Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Strange joy

How many people would describe you as 'strangely joyful'?  The world understands joy only on its own terms.  Today is Halloween, and some of my neighbors are finding joy in decking out their houses and yards with images and decorations which glorify fear and death.  Others are simply joyful to be back in their homes, or joyful that their kids are doing well in school, or that they're physically well or prospering financially or have escaped the ravages of Hurricane Sandy.  Those joys are natural.

But uniquely Christian joy is different.  Our joy, found in heavenly realities, strikes the world as altogether strange.  Joseph's positive perspective on his imprisonment (Gen. 50), David's contented trust in spite of 'the shadow of death' (Ps. 23), Daniel's peace in the face of threatening kings and vicious lions (Dan. 6) and persecuted Christians who 'joyfully accepted the plunder of their property' for the sake of Christ because 'they knew they had a better possession and a lasting one' (Heb. 10) - these joys are strange; they're utterly supernatural.  This joy is uniquely Christian.

In his book The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit, Puritan pastor Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646), goes to great lengths to describe why and how every Christian should stand out in the world as strangely joyful.  The joy of unbelievers, which vacillates each hour, is predictable because it is based upon the transient joys of the world.  As I think about how my own joy vacillates too much with the winds of earthly change, I've found his book helpful.  For instance, he writes,
The spirit of a true Christian lives upon other, higher comforts.  The life of a dog is maintained by carrion, the life of a swine by swill, but what does a man care for these?  Each source of food is suitable to the creature...Though the men of the world, living by sense and lust, have no other comforts to feed upon but such as are suitable to them, yet the godly, having a life that has higher and more noble principles, feed upon higher and more noble comforts.
The joys of the spirits of the godly are like the light of the sun, fed by heavenly influence; but the joys of other men are as the light of a candle, fed by base and stinking matter....If Christians are often sad, it is because they meddle too much with things below....A Christian can sing in the rain, rejoice in loss and dance in adversity.  A Christian can rejoice when the world cannot, in the same way that a bee can suck honey out of a flower that a fly cannot do.
As Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:16, "Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father Who loves us, has given us eternal consolation."  What?  Did Jesus Christ come into the world, suffer so many sorrows and miseries, die such a painful death and all only to bring us to a more sorrowful estate than before we knew His grace?  May it never be!  (pp. 42-45)
So, I ask you again, are you a strangely joyful person?  If our joys are simply those of the world around us, we will never shine as lights, pointing others toward Christ, the true Source of joy.  Today, on this day of earthly darkness, may He fill us with the light of holy, otherworldly joy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hope in the wake of the storms - all of them

As followers of Jesus, how are we to respond to the news reports of mind-boggling, East coast devastation?  The same way He calls us to respond to the 'small devastations' which take place around us every week.  Scotty Smith guides us well in this regard here.  Read, pray and hope.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ladies of grace and truth

Many Christian women are familiar with what Titus 2:3-5 says about godly womanhood, "Older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.  They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled."

One interesting thing about this text is that it is not directed to a woman but to a man: to Titus, the shepherd overseer of the Christians on the island of Crete.  In other words, the Christian discipleship of women starts with pastors who help seasoned women to grow in gospel maturity so they can pour themselves into women who are younger in their faith.

I take Paul's commission to disciple and resource Christian ladies seriously.  That's why I'm always excited when I come across helpful books to place in the hands of our ladies at Trinity, hoping to set off a chain-reaction of greater feminine passion for Christ.  Toward that end, we have recently stocked our church book-table (located in the library) with some of the best spiritual food for feminine hearts and minds.  Let me focus on just two new books I commend to you:

Fierce Women by Kimberly Wagner is a unique book written to Christian woman who are naturally wired with strong, 'can-do' personalities but find themselves married to men who seem less active, less organized, less spiritual or less competent than they are.  The results are sometimes ugly.  Kim tells her own 'ugly marriage' story and how God redeemed it with the gospel and helped her begin down the road to becoming both a joy to her husband and a woman learning to channel her strength in positive ways to build up others and glorify God.

Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss is written to help you both locate and root out the tendrils of ungratefulness which often go unseen but end up poisoning your thoughts, words and relationships.  Consider the following quote:
Try to sustain persevering faith without gratitude, and your faith will eventually forget the whole point of its faithfulness, hardening into a practice of religion that's hollow and ineffective.  Try being a person who exudes and exhibits Christian love without gratitude, and over time your love will crash hard on the sharp rocks of disappointment and disillusionment.  Try being a person who sacrificially gives of yourself without gratitude, and you'll find every ounce of joy drained dry by a martyr complex.  As John Henry Jowett once said, 'Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.' (p. 23) 
Perhaps you've listened to Nancy on her Revive Our Hearts radio broadcasts or downloaded her pod-casts.  Her teaching is rich with biblical womanhood.  Some of her other books we've stocked on our book-table include:

  • The Power of Words

  • Becoming God's True Woman

  • Choosing Forgiveness

  • True Woman 101 (co-authored by Mary Kassian)

Two other books for ladies who are serious about their spiritual growth we're featuring right now include:

  • Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild by Mary Kassian

  • Secret Keeper: The Delicate Power of Modesty by Dannah Gresh

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why we need the Holy Spirit

In Galatians 5:16ff. Paul writes to his Christian friends, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do....If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

Paul assumes two things in these verses.  First, he assumes that Christians like the Galatians (and like us) truly want to do right.  We want to please God.  We want to live holy lives which glorify Him and bless us and those around us.  But he also assumes that we simply cannot live such lives on our own.  We are desperately in need of the Holy Spirit's empowerment and in-filling.  Though the Spirit indwells us in a permanent way when He regenerates our hearts and makes us Christians (I Cor. 12:13), in a practical sense we need to be daily - even hourly - filled up by the Spirit through our prayerful dependence on Him in our fight for holiness (Eph. 5:18).  This is a daily battle requiring discipline and intentionality.

How much do we need to be filled up by the Spirit?  How helpless are we without Him?  As you've read the Bible, have you ever noticed how dependent upon the Spirit Jesus was?  Consider the following which I noted today in my reading of Gospel Transformation (pp. 180-181):

  • Jesus became a man by the Spirit (Lk. 1:35)
  • Jesus was equipped for ministry by the Spirit (Lk. 3:21-22)
  • Jesus was filled with supernatural joy by the Spirit (Lk. 10:21)
  • Jesus resisted temptation by the Spirit (Lk. 4:1-14)
  • Jesus taught others through the Spirit (Acts 1:2)
  • Jesus lived every day in the power of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2; 61:1, Lk. 4:1, 14, 18)
  • Jesus overcame demons by the power of the Spirit (Mt. 12:28)
  • Jesus performed miracles and did good by the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38)
  • Jesus was raised again by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 1:4, 8:11, I Pet. 3:18)

Why did Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, require the Spirit's power for the life He lived on earth?  He did it to prove His submission to the Father in order to demonstrate that His life was completely in harmony with God's great, redemptive plan set in motion in Genesis 3:15 (John 4:34).  But He also lived a Spirit-dependent life in order to model for those He would save (that's us) the kind of life we would need to live.  Jesus could have operated in His own divine power to accomplish His ministry on earth, but in grace He chose to depend on the Spirit's power to show us how we would need to live in order to conquer sin and grow in sanctification.  

Do you want to please God today?  Do you want to win your battles with temptation today?  How are you going to do that?  It won't happen on your own.  It will happen only as you follow Jesus' example and live each moment in humble, desperate, prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  Living in confidence of Him, not us, will make the difference.  It will give us the power we need to live holy lives.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why we don't share the gospel

This week we're studying the God-exalting mission we were made and saved for.  That mission includes evangelism.  How stoked are you to hit the streets to share the gospel or share Christ over the fence with your neighbor?  Not very, if you're like most Christians.  So, why are we so reluctant to be up front about our faith with unbelievers?  Greg Stier gives five reasons worth pondering:

1. Fear

Sharing your faith is a scary prospect. You can lose face and friends as a result of communicating this "narrow-minded" message of the gospel even when you do so in love. When choosing between being accepted by others and sharing the good news with others too often Christians choose silence. Fear is the biggest culprit that keeps most Christians from evangelizing. 
The Cure: "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." Ephesians 6:19-20 
2. Ignorance 
There are many Christians who, down deep inside, want to share their faith but they honestly don't know what to say. Sadly, if you were to put a microphone in the face of the average church goer leaving a typical Sunday morning service and asked them to define the gospel message the answers could range from "um" to dumb. To add insult to injury far too many preachers have over-complicated the gospel to the point where even true Christians wonder if they are saved. They've added caveats and small print to John 3:16 and, as a result, many believers are confused by the clear and simple gospel that once they embraced with child-like faith.  
The Cure: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…." 1 Corinthians 15:3,4  
3. Arrogance 
Sadly, there are Christians who think they are above sharing the gospel. After all, isn't that what they pay the pastor, youth leader and missionary to do? These Christians want to sing about Jesus in the sanctuary, exegete his Book in Sunday school but don't want to get their lily white hands defiled with the diseased and dirty "sinners" by having to actually talk to them. 
The Cure: "And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, 'Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.'" Luke 5:30-32 
4. Apathy 
Sadly, there are many who call themselves Christians but they just don't care about the lost. They believe there is a hell. They know that those who don't know Jesus will go there forever. But they, for whatever reason, just don't care. They have lost their first love and, therefore, refuse to do what he commands. And, like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, if they don't start letting their little lights shine they could have their candles snuffed out altogether. 
The Cure: "When he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matthew 9:36 
5. Bad Theology 
This brand of bad theology has a range. One extreme defangs hell by making it mythical or instantaneous suffering (as opposed to eternal) therefore removing the urgency to evangelize. The other side of the range misuses the doctrine of election as a way to eradicate urgency. After all, if God is sovereign in salvation why evangelize? Although I believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation I'm also fully convinced that if people don't hear and believe the gospel then they'll be damned forever. I chose not to try to solve the riddle but live in the tension between God's sovereignty and human responsibility. It is in the midst of this tension that God provides us both urgency and assurance, urgency to reach the lost who are headed to hell and assurance that God is the only one who is sovereign in salvation. 
The Cure: "Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." 2 Timothy 2:10

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Praying: even more powerful than going

I was excited to pick up my wife and Greg and Beth Demme last night at the airport, welcoming them back from their mission trip to Toulouse, France.  I'm so glad they were able to go and be our 'hands, feet, eyes and ears', representing our church to the church planting missionaries who serve there year round - discovering ways in which we might better support that missionary work.  During their absence, we encouraged you to pray for their trip and its gospel fruitfulness.  I hope you did pray for them.

If I asked you, "Which activity, going to the mission field as Terri and the Demmes just did or staying home and praying for them, is more powerful for the advancement of Christ's Kingdom?" how would you respond?  Most would instinctively think that going is more powerful.  After all, in going we are able to actually see the missions work in action; we're able to lend a hand in practical ways toward its fulfillment; we're able to speak the gospel to the lost in that foreign land, etc.  All those things are true.  I don't want to diminish the great importance of going.  It is vital.  Still, prayer, at the end of the day, proves just as important and even more spiritually powerful.  Consider a quote from the missionary/preacher SD Gordon (1859-1936):
The greatest thing each one of us can do is to pray.  If we can go personally to some distant land, still we have gone to only one place.  Prayer puts us into direct dynamic touch with an [entire] world.  A man may go aside today, shut his door and really spend a half hour of his life in India for God as though he were there in person.  Surely you and I must get more half hours in for this secret service.
In light of what Gordon says, it wasn't only three from Trinity who went to France last week to help advance the Kingdom of Christ, many of us did.  In terms of the spiritual reality of eternity and the movement of the Holy Spirit, we who prayed were in Toulouse just as much as the friends we sent.  And today through our prayers we can take missions trips to Russia, Nigeria, Argentina or Turkey.  Nothing replaces going to the mission field, for the lost need to hear the gospel from our lips, but our missionary prayers at home are no less powerful.  Where in the world will your prayers take you today?