and the “trade secrets” on becoming a good man. From the peer, ask for relationship by doing some hobbies together or by getting your families together. From the younger man, ask how you can be helpful to him.
In so doing, you are simultaneously putting yourself in the place of a son, a brother, and a dad. Intimacy will follow men who settle in to these three roles.

Tasting the Coming Joy

From Tim Keller: The Christian Reversal:
Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine. Suffering – Buddhism says accept it, karma says pay it, fatalism says heroically endure it, secularism says avoid or fix it. From the Christian perspective, all of these cultures of suffering have an element of truth. Sufferers do indeed need to stop loving material goods too much. And yes, the Bible says that, in general, the suffering filling the world is the result of the human race turning from God. And we do indeed need to endure suffering and not let it overthrow us. Secularism is also right to warn us about being too accepting of conditions and factors that harm people and should be changed. Pre-secular cultures often permitted too much passivity in the face of changeable circumstances and injustices.
But, as we have seen, from the Christian view of things, all of these approaches are too simple and reductionist and therefore are half-truths. The example and redemptive work of Jesus Christ incorporates all these insights into a coherent whole and yet transcends them. Scheler ends his great essay by returning to his claim that Christianity is ultimately a reversal of all the other views.
For the man of antiquity… the external world was happy and joyous, but the world’s core was deeply sad and dark. Behind the cheerful surface of the world of so-called merry antiquity there loomed “chance” and “fate.” For the Christian, the external world is dark and full of suffering, but its core is nothing other than pure bliss and delight.

He is right about most of the ancient cultures, but what he says especially fits the secular worldview. Secularism, as Richard Dawkins says, sees ultimate reality as cold and indifferent and extinction as inevitable. The other cultures also have seen day-to-day life as being filled with pleasures, but behind it all is darkness or illusion. Christianity sees things differently. While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Do You Believe?

Do you believe the gospel? I'm not referring here to "getting saved" or "going to heaven," but to experiencing the power of the gospel in daily life. Try taking this little test from Lisa Robinson:
...But do you really believe the gospel? See it’s one thing to know facts about God’s work through Christ in rescuing what was lost. But it’s quite another to live as if that is true. It’s one thing to say that it took the work of God by the Holy Spirit to bring us into union with Christ completely on his work, but quite another to put assurance in that work and not on ourselves. It’s one thing to verbalize that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, cut off, unable to even respond to God without his intervention, it’s something else all together when we act like we can qualify the gospel with our contributions.
Here’s a little test…
1) Do you feel like you’re a good Christian because you haven’t committed any egregious sins?
If you’re proud of yourself that you’re not like those who have fallen into error, chances are you believe that you had something to do with your righteousness. That’s not believing the gospel but our own works
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one my boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
2) When you sin, do you try to fix it yourself before coming to the Lord?
If you truly believe that Jesus bore your sin for all time (Heb 10:10-13), you’d believe that forgiveness is found in Christ because of his atoning work on your behalf. Sin should cause us to run to him because only in him is forgiveness of sin found. If we think we need to get right first, we are essentially saying that our righteousness is found in our ability to get it right apart from him.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
3) Do you feel like some people are more deserving of God’s grace than others?
If you truly believe that grace is unmerited favor that is lavished us solely because God choose to provide it, then you wouldn’t get bent out of shape at the thought some receiving equal acceptance as heirs of God’s promise. Contrarily, you wouldn’t consider some more favored or loved because they’re just better people. See #1
“For as many of you as were baptized in Christ Jesus have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:27-29)
4) Do you try to earn God’s acceptance of you?
Is your motivation for good works a form of earning acceptance from God or do you serve in response to the great gift of God’s love that has been poured out through the atoning work of the Son? If you truly believe the gospel, you wouldn’t feel the need to perform for God to gain his love and possibly wear yourself out in the process because his love and acceptance is not being truly embraced.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10)

5) Do you put your trust in your faith, your words or other acts to gain God’s favor?
As I wrote here, placing our trust in our faith, words or material blessings as proof of God’s favor really is a form of prosperity teaching, which is another gospel. In fact, Paul argues in the book of Galatians that putting trust in anything other than Christ for acceptance is another gospel, which is really no gospel at all. (See Gal. 1-2)
Finally, do you live in a state of hopelessness when enveloped in the affairs of this life. Because if we take God’s consummation of his kingdom as described in Rev. 21 seriously, we would know that a day is coming when God will set everything right, wipe every tear from our eye, where there will be no more pain, no more sickness, no more strife. Oh and if you believe that means some saints will not have it as good as others and suffer while others enjoy the fruit of their labor, then you really haven’t believed the gospel at all.