Saturday, April 30, 2016

Decaffinated Jesus

Russell Moore's role model is a Decaffeinated Jesus. Huh? Read this and see if he makes sense.
It’s not so much that we are afraid of non-Christian people who may be hostile to what we believe. A lot of it is more fear of other Christians. A lot of the kind of engagement that we see has nothing to do with people on the outside at all; it has everything to do with this constant loop of reassuring other Christians, “I’m part of the team, and I’m part of the tribe, and the way that you know that is because I’m giving these talking points about how awful the people on the outside are.” That’s not just a challenge for people who are in public ministries—it’s a challenge for anybody with a Facebook page.
One of the major things has to be to genuinely love and identify with people who disagree with you to the point that you understand why they hold the views that they hold. And that takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of relationship building. If you get up and you do this sort of ministry that isn’t really about persuading people on the outside, but it’s just about encouraging Christians you’re not crazy and “here’s why the other view is stupid and evil,” there are people who are overhearing that who are then going to meet people and realize they don’t stand up to the caricature. And then you’re going to end up losing those people. When people actually encounter these people, they see a much more complex view.
Jesus is not threatened. The remarkable thing to me in the gospels is how un-caffeinated Jesus is when everyone else is freaking out. Jesus is becoming anguished, anxious, and provoked at the oddest times. When everybody else is asleep or just kind of walking through the temple, this is always there, but when everyone else is outraged and panicking, Jesus has this tranquility that I think ultimately is rooted in confidence. He really does know who he is and what he’s about. And if you have a church and a people of God who are confident in their gospel, then those are going to be people who are not going to be as panicked when they have people who say, “We think you’re crazy, we think you’re bigoted, we think you’re wrong.”

Friday, April 29, 2016

Truths To Kling To

From the Facebook page of Lysa TerKeurst:
Right this very minute, in the midst of hard realities and devastating circumstances, there are some things you and I must cling and hold to as if our lives depended on it:
1. God loves us and He will not leave us.
2. This battle isn’t ours. The battle belongs to the Lord. Let Him fight for you. Save your emotional energy and use it to dig into His Word like never before. Our job is to be obedient to God. God’s job is winning this battle.
3. The battle might not be easy or short-lived, but victory will be there for those who trust God.
4. God is good even when the circumstances are darker than you ever imagined. God is good even when people are not. God is good even when things seem stinking hopeless. God is good and can be trusted when you feel suspicious of everyone and everything around you.
5. Lastly, God is good at being God. Don’t try to fix what He hasn’t assigned you to fix. Don’t try to manipulate or control or spend all your emotions trying to figure it out. Let Him be God. Free yourself from this impossible assignment.
Sweet friend, be still. And know. He is God.
I’m praying for you. And I treasure the fact I know you are praying for me.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Praying the Psalms

Loved this post at Crossway Books called How To Pray Through The Psalms by Matt Tully. It was adapted from Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney. 
The Book of Praises
As a whole, the psalms comprise the best place in Scripture from which to pray Scripture. I base that on the original purpose for which God inspired the psalms. The book of Psalms—which means “book of praises” in Hebrew—was the songbook of Israel. The psalms were inspired by God for the purpose of being sung to God.
It is as though God said to his people, “I want you to praise me, but you don’t know how to praise me. I want you to praise me not because I’m an egomaniac but because you will praise that which you prize the most, and there is nothing of greater worth to you than I. There is nothing more praiseworthy than I, and it is a blessing for you to know that. It will lead to your eternal joy if you praise me above all others and above all else and to your eternal misery if you do not. But there’s a problem. You don’t know how to praise me, at least not in a way that’s fully true and pleasing to me. In fact, you know nothing about me unless I reveal it to you, for I am invisible to you. Therefore, since I want you to praise me, and it is good for you to praise me, but since you don’t know how to praise me, here are the words I want you to use.”
In other words, God gave the Psalms to us so that we would give the Psalms back to God. No other book of the Bible was inspired for that expressed purpose.
The “Psalms of the Day”
In light of this, I want to commend to you a systematic approach for praying a psalm each day. The approach did not originate with me, but I can’t recall where I first encountered the concept decades ago. It’s called “Psalms of the Day.” If you intend to pray through a psalm, using the Psalms of the Day approach helps you avoid thumbing through the middle of your Bible, randomly searching for a psalm that looks interesting. Too often, such an inconsistent process results in omitting many of the psalms. It also can slow your devotional momentum as you find yourself aimlessly meandering through chapters instead of praying.
With the Psalms of the Day you take thirty seconds or so to quickly scan five specific psalms and pick the one that best leads you to prayer on that occasion. It’s based on taking the 150 psalms and dividing them by thirty days (because most months have at least thirty days). That results in five psalms per day.
Or to put it another way, if you were to read five psalms a day for an entire month, at the end of the month you would have read through the entire book of Psalms. While reading five psalms a day is a great practice that many enjoy, that’s not what I’m advocating here. What I’m suggesting is that you take half a minute to quickly scan five psalms and pick one of those five to pray through.
If bringing math into prayer is making you skeptical, stay with me; I’ve created a simple, printable prayer guide that visually conveys all you’ll need to understand what I’m trying to describe.
Download my free Psalms of the Day Prayer Guide and start praying the Bible today!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Play Before the Work is Done

Here's a great exhortation to Carpe Diem. No one dies wishing they spent one more day a the office. Let's put the important things, the beautiful things, first. You Will Die With Unfinished Work by Justin Buzzard
You will die with unfinished work. The day you die you’ll still have a pile of unfinished work, a yet-to-be-completed to-do list.
I’m learning to stop making the big mistake of waiting until all my work is done to have fun, adventure, or connect with a friend. If you chase “get it all done first” as your permission for doing the things you really want to do, you’re chasing an illusion. There is always more work to do. 
So, you must make a change. Don’t postpone joy, fun, adventure, rest, that relationship. Pursue these beautiful things right now, in the midst of your unfinished work and your unfinished life.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Moving On in the Silence

We all go through seasons when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. If you are in one now, read this excerpt from 5 Things To Do When God Seems Distant by Rebecca Rene Jones (via Relevant)
Know That What You're Experiencing Is Normal
It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. "The law of Undulation," he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, "undulation" implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet "communications of His presence" and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.
In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that's critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.
Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.
Embrace Boring Things
Today's temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.
But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don't yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).
Carve out quiet places to remember what you're hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It'd be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I'll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.
Tell God What You Think
It's OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. "I have had enough, Lord," he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn't exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven't you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we'd hoped?
On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God's good character. They're sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.
Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we're handed crisp itineraries.

The League of Non-Extraordinary Gentlemen (and Ladies)

Are you part of the League? Check out The League of the Faithful by R. G. Grune
God's assembling a league of not-so-extraordinary gentlemen. He's gathering ordinary individuals with marginal influence, mediocre careers, and minimal pay. These men and women aren't the ones that are told of in legends. These aren't the men that kids dream about becoming - kids don't go to bed dreaming about working on the assembly line or doing taxes. These women aren't the women that young women picture when they declare a major.
The gentlemen and women who make up this league often find themselves tired, sore, and doubting. They are frustrated and exhausted, always on the verge of giving up but too committed to ever actually give up. 
Why do they even do what they do? Because they are faithful. 
Every morning at 5:00am the alarm goes off. These faithful men and women get to work before the rest of the world even brushes their teeth. It's not for the paycheck. It's definitely not for the flexible hours. They don't get to work from home. 
They come home from a long day at work to a family who needs their faithfulness even more than their boss demands their commitment. These faithful men who sat on boards and made million-dollar business decisions now get on their knees and play with Barbies and fight invisible bad guys while making laser noises.  
They are faithful. 
The league of the faithful are the ordinary men and women that God has called to do their work faithfully. God has called them, and they do it. They are the moms and the dads, the husbands and the wives, the neighbors and the coworkers that do their ordinary work every day. They don't seek the allure of bigger and better, but they seek faithfulness where they are. 
They do their job well. 
They love their family well. 
They serve the people well. 
In 1 Peter 4:10, Peter writes, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." The league of the faithful use their gifts and their calling to serve the people around them. Regardless of how much they like the work or the difficulty of the work - they are faithful with what God has given them. They are faithful in the way that Jesus teaches in Luke 16:10, "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much."
In ordinary, everyday work, God does something incredible. God is hidden and at work serving companies and clients, kids and spouses, neighbors and coworkers. God is hidden behind a league of faithful men and women who serve where God has called them.
God has chosen to do his impossible, extraordinary work of caring for creation with faithful men and women. God has chosen to use faithful men and women in their homes, office, and classrooms to do the work of God faithfully simply by loving people in work they have to do. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cost Analysis

As the social cost of claiming to be a Christian increases, the percentage of nominal Christians decreases.

                                     - D.A. Carson

Friday, April 15, 2016

Upward - Inward - Outward

Found this interesting piece called The Omni-Directional Blessing of Bible Reading by Jamar Tisby- via the Reformed African American Network (Bet you didn't know they existed!)
I can easily name the most important lesson I ever learned about being a Christian. This advice has guided me for nearly 20 years as I’ve walked as a disciple of Christ. And it applies to every single believer.
The Most Important Lesson
My high school youth pastor, Dave, repeated a single, critical piece of knowledge to all of his adolescent charges. He said, “Read your Bible.” So simple, yet so transformative. Over the years I’ve done better at times and fallen far short for seasons. But I never doubted that reading the Bible was good, and I should strive to be in the word as much as possible.
The Shame and Grief of Bible Reading
But as human beings who incline toward perverted worship, we can make a positive spiritual discipline like reading the Bible into an idolatrous activity.  The times when I wasn’t reading my Bible daily, for a specified period of time, and at a particular time of day were some of the worst moments of shame I’ve experienced. The voice in my head said, “If reading the Bible is so good, then why aren’t you doing it more? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you love God? Aren’t you a ‘serious’ Christian? Get it together!”
Shame has no place in a healthy discipline of reading the Bible.  Don’t confuse shame with guilt. We should saturate ourselves Scripture, and when we realize that we’re failing to do so, we may experience what the Apostle Paul calls, “godly grief.” He says to the Corinthian believers, ” As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
We can and should experience godly grief when we don’t pay attention to God’s word as a regular devotion. But this grief should lead to repentance and “salvation without regret”. Godly grief brings the freedom of forgiveness and the strength to improve. Worldly grief leads to shame. It causes us to question our justification in the sight of God and pushes us into a spiral of despair.
How do you avoid shame when it comes to reading the Bible? It’s not by telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel shame. It’s not by gritting your teeth and trying harder. Victory in devotional Bible reading comes by the work of the Holy Spirit and by celebrating the omni-directional blessing of Bible reading.
The Upward Blessing of Bible Reading 
Reading the Bible demonstrates your delight in God, and God delights in your delighting in Him. Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” God’s works are seen in nature, but most clearly in His word. The Bible tells us about God’s greatest works—His acts of creation, redemption through Jesus Christ, and the restoration of all good things in the new heavens and the new earth. Reading Scripture invites us to marvel at the singular grandeur of God.  This is the upward blessing of Bible reading.
The Inward Blessing of Bible Reading 
Reading the Bible brings the inward blessing of God’s character shining through you in ever increasing wattage. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The psalmist hordes God’s statutes in his inmost being so that he can live pleasingly in God’s sight. Jesus Christ himself prays to the Father about His disciples saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Scripture leads to the heart cleansing that pleases God. The inward blessing of Bible reading is becoming more Christ-like in thought, word, and deed. 
The Outward Blessing of Bible Reading
Reading the Bible brings the outward blessing of being used by God for His kingdom-building work in the world. Paul says to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible leads to our sanctification. God uses His word to cleanse us internally so that we can be used by Him for good works. As a surgeon requires a clean scalpel for surgery, so God requires a pure-hearted believer to do His work. The inward blessing of Bible reading is being bathed in truth for God’s use.
The Blessing of the Holy Spirit 
I mentioned above that getting past the shame of failing to read the Bible comes through celebrating the omni-directional blessing of Bible reading. But I also said that it comes by the work of the Holy Spirit. It would be easy to make celebrating these blessings into another “work” where we exert effort and God obligatorily pours down blessings. It doesn’t work like that.
Even though we have to exert every possible effort to devote ourselves to learning and living God’s word, the power resides in Him alone to change us. As we strive to experience the blessings of Bible reading, we also need to rest in the power of God’s Spirit working in us both to will and to work His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). The blessing of reading God’s word is discovering that we become who God wants us to be by trusting who He is first.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016: A Good Year to Read "City of God"

Last week I posted Augustine Still Matters quoting from 8 Things We Can Learn From St. Augustine by Gerald Bray, Here's another reason why that is true - Reading Augustine In An Election Year by Russell Moore
Election years tend to drive some Christians crazy. This year promises to be especially tumultuous.
The world seems not more sinful in 2016 but more obviously precarious. Many note that this year feels different, as though what faces us isn’t just the possibility of culture wars but of even existential collapse. The question isn’t just which vision for America is best but rather whether democratic self-government is still possible. Many American Christians foresee an election year in which what confronts us isn’t so much choosing the lesser of two evils as much as facing a political culture in which both sides have chosen evil. That’s why I would argue that this is a good year for American Christians to revisit Augustine’s City of God.
I say this not because I believe the American order is about to go the way of the Roman Empire. That’s certainly possible, of course. Still, despite the disorder and decadence around us, I retain more optimism about the resilience of American democratic institutions than do even many of my friends and allies. I think City of God is especially relevant now because it can remind us who we are, and where we’re going. 
To be sure, the book is not light reading, even in its abridged versions. It takes a panoramic view of all human history from the vantage point of both heaven and earth. That’s no small task. The complexity and ambition of the book could cause us to ignore it. But that would be a mistake.
Different Sort of Reign 

City of God is essentially a defense of Christianity from the prosperity gospel. Rome believed its piety—a cult of devotion to a pantheon of gods—protected its place in the world. Pagans could now say Rome’s fall was the result of Christianity. This strange new religion took the empire away from her traditional gods, and the result was calamity. The second implication, though, is one Christians could be tempted to believe. If Rome—the most powerful empire in world history—could fall, then how can we trust something that seems exponentially more fragile? In other words, what hope is there for the church?
Augustine attacks both pagan and Christian prosperity theologies with eschatology—a vision of the city of God as a pilgrim community formed by a distinct set of affections. Roman paganism didn’t protect the empire; it fueled the forces that ultimately tore it down. At the same time, Christianity couldn’t be responsible for the temporal overthrow of the order because the gospel points us to a different sort of reign. Exchanging pagan gods for a Christian one will not a conversion make, if the goals are the same: to achieve temporal prosperity and security.
How many times have we seen Christianity used in recent years in precisely the same way the polytheists of ancient Rome used their cultic devotion? Who can forget the television evangelists telling us, as the embers of the fallen Twin Towers still smoldered, that the September 11 attacks were God’s judgments on America for specific sins? How often do we hear the promises of God to his people in the Old Testament applied to America, as though Christian “revival” is the key to economic flourishing and military victory for the United States? And how often do we hear of the vanquishing of “judgmental” and “puritanical” religion as the key to getting America on the right side of history?
Augustine would have nothing of these cynical utopianisms, and neither should we.
Trillion-Year Perspective
At the same time, City of God calls the people of Christ toward confidence. We need what Augustine calls the “ordered harmony” of the temporal order. He doesn’t celebrate the rise of the barbarians, nor does he shrug off the instability and terror around him. The city of God, while she sojourns as a pilgrim band in this present age, is concerned with earthly peace and flourishing. But we have a longer view in mind—one that encompasses the entire cosmos in the joining of heaven to earth in the kingdom of Christ.
Election years tend to incite fevered reactions because it seems as though everything is at stake. There’s much at stake, to be sure, but we should put it in a trillion-year perspective that can allow us not to panic. No one and nothing will take our country away from us—if we define correctly what we mean ultimately when we say “country” and what we mean when we say “us.” Our temptation to fear and rage should remind us that we should be seeking to cultivate the sort of love that binds us to our ultimate tribe and calls us to our ultimate home.
This year will be tumultuous, perhaps more than any before in American history. Some will read Rules for Radicals to make sense of it. Others will read The Art of the Deal. As Christians, our library should be richer and wiser. Let’s revisit City of God.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Growth Chart

Are you growing in God? What is you spiritual growth rate? Check out What Does Spiritual Growth Actually Look Like: 10 Ways To Know If You Are Growing Spiritually by Tyler Edwards
All living things grow. With human beings, we watch babies learns to crawl, to walk, to talk. We grow from total dependence on our parents to eventually being parents are ourselves. The maturing process is a journey to independence.
Our spiritual journeys are just the opposite. We start off in rebellion against God, thinking we are fully independent from Him.
Spiritual maturity, then, is the process of recognizing our complete dependence on God and learning to rely on Him rather than ourselves. As we grow and mature in our relationship with Him, we realize how much we need Him.
But for all the talk we hear about spiritual growth, it's often difficult to understand exactly what that looks like.
Too often, churches and ministries focus on getting people into church, getting them to pray a prayer and check the “Christian” box. But after that, there isn’t always a lot of post-decision care. New people coming into the church might call themselves Christians, but they might not have much of an idea what that means on a daily basis. Following Jesus isn’t just a one-time decision. It's a daily process of growth.
That growth is a biblical imperative. The expectation of Scripture isn’t that we grow old together, but that we grow up together. The book of Hebrews lays this out as a strong rebuke:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child (Hebrews 5:11-13).
So what does growth look like in the life of a Christian?
You’re Learning More About God
When you love something, you get to know it. Imagine being married and not knowing basic facts about your spouse. Not only is that ill-advised for household bliss, it’s an indication of a lack of love. When we don’t know Jesus, don’t know His gospel, don’t grow in it, that is indicative of the fact that our love for Him is either non-existent or at best immature.
You’re Digging Into Deeper Theology
Just as a child’s diet changes as he or she matures, so does the baby Christian's. To borrow the metaphor we see in 1 Peter 2, we start off on the "milk" of basic truths about God and his work, but the expectation is that we grow. Beyond the basics, anyone who has been a Christian for some time should be able to "chew" on more advanced concepts. The foundation should be built for them to grow.
You’re Not Waiting on Others to Feed You
Too many Christians still want a pastor or leader to spoon feed them—telling them what to think, what to read, and so on. That's not good enough for growing Christians. You absolutely should seek out a church with sound theology and Gospel-centered preaching that challenges you. But anyone who has been a Christian for longer than a year should be able—at least partially—to feed themselves.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Central Problem

“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us [nor, I would add today, postmodernism or materialistic consumerism or visceral sensualism or whatever].  All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.  The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit.  The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”
Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton, 2003), page 66.

"They Call Me The Wanderer...."

The Psalms are deeply rhythmic.
Psalm 22 is a case in point. When we read the Psalm, we are often shocked to discover a kind of back-and-forth, bifurcated description of the path of faith. For example, David, the author, speaks in the first two verses of God’s seeming absence—“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Then, almost without blinking, David goes into ecstatic praise of God in verse 3 and 4. As if that weren’t enough, David returns to his lament—“I’m a worm, not even a man.” Then, again, back to praise and exaltation.
The piercing truth of this Psalm is found in the fact that, first, the author is deeply in touch with his emotions—a fact that remains deeply crucial for any person on the path of Jesus. These Psalms reflect—in the words of an Old Testament scholar—a kind of “free speech” before God
Truth be told: if someone came into most of our churches and spoke about God the way Psalm 22 speaks about God, we would think they need Prozac.
Such is a reflection on our uncanny and unrelenting unwillingness to admit most of our faith is quite fickle. This kind of fickleness is not isolated to Psalm 22. Look at the crowds in Jesus’ approaching to Jerusalem. In one chapter, they cry His praises—“Welcome to Jerusalem. You are the coming King, glory, glory, come!” Almost before the words of praise are out of their mouths, they turn immediately to kill Jesus in the next chapter. What was “Hosanna” quickly turns to “Crucify him, crucify him.”
In so many of the stories of wandering in the Bible, wandering is itself a narrative instigated by God.
We are the crowds. We are the fickle ones.
Consider for a moment what it would have been like for the reader of the Psalms to get through Psalm 22 and then read Psalm 23, a Psalm marked by beauty, grace and anticipation of God’s rest and grace. Life is like that, isn’t it? We walk through Psalm 22 and turn the corner to find a Psalm 23 experience. That is faith. That is what is like to follow Jesus.
C.S. Lewis picks up on this fact. When describing the rhythmic nature of the “poetic parallelism” as found in Psalm 22, Lewis is quick to point out that there is something about our attempts at following God in the rhythm itself. He calls Hebrew poetry like that found in Psalm 22 “a little incarnation.” His point? This kind of back-and-forth, topsy-turvy, unpredictable fickleness isn’t just the ramblings of a biblical lunatic—there is something about God in that rhythm.
Why is this all important? What does this all matter?
In my new book The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens our Faith, I contend that wandering isn’t always bad or a result of the lack of faith. Quite the opposite. In so many of the stories of wandering in the Bible, wandering is itself a narrative instigated by God. In fact, Hebrews 12 goes out of the way that to say all of the “cloud of witness”—our heroes of the faith—were killed, hated, sawed in two and never found a home. They “wandered” because “this world was not worthy of them.” Wandering, for them, was part of the God path.
God loves it when we lose our way. Not because He is mean. God is not mean. God is loving, gracious and really in touch with what is going on in us. No: God loves it when we lose our way because in losing our way we ultimately gain something.
A sufferer, a wanderer, a person who has yet to arrive, has a better time reading the Psalms because the Psalms are written by people who had not arrived yet. C.S. Lewis, for example, fell in love with a woman named Joy and in the course of their engagement, they discovered Joy had cancer. She died shortly after their marriage. His book A Grief Observed is one of the rawest and revelatory readings on suffering a follower of Jesus can read.
When Lewis read Psalm 22, he points out that Jesus said these words from the cross. And in the fashion of the ancients, Jesus only quotes the first line of the Psalm—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—as a way of saying that all of Psalm 22 was actually about Him. Lewis was struck by something, and we ourselves must take note of it: The Psalmist and Jesus both utter a question to God, “Where are you?” And in both cases, Lewis is apt to point out, no answer ever came.
God loves it when we lose our way because in losing our way we ultimately gain something.
No answer.
Why does God do that? I do wonder, as does everyone in their right mind, why does a good God let so much evil happen in the world in and in our lives? Sadly, the Bible offers no answer to this question. But, a counselor friend of mine told me once that when people who walk through trauma together—in a car accident, survive 9/11, lose a friend together—there is an inseparable bond forged between those two people that almost nothing can overcome.
They call it a “trauma bond.”
I don’t know why God doesn’t always give us an answer to why we walk through what we do. But, I do know that when I am willing to walk through trauma and evil and pain, I come out the other side deeply in love with Jesus. We “get” each other a little more.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Full-Hearted Prayer

The Puritans were prone to give five methods for fighting our natural tendency to lapse into half-hearted prayer:
1. Give priority to prayer. Prayer is the first and most important thing you are called to do. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed,” John Bunyan writes. “Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.”
2. Give yourself—not just your time—to prayer. Remember that prayer is not an appendix to your life and your work, it is your life—your real, spiritual life—and your work. Prayer is the thermometer of your soul.
3. Give room to prayer. The Puritans did this in three ways. First, they had real prayer closets—rooms or small spaces where they habitually met with God. When one of Thomas Shepard’s parishioners showed him a floor plan of the new house he hoped to build, Shepard noticed that there was no prayer room and lamented that homes without prayer rooms would be the downfall of the church and society. Second, block out stated times for prayer in your daily life. The Puritans did this every morning and evening. Third, between those stated times of prayer, commit yourself to pray in response to the least impulse to do so. That will help you develop the “habit” of praying, so that you will pray your way through the day without ceasing. Remember that conversing with God through Christ is our most effective way of bringing glory to God and of having a ready antidote to ward off all kinds of spiritual diseases.
4. Give the Word to prayer. The way to pray, said the Puritans, is to bring God His own Word. That can be done in two ways. First, pray with Scripture. God is tender of His own handwriting. Take His promises and turn them inside out, and send them back up to God, by prayer, pleading with Him to do as He has said. Second, pray through Scripture. Pray over each thought in a specific Scripture verse.
5. Give theocentricity to prayer. Pour out your heart to your heavenly Father. Plead on the basis of Christ’s intercessions. Plead to God with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). Recognize that true prayer is a gift of the Father, who gives it through the Son and works it within you by the Spirit, who, in turn, enables it to ascend back to the Son, who sanctifies it and presents it acceptable to the Father. Prayer is thus a theocentric chain, if you will—moving from the Father through the Son by the Spirit back to the Son and the Father.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Renew Within Me A Spirit of Holiness

A prayer of St, Ambrose of Milan (HT Trevin Wax)

Lord Jesus,
My soul and body are defiled by so many sinful deeds.
My tongue and my heart have run wild without restraint,
causing misery to others and shame to myself.
My soul bleeds with the wounds of wrongdoing,
and my body is a playground of selfish indulgence.
If I was to come before you as a judge,
you could only condemn me to eternal torment,
for that is what I deserve.
Yet I come before you,
not as a judge, but as a savior.
I depend not on your justice,
but on your mercy.
As you look upon the wretched creature that I am,
I ask that your eyes be filled with compassion and forgiveness.
And as I sit at your table,
I beg you to renew within me a spirit of holiness.

Friday, April 8, 2016

St. Augustine Still Matters

8 Things We Can Learn From St. Augustine by Gerald Bray, author of Augustine on the Christian Life: Transformed by the Power of God. (via Crossway)
Does Augustine Still Matter?
What does Augustine mean to us now? What is there about his life and work that still speaks to the Christian life today, and to what extent are his thoughts original to him? Was he merely repeating what had gone before, or did he strike out on new pathways that have remained serviceable for the modern church?
1. The Importance of Real Relationship with God
The first thing we notice about him is the emphasis he placed on the relationship of the individual to God. He lived in a world that was rapidly becoming Christian, at least in a formal and public sense. It would have been very easy for him to have gone with the flow, as many of his contemporaries did. But Augustine confessed that he became a Christian only when the Holy Spirit of God moved in his heart, and not before.
He had to be brought face to face with his sinfulness and complete inability to save himself. He was forced to recognize that he had no hope other than to put his trust in Jesus Christ, who had died to pay the price of his sin. He had to learn that to be a Christian was to be in fellowship with the Son of God, to be united with him in a deeply individual union that rested on personal conviction, not on outward support or tradition. From beginning to end, his faith was a walk with God that could only be expressed as a dialogue between two spirits. Take that away and there would be nothing to speak of at all—no faith to confess and no life to live.
2. The Necessity of the Church
Next on the list comes his adherence to the church. Augustine knew that although every Christian must have a personal faith that is not dependent on outward rites and traditions, he also belongs to the universal church. Christians cannot leave the church and live on their own, as if nobody else is good enough for them. There may be good reasons for establishing new congregations, but believers ought to be in fellowship with others and not cut themselves off as if nobody else is quite as good or as pure as they are.
There is no such thing as a pure or perfect congregation, as those who have tried to establish such things have discovered to their cost. In every place, the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest; the sheep and the goats will only be separated at the last judgment. It was Augustine who first stated this clearly as the reason for not breaking away from the church, and his logic is as valid today as it was when he wrote.
3. The Helplessness of Humanity
Augustine has also taught us that the human race is united in sin and rebellion against God and cannot save itself. Those who have met with Christ have learned that they must trust him completely and not rely on their own efforts, qualities, or inheritance for their salvation.
The works which they do as Christians are those that have been commanded by God, but they only make sense within the context of the relationship that he has already established with his people. If that relationship is right, then everything a Christian does will be forgiven by God, however bad or unfruitful it may be. But if that relationship is wrong, then even “good” works will be of no use, because the context and rationale for them is lacking.
4. The Supreme Authority of the Bible
Augustine also taught the church that the Word of God is to be found in the Bible and nowhere else. He suffered from the problem that he was unfamiliar with the original languages of Scripture and he had inadequate textual resources at his disposal. As a result, his exegesis is often faulty and cannot be trusted.
However, because he had a concept of the Bible as a single, overarching message from God, these faults of detail were less serious than they might otherwise have been. He never appealed to an isolated verse in a way that would make it contradict the general witness of Scripture as a whole. For example, he did not use the assertion that “God is love” in a way that would preclude eternal punishment in hell, of which Jesus himself warned his followers. However “God is love” was to be understood, it had to be consistent with the existence of eternal damnation. On more than one occasion, this sense of “the whole counsel of God” preserved Augustine from errors into which he might otherwise have fallen.
Augustine’s sense of the bigger picture is of great importance to the church, because there is a constant temptation to take Bible verses out of context and use them in ways that contradict the overall message of the God’s Word. There is also a temptation to introduce human traditions that are not in the Scriptures and make them tests of orthodoxy.
Augustine’s method of interpretation was designed to prevent aberrations like these, and the miracle is that—despite the limitations of the resources available to him—he succeeded as well as he did.
We should not always follow him, of course, and must correct him when we can show that he was wrong. However, that is true of any interpreter of Scripture—nobody gets it right all the time! What we must not do is reject Augustine because of his limitations and deny that he has anything to teach us. His conclusions may not always have been right, but his methods and principles remain surprisingly valid, even after so many centuries.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


HT: The Gospel Coalition

Ways To Pray for the Muslim World

There have been far too many horror stories of violence inspired by militant Islam in recent months. How can we pray, grieve, and intercede for those involved? Here's some help along those lines from an excerpt from 5 Ways to Pray for the Muslim World by J. Lee Grady (via Charisma)
...How can we pray in the aftermath of such a horrific tragedy? Here are five ways I am praying for the Muslim world these days:
1. Pray that cowardly acts of violence will backfire. The history of the church is written in the blood of its martyrs. But whenever Christians have been killed for their faith, their blood becomes a seed for the advancement of the gospel.
Many nominal or liberal Muslims are deeply troubled by the actions of Islamic militants who belong to groups like ISIS or the Taliban. In Pakistan, my friend Faisal says liberal Muslims are distancing themselves from extremists, and they are condemning these acts of terror. "They are even donating blood to help the Christians. They are embarrassed and they are getting tired of Islam," he says. Pray that millions of Muslims will see the brutality operating in these terrorists groups. Pray that they will reject Islamic jihad and the doctrines behind it.
2. Pray that Muslim governments will pursue justice. In a televised message last Sunday, Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, condemned the Taliban massacre and pledged to fight terrorism in Pakistan "until it is rooted out from our society." But the United States and other Western governments must continue to pressure Muslim nations to oppose extremist groups. Pray that God will plant Christians in strategic positions in these governments so they can work to protect believers from the inside.
3. Pray that terrorist groups will be exposed and stopped. We tend to be fearful of militant groups like ISIS because their tactics are so cruel and intimidating. (An ISIS faction in Yemen allegedly planned to crucify Catholic priest Thomas Uzhunnalil on Good Friday, but some reports say he is still alive.) But if we could see this situation through God's eyes, we would realize that these terrorist factions are fighting a losing battle. They are the ones who are afraid. Soon they will be defeated.
Psalm 37:35-36 says: "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a luxuriant tree. Yet he passed away, and he was not; I sought him, but he could not be found." Pray that God will dry up their funds, confuse their communication, create disloyalty in their ranks and lay a trap for them.
4. Pray for a continued release of miracles in Islamic nations. Reports out of Iran, Pakistan and other Muslim nations indicate that God is displaying His power like never before in this dark region. Muslims are coming to Jesus secretly, often because they have dreams about the Son of God. Muslim women are attending underground meetings and hiding Bibles under their black burkas. "Many Muslims are coming to Jesus secretly in Pakistan," says my friend Faisal. "I have seen many Muslims come to Christ because they saw miracles or because He answered their prayers."
5. Pray that Christians will not be intimidated by persecution. It isn't easy for my friend Faisal to live in the United States while his family struggles in Pakistan. Two days before Easter, some Muslim thugs broke into his family's home—one hour from Lahore—and stole furniture after demanding that they stop spreading the gospel. Those who follow Christ in Muslim countries suffer job discrimination, social harassment and a lack of government protection. Pray that Christians in these countries will be empowered with supernatural boldness to defend their faith—even in the face of terror. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"Gimme Three Steps..."

Continuing the theme this week - Interpreting the Bible in 3 Simple Steps by Vern Poythress.(via Crossway)
3 Kinds of Questions
In the simplest form, we sit down and read the Bible with a focus on the fact that God is present and speaks to us through what we read. We consider a three-step approach to studying the Bible. The three steps are observation, elucidation, and application.
Observation answers the question, “What does the text say?” Elucidation answers the question, “What does it mean?” Application answers the question, “What does it mean to me?”
Below is an example, based on 1 Samuel 22:1–2.
1. Where did David go?
2. Who joined him?
3. What kind of people were they?
4. What was David’s relation to the people with him?
1. Where did David come from and why?
2. What caused David to be in danger? (hint: see preceding context; see 1 Sam. 18:6–9)
3. Why might people be motivated to come and join David?
4. What does the passage show about people’s view of David?
5. What does it show about David taking responsibility?
6. What does it show about David’s leadership?
7. What was God’s plan for David’s future? (hint: see 1 Sam. 16:1–2, 13)
8. What do we see about community life around David?
9. How does the passage show God’s care for David and for the community?
10. What does the passage foreshadow about a future greater son of David? (hint: see Acts 2:30–31)
1. How is Christ’s care for you reflected in David?
2. In what ways does the passage foreshadow your relation to Christ? Other people’s relation to Christ? What does the passage imply about how your relation to Christ should develop?
3. In what ways does David serve as an example for you?
4. In what ways do the people around David serve as an example for you?
5. What does the passage suggest about your relation to those in distress?
6. In what ways does the passage prefigure the church?
7. In what ways might the passage prefigure the relation of the church to outsiders, and what does it imply for your attitude toward outsiders?
Using the Questions
A person may study the Bible by himself for his personal benefit, or he may study in order to prepare for leading a group or giving a presentation or a sermon. For any of these goals, a person may ask himself the three types of questions, concerning observation, elucidation, and application.
To study a passage more fully, a person may prepare a worksheet, with four columns on a single sheet of paper or on a word processor. He then fills the far left-hand column with the text of the passage, spreading the passage out within the column so that it fills the whole column (or, for longer passages, a person can use the left-hand column of multiple pages). To the right of the far left-hand column are three other columns. These columns have space that will contain observations, elucidations, and applications, respectively. Then the student adds comments on the passage in the other three columns.
The Value of 3 Steps
Breaking the study of the Bible into three steps, rather than seeing it as all one process of interaction, has an advantage. We all have weaknesses and biases in how we look at Scripture. The three steps help people not to overlook one or more aspects of interpretation as they hurry to get to their favorite part.
One person loves application, and tends to leap into it without taking time to think through what the passage is really saying. Another person avoids application, and tends to think and think and think without ever acting on the message. By contrast, James tells us that we should make sure that we act on what we hear: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22; see also vv. 23–27). Still another person reads and reads, without asking himself about what it means or how it applies. He remains largely on the level of observation.
The division into three steps encourages people to look at the passage in several ways, and not to neglect aspects that they tend to minimize.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Confusion of Terms


When Reading the Bible, Remember. (Part 2)

To continue the theme from yesterday, here's some more very good reminders for Bible readers - 9 Things Everyone Should Do When Reading the Bible by Bronwyn Lea (via Relevant)
Very few of us have the inclination or interest in diving into three years of seminary education in order to get a better handle on the Scriptures. However, every believer should long to get a better grip on the Bible. The good news is that it does not require a graduate education to do so.
At seminary, I learned Greek, Hebrew and all manner of intimidating subjects ending in –etics, but some of the things that have stayed with me most clearly were not things from textbooks, but off-the-cuff comments from teachers who had walked with God far longer than I had. They were post-it sized truths, easily understandable and readily applicable.
Years after graduating, these are the things I still remember.
1. Read ‘King’ When You See ‘Christ’
Christ, or Messiah, means “anointed one,” and priests and kings were anointed. Substituting "King Jesus" for "Christ Jesus" when reading draws attention to the fact that Christ was not Jesus' last name, but in fact His title: one of great honor and esteem. Making that one switch alone breathes new life into reading the New Testament.
2. Read ‘You’ Differently
Almost all the "you" words in the New Testament are plural you's rather than singular you's. The Southern "y'all" expresses it beautifully: the epistles are written to believers corporately, not believers alone. This does not diminish personal responsibility at all, though. If anything, it heightens it: we pray together, believe together, suffer together, raise the armor of God together. All y'all.
3. If You See a ‘Therefore,’ Find Out What It’s There For
Therefore, take note in bibles where paragraphs are divided up with headings inserted by editors. If the paragraph begins with "therefore,” you might have to pick up a bit earlier to understand the context.
4. Realize That Not All ‘If’ Statements Are The Same
This was a watershed one for me: not all "ifs" are the same. Conditional “ifs” are not the same as causal “ifs.” Some IF statements are always tied to the THEN one (if you stand in the rain, then you will get wet). Others have more risk involved: the IF statement is necessary, but not sufficient, to bring about the THEN one (if you study for an exam, then you will pass).
This makes the world of difference in studying Romans 8: "If you are led by the spirit of God, you are children of God." I had always read that and been afraid I wasn't spirit-led enough to be considered God's child. It was a glory-hallelujah moment to realize this was the first type of if: "If you are led by the Spirit of God (and you ARE!), then you are also always and forever His child.” What a difference!
5. Recognize That Lamenting is OK
Yes, there is joy and peace and hope in Christ. But true believers still mourn and lament. There is space in the life of faith for complaining, tears, grit and depression. Just look at the Psalms.
6. Realize That Prophecy is More Often FORTH-Telling Than FORE-Telling
So often, our focus in approaching prophecy is to ask “what did they say about the future?” However, often the prophets weren’t talking about the future (foretelling), they were explaining and interpreting Israel’s history and current predicaments in light of their covenantal behavior (forth-telling), and had little to do with the future. Israel may have painfully aware that they had just suffered military defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, but it took the prophet’s words to explain from God’s perspective why this had happened and what lessons they were to learn from their experience. Poor old Jeremiah.
7. Become Familiar with the Idioms of Your King
Jesus' words were so often hard to understand: cryptic, in parables, couched in Hebrew idiom. He spoke of eyes being lamps and people being salt: language often so far removed from my understanding it was temping to skip over the gospels to the much more familiar epistles.
However, if we have called Jesus "King" and “Lord,” we dare not skip over His words just because they are hard. Commentaries and a little Internet research on the gospels go a long way towards filling in some of the cultural and linguistic blanks. As his followers and servants, it is our responsibility to keep on seeking understanding.
8. Remember What You Learned in English Class
The Bible is not an instruction manual. It's not a "how-to" book for life. It is a collection of 66 books of literature, and to interpret it correctly, you need to remember what you learned in English class about interpreting different genres of literature.
Biblical truth is found in poetry, but we must read it as poetry. It is found in narrative, but we must read those as stories. It is found in proverbs, and we must treat those as such. Just a quick moment to think “what book am I reading from? And what type of literature is this?” can make a world of difference. Truth be told, the Bible is not an easy read, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
9. Read to Study. But Also, Read to Refresh Your Heart
Amid the hours of serious Bible study, I treasured this advice. Sometimes, we read to study and understand and wrestle with the truth. But sometimes, we read to make our hearts happy. “Delight yourself in the Lord,” for “your words are sweeter to me than honey.”

Monday, April 4, 2016

When Reading the Bible, Remember (Part 1)

1. The Bible is God’s own word.
That means that what the Bible says, God says.
2. God governs the whole world through his divine speech, which specifies and controls what happens (Heb. 1:3).
The Bible indicates that God speaks to govern the world, but we do not hear this speech; we only see its effects (for example, Ps. 33:6, 9; 147:15–18). The Bible, by contrast, is the word of God, designed by God to speak specifically to us as human beings. All divine speech, whether directed toward governing the world in general or directed toward us as human beings, has divine character. In particular, it displays God’s lordship in authority, control, and presence.
3. God speaks his words to us in covenants (Gen. 9:9; 15:18; 17:7; Ex. 19:5; etc.).
A “covenant” is a solemn, legally binding agreement between two parties. In this case, the two parties are God and human beings. In the Old Testament, God’s covenants with human beings show some affinities with ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties. These treaties show five elements, which also appear either explicitly or by implication in God’s covenants in the Old Testament: identification of the suzerain (Ex. 20:2); historical prologue (Ex. 20:2); stipulations (Ex. 20:3-17); sanctions (i.e., blessings and curses) (Ex. 20:7; see also v. 12); recording and passing on (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 31).
The identification of God proclaims his transcendent authority, and the stipulations as norms imply his authority over the people. The historical prologue shows how he has exercised his control in past history. The blessings and curses indicate how he will exercise his control in the future. His identification also proclaims his presence, and the recording and passing on of the covenantal words imply his continuing presence with the people.
4. All the Bible is the covenantal word of God.
That is, the idea of covenant offers us one perspective on the Bible. The New Testament proclaims the gospel concerning the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The apostle Paul characterizes his entire ministry as a ministry of the “new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6). So all of Paul’s writings are covenantal words in a broad sense. At the Last Supper, Jesus inaugurated “the new covenant” (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The other apostles and New Testament writers function to convey the words of the new covenant to us.
When the Bible uses the word new to describe the new covenant, it clearly presupposes an older one. The new covenant fulfills the Abrahamic covenant (Gal. 3:7–14) and the Davidic covenant (Acts 2:30–36), but the Mosaic covenant is principally in mind when the New Testament implies a covenant that is “old” (Heb. 8:8–13). The Mosaic covenant also contains, in Deuteronomy 31, explicit instructions for preserving canonical covenantal documents and explicit instructions about future prophets (Deut. 18:18–22). The entirety of the Old Testament consists in divinely authorized additions to the initial Mosaic deposit, so it fits into the covenantal structure inaugurated with Moses. The entire Old Testament is covenantal in character.
Thus both the New Testament and the Old Testament can be viewed as covenantal in a broad sense. Indeed, the traditional names, in which they are called “Testaments,” signify their covenantal character (“testament” is a near synonym for “covenant” in later theological usage, which builds on Heb. 9:15–16).
5. The Bible is a single book, with God as its author.
It does of course have multiple human authors. But its unity according to the divine author implies that we should see it as a single unified message, and should use each passage and each book to help us in understanding others. Because God is faithful to his own character, he is consistent with himself. We should therefore interpret each passage of the Bible in harmony with the rest of the Bible.
6. The Bible is God-centered.
It not only has God as its author, but in a fundamental way it speaks about God as its principal subject. It does so even in historical passages that do not directly mention God, because the history it recounts is history governed by God.
7. The Bible is Christ-centered.
Covenants mediate God’s presence to us, and at the heart of the covenants is Christ, who is the one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ, as the coming servant of the Lord, is virtually identified with the covenant in Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8. In Luke 24, Jesus teaches the apostles that all of the Old Testament Scriptures are about him and his work (Luke 24:25–27, 44–49).
Understanding how the Old Testament speaks about Christ is challenging, but in view of Jesus’s teaching it cannot be evaded. Fortunately, we have the New Testament to aid us. It contains not only teachings that help us to understand the Old Testament as a whole, but many quotations from the Old Testament that illustrate Jesus’s claims in Luke 24.
8. The Bible is oriented to the history of redemption.
God caused the Bible’s individual books to be written over a period of centuries. God’s later speech builds on earlier speech, and further unfolds the significance of his plan for history. God’s redemption takes place in history. Christianity is not merely a religious philosophy, a set of general truths about God and the world. At its heart is the gospel, the good news that Christ has come and has lived and died and has risen from the dead, and now lives to intercede for us. God has worked out our salvation by coming in the person of Christ and acting in time and space. The message of what he has done now goes out to the nations (Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8).
9. Christ’s first and second coming are central to history.
God’s work of redemption came to a climax in the work of Christ on earth, especially in his crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension. Christ now reigns at the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20–21). We look forward to the future consummation of redemption when Christ returns.
10. God’s work of redemption interweaves word and deed.
We see this interweaving even during his work of creation:
Word: God said, “Let there be light.”
Deed: And there was light.
Word: And God saw that the light was good [similar to verbal evaluation]. (Gen. 1:3–4)
Word: “Let us make man in our image . . .”
Deed: So God created man in his own image, . . .
Word: And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply . . .” (Gen. 1:26–28) 
Likewise, Jesus’s words interpret his deeds and vice versa:
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. (John 10:37–38)
In the book of Acts, the miracles and the growth of the church help unbelievers to grasp the implications of apostolic preaching, and vice versa:
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. (Acts 8:5–7)