Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

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Where Is God in a Mass Shooting?

In Perspective on October 3, 2017 by The Spillover

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Russell Moore:

A few hours ago I was on the phone with a friend in Las Vegas. He and his neighbors had just lived through, and will be living through for some time, the trauma of seeing in their own city the worst mass shooting in modern American history. I reflected after that conversation what my friend, a strong Christian and a respected leader, would say when asked by those around him, “Where was God in all of this?” He will have a word for his community, but for many Christians, when disaster or great evil strikes, this is a hard question to answer. Maybe that’s you.

The first thing we must do in the aftermath of this sort of horror is to make sure that we do not take the name of God in vain. After a natural disaster or an act of terror, one will always find someone, often claiming the mantle of Christianity, opining about how this moment was God’s judgment on an individual or a city or a nation for some specified sin. Jesus told us specifically not to do this, after his disciples asked whether a man’s blindness was the result of his or his parents’ sin. Jesus said no to both (Jn. 9:1-12). Those self-appointed prophets who would blame the victims for what befalls them are just that, self-appointed. We should listen to Jesus and to his apostles, not to them. Those killed in a terror attack or in a tsunami or in an epidemic are not more sinful than all of the rest of us.

We live in a fallen world, where awful, incomprehensible things happen. When an obvious and egregious injustice such as this one is done, we should stand where God does and see this as real evil, not as an illusion of evil. This means that our response to such should not be some sort of Stoic resignation but instead a lament with those around us who are hurting.

Christians sometimes suppose that our non-Christian friends and neighbors want to hear a detailed explanation, to justify God in light of such horror. The Bible doesn’t give us easy answers. The Word of God instead speaks of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7). When tragedy fell upon Job, an ancient follower of God, and asked why such happened to him, God did not fully answer him. God instead spoke of his own power and his own presence. That’s exactly what we should do.

We do not know why God does not intervene and stop some tragedies when he does stop others. What we do know, though, is that God stands against evil and violence. We know that God is present for those who are hurting. And we know that God will ultimately call all evil to a halt, in the ushering in of his kingdom. We know that God is, in the words of the hymn, both “merciful and mighty.”

When my wife and I were going through a difficult time, years ago, a friend stopped by, a respected theologian who spoke often and well of God’s sovereign providence. I expected him to speak to us of how God was working in this tragedy we were facing. He didn’t. He cried with us. He sat with us. He prayed with us. And as he left, he turned and said, “Russell, I don’t know why God permitted this to happen to you, but I know this: Jesus loves you, and Jesus is alive and present right now in your life.” I’ve never forgotten those words.

Our neighbors do not need us to provide easy answers to what is, this side of the eschaton, unexplainable. What they need, though, is a reminder for us that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be. There is a loving Presence at work in the universe. They need for us to weep and hurt with them, as Jesus did at the grave of his friend. In short, they need us to be a people of the cross, a people whose God is not distant and blank but a God who instead loved the world enough to send his Son to bear in his own body the full measure of the curse of evil. In the cross, we see evil and horror. We also see that God is there. And in the empty tomb, we see that death does not get the last word.

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Stop the Revolution. Join the Plodders.

In Perspective on October 5, 2016 by The Spillover

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Kevin DeYoung:

It’s sexy among young people—my generation—to talk about ditching institutional religion and starting a revolution of real Christ-followers living in real community without the confines of church. Besides being unbiblical, such notions of churchless Christianity are unrealistic. It’s immaturity actually, like the newly engaged couple who think romance preserves the marriage, when the couple celebrating their golden anniversary know it’s the institution of marriage that preserves the romance. Without the God-given habit of corporate worship and the God-given mandate of corporate accountability, we will not prove faithful over the long haul.

What we need are fewer revolutionaries and a few more plodding visionaries. That’s my dream for the church—a multitude of faithful, risktaking plodders. The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency.

My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without followthrough. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono—Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary. Our jobs are often mundane. Our devotional times often seem like a waste. Church services are often forgettable. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too—same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people. But in all the smallness and sameness, God works—like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, like beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph. 6:21). Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.

It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed—and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.

The church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t invite people to join an anti-religion, anti-doctrine, anti-institutional bandwagon of love, harmony, and re-integration. He showed people how to live, to be sure. But He also called them to repent, called them to faith, called them out of the world, and called them into the church. The Lord “didn’t add them to the church without saving them, and he didn’t save them without adding them to the church” (John Stott).

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If we truly love the church, we will bear with her in her failings, endure her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and hope for her final glorification. The church is the hope of the world—not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.

Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.

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When Our Sons Ask For Stones, Let’s Give Them Bread

In Perspective on June 2, 2014 by The Spillover

Jared Wilson:

In the religion news headlines this week is the story of a pastor who has decided the Bible condones homosexuality. His church, it seems, has determined to see how they might live in a tension between those who agree and disagree. Dr. Mohler has a reflective piece on the situation. It is likely not a coincidence that the pastor in question has a son who has recently come out of the closet.

I am reminded of the Christianity Today report from a few years ago that post-evangelical provocateur Brian McLaren had officiated the same-sex wedding of his sonDenny Burk had some good reflections, as did Carl Trueman.

There are some obvious “talking points” to engage in here, about the trajectory of these mind-changing pastor’s hermeneutic, slippery slopes and all that. But I am reminded again of these strong words from our Lord:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

– Mark 3:31-35

Jesus is providing a foundation and a watershed at the same time, a connecting point for his other provocative statements about letting the dead bury the dead (Luke 9:59-60), bringing division to families (Matt. 10:34-37), hating mom and dad on his account (Luke 14:26), no marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:30), and how his mom ain’t so special (Luke 11:27-28). We also get some grounding for Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:29.

Confronted with the well-meaning concerns of familial loyalty, Jesus will not take his eyes off the cross before him. He knows God is building a new family, one that is eternal, one that is centered on God as Abba and the Son of God as the good older brother, the finally worthy of the honor who in his gospel is not ashamed to call his brethren brethren (Heb. 2:11). So the warnings are strong, the wording is harsh. Jesus doesn’t hate his family. But he loves his Father and the will of his Father more. He wants to honor the will of God more than he wants to satisfy the will of his family.

This is a good word to all of us familyolaters. We take what most of us consider the most important thing in our lives and give it the weight of our worship in a way that is both dishonorable and unsustainable. And we end up living “Thus saith the family” rather than “Thus saith the Lord.” I know personally what happens when one worships his wife: he harms her. I know what happens when we make our children the center of our universe: we harm them. That is true hatred. Trading in the cross for the thin gruel of temporary satisfaction, appetites, compulsions, is the worst thing you could do to somebody. And when it comes down to seeking one’s happiness over their holiness, we aid and abet the theft of their eternal joy. This is what Danny Cortez and Brian McLaren have done.

I hope for the grace not to follow suit at a million different turning points, big and little, as my kids grow up. I know the temptation will be great.

Christ would have us focused on him, loving him above all else. And when all else, including our beloved families, asks us to betray Christ and his word in order to instead serve them, we face Abraham’s excruciating dilemma. But pledging our hearts to heaven, we will not look back to Egypt or Sodom, trusting that true mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters are those who follow Jesus and that obeying God is worth any cost, including hurting the feelings of those we love.

What I mean is, when our children ask for stones, let’s defy them and give them bread instead.

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What if your baptism had more power in it than you ever dreamed?

In Perspective,Soul Food on May 1, 2014 by The Spillover

David Mathis:

Visible words. That was the Reformers’ term for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

In complement to the spoken words of gospel preaching, these twin rhythms of the gathered church are dramatizations of the grace of God. These “visible words” rehearse for us the center of our faith through images and actions in the God-given pictures of washing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Alongside preaching, they reveal to us again and again the very heart of the gospel we profess and aim to echo. They are enacted “signs,” pointing to realities beyond themselves.

But these ordinances are not just signs, but “seals.” They confirm to us not just that God has done something salvific for mankind, but that it applies to me in particular. The gospel is not only true in general, but specifically for me. And when a Bible-believing, gospel-cherishing church applies the seal to me, it can be a great grounds of assurance that I myself am included in the rescued people of Christ.

In this way, baptism and the Lord’s Supper serve to mark us out as the church, distinct from the world, and are part of what it means for the new covenant to be a covenant — with acts of both initiation and ongoing fellowship, both inauguration and renewal.

The Sacraments As Means of Grace

And, as theologian John Frame notes, the ordinances are not just signs and seals, but serve to bring God’s presence near. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16 that the bread and the cup are “a participation” in the body and blood of Jesus. They renew and strengthen our sense of being united by faith to the risen Christ. They are not automatic, but operate through the power of the Holy Spirit by faith. Those who participate in faith, grow in grace — as we do under the preaching of God’s word — while those who engage without faith, ask for judgment (1 Corinthians 11:27–30). (Which is cause for keeping those without a credible profession of faith from participating in the sacraments.)

These practices are not, as some have taught since the Reformation, just signs, or mere symbols. Nor do they work apart from faith, as some wings of the church have maintained. Rather, the two ordinances are means of God’s grace, Christ-instituted channels of God’s power, delivered by God’s Spirit, dependent on Christian faith in the participants, given in the corporate context of the gathered church.

For many, the Lord’s Supper is more manifestly an ongoing means of grace, but what about baptism?

Grace in the Water

Baptism marks new-covenant initiation. It is applied just once, to a believer deemed by a local congregation to have a credible profession of faith, as entrance into the fellowship of the visible church. The gospel drama experienced, and on display, in baptism corresponds to the graces of conversion in the Christian life in first embracing the gospel — initial cleansing from sin, repentance, new life, and union with Christ (Romans 6:3–5).

Baptism is not only obedience to Christ’s command, and a living testimony of the candidate’s faith in Jesus to all witnesses, but it also serves as a means of joy to the one being baptized. Not only is it a valuable confirmation from the visible church that we are born again, but it’s a unique, one-time experience of the grace of the gospel dramatized for the one in the waters, as we’re symbolically buried with Jesus in death and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Improve Your Baptism

But baptism isn’t only a means of grace to the one-time candidate, but also to all believers looking on with faith. This is important to the Christian, but something we often miss. The Westminster Larger Catechism calls it “improving our baptism.” This dense statement rewards a slow reading:

The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.

That’s one long, complicated sentence, but the short of it is this: Baptism is not only a blessing to us on that one memorable occasion when we were the new believer in the waters. It also is a rehearsing of the gospel for the observer and a means of grace throughout our Christian lives as we watch, with faith, the baptisms of others and renew in our minds the riches of the reality of our identity in Christ pictured in our baptism (Romans 6:3–4Galatians 3:27Colossians 2:12). Wayne Grudem writes,

Where there is genuine faith on the part of the person being baptized, and where the faith of the church that watches the baptism is stirred up and encouraged by this ceremony, then the Holy Spirit certainly does work through baptism, and it becomes a “means of grace” through which the Holy Spirit brings blessing to the person being baptized and to the church as well. (Systematic Theology, 954)

Watch in Faith, Wash Your Soul

So, next time your church stirs the waters, don’t twiddle your thumbs waiting out this inconvenience for the singing and preaching that follow. You need not be re-baptized to experience again the grace of this drama.

Rather, with the eyes of faith, see the gospel on display in the waters. See the preaching of Christ’s sacrifice pictured for you, and hear the music of your own new life in the burying of the believer and their resurrection in Jesus. Keep your eye on the waters, and the witness. Watch in faith, and wash your soul again in the good news of being joined to Jesus.

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A Dad Who Sings

In Perspective on April 30, 2014 by The Spillover

Trevin Wax:

The conversation began after my nine-year-old son and I had loaded our bikes into the van and were heading home after an invigorating ride on the trail that runs along Stones River. Spring was finally asserting its dominance over the lingering chill of winter, pushing the temperature up into the 60′s and inviting the trees to sprout their blossoms.

We had the windows down, the sun roof open, and the music turned up. I was singing along, oblivious to the mounting embarrassment of the person occupying the passenger seat. Until…

Timothy looks over at me with an expression that reminds me of the tiny thread separating him from childhood and the tween years, and says, “You know how it’s always weird when you see other people playing music really loud with their windows down? Well, that’s what we look like right now.”

Oh, the humanity!

At least we were in this together.

~~~~~

That little conversation got me thinking: Am I going to be a Dad who sings? 

As a kid, I spent a half hour or so every morning in the van with Dad and my younger siblings heading to school. Some of my musical preferences today hark back to the soundtrack of our morning commute. From the guitar-driven jazz of Acoustic Alchemy to the vocal talents of Harry Connick, Jr… Mom and Dad’s music was the backdrop for my childhood memories. The Eagles, Chicago, The Carpenters, and Billy Joel all made appearances – at various times and in varying degrees.

Looking back now, however, I see that the biggest impression on me was my dad’s stack of Hosanna Praise Worship tapes and CD’s that gave voice to his worshipful heart. Worship leaders and composers like Ron Kenoly, Marty Nystrom, Don Moen, and Randy Rothwell headlined these albums. Most of the music was recorded live, with an enthusiastic crowd applauding and singing along.

No, you won’t find too many of these songs in churches today. I can’t remember but a handful of the titles. A few were exceptional and well-crafted; most were not. But the passion of the performances was infectious.

And the one thing that stands out to me is this: Dad sang.

We certainly weren’t a charismatic family. We weren’t the type to raise our hands in church. We didn’t dance in the aisles.

But I never remember a time I sat with my parents in church that they did not sing. Not once.

Outside the church, Dad sang too. In the van, he may not have lifted his hands off the steering wheel, but he lifted the roof with his praises. He wasn’t a soloist or a choir member, but he was a worshiper.

Dad didn’t see himself as being “above” praising the Lord. He didn’t see praise and worship as something unmanly. In fact, I remember how many of those songs celebrated the power of Jesus Christ over the principalities and powers of this world. The impression the songs left on me was that Jesus had achieved an important victory, and He was worth singing about and cheering for. Jesus was the Conqueror, so praise the victorious Lamb!

Dad never had to tell me I should sing along. Much of what I learned wasn’t verbal instruction. I knew Jesus was good and powerful, not just because the Bible told me so, but because Dad sang about it so much. The impact wasn’t in him telling me that Jesus was everything; it was him singing it. For that example of faithfulness, I am, as one of those old songs said, “forever grateful.”

~~~~~

Today, the roles have changed. I’m the dad in the van, and our kids are learning the songs we love. The artists and composers have changed. The songwriters and singers are different. The musical styles have progressed.

But one thing I hope will stay the same: I want to be a dad who sings.

So, dads and moms, let’s not underestimate the power of our worship when our kids are looking on. For it’s not just what we say that counts. Sometimes, it’s what we sing.

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God Working in You, and You Working to Follow God

In Perspective on April 25, 2014 by The Spillover

Randy Alcorn:

Scripture says of believers, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3). So what do we need to live righteously that He has not given us in Christ? Nothing.

The source of strength we call upon is not merely our own, which is insufficient, but God’s, which is infinitely powerful. God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). You bring the weakness, He brings the power.

Does any of this imply that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to live the Christian life? Of course not. But notice the intertwining of effort in this partnership with God—“To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:29). We must make every effort to be righteous, to obey Him, to avoid sinful thoughts and actions. Yet all the while we must do this appealing to His strength, not our own.

One caution is important here. Some people approach the concept of “allowing God to work through me” as if it were some passive condition whereby God invades you and takes over, automatically causing you to live righteously, bypassing your own will. Not true. The spiritual life is warfare. To win the fight you must take on the armor of God and wield the sword of God’s Word, which requires diligence and hard work (Eph. 6:10-18). As J. I. Packer says in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit, “The Christian’s motto should not be ‘Let go and let God’ but ‘Trust God and get going!’”

There is no contradiction between God working in you and you working to follow God. This is the nature of the spiritual partnership He establishes with us. He works, and so must we. If you pray that God will keep your thoughts sexually pure, then turn around and look at pornography, you act in contradiction to your prayer, showing it to be only words. You must demonstrate that you are serious about your prayer by taking all the steps to avoid sexual immorality of the mind and body. In other words, it matters what you do.

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Fighting the Unholy Trinity

In Perspective on April 3, 2014 by The Spillover

J.C. Ryle:

The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. These are their never-dying foes. These are the three chief enemies against whom the Christian must wage war. Unless they get the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. If they had a nature like an angel, and were not a fallen creature, the warfare would not be so essential. But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil, and an ensnaring world, the Christian must either fight or be lost.

The Christian must fight the flesh. Even after conversion they carry within them a nature prone to evil, and a heart weak and unstable as water. To keep that heart from going astray, there is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. “I discipline my body,” cries Paul, “and bring it under subjection.” “I see a law in my members at war against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.” “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” “Mortify your members which are upon the earth” (1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:23, 24; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5).

The Christian must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things, the fear of the world’s laughter or blame, the secret desire to keep in with the world, the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on their way to heaven, and must be conquered. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God: whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “Whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world.” “Be not conformed to this world” (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15; 1 John 5:4; Rom. 12:2).

The Christian must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve he has been going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it, and striving to compass one great end—the ruin of a person’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping, he is always going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour. An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways. A murderer and a liar from the beginning, he labors night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. “Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But “this kind does not come out” except by watching and praying, and putting on the whole armor of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle. (Job 1:7; 1 Peter 5:8; John 8:44; Luke 22:31; Eph. 4:11).

Reader, perhaps you think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far, and laying on the colors too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself, that men and women may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Remember the maxim of the wisest general that ever lived in England: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.” This Christian warfare is no light matter.

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Three Tips on Being a Friend of Sinners

In Perspective on March 28, 2014 by The Spillover

Jonathan Parnell:

Jesus was accused of being a friend of sinners. That was the word on the street in first-century Palestine.

The precise phrase — “friend of sinners” — is mentioned twice in the Gospels, inMatthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34. The naysayers of the day, the religious aristocracy, criticized Jesus as a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

They called him this because it was true. He was a friend of sinners. Jesus himself said that he didn’t come for the spiritually healthy, but for the sick. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).

Just like he greeted children that others thought were a nuisance, he welcomed sinners that others didn’t (Matthew 19:14Luke 7:37–39). He looked at them, as Mark says he did with the rich young man, and he loved them (Mark 10:21). He had compassion on them. And most glorious of all, he wielded his authority to speak those wondrous words, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48).

This is all very important for us because, as some have noted recently, we Christians pattern our lives after Jesus’s example. He has, after all, sent us into the world in the same Spirit of his own mission (John 20:21–22).

If Jesus was a friend of sinners, we should be too, it seems — somehow, someway. And instantly, this discussion can drift into a much bigger one about Christians and culture and all that. But instead of going there, let’s just talk friendship for a minute. Friendship, which is not without its implications, is more practical and relevant than a primer on the church’s posture in society. So in that light, here are three tips on being a friend of sinners.

1. Be okay with marginal.

In the example of Jesus, we need to be all right with marginal all the way around. Be okay with associating with the marginal, the poor, the destitute — those often overlooked in society (Luke 7:22). Go there. Be with this people. Serve them. Learn from them. And be okay with being thought marginal yourself (Matthew 19:6–9), or non-progressive or backwater or against sexual modernity — whatever they are saying these days about the Christian conscience. The truth is that many of our neighbors, especially in urban contexts, will think we’re weird. Or stupid. Or close-minded. Or judgmental. Or just simply out of touch with the new post-Christian world.

Popular opinion will continue to cast Christian ethics as outdated and antithetical to the development of the American self. We’ll often find ourselves, in the coffee shop, on the light-rail, at the theater, to be the only ones there who don’t think same-sex “marriage” is the coolest thing since sliced bread. The number of those who share our convictions, or are open to listening, may continue to dwindle. And, really, this is fine. It’s okay. Our calling doesn’t live or die by societal acceptance.

2. Aim to love, not be liked.

We must nail this down. The aim of our charge is love, not popularity (1 Timothy 1:5). Jesus constantly infuriated the popular ideals of his day. They knew his teaching contradicted their own, and rather than like him and wrap their arms around him in happy tolerance, they tried to shut him up (Mark 12:12). “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25).

Jesus wasn’t a fan favorite. They crucified him, remember? The leaders and the people. Not to mention that alongside Jesus’s reputation for shady associations was the utter absence of popularity baiting. “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances . . .” (Mark 12:14). This means Jesus didn’t let the crowd’s facial expressions dictate his message. Or pageviews. Or book sales.

In a sense, there is a holy disregard for what outsiders think, but that’s not the whole story. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul lays out that one of the qualifications to be an elder is that “he must be well thought of by outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7). As David Mathis writes, we care what others think because God cares. Ultimately, “we want outsiders to become insiders.” Jesus came to serve, not be served (Mark 10:45), and the same goes for us. We are in this world to serve, not be pampered. To love, not be applauded. To bless, not be notarized. So we should care about our reputation — to serve and love and bless — but that doesn’t mean trying so hard to be liked by everybody. Having a respectable reputation is one thing, trying to get everyone to throw their arm around us is another.

3. Put the gospel to work.

This means, first and foremost, that the most important thing we could ever say is that Jesus is Lord. He is the risen King of the universe, alive now and reigning in his mercy and love, commanding all people everywhere to repent and come home. This is amazingly good news, and it is controversial. If we believe this, and say it, some sinners won’t want to be our friends. Nevertheless, the news is still good. The truth is still compelling. Its beauty is never diminished.

A few of the most practical ways we might put the gospel to work as friends of sinners is captured by Tim Keller in Center Church. Leaning on Simon Gathercole’s outline of the gospel as Jesus’s incarnation, substitution, and resurrection, Keller considers three aspects in which the gospel impacts our lives. He calls it the “upside-down” aspect, the “inside-out” aspect, and the “forward-back” aspect — each of which are opposite the world’s way of thinking (46–48). Upside-down is rooted in the most glorious, humble event in history. God became a man. He suffered. He died. Our message and lives are marked by this relentless posture of servanthood. Inside-out gets at the great work Jesus did by taking our place on the cross. He died for us, sinners as we were, and was raised for us by sheer mercy — to bring us to God and accept us not based upon our works, but solely by his grace. This electing grace has no preconditions. It’s lavished on the worst of sinners and tidiest of Pharisees, giving us all the eyes of faith. Then the forward-back, the kingdom Jesus inaugurated by his victory over the grave, reminds us that we are destined for another world, a better one. Heaven will be on earth, but not yet. The world will be made completely new, but now we’re still working and waiting, loving the lost, telling God’s story.

When these truths touch our lives and are put to work in our relationships, we’ll be walking in the steps of our Savior. When this world-shaking wonder orders the way we, sinners saved by grace, think about those around us, sinners in need of grace, then, and only then, we’ll make for good friends. Then we’ll be good friends of sinners, like the true and better “friend of sinners.”

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The Never-Forsaking God

In Perspective on March 17, 2014 by The Spillover

Oswald Chambers:

He Himself has said, ’I will never leave you nor forsake you’ —Hebrews 13:5

What line of thinking do my thoughts take? Do I turn to what God says or to my own fears? Am I simply repeating what God says, or am I learning to truly hear Him and then to respond after I have heard what He says? “For He Himself has said, ’I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ’The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ ” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

“I will never leave you . . .”— not for any reason; not my sin, selfishness, stubbornness, nor waywardness. Have I really let God say to me that He will never leave me? If I have not truly heard this assurance of God, then let me listen again.

“I will never . . . forsake you.” Sometimes it is not the difficulty of life but the drudgery of it that makes me think God will forsake me. When there is no major difficulty to overcome, no vision from God, nothing wonderful or beautiful— just the everyday activities of life— do I hear God’s assurance even in these?

We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing— that He is preparing and equipping us for some extraordinary work in the future. But as we grow in His grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, at this very moment. If we have God’s assurance behind us, the most amazing strength becomes ours, and we learn to sing, glorifying Him even in the ordinary days and ways of life.

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The Beauty and War of True Fellowship

In Calvary Baptist Church,Perspective on March 12, 2014 by The Spillover

David Mathis:

It’s a shame the word “fellowship” has fallen on hard times in some circles, and is dying the death of domestication and triviality. It is an electric reality in the New Testament, an indispensable ingredient in the Christian faith, and one of God’s chief means of grace in our lives.

The koinonia — the commonality, partnership, fellowship — which the first Christians shared wasn’t a common love for pizza, pop, and a nice clean evening of fun among the fellow churchified. It was their common Christ, and their common life-or-death mission together in his summons to take the faith worldwide in the face of impending persecution.

Rightly did Tolkien call his nine a “Fellowship of the Ring.” This is no chummy hobnob with apps and drinks and a game on the tube. It is an all-in, life-or-death collective venture in the face of great evil and overwhelming opposition. True fellowship is less like friends gathered to watch the Super Bowl, and more like players on the field in blood, sweat, and tears, huddled in the backfield only in preparation for the next down. True fellowship is more the invading troops side by side on the beach at Normandy, than it is the gleeful revelers in the street on V.E. Day.

Partnership for the Gospel

Not only did the first Christians devote themselves to the word (the apostles’ teaching, Acts 2:42), and to prayer (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42), but also to “fellowship” (Acts 2:42). First, their fellowship was in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9), and in his Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). They had become fellow heirs (Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6), Jew and Gentile now were fellow citizens (Ephesians 2:19), and soon they shared “all things in common” (Acts 2:44; 4:32). From top to bottom, the gospel creates community like no other.

But this fellowship is no isolated commune or static, mutual-admiration society. It is a “partnership for the gospel” (Philippians 1:5), among those giving their everything to “advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12), knit together for “progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:25). It is the fellowship in which, as Paul says to the Philippians, “you are all partakers with me of grace . . . in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7).

In such a partnership as this, we need not worry too much that we will forget the lost and sequester the gospel. Real fellowship will do precisely the opposite. The same Jesus who joins us commissions us. The medium of our relationship is the message of salvation. When the fellowship is true, the depth of love for each other is not a symptom of in-growth, but the final apologetic: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The Twin Texts of Fellowship

But true fellowship not only labors to win the lost, but serves to keep the saints saved. The relational iceberg, lying just beneath the surface of the Scriptures, is especially close to sea level in Hebrews. Here rise the twin texts of Christian fellowship, stationed as guardians of the heart of the epistle, lest we try to access grace as isolated individuals. First, the better known is Hebrews 10:24–25:

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The remarkable thing is not the summons to keep meeting together, but the instruction that when you do, look past your own nose to the needs of others. There’s no “how” in the original language. A literal translation is, “Consider each other for love and good deeds.” Know each other. Get close. Stay close. Go deep. Andconsider particular persons, and interact with them, such that you exhort and inspire them to love and good deeds specifically fitting to their mix.

Here we taste how potent, and personal, is fellowship as a means of grace. As partners under God’s word, and in prayer, a brother who knows me as me, and not generic humanity, speaks the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) into my life, and gives me a word “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Be the Means for Your Brother

The twin, then, is Hebrews 3:12–13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Here the charge lands not on the drifting saint to get himself back on the path, but on the others in the community — to have enough proximity to him, awareness of him, and regularity with him to spot the drift and war for him against the sin. This means of grace, then, in such a circumstance, has a unique function in the Christian life. It is not laid on the spiritually weak to muster their will and do the discipline, but for the body to take up discipline on behalf of the wanderer, to mediate grace to the struggler, to preempt apostasy by putting words into his open ear hole and praying for the Spirit to make them live.

The Glorious Backstop of Grace

Fellowship may be the often forgotten middle child of the spiritual disciplines, but she may save your life in the dark night of your soul. As you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, and the Shepherd comforts you with his staff, you will discover that he has fashioned his people to act as his rod of rescue. When the desire has dried up to avail yourself of hearing his voice (the word), and when your spiritual energy is gone to speak into his ear (prayer), he sends his body to bring you back. It’s typically not the wanderer’s own efforts that prompt his return to the fold, but his brothers’ (James 5:19–20), being to him a priceless means of God’s grace — the invaluable backstop.

It is not only God’s word and prayer that are the means of his ongoing grace, but true fellowship among those who have in common the one who is Grace incarnate (Titus 2:11). The grace of God cannot be quarantined to individuals. The healthy Christian, introverted or not, of whatever temperament, in whatever season, seeks not to minimize relationships with his fellows in Christ, but maximize them.

God has given us each other in the church, not just for company and co-belligerency, not just to chase away loneliness and lethargy, but to be to each other an indispensable means of his divine favor. We are for each other an essential element of the good work God has begun in us and promises to bring to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Such is the true fellowship.

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You’re Going to Die (and So Might Your Dreams)

In Perspective on March 5, 2014 by The Spillover

Jared Wilson:

. . . for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
– Genesis 3:19

One of the problems I have with all the “chase your dreams!” cheerleading from Christian leaders is not because I begrudge anyone wanting to achieve their dreams, but because I don’t think we readily see how easy it is to conflate our dream-chasing with God’s will in Christ.

You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open a window but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?

Are we pursuing our own greatness or the expansion of worship of Jesus Christ? They aren’t necessarily incompatible, but God is more interested in the latter than the former. And ultimately, if we prioritize Christ’s glory, we won’t really care in the long run how noticed, renowned, recognized, or “successful” we are personally. We’ll realize that our lives aren’t really about us anyway.

Sometimes we have to let our dreams die.
And that’s okay. We will be okay.

Look, “for those who love God, all things work together for the good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). So God’s plan might be for your littleness, and that’s okay, because his plan is not for his own littleness! His plan for your efforts, big and small, is that they will maximize the glory due his Son. That he might draw all men to himself. That he might fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory – as Habakkuk 2:14 says – as much as the waters cover the seas.

One day, you are going to die. Perhaps today. What will they say about you? What legacy are you truly leaving? When the funeral is over and all the accolades about you are used up, your body will become dust.

In Al Mohler’s book The Conviction to Lead he writes of

. . . an old preacher [who] told a group of younger preachers to remember that they would die. “They are going to put you in a box,” he said, “and put the box in the ground, and throw dirt on your face, and then go back to the church and eat potato salad.”

Here’s the point: As great as you can make yourself, as many wonderful things as you can accomplish in your lifetime — even religious things — it will all be a blip on the radar of eternity. You will become dust. The worms will eat you. Statistically speaking, since most of us will never accomplish such great things that history will laud throughout the ages, memory of us will start fading with our grandchildren. Our great grandchildren will (likely) not have any clue who we are.

But!
If you are bringing glory to Christ, not a thing about you is wasted, because the mission of the Spirit of God is to maximize the glory of Christ over all the universe. So that even at the end of days, as Revelation shows us, all the glorious kings of the nations in all their renown and splendor, file in one by one into the holy city to throw their crowns at the feet of Jesus. Revelation 21 reveals that the light of the new heavens and new earth comes not from the “sun” but from the “Son,” and the kings of the nations will bring their glory into it.

There is the vision of greatness the redeemed of the Lord ought to aspire to. That he would increase and we would decrease. That our decrease would serve his increase!

And those who are willing to lose their lives — whatever that might mean — for Christ’s sake, will find them.

And from dust you will return.

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Where Preferences Go to Die

In Calvary Baptist Church,Perspective on March 4, 2014 by The Spillover

Trillia Newbell:

I love my church. Without question it’s a community unified in worshiping the Father, ministering to our surrounding environment, and encouraging one another to deepen our faith. In some ways, though, I’m nothing like this body of believers. I look different. I have a different cultural background. There certainly are churches I could run to where everyone looks like me. That might be easier. Or I could find a church that sings and worships the way I prefer to—or one with a preacher who addresses his congregation in my favorite style.

But ultimately, I know all those preferential things are just that: preferences. If a church doesn’t teach sound doctrine, after all, none of those preferences matters, since my soul could be at risk. I want to be in a place where I know I’ll be fed the solid Word of God. This promise keeps me returning each Sunday morning; I need to be reminded that my greatest need is the good news, and that Jesus’ redeeming love and resurrection is for today—for me today.

Of course, I might be able to find a local church where everyone looks like me, where each aspect of the worship service is exactly how I’d desire, and where sound teaching is proclaimed. But is that really what I need most? How can we fulfill the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations if we all only seek churches that make us feel completely comfortable? Does God call us to have every felt need fulfilled?

Jesus sacrificed comfort for us. The God-man lowered himself into the womb of a virgin. The ruler of heaven and earth could have easily put an end to his sufferings, just as he put an end to the sufferings of those around him, but he didn’t. To the point of death, he didn’t. He sacrificed all comfort on our behalf.

To be clear, I’m not comparing my minor inconveniences to the deep sorrows Jesus experienced. But I do long to emulate his loyalty to and fellowship with his Father. He was devoted to his call because, ultimately, he was devoted to his Father. He set his eyes on Calvary for the church.

Though I’m not perfectly comfortable at all times, my soul is fed and my life is enriched through my predominantly white church. Jesus’ example is compelling because it helps me remember my calling—to love my neighbor as myself and to love my God with all my heart. I’m not meant to do this alone or to retreat into a comfortable place. God wants me to be with his body.

The churches I’ve attended haven’t been perfect. We’ve had our fair share of problems. Yet when I experienced the tragedy and pain of miscarriages, church members were there encouraging my faith. When my first baby was born, they were there with food and sweet advice. When I started writing more frequently, they were there with Starbucks gift cards. They have loved and served me well. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for them. The love of Christ compels me. The love of Christ compels them.

Members of a church community aren’t always going to get along. It’s probably safe to assume you’ve experienced this disagreement in some form. As we live real life together, conflict is inevitable. I’ve experienced this difficulty in past churches. But though we didn’t always agree, the gospel always prevailed. I share this example only to stress that while God has used the church to mold and grow me, it hasn’t always been easy. I don’t want to give the impression that because I’ve had great friendships and solid teaching, I’ve always been content. I haven’t always rejoiced in God’s goodness in and over the differences. As a matter of fact, such differences have periodically challenged me to evaluate my priorities. And staying has been worth it every time.

I’m convinced many of our problems with the church result from running away from difficult or uncomfortable situations rather than persevering through them. Since we don’t enjoy facing our fears or finding ourselves in challenging circumstances, the thought of escape brings great comfort.

Why attend a church that doesn’t meet all of your felt needs? Because “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). I go to church because God loves the church, and I want to love what God loves. God loves the church universal, and he loves the church local. He loves the megachurch, and he loves the little church that meets in a school. And he loves the church because it’s composed of people—his people. On the cross, the Lord Jesus bore wrath of his Father to establish his blood-bought church (Matt. 16:18). And you and I get to be a part.

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The Secret Will of God

In Perspective,Soul Food on February 25, 2014 by The Spillover

Paul Tripp:

When you think about the will of God, what do you think? If you had to define the phrase – the will of God – what would you write?

I’m deeply persuaded that there are many Christians living in fear, anxiety, and confusion because they don’t know what the will of God is for their life. Are you one of them? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you constantly searching for “hints” or “clues” about what God is doing?
  • Are you worried that you’re not at the exact place where God wants you?
  • Do you find it hard to make decisions because you’re not sure of God’s will?
  • Do you struggle to rest with the decisions you’ve made because you think you might have made a mistake?

I think many Christians make the mistake of acting on what they can never be sure of rather than relying on what they can know for sure. In other words, Christians confuse God’s secret will with his revealed will.

By no means is this Article encouraging you to stop praying or seeking after God – the Bible says on countless occasions to seek after him. But I’m afraid that we sometimes seek in the wrong places. Rather than resting within the clear limits of what God has made known to us, we search in the foggy, unrevealed, secret parts of God’s will and end up lost, confused, discouraged, and anxious.

The reason why theologians call God’s secret will a secret is precisely because it’s kept secret from us! God’s sovereign plan for the universe hasn’t been revealed to us. Yet God hasn’t left us without guidance – he has given us his Word.

The Apostle Paul reminded Timothy of what a helpful book the Bible is. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Bible is profitable for correcting – it gives us the steps of change we need to follow where God wants us to be. And the Bible is useful for training – it tells us all the skills we need to acquire to live life God’s way. God has revealed many things to us through his Word – just the right amount – and if we live by his revealed will, we can live at peace not knowing his secret will.

Let me give you an example from my own life. Years ago, we were living in Scranton, Pennsylvania. I was the pastor of a small church there, and out of the blue, I was offered an opportunity to move to Philadelphia to a new and exciting ministry.

Immediately, Luella and I started thinking about the will of God. How could we not? I wondered to myself, “How would I ever know that it was God’s will for me to leave this church and this ministry and move to Philadelphia?”

Let’s be honest: for a life-altering decision, you want surety. I wanted to be absolutely convinced of what God wanted me to do. But Luella and I decided that it wasn’t our job to figure out all the signs and to guide ourselves. We decided that we needed to do what God has revealed to us in his Word.

In the Bible, God says that we’re not supposed to live independent lives. We live in community with other people – the church – and each part of the Body contributes to each part, and we grow and mature as all the parts contribute (Eph. 4:13-16). So Luella and I decided to be open about talking to people about the offer that had been made.

We invited people to speak into our lives about what they thought we should do. And an amazing thing happened – as we obeyed God’s revealed will, the Lord began to guide us, and over a period of time, the people of our little congregation confirmed in many ways that we should be pursuing this new ministry opportunity.

I understand that life is confusing and big decisions are hard to make in confidence. I was there many years ago in Scranton, afraid of making a mistake that wasn’t part of God’s will. But I was reminded that I didn’t have to read the signs or search in the sky. God had given me his revealed will in his Word.

Rest in knowing that as you willingly obey God, God will lovingly guide you.

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Eleventh-hour Breakthroughs

In Perspective,Soul Food on February 17, 2014 by The Spillover

John Piper:

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

One of the greatest hope-killers is that you have tried for so long to change and have not succeeded.

You look back and think: What’s the use? Even if I could experience a breakthrough, there would be so little time left to live in my new way that it wouldn’t make much difference compared to so many decades of failure.

The former robber (the thief on the cross next to Jesus) lived for another hour or so before he died. He was changed. He lived on the cross as a new man with new attitudes and actions (no more reviling). But 99.99% of his life was wasted. Did the last couple hours of newness matter?

They mattered infinitely. This former robber, like all of us, will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of his life. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). How will his life witness in that day to his new birth and his union with Christ?

The last hours will tell the story. This man was new. His faith was real. He is truly united to Christ. Christ’s righteousness is his. His sins are forgiven.

That is what the final hours will proclaim at the last judgment. His change mattered. It was, and it will be, a beautiful testimony to the power of God’s grace and the reality of his faith and his union with Christ.

Now back to our struggle with change. I am not saying that struggling believers are unsaved like the robber was. I am simply saying that the last years and the last hours of life matter.

If in the last 1% of our lives, we can get a victory over some longstanding sinful habit or hurtful defect in our personality, it will be a beautiful testimony now to the power of grace; and it will be an added witness (not the only one) at the last judgment of our faith in Christ and our union with him.

Take heart, struggler. Keep asking, seeking, knocking. Keep looking to Christ. If God gets glory by saving robbers in the eleventh hour, he surely has his purposes why he has waited till now to give you the breakthrough you have sought for decades.

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What’s Your Gospel Response Plan?

In Perspective on February 6, 2014 by The Spillover

Tim Brister:

Growing up in North Alabama, I remember going through specific routines in the event of an emergency. I doubt there was a kid who did not know why or when you need to stop, drop, and roll. We were trained in protocols in the event of a tornado, calmly lining up in the hallway and securing our heads from potential debris. We knew how to exit the buildings in case of a fire in a single-file line to safe zones outside. All of these procedures were responses to various kinds of potential disasters we could encounter while in school.

Now what, do you think, are the possibilities that I as a kid in elementary school would actually need to follow through on those drills? How often would a tornado tear through our building? How often would a fire consume the classrooms? Hardly ever, it at all, right? But we were still trained in how to respond in the very unlikely event that they might occur.

What if I told you that on a daily basis you are going to be faced with potential crises or disasters that required a response from you? What if it was not a distant potentiality but an eminent reality? How would you prepare yourself for such situations? Would you be trained to know how to respond?

Let me break this down and make the case why every follower of Jesus must have a gospel response plan (GRP).

  • Have you ever been hurt by someone else?
  • Have you ever been criticized?
  • Have you ever been offended?
  • Has someone ever sinned against you?
  • Have you sinned against someone else?
  • Has your day ever taken one unexpected turn after another?
  • Have other people let you down or betrayed your trust?
  • Have you faced days of disappointment and despair?
  • Have you experienced frustration and anger at the failure of others or yourself?

These are just a few questions addressing realities you and I face on a daily basis, and with every question/situation, a response will manifest from your life. But what kind of response will it be? We have a choice to respond out of our sinful nature (Gen. 3) or out of our new identity in Christ. Will our response be driven by guilt and shame, hiding and pretending, blaming and fearing like Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? Or will our response arise from repentance and faith out of a heart resting in God’s acceptance of you in Christ?

You are a sinner living among sinners. You are a desperately needy person rubbing shoulders with desperately needy people. What weak, needy sinners need in every moment is to look to a strong, sufficient Savior. That’s what we do when we respond to the gospel–we turn from looking to ourselves (whether out of self-pity or self-righteousness) in repentance and we look to Christ in renewed faith and trust.

The problem we have today, I fear, is that most Christians do not have a developed gospel response plan and, therefore, there is no functional repentance and faith response when things happen (internally or externally) in their lives. The default, then, is to look somewhere other than Jesus in our response. And this, I find, is a massive discipleship breakdown for believers.

Someone is going to sin against you. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you pursue reconciliation through forgiveness and view that person through the lens of grace? Or will you come across self-righteous and force that person to make atonement for their sin by working their way back into a right relationship with you based on their efforts?

You are going to sin against someone else. Will you handle that situation with a response that honors the gospel? Will you make excuses for your sin? Rationalize it? Blame others for it? Or will you own it, humbly confessing it to God and those whom you sinned against, seeking forgiveness? Will you hide away playing the victim card in self-pity, sulking in your failure, or will you take your sin to the throne of grace to your merciful High Priest?

Paul said, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in him…” (Col. 2:6). You receive Jesus by repentance and faith, and you walk in that same repentance and faith. That is to say, this is how we “learn Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “put on our new self” (i.e., our new identity in Christ). I think the most practically and helpful tool that Christians have today is to be trained to know how to respond to various situations they will encounter in a way that commends the gospel and flows out of a heart fully resting and secure in Jesus. We are not talking about potential dangers here. We’re talking about actual, real-life situations happening every day where Christians will either act out the old man of Genesis 3 or the new man being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Think back in your life where sin has impacted your relationship with God and others. Are there people that are no longer in your life because of the functional absence of a gospel-driven response? Sadly, I can say that is true for me, and I suspect that if we are cognizant enough, nearly everyone would consent to that reality. But we don’t have to continue that way!

So what is your Gospel Response Plan?

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?

Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills”. Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide an opportunity for you to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).

Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ. And this is one of countless other ways we need to “learn Christ” and “put on the new self” with a strategy to approach whatever comes our way to walk in repentance and faith and show the transforming power of Christ’s abundant grace actively working in our lives.

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Five Ways Affliction Helps

In Perspective on February 4, 2014 by The Spillover

John Piper:

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. (Psalm 119:67)

This verse shows that God sends affliction to help us learn his word. We should ask how affliction helps us understand God’s word and keep it.

There are innumerable answers, as there are innumerable experiences. But here are five:

  1. Affliction takes the glibness of life away and makes us more serious so that our mindset is more in tune with the seriousness of God’s word.
  2. Affliction knocks worldly props from under us and forces us to rely more on God, which brings us more in tune with the aim of the word.
  3. Affliction makes us search the Scriptures with greater desperation for help, rather than treating it as marginal to life.
  4. Affliction brings us into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings so that we fellowship more closely with him and see the world more readily through his eyes.
  5. Affliction mortifies deceitful and distracting fleshly desires, and so brings us into a more spiritual frame which fits God’s word more.

May the Holy Spirit give us grace to not begrudge the pedagogy of God.

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Fully Pleasing to Him

In Perspective on January 24, 2014 by The Spillover

Ray Ortlund:

“. . . so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”  Colossians 1:10

We should not be afraid of this clear biblical teaching.  It does not counteract the gospel in our lives; it is the sweet fruit of the gospel in our lives.

The good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is thrilling.  The message of forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, all by radical divine grace — I never get tired of hearing it and preaching it.  It is oxygen to me.  Every day.  I hope it means that to you too.

But this grace is also a power that transforms.  It both reassures us and changes us.  Both/and.  How else can we account for the New Testament?

“Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Ephesians 5:10

“We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”  1 Thessalonians 4:1

“Whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”  1 John 3:22

This is not legalism.  The One whose mercy flows freely to the undeserving is not a machine.  He is not a mechanical Grace Dispenser.  He is a person.  His smile is not an all-approving grin.  He has moral sensitivities.  We please him, and we displease him, moment by moment.  Within the gospel framework of his grace, inside the relationship of his fatherly acceptance, he is fully capable of confronting us.  Not rejecting us, not casting us off, but correcting us.  Because he’s a good Father.

I’ll take it further.  The One who is for us (Romans 8:31) can also bluntly say, “I have something against you” (Revelation 2:41420).  The One who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is also quite capable of saying to us, “We need to have a serious talk.  It’s time for you to make some changes.  If you will listen and follow, I will continue to use you.  If you turn away, I will set you aside.”  All he takes from us is “what is dishonorable” (2 Timothy 2:21) anyway – the things in ourselves we can’t approve of either.  What’s so bad about that?

But here is what I’m wondering.  Is the only message we’ll hear and receive the word of justification and acceptance and affirmation?  What if our Savior wants to get up in our faces about things in us that displease him?  Will we dismiss that message as legalism?  Wecan turn it into legalism.  If we respond to the rebukes of Scripture as occasions for self-invented virtue, discounting the finished work of Christ on the cross, then it is legalism.  But that is not what the Bible is saying.  The Bible is alerting us to the heart of our Father, a heart that is wounded by our sins and follies, a heart that is pleased with our humility and obedience.  He feels the one, he feels the other.  This is part of the New Covenant message to God’s blood-bought people.  Will we receive it?

I remember my dad mentioning a close friend of his who was in spiritual trouble.  My dad said something like, “I wonder if he has so offended the Lord that the Lord has turned his face away.”  Only God knows what was really going on in that man’s experience.  But my dad’s intuition may well have been right.  Our Judge who justifies us is also our Father who disciplines us (Hebrews 12:3-11).

If your theology includes the message of justification by faith alone, I hope you will never back off from that.  I hope you will keep that message central.  But I also hope your theology includes another message – the grace of obedience fully pleasing to the Father.

So much is at stake in what we preach and how we live.

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How to Serve a Bad Boss

In Perspective,Work on January 23, 2014 by The Spillover

John Piper:

Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Ephesians 6:7–8)

Consider these five things from Ephesians 6:7–8 in connection to your job.

1) A call to radically Lord-centered living.

It is astonishing compared to the way we usually live. Paul says that all our work should be done as work for Christ, not for any human supervisor. “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.”

This means that we will think of the Lord in what we are doing at work. We will ask, Why would the Lord like this done? How would the Lord like this done? When would the Lord like this done? Will the Lord help me do this? What affect will this have for the Lord’s honor? In other words, being a Christian means radically Lord-centered living.

2) A call to be a good person.

Lord-centered living means being a good person and doing good things. Paul says, “With good will render service . . . whatever good thing each one does . . .” Jesus said that when we let our light shine, men will see our “good deeds” and give glory to our Father in heaven.

3) Power to do a good job for inconsiderate earthly employers.

Paul’s aim is to empower Christians with Lord-centered motives to go on doing good for supervisors who are not considerate. How do you keep on doing good in a job when your boss ignores you or even criticizes you? Paul’s answer is: stop thinking about your boss as your main supervisor, and start working for the Lord. Do this in the very duties given to you by your earthly supervisor.

4) Encouragement that nothing good is done in vain.

Perhaps the most amazing sentence of all is this: “Whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” This is amazing. Everything. Every little thing you do that is good is seen and valued by the Lord.

And he will pay you back for it. Not in the sense that you have earned anything by putting him in your debt. He owns you and everything in the universe. He owes us nothing. But he freely, graciously chooses to reward good things done in faith.

5) Encouragement that insignificant status on earth is no hindrance to great reward in heaven.

The Lord will reward every good thing you do — “whether slave or free.”  Your supervisor may think you are a nobody. Or he may not even know you exist. That doesn’t matter. The Lord knows you exist.

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Normal Prayer, Normal Life

In Perspective,Soul Food on January 20, 2014 by The Spillover

George Grant:

Prayer is the most common Christian expression of authentic faith; but it may be among the least practiced Christian disciplines. It is said that prayer is the universal language of the soul, but it is actually the solitary province of the supplicating saint. Prayer, as the unconscious heart cry in times of distress, is the currency of all humanity; but prayer, as the deep and committed soul-bond in communion with almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.

The heroes of the faith have always been diligent, vigilant, and constant in prayer. They humbled themselves with prayers, petitions, and supplications that always acknowledged their dependence upon His mercy and grace. Athanasius, for instance, prayed five hours each day. Augustine once set aside 18 months to do nothing but pray. Bernard of Clairveaux would not begin his daily activities until he had spent at least three hours in prayer. John Fletcher regularly spent all night in prayer. His greeting to friends was always, “Do I meet you praying?”

Martin Luther often commented, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” If ever Joseph Alleine heard other craftsmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim: “Oh how this shames me. Doth not my master deserve more than theirs?” John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza vowed to one another to devote two hours daily to prayer.

The extraordinary thing is that such fervent praying was not considered to be particularly extraordinary. Indeed, as Homer W. Hodge argued: “Prayer should always be the breath of our breathing, the thought of our thinking, the soul of our feeling, the life of our living, the sound of our hearing, and the growth of our growing. Prayer is length without end, width without bounds, height without top, and depth without bottom; illimitable in its breadth, exhaustless in height, fathomless in depths, and infinite in extension. Oh, for determined men and women who will rise early and really burn for God. Oh for a faith that will sweep into heaven with the early dawning of morning and have ships from a shoreless sea loaded in the soul’s harbor ere the ordinary laborer has knocked the dew from the scythe or the lackluster has turned from his pallet of straw to spread nature’s treasures of fruit before the early buyers.”

Thus, according to E.M. Bounds, a life of constant, persistent, and fervent prayer ought to be the ordinary Christian life. “There ought to be no adjustment of life or spirit for the closet hours,” Bounds asserted. “Without intermission, incessantly, assiduously; that ought to describe the opulence, and energy, and unabated ceaseless strength and fullness of effort in prayer; like the full and exhaustless and spontaneous flow of an artesian stream.”

The life of Bounds was itself a testimony to the normalcy of diligent prayer-fulness. He was born in 1835 along the rugged Missouri frontier. He died in 1913 in the heart of the Deep South. During the 78 years in between, he panned for gold in California, worked as a lawyer in St. Louis, pastored churches in Tennessee, Alabama, and Missouri, served as a chaplain during the bitter War sieges of Vicksburg, Franklin, Atlanta, and Nashville, and was a renowned journalist and publisher.

But it was as the author of a number of remarkable books on prayer—including Power Through Prayer, The Preacher and Prayer, The Weapon of Prayer, The Necessity of Prayer, and The Possibilities of Prayer—that he made his mark on the world. It was in those books that he told the stories of the extraordinary ordinariness of praying men and movements. It was in those books that he underscored the Biblical verities of the life of prayer. It was in those books that he recovered for a new generation—and for several generations afterward—the mandate for an unremitting commitment to prayer.

Though he suffered persistent failure—as well as imprisonment, persecution, impoverishment, isolation, and humiliation at nearly every turn during the long course of his faithful labors—he never wavered in his commitment to a life of prayer. He was fond of quoting the great Puritan divine, Samuel Chadwick, who wrote: “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. Activities are multiplied that prayer may be ousted, and organizations are increased that prayer may have no chance. The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

The testimony of Bounds is that both the testimony of the church’s heroes and the testimony of Scripture’s mandates are sure and true. Ours are to be lives marked by prayer, suffused in prayer, and enlivened for prayer. Normal prayer is to be our normal life.

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How “Conversionary Protestant” Missionaries Are Changing the World

In Perspective on January 14, 2014 by The Spillover

John Piper:

In 2012, sociologist Robert Woodberry published the astonishing fruit of a decade of research into the effect of missionaries on the health of nations. The January/February 2014 issue of Christianity Today tells the story of what he found in an article called “The World the Missionaries Made.”

There is a lesson implicit in these findings that I would like to draw out for the sake of the eternal fruitfulness of missions as well as her power to transform cultures.

Titled “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” Woodberry’s article in theAmerican Political Science Review, defends this thesis: “The work of missionaries . . . turns out to be the single largest factor in insuring the health of nations” (36). This was a discovery that he says landed on him like an “atomic bomb” (38).

A Sweeping Claim

To be more specific, Woodberry’s research supported this sweeping claim:

Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations. (39)

He concedes that “there were and are racist missionaries . . . and missionaries who do self-centered things.” But adds: “If that were the average effect, we would expect that the places where missionaries had influence to be worse, than places where missionaries weren’t allowed or were restricted in action. We find exactly the opposite on all kinds of outcomes” (40).

An Atomic Nuance

Then comes the all-important observation which, inexplicably, Woodberry calls a “nuance” to his conclusion. I would call it a thunderbolt. He observed, “There is one important nuance to all this: The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to ‘conversionary protestants.’ Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in areas where they worked” (40). Now that’s an atomic bomb.

I could not find in the Christianity Today article or Woodberry’s original article an explicit definition of “conversionary Protestant.” But these missionaries are contrasted with Roman Catholics and missionaries from state churches. I take it, then, that “conversionary Protestant” missionaries are those who believe that to be saved from sin and judgment one must convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ.

Thus Woodberry points out that, even though missionaries have often opposed unjust and destructive practices like opium addiction, and slavery, and land confiscation, nevertheless “most missionaries didn’t set out to be political activists. . . [but] came to colonial reform through the back door.” That is, “all these positive outcomes were somewhat unintended” (41).

A Significant Implication

What is the implication of saying that, as a result of “conversionary” missionary focus, social reforms came “through the back door” and were “somewhat unintended”?

The implication is that the way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way, missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.

Tree First, Then Fruit

There is a biblical reason for this. The only acts of love and justice that count with God are the fruit of conversion. If repentance toward God and faith in Jesus does not precede our good works, then the works themselves are part of man’s rebellion, not part of his worship.

Thus John the Baptist says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). That’s the transformation that counts with God: First repentance, then the fruit of repentance. And Jesus says, “Make the tree good and its fruit good” (Matthew 12:33). First a new tree, then good fruit.

There are two kinds of minds: “the mind of the flesh” and “the mind of the Spirit.” “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7). Therefore, behavior change without the conversion of this “mind” is part of man’s insubordination, and is not pleasing to God. But “the mind of the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6) and bears “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).

Recreating the Human Soul

That fruit — that transformed life — is “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). That is, it comes through conversion to Jesus. It is the result of a new creation miracle: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Transformation comes through individual new creation.

This new creation of the human soul comes by the Spirit through faith in Jesus — that is, through conversion. And one fundamental achievement of that conversion is deliverance from the wrath of God. “Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Paul says to the converted believers of Thessalonica, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). “Having now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).

Change the World by Focusing on Christ

The point is this: Conversion to faith in Christ by the Spirit through faith accomplishes two things — rescue from the wrath of God, and transformation of life. This is ultimately why Robert Woodberry found what he found. “Conversionary Protestants” changed the world, because they didn’t focus first on changing the world, but on faith in Christ.

This means that the missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time — for eternal salvation and temporal transformation — are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ. And then on that basis, and from that root, teach them to bear the fruit of all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).