Wednesday, July 30, 2014

So I May Understand

I Believe So That I May Understand 
I confess, Lord, with thanksgiving,
that You have made me in Your image,
so that I can remember You,
think of You,
and love You.

But that image is so worn and blotted out by faults,
and darkened by the smoke of sin,
that it cannot do that for which it was made,
unless You renew and refashion it.

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to Your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of Your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.

I do not seek to understand so that I can believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe,
I shall not understand.

- Anselm of Canterbury
HT: Trevin Wax

Painful Truth

From @RickWarren

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Burden of Getting It Right

From Nathan Mann at the Liberate website - God's Will for Your Life:
“I feel like that’s God’s will for my life.” “I just need to find God’s will for my life.” “I don’t really know what God’s will is for my life.”
As a college student, these three phrases can be heard regularly from my circle of Christian friends whenever the topic of what the future holds comes up in conversation. Common in our shared Christianese, “God’s will for your life” is a mystery everyone is trying to figure out.
That’s a problem.
God’s will was never meant to be a mystical enigma that we try to decipher. It’s not a magical recipe and we need to discover and then follow in order to please God. Unfortunately, in many of today’s churches, that’s exactly what “the will of God” has come to mean. When we ask ourselves what God’s will is, there’s a subconscious follow-up question beneath it: How can I do things that will make God happy with me? Christian culture is so keen on “application”—another Christianese word that might be translated as “making ourselves better people”—that we overextend it to areas that God never intended.
But Jesus has already clearly defined God’s will:
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
God’s will is for people everywhere to come to salvation through saving faith in the work of Jesus Christ.
But there’s more.
Look two chapters earlier, John 4:31-34:
“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’”
Don’t miss the tremendous implication of these verses: the overwhelming task of saving sinners was food to Jesus, his very sustenance. A task that would crush anyone else literally fed Jesus; it was his life’s mission to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
This is the profound, life-altering truth about God’s will: God’s will is Jesus’ job. It’s his sustenance. It’s done.
In light of this, we can finally be honest and admit that the question we really want to ask—the question we’re masking by asking “what is God’s will for my life?”—is simply “what do I want to do?” And that’s ok! In Christ you are free to live life without the overwhelming question mark of “am I getting God’s will right?”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Be With Before Do For

From Pete Wilson - There’s just one thing that matters 

Ever struggle with your priorities? Ever wonder what really counts? Stop wondering. Here’s what really matters.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Successful Churches?

"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners... In those communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor.

            - Eugene Peterson

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Simple Statement


Beware the Super Spiritual

Another great one from Lee Grady: Don't Let Super-Spiritual People Hurt Your Church-
A few years ago a prominent charismatic evangelist gained a wide following when he said an angel was visiting him regularly during his televised revival meetings. The angel was supposedly dispatched to unleash the next great healing revival in the United States. One big problem: The revival didn't happen.
Yet month after month, the tales of this evangelist's wild spiritual adventures grew more and more incredible. At one point he wrote that he visited heaven and met the Apostle Paul—and then said Paul admitted he was the author of the Book of Hebrews. A 2,000-year-old theological mystery was solved!
Looking back on these events now, it's hard to believe so many charismatics fell for these wild claims. Anyone with the most basic level of discernment knows God does not allow us to talk to dead people to get spiritual information. So why are we so gullible? I call this the "oooh, ahhh" factor.
In our charismatic circles, there are some super-spiritual people who know how to impress others with their revelations and experiences. They know how to get us to say, "Oooh, ahhh." In some cases these people are sincere but may have emotional problems or even mental illness. In other cases they are simply full of spiritual pride and end up being used by the devil to bring confusion and division into the church.
Time after time I have made it clear I'm unapologetically a charismatic Christian, and I believe all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are valid today. But I believe God is calling us to clean up our act and stop allowing fringe elements to discredit the power of God. Nothing is more dangerous to a genuine revival than a hyper-spiritual "charismaniac" who flaunts his gifts while displaying a lack of character.
Here are seven indicators of a hyper-spiritual person. If this describes you or someone you know, please seek spiritual counsel immediately.
1. Their feet rarely touch the earth. Super-spiritual people live in the ozone layer. They are not in touch with normal life. They may spend a lot of time in prayer (or claim to), and they may even fast or impose severe discipline on themselves, but their relationships are dysfunctional. Remember: Jesus did not live His life like a guru, floating around while dispensing ethereal wisdom. He lived in the real world and interacted in a healthy way with people. So should we.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Guidance Confusion

From What We Get Wrong About Finding God's Will by Chandler Vannnoy at Relevant Magazine
God's will is not a mystery to be solved but a road to be traveled.
What is God’s will for your life?
This question tends to haunt us while we go through our college years. We struggle through it by choosing our major, deciding where we will spend our summer, figuring out where to go to grad school, and so many other decisions.
If you are like me, anxiety creeps up on you every time you think about your future plans.
But why do we get so anxious? For me, I start thinking about how I have one opportunity at every decision I make, and when I choose one path, I am saying no to another. But how do I know the path I choose is the right one?
The phrase we have all heard in answer to this question is we need to find God’s will for our life. And for the past 21 years, I thought I had to keep praying for God to open my eyes to the will he had laid out for me. That if I just kept searching long enough and hard enough, I would know exactly what I was supposed to do in the future.
But Kevin DeYoung blew up this idea for me while I was reading his book Just Do Something.
We Never Find God’s Will for Our Future

In the beginning of the book, DeYoung says, “We should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” This rocked my world. I always thought that if I made a wrong decision or took a wrong turn, I would be removed from God’s plan.
But what he is saying here is that we are free from the burden of trying to discover God’s will ahead of time. It is not a maze for us to perfectly navigate in order to reach our end goal, but instead, God desires for us to trust Him with all of the twists and turns.

Yes, God is sovereign over my life. Yes, He has specific plans for my future, but He does not expect me to find out the details of His plan before I get there. So this whole idea of finding God’s will for my life has been me searching for something God does not want to reveal. But why does He choose to withhold His plans from us?
An Unknown Future Leads to Faith in a Known God
If we knew every step and detail of our lives, there would be no reason for us to have faith in God. When times get tough, we realize we need someone greater than ourselves to direct where we are going. That’s why God doesn’t always want us to know the perfect road He has laid before us. It would be like someone spoiling the incredible plot twist of Fight Club or Inception. What makes the story great is the confusion and uncertainty, and then in the end, every puzzle piece comes together to create a beautiful picture.
Not only does God have an epic plot for your life, but He wants you to trust in Him. God has given us these tough decisions not to be stressed out but to make us realize we can’t do this on our own. He gives us more than we can handle, so we are forced to lean in on Him to find strength. Just as Provers 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” So instead of praying to find God’s will, let’s start praying to find faith in God’s guidance.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Repentant Heart

From Trevin Wax at Kingdom People:
The heart of flesh is a repentant heart. And the repentant heart is a renouncing heart.
The repentant heart renounces any attempt to justify its sin; it humbly acknowledges sin’s existence and its sentence.
The repentant heart renounces self-sufficiency; it knows its beating is a gracious gift of God.
The repentant heart renounces hate and vengeance; it meets its enemy with unfeigned love and unreserved forgiveness.
The repentant heart renounces the evil one and all his deeds of death; it follows the chariot of a resurrected King who makes all things new.
The repentant heart renounces the fear of falling out of favor with others; it rests under the ever-falling favor of God.
The repentant heart renounces the darkness of its past; though shadows of sin may linger, it looks to the light that will not stop shining.
The repentant heart renounces fear as the way to obedience; it responds to the kindness of God who leads us away from sin.
The repentant heart renounces self-congratulation for righteous deeds; it sees sinful traces even in the best moments and directs all glory to God for any spiritual growth.
The repentant heart renounces a spirit of condemnation; the grace that flows in is the grace that flows out.
The repentant heart renounces the world’s marching orders; its rhythm is to the beat of a different Drummer.
The repentant heart renounces the stepladder of superiority; looking up to God for salvation keeps it from looking down on anyone else.
The repentant heart is a renouncing heart.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Short-Circuit Your Story

Via Twitter @LauriePShort

Idol Insights

5 Insights on Idolatry by J. D. Greear
There are certain themes in Scripture that tend to beat you over the head with their persistence. Idolatry is one of those. It’s such a prominent theme in Scripture that some have said it is the central theme of the entire Bible.[1] And when it comes to idolatry, we humans are endlessly creative. As John Calvin said, “The heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols.”Give us the chance, and we’ll replace God with any and every object, person, ideal, or dream.
Most modern people don’t quite get the Bible’s obsession with idolatry. We think of idolatry as an ancient problem for backwards people who bowed down to statues, not a relevant one for sophisticated folks like us. But we aren’t beyond idolatry. We simply dress it up in different clothes.
Acts 19 gives us 5 insights into the reality of idolatry for us today: 
1. An idol is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.
In Acts 19, Artemis is described as the “protector” and “prosperer” of Ephesus. With her, the Ephesians believed, they were guaranteed security and joy. This false hope is precisely what makes an idol an idol. Idols are not usually bad things, but good things that have become ultimate things—things you believe guarantee you joy and security.
What is that in your life? About what do you think, “As long as I have this, I’ll have happy”?
What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?
What makes these idols so dangerous is that they are nearly always good things. I have seen the good of desiring marriage become a false god. I’ve seen the good of wanting to provide become the idol of always needing to achieve one more financial benchmark. The problem isn’t the money or the marriage. The problem comes when we trust in those things to satisfy.
2. Idols engage the deepest emotions in our hearts.
When idols are challenged, people get violent. That’s what happens in Acts 19, when Artemis’ prowess is threatened. And it’s what happens in our lives when something we love is threatened, because many of our deepest emotions are connected to idols. Some of my deepest emotions are connected to worshipping the idol of success.
What is that in your life? About what do you think, “If I ever lost this, I’d never survive”? What possible loss makes you not only frightened, butdespairing?
The irony here is that idolizing something ultimately keeps you from being able to enjoy it at all. You panic and fret about losing something so vital that you can never rest. For instance, many of the wealthiest people are the most paranoid about their money. Gaining more of an idol only heightens that sense of fear, because nothing other than God can sustain the weight of your soul.
3. Idols need to be protected.
One of the craftsmen in Ephesus, Demetrius, was making a fortune on Artemis statues, coffee mugs, and bobble-head dolls. He wasn’t about to stand idly by while Paul undermined his entire financial enterprise with his “Gods made with hands are not really gods” message. So he gathered up an impromptu group of thugs to force Paul out of town.
Don’t miss the humor in this: Artemis was the protector of Ephesus. Yet when Demetrius’ skin was in the game—his cash flow—he immediately jumped up to defend her. That’s the absurdity of idolatry: what is supposed to protect usbecomes something we fiercely protect.
What is that in your life? What do you feel obsessive about protecting in your life?
Charles Spurgeon said the Word of God is like a caged lion. If someone threatens the lion, you don’t have to step in and defend the lion; you just let it loose and it will protect itself. The God of the Word can protect himself, but our false gods always need to be protected.
4. Idols demand sacrifices to keep them happy.
The whole system in Ephesus was built on appeasing Artemis and keeping her happy. That was no accident: idols will always make you sacrifice for them. If business is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your integrity to climb the ladder of success. If acceptance is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your honesty and lie to get affirmation. If romance is your idol, you’ll walk out on your spouse as soon as the “spark” seems to fade.
But an idol is like a fire. It never says, “That’s enough.” Instead, it just keeps asking for more. The altar of idolatry is terrifyingly insatiable: the more you sacrifice for an idol, the more it will demand.
What is that in your life?What part of yourself have you sacrificed on the altar of an idol? Where do you feel that “pull” to keep cutting corners or making excuses? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this sacrifice will be the last one.
5. The gospel overcomes our idolatry.[2]
The idol of money says to us, “If you don’t do enough to obtain me, I’ll make you miserable.” The idol of family says, “If you lose me, life won’t be worth living.” The idol of comfort says, again and again, “Sacrifice your honesty, your integrity, your closest relationships, for me.”
Idols are harsh taskmasters. If you fail them, they make you pay. But in the gospel Jesus says to us, “You did fail me. But instead of destroying you, I’ll let myself be destroyed for you. Instead of demanding a sacrifice, I will become a sacrifice for you.” In Jesus, unlike idols, we find the only God that—when we obtain him—will satisfy us, and—when we fail him—will forgive us.

[1] Cf. Jewish scholar Moshe Halbertal, Idolatry, in which Halbertal claims that the story of the Old Testament is primarily that of the conflict between the true God and all false challengers.

[2] I am indebted to Tim Keller throughout this post, but particularly in this last point. For more on idolatry, see Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Restoring the Lost Years

Loved this hopeful piece from Colin Smith at the Gospel Coalition site:
Money can be restored. Property can be restored—broken-down cars, stripped painting, old houses. Relationships can be restored. But one thing that can never be restored is time. Time flies and it does not return. Years pass and we never get them back.
Yet God promises the impossible: “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). The immediate meaning of this promise is clear. God’s people had suffered the complete destruction of their entire harvest through swarms of locusts that marched like an insect army through the fields, destroying the crops, multiplying their number as they went.
For four consecutive years, the harvest was completely wiped out. God’s people were brought to their knees in more ways than one. But “the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.” God said, “Behold I am sending to you grain, wine and oil, and you will be satisfied (Joel 2:18-19).
In the coming years, God said, their fields would yield an abundance that would make up for what had been lost: “The threshing floor shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. . . . You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied” (Joel 2:24, 26).
This wonderful promise for those people meant that years of abundant harvests would follow the years of desolation brought about by the locusts.

But God has also put this promise in the Bible for us today.
Lost Years of Our Lives
What do “lost years” look like for us? Lost years (or locust years) are years that you can’t get back, and they come in many varieties.
Lost years are fruitless years. A lot of hard work was done in the years the locusts had eaten. After everything was destroyed, the people must have thought, All this work and what do I have to show for it? Some of you know this pain in the world of business—a failed venture, a bad investment, a misguided policy, and all the effort that you put in day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year led only to massive disappointment. You think, What has come of all my time and all my effort?

Lost years are painful years. I’m thinking of those who have lost a loved one. You had plans for the future, but now you fear the coming years may be empty. I’m thinking also of those who live with illness in the body or the mind. You assumed that you would always be able to do what you used to do. You have to find a way to live with the disappointment that you cannot.
Lost years are selfish years. Here’s a story that’s been repeated thousands of times. There’s a person (let’s call him Jim) who made a commitment to Christ, but it didn’t run deep. Faith in Jesus was a slice of the big pie of his busy life, filled with all the things that Jim wanted to pursue. Then one day, God gets hold of Jim. He is spiritually awakened. He says to himself, What in the world have I been doing? There’s no substance in my life. I really want it to count for Christ. I want to live in the power of the Spirit. I want to make a difference in the world, but the locusts have eaten half my life! I’ve wasted my years on myself.
Lost years are loveless years. A division comes to a family, alienating loved ones. Children grow up, and those years cannot be recovered. A marriage quietly endures in which love has been burning low for many years. You see a couple who are really in love, and you say, “I wish I could be loved like that.” Or you have not yet met the person you would like to meet. It feels like the years are moving on. You can never get them back. The locusts have eaten them.
Lost years are rebellious years. Perhaps you grew up with many blessings, but in your heart you wanted to rebel. You didn’t fully understand this urge, but you gave yourself to it. Instead of bringing you pleasure, rebellion brought you pain. Now you look back on those years with regret, the years that the locusts have eaten.
Lost years are misdirected years. The path you chose in your career or at college was a dead end. You just didn’t fit. Often in your mind, and sometimes in your conversation, you say, “How did I end up here? If only. . . . If only I had made that move. . . . If only I had taken that opportunity. . . . If only I had chosen a different path.” But the moment has passed. It’s gone. You can’t go back to it. You’re left with locust years.
Lost years are Christ-less years. All Christ-less years are locust years. This point is worth thinking about if you have not yet made a commitment to Christ. Ask anyone who came to faith in Christ later in life, and they will tell you that they wish they’d come to Christ sooner than they did: “How much foolishness I would have avoided. How much more good might have been done through my life.”
How God Restores Lost Years
Take heart! There is hope, because God can restore your lost, locust years. He does so in three ways.

God can restore lost years by deepening your communion with Christ. “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God” (Joel 2:27). These people, who have endured so much, enjoy a communion with the Lord that is far greater than anything they had ever known before in their religious lives. Christ can restore lost years by deepening your fellowship with him.
Why not ask him for this? Tell him, “Lord, I have spent too many years without you, too many years at a distance from you. Fill my heart with love and gratitude for Christ. Let the loss of these years make my love for Christ greater than it would ever have been. Restore to me the years the locusts have eaten. “
God can restore lost years by multiplying your fruitfulness. The harvests for these people had been wiped out for four years, but God restored the years that the locusts had eaten by giving bumper harvests.

This provision makes me think about the parable where Jesus spoke about a harvest that could be 30-, 60-, or 100-fold. There’s a huge difference between these three harvests. Three years at 100-fold is as much fruit as a decade at 30-fold.
Why not ask him for this? “Lord, the locusts have eaten too many years of our lives. You have called us as your disciples to bear fruit that will last. Too many fruitless years have passed. Now Lord, we ask of you, give us some years now in which more lasting fruit will be born than in all of our years of small harvests.” 
God can restore lost years by bringing long-term gain from short-term loss. The effect of these great trials in your life will be that “the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). The praise, glory, and honor go to Christ because his power guarded you and kept you through the hardest years of your life.
Thinking about “years that the locust has eaten,” years that have been taken, I think of something Isaiah said about our Lord Jesus: “He was cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8).
Here was the Lord Jesus in the prime of life. He was three years into his ministry at 33 years old. You would think that a man launching a new enterprise at the age of 33 has everything in front of him. But Isaiah says, “He was cut off.” He was cut off because he came under the judgment of God, not for his own sins—because he had none—but for ours.
Our sins, our grief, our sorrows, were laid on him. Our judgment fell on him. Our locusts swarmed all over him. The life of God’s tender shoot was “cut off.” Then, on the third day, the Son of God rose in the power of an eternal life. He offers himself to you, and he says what no one else can ever say: “I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Foster Parenting - More Than A Home

Great Piece this week at the Pinelake Church blog about my good friends Howard and Stephanie Wilson and their adventures in foster parenting:
At 16 years old I found out I couldn’t have children, which wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Then in 1993, when my husband and I were married, I learned he didn’t want children — another big blow to my desire to be a mom. But not long after, my husband and I decided to become foster parents.
Though I wasn't able to have children, God blessed me with more children than I ever could have imagined through foster care. We’ve fostered 19 children and have adopted two. I feel like it’s a calling to be a part of foster care and adoption, which can look different for everyone. We know it’s about helping others, but it also brings healing as we put our focus on these children and families and know we are helping.
"Our desire is to see these children learn that God’s love goes deeper than any person’s love ever could."They may feel abandoned but it’s important for them to know they have a heavenly Father who loves them and will always be there for them. We want them to know the number one relationship in life is the one with God.
Our oldest foster child just graduated from high school — the first in her family. Her life was changed, and she has a strong love for God and wants to adopt one day. You do get attached to the children you foster but that’s what that child needs. They need someone who loves them, someone who is stable and someone who will provide for them. When they leave your home, they often go back in to what they came out of, but you have to know that God has put you in their life for that season to care for them. You never know what that little bit of time, and the seeds you plant, will bring into their life.
Howard and Stephanie Wilson, Pinelake Reservoir

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shaped By Devotion

From A Lifestyle of Devotion by Paul Tripp:
If you were to outline the book of Hebrews, you would see that from 4:14 to 10:18, the author builds an extensive argument for the high priesthood of Jesus.
At the conclusion of that argument, he begins the next section with the words, “Therefore, brothers, since…” (10:19). In other words, here’s what the author is trying to communicate: “If everything I’ve said about Jesus is true, then you ought to live in the following ways.”
With that in mind, over the next four Wednesdays, we’re going to look at four different lifestyles described by the author of HebrewsA Lifestyle of Devotion bu . The first is a lifestyle of DEVOTION.
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22, ESV)
I’m very concerned with the way modern Christianity tends to think about our “devotional life.” It seems as if we’ve reduced these devotions down to five minutes of reading a Psalm and saying a quick prayer for the day, or, reading an e-mail devotional sent out by a pastor.
The Bible paints a much different picture of a devotional life. The author here uses the word “heart” twice in verse 22. For the Christian, a lifestyle of devotion shouldn’t be reduced to an activity or daily routine; a lifestyle of devotion is characterized by a heart that’s owned by Christ.
Your “devotional life” shouldn’t be slotted into your daily schedule after your morning workout and before you start your work for the day. No, your devotional life is meant to shape the way you think about your body, your job, your family, your social circle, your calendar, and your budget.
No one would admit this, but we try to cram Jesus into a heart already filled with selfish idols and personal hobbies. Even after 40 years in ministry, it’s tempting for me reduce my individual faith down to a daily routine instead of a heart captured by grace.
What’s the solution? It's not to restructure your schedule and free up 20 more minutes for Bible study, although that might be helpful. Rather, every morning, make a heartfelt confession that much of your devotion is still for the things of this world and not for the Lord.
God will give abundant grace to those who confess their desperate need for it. Lay down your pride; admit to the real devotion of your heart and watch the Spirit transform your soul.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Finding Jesus in Stress

A prayer for finding Jesus in times of stress, by Scotty Smith (based on 2 Cor. 4:7-10):
    Dear Lord Jesus, to compare my stressors with the apostle Paul’s would be like comparing my photography with Ansel Adams’s, my preaching with Charles Spurgeon’s, or my cobbler making with a 5 star French pastry chef’s. There is simply no comparison. When I consider everything he experienced as your servant, honestly, I have nothing to bemoan or groan about.
     Nonetheless, Paul’s honesty is a great gift to me this morning. His freedom to acknowledge both his anguish and his joy in the same paragraph, gives me tremendous encouragement and focus. Posing and pretending were crucified at Calvary. Despair and hopelessness were sabotaged by your resurrection.
     Jesus, help me to be far more preoccupied with the treasure within than with the pressures without. If your all-surpassing power will be shown most dramatically through my weaknesses, then I’ll boast in them. If your incomparable beauty will be most clearly revealed through my hardships, then I’ll stop my whining. If your redeeming purposes will be most fully realized through my brokenness, then I’ll humble myself and surrender.
     With my palms up, I offer you praise for the treasure of the gospel. The gospelwill win the day, my heart, the nations, and the cosmos. Though there are seasons when throwing in the towel, finding another story, or just flat running away are incredibly attractive, where else would I go but to you?
     Jesus, you alone give the words of life, sufficient grace, and the hope of glory. May your voice grow ten times louder than any other voice, clamoring for my attention. In the coming hours, days, and weeks, demonstrate the wonders of your love and the sovereignty of your rule. So very Amen I pray, with hungry expectancy, in your trustworthy name.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How To Recognize A Jesus Follower

From 5 Ways to Spot a Jesus Follower, by Ben Corey:
...As I look at the Jesus I find in the New Testament, I think there are a few hallmarks of what it looks like to follow him– traits that can be observed to “spot a Jesus follower”:
1. A Jesus follower likes to talk about him, but they do it in such a way that it causes you to want to know more, not less.
Someone who is following Jesus will be passionate about him– and as a result, they’ll talk about him. However, they’ll do it in such a way that attracts people instead of repelling them. In the New Testament, we see the way Jesus communicated his message was appealing to the point that he couldn’t go anywhere without attracting a big crowd. Followers of Jesus talk about him naturally and passionately but in a way that, like him, attract listeners. (The religious elite being the one exception to this rule both for Jesus and his followers).
2. A Jesus follower embraces enemy love.
One of the central teachings of Jesus is nonviolent love of enemies. It’s actually one area where he draws some pretty hard lines– lines that make both the left and right uncomfortable. It is important to understand however, that the life of Jesus is one giant testimony of enemy love– one that culminates with his death on the cross– the precise moment where he nonviolently died for his enemies.  It only makes sense that someone who is actually following Jesus would follow his teachings and example. I can still hear Jesus saying, “if you only love those who love you, what reward is there in that?” His followers know this and hold what is still, a very unpopular belief.
3. A Jesus follower is the one who is full of compassion for outsiders and the weak.
Here’s a challenge: re-read the Gospels with a fresh eye, and count the number of times you hear the term “and Jesus was filled with compassion”. I promise, you’ll be shocked (head start: Mark 6:3, Matt 9:36, Mark 8:2). When I first noticed this in the Gospels, it was one of those moments when the words jumped off the page and became a “I can’t believe I didn’t see this before” experience. When Jesus saw people, his first response was that of compassion– his followers, by nature, are the same.
4. A Jesus follower is the one who is quickest to show others mercy.
Jesus once faced off with the religious elite of his time who were colluding with the power of Empire and oppressing the weak. When he did, he dismissed them and famously said: “go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
One of the core aspects of the message of Jesus is one of mercy. He went to the cross on our behalf as an act of mercy. He stopped the execution of a condemned woman and told her “neither do I condemn you”, as an act of mercy. He was busy healing the sick, because he loved to show mercy. Jesus was a man who had mercy at the core of his being. If you want to distinguish a Christian from a Jesus follower, just look for the one who is advocating the position that shows the most mercy (including gratuitous forgiveness)– because that’s the heart of Jesus.
5. A Jesus follower is the one who, when they describe what God is like, describe Jesus.
Jesus followers get what Jesus meant when he said “if you have seen me, you’ve seen the father”, and they believe the author of Hebrews who wrote that Jesus was the “exact representation” of God’s being. This means that if you want to be able to spot a Jesus follower, look for the person who is describing a God who looks EXACTLY like Jesus. If Jesus is the exact representation of God, we know that noting else– including the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament– can be the “exact representation” of God. Jesus followers are sold out on exclusively following Jesus because they realize that in all of human history, the only time God’s exact essence was revealed to us was done through the mirror image of Christ....

Read more:

Hasty Reading


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Why We Don't Pray

From Pete Wilson:

Prayer is a interesting thing for us Christians. We know we should pray. We also know how to pray (you just talk to God).  But if we know we should and we know how why is it that so many of us feel as if our prayer life is lacking?
Here’s one reason…

Friday, July 11, 2014

Heart Surgery

A Prayer for a More Christ-Like Heart, by Scotty Smith (with reference to Ezekiel 36:25-27):
     Dear heavenly Father, your promise of a new heart beating within my breast shouts of your mercy and might. There’s nothing I want more, and I praise you for how much of this great new covenant promise you’ve already fulfilled in your children.
     Already I’ve experienced the greatest of all “sprinklings”—the once and for all cleansing by the blood of Jesus. Though I’m still susceptible to the accusing and condemning work of Satan, you’ve forgiven me of all of my sins: past, present, and future—sins of word, thought, and deed. May this good news neverbe blasé or cliché to me.
     Father, you’ve already declared me to be perfectly righteous in your sight forever—a status that makes me yearn for the complete healing of my yet-to-be perfected heart. How I long for the Day when my heart will beat only for Jesus’ glory, marvel at his beauty, feel with his passion, think with his wisdom, and love with his affection.
     By the ongoing work of your Spirit, change my heart, Father. I want a kind heart, a tender heart, a sweet heart, a compassionate heart, a caring heart, a servant’s heart, a soft heart—the heart of Jesus. I long to be more restful and less resentful, more merciful and less mercenary, quicker to listen than to speak, quicker to be flexible than rigid, more likely to be consoling than controlling.
     I want to forgive from my heart, and not just avoid the pain of conflict. I want to encourage people for their good, not flatter them for my benefit. I want to feel joy and hope every time I hear your name, and not feel rejection and self-pity when I don’t hear my name. Like John the Baptist, I want Jesus to increase and me to decrease.
   I praise you, Father, for promising just such a heart through the resources of the gospel. My longings, hopes, and prayers are not in vain. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ matchless name.

Making Mud Pies

From Tim Challies: What Is Your Mud Pie?
It is one of Lewis’ most powerful and most enduring illustrations: An ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. It is a vivid illustration and one that is simple enough to see in the lives of other people—those people who settle for lesser pleasures when the greatest of all pleasures awaits. But I, at least, find it far more difficult to see in my own life. You may find it just as difficult.
It is worth asking: What is your mud pie?
Is it money? You will never have a bank account rich enough to satisfy you.
Is it food? You will never have a meal filling enough to satisfy you.
Is it pleasure? You will never have a sexual experience gratifying enough to satisfy you.
Is it popularity? You will never have enough friends to satisfy you.
Is it stuff? You will never accumulate enough possessions to satisfy you.
Is it pornography? You will never find a person naked enough to satisfy you.
Is it control? You will never have enough authority to satisfy you.
Is it leisure? You will never have enough rest to satisfy you.
Is it success? You will never achieve enough to satisfy you.
It is freedom? You will never be lawless enough to satisfy you.
And in the light of all those questions and the certainty of the answers, let’s go back to Lewis.
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


"Inasmuch as the Cross is eschatological, the world of evil forces is also judged.

It is as if two people were playing chess. At a certain point, one of the players rises from the table, leaving his opponent to ponder his next move. The opponent struggles with all the possibilities because he is determined to win. What he has not realized is that there are only a limited number of moves that he can make, and not one of them can change the outcome of the game. No matter what he does, he will lose.

Just so at the Cross, the outcome of the chess game between God and Satan was decided. God will certainly win. Satan, however, is presently playing out every conceivable option, imagining that somehow his rebellion will triumph. It will not. "

— David F. Wells, God the Evangelist, (Carlisle, UK: World Evangelical Fellowship, 1997), page 67

Rewards for the Effort

When We Best Learn the Bible by Jen Wilkin at the Desiring God website:
If you have ever had to learn a skill, you will probably remember the frustration that accompanies it — the feelings of inadequacy, the monotony of repeating a process until you have learned it, the strong desire to quit or to find an easier way. Learning to study the Bible well introduces all of these same feelings, which is why we must study with patience.
Our culture believes that patience is a hassle and looks for ways to keep us from ever having to exercise it. Television shows resolve conflict in thirty minutes or less. Restaurants serve us food almost as quickly as we can order it. The Internet delivers any and every purchase we could conceive of in under forty-eight hours. Music, ebooks, and movies are available instantly.The concept of delaying gratification can be difficult to learn and practice in a patience-optional culture that celebrates immediate satiation of every desire.
The Cumulative Effect
So it isn’t surprising that the desire for instant gratification can even creep into our study of the Bible. We approach our “time in the Word” like the drive-through at McDonald’s: “I’ve only got a few minutes. Give me something quick and easy to fill me up.”
But sound Bible study is rooted in a celebration of delayed gratification. Gaining Bible literacy requires allowing our study to have a cumulative effect — across weeks, months, years — so that the interrelation of one part of Scripture to another reveals itself slowly and gracefully, like a dust cloth slipping inch by inch from the face of a masterpiece.
God doesn’t want his word to be neatly packaged into three-hundred-and-sixty-five-day increments. He does not want it to be reduced to truisms and action points. He wants it to introduce dissonance into your thinking, to stretch your understanding. He wants it to reveal a mosaic of his majesty one passage at a time, one day at a time, across a lifetime. By all means, bring eagerness to your study time. Yes, bring hunger. But certainly bring patience — come ready to study for the long term.
Patience for Our Progress
Being a student of any subject requires effort — the process of gaining understanding is not easy and can often be frustrating. Depending on the subject, learning may be enjoyable, but it will not be effortless. Learning requires work.
This is as true of learning the Bible as it is of learning algebra. We think that learning the Bible should be as natural as breathing in and out; if knowing God’s word is so good for us, surely he would not make it difficult for us to do so. But learning the Bible requires discipline, and discipline is something we don’t naturally embrace. Because learning the Bible is a discipline, patience will play a much-needed role in our progress.
Do you expect to be met with frustration when you study the Bible? How do you react to the dissonance you feel when your understanding is not equal to a passage? As adults, we no longer must stick to a course of study because a teacher or parent is holding us accountable. If we give in to impatience with the learning process, we tend to react in one of two ways.
We give up. When we find that studying the Bible is too confusing, many of us think “this must not be my area of gifting,” and we move on to aspects of our faith that come more naturally. We allow sermons, podcasts, books, or blogs to be our sole source of intake for the Bible. We may read the Bible devotionally, but we assume that we are just not wired to learn it in any sort of structured way.
We look for a shortcut. Wanting to remove as quickly as possible our sense of feeling lost in a text, we run to the notes in our study Bible immediately after reading it. Or we keep a commentary handy so we can consult it at the first signs of confusion. And thanks to the Internet, help is never far away. If we read something confusing, there is no need for tears of frustration — we can simply read what the note in our study Bible says or look up an answer to our question online. But is having interpretive help readily available as helpful as it seems? Or do we end up like those kids in high school English who never actually read a book because the CliffsNotes or the movie was easily available?
In reality, using a shortcut is only marginally better than giving up because it does not honor the learning process. By hurrying to eliminate the dissonance of the “I don’t know moment,” it actually diminishes the effectiveness of the “aha moment” in discovery.
The Good Confusion
Contrary to our gut reaction, feeling lost or confused is not a bad sign for a student. It is actually a sign that our understanding is being challenged and that learning is about to take place. Embracing the dissonance of feeling lost, rather than avoiding it (giving up) or dulling it (looking for a shortcut), will actually place us in the best possible position to learn.
We must extend ourselves permission to get lost and have the patience to find our way to understanding. That’s when we best learn the Bible.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Age of Restoration

"The kingdom of God is the new and final age that began with the coming of Jesus. His kingdom is not part of the present age — an age where the flesh reigns; where people are divided, relationships are broken, and suspicion and competition dominate; where money, sex, and power are abused; where leaders are first and servants last; where behavior is controlled by laws, and identity is defined by race, gender, or social standing; and where gifts and resources are used for the advancement of oneself.

Rather, the kingdom of God is the new age. It is the age of the Spirit (Matt 12:28). It is the age of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). The Kingdom of God is about the renewal, restoration, and reconciliation of all things, and God has made us a part of this great story of salvation.

This kingdom is about the restoration of relationships, justice, and equality; about freedom from every lord except Jesus; about reconciliation, forgiveness, and the defeat of Satan. It is about compassion for the poor and powerless, about helping those who are marginalized and rejected by society, and about our gifts and resources for the advancement of others. It is about new communities and the transformation of society and culture, so that race, gender, and social class no longer define identity, nor are they used to control and divide. For Paul, to preach the gospel is to preach the kingdom, is to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:24–27).

The gospel sums up the whole message of good news that he brought to the nations — particularly to the downtrodden and powerless. And since it is good news, our response to the message of the kingdom is to be one of repentant faith (Mark 1:15). "

— Neil H. Williams, Gospel Transformation, (Jenkintown, Pa.: World Harvest Mission, 2006), page iii

Those Impossible Verses...

3 Tips for When the Bible Seems Impossible to Understand by Alex Kocman at Charisma:
....What do you do when it feels impossible to make sense of a biblical truth—much less, to live it out?
A wise friend of mine taught me a few lessons in how to deal with theological head-scratchers.
1. Put the Tough Verses in the Mouth of Your Go-to Guy
Pick out a verse in the Bible that you've always had a hard time squeezing into your belief system.
Now, think of the person you usually go to first for Bible teaching, the person or teaching ministry you get most of your positions from or trust the most.
Is it possible for you to imagine that preacher boldly preaching that verse, reading it fully in-context, and then sitting down without qualifying it much at all?
If you can't comfortably imagine any Christian leader mouthing the words of a challenging passage, chances are you value their ideas or systems above the Word itself.
We need to let Scripture interpret itself, and yes, that's how theological systems are built and refined. But no system should ever rise above a straightforward reading of the text.
It's easy to rely on your favorite go-to pastors, theologians, teachers, or blogs to do the thinking for you. But Scripture is your ultimate teacher. As Charles Spurgeon once said, "Visit many good books, but live in the Bible."
2. Live in the Tension
Tension is inevitable. So while you're sitting down with your Bible open, if your goal is to eliminate any mental discomforts, you might just be out of luck.
Consider just one example: Scripture's teachings that "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 may boast" (Ephesians 2:8, 9) and yet "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17).
Are the two verses contradictory? No; the clear implication is that the type of faith that God gives—faith that can truly save you—is the kind of faith that will product works. So if you claim to have "faith" but aren't acting on it at all, you may not be saved. (It's also worth noting that the context of James 2 isn't a deep theological discussion of salvation, unlike Ephesians 2.)
But even understanding how to reconcile these verses, there's still tension. You can't spend so much time reading one verse that you forget the bigger picture granted by the other, and vice versa.
That tension you feel is good. It's meant to be there. Bury the tension and you lose the motivation to actively apply either verse at all (especially considering Ephesians 2:10 says we're saved in order to do good works!).
Compatibility is key. Because Scripture is inspired by God and error-free, we know that underlying any two sprouts of seeming contradiction is a root unifying them on a deeper level.But don't pluck up the sprouts of paradox just to get to the root. Live in the tension. Love the tension. Preach the tension to yourself and others.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Worship in the Wild

Distracted during worship services? Read Worship Where the Wild Things Are from Desiring God:
One of the unavoidable realities of corporate worship in this world is distraction. Our minds are already prone to wander completely apart from anything happening around us in that room. But anyone who’s been in church for more than a few minutes knows there are always more things going on than we can ignore. Unruly children, unresolved conflict, uninhibited personalities, untalented singers, unsilenced technology, and an unending list of other disturbances.
If you’re like me, those moments can be a real challenge. After all, I’ve come here to meet God, to hear from him and offer my worship to him. The movement, tensions, and noises are keeping me from him, right? They’re stealing my attention in some of the most precious minutes of the week. Distractions in church can quickly give rise to impatience, irritation,exasperation, and even anger.
Five Ways to Worship in the Wild
But I wonder if we’ve missed the point of the wildness in corporate worship. Yes, God mainly wants to speak to us through his word, but what if he has other things to say in less grammatical, less authoritative ways? What if God wants these unwanted distractions to show us more of himself and more about what it means to love his children than we could see alone at home with our Bibles?
Here are five ways God might just bless and inspire your worship in the wild, where you're really not sure what might happen next.
1. Screaming Babies or Unruly Infants
Any church with young families knows well the cries of new life. The little ones that are so adorable and beautiful before and after a service can temporarily become annoying or inconvenient when they speak up during the announcements or a sermon. But this is new life. If we realize what’s happening — a new human being added to our church family, a future man or woman, potentially a husband and father or a wife and mother — we would have every reason to be blown away by our creating God, rejoice in the gift of this baby girl or boy, and bear patiently with this screaming image-in-process.
2. Bad Singing
Some of you are this person, and you know it. Some of you are married to this person. Some of you sit a couple pews away from this person week after week. You’ve thought about a move, but that’s too big of a statement in a small church. Some people simply can’t sing very well. Despite the beautifully good heart, the ensuing sound would make more sense in the local zoo than the church's choir.
We’ve all been commanded to sing (Psalm 47:6–7), but we’ve not been equally gifted for it. The miracle, though, is that any of us, who once dead in our sin, would sing to our God at all. Each of us was made to image and worship God, but we all turned away from him, offended him, and earned his wrath. But God overwhelmed our rebellion to win our worship through Jesus.
Our hearts will always and only find their greatest satisfaction in God. That’s what worshipis. Our hymns and songs give voice to that happiness. God is not listening for pitch, but for heart in worship. Anyone singing to any tune, in any octave, with whatever rhythm to God is a stunning, miraculous, wonderful thing. We should be developing an attitude that rejoices in all the voices that are lifted to make much of him.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Going Deep

"Our great need is to be led further in to what we already have. The gospel is so deep that it not only meets our deepest needs but comes from God’s deepest self.

The salvation proclaimed in the gospel is not some mechanical operation that God took on as a side project. It is a ‘mystery that was kept secret for long ages’ (Rom. 16:25), a mystery of salvation that goes back into the heart of God, decreed ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

When God undertook our salvation, he did it in a way that put divine resources into play, resources which involve him personally in the task.… The deeper we dig into the gospel, the deeper we go into the mystery of the Trinity."

— Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), page 13

(A VERY good book, BTW)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Know the Declaration

9 Things You Should Know About Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence  by Joe Carter:
July 4, 2014 will be America's 238th Independence Day, the day Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Here are nine things you should know about America's founding document and the day set aside for its commemoration.

1. July 4, 1776 is the day that we celebrate Independence Day even though it wasn't the day the Continental Congress decided to declare independence (they did that on July 2, 1776), the day we started the American Revolution (that had happened back in April 1775), the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn't happen until November 1776), or the date it was signed (that was August 2, 1776).
2. The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776 (although the Declaration was approved on July 4, 1776, it was not made public until July 8), but for the first two decades after the Declaration was written, people didn'tcelebrate it much on any date. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies.
3. After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to come apart and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1938 and 1941.
4. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston comprised the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration. Jefferson, regarded as the strongest and most eloquent writer,wrote most of the document. After Jefferson wrote his first draft, the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes, including shortening the overall length by more than a fourth and removing language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade (which Jefferson had included even though he himself was a slave owner).
5. The signed copy of the Declaration is the official, but not the original, document. The approved Declaration was printed on July 5th and a copy was attached to the "rough journal of the Continental Congress for July 4th." These printed copies, bearing only the names of John Hancock, President, and Charles Thomson, secretary, were distributed to state assemblies, conventions, committees of safety, and commanding officers of the Continental troops. On July 19th, Congress ordered that the Declaration be engrossed on parchment with a new title, "the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America," and "that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress." Engrossing is the process of copying an official document in a large hand.
6. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the only two presidents to sign the document, both died on the Fourth of July in 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration. Adam's last words have been reported as "Thomas Jefferson survives." He did not know that Jefferson had died only a few hours before. James Monroe, the last president who was a Founding Father, also died on July 4 in 1831. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and, so far, is the only President to have been born on Independence Day.
7. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress at the time, was the first and only person to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776 (he signed it in the presence of just one man, Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress). According to legend, the founding father signed his name bigger than everyone else's because he wanted to make sure "fat old King George" could read it without his spectacles. But the truth is that Hancock had a large blank space and didn't realize the other men would write their names smaller. Today, the term "John Hancock" has become synonymous with a person's signature.
8. The 56 signers of the Declaration did not sign on July 4, 1776, nor were they in the same room at the same time on the original Independence Day. The official signing event took place on August 2, 1776 when 50 men signed the document. Several months passed before all 56 signatures were in place. The last man to sign, Thomas McKean, did so in January of 1777, seven months after the document was approved by Congress. Robert R. Livingston, one of the five original drafters, never signed it at all since he believed it was too soon to declare independence.
9. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which makes no reference to God, the Declaration has three references to a deity. The document also makes two references that tie natural law to God. (Although Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, as a young apprentice lawyer he had studied the work of Henry de Bracton, an English jurist and natural law proponent. Bracton has been referred to as the "father of common law" and is said to have "succeeded in formulating a truly Christian philosophy of law").