Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In the gaze of Christ's amazement

It took a lot to amaze Jesus.  Unlike His disciples, He wasn't amazed at the massively impressive Temple in Jerusalem which Herod the Great had constructed (Mk. 13:1), because He knew it would soon be a heap of rubble at the hands of the Romans.  He wasn't amazed at Judas' betrayal (Lk. 22:47ff.), because He knew it was ordained by the Father in order to bring about His atoning death (John 17:12).  Jesus wasn't amazed at the  merely superficial loyalty of most who initially followed Him, because He knew that people are naturally self-serving (John 2:23-25).

What, then, did amaze Jesus?  Two things according to the Gospels.  Two things that should get our attention.  One was positive and one was negative.  First, the positive.  In Luke 7 a Roman centurion (similar to a modern day a company commander in the Army) had a servant who fell deathly ill.  He had heard about Jesus.  He believed in Jesus' supernatural power and holiness.  Like the authority-bound, military world in which he lived (with commanders above him from whom he took orders and subordinates below him to whom he gave orders), he understood that Jesus was perfectly obedient to the Father and the supernatural world was obedient to Him.  He understood Christ in a way few in Jesus' day did.  But the centurion went farther: his understanding translated to trust.  "Just say the word, and my servant will be healed," was the report his men brought to Jesus.  And notice Christ's response: "I tell you not even in Israel (i.e. among the Jews) have I found such faith."  The centurion was commended and honored by Christ because his understanding of Who Jesus was translated into trusting action.  Jesus was amazed at his faith.

Now the negative example.  In Mark 6 Jesus traveled to His hometown, Nazareth.  While there on a certain Sabbath He taught in the local synagogue.  The response was immediate.  The townspeople He'd grown up with recognized something different about Him.  He taught with wisdom.  He understood the Scriptures deeply.  He applied them to their lives incisively.  He also amazed them by healing some sick people who were brought to Him.  Back in Mark 1 Jesus had done the same things in the Galilean town of Capernaum: He taught in the synagogue with authority and healed people.  There the people responded positively.  "And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee." (Mk. 1:28)  In Nazareth, on the other hand, the people responded negatively.  "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?  And they took offense at him." (Mk. 6:3)  Mark well Jesus' response: "And he marveled because of their unbelief." (v. 6)

In what ways will you and I amaze Jesus today?  With our great faith or our unbelief?

Friday, May 25, 2012

In awe of God's providence

Sometimes God speaks to us with a still, small voice (I Kings 19:12), and sometimes He gets our attention by very loudly ordering the events in our day in a way that we can't miss Him (Genesis 50:20).  This morning has been a good example of the latter.  A couple of years ago I started regularly exercising at the Y very early several mornings each week.  After a rotator cuff injury and the craziness of being displaced from the flood, my early morning work-outs shifted to late afternoons and evenings.  I think I've been to the Y early in the morning only once in the past year.  Then today I awoke wide awake shortly after 5 am.  "I'll go to the Y," I thought.  And I did.  I had charted out a pretty strenuous workout, but only made it through about half of my exercises before heading for the locker room to shower.

While getting dressed, I made small talk with another man I didn't recognize in the locker room.  After a few minutes he said to me, "I've been praying for an opportunity to talk to someone about forgiveness.  You're a pastor, right?  Do you have some time to talk?"  We found a table in the day room of the Y and had a wonderful conversation about God's grace, the gospel and its power to liberate us both to forgive others and live humbly as forgiven ones.  That spontaneous conversation made my day.

In the course of our conversation, the man said, "I've been praying to talk to someone about this for two days, and while I was exercising I prayed for God to bring someone - then there you were in the locker room."  And I told him, "I used to come to the Y at this time every week but I don't anymore.  This morning when I woke up so early I didn't know why.  Why did I want to exercise this early?  Why did I stop my routine after half the exercises and go to the locker room?  Now I know."

Through all this, God got my attention to remind me that He's active, He's working and He's designing and setting things up in the small details of our lives for His Kingdom's advance, for our joy and for His glory.  Nothing's by mistake - including when we wake up, when we go to locker rooms and who we meet.  This morning is a clear reminder that all of life is about Him.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A checkup for marital health

To maximize my physical health, I try to maintain a pretty regular regimen of visits to the Y.  Part of that has recently involved a shift in my diet, including, among other things,consuming more eggs.  When I mentioned that to my wife, she said, "The last time your cholesterol was tested, it was too high.  You shouldn't be eating a lot of eggs."  "I don't think so," I responded.  "My cholesterol's always tested pretty low."  Who's right?  We don't know.  Therefore, I'll likely have that tested sometime soon.  We can think part of our body is healthy, but without a trained third party giving us a checkup, it can be hard to tell.

Even more than our bodies, our marriages need regular check-ups.  In light of last year's flood, rebuilding our house, the growing needs at church, etc., this has been a stressful year in the life of the Perrys.  A few weeks ago Terri and I knew we needed a wise, third party perspective based on the gospel to help us accurately assess our marriage as we seek to love each other more effectively and deepen our intimacy.  Honestly, both of us have marital blind spots and sin tendencies which we've lived with too long.  Left unidentified and unattended, those blind spots and sin patterns tend to slowly erode joy and peace in the home.  So, we made an appointment with a Christian counselor in Grand Forks referred to us by a good friend.  At first, I had my misgivings.  Would her theology be sound?  Would she be gospel-centered?  Would she be trustworthy and helpful?  My fears proved groundless.  We had a very refreshing time together and Terri and I are both looking forward to the next time we meet so we can explore more of how Christ's grace can transform how we (sometimes) relate in sinful, selfish and idolatrous ways .

At Trinity we are big on 'doing gospel life together' in ever-deepening relationships.  Therefore, we should be moving toward honestly and trust in each other's lives (and marriages), learning to spot sin patterns and repent and forgive often and well.  The mainstay of our journey of sanctification, for marriage as well as our individual lives, should be a network of close relationships we're building with other believers based in the local church.  At the same time, sometimes a set of more objective, trained eyes can help spot some unhealthy relational patterns missed by even our wisest friends.  I believe we all - especially those of us who are married - could benefit from a seasonal 'relationship checkup'.

The good news for you is that you don't need to drive to Grand Forks for such a check-up.  Though most of my time is spent preparing sermons and doing leadership development, one of the pastoral duties I like most is marriage counseling.  Unfortunately, most couples wait to contact me until they're facing a crisis or their relationship is coming unglued.  Don't let that be true of you.  Just as your body needs a physical check-up seasonally, so does the health of your marriage.  In fact, your marriage needs it even more.  I'm sure you already have lots of plans for this summer.  How about adding an appointment with Andy to that list?

Friday, May 11, 2012

A prayer for Christ's return

Are you ready for Jesus to come back?  Prayers like the following one from Scotty Smith help me be ready:
"King Jesus, through the years I’ve suffered through some horrible teaching about your second coming, most of which generated self-centered fear, gospel-less speculation, and political sensationalism. That’s hardly what you had in mind when you charged us to watch and wait for your return. As I meditate on this passage this morning, much of the theological rubbish and rubble is cleared away.
     Jesus, I’ve never been less anxious and more ready for your return, but only because of a growing understanding of the gospel. I’m already wearing the right clothes—the wedding garment of your perfect righteousness. I’m no longer afraid of your return. I very much want you to come back, O loving Bridegroom. The oil in my lamp will never run dry, for you’ve sealed me as your own and have sent the Spirit to dwell in my heart forever.
     Lord Jesus, because the gospel is true, I’m ready for service in two ways. First of all, I’m ready (as counter-intuitive and astonishing as it is) for you to serve me. According to the Scriptures, when you return, you’ll be dressed and have us, your bride, “recline at the table”; then you’ll come and wait on us (Luke 12:37). What a knee-buckling image. What wondrous love is this, indeed!
     But nothing has changed, all you’ve ever done is serve your people—in creation and by your incarnation, through your life of perfect obedience and death upon the cross as our substitute; by your resurrection from the dead and ascension to the Father’s right hand; by your constant advocacy and heavenly intercession. You’re always giving to us—grace upon grace upon grace.
     Secondly, as I consider all the ways you serve us, Jesus, I have a renewed passion to serve you and to serve with you as you gather your bride from among the nations and as you are busy making all things new. You’re coming back to finish a work that is well under way, by you and for you. Whose feet do we wash today? Where are you setting prisoners free? To whom is your tear-wiping hand reaching? Where are you bringing first-fruit expressions of your kingdom of redemption?
     What an honor and privilege it is, Jesus, to serve with you. So very Amen I pray with gratitude, in your holy and loving name."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The gospel way

Last Sunday during my message I projected some PowerPoint slides contrasting two ways in which people in the church commonly pursue holy living: the Pharisee way and the gospel way.  Some found those slides helpful and have requested access to them.  You can find them here.  These contrasting 'ways' strike me as a great way to daily preach the gospel to yourself.  So, here's my suggestion: download the slides, keep them open but reduced on your desktop and review them during your devotional time each day, asking God to give you a proper, grace-driven motivation for pursuing a holy life.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Christ our Husband

Do you love romance?  God made us for romance.  He made us first and foremost to be romanced by Him and to be His joyfully responsive bride.  When a church and the Christians in it begin to drift spiritually, that most important of all romances is put in jeopardy.  The apostle Paul brought that to the Corinthians' attention in 2 Corinthians 11.  My friend Ray Ortlund explores the ramifications of Paul's words in one of the best blog posts I've run across in a long time.  You can read it here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ten practices for gospel renewal

In my message on Sunday, I mentioned one of ten practices which I recently commended to a Christian friend as he took some time for a personal retreat.  Below is the list in full.  Whether you're able to get away by yourself for a few days for a full-fledged retreat or simply integrate some of these practices into your personal or family devotional time, they are sure to help you renew your love for God and His gospel.

1. Spend time soaking in texts which highlight the gospel (e.g. Eph. 2:1-10, Rom. 3:9ff., I Tim. 1:12ff, Titus 2, etc.) and let your delight in Christ's grace spill over into praise and prayer for others.

2. On 4 sheets of paper list as many evidences of God's grace and love as you can think of for each of the decades in which you've lived:
  • age 0-10
  • 11-20
  • 21-30
  • 30-present
  • etc.
Then write a letter to God, thanking Him for these graces in your life.

3. Write a note of thanks to one current leader/mentor in your life and one in your past.

4. On different sheets of paper list all the things you can think of that you love about your wife (or husband) and kids. (if you're married and/or have kids)

5. Take a walk and celebrate the intricacies of God's creation which you often miss in your busy life.

6. Re-listen to a sermon that deeply impacted you sometime in the past. Write a note of thanks to that preacher.

7. Read some fiction or history or something that refreshes your mind without over taxing it.

8. Call your wife (or husband) and tell her how much you love her. (if you're married)

9. Write down your top ten sin struggles and use your Bible to plot very practical plans of defense. Use your Bible to identify the opposite graces which you need to nurture which are able to strangle those temptations, and make a practical plan for nurturing them.

10. For a time do nothing.  That's right - nothing.  Afterwards, spend some time praise God that your 'ok-ness' with Him has nothing to do with your performance.