Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Final Post and Prayer for 2013

Love this! A Prayer for New Year's Eve by Scotty Smith:
Dear Heavenly Father, it’s the last day of 2013, and I’m feeling a degree of redemptive conflicted-ness, as both laughter and lament dance around my heart. It’s a good tension—one created by, not in spite of, the presence of your grace.
Looking back over the past twelve months, I can easily say with the psalmist, “Be praised, adored and worshiped, O God, for your steadfast love and great faithfulness!” Abba, Father, you loved us all year long, with a relentless, non-wavering, fully engaged affection—irrespective of anything we did or didn’t do.
You loved me as much as you love your Son, Jesus, for you’ve hidden my life in his. Thank you for the fresh mercies that arrived with each new day—when I was aware of them and when I wasn’t. You remained faithful to everything you’ve promised us in Jesus. You did everything that pleases you, and what pleases you is always for my good and your glory. That makes me very glad.
But Father, it’s because of your love for us in Jesus that I can also own my sadness. I lament the times, this past year, when the gospel wasn’t functionally enough for me; when your love didn’t seem “better than life”; when grace didn’t seem sufficient. That’s when I took my thirst and hunger, disappointments and longings to my voiceless, sightless, senseless, powerless idols. I grieve my foolishness.
But here’s where the gladness trumps the sadness: I won’t always be a man “in two minds” with a divided heart beating in my breast. Father, you will complete the good gospel work you’ve begun in us. One Day I’ll no longer even be tempted to worship, love or serve, anything or anyone but you. Hasten that glad and glorious Day.
On the eve of 2014, prepare each of us, your children, for twelve new months of groaning and growing in grace. In the New Year, may Jesus be more beautiful and precious to us than ever; your love more compelling and your grace more transforming; your presence more real and your kingdom more treasured; your name more exalted and your glory more sought. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.
I think this is a great way to end this blog for 2013. I wish all my readers a blessed 2014 filled with the grace of God and the joy of the Lord.

The Aim

"Knowing God is more than knowing about Him; it is a matter of dealing with Him as He opens up to you, and being dealt with by Him as He takes knowledge of you. Knowing about Him is a necessary precondition of trusting in Him, but the width of our knowledge about Him is no gauge of our knowledge of Him…What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? To know God. What is the best thing in life? To know God. What in humans gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself."

               - J.I. Packer, Knowing God

HT: The Poached Egg

Monday, December 30, 2013

More on Reading the Bible in 2014

Some more help for your 2014 Bible  reading plans:

Ligonier Ministries' List of Bible Reading Plans for 2014

Justin Taylor on "How to Read the Whole Bible in 2014"

Bible Reading Plans for 2014

This week I have completed reading the entire Bible in one year, for the 3rd year in a row. I have read the Bible many times before this, but never three times in three years until now. I say this not to brag, but to rejoice...and to encourage you to do the same. It is not that hard; about 15 to 20 minutes a day will do it.

Where to start?  Here are a few ideas.

A Few Bible Reading Plans for 2014

Customized Bible Reading Plans

The One Year Bible Blog

Reading the Gospels Deeply

Chronolgical Bible reading Plan

The L3 Plan (Learn, Live, Lead) - This is what I use.

I start my 2014 Journey through the Bible on Wednesday, January 1st. Will you join me?

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Not An Afterthought

"One of the sweetest statements from the lips of Jesus is this: ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 25:34b).

There is a plan of God designed for your salvation. It is not an afterthought or an attempt to correct a mistake. Rather, from all eternity, God determined that He would redeem for Himself a people, and that which He determined to do was, in fact, accomplished in the work of Jesus Christ, His atonement on the cross.

Your salvation has been accomplished by a Savior, One who did for you what the Father determined He should do. He is your Surety, your Mediator, your Substitute, your Redeemer. He atoned for your sins on the cross. "

— R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Pub., 2007), 152-153

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Qualified By Failure

"The one-way love of God meets us in our failure. Our failures make His one-way love that much more glorious. What qualifies us for service is God's devotion to us-  not our devotion to Him. This is as plainly as I can say it: the value of our lives rests on God's intimate, incomprehensible,unconditional love for us-  not our love for Him. Such relief! We can finally exhale!"

   -Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World, Page 115

Dual Status

From @DailyKeller

Friday, December 27, 2013


"Jesus met all of God's holy conditions so that our relationship with God could be wholly unconditional. The demand maker became a demand keeper and died for me - a demand breaker."
-Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World, Page 93
Makes me want to shout Hallelujah!

No Low Cost Version

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Let Me Hear the Good Tidings of Great Joy

A prayer from The Valley of Vision. . . 

O Source of all Good,
What shall I render to Thee for the gift of gifts,
Thine own dear Son, begotten, not created,
my Redeemer, Proxy, Surety, Substitute,
His self-emptying incomprehensible,
His infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.

Herein is wonder of wonders:
He came below to raise me above,
He was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to Himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him,
and no intellect to devise recovery,
He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
as man to die my death,
to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father,
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
and in Him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born Child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith,
exulting that He is mine and I am His.

In Him Thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

HT  Learning My Lines

The Humble King

(Saw this on Facebook, but don't know who to credit for the picture)

Always Christmas

In Narnia it was said that the White Witch made it always winter and never Christmas.

For all who are in Christ it is always Christmas, no matter the season. May the spirit of the season stay with us all year.

Merry Christmas to all! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Virgin Born...and Raised

"The virgin birth cannot be considered in abstraction from the triumphant consummation of Christ’s life in his resurrection, for it is there that the mystery of his person is revealed. In fact the birth of Jesus of the virgin Mary and the resurrection of Jesus from the virgin tomb (‘where no one had ever yet been laid’) are the twin signs which mark out the mystery of Christ, testifying to the continuity and the discontinuity between Jesus Christ and our fallen humanity.
The incarnation is not only a once and for all act of assumption of our flesh, but the continuous personal union of divine and human nature in the one person of the incarnate Son, a personal union which he carried all the way through our estranged estate under bondage into the freedom and triumph of the resurrection.

Thus it is in the resurrection that we see the real meaning of the virgin birth, while the virgin birth has much to tell us about the resurrection. These are then the twin signs testifying to the miraculous life of the Son of God within our humanity, the one at the beginning and the other at the consummation of the earthly life of Jesus."

— Thomas F. Torrance Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 96

HT: Peter Cockrell, Of First Importance

Smaller List

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nine Things to Know About Christmas

"Nine Things You Should Know About Christmas" from Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition:
1. No one knows what day or month Jesus was born (though some scholars speculate that it was in September). The earliest evidence for the observance of December 25 as the birthday of Christ appears in the Philocalian Calendar, composed at Rome in 336.
2. Despite the impression giving by many nativity plays and Christmas carols, the Bible doesn't specify: that Mary rode a donkey; that an innkeeper turned away Mary and Joseph (only that there was no room at the inn); that Mary gave birth to Jesus the day she arrived in Bethlehem (only that it happened "while they were there"); that angels sang (only that the "heavenly host" spoke and praised God); that there were three wise men (no number is specified) or that the Magi arrived the day/night of Jesus' birth.
3. Rather than being born in a stable, Jesus was likely born in a cave or a shelter built into a hillside. The hills around Bethlehem were dotted with small caves for feeding and boarding livestock. The exact site of Jesus' birth is unknown, but by the third century, tradition had established a probable cavern. Constantine's mother, Helena, erected the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem over the small space.
4. During the Middle Ages, children were bestowed gifts in honor of Saint Nicholas (the namesake for Santa Claus). In an attempt to turn away from the Catholic veneration of saints and saint's days, Martin Luther laid gift-giving in his household on Christmas Eve. He told his children that "Holy Christ" (Christkind) had brought their presents. The tradition caught on with many Lutherans, though later St. Nick would get the credit as often as Christkind.
5. Martin Luther is widely credited as the first person to decorate Christmas trees with lights. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
6. The X in Xmas was not originally intended, as some people believe, to "take Christ out of Christmas." The written symbol X was frequently used to represent the letter in the Greek alphabet called Chi (the first letter in the Greek word Christos). In many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, X abbreviates Christos (Xristos). This practice entered the Old English language as early as AD 1000 and by the 15th century, "Xmas" was widely a used symbol for Christmas.
7. The Puritans objected to the celebration of Christmas. In 1647, the Puritan government canceled Christmas, forbidding traditional expressions of merriment, ordering shops to stay open, churches to stay closed, and ministers arrested for preaching on Christmas Day.
8. Alabama was the first state to officially recognize Christmas in 1836 and Oklahoma the last in 1907, even though it was declared an official holiday on June 26, 1870.
9. Origin of Christmas terms: "Christmas" is a compound word originating in the term "Christ's Mass," derived from the Middle English Cristemasse; "Nativity", meaning "birth", is from Latin nātīvitās; in Old English, Gēola ("Yule") referred to the period corresponding to January and December, which was eventually equated with Christian Christmas; "Noel" (or "Nowell") entered English in the late 14th century and is from the Old French noël or naël, itself ultimately from the Latin nātālis (diēs), "(day) of birth".

Decisions or Disciples?

Some wisdom on evangelism and disciple making from Derek Vreland:
.... A push to make decisions for Christ is counterproductive to making disciples of Christ.
The gospel preached in Acts was neither an invitation to make a decision for Christ nor an appeal to invite Jesus into your heart to be your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel preached in Acts was the proclamation that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived, entered into death for our redemption, God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to a place of authority. And now “let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The proper response to the gospel is “repent and be baptized … and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The sermons preached in the book of Acts don’t refer to making a decision or asking Jesus into your heart or life.
Don’t misunderstand my point: Repenting, being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit certainly do require making a conscious decision. God will not force us into repentance. He will not twist our arms or beat us into submission. We have to intentionally choose to repent, be baptized and receive the Spirit of our own volition. But these are not necessarily one-time events.
We repent, and we continue to live a life of repentance.
 We are baptized, and we continue to live out of our baptismal identity as buried and risen with Jesus.
 We receive the Holy Spirit, and we continue to allow our lives to be immersed in the life of the Spirit.
Living out our response to the gospel is a much better picture of discipleship than “making a decision” for Christ.
So how does this critique shape evangelical methodology? We need to strive to abandon the invitation to make a decision and instead must resume the invitation to come and follow Jesus.
  • This “come and follow” approach sounds much more like an invite to a party than a high-pressure sales pitch to purchase a new car.
  • This approach is much more about belonging to a community than making a personal and individual choice.
  • This approach may not appeal to the masses, but we will make disciples from the few who see the power, position and authority of Jesus.
I agree that with this approach–inviting people to follow Jesus and be His disciple–we will not see the outward, numeric success seen by other groups getting people to make decisions. But I have repented of measuring success by numbers and desiring success at all. I have turned away from ambition and success and instead turned towards faithfulness and fruitfulness. I want to make disciples of Jesus. I want to make more disciples of Jesus. I want to see people following Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform them into the image of Jesus. Instead of making a decision for Christ to get saved, I want to see us following Jesus and finding ourselves being saved.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Widow's Forgiveness

On December 5, Ronnie Smith, a teacher and dedicated Christian, was killed while jogging in Bengazi, Libya. Ronnie and his wife, Anita, were members of Austin Stone Church in Austin Texas, where Ronnie was previously a staff member. Anita posted this open letter to the people of Libya on Dec 12, 2014. Words fail me to say more. Please read and meditate on this example.
My husband and best friend Ronnie Smith loved the Libyan people. For more than a year, Ronnie served as a chemistry teacher in a school in Benghazi, and he would gladly have given more years to Libya if unknown gunmen had not cut his life short on December 5, 2013.
Ronnie and I came to Libya because we saw the suffering of the Libyan people, but we also saw your hope, and we wanted to partner with you to build a better future. Libya was very different from what we had experienced before, but we were excited to learn about Libyan culture. Ronnie grew to love you and your way of life, as did I. Ronnie really was "Libya's best friend."
Friends and family from home were concerned about our safety, as were some of you. We talked about this more times than I can count. But we stayed because we believed the Libyan people were worth the risk. Even knowing what I know now, I have no doubt that we would both make the same decision all over again.
Ronnie loved you all so much, especially his students. He loved to joke with you, tell stories about you, help you with your lives and challenge you to be all that you could be. He did his best to live out his faith humbly and respectfully within a community of people with a different faith.
To his attackers: I love you and I forgive you.
How could I not? For Jesus taught us to "Love our enemies" – not to kill them or seek revenge. Jesus sacrificed His life out of love for the very people who killed him, as well as for us today. His death and resurrection opened the door for us to walk on the straight path to God in peace and forgiveness. Because of what Jesus did, Ronnie is with Jesus in paradise now. Jesus did not come only to take us to paradise when we die, but also to bring peace and healing on this earth. Ronnie loved you because God loves you. Ronnie loved you because God loved him – not because Ronnie was so great, but because God is so great.
To the Libyan people: I always expected that God would give us a heart to love you, but I never expected you to love us so much. We came to bless you, but you have blessed us much more. Thank you. Thank you for your support and love for Ronnie and our son Hosea and me. Since Ronnie's death my love for you has increased in ways that I never imagined. I feel closer to you now than ever before.
I hear people speaking with hate, anger and blame over Ronnie's death, but that's not what Ronnie would want. Ronnie would want his death to be an opportunity for us to show one another love and forgiveness, because that's what God has shown us.
I want all of you – all of the people of Libya – to know I am praying for the peace and prosperity of Libya. May Ronnie's blood, shed on Libyan soil, encourage peace and reconciliation between the Libyan people and God.
Anita Smith
Read More:
Statement by Austin Stone Church
Comments from John Piper
Coverage in World Magazine

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Snuggie Christians

Most evangelicals these days just want a gospel Snuggie. Wrap us up. Hold us tight. Numb us until we can feel nothing but hazy contentment. Go to sleep with a big smile on our face. We’re halfway into a dream when—
Someone is gripping our shoulder. He’s wrestling us awake. Our head hurts. Who is this crazy guy? A blurry man comes into focus. It’s Jesus. And — uh oh — he’s got a glint in his eye. That means trouble.
Come on, Jesus says. Wake up. We’ve got to get going.
Really, Jesus? we whine. I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s so comfy and warm.
Follow me, he replies. He’s got that dead-serious tone in his voice. He means business. We had heard about this, long ago in ages far away. But now he’s here and he’s calling us. Before we can offer an excuse for not going, he vanishes. We throw on some clothes, racing to catch up. This is going to get interesting.

One of His Specialties

God has been in the disruptive business for millennia. He specializes in it. He seems to love nothing more than to crash-land into people’s lives and alter them. He has a particular affinity for those minding their own business, normal folks who are off the grid and out of the fray. You carve out a quiet little existence in the Bible, and there are better-than-excellent odds that either a ferocious-looking angel or the altogether-normal-looking-but-utterly-transformative-Jesus is showing up in 3… 2… 1…
Read it all at the link.

Friday, December 20, 2013

There is a Fountain

"For eighteen centuries men have laboured to find some other medicine for weary consciences, but have laboured in vain. Thousands, after blistering their hands, and growing grey in hewing out ‘broken cisterns that can hold no water’ (Jer 2:13), have been obliged to come back at last to the Old Fountain, and have confessed in their latest moments that here, in Christ alone, is true peace. "
— J. C. Ryle,  Holiness  (Durham, UK: Evangelical Press, 1991), 260

HT: Of First Importance

In A Nutshell

The Gospel in a Nutshell - Tim Keller:
"Christianity is a way that says if you come to Jesus Christ, even if you aren’t good and decent, even if you aren’t wonderful, and even if you don’t have a good record, anybody through Christ can find God. Somebody says, ‘How can that be?’ Let me just put the gospel in a nutshell: because Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died a perfect death, now God treats you, when you believe in Christ, as if you have done everything Jesus has done and you have suffered everything Jesus has suffered. God treats believing sinners as if they had done everything Jesus has done and suffered everything Jesus has suffered.
That means when you believe in Christ you’re adopted not on the basis of your record, but on his record. You’re adopted into the family and treated as if you’d accomplished everything he’s accomplished. That’s the gospel. Somebody says, ‘It’s too easy.’ I don’t know how many times people have said, ‘That’s just too easy. You mean you just receive it?’ Yeah, but you have to receive it through repentance, and that’s what’s not easy at all. The only way to get to that peace is through paying the pain of repentance. In other words, all you need is nothing, but most people don’t have that."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Religious Exercises

Freedom From the Weight of Self-Effort

"Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it al right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be right, rewarded, regarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves, and validate ourselves.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus was strong for you, you're free to be weak. Because Jesus won for you, you're free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, you're free to be no one. Because Jesus succeeded for you you're free to fall. One way to summarize God's message to the worn out and weary is like this- God's demand: be righteous': God's diagnostic: 'no one is righteous': God's deliverance: 'Jesus is our righteousness.'  Once this good news grips your heart , it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. In the place of exhaustion, you might even find energy."

-Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World, pages 36-37

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Blessed Bad

"..contrary to popular assumptions, the Bible is not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. That's not a typo. The Bible is a record of the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God it's a witness to God making it down to the worst people.  Far from being a book full of moral heroes whom we are commanded to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes are not heroes at all. They fall and fail; they make huge mistakes; they get afraid; they're selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our badness with His goodness. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work  of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christian living."

-Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World, page 31

Habit Forming

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Heart of the Faith

"Sadly, too many churches have helped to perpetuate the impression that Christianity is primarily concerned with legislating morality. Believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good. The heart of the Christian faith is Good News, not good advice, good technique, or good behavior."

    -Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World, page 22

The Hub

"...The hub of Christianity is not 'do something for Jesus.' The hub of Christianity is 'Jesus has done everything for you.'.......Don't get me wrong - what we do is important. But is is infinitely less important than what Jesus has done for us."

-Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World, page 21

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I'd Rather Be Hot Than "Cool"

The word "cool" has never been associated with me. However, if I had to choose between being cool or hot for Jesus, I choose HOT! The same choice also applies to churches. Here's a good piece by J. Lee Grady on the dangers of churches seeking coolness.
If you’ve ever wandered into an Abercrombie & Fitch store, you know about coolness. The retailer markets its line of sweaters, hoodies and overpriced T-shirts using dim lighting, funky music and wall-sized photos of buff models wearing $98 jeans. But the store began losing customers this year when it became known that CEO Mike Jeffries only wanted thin, popular teens to wear his clothes.
“A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes],” Jeffries said in an interview, adding that he only wanted “cool, good-looking people” wearing the A&F label. His policy has now officially backfired. Upset parents threw out tons of the retailer’s clothes, activist teens staged a boycott, and a guy from California launched a video campaign urging people to give the uber-cool A&F duds to homeless people in protest. 
All this proved that sometimes being cool is, in fact, not cool—especially when cool becomes exclusionary.
When I read about the demise of Abercrombie & Fitch, I couldn’t help but compare the store with some churches I know. I’ve never heard a pastor say from the pulpit that he “only wanted the cool people,” but sometimes we send this message subliminally. In today’s market-driven church culture, cool is the goal. We pursue it in several ways:
Cool music. I love high-energy worship as much as anyone, and I try to keep my playlists updated. But I hope we aren’t using trendiness as the gauge to measure the depth of our worship. Cool music can sometimes turn out to be a shallow performance. Sometimes it might be best to dig out a 30-year-old chorus or a 200-year-old hymn just to remind ourselves that our generation isn’t the center of the universe. And speaking of age: It might not look cool to include older people in the worship team, but I have a feeling God would prefer to affirm every age group.
Cool technology. I knew a young man who attended a popular worship school for six months. When he came back to his home church, he complained that leaders “didn’t know how to do church” because they didn’t follow the latest rules about PowerPoint, lighting and Internet broadcasting. He was bitten by the cool bug—which can sometimes turn people into jerks. I have no problem with technology, but I fear we are using it as a substitute for the anointing of the Spirit. If God shows up in one of our services and everyone hits the floor, I doubt we will care too much about what we had planned to project on our 72-foot-wide screens.
Cool people. I used to be part of a ministry that targeted university students with the gospel. It was a great strategy, but it had its downside. Since we were trying to reach young people, the old people were not cool. This also applied to blue-collar types, single moms and homeless folks who occasionally wandered into meetings. It got so bad that one woman was asked to get off the worship team because she was overweight. Yet Jesus didn’t judge people based on body type, ethnicity or age. He reached out to widows, dying children, blind beggars, soldiers, lepers and even demoniacs. And sometimes the really cool people—like the rich young ruler—walked away from Him.
Cool crowds. We often define coolness in our culture by the size of the audience. We get an adrenaline rush when we jump on the bandwagon with everyone else. Crowds can be great (it would have been cool to be an eyewitness at the feeding of the 5,000), yet many people in the Bible defined courage by standing alone in defiance of the crowd. I have spoken to large and small audiences and everything in between, and I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit is just as willing to move among a group of 25 as He is in the biggest church in town.
Cool theology. This is where we really need to be careful. Today it’s cool to preach safe, seeker-sensitive messages about love and grace just to get people in the door of the church. To avoid offending anyone, we stay away from certain topics that our culture has deemed off-limits. It’s definitely not cool today to preach about (1) the consequences of sin and the need for repentance, (2) why sexual sin is still unhealthy or (3) the fact that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
Abercrombie & Fitch made a huge marketing mistake by pursuing coolness. If we use a similar strategy to grow churches, it will backfire. Jesus never said, “Follow Me, and everyone will think you are cool.” Rather He told us, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20, NASB). We are called to make faithful disciples—and that will never be cool in the eyes of the world. At some point, we have to leave the adolescent realm of cool to reach spiritual maturity.

Blessed Interference

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Prosperity Errors

5 Theological Errors of the Prosperity “Gospel by Justin Taylor, quoting David Jones:
David Jones of Southeastern Seminary (who co-authored with Russell Woodbridge Health, Wealth, and Happiness: Has the Prosperity Gospel Overshadowed the Gospel of Christ? has a helpful summary on five doctrines the prosperity gospel teachers erroneously advance.
Here’s an outline:
1. The Abrahamic covenant is a means to material entitlement.
2. Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty.
3. Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God.
4. Faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity.
5. Prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity.
Read the whole thing here for a brief analysis of each doctrine with quotations from the advocates.

Starting Over

"When He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us , in a brief, comprehensive manner. with salvation; so what we had lost in Adam - namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God - that we might recover in Christ Jesus."

             - St Ireneaus of Lyons, Against Heresies (2nd Century AD)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Theology Student

HT: Challies.com

Heavenly Light

Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning.
O shepherds, shudder not with fright,
But hear the angel's warning.
This child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

From "Break Forth O Heavenly Light"
by Johann Rist

Monday, December 9, 2013

Precious In Weakness

Idols Abandon in the End

Some Tim Keller wisdom from, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions , pages 28–30:
Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you.
First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself.
But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.
Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around the world for his fierce and boundary-pushing storytelling. He once wrote a sentence that was more than a thousand words long. And, tragically, he committed suicide. But a few years before that, he gave a now-famous commencement speech at Kenyon College. He said to the graduating class,

"Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god . . . to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you. . . . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings."
Wallace was by no means a religious person, but he understood that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their lives on something that requires faith. A couple of years after giving that speech, Wallace killed himself. And this non-religious man’s parting words to us are pretty terrifying: “Something will eat you alive.”
Because even though you might never call it worship, you can be absolutely sure you are worshiping and you are seeking. And Jesus says, unless you’re worshiping me, unless I’m the center of your life, unless you’re trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, then whatever you worship will abandon you in the end.

HT: Tony Reinke, Already Not Yet

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Danger for Worship Leaders

I read a very good article this week by Zack Hicks, worship leader at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Where Tullian Tchividjian pastors). The title is A Reason to Be Suspicious of Worship Bands.

Hicks begins by quoting a passage from a book from the mid-1960's by Jean-Jacques von Allmen about misuse of choirs in public worship. He points out that everything said in that passage about choirs is very relevant today if you substitute "worship band" for choir.
...You and I live in a cultural age where the faithful are "increasingly reluctant to commit themselves to liturgical life," where worship is ever in danger of becoming a commodity of branded consumer goods. The warning von Allmen gives here is that what we do "up there on stage," whether we're a choir or a worship band, can contribute to and encourage the passivity toward which many folks are already inclined to lean. "I just want to soak in the great music." "Man, she has a great voice!" "Wow, that was a ripping electric solo!"
As worship leaders, we must tune ourselves to become hyper-sensitive to anything that discourages the active participation of the people of God in the songs, prayers, and actions of the worship service, and sometimes the performancism of it all--whether lit-stage, rock-band-led or organ-and-choir-led--can be a major deterrent. Von Allmen exposes what's at stake. To put it directly, we put ourselves in the place of Jesus, the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5). That's what von Allmen was getting at when he said that those up front can unknowingly become the "vicarious representative" of worship for the people....
Read it all at the link.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Pray For Pastor Saeed

From a good post by Dr. Gary Tuck at Trans-formed:
Pastor Saeed Abedini. If you don’t know that name, you should google it and learn at least some basic facts … because, if you are a Christian, he is you. That’s right. There is a fundamental solidarity of all followers of King Jesus. But Saeed Abedini is just the single best known of, I don’t know, hundreds? thousands?
What I want to speak to is the issue of how we can help. Like many of you, I have read many updates over the past several months on Pastor Saeed’s situation and efforts to persuade the Iranian government to release him and efforts to get our government to pressure Iran. (Thanks especially to Jay Sekulow and ACLJ.)
As we continue to pray for him and his family to be strong, to grow stronger not weaker in his faith, and to be bold as long as he is incarcerated, I should think Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:19-20 might have some legitimate application to Saeed’s situation: “[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (ESV).....
Please read the whole thing at the link. He then concludes:
.......I think we need to include these stories and people more regularly in our prayer lists. I am praying that God will lead me and my wife to a particular connection (as yet unknown to me) of His choice for us to support by prayer and who knows what other way to alleviate some suffering by our Lord’s family, our brothers and sisters.
One more thought: I urge you to begin becoming informed about mistreatment of fellow Christians. I have started with “Voice of the Martyrs,” persecution.com and persecutionblog.com.

Happy St. Nicholas' Day!

Today on the Christian calendar is the Feast of St. Nicholas, the real original of Santa Claus.

Why not take some time to learn a little about him?

Wikipedia - St. Nicholas
Wikipedia- St Nicholas Day
The Real St. Nicholas - Christian History
St. Nicholas of Myra

Got to like a guy who slaps the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea!

HT: The Master's Table

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Don’t Let Christmas Distract You From Jesus

Some wisdom from Jared Wilson:
There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.
I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.

The Door

HT: Challies.com

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It;s Okay to Not Be Okay

To all my friends: I hereby give you permission to sometimes not be okay. I agree with Jared Wilson:
Sometimes it’s hard to express your feelings to the people around you. Not because you’re afraid of what they’ll say, but because our culture doesn’t seem to be very keen on being honest about their pains. The reality is that way too many people are putting on a facade of perfection in order to keep people from knowing how they are truly hurting. It’s as if everyone feels like showing pain is a sign of weakness. I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to not be ok sometimes. Remember, even Jesus himself wept.
1. It’s ok to cry. 
- There is nothing wrong with crying. Who ever said crying is for babies was a liar, and definitely not ever watched The Notebook. The reality is that even Jesus himself wept, and that crying can sometimes be the relief you need to move on and re-group.
2. It’s ok to get frustrated. - No one has the answers to everything, and even the smartest of people in the world find themselves frustrated sometimes. It’s ok to not know the answer, solution, or reason for things that have taken place. The light at the end of the tunnel is knowing that God has everything under control, even when we ourselves do not. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s wrong to get frustrated. Sometimes frustration is the breeding ground of change.
3. It’s ok to get stressed. 
- Let’s face it, stress is unavoidable. I’m not saying it’s going to consume your entire life, but stress is one of those things that all of us will eventually encounter in one way or another. When you come into areas of your life that are considered stressful, realize that it’s only going to last as long as you allow it to. Stress is unavoidable, but allowing it to control your life is not. It’s ok to be stressed sometimes, just don’t let stress become who you are.
4. It’s ok to not understand.
- Not everything is going to have an answer, but that’s where the beauty of faith comes in. There are circumstances and events in your life that you aren’t going to understand, but you have to realize that it’s ok to not know all the answers. There is humility in saying “I don’t know.” And frankly, sometimes admitting that you don’t know is the first step in finding peace and comfort in your situation. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s wrong to admit you don’t understand.
It’s ok to not be ok.

Christmas Persecution

Every year at Christmas season, it seems that some Christians feel that they are being persecuted because someone in a store wishes them a generic "Happy Holidays" instead of  "Merry Christmas." Here's a nice interpretive flowcasrt to help you interpret what is going on.

Read about Pastor Saeed Abendini: That's what real persecution is! Please pray for him.

HT: Chart from  Rachel Held Evans

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Inhabiting the Story

This past Sunday was the start of the Season of "Advent," If you did not grow up in a liturgical tradition (as I did not), you may not understand the meaning of the term, or the entire concept of the Christian calendar.

I found a video from Christ Church Anglican with a good brief introduction to the concept and practice. The video points out that celebrating the Christina calendar is a way for believers to live out, to inhabit, the story of Jesus.

Their privacy settings so not let me embed it here, so you will have to click through to Vimeo to see it.

Enjoy....and learn.

Why Sex Outside Marriage Is So Destructive

Tim Keller interviewed by Jefferson Bethke on why sex outside of marriage is so destructive.

HT: Denny Burk

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Centered Advice

“Don’t ever degenerate into giving good advice unconnected with the good news of Jesus crucified, alive, present, at work, and returning."

              — David Powlison,  Seeing With New Eyes
                   (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2003), 43

HT: Of First Importance

Saturday, November 30, 2013

It Must Come To Us

"We cannot go to the kingdom; it must come to us. When we feel the desire to be restored to God, it is natural that we should think of returning to God, and we hope that, after a long journey, we may reach the kingdom. We resolve not to be discouraged by the steepness and length of the road, by its rugged heights and dangerous paths. Prayer, good works, piety (outward and inward), we imagine to be the road to God. But we cannot thus go to the kingdom; it must come to us. The door is before the narrow way, and the door is very nigh unto us—even Jesus Christ crucified for sinners."

— Adolph SaphirThe Lord's Prayer

HT: Of First Importance

Prayer Language

Admit it: Some of you thought I was going to write about speaking in tongues.

No, I'm talking about weird Christianese terminology about prayer; such as "travelling mercies," "hedge of protection," or "we covet your prayers." Whatever do those terms mean?

Confused?  See here for translations.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Song of Thanksgiving

 David's Song of Thanksgiving (from 1 Chronicles 16):

    Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
        make known his deeds among the peoples!
    Sing to him, sing praises to him;
        tell of all his wondrous works!
    Glory in his holy name;
        let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
    Seek the LORD and his strength;
        seek his presence continually!
    Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
        his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
    O offspring of Israel his servant,
        children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

He is the LORD our God;
        his judgments are in all the earth.
    Remember his covenant forever,
        the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
    the covenant that he made with Abraham,
        his sworn promise to Isaac,
    which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
        to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
    saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,
        as your portion for an inheritance.”
    When you were few in number,
        of little account, and sojourners in it,
    wandering from nation to nation,
        from one kingdom to another people,
    he allowed no one to oppress them;
        he rebuked kings on their account,
    saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
        do my prophets no harm!”
    Sing to the LORD, all the earth!
        Tell of his salvation from day to day.
    Declare his glory among the nations,
        his marvelous works among all the peoples!
    For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
        and he is to be feared above all gods.
    For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
        but the LORD made the heavens.
    Splendor and majesty are before him;
        strength and joy are in his place.
    Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
        ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
    Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
        bring an offering and come before him!
    Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
        tremble before him, all the earth;
        yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
    Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
        and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!”
    Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
        let the field exult, and everything in it!
    Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
        before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
    Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
        for his steadfast love endures forever!
    Say also:
    “Save us, O God of our salvation,
        and gather and deliver us from among the nations,
    that we may give thanks to your holy name
        and glory in your praise.
    Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
        from everlasting to everlasting!”
    Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Everything Else Thrown In

Some of the best lines C.S. Lewis ever wrote:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. but look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
                   - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 190

For the Hard Days

...In the grand scheme of things, a stressful morning doesn’t impact life or eternity all that much, but in those longer seasons of joblessness, sickness, financial stress, marriage strain and other ongoing life events, the stress and frustration can seem overwhelming. Here are a few things I’ve learned to remember in those challenging seasons of life that have helped me and I pray they help you as well!
1. Remember that your Character should always be stronger than your Circumstances.
We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always control how we choose to respond. In those moments when I choose to stop complaining and instead give thanks to God for the good in my life, the parts that seem bad start to seem much less significant. Choose to keep a positive attitude and thankful heart regardless of what you’re going through.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
2. Remember that your Struggles always lead to Strength.
Every difficulty in your life, whether big or small, is something God will use to produce more strength, faith and perseverance in you if you let Him! All your pain has a purpose.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
3. Remember that God’s timing is always perfect.
God’s plans are almost always different from our plans, but His plans are always perfect! Have the patience to wait on His timing instead of forcing your own.
“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
4. Remember that God will never leave your side.
You may feel like you’re going through this struggle all alone, but from the moment you ask Jesus to bring you into God’s family, He will be by your side to the end so never lose hope!
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
I pray that these truths give you the hope and strength to keep going on those days when life is at its worst!