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At our church right now, we are working through the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve enjoyed preaching through this moving narrative of the life of Jesus the last six months. A few months ago we came to the Beatitudes, which I was glad to do because there is so much good literature out there to survey. While I was looking forward to pulling out some classics like Thomas Watson and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I gained a lot of help, encouragement, and perspective from Collin Smith’s new book Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessing through the Beatitudes. His work digs into what Jesus meant in each statement and provides rich insight into how his words should change and shape our lives.

While I have five pages of quotes copied down from this incredible work, these were my favorite quotes from Momentum.

“According to Jesus, the greatest blessings are not found in the places where we normally look, but rather in places that, at first, we may not be inclined to explore.” (12)

“A Christian is known by the distinguishing marks set out by Jesus. But these marks are the evidence of new life in Christ, not its cause.” (15)

“Whenever you see your own need or feel your own failure, use that moment of insight to cling more tightly, more gratefully, and more joyfully to Jesus Christ and all that He has accomplished on the cross for you. And then be thankful that the reason you see your sins and failings so clearly, and even painfully, is that the Holy Spirit lives in you and that He is calling you to step forward in the path of progress.” (19)

“Pride is always self-seeking and it is easily provoked.” (42)

“Christians know their own poverty. They look to Jesus for what they do not have, and find in Him all that they need.” (47)

“If a particular sin has become habitual for you or you would describe yourself as addicted to a certain form of behavior, you need to learn all that you can about spiritual mourning.” (51)

“A form of faith that leaves a person essentially unchanged is not worthy of the name of our Lord.” (52)

“No Christian could bear to know the full extent of his or her sin if all were revealed at the same time.” (55)

“How can you obey the command of God in Ephesians 5:21 if you have not committed yourself clearly and publicly to a gathered community of believers?” (76)

“Seeing your own sins clearly will make you kinder and gentler toward the sins and faults of others. Remembering how often you have been mistaken will keep you from insisting on your own way and lead you to listen to others, giving weight to what they say.” (84)

“You never know the strength of another person’s temptation. If you were able to stand in the shoes of a brother, and feel the strength of a particular temptation as he experiences it in his life, you might come to the conclusion that he is doing better in the battle than you would have done.” (85)

“The purpose of the passion of Jesus is that we should have a passion for the pursuit of righteousness. Christ died to redeem a people who no longer live for themselves but who live with a deep desire to pursue holiness, which is a distinguishing mark of every Christian.” (97)

“Christians are fully righteous and hungry for righteousness–and there is no contradiction between these two realities.” (98)

“Choose the wrong thirsts and you will never be satisfied.” (102)

“If we think more about the heavy burdens others may carry and the strong temptations they may face, we will grow in mercy. Always remember that if you were carrying your brother’s burden or facing your sister’s temptation, you might struggle and fail more than they do.” (119)

“When you are in the presence of Jesus, there won’t be a trace of sin in you, on you, or around you. You will reflect the purity of your Savior, but you will do it as the moon reflects the light of the sun. Holiness is God’s alone, and the purity that you will enjoy forever comes in its entirety from him.” (135)

“Your enemy the devil will always try to remind you of who you were, but Christ tells you who you are.” (152)

“Satan stirs up strife, quarreling, conflict, and division in the hearts of men and once he gets the flames going, he warms himself at the contention that burns in the human heart.” (157)

“Don’t let small resentments take root because, if you do, they will grow.” (165)

“Those who follow Christ will be blessed by God and hated by the world. There don’t seem to be any exceptions.” (177)

Related Posts:
“The Best Quotes from The Meaning of Marriage

The Best Quotes from Hidden Christmas

photo credit: DiariVeu - laveupv.com 56436998 via photopin (license)

photo credit: DiariVeu – laveupv.com 56436998 via photopin (license)

Several years ago, Home Depot used the slogan, “You can do it. We can help.” A lot of what I hear in popular evangelicalism reminds me of these words. We present Jesus as the one who can help you fulfill your potential, reach your dreams, and live the life that you have always wanted. We talk about him as if he is standing on the sidelines of our lives yelling, “you can do it, and I can help.” In this presentation, Jesus becomes nothing more than a tool that I use to help me get what I really want.

We foolishly think that we have Scriptural support for this. The first time I ever heard Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” it was in a pep talk before a football game. While the person speaking never uttered the phrase, “you want to win and Jesus can help,” it was the clear implication.

What this person did in speaking about Jesus before a football game, we often do in life. Whether we want healthy relationships, a fit body, a fat bank account, or to feel successful, we sanctify our desires by saying that Jesus is helping us do it. In our popular rendering of Philippians 4:13, we seem to be saying, “I CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I want what I want, I’ve got the power to achieve my dreams. I just need a little help, and Jesus is the life coach who is helping me reach my goals.

Is this the real Jesus though? Does Jesus present himself as the one who is there to help us fulfill our vision for our lives? If we go back to Philippians 4:13 and put it in its context, a better way of understanding Jesus and this verse starts to emerge.

The opening chapter of Philippians shows us that Paul writes this letter from prison. He mentions his chains and the imperial guard who watch over him. Rather than railing at his circumstances or looking at how this “set back is going to lead to his comeback,” he rejoices that God is using his suffering for the advance of the Gospel. Paul is okay with either dying or continuing to live in his present situation. Either way, his desire is to bring glory to Christ through his life or in his death.

In the second chapter, Paul encourages his fellow believers to conduct themselves with self-denying humility rather than self-glorifying ambition. Paul knows that our desire to be great, to be successful, and to have more can create a self-centered view of life. We begin to see life as if it is a movie in which I am the star, and everyone else is playing a bit role in which they exist to help me get what I want. When we find ourselves in this place, we begin to treat other people either as pawns to help us get our way or as obstacles to be cleared from our path.

Paul’s antidote for this malady is a long, steady look at the life of Jesus. Paul presents him, not as a cheerleader urging us on the achieve our great personal ambitions, but as a humble servant who poured himself out for others and by his example encourages us to do the same. Jesus did not hang on to his equality with God but left the beauty of heaven and perfect fellowship with his Father to take on full human flesh and be born in a stable in Bethlehem. Then, knowing the joy set before him, Jesus gladly and willingly laid down his life for us to bring us back to God.

Paul offers a recitation of his own personal accomplishments in chapter three. Instead of clinging to personal accruements, he tells how he counted them as loss so that he might gain Christ. Those things that we so often pant and long for, Paul possessed, and yet he counted them as worthless refuse compared to knowing Christ. In this passage he offers Jesus, not as the means by which we attain our personal goals, but as the great prize we should have been looking for all along. In his life, sufferings, and resurrected glory, we find everything that we need.

This brings us back to Philippians 4. After showing Christ as the supreme treasure, for whom we should count the loss of all things as gain, he turns again to his current situation. He writes to the Philippian church to thank them for a gift they sent him to sustain him in his imprisonment. In doing this Paul says that he has learned to be content in whatever circumstance he finds himself. He has lived in low circumstances and great abundance, yet he knows how to be content wherever his lot may fall. He says he can do this because “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Here’s the context for Philippians 4:13. It’s not a football field and there are no shining lights. He is in prison. He needs Jesus to strengthen him to live for his glory in his difficult circumstances so that he might continue to proclaim the Gospel and see Jesus as the infinite treasure that he is.

In light of what Paul says about the real Jesus in Philippians, we need to lose life coach and cheerleader Jesus because he is altogether insufficient. A Jesus who only exists to help me achieve my own personal greatness is not the real Jesus. The real Jesus is not the means to an end, but is the treasure itself.

Jesus did speak of greatness, though, and we would be remiss not to mention it. Jesus’ disciples argued over who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They saw Jesus as the catalyst to help them receive the praise of men. He was their chance to be great. Instead, Jesus showed them another way, and it was the way he would soon go himself. He said that the greatest among them would be the servant of all. This is what he modeled when he gave himself up for us on the cross as Paul mentioned in Philippians 2. Then he shows that God highly exalted Jesus, and gave him the name above every name so that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

We don’t find greatness by asking Jesus to come alongside and help us fulfill our dreams so that we can make much our ourselves. We discover true greatness when we treasure Jesus above all else and follow him in serving others for the glory of his great name. In doing so you will find that the greatness you have desired wasn’t that great after all.

Related Posts:
Why Christians Need the Gospel Every Day

For Further Reading:
The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson

Our church worked through the first half of David’s life during our Sunday morning sermons over the last few months. I found I had been guilty of neglecting the Old Testament historical books in my preaching and devotional reading. In sermons I had only covered the book of Ruth since our church started in 2010 and in devotional reading I usually read these books at a faster pace. By approaching Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther in this was I deprived both myself and my church of beautiful portraits of who God is and how he is at work in our world.

I highly doubt my experience is different from that of most Christians, pastors, and churches. We are at home in Paul’s letters and some portions of the Gospels. When we turn to the Old Testament it is usually to the better known ground of the Psalms and Proverbs. (Though we tend to only traverse through familiar Psalms and skip the harder ones.) In this post I want to encourage you devote attention in your Bible reading to the Old Testament historical books. (And if you are a pastor to preach them.)

Gripping Narratives
When we sit down and read the historical books we begin to realize what gripping narratives they are. In these narratives we encounter men and women trapped in difficult and extraordinary circumstances and see how they faced them. We see stories of love, betrayal, cowardice, courage, and outright evil. In our Christian culture where we are always looking for a practical “takeaway,” we should learn to sit and enjoy these narratives of God’s work among his people.

Wisdom for Practical Living
When you think of the characteristics of wisdom and godly living listed in Proverbs and the Epistles, we see what they look like fleshed out in the historical books. In James 1 we read, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Think about this passage in light of David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the murder he arranged to cover up his sin. David’s adultery with Bathsheba began when he entertained his lusts and gave into them. Then the full blossom of his sin led to death and tragedy. We read this principle in James and can understand it, but David gives us a vivid picture from which we can learn.

Reveal the character of God
Often we read the narratives in the history books and focus on the human characters to the exclusion of the ultimate main character. In some way shape are form, God in his trinitarian glory is the focus of every biblical narrative. Near the beginning of our church’s series on the life of David we looked at the Philistines capturing the ark of the covenant. In this passage the Philistines put the ark of the covenant in the temple of their god Dagon. The next morning they went into the room and Dagon had fallen over in front of the ark. They put him back into his place. (What kind of “god” needs to be picked up by human beings?) The next morning they discovered Dagon lying before the ark with his head chopped off and his limbs displaced. He was nothing but an impotent stump lying before the ark of the covenant. This incident reveals the incomparability of God. There is no one like him, and we know this because of what happened when this pagan deity encountered the emblem of the one true God’s presence among his people Israel. The Old Testament history books are littered with other encounters like this which reveal the character of God to us.

Point to the Work of Christ
The history books lead us to faith in the finished work of Christ in diverse ways. The one long story running through the history books continues the story of God’s work among his people leading up to and through the Exodus. This story helps us to further understand the Messiah who is to come and only reaches its true climax in the life, death, resurrection, reign, and return of Christ. David serves as the central human character in these narratives. Everything in Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel sets the table for his reign over Israel and all of the events after find their significance in light of his life and the promises God made to him. At the same time the life of David obviously pointed beyond him because neither he nor his immediate offspring fulfilled the promises made to him. Then when Jesus appears on the scene the writers of the Gospels present him as the one who fulfills the promises made to David. His work as the heavenly king and humble servant are best understood in light of the Old Testament’s witness to him.

Where to Start
If you have never read the historical books, I would start with 1 and 2 Samuel. While you will miss some of the background from Joshua and Judges, these are the best two books for diving into the heart of the historical books. As you read, note who the main characters are in the narrative and what challenges they are facing. Look and see if any of the Psalms were based on this passage. Look to see if any of the verses in your chapter are quoted in the New Testament. How did the New Testament writers understand this event? Are there any themes in this passage which point to what Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection? Meditate on the actions on the people in the narrative. Do they display character traits which teach you about the Christian life or warn to of sin to avoid? Does God make any promises in this passage you need to mark and remember?

If you read one chapter a day in 1 and 2 Samuel, by Christmas you will have made significant progress in understanding the great story of how God has worked to bring redemption to his people.

Related Posts:
Why You Should Read the Psalms
Why You Should Read the Bible

For Further Reading:
Handbook on the Historical Books by Victor Hamilton

"Grand Canyon" by John Fowler. Available at Flickr  (license)

“Grand Canyon” by John Fowler. Available at Flickr (license)

Monday at SBC Today Dr. Michael Cox asked the question, “Is Calvinism Spiritual Racism?”. (http://sbctoday.com/is-calvinism-spiritual-racism/) If you are unfamiliar with the terms, Calvinism is the nickname for a theological position which exalts the sovereignty of God in the process of man’s salvation. At its heart, the Calvinistic position understands God created the world and made human beings in his image. While the first humans were holy and happy, they fell from their original innocence through breaking God’s command and all humanity was plunged into sin through their transgression. Left to ourselves, no person would come back to God because we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Thankfully, God determined before the world began to save a people for himself by sending his son to die in the place of sinners. Those whom he chose will hear the Gospel and respond in faith, being justified before God, forgiven by God, adopted into God’s family, filled with God’s Spirit, and given an everlasting inheritance with Christ.

Dr. Cox believes these doctrines share more in common with Hinduism and Racism than Christianity. His most basic point seems to be showing how these doctrines create a spiritual caste system where one group of people is superior to another because they have been chosen by God. Then he says those who embrace the Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace, embrace “spiritual racism” because they view one group of people superior to another. In addition he says this view is fueled by pride which he sees as a necessary byproduct of believing you have been chosen by God for salvation.

While many things could be said about Dr. Cox’s post, I want to focus on his contention that Calvinism produces spiritual pride. My reading of Scripture and personal experience have led me to the opposite conclusion. Nothing has humbled me more than knowing my salvation did not originate with me. In fact, there are three distinct ways the doctrines of grace have impacted me personally which stand in stark contrast to what Dr. Cox says.

The Doctrines of Grace Smash our Pride

Romans 9 stands as one of the classic texts for discussing the truth of election. Dr. Cox maintains the person who believes they have been chosen by God for salvation will promote prejudice, pride, and elitism. While discussing how Christians can be confident God’s promises have not failed, Paul alludes to Jacob and Esau to show God’s purpose of election stands, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Notice an important line, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad.” God’s choice of Jacob was not based on anything he had done but by God’s mercy alone.

Paul follows this with the example of Moses and Pharaoh, applying it to our own salvation. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Human salvation is not an act which depends merely on an act of the human will. It ultimately depends on God who shows mercy. When we understand humanity in its depravity, we know no one would come to Christ on their own. God, in his mercy chooses to show mercy to a multitude of people and pursues them by his grace.
Rather than increasing human pride because the person received a “spiritual elite” status, the sovereignty of God’s mercy smashes our pride and increases our humility. No Christian can stand up and say, “I am a Christian because of the things I have done” or “I am a Christian because God foresaw something good in me,” but every Christian from every age in every place joins in a chorus and sings, “I am a debtor to mercy alone.”

Are there many who believe the doctrines of grace who become arrogant and look down on those who believe this truth? This is absolutely true and I went through this the first few years I believed these truths. However, this pride was not produced by the doctrines themselves but by my sinful heart believing I had found a reason to boast about knowledge I learned. Those who believe the doctrines of grace must continually think about how these truths must shape the attitude of our hearts. If we believe we are saved by grace and mercy alone apart from our goodness, how can we respond in arrogance to those who disagree with us? When we believe these truths and are shaped by them, we will show profound humility, gentleness, and patience to the people around us.

The Doctrines of Grace Increase our Love

This point is closely related to the previous one. One of the greatest evidences of a person’s spiritual maturity is the way they treat other people. The Apostle John says if we claim to love God whom we have not seen we will love our brothers we have seen. The doctrines of grace help a person grow in this because they reveal God’s overwhelming love for us. The person who has grasped these doctrines knows he has not earned the favor of God by his good works or by conjuring up the good sense to believe in the Gospel. Instead the doctrines of grace remind us we have been saved by God’s grace alone. Paul reminds us of this truth in 2 Timothy 1:9 when he says God, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

Knowing we have not earned earned our salvation, but instead received it by faith through God’s grace changes the way we feel about and act toward others. The person who believes the doctrines of grace should show greater grace to the people around him. He knows he is saved by grace, so he should be becoming more gracious as he comes to a greater understanding of grace. In the same way the doctrines of grace help a person to be patient with the failings of others. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints teaches us that God remains faithful to his promises and keeps us to the end. He continues to be faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to him. How can a person who has experienced God’s perfect patience be impatient with the weakness, sins, and ignorance of others?

Many people who say they believe these doctrines become arrogant and treat other believers with contempt. This kind of attitude is not produced by the doctrines of grace, but by our sinful hearts twisting God’s word for our own purposes. If you hold to the doctrines of grace and find yourself constantly running other Christians in the ground, please take a few minutes and remind yourself of the things you claim to believe. Then ask yourself if they way you treat your brothers is in line with the truths you confess.

The Doctrines of Grace Destroy Racism

Far from creating a group of people who see themselves as a spiritual elite, the doctrines of grace open a person’s heart to love across lines of ethnicity, language, and social status. The Calvinist understands all people are made in the image of God, so there is no hierarchy built into creation. He also understands all people are born in sin and spiritual bondage. Each person experiences the gripping effects of sin in every aspect of their lives. No person and no ethnic group is free from this curse and no group experiences the sting of sin more deeply than another. Finally he knows the full benefits of salvation are available to every person who believes and there will be people who believe from every tribe, tongue, and nation on earth. Therefore the person who believes the doctrines of grace knows the family of God encompasses people who may be from different ethnicities but are being built into one new man through the Lord Jesus Christ. Before the world began, the Father set apart a people from every ethnic and linguistic group who would be trophies of his grace and would gather around the throne to sing “worthy is the Lamb.”

Because the person who believes in the doctrines of grace knows what he does about the image of God, the fall, and salvation through grace alone he seeks to put to death every vestige of racial superiority in his heart. He knows every person has dignity and worth in the eyes of God. He lives with the realization that no ethnic group is more or less sinful than another. He is gripped by the Bible’s picture of God building a worldwide people whom he will redeem for his glory to forever belong to him. Because he knows these things the Calvinist loves and pursues brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups. He does not look toward them with an eye of suspicion, but welcomes them in as brothers and sisters.

Related Posts:
The Gospel is Better Than ‘God Gives Second Chances’
How I Learned about Forgiveness

For Further Reading:
Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul

(This is the fourth post in the “How to Grow as a Husband” series. You can click the links to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

In two weeks thousands of people will converge in Louisville, Kentucky for the state’s greatest spectacle, the Kentucky Derby. Millions watch the nation’s most popular horse race as these beautiful and powerful animals glide across the mile and a quarter track. Commanding the horses are rather small men who communicate with the horses through reigns and a bit in the horse’s mouth. When you think about the size, speed, and power of these animals, one finds it amazing that they can be commanded through such a small apparatus.

In the same way that jockeys command large horses using a small bit, the Bible says our tongues are a small part of our body, but control the course of our lives. In fact, much of who we are can be defined by the words we say to people and the way we say them. In few areas of life are words more important than they are in our marriages. There are three things about the words we use that husbands must keep in mind as we interact with our wives.

Your Words Are Powerful

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27
“A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.” Proverbs 18:6-7
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21
“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Proverbs  21:23

These four verses from Proverbs remind us about the power of the tongue. The mouth of a fool is his ruin, but the one who keeps his mouth and tongue keep himself out of trouble. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Words like these remind us of the power of our words. The words we say can tear another person to pieces or they can build another person up. Our words possess the capacity to corrode another person’s soul or to give them life and joy.

The power of our words remind us that we can do nothing more foolish than speak without thinking. How often do we say something cruel, biting, or sarcastic and excuse it with, “sorry, I really didn’t mean that and I wasn’t thinking when I said it?” What foolishness! Matthew quotes Jesus in his Gospel, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” We will all stand before the Lord and answer not only for the words we cruelly spoke on purpose, but also for those spoken thoughtlessly. This startling reality compels us to give thought to our words before they leave our mouths.

Your Words Can Tear Down

“With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” Proverbs 11:9
“Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” Proverbs 11:12
“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.”  Proverbs 11:17
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” Proverbs 18:21

These verses from Proverbs speak to us of the damage our words can inflict on other people. The godless man destroys his neighbor with his words. The person who lacks sense will belittle his neighbor. Then we reflect again on the words of Proverbs 18:21 and remember our words have the capacity to bring death to another person.

For the husband, we must read these verses and recall that his wife is his closest neighbor. Everything the Bible says about loving your neighbor applies first to the person with whom you share a bed. If you speak harshly to your wife, constantly criticize her, use biting sarcasm, and speak to her with a general lack of respect for her feelings you will crush her and your marriage. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. The sad irony is that in crushing your wife you crush your own happiness. Your joy in marriage is dependent upon her joy in marriage. If she feels belittled, critiqued, disrespected, and unloved, you have stolen your own joy and dishonored Jesus who died for you.

Your Words Can Build Up

“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.”  Proverbs 11:17
“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24
“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” Proverbs  21:23

If death and life are in the power of the tongue, we can’t only focus on the death that the tongue can bring.  Notice some of the things Solomon says about our words in these passages. He compares gracious words to a honeycomb which bring sweetness to the soul and health to the body. A husband’s words have the capability to bring life, joy, and encouragement to his wife. Also, where a cruel husband steals his own joy by stealing his wife’s joy, the wise husband increases his own joy by increasing his wife’s joy.

The wise husband will give long consideration to how he can speak to his wife in a way that builds her up rather than tearing her down. This doesn’t mean that he has to follow her around every second paying her compliments, but it does mean he will begin by showing his wife the basic kindness and consideration. Then he will give thought to specific ways he can compliment and encourage his wife. In addition, there will be times when a husband must point out things in his wife’s life that she needs to address. The wise husband does this in a way that his wife sees his concern for the good of her soul and knows he is speaking our of love for her.

Husbands, you have been called to love your wives as Christ loved the church for the glory of his great name and for your wife’s joy. Where do you need to repent for the way you speak to your wife? How do you need to grow in wisdom in the way you speak to your wife? How can your words bring glory to God and joy to the wife of your youth?

Related Posts:
Why the Bible Doesn’t Have Much ‘Marriage Advice’
What Happens When Your Marriage Doesn’t Have an Eject Button

For Further Reading:
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

A Few Good Reads

November 22, 2014
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

Choose Hospitality over Entertaining
With Thanksgiving approaching many of us will host family and friends in our homes. Particularly if you have small children, this means hours of running around and frantically cleaning your home before guests arrive. By the time of their arrival you are so tired that you cannot enjoy their company and are ready for them to leave. Writing for The Village Church’s blog, Jen Wilkin offers a better way forward. “Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls because it was listening to a story.”

5 Ways to Kill Anger
As a guy who struggles with anger, I appreciated this post from Jen Thorn. As the title suggests, she offers five practical thoughts for slaying the giant of anger. “The worst part about anger is that is does not bring about the righteousness of that we desire (James 1:19) Instead it hurts those who are at the receiving end of our anger, disfigures our character,  breeds hatred and distrusts,tears apart relationships, and worst of all dishonors God.”

Bruised Reed
As we get ready to work through the Servant Songs in Isaiah for Advent, I found myself drawn to this classic as I get ready to preach Isaiah 42. Martyn Lloyd Jones, speaking about how Richard Sibbes’ work helped him, said this. “ “balm to my soul at a period in my life when I was overworked and badly overtired, and therefore subject in an unusual manner to the onslaughts of the devil…The Bruised Reed…quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me.”

A Few Good Reads

September 18, 2014
photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

photo credit: solidether via photopin cc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“When Your Church is not Revitalizing”
I wrote this post for The Gospel Coalition for pastors who are struggling in a revitalizing situation where new life is not happening. Pastors in difficult situations must learn to find their identity in Jesus and not in their work. They also wrestle with the temptation to stop doing the things that actually matter and it is imperative that they resist this temptation by working consistently on the most important aspects of ministry.

The Roosevelts
Technically this does not count as a good read. Ken Burns’ latest documentary covers the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Their lives, actions, and policies shaped the course of our nation and laid the groundwork for much of American life as we know it today. They were also fascinating people and Burns tells their story in engaging detail.

“You Can’t Catch Sin Like a Cold”
Barnabas Piper writes about our tendency to treat people who live in obvious and outward sin. We can tend to retreat from them as if their sin is contagious. “We don’t “catch” sin. It’s in us from birth. We are sin carriers. It’s only by the grace of God that we can become immune to the virus that lives in us, that we can live a life without its symptoms oozing and coughing and exhaling out of us onto others. Because of the work of Christ we are able to choose whether or not to sin.”

The Great Divorce
I have read several people in the last few days call this their favorite C.S. Lewis book. Amazon has a great Kindle deal on it this week.

photo credit: j / f / photos via photopin cc

photo credit: j / f / photos via photopin cc

No one would have to think long about examples of our culture’s love of being offended. While we usually think about how this plays itself out in cultural discussions, the truth is that we carry our propensity for getting offended into our personal relationships. Ask us what other people have done to us, and we can offer a laundry list of offenses. They might be harsh words or some kind of betrayal, but we cannot forget them and we cannot let go of them. Our rehearsing of how we have been wronged harms us and our relationships with others. The refusal to let go of past offenses creates bitterness that eats at us from the inside out.
“Good sense makes one slow to anger,and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

These words from Proverbs 19:11 help us understand how we should handle times when we are offended by other people. First he tells us that good sense should make us slow to anger. There is no glory is assigning the worst possible meaning and motives to another person’s words. In fact, it is foolish to rashly assume someone meant the worst towards you. Solomon says good sense and wisdom will slow down to think before responding in anger to people and situations.

While our culture finds glory in being perpetually offended, Solomon says real glory is found in overlooking an offense. The Bible holds out the virtue of simply letting things go rather than losing our minds in anger or simmering in bitterness and unforgiveness. Whenever someone offends you, if at all possible, simply let the offense go.

What should you do if there is an offense you simply can’t get over? Talk to the person about it face to face. Don’t post a Facebook status pointed at them without mentioning their name. Don’t try to work things out through text messaging. Sit down and tell the other person about the offense. If they say they are sorry, forgive them. If they do not, forgive them from the heart anyway. This may mean the relationship may not be mended, but you at least are not harboring bitterness and unforgiveness in your own heart.

There is a simple test we can give ourselves to see if we have forgiven another person. Jay Adams says when you forgive another person you are saying you will not bring the matter up to them again, you will not bring it up to others, and you will not dwell on it. This is the test of forgiveness. Can you genuinely let it go? Can you stop holding the other person’s sin against them?

You may wonder why we should do this. Why should we forgive other people when they wrong us instead of getting revenge? Jeremiah 31 records God’s promise for the age of the New Covenant, when He will dwell in the hearts of His people. God’s lengthy promise includes these words, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Because of Jesus’ death, when we trust in Him God no longer holds our sins against us. We experience the full and free pardon of sin. How can we receive forgiveness and not give it in return?

If you are having a difficult time forgiving another person, reflect on the grace and forgiveness you have been shown. Also remember that revenge does not belong to you and justice will not be avoided. This doesn’t happen through some fluke of “karma,” but because God is just and no sin goes unpunished. Every sin gets called into account either in hell or on the cross, so don’t pursue your own revenge. Forgive freely, just as you have been forgiven, trusting in the ultimate justice and goodness of God.

Related Posts:
A Lesson from My Five-Year-Old Daughter
Karma is Dead

For Further Reading:
The Lost Art of Listening by Michael Nichols

Kevin DeYoung’s sermon from this year’s Together for the Gospel explores the important relationship between biblical inerrancy and evangelism. With eroding confidence in the truthfulness of Scripture, we need to hear his call to believe in the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Bible.

Colossians“Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

Colossians 1:3-8 begins Paul’s prayer for the Colossians believers. All but one of Paul’s letters begin with a prayer of thankfulness. These prayers at the beginning of his letters remind us of the importance or prayer and teach us the content of our prayers. We see the priority of praying for other Christians, not just praying for their physical well-being but also their growth into the image and likeness of Christ. Practically, I would encourage believers to have a list of people they want to pray for and pray for several people each day. If you are involved in a local church, pray regularly for those in your church and in your group. Also, take time to pray often for your neighbors.

The beginning of Paul’s prayer focuses on his thankfulness for God’s work in the lives of the people in Colossae. He thanks God three virtues being evidenced in their lives. Paul particularly mentions their faith, hope, and love. He does not leave the particular marks of these virtues undefined, as he specifically shows their character. They have “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” “love for all the saints,” and “hope laid up for you in heaven.”

The faith Paul thanks God for is not some nebulous believing that somehow everything will be okay. Our culture loves to talk about faith in this way. The Bible does not laud faith as a virtue for its own sake. The Bible praises those who have faith in the proper object. In this prayer Paul specifically mentions “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” What has made them Christians is their faith in Jesus who loved them and gave Himself up for them. When Christians talk about faith, we are talking about faith in Jesus alone who saves and brings us back to God.

Paul also mentions a specific type of love in this passage as well. He speaks of their “love for all the saints.” A simple reading of the New Testament demonstrates that Christians love each other as a result of their faith in Christ. Jesus said the world would know people were His disciples because of their love for each other. We have been changed by the love of God for them, and begin to demonstrate the love they have received to each other. It could be argued that the first distinguishing mark of a Christian is their growing love for other believers.

Finally Paul said he thanks God for the hope laid up for them in heaven. Hope is another explicitly Christian concept that has been hijacked by the world to refer to wishing for things to turn out well. The Bible uses hope in a completely different way. The Christian longs expectantly for that which they know they will receive. The return of Christ, our ultimate vindication before God, and sharing in the inheritance which Christ has earned constitutes the Christian hope. These things are certain for those who are in Christ, and this hope helps Christians work through difficulty and hardship because of the ultimate reward.

Paul’s prayer in Colossians shows his concern that Christians are marked out by these virtues and he thanks God when he sees it. In one sense, every Christian has these virtues already, but we pray they will be in us and continuing to grow.

Related Posts:
Colossians 1:1-2

For Further Reading:
A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson