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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Perseverance in Holiness

My 5th/6th grade SS class just finished studying the Book of Joshua and  began the Book of Judges last week. Joshua, for the most part, is a story of obedience, blessing and success. Judges, on the other hand, is a story of disobedience, loss of blessing and failure. We noticed in SS class that the change had occurred within ONE generation. Now that leaves me wondering, "Why?"  Why was Joshua's generation, a generation so intent on trusting God and obeying Him, followed by a generation where "every man did what was right in his own eyes"?  Did the older generation fail to teach that next generation about God?  Were they so caught up in possessing the land, they forgot who had given it to them and that God desired to use them as His witness to the nations? [Ex.19:5-6]  Did they become a little too relaxed and comfortable at the end of their lives and their "almost complete obedience" failed to remove the pagan influence on their children?  Did they just get caught up living from day to day and push God into the background, allowing other issues and interests to capture their attention?  Did they start to spend more time looking "horizontally" than they did "vertically"?  Maurice Roberts, in his book, The Thought of God, wrote the following about the importance of persevering in holiness:

"Godliness is soon lost ... Holiness is vulnerable in this world. It is like snow that is quickly melted or mist which disperses when the sun rises up. In one single generation of a family or of a church the power of godliness which it previously had may be lost totally.

If we are to maintain and preserve the spirituality of our homes and churches we must act decisively and purposefully. This we shall not be prepared to do unless we are first convinced of the fact that godliness is the greatest blessing we can wish for our children and for all others over whom God gives us influence. We ought therefore to begin with the conviction that neither health nor happiness, wealth nor education, nor any other thing is comparable in importance to knowledge of God. If our children, our families and our congregations are poor in all else yet rich in their love to God, they are rich indeed. But if they are rich in all else and poor in love to Christ, they are miserably poor indeed. There can be no doubt that this is God's view of the matter and that it ought therefore to be ours also."

What is most important to you? Where do you place your priorities? On what do you expend your money, your time and your thoughts?  As Paul exhorted Timothy, "Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you."  (1 Timothy 4:16)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Timeless Truth

I hear much discussion these days concerning what "modern" Christianity should look like. Particularly for those who were raised in Bible believing churches, there is often a comparison between "the old" and "the new", usually with a great deal of enthusiasm for "the new". I also hear a lot of buzz about adapting the message to fit the audience or the particular culture. Certainly forms can vary, but there are key aspects that never change, no matter the era, no matter the location. The Bible wasn't intended to be written anew for every generation. It's a place to find God's timeless truth. Throughout thousands of years of human history, certain things remain constant.

1.  God's Word is the source of truth.  "...Your word is truth" (John 17:17)
For the issues it chooses to deal with, God's Word presents accurate truth. Truth is not found in surveys. Truth is not determined by majority rule. Truth is not found in the devices nor the wisdom nor the logic of men.

2.  Salvation is "a gift of God, not of works". (Ephesians 2:8)  Christ's work is completely sufficient. He is able to save to the utmost. There is nothing we could possibly add to His finished work. It is done. Grace, by definition, is unmerited favor.

3.  There is one gospel.
"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8)

4. "The gospel... is the power of God unto salvation".  (Romans 1:16)
It's not the music. It's not the rhetorical ability of the speaker, nor the length of his message. It's not the fashion choices of the preacher, nor his hip and up-to-date language. It's not the decoration of the sanctuary... nor the type of seating... nor the hymn / praise music ratio. It's the power of God in the gospel.

I came to Christ as a young adult. I can honestly tell you I was completely headed away from God. I might have told you I believed there WAS a God if push came to shove and no one else was listening, but I had no desire to know Him, learn from Him, love Him, obey Him. I was young. I was hip. I was bright. I was intricately bound up in my culture. I was utterly lost.

So how did I come to place trusting faith in the real God, the God who reveals Himself in Scripture?  Did I attend an "attractional" church? [Hardly!]  Did I hear an "attractional" message?  [Absolutely not! I heard I was a sinner separated from a holy God...and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. But God, in His love, HAD done something about it!]  Was I drawn by an "attractive" and "cool" crowd?  [If you've heard this story before, you're probably on the floor laughing by now!]

I simply heard Biblical truth. God providentially put me in the right place at the right time and He opened my understanding. Someone used God's Word to explain the gospel, God's good news, to me ... and suddenly I understood my position before a holy God and His precious provision for me. What happened to me was the very same thing that had happened to the believers in Colossae so many, many years before.. "...the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing--as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth." (Colossians 1:5-6)  It was true then. It's still true now.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Teaspoon Christianity

"For those of us who have been Christians for a while, it becomes easy to think that we've pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the Christian life. We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, 'This is God.' We pour it out into our lives, and we say, 'This is the Christian experience.' God calls us to dive into the ocean. He call us into ever new regions of His fullness, His immensity, His all-sufficiency. There is more for us in Christ than we have yet apprehended. Let's never think that we have Him figured out or that we've seen all He can do. The Bible ... is a road map showing us the way into neglected or even forgotten glories of the living God."

[Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Parenting As an Opportunity, Not an Inconvenience

I've ordered the 3-DVD Parenting Seminar by Paul Tripp [Shepherding a Child's Heart] and am making it available to all  my "mom friends". Just ask! To whet your appetite, here's a recent post from Tripp's blog:

"We had planned a day at a local theme park with our children. I was anticipating a day of familial amusement park bliss. I was hoping that on this day my children would be self-parenting, and if God could throw in a fully sanctified wife, that would be cool!  Well, we’re getting out of the van at the park and one of my children said, “Dad, may we have something to drink before we go into the park?”  It didn’t seem like a dangerous request.  I opened the cooler, which was full of soft drinks, and all of my children sighted in on the one can of soda that they all knew was the best. Immediately global nuclear war broke out. They were pushing and shoving, grabbing and pulling, throwing ice at one another, saying unkind things and hitting one another’s hands out of the way. I couldn’t believe it. We weren’t even in the park yet, and my day was already ruined!

So I jumped in and said, “Do you want to fight? We don’t have to pay all this money for you to fight. I’ll take you home, put a cooler in the backyard with one can of soda in it, and you can fight forever!”  Soon my children aren’t fighting anymore because they’re watching the crowd gather as I lose it in the parking lot of the theme park.

Let’s analyze what’s going on in this moment and what’s happening inside of me. What’s going on is that a God of grace is taking a mundane moment of daily family life and using it to do something wonderful for my children and for me.  He is making the condition of their hearts visible in order to produce concern in me that would hopefully result in awareness and a desire to change in them.  But I’m not at all encouraged in this moment with what God is doing.  You see, I’m not angry in the parking lot because my children are sinners. No, I’m angry that God has exposed their sin, and because He has, I have to forsake my agenda for the day and parent them!  It all seems like a huge imposition, a hassle that I just didn’t want to deal with.

But the reality is different from God’s perspective. The sin, weakness, rebellion, or failure of your children is never an imposition on your parenting.  It is never an interruption.  It is never a hassle.  It is always grace. God loves your children. He has put them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace He will reveal their need to you again and again so that you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith, and change.  And because in these moments He asks you to forsake your agenda for His, this opportunity of grace is not just for your children, it’s for you as well.

But my problem is that there are moments when I tend to love my little kingdom of one more than I love His. So I’m impatient, discouraged, or irritated not because my children have broken the laws of God’s kingdom, but the laws of mine. In my kingdom there shall be no parenting on family vacation days, or when I am reading the paper on my iPad, or after ten o’clock at night, or during a good meal, or . . . I could go on.  And when I’m angry about interruptions to my kingdom plan, there are four things I tend to do.

1. I tend to turn a God-given moment of ministry into a moment of anger.

2. I do this because I have personalized what is not personal.  (Before we left for the amusement park that day, my children didn’t plot to drive me crazy in the parking lot.)

3. Because I have personalized what is not personal, I am adversarial in my response. (It’s not me acting for my children, but acting against them because they are in the way of what I want.)

4. So I end up settling for situational solutions that don’t really get to the heart of the matter.  (I bark and order, I instill guilt, I threaten a punishment and walk away, and my children are utterly unchanged by the encounter.)

There is a better way. It begins with praying that God would give you new eyes; eyes that are more focused on His eternal work of grace than on your momentary plans for you. This better way also includes seeking God for a flexible and willing heart, ready to abandon your agenda for God’s greater plan.  And it lives with the confidence that God is in you, with you, and for you and will give you what you need so that you can face, with courage and grace, the parenting moment that you didn’t know was coming."

Ted Tripp's Complete Blog Post

Monday, January 10, 2011

Portrait of a Healthy Church Member

I recently posted a few things concerning key biblical elements indicative of a healthy church, such as expository preaching, biblical theology, the gospel, church discipline, evangelism, membership, discipleship and a biblical understanding of church leadership. [Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Dever]  Another pressing question would be, "What are the characteristics of a healthy church member?"  Many spend time evaluating the church. God instructs each believer to evaluate himself:
"Let a person examine himself..." [1Cor.11:28]; "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves..." [2Cor.13:5]; "... be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you." [2Pet.1:10]

Thabiti Anyabwile wrote a companion book to "Nine Marks" called,  What Is a Healthy Church Member?. Here is a summary of his main points:

1. A healthy church member is an expositional listener.[2 Tim.2:15]
2. A healthy church member is a biblical theologian.    [Acts 20:27]
3. A healthy church member is Gospel saturated.        [2 Pet.1:3]
4. A healthy church member is genuinely converted.    [Rom. 8:29-30]
5. A healthy church member is a biblical evangelist.     [2 Cor.5:20-21]
6. A healthy church member is a committed member.  [1 Tim.1:12]
7. A healthy church member is a seeker of discipline.  [1 Cor.9:27]
8. A healthy church member is a growing disciple.       [2 Pet.3:17-18]
9. A healthy church member is a humble follower.       [Heb.13:17; 1 Pet.2:13-14]
10. A healthy church member is a prayer warrior.       [Eph.6:18; 1Thess.5:17; James 5:13]

So, how are you doing?  This would be a good book to purchase with some of that money you received for Christmas! [Related post, A Healthy Church Member: Learning to Listen to God.]

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Horse of a Different Color...

Most of us are familiar with Read-Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year plans. While it's useful to do this periodically in order to refresh yourself with the big picture, I don't usually recommend it as a yearly pursuit. I believe there is greater benefit in repetitive reading of each book, one at a time. You remember better, you really get a handle on the context and repetitive readings give you increased awareness and better understanding. But many still want a little guidance, a little more structure to help them faithfully stick with it.

So here is a yearly reading plan that actually helps you THINK about what you're reading. It's goal is not to finish the entire Bible in a year, but to slow down and meditate upon what you've read. As the creator states, "The purpose of this Bible reading schedule (shortened considerably from schedules that get through the Bible in one year) is actually to limit the amount of Bible we read daily. Reading quickly through many verses may not be as profitable as savoring deeply a few verses. So the aim of this schedule is not to read less, but to meditate more."

If you'd like to take a look, you can download it here.

[I figured out how to connect the link! Maybe you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! ;)  If you have any difficulty, just let me know and I'll print off a copy for you.]

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On Private Prayer: "Animated by the Humiliation of Penitential Love"

I've noticed how easy it is to tell people on facebook or other social media, "I'm praying for you." Yet I wonder how much time is actually spent doing so. How deep are our prayers? How frequent? How often do we approach God with the reverence He deserves and seriously contend in prayer? I find myself hesitating to say or write it too quickly because Scripture teaches me not to treat prayer lightly, nor to make rash vows. If I say I will pray, I want to devote myself to doing so. Our lives have become so filled with other activities, which possess so little eternal value, I fear our prayer life is too often approached rather lightly and haphazardly.

The following is an excerpt from The Valley of Vision, a wonderful little book of Puritan prayers and devotions. Whenever I read writings from this time period I find myself longing to be able to express myself this way. I fear we've not only lost the words, we've also lost the heart behind the words. I find it valuable to refresh my mind with their Christian worldview, which sought to honor God in every part of life.
I have been hasty and short in private prayer,
O quicken my conscience to feel this folly,
to bewail this ingratitude;
My first sin of the day leads into others,
and it is just that thou shouldst withdraw thy presence
from one who waited carelessly on thee.

Keep me at all times from robbing thee,
and from depriving my soul of thy due worship;
Let me never forget
that I have an eternal duty to love, honour and obey thee,
that thou art infinitely worthy of such;
that if I fail to glorify thee
I am guilty of infinite evil that merits infinite punishment,
for sin is the violation of an infinite obligation.

O forgive me if I have dishonoured thee,
Melt my heart, heal my backslidings,
and open an intercourse of love...
Let thy mercies draw me to thyself.
Wean me from all evil, mortify me to the world,
and make me ready for my departure hence
animated by the humiliations of penitential love.

My soul is often a chariot without wheels,
clogged and hindered in sin's miry clay;
Mount it on eagle's wings
and cause it to soar upward to thyself.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Eternal Perspective: On Being an Invalid in God's Hospital

[Excerpted from Rediscovering Holiness, J.I. Packer]

"We are all invalids in God's hospital. In moral and spiritual terms we are all sick and damaged, diseased and deformed, scarred and sore, lame and lopsided, to a far, far greater extent than we realize. Under God's care we are getting better, but we are not yet well. The modern Christian likes to dwell on present blessings rather than future prospects. We need to realize the spiritual health we testify to is only partial and relative, a matter of being less sick and less incapacitated now than we were before. Measured by the absolute standard of spiritual health that we see in Jesus Christ, we are all of us invalids in the process of being cured. The church is God's hospital. No Christian, and no church, ever has the clean bill of spiritual health that would match the total physical well-being for which today's fitness seekers labor. To long for total spiritual well-being is right and natural, but to believe that one is anywhere near it is to be utterly self-deceived. It is not always easy to grasp that one is ill. Pride and complacency blind us to this reality. We decline to be told when we are slipping; thinking we stand, we set ourselves up to fall, and predictably, alas, we do fall.

In God's hospital the course of treatment that the Father, Son and HS, the permanent medical staff, are giving to each of us with a view to our final restoration to the fullness of the divine image, is called sanctification. It is a process that includes medication and diet (biblical instruction & admonition coming in various ways to the heart) and tests and exercises (internal & external pressures, providentially ordered, to which we have to make active response). The process goes on as long as we are in this world, which is something that God decides in each case. "How come it's taking me so long to get better?" is often our heart-cry to God. The truth is that God knows what He is doing, but sometimes, for reasons connected with the maturity and ministry that He has in view for us, He makes haste slowly. That is something we have to learn humbly to accept. We are in a hurry; He is not."