Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

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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.