Union with Christ and the Provision of the Spirit

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.


In the book Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind, Henry Hobhouse writes that the most influential plants in man’s history are sugar cane, tea, cotton, the potato, and cinchona plant. Most of us are very familiar with nearly all of the plants on Hobhouse’s list. The one curious oddity in the list is the cinchona plant. Most people have no clue what the cinchona plant even looks like let alone its roll in transforming mankind.

Native to South America, this special plant grows on the foothills of the Andes Mountain range. The Cinchona calisaya tree, which contains a special alkaloid known as quinine, single-handedly enhanced the welfare and safety of millions of lives. Despite the fact that people still use it daily to combat Malaria, the typical person in the 21st Century is actually quite unaware of the magnitude of the cinchona tree’s importance to mankind or even to their own life.

The cinchona plant was a major catalyst that helped form the modern geo-political and economic landscapes. By making colonization and exploration of the Americas and Africa possible, the cinchona allowed international trade to flourish in every corner of the globe.

In much more tragic omission, most modern Christians are equally unaware of the importance of Christ’s Ascension to their everyday life. The Ascension’s value to mankind is much more vast and profound than the medicinal effects of the cinchona plant. It ushered in a new era of Christ’s glorification and power. An ascended Christ is just important to understanding of who Christ is, but it is also vital to the ordinary and everyday life of the believer.

The wondrous impact of the ascension on the Christian life finds in roots in both the union with Christ as well as the provision of the great Helper – the Holy Spirit to guide and empower God’s people. Without an ascended Christ, there is no High Priest ruling and reigning over all creation, our assurance of heaven is in serious doubt, and we would not be living temples in which God’s Spirit resides helping us understand the things of God. In short, without an Ascension every book past John wouldn’t exist and our union with Christ stops at an earthly resurrection. But before delving into its importance to us, it is necessary to first understand the specifics of the Ascension what that says about Christ.

According to the book of Acts, Christ’s Ascension occurs forty days after His resurrection. During this interim period, Jesus proceeds to confirm his “Christ-ship” with his disciples and encourage them to believe in Him. Luke writes that Christ “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”(Acts 1:3) After the forty days of ministering, Jesus leads his followers on small journey to Bethany outside of Jerusalem. [Read more…]

Bringing Back a Sense of Balance

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.


The 2008 US Presidential Election was the most reported-on election in history. According to the Pew Research Center, the election was the subject of one-third of all media stories (across all mediums) in 2008. Given the amount of fervor and energy for political news in a 24hr news cycle, imagine if the media stopped covering politics entirely once the election was over—not one single copyedit, blog post, commentary, or headline.

Of course, this scenario would never happen – it is absurd. The campaign is not more important than the actual execution of the office. Yet, Christians often treat Jesus Christ in a similar fashion. Christ’s Humiliation is often the focus of our Christian study at the expense of his exaltation. But as we learned last time, the exaltation of Jesus is a vital piece of the Gospel.

Christ himself provides the most compelling justification for the importance of his exaltation and its inclusion in his Gospel message. In response to some of his follower’s expressed dismay of his pending ascent into heaven, Jesus tells them, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

The exaltation secures work of the Holy Spirit, who produces both the spiritual awakening of the unbeliever as well as the process of spiritual growth in the believer. From his Throne, Christ directs the Holy Spirit in building his church and sustaining his people (Hebrews 9:14). Without the Holy Spirit’s work, our hearts remain hardened and our eyes closed to the truth of Christ. For Jesus, his Gospel message was deficient with His exaltation.

Omitting both the ascension and session from the Gospel is to think of Jesus like an actor, who having performed heroically in the first act, now rests comfortably backstage awaiting his dramatic return at the end. Yet, Christ is not backstage nor is he resting. Instead, he is actively involved in building and sustaining God’s kingdom from the very throne of Heaven. John Calvin states, “Christ by rising again began to show forth his glory and power more fully. Yet he truly inaugurated his Kingdom only at his ascension into Heaven.”1 Christ now sits triumphantly on the heavenly throne, having defeated once and for all the power of sin and death, still working as the old hymn goes “to ever life and plead for me”. [Read more…]

More Than a Footnote

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.


Despite being one of the earliest and oldest of Christian holidays, the Ascension Day is nowhere to be found on the modern church calendar. It doesn’t even have its own hallmark card section or a catchy mascot like the Easter bunny. No one passes candy nor does anybody hang decorations. Each year, the once revered day passes by without any fanfare or remembrance. Ascension Day has vanished from our calendars and our consciousness. R.C. Sproul writes, “The significance of the Ascension is often overlooked in the modern church… Most churches, however, make little or no mention of the Ascension.”1 I not am arguing for another reason to eat at an overprice buffet, but the exclusion of the day Christ ascended into Heaven in our calendars is a symptom of much more dire ailment—an exclusion of its importance to the Christian life.

In today’s Christian culture, Christ’s birth, life and death are often the main in not sole focus in our celebrations, preaching, and publishing. Theologian Louis Berkhof makes observation that: “Even in evangelical circles the impression is often given, though perhaps without intending it, that the work accomplished by the Savior on earth was far more important than the services which He now renders from Heaven.” This is not to say that we shouldn’t study the amazing and life altering truths of Christ’s earthly ministry. Nor is to deny that all Christians should thoroughly seep themselves in their application. Yet modern churches unevenly focus in on these doctrines at the expense of Christ’s heavenly ministry – his ascent into heaven (Ascension) and sitting at the right hand of God (Session).

Often, Christians have a lopsided view of the work of Christ. We fail to see the complete spectrum of the entire work of Christ which includes both his humiliation and exaltation. A.W. Pink, in his commentary on Hebrews, writes, “There are many Christians who dwell too much on the crucifixion of Jesus in a one-sided way. We cannot dwell too much on the glorious truth that Jesus was crucified for our sins. Yet it is not on the crucifixion, but on Christ the Lord, that our faith rests…The ultimate object of his death upon the cross was His resurrection and ascension.”2 This unbalance has left many modern evangelicals with an incomplete view of the Savior. Consequently, this has given rise to an unbalanced gospel. [Read more…]

Jesus Christ, The Mediator Between God and Man

Today’s post is by Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership, continuing his series on The Apostles’ Creed. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter ( @BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.drbrianmattson.com).


…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord…”

Outside of the anomaly of Latino and Hispanic communities, there are not a lot of boys running around with the name “Jesus.” While I have no explanation whatsoever for the use of the name in those particular communities, I suspect that its absence among other cultural groups signals a lingering sense of reverence for the name. Somehow in the Western world people have named their children after dozens of biblical characters, yet “Jesus” is a name usually reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. To see that this is unique, one only has to ask how popular “Mohammed” is among Muslims.

Ironically, some parents would never dream of naming their child “Jesus,” and settle instead for “Joshua,” not realizing that they are the same name! Jesus is simply the Greek version of “Yeshua,” or “Joshua,” and it means “God saves.” And there we find the reason the name is so reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. There were lots of little “Joshuas” running around in Jesus’ time, but none of them wore the name the way Jesus did. For Jesus was, in the truest sense possible, “God saves.” He is the perfect embodiment of God’s saving action in the world. He is the Anointed One, the One by Whom God would rescue and save his people. The word for “Anointed One” is messiah or “Christ.” “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is his office. It is the role he fulfills. He is anointed to be the one who would mediate between God and humanity. He is Immanuel, “God with us.”

And that is what the Apostles’ Creed confesses. After telling us the identity of the one in whom we believe, “Jesus Christ,” the creed tells us two relationships Jesus has. First, Jesus is “his only Son.” He is his Father’s Son. He has a unique relationship on the divine side of things. But this Jesus Christ is also “our Lord.” He has a unique relationship on the creaturely side of things, as well, a relationship with us. We are really confessing what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” A mediator is somebody who stands “between” two parties. And in order to bring about a reconciliation between two parties, he must have a relationship with the two parties. And this is expressed for us in the creed by declaring that Jesus is God’s “only Son”—that is his relationship to His Father—and “our Lord”—his relationship to us. [Read more…]

The Apostles’ Creed: A Trailer

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter ( @BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

Before I launch into my series of meditations on the Creed, I think it helpful to first examine it as a whole. Seeing the broad sweep of things before attending to its details, looking at the big, blown-up illustrations on our map, will make our reflections more fruitful.

What follows, then, might be called: “The Apostles’ Creed: A Trailer.” This is just a teaser designed to whet the appetite, to show us that there is so much more in this simple creed than meets the eye. Reciting this creed in church can often feel so ho-hum, so boring. Actually, it is a beautiful piece of writing, almost like a piece of Baroque music. We only need ears to hear. It encompasses in succinct form the whole of God’s works: creation, redemption, and consummation. Here is my brief, stream-of-consciousness commentary on this ancient map, bequeathed to us by our spiritual fathers and mothers:

I believeCredo. A Latin term. Not “I suppose.” Not “I surmise.” Not “maybe.” Not “I hope.” I believe. Christian faith is not the result of a giant “leap.” It is the place from which we leap.

in God, the Father Almighty” God is our Father, our source, our benefactor, the one on whom we rely and depend, who cares for us, protects us, admonishes us, forgives us. He is all-mighty. There is nothing to thwart him, nothing to stand in his way, nothing that lives, moves or has its being outside of his absolutely sovereign will. He is not a demiurge, a bumbling, low-level divine being, but almighty, transcendent above all, the one to whom all else must give an account.

Maker of heaven and earth.” Heaven and earth. A Hebrew idiom meaning, everything. God created all things out of nothing. He is not a sculptor, who works with preexisting material; rather, he speaks and it comes into existence. He is not the creation itself. He is not part of the creation. The creation is not him, nor is it a part of him. God brought the universe into being, distinct from his own being. He was, is, and will forever be Creator, and everything else was, is, and always will be creature.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord” Jesus=Hebrew, Yeshua, “God saves.” Christ=Messiah, Anointed One, God’s “right hand” who acts for the salvation of his people. He is the only begotten Son, divine, eternal, always with the Father in eternity. But he is also our Lord, the exalted one, David’s Son, the inheritor of the eternal kingdom of a new heavens and a new earth. He is the Lord to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will one day, willingly or unwillingly, confess. [Read more…]

Sin: My Three-Step Approach

Today’s post is by Eliza Huie. Eliza blogs at Beggar to Beggar. You can find her on Twitter at @ElizaJaneHuie.

It was a cozy Saturday afternoon. The day hadn’t been too busy, there was a fire in the fireplace and the sun was starting to set (yeah it was that good). And I had a plan. Sit with my husband and watch a little something that had caught my eye earlier in the week. The video was loaded on the laptop and I had just added another log to the fire. The only problem was my husband was greatly occupied in his personal to-do list for the day. I asked him if he would like to watch the video. He said he did but that he was busy right then.

Long story short, I wanted to watch the video and I wanted to do it right then. When I didn’t get what I wanted, I was angry (brutally honest here). A while later when my husband was ready to watch I was still playing the anger card and I didn’t want to.

It was then that the steps began.

1. Justify

2. Hide

3. Blame shift

Was paper work more important to him then his wife? Could he really expect me to act any other way? Anyone in that situation would have felt pushed aside and rejected (Justify). Truth is, I was being a brat but I didn’t want to see it and the steps had begun. But knowing how badly my argument lacked validity, I did what I felt was the best alternative in the situation; I avoided him (Hide). He asked if I was upset because we didn’t watch it when I wanted to. To which I boldly told him I felt like HE wasn’t very interested. He was interested in his list. I wanted him to see HIS insensitivity (Blame Shift).

This is nothing new. This has been around from the beginning. Adam and Eve first set these steps in motion.

Step 1: JustifyThe tree (which they were forbidden to eat) had very good qualities; it was good for food, it was nice looking, and it would make Eve wise. Surely Adam would benefit from this as well!

Step 2: Hide- After they disobeyed and they heard God in the garden they hid themselves from him.

Step 3: Blame shift- God then questions what they did and they respond accordingly: Eve says- the serpent. Adam doubles the blame and says- the woman, who YOU gave me.

Truth be told, all three of these steps felt like they provided me some form of escape from wrong, but none of them actually rescued. The only way I can break free is to admit that I was wrong and change the approach. Humility is the first step in this new approach.

My circumstance ended well. I had enough conviction to admit my wrong, selfish attitude to my husband and he, like always, was very forgiving.

Have you found yourself taking any of these three steps when you know you are wrong? Does this sound familiar?

Corporate Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


Yesterday I made the point that competition is a fundamental motivator for many aspects of our culture. By harnessing my natural desire for recognition and reward, competition typically pushes me toward higher achievement. The underside of this spiritually is that human greed is nurtured and celebrated instead of crucified. The result is a compromised life spiritually for the individual. Today I want to explore a couple of the ways that competition affects us corporately.

When we introduce the concept of competition we automatically create winners and losers. We create categories of in and out. Whether in sports, honor societies, 500 Clubs, or even in churches, we find ways to create the category of other so we can feel better about ourselves.

This doesn’t please God. Jesus cleared the temple in Matt. 21:12-13 because gentiles were literally squeezed out of what should have been a house of prayer for the nations. Paul is also clear that one of the many things accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection was the abolishment of national prejudices (Eph. 2:11-22). Competition creates the category of other, which is sometimes less than, but akin to an enemy. We’re told to love our enemies, not conquer them (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:9-21).

Identifying the underside of competition might also impact our view of evangelism and cultural engagement. When I became a believer in college I treated apologetic encounters as a chance to prove myself and beat the other person into following Christ. Of course it never worked no matter how much I brushed up on my arguments. People intuitively took a defensive posture. This wasn’t ever taught by any of my mentors but something I assumed on my own. Perhaps if we identify how our culture shapes us we can send new converts down an altogether different path to begin with – one that overtly celebrates humility instead of subtly nurturing pride and triumphalism. [Read more…]

Personal Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most of us have been told that at one time or another, but usually as a way to mollify a loss. Closer to the truth, we all want to win. Sometimes desperately.

It isn’t just sports that stoke my desire to win. In addition to the entertainment industry called professional sports, competition is something that impacts us every day of our lives. Competition is also an underlying motivator in education, and is the principle driver of our economic system. Even our politics are often more about competition than what is truly best for all.

The conventional wisdom is that competition is good. It pushes us out of our natural slothfulness toward excellence. This is often true. But there is a dark underside to completion that can go unnoticed. It’s a dark underside that if we’re not aware of it can compromise our life as disciples of Jesus.

Consider Ephesians 5:3, where greed is grouped with impurity and sexual immorality. The believer is instructed to avoid any appearance of these.  Yet everywhere I turn, my greed for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade is nurtured and encouraged. The economic system of capitalism is particularly good at harnessing human greed, which Paul calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Does this mean that if I’m successful in business that I’m an idolater? Well, maybe. Maybe not. What it means for sure is that sin is battling against me more than I realize. Simply living in the system I do will shape my thinking, and my spiritual formation, and if I don’t intentionally find ways to push back against those influences, they will undercut my spiritual life, and my faithfulness to Christ.

Competition harnesses my desire for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade. But instead of nurturing these impulses I should be crucifying them.

I’m not trying to create a new rule, or say that we should drop out of life and refuse to participate in our economic system. But I do think we need to be attuned to the influences in our lives, and push back accordingly. By identifying how competition affects me negatively I can keep things like sports and academics in perspective. Keeping that perspective can be exceptionally difficult when money is involved though.

Regardless of the difficulties, spiritual health demands that I push back on the sin of avarice. I need to constantly check my motives, and ask myself often: Am I too emotionally involved in sports? Does my academic achievement reflect my love for Christ, or my love for recognition?  Is my business big enough to support my family? And, perhaps even… Is my church big enough to glorify God as we are?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to weigh any of these for very long to find myself wanting.

Tomorrow I’ll explore some of the ways that competition affects us corporately.


Aron is married to Jenn, and father to Abigail, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They live in Beulah, ND where he is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Aron has an MDiv from Denver Seminary, an MA in American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and loves to study the Bible. Aron doesn’t have free time, but if he did he would enjoy cycling, camping, and exploring the outdoors with his kids, in addition to reading on theology, history, culture, and leading better in ministry.

Satisfied in Christ

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

The Samaritan woman at the well was not the most popular woman in town. She had been married five times and was living in sin with a man who was not her husband. As far as everyone in town was concerned, she wore the proverbial scarlet letter of shame. Thus, when she needed to draw water from Jacob’s well, she made sure to do so at high noon, when everyone else would be indoors. On this particular day, she was surprised to discover a wearied man sitting alone beside the well. The man was Jesus.

John 4:1-9:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

Oftentimes, preachers will turn this passage into a call to evangelism. They’ll say, See? Jesus talked to the lowliest of the lows—an untouchable—and we should too! So, be like Jesus and reach out to someone in need!

Now, it’s true that we should look beyond the scarlet letter whenever we’re witnessing to sinners in need of saving; however, that’s not the point of this passage. The point is that this Samaritan woman was in desperate need of something that only Jesus could provide. And we—all of us—are sinners in the same boat. We are in desperate need of something only Jesus can provide. It’s living water! The theme of this passage is not how-to evangelism but all-satisfying Savior.

Jesus has much to offer this woman, and she doesn’t even know. On a seemingly endless quest to satisfy the longings of her soul, she chased the idols of her heart only to receive emptiness. [Read more…]

Maps, Cobblestones & Mortar and Spiritual Parenting

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

A few summers ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome. It was an amazing trip, including an after-hours private tour of the Vatican museums. I stood in the normally quiet Sistine Chapel and listened to an art historian explain in great detail (with no apparent axe to grind) how Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, “The Final Judgment” indicates that the great artist was heavily influenced by Luther and Calvin and was likely himself a Protestant. Not the kind of thing you hear every day!

Another odd thing about this trip is that the travel agent responsible for my trip rather monumentally fouled up the arrangements for the trip. I got to the airport and wasn’t a ticketed passenger! I had the remarkable experience of walking up to a ticket counter and saying, “Round trip to Rome, leaving today, please.” Thankfully, the plastic that I whipped out had enough to cover it while awaiting reimbursement!

When I got to Rome I had, of course, a map. It was one of those maps designed for tourists, with all the major sights blown-up and arranged for easy finding. One evening I and my companions set out to find a particular restaurant located on a small side street somewhere in the hustling and bustling city. I knew of the restaurant because my sister had eaten there only a few short months earlier and highly recommended it. However…

The restaurant was not there. In fact, the street itself was not there. I stood at an intersection, map unfolded, getting my bearings. Yes, I was oriented. The street should be right… there! Alas, no street. The reality of what stood before me made a liar of my map. Either the cobblestones and mortar had shifted and moved in the intervening months, or my map was wrong. Those were my two explanatory options.

Now, the conclusion I must reach is obvious, isn’t it? Maps can be wrong. They might not accurately or fully depict the cobblestones and mortar that are actually there. So I resolved that never again would I allow myself to be deceived by a fallible document like a map. They are clearly worthless. They cannot be trusted. People who trust in maps are gullible. Far better to forego the use of a map and just wander out and find things yourself, with only cold, hard, reality to guide you. Better to not use all the sorts of aids and guides people use when preparing for a trip. Not just maps, but language helps like Rosetta Stone or common phrase dictionaries. Better to just get on the plane, arrive, flag a cab, get dropped off on a street corner and make a go of it. That’s the only way to make sure you won’t be deceived. Right?

Rather silly conclusion, isn’t it? Yet that is exactly the conclusion many people reach when they discover that ancient Christian traditions, particularly the great creeds of the church, can be wrong. Upon learning that tradition is not infallible, they decide that tradition is worthless. Having rejected Roman Catholicism’s hyper-trust in tradition, they decide, with the Anabaptists, that creeds are of no use at all. “No Creed but Christ!” they cry. One might as well decide that all maps are worthless. After all, they might mislead you. [Read more…]

Life is Short… Why be Good?

Today’s post is by Tina Williams who blogs at Everyday Surrender.

I have encountered many times in the last several years the attitude of “Life is short…why be good”. Generally speaking when this is directed at me it is because the person is aware of my faith. One of the reasons I have such a hard time with this is that I know there is nothing I can say to allow them to feel what I feel or convey the awe of experiencing God’s presence. That can only come by their seeking Him in an effort to personally experience Him and a relationship with Him.

One of the obstacles of this debate is the way nonbelievers view Christians and the way they live their lives. The preconception that they just follow rules and keep up the appearance of being good. I will be the first to admit that this view is true in some cases, as when I was a child I remember being dropped off at church every Sunday because it was the right thing to do, and beyond that there was no mention of Christ in my childhood. So I definitely understand the view that Christians go to church on Sunday mornings to appear good. It does happen. But on the flip side, are you then prejudging all Christians? Are you subconsciously saying that it is not possible to have a personal relationship with Christ because you have seen others just go through the motions? I know I did.

As soon as I was old enough to recognize the charade I wanted out and managed it. After all, if it was just a matter of believing then I could do that without keeping up appearances and playing the game. It was my incorrect, sinful response to an unfortunate situation. I have the advantage now of seeing both sides of the argument and understanding why others, who have not experienced Christ, deny it’s possible. I did.

After exiting the game of charades with distaste, I lived most of my life how I wanted. After all life is short, right? I believed I was a “good” person. A moral person. [Read more…]

The Surprising Depth of Idolatry

Today’s post is by Chris Thomson. Chris blogs at This Oughta Be Good

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” – 1 John 5:20-21 (ESV)

“An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone. An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention and money to it effortlessly.” – Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones

“You’ve distorted your deepest wish by trying to make it into your savior, and now that you finally have it, it’s turned on you.” – Tim Keller

I have always known I have idols. The First Commandment is hard to miss. But it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I have realized just how deeply embedded idolatry is in my life. As my faith has grown and matured the Holy Spirit has brought about new conviction and enlightenment when it comes to objects of my heart’s affection. All of us have readily identifiable idols. These are things that Tim Keller calls “visible surface idols”. They include things like money, career, relationships, health, sex and food. We know that in their originally intended form they are good things. But we also have a pretty good idea that when our sinful desires twist their purpose and their place they begin to control us and become a poison in our lives. As Matt Chandler says, “We have made good things into ultimate things.”

The deeper idols in our lives are not as simple to discern but they are the disease that produces the surface idols. They include things such as power, control, approval and comfort. This is where God has really been working on me. Two of the biggest deep idols in my life are my desire for approval and control.

The first one should have been obvious to me long ago but it wasn’t. I was the high school valedictorian and voted “Most Intelligent” and “Most Likely to Succeed”. Those were nice things but the price was being continually ridiculed by many of my classmates for a majority of my junior high and high school lives. My identity was being “the smart kid” so I consciously vowed to not let that define me in college and beyond. Although I removed the surface idol, I didn’t realize it remained deep inside. So, as I got into my career and began meeting more failures than successes despite hard work, I began to experience depression. My intelligence had turned into my own “little savior”. I still knew I was smart and that meant I could have power, and ultimately comfort, because I could make myself be successful. Even more than that, I felt I was entitled to some measure of success. My identity and self-worth had gotten tied up in what I could do for myself. Britt Merrick’s words ring so true at this moment:

Christian, define yourself exclusively and radically as one beloved of God. Every other identity is an illusion and is false. [Read more…]

The Male Gossip


Today’s post is by Amber Van Schooneveld. Amber is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration (Group, 2008) and blogs regularly at Clever Phrase Here.

Close your eyes and picture a gossip. Whom do you see? I see a cluster of spinsters in old lace gloves sweetly spitting vitriol over tea. Perhaps I read too much Agatha Christie. But even if you don’t have visions of British spinsters, your vision is most likely female. Am I right? Counter to our preconceived notions, in my (unfortunate) experience there are just as many male gossips as female gossips.

The men, however, don’t have the benefit that us ladies do of hearing much direct exhortation against gossip. Can you imagine a men’s retreat in which this was the lineup?

  • 9:00 a.m.: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart
  • 10:30 a.m.: Strength Like Boaz
  • 12:00 p.m.: Drum Beating (I assume this is what you do at any good men’s retreat)
  • 1:30 p.m.: Taming Your Gossiping Tongue

I can’t.

Despite our feminine visions of the gossip, the Scriptures are directed as much at the male gossip (let’s call him Carl) as at the female (let’s call her Sheila), such as this passage in Proverbs:

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him…[the seventh] a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19)

It’s easy to be taken off guard by Carl. Sheila gives you cues. She’ll move closer, lower her voice conspiratorially, and begin, “I love Sasha, but…” And that’s when you know it’s coming. But Carl gives you no such preparatory warnings. In a firm and perfectly audible voice, he can casually defame another’s character (or gossip, if you will).

In my limited experience, that’s Carl’s struggle. He doesn’t dish with you about situational gossip. (“Did you see how tight her pants were today?”) He goes for the character. (“Neal is a real micro-manager.” “Jessica is such a control freak.” “Patrick doesn’t take anyone’s ideas seriously but his own.”)

And it doesn’t only happen in the workplace. It can happen in ministry too, disguised as well-meaning concern. (“You know, Allan is a real nice guy, but I just feel like he really lacks discipline.”) And even in the home. (Enter any number of dinner table discussions between a man and his wife in the hearing of the children.)

Sometimes one legitimately needs to address a character issue and seek the counsel of another regarding it. But much of the time our so-called “venting” is just good ol’ fashioned down-home gossip. (Even when said in a deep and manly voice.)

Satan was the first gossip. (“Did God really say?”) And the effect gossip has today is the same as this first utterance of gossip: It drags others down with you. Cheery Chip (perhaps like Eve) might have been going on his merry way thinking cheerful thoughts, when Carl corners him and plants a different strain in his mind, maybe noting an annoyance with a friend. “Jim is really getting on my nerves. He can really be self serving sometimes.” [Read more…]

Godly Fear, Amplified Grace

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

There I was, listening to a sermon that a good friend had recommended to me. My friend was living in sin at the time, and he confessed that this particular sermon rocked his world. Naturally, I was excited to hear the message that so gripped my friend. But as I listened, the pastor went on to say, “I’m tired of grumpy ol’ fundie Christians judging this person and that person. In the Old Testament, that may have been okay, but try to find that in the New Testament. Try to find an angry Jesus in there.”

Really?

I was so bummed to hear these words. My jaw dropped, and my heart broke. Could this world use fewer self-righteous and judgmental finger-pointers? Of course. I’ll give him that. But once we imply that the God of the Old Testament is grumpier and rowdier than the mild God of the New Testament, we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope to foolishness and a me-centered, anything-goes theology.

In Revelation 14, Jesus returns on a cloud with a sickle in his hand to reap the harvest. He’s accompanied by an angel with another sharp sickle. This angel is commanded to “‘…gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’” Then we are told that “the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”

I didn’t know what a bridle or stadia is either. Apparently, though, when you do the math what’s described here is over 180 miles of a 5-feet deep bloodbath. The graphic imagery signifies the slaughter of the enemies of God. Indeed, these pictures should give us godly sorrow and anguish that others will have to suffer under God’s wrath in such way. After all, the apostle Paul echoes those sentiments (Romans 9:1-3). And yes, God is not wishing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But this point is also clear: New Testament God is still angry about sin, and he will see to it that divine justice will have its day. [Read more…]