Choking ourselves to death

choking

During Jesus’ incarnation, the religious elite of His day, the scribes and Pharisees, would follow Him around and seek to trap Him, discredit Him and have Him arrested and killed.

The Pharisees honestly get a bad rap sometimes. During the 400 year silence prior to John the Baptist’s arrival on the scene, these men saw the godlessness of their countrymen and wanted to do something about it. They wanted Israel to live according to the Law. So the strove to obey the Law as closely as possible; to obey God as His people. But then they started adding laws to the Law in order to help them obey the Law. The spirit of the law became the letter of the law and man’s laws overtook God’s Law and then they were left with something opposed to the Law.

Although there were many, a common example is found in the Sabbath. God had commanded that on the seventh day, all his people should rest. No work was to be done, for just as God had rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, so too would his people from theirs. They had a lot of extra rules about what to do, where to go, what you could carry and even whether or not someone could be healed. So one day, Jesus was at Bethesda and saw a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:6-9)

Jesus performed an amazing miracle in the life of this man. An invalid for over 30 years, yet now he could walk. People should have been celebrating! Except, there was one small problem: “Now that day was the Sabbath” (v. 9b). The Sabbath—the same day on which the Pharisees had determined that people could not carry a mat because they considered that work.

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:10-17)

The Pharisees sought to persecute Jesus because “he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v. 16). They persecuted Jesus because he broke their rules. Rules they had equated with God’s. And they became so blind with pride that they could not see who Jesus was or what he was doing.

This is something we all need to be careful of. There’s a tendency among Christians to be afraid of grace—if we talk about it too much, or if we really believe in it, people might start thinking we don’t care about obedience, or we think you can live however you want because “once saved always saved.” Even when we don’t do this, we add rules about what to wear, what to drink, what to say, what to think, how to pray, how to sing, whether to put our hands up (and how high)…

We love our rules, don’t we?

And yet, they’re the very things that might be choking the life out of us. When we substitute human effort for genuine affection for God, terrible things follow. I can’t help but think of the seven churches of Revelation to whom Jesus sent warnings and encouragement. The Ephesians, for example, he commended for their uncompromising doctrine, and their unwillingness to bear with false teachers. Yet he warned that they had abandoned “the love [they] had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4).

Jesus warned these Christians that he would put an end to their church not because they were following false teachers, but because their hearts were far off from him. Their right concern over protecting their doctrine was choking the life out of them because they’d forgotten the spirit in which it was to be pursued. Right doctrine was to lead to greater delight and devotion, not to a cold, “dead” orthodoxy (which is completely unorthodox).

One of the things I always want to be careful of in my own life—and I’ll be honest, I chafe at it whenever certain things are imposed from the outside—is whether or not the rules and structures I’ve implemented in my own life and in my family are life-giving or if they are ultimately pushing me and others away from Jesus. If a “read the Bible in a year” plan is about little more than checking a box, it ought not be done. Bible reading should happen, but the form that takes needs to change. If prayer is rigidly structured and my words are rehearsed, there’s a problem. Prayer should still happen, but the form is (generally) open by necessity. If “worship” only happens when hands are raised higher and voices are louder, well… you get the idea right?

Seeking to obey God in all of our lives is right of course. It is good and necessary and life-giving. However, we need to be careful of not adding rules that go beyond those found in Scripture lest we become proud, devoted and dead.


This post is based off a much earlier one from 2010.

 

 

When Christians say “I’m better than you”

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There are some things we can say about those who don’t believe in Jesus that are wholly true and appropriate. There are others, though, that are either just plain silly or impossibly evil. Recently, I found myself considering one of the latter, which goes something like this:

I cannot respect unbelievers—they reek to heaven! It is impossible for me to honor them in any way.

How would you respond to this (and be honest)? If you were teaching a Sunday School class or participating in a small group and someone said this, what would you do?

Most of us, I suspect, would like to say they would patiently ask, “Why not?” That they would investigate the statement and find out what’s behind it. Honestly, though, as much as I’d like to do that, I’d probably be more tempted to say words I’d need to repent of later. Why? Because this is one of the most ungodly things a Christian could say about an unbeliever—because it presumes that we are somehow better than unbelievers. 

And yet, this is not so. For we know that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, as Genesis 1 tells us. Though sin horribly mars it, though our relationship with God is severed and transformed from one of loving friendship to bitter enemies because of it, sin does not eradicate the image of God in us. Our morality, our capacity for love and goodness, our intelligence, our ability to comprehend spiritual realities (though terribly confused and misdirected)… these still exist and still testify of our being “like” God in some limited sense. And despite the strongest words possible being used to describe our sinful state and our rebellion against God, God has not reneged on the original “goodness” of humanity, at least in this sense. So we would be wise to remember that only a fool calls evil what God calls good. And what is saying something like this but foolishness?

But that’s not the only reason. This notion of being unable to respect unbelievers—of putting them solely in the category of sinners whose stench reaches the heavens and stokes the wrath of God—is a rejection of the grace of God in the gospel. Consider how Paul reminds the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 6:9-11:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul is very clear here: Sin is horribly offensive to God. It separates us. It prevents us from entering the kingdom. It damns us to hell. But Paul didn’t stop at writing about how swindlers won’t inherit the kingdom. He turned this judgment back around on his readers:

“And such were some of you.”

All these things that keep people out of the kingdom of God—they were those things! We were those things! We all know this is true, deep down inside. For we know that if anyone could really see into our hearts, they’d be terrified. Heck, if we actually seriously considered the stray thoughts and the darkness that lives inside of us, we’d probably be even more terrified. But Paul, even in rebuking the Corinthians (and us along with them), offers an encouragement.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (Emphasis mine)

So despite our unholiness; despite our sin and misdeeds; despite our constant rebellion… God in his mercy has washed us of these sins. He has rescued us though we were ungodly and deserving of death. The gospel was more than enough to rescue us from sin—should this not lead to great compassion for those who remain trapped in their sin?

When we say silly nonsense like we can’t respect unbelievers, we are forgetting (again), that we are no different. In fact, as Christians, we should always be developing a more mature understanding of God’s grace to us in the gospel. We see this in Paul’s writings as he progressively changes his definition of himself as he matures. He first goes from being the least of all the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15:9, to the least of all the saints in Ephesians 3:8, to finally the foremost of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15!

Notice that this isn’t an upward progression—he doesn’t gradually feel better about himself as time goes on. Instead, God’s grace is forcing him to recognize his sin in greater detail. And it does the same to us. The longer we are believers, the longer we are in relationship with Jesus, the more we see how far we fall short. The more we should recognize that we are totally unworthy of God’s love, and yet God has poured out his love on us so lavishly. 

How dare we, then, condemn those who we should be seeking to reach? When we think of unbelievers as being unworthy of respect, we only have one recourse: repent and believe the gospel. For just as they are, so too were we.


Photo credit: Skley via photopin cc

Every breath is a gift of immeasurable grace

every breath

It’s easy (and tempting at times) to look at the world and consider a “hunker down in the bunker” mentality. The world, after all,  is a pretty messed up place. Western nations seem to be racing back to the decadence and depravity of 1st century Rome. Terrorists are destroying cultural artifacts and murdering people throughout the Middle East. It’s no surprise that there are some who are fully expecting God to rain down fire any moment—and even more who are surprised that he hasn’t already!

But even as we watch the world seemingly go to hell in a hand basket (as some might flippantly put it), even as we see things get progressively worse from a certain point of view, we should remember that the very fact that we’re around at this moment is purely an act of God’s grace.

God could have destroyed the world immediately upon the first man and woman’s fall into sin. He could have ended it all right then and there, and possibly even have started afresh. Why he didn’t, we don’t know. But we do know, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, “that God decided, in His own inscrutable and eternal will, not to do so.” Lloyd-Jones continued:

How can the world go on existing at all in sin? The answer is that it is kept in existence by this power that the Spirit puts into it. It is the Spirit who keeps the world going. Human life is prolonged both in general and in particular. ‘The goodness of God,’ says Paul in Romans 2:4, ‘leadeth thee to repentance.’ Peter says the same thing in his second epistle: ‘The Lord … is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pet. 3:9). God is patient and long-suffering; to Him a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years. He keeps the world going by the Holy Spirit instead of pronouncing final judgment. (God the Holy Spirit, 26–27)

That last line in particular is extremely important. God “keeps the world going by the Holy Spirit instead of pronouncing final judgment.” And this is why God has not yet deemed it time to pronounce his final judgment: he is pouring out his grace upon the world so that all who would turn to him, will. He is patient and long-suffering not because he needs to, but because he is good.

In other words, every breath is a gift of immeasurable grace. Thus, every one of us breathing right now—including every single one of us who acts as though God doesn’t exist or who worships some sort of false god—owes each breath to God. It is a gift of grace to all, just as it rains upon the just and unjust alike. This grace has a purpose, that it would ultimately lead you to give thanks to the one who gives it. But this grace has a limit. Someday, the time will come when his patience reaches its limit. He will pronounce his final judgment. Will we be ready?

If I were celebrating Thanksgiving…

 

God's rescuing quote

Most of those who read my blog are probably getting ready to enjoy a lovely Thanksgiving meal, followed by a football game and, perhaps, a Star Wars trailer. Lord willing, you’re not preparing to camp out in front of a store because that’d be just wrong.

Today, I will not be eating turkey with all the trimmings, nor will I be enjoying some type of delicious pie. I will be eating normal food because I am Canadian. For us, it is not Thanksgiving (that happened back in October). It is merely Thursday.

There are times when I get envious of my friends in America. It’s not because I am not happy to be a Canadian (I’m just fine with that), or anything like that. But one of the things we don’t really do well here is celebrate. We don’t have a terribly strong national identity (at least among the current generation of Canadians), and we fail to take serious stock of our history. The thing we’re most confident of, it seems, is the fact that we have “free” healthcare (if by free you mean, paid for through your income taxes rather than an insurance policy).

So when I see how American friends seem to genuinely love their country, and celebrate their history (even if they sometimes creatively edit it), I get a twinge of jealousy. But that’s kind of silly, isn’t it?

But that’s the thing about envy. Paul Tripp writes,

Envy … assumes understanding that no one has. Envy not only assumes that you know more about that other person’s life than you could ever know, it assumes that you have a clearer understanding of what is best than God does. [It] causes you to forget God’s amazing rescuing, transforming, empowering, and delivering grace. You become so occupied with accounting for what you do not have that the enormous blessings of God’s grace—blessings that we could not have earned, achieved, or deserved—go unrecognized and uncelebrated. And because envy focuses more on what you want than it does on the life that God has called you to, it keeps you from paying attention to God’s commands and warnings, and therefore leaves you in moral danger. (New Morning Mercies, November 27)

This applies as much to our national identity as it does to our personal lives.

While some Canadians have developed a distinct identity of being not Americans, others look at America and say, “I want that.” They see a form of democracy that is unique in all the western world, and wonder what it would be like to live there (even if that democracy seems to exist more in theory than in practice these days). They look at our massive social safety net and laissez-faire attitude toward everything from politics to the value of a child’s life to the government’s ongoing attempts to warp children with pervy sex-ed curricula and wonder if it’s possible to get refugee status on account of crazy.

But when all we see is what’s wrong, or what we don’t have, and our focus is only on the greener grass on the other side, we’re looking at all the wrong things. While not turning a blind eye to the problems of our nation (and there are some seriously messed up things about it), running away or wishing we were somewhere else doesn’t change where God has placed us. We could go, but our problems would follow.

We’d find new things to be envious of.

So we need a different solution. “The only solution to envy is God’s rescuing grace—grace that turns self-centered sinners into joyful and contented worshipers of God.”

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

And finally, (at least on the Kindle front), be sure to check out these titles from Joel Beeke ($2.99 each): The Beauty and Glory of the FatherThe Beauty and Glory of Christ, and The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit, and The Beauty and Glory of Christian Living.

This is grace

So good:

Church Membership ‘Back Home’ Is Not Enough

Dave Russell:

Should college students join a local church by campus if they have a church membership “back home”?

I’m often asked this question in reference to Christian students who are coming to college and have a church membership “back home.” Here are five things to consider that may help to answer.

Three Crucial Things Single People Need To Know

Stephen Altrogge:

Our culture tells us that the single years are supposed to be an adventure. A time of fun and craziness and exploration before we settle down for the boring life of marriage, kids, and all that jazz. To sow our wild oats (if you happen to be Amish). To quote the prophet Ricky Martin, the single years are for, “Livin’ la viva [vida?] loca.”

Right?

Well…sort of…not really. After working with a lot of single men and women over the years, there are certain principles and practices (hopefully derived from Scripture!) that I would encourage single folks to develop which will serve them for many years into the future. These practices aren’t particularly exciting or thrilling, but I believe they’re extremely valuable.

So what would I tell single guys and gals? Three things.

Pharisees Need Jesus, Too

Aaron Earls:

For a Christian, there may be no bigger insult than to be called a Pharisee. I mean, those guys caught the brunt of Jesus’ rebukes and were the primary reason for His being falsely accused and put to death.

At the same time, there may be no greater personal satisfaction than ripping someone’s Pharisee-like attitudes and actions. They bring so much harm to the cause of Christ. They give us all a bad name. And yet they need Jesus, too.

Beat God to the Punch

beat-god-to-the-punch

I’ve got to hand it to Eric Mason: Beat God to the Punch may be the most provocative title I’ve seen in ages. In fact, that’s is what made me take notice when I first learned of it, and when it eventually arrived in my mailbox. When I cracked the tiny book open, I immediately saw how well suited it was.

According to its author, this is a book about God’s wrath and coming judgment; or more accurately, the grace God offers to rescue us from it. Thus, playing off Paul’s joyful declaration that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11), Mason writes Beat God to the Punch with a revivalist zeal, inviting men and women “to bow now, by choice” (1)—to submit themselves to the Lord and experience His grace.

The struggle of discipleship and contagiousness of grace

Chapters one to three, and chapter five, present a picture of what following Jesus means while striving to wow readers with grace. Using imagery from both first century Jewish practices, as well as drawing an analogy from hip-hop culture, Mason reminds readers that the struggle of discipleship is this: “Over and over again, in our lives, our humanity will collide with His divinity. At the end of the day, a disciple must be transformed into wanting what the Lord wants for them” (24-25).

Our desires are always going to come into conflict with what the Lord has clearly laid out in His Word. We are all called to sacrifice all for His sake and follow Him. Essentially this means questions about our rights or what we think we want or deserve go out the window the moment we become Christians. We are to follow His example, be imitators of Him in order that we might grow to become like Him.

And here’s where grace comes in: we are graciously called to this life despite not being able to follow Jesus like this on our own. Mason reminds us that Jesus actually broke the pattern of the rabbi-student relationship, where students would ask to follow the teacher. Instead, Jesus, our great Teacher, comes to us and says, “Follow me.” Not because God believes in us in particular, or because Jesus sees a glimmer of something in us—which is where Mason’s argument surprisingly falls apart on page 17, when he describes Jesus’ disciples as  knowing that “their rabbi believed in them. And… they realized that God believed in them too.”

(Suddenly, I feel like I’m watching a video of a kid shovelling a driveway.)

Despite this flub, Mason comes back around to God’s choosing us a little later in the book, giving us a much more rousing (and accurate) assessment, writing, “God picks, by grace—according to His nature, His lovingkindness, withholding His wrath—to blow the minds of men, to create potential where there is none, in order for all of the glory to go to Him” (44).

This should excite us, shouldn’t it? If a professing Christian isn’t moved by the thought that God—through no efforts, actions or intentions of your own—chose to save you and call you His own and promises to keep you as His own, so that He might be glorified, there’s something dreadfully wrong. This is not something we should look at lightly.

We should be on our knees with a sense of wonder over this amazing grace. But what does it say about us if it doesn’t?

The historical interlude that doesn’t quite fit

While the first three chapters flow naturally into the fifth, chapter four serves as a historical interlude. Here, Mason briefly surveys church history to gain a sense of perspective on how the Church has viewed grace through the ages. There’s some interesting stuff here, particularly as he gives readers a sense of the loss and rediscovery of grace and the battles to protect its centrality to the faith in the lives and ministries of the likes of Augustine and the Reformers.

Now, I’ve increasingly become a bit of a church history nerd, so I really dig stuff like this. I love seeing how different Christians have communicated grace through the years. It helps to give a more robust understanding of it both doctrinally and practically. But even so, the chapter doesn’t move the “story” of the book forward.While there are elements I enjoy about this chapter, it might have been better served as the book’s appendix.

And then there’s the inclusion of Charles Finney as “sufficiently orthodox” in his belief in God’s grace in salvation, and that “many differ on the semantics of his claim” (75). Hardly a glowing endorsement, but I’ll be honest, it threw me for a loop. To call Finney’s view of grace an orthodox example, despite his view of the atonement being anything but… I can’t quite wrap my mind around that.1 While I realize it’s a one-page reference, and therefore not a large portion of the book, were it me writing or editing Beat God to the Punch, I would have removed it in a heartbeat. It’s inclusion only hurts the author’s credibility.

No knock-out punch thrown

Which brings me to the end of my thoughts on this book: I wanted to like Beat God to the Punch more than I actually did. It’s not a bad book by any means. It’s got some really great elements, but it’s also kind of sloppy, and thus fails to throw the knock-out punch Mason hopes to. Would I say to anyone, “Don’t read this book?” Nope. But it wouldn’t be the first book I’d recommend.


Title: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life
Author: Eric Mason
Publisher: B&H Publishing

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Who or What Were the Nephilim?

This is an interesting discussion.

The Magic of Music

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Music, I believe, has many of the same qualities. I suppose it can trend toward the thinking side. You see this in those songs designed to help us memorize information, the sing-song collections of data bits favored during the grammar stage of a classical education. And certainly there is music that leans more toward emotion with little thinking. Speed metal would be a fine example. I suspect if the “singer” in the speed metal band were to screech through the phone book it would make precious little difference to the experience of the average listener. The music itself says, “Be mad” even when the lyrics might be an ode to a daisy.

Let Your Dim, Sin-Stained Light Shine Before The World

Josh Blount:

If exhortations to “be an example” have ever fallen on your shoulders with the weight of the world, take heart. There’s a way out from under the burden. Here’s the solution: our message is not about achieving perfection, but about receiving redemption. Do you realize what that means? You don’t have to be perfect!

Bible museum sponsored by evangelical to have evangelical perspective

In other news, water is wet. (HT: Dan Darling)

Three Lessons on Loving One Another

Jonathan Parnell:

The scene could not have been more inauspicious: a low-lit room, full stomachs, and the dirty feet of a dozen grown men. This is not where you’d expect to find one of the world’s greatest lessons in loving one another.

But it was here, nonetheless, in the upper room of a common house in first-century Palestine, the night before Jesus died, that we learn how to live together as the church in this world. The apostle John tells us the story, showing us three unforgettable parts.

What Compels Compliance?

Tullian Tchividjian, from his upcoming devotional, It Is Finished: 365 Days of Good News:

Preachers who think that simply telling bad people to be good—applying the boot to the tires of our spiritual lives—will actually produce compliance misunderstand the law’s purpose. The law tells us that compliance is required but the law is incapable of producing a compliant heart. We would all agree that compliance is a laudable goal. We want people parking legally and we want people loving their neighbors as themselves. But how might compliance actually happen?

What I have learned, and am learning, from my experience at Mars Hill Church

Dave Kraft:

The observations and lessons learned came mostly from my experience at Mars Hill; but as I read about what’s going on in Christian leadership as well as what I’m learning in my coaching high- level leaders at other churches, I’ve come to understand that my experiences at Mars Hill are not unique.

What I saw first-hand while on staff at Mars Hill is happening in other churches and Christian ministries around the country/world. I deeply regret that I didn’t speak up more often sooner than I did.

Culture as common grace

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

People tend to glory in Shakespeare, as if he were responsible for his powers, but he was not. He had only what he had received. All these gifts that man and women have come from God. And that is why true Christians, as they look out, not only upon creation, but even at culture, discover a reason for glorifying and for praising God.

You see, what is wrong with culture is not the thing itself, it is rather that people give their worship, their praise and their adoration to those men and women who have produced the works rather than to the God who enabled them to do it. But if you look at these things under the heading of common grace, you will see that they all bring glory to God because it is through the Spirit that He dispenses these general gifts to humanity. We shall be reminded later of how our Lord Himself tells us that God sends His rain upon the evil and the good and causes His sun to rise on the just and the unjust—it is the same thing. The God who sends rain and sunshine and gives crops to the evil farmer as well as to the Christian farmer, dispenses artistic and scientific gifts in exactly the same way, indiscriminately, to bad and good, saved and unsaved. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Great Doctrines of the Bible vol. 2: The Holy Spirit, 25-26

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a whole bunch of new deals for you:

Finally, the New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology series is on sale for $3.99 each:

Oprah, edited

Drew Dyck had some fun with the Oprah quotes on the sleeves at Starbucks.

Gungor, Questions, and the Doubters Among Us

Trevin Wax:

For better or for worse, evangelicalism’s lack of authority structure and ecclesial identity open the door for campus ministries, parachurch organizations, and singers, writers, and moviemakers to fulfill the role of quasi-theologians. This is why, when celebrities cross the boundaries of their conservative audience, they get an earful from their constituency, who, rightly or wrongly, feel betrayed by the star’s defection.

The left’s response to Gungor and Jars of Clay was to celebrate an artist’s willingness to boldly “ask questions,” to be “authentic,” and to reformulate Christianity in ways that take into consideration our contemporary setting. The conservative response was to decry these artists as defectors from the faith and to write them and their questions off.

My Facebook feed was filled with both responses – those who praised the courage and creativity of Gungor, and those who condemned their unorthodox views. Both attitudes left me unsatisfied. Here’s why.

On Nude Celebrities, Virtual Voyeurs, and Willing Victims

Tim Challies:

But there is still another aspect of their victimization I want us to see: The very fact that these women took these photographs in the first place is proof that they are victims of the world, the flesh, and the devil. I assume they were all willing participants in these photo shoots, but they were victims even in their willingness—victims of those forces that makes them believe they are nothing more than their beauty, their sexiness, or their sexual desirability. They are victims of the lust that drove them to inappropriate sexual relationships outside of marriage. When we understand sin, we understand that a person can be a willing participant and victim at the same time and in the same act.

Karen Swallow Prior’s recommendation for a novel every Christian should consider reading

Probably the most unique selection in this series so far. (Also, by far one of my favorite blog series from Justin Taylor.)

When Pastors Experience Depression

Thom Rainer:

Depression was once a topic reserved for “other people.” It certainly was not something those in vocational ministry experienced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers rarely admitted that they were depressed. After all, weren’t these servants of God supposed to have their acts together? How could pastors and other ministers who have the call of God on their lives experience the dark valley of depression?

Ministers often feel shame and failure when they go through bouts of depression. And their reticence to tell anyone about their plights has exacerbated the problem.

But today more and more ministers are willing to talk about this issue. Articles in Christian Post, the New York Times, and Paul Tripp’s Gospel Coalition blog address the problem candidly and proactively.

The Cloak of Righteousness

Lore Ferguson:

This morning I woke thinking of all the ways I have failed, all those I have failed, and all the failures yet to come. How could a holy God condescend to me? How could he fit his goodness as a cloak on me? Surely I have toed the line of arrogance and fear and anxiety and lust and envy and all kinds of sin, enough that I have gone out the bounds of his demands.

But if Salvation is to “make wide” or to “make sufficient,” then the salvific act was one that spread wide around the boundaries of every one of my days and sins and weakness and proclivities and covers them all.

Links I like

The Barney-Stinsonization of America

Chris Martin:

Sleeping with countless women with no strings attached seems like paradise to countless young men, but throughout the show, in between his seductive tricks and sexual triumphs, one reality remains:

Barney is enslaved by his sexual freedom.

And there’s reason to believe he isn’t the only one.

We are in the midst of the Barney-Stinsonization of America, and the most popular song in the country is proof of that.

He must increase, our churches must decrease

Jared Wilson nails it, as per usual:

See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)

No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.

We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.

Having Boldness to Enter the Holiest

L. Michael Morales:

The Book of Leviticus is the heart and center of the Pentateuch. The theological heart of Leviticus—and, therefore, also of the Five Books of Moses—is the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On this most sacred day, the high priest of Israel would bring the blood of sacrifice into the holy of holies to cleanse both the tabernacle dwelling of God and the camp of Israel. Ultimately, every other sacrifice and ritual in Israel’s cult derived its meaning and significance from this annual entrance into the earthly throne room of God. Worship in ancient Israel was through the chosen and anointed mediator, the high priest. Significantly, then, in the Pentateuch “messiah” refers exclusively to Aaron the high priest—he is the one anointed with oil, whose mediation allows God’s people to draw near in worship.

Why Twitter is a bad place to do theology

Mark Jones on the problems with trying to do theology well in 140 characters or less.

“I Have Another One…”

Tullian Tchividjian:

Sam confesses an infidelity to Sheila, and she forgives him. Sheila confesses an infidelity to Sam, and he forgives her. Everything seems to be back on track until Sheila says, “I have another one.” Sam says, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. This is what it’s all about…honesty and forgiveness.” But then she says that it’s Cliff, from Cheers (the frumpy mailman played by John Ratzenberger). “Cliff?!?!?!” Sam explodes. This is over the line for him. He can’t take it and storms out of the room, calling off the marriage.

All too often, this is how we think of God’s forgiveness, and why assurance eludes us.

Evangelicalism’s Poor Form

Alastair Roberts:

Whether designed to clarify evangelicalism as an object of study or analysis, or to police its supposed boundaries, definitions of evangelicalism have generally tended to occlude the cultural, institutional, and sociological dimensions of the movement. This is unfortunate, as it is precisely these elements that are most salient in the experience of many within it. Evangelicalism is not There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, most of which is largely unauthorized by pastors or elders.typically experienced as a set of abstract and explicit doctrines or beliefs held by individuals, but more as a distinctive cultural environment within which such beliefs are inconsistently and idiosyncratically maintained. The official beliefs of evangelicalism exist alongside a host of other miscellaneous elements and the cross-pollination from the surrounding society, all sustained within local churches and a shifting constellation of denominations, movements, ministries, groups, and agencies.

Be eternally grateful for His rebukes of love

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Ah! brethren, when we were groaning under the chastening hand of Jesus, we thought him cruel; do we think so ill of him now? We conceived that he was wroth with us, and would be implacable; how have our surmises proved to be utterly confounded! The abundant benefit which we now reap from the deep ploughing of our heart is enough of itself to reconcile us to the severity of the process. Precious is that wine which is pressed in the winefat of conviction; pure is that gold which is dug from the mines of repentance; and bright are those pearls which are found in the caverns of deep distress.… If we have any power to console the weary, it is the result of our remembrance of what we once suffered—for here lies our power to sympathise. If we can now look down with scorn upon the boastings of vain, self-conceited man, it is because our own vaunted strength has utterly failed us, and made us contemptible in our own eyes. If we can now plead with ardent desire for the souls of our fellow-men, and especially if we feel a more than common passion for the salvation of sinners, we must attribute it in no small degree to the fact that we have been smitten for sin, and therefore knowing the terrors of the Lord are constrained to persuade men. The laborious pastor, the fervent minister, the ardent evangelist, the faithful teacher, the powerful intercessor, can all trace the birth of their zeal to the sufferings they endured for sin, and the knowledge they thereby attained of its evil nature. We have ever drawn the sharpest arrows from the quiver of our own experience. We find no sword-blades so true in metal as those which have been forged in the furnace of soul-trouble. Aaron’s rod, that budded, bore not one half so much fruit as the rod of the covenant, which is laid upon the back of every chosen child of God; this alone may render us eternally grateful to the Saviour for his rebukes of love.

Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior

Links I like

RIP idiot Dads

This Cheerios commercial gives me hope that “dad as incompetent boob” marketing might be coming to an end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GYxH2-WeZY

Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn’t an Option

Richard Clark hits the nail on the head:

You can mark me down on your list of people who have, in some way, gawked and marveled with morbid interest at the inward and outward controversies surrounding that infamous Seattle pastor and his church. For those invested in the broader evangelical landscape–and any parachurch organization or outlet must be, these events are inescapable. Driscoll’s missteps inevitably reflect not just on his own church, but on the evangelical church as a whole.

But really, that goes for any pastor. Any time any pastor of a church is caught in controversy or scandal, those happenings are reported breathlessly by local news outlets, and then–if they’re just scandalous enough–by national news outlets. And it’s not like we can blame them. After all, the moment “Christian Pastor Acts UnChristianly” ceases to be news-worthy, we’ve got bigger problems to deal with than a bad reputation.

Great deals at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore has some pretty phenomenal deals on a few books about preaching (focusing both how to preach and how to listen to a sermon). One of the best is the current special on David Helm’s Expositional Preaching—get this for $8 (or $6.50 per copy when ordering five or more). They’re also offering four-volumes on practical shepherding by Brian Croft for $32.

Grace And Identity

Tullian Tchividjian:

A few years back I was driving one of my sons home from his basketball game and he was crying. He’s a great basketball player but had a less than stellar performance and he was, as a result, crushed. After doing my best to comfort him by listening to him and reminding him that his game was not nearly as bad as he thought it was and that even the best basketball players in the world have an off game here and there, I asked him why he was so upset. He told me plainly, “Dad, I played terrible.” I said, “I know you don’t think you played well but why does not playing well make you so sad.” He said (with tremendously keen self-awareness), “Because I’m a basketball player. That’s who I am.” Somewhere along the way he had concluded (due to success on the basketball court over the years) that his self-worth and value as a person was inextricably tied to his achievements as a basketball player. If he was a good basketball player, then he mattered. If he wasn’t, he didn’t. So a bad game was more than a bad game. It was a direct assault on his identity. I realized in the moment that any attempt to assure him that he was a great basketball player wasn’t going to help him because basketball wasn’t the issue–identity was. He was suffering an identity crisis, not a basketball crisis. A basketball crisis is easy to solve–a little more practice and a lot of encouragement typically does the trick. But an identity crisis is deep. It’s an under the surface problem requiring an under the surface solution.

Can There Be Thrills in Heaven?

Randy Alcorn:

A sincere young man told me that no matter what I might say, Heaven must be boring. Why? “Because you can’t appreciate good without bad, light without darkness, or safety without danger. If Heaven is safe, if there’s no risk, it has to be boring.”

3 Ways NOT to Share Jesus

Chris Martin:

One of the first posts I wrote here on the blog was on three ways to reach Millennials. There’s no silver bullet for reaching young people, everyone knows that, but you can seek to be wise in doing so. If and when you have the opportunity to share Christ with a Millennial, here are three ways you should NOT answer the question, “So why should I believe in Jesus?”

PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace

The doctrines of grace have an image problem.

It’s easy to understand why: Those who embrace them, those Calvinists are a shifty bunch. If they’re not limiting salvation to a tiny handful of people, they’re trying to take over your local church like stealthy ninjas. Or something.

Regardless of the silliness you sometimes see, especially in the blogosphere, about Calvinist conspiracies, hostile takeovers, and the joyful condemnation of sinners to hell, there is an almost complete lack of understanding as to what the doctrines of grace—sometimes called the five points of Calvinism—actually are.

Clearly, Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones have noticed this problem, and their new book, PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace, seeks to remedy it by “awaken[ing] you from the delusion that life depends on you and free[ing] you to discover the intoxicating joy of God’s wild and free grace” (16). They do this by offering readers a fresh look at the doctrines of grace—by redefining them around grace.

Redefining the doctrines of grace around grace

Rather than using the oft-repeated (and not entirely reflective of Reformed theology) acrostic TULIP, the authors redefine the doctrines of grace as PROOF:

  • Planned grace—“God planned to show his grace to his chosen people… God’s eternal plan was to love his children and give us his very best” (31, 32).
  • Resurrecting grace—“Apart from God’s single-handed gift of resurrecting grace, no human being will ever seek God because a death-defeating King who demands that we find our greatest joy in his Father’s fame is repulsive to the spiritually dead” (51).
  • Outrageous grace—“God chose us … and secured us as his children without the slightest reliance on anything we have done or might do… All of his, from beginning to end, God accomplished not due to our deeds but ‘freely by his grace'” (74-75).
  • Overcoming grace—“God unshackles us from the enslaving contagion of sin so that we glimpse the overwhelming beauty of Jesus and his kingdom” (91).
  • Forever grace—“If you are God’s property—someone who has been transformed by God’s power—no one, not even you, can remove you from God’s hand.… What our perseverance provides is evidence that Jesus is present in our faith, working his works through us” (111-112, 116).

Can you see why these doctrines have an image problem?

But truly, the issue doesn’t come from the doctrines themselves—the issue comes from us. Every element of this acrostic points away from us and what we do to God and what He does. They put us in a position of utter dependency, of desperate need. And we hate that, don’t we?

Years ago, I was teaching a children’s Sunday school class, and we discussed how we are Jesus’ sheep. A six-year-old girl—the pastor’s daughter!—went berserk when she heard this, defiantly declaring, “I am not a dumb sheep!”

Let’s be honest, us grown-ups are no different. The idea of being a “sheep”—a dumb, defenseless animal, totally incapable of caring for itself—is offensive to us. And yet, this is how the Lord describes His people: as sheep in need of a shepherd. These doctrines only serve to reinforce that: to challenge our self-reliance and destroy any misconceptions as to whom all glory, honor and praise is due.

Old wine in new wineskins

Some might argue that redefining the acrostic doesn’t resolve the issue with these doctrines. But that all depends on your point of view. If you have an issue with the doctrines of grace, it doesn’t matter how they’re articulated, you’re going to reject them. If you see the wine as tainted, a new wineskin isn’t going to help.

But what Montgomery and Jones do exceptionally well here is show us that this old wine is indeed the best. “Grace sets people free… Grace gives rest and peace… Grace leaves us with nothing to prove because, in Christ, everything that needs to be proven has already been provided” (143).

Like the pure rations that flashed in the tankards of eighteenth century sailors, the undiluted message of grace is intoxicating—so strong that it leaves us slaphappy, staggering, and singing for joy at the thought that God chose to love us precisely when there was nothing loveable about us.

This joy is the fuel that drives Christian worship. When a church proclaims God’s undiluted grace, the deadly delusions of human religion are drowned in a flood of gospel-fueled freedom and intoxicating joy. (22-23)

Engaging PROOF in all of life

There’s nothing stealth about the Calvinism in PROOF. There’s nothing hostile or conspiratorial. This is not a grim tome filled with condemnation. What Montgomery and Jones offer is a picture of grace—grace that is to be meditated upon, sung about, worshiped through. Pure, undiluted grace; the kind that truly changes lives, the kind that is meant to be engaged in all of life. This is the grace we all need. Come, discover it with fresh eyes, won’t you?


Title: PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace
Authors: Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones
Publisher: Zondervan (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Books

Accidental double agents in the pulpit

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You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”

But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.

Ever.

The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.1

This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:

Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)

One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.2 Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.

Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.

This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does!3

There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.

We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!

A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.


Photo credit: Normand Desjardins Café•Moka Personnel/Personal via photopin cc