Archive for the ‘Soul Food’ Category

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Resolved: To Read the Bible

In Soul Food on December 30, 2016 by The Spillover

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David Mathis:

Whether you feel like a beginner, or the grizzled old veteran, one of the most important things you can do is regularly read the Bible for yourself.

It is a remarkable thing that we have Bibles we can read personally, whenever we want. For most of church history, and still today in many places in the world, Christians have not had their own personal copies of the Bible. They had to gather to hear someone read it to them. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) was all they had for Bible time.

But now, with printed Bibles and electronic options galore, we have priceless access to God’s very words to us, words that we are so tragically tempted to take lightly. Reading your own copy of the Bible daily is not a law that every believer must abide; most Christians have not had this option. But daily Bible reading is an extraordinary means of God’s grace. Why miss this bounty and blessing?

The Whole Thing?

“All Scripture,” says 2 Timothy 3:16, “is breathed out by God and profitable.” It is the whole Bible, says Sinclair Ferguson, which was given to make whole Christians. Everything in Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is for the good of the church. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

But not every text functions to build our faith in the same way, and has the same effect for every one of God’s children in the new covenant. It is a wonderful thing to read all the way through the Bible. It is something that pastors and teachers in the church should strongly consider doing on an annual basis, to let all the Scriptural data pass before their eyes for continually informing their public theological claims. But this is not a yoke to be set on every Christian every year. Though it would be a good thing for every Christian to try at some point, or at least to have some multi-year plan in place to eventually get you through the whole Bible in some cycle.

For those considering the journey, you may be surprised how doable it is. It takes about 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover.

That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. (Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29)

Maybe now is your time to try it. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Discipleship Journal is our most beloved, and most used, over the years at Desiring God. There are four daily readings, but only 25 days each month — which leaves some margin for missing here and there when life gets busy. John Piper says, “Few things discourage us more from reading the Bible through in a year than falling behind. This plan gives five catch up days every month. This is absolutely golden!”
  • M’Cheyne is the classic plan, designed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813–1843), the beloved Scottish minister who died before his thirtieth birthday. The plan has readings for every day of the year and will take you once through the Old Testament and twice through the Psalms and the New Testament.
  • The Kingdom gives proportionate weight to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and one for the New. The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, with one reading coming from each portion per day. Only 25 readings are slated per month and can be started at any time of the year.
  • For Shirkers and Slackers is for those who’ve tried other plans and stalled out again and again. This plan assigns certain genres to certain days of the week and breaks biblical books into sections you can read in one sitting — so without reading everyday, you can still make measurable headway. Pace yourself well and do some extra reading, and you might even finish in less than a year.

Also Justin Taylor has a long list of plan options; Ligonier has another list.

Or if the whole thing in a year seems out of your reach, try taking up a plan and working through it at your own pace, even if it takes you several years. It will give you a specific place to go next when you open the Bible, instead of just opening to some random text, and in time it will give you confidence that you’ve traversed the whole terrain of Scripture and at least glimpsed briefly God’s full written revelation to us.

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10 Spurgeon Quotes for Wounded Christians

In Soul Food on September 7, 2016 by The Spillover

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Christian George:

Carl F. H. Henry was right to call Charles Spurgeon “one of evangelical Christianity’s immortals” (Carl. F. H. Henry in the foreword to Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers).

In his twenties, Spurgeon pastored the largest mega-church in Protestant Christendom. London’s most cavernous buildings could hardly accommodate his crowds – and one of them even collapsed. American tourists returning from England were greeted with two questions: “Did you see the Queen?’ and ‘Did you hear Spurgeon?’” (A. P. Peabody, “Spurgeon,” North American Review 86 [1858], 275). Truly, the memory of his ministry has become immortal.

But Spurgeon himself was very much mortal. The preacher was anything but bulletproof. In fact, for most of his life Spurgeon nursed deep wounds and struggled to cope with a myriad of emotional and physical maladies.
In 1867 Spurgeon suffered his first attack of chronic nephritis, or Bright’s Disease (kidney inflammation similar to Lupus). At 35 he was diagnosed with gout, an inflammation of the joints. In 1886 he said, “When I am suffering very greatly from gout, if anybody walks heavily and noisily across the room, it gives me pain” (MTP 49:234). In a letter to his brother he wrote, “I thought a cobra had bitten me and filled my veins with poison” (Autobiography 3:134).

So much medicine arrived from friends and family that Spurgeon said he “would have been dead long ago if we had tried half of them” (ST 4, February 1875).

Spurgeon also suffered from depression. “I do not suppose there is any person in this assembly who ever has stronger fits of depression of spirits than I have myself personally” (MTP 15:640). After witnessing seven people trampled to death he said, “The very sight of the Bible made me cry” (MTP 37:383-84).

On October 22, 2009, Dr. Anil Den, a London-based psychiatrist, reviewed Spurgeon’s symptoms and concluded:

“Spurgeon was suffering from a form of endogenous depression and that, if he had presented with such symptoms today he would certainly have been treated with a mixture of medication and therapy” (Peter J. Morden, Communion with Christ and His People, 262).

While it’s difficult to diagnose the dead, one thing is certain: Spurgeon lived in the spotlight and the shadow.

In a moving sermon “Songs in the Night,” Spurgeon revealed the struggle of the Christian trying to praise God in the dark:

It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but he is the skilful singer who can sing when there is not a ray of light by which to read,— who sings from his heart, and not from a book that he can see, because he has no means of reading, save from that inward book of his own living spirit, whence notes of gratitude pour forth in songs of praise (MTP 44:98-99).

Spurgeon’s ministry sparked a wildfire throughout the world because it was forged, to be sure, in the fire. “I think it would have been less painful to have been burned alive at the stake than to have passed through those horrors and depressions of spirit” (MTP 53:137-38).

Yet even in the heat of public criticism, character assassination, physical setbacks, and emotional challenges, Spurgeon experienced the warm kindness of God.

Spurgeon never suffered from having never suffered. He saw hardships as God’s hammer, shaping sinners into holiness and channeled his suffering into his sermons. Small wonder the hard working class were magnetized to him. “You must go through the fire,” he said, “if you would have sympathy with others who tread the glowing coals” (MTP 32:590).

Here are ten quotes with their contexts, forged on the anvil of Spurgeon’s own affliction:

1. “The storm has a bit in its mouth.”

“Perhaps at this very moment, down in some cabin, or amidst the noise and tumult, and the raging of the ocean, when many are alarmed, there are Christians with calm faces, patiently waiting their Father’s will, whether it shall be to reach the port of heaven, or to be spared to come again to land, into the midst of life’s trials and struggles once more. They feel that they are well-cared for, they know that the storm has a bit in its mouth, and that God holds it in, and nothing can hurt them; nothing can happen to them but what God permits.”

“Safe Shelter” (MTP 15, Sermon 902, p. 650).

2. “The greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.”

“Health is set before us as if it were the great thing to be desired above all other things. It is so? I would venture to say that the greatest blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. If some men, that I know of, could only be favoured with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God’s grace, mellow them marvelously.”

C. H. Spurgeon, “The Minister in These Times” in An All-Round Ministry (Banner of Truth, 2000), p. 384, italics in the original.

3. “Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering.”

“Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering. ‘Ah!’ said Luther, ‘affliction is the best book in my library;’ and let me add, the best leaf in the book of affliction is that blackest of all the leaves, the leaf called heaviness, when the spirit sinks within us, and we cannot endure as we could wish. And yet again; this heaviness is of essential use to a Christian, if he would do good to others. . . . There are none so tender as those who have been skinned themselves. Those who have been in the chamber of affliction know how to comfort those who are there. Do not believe that any man will become a physician unless he walks the hospitals; and I am sure that no one will become a divine, or become a comforter, unless he lies in the hospital as well as walks through it, and has to suffer himself.”

“The Christian’s Heaviness and Rejoicing” (NPSP 4, Sermon 222, p. 461).

4. “Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin!”

“Perhaps there may be no way of teaching us so thoroughly the baseness of our heart as by leaving us to its devices; perhaps we shall never know our folly, unless suffered to play the fool, but oh prevent it, Lord! prevent it by thy grace! Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin! Better to lie in God’s dungeon than to revel in the devil’s palace.”

“Hezekiah and the Ambassadors, Or Vainglory Rebuked” (MTP 12, Sermon 704, p.438).

5. “Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.”

“Grace is given to keep us from sin, which is a great blessing; but what is the good of grace except it is in the time when the trial comes? Certainly, the grace that will not stand in the hour of temptation or affliction, is a very spurious sort of grace; and we had better get rid of it, if we have it. When a godly woman’s child dies, the infidel husband sees the mother’s faith. When the ship goes down, and is lost in the sea, the ungodly merchant understands the resignation of his fellow-man. When pangs shoot through our body, and ghastly death appears in view, people see the patience of the dying Christian. Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly. Thank God I can suffer, thank God I can be made the object of shame and contempt; for, in this way, God shall be glorified.”

“A Wafer of Honey” (MTP 52, Sermon 2974, p. 80).

6. “Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering.”

“Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.”

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1865), April 5, p. 96.

7. “There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial.”

“Israel gained by education. The Lord was not going to lead a mob of slaves into Canaan, to go and behave like slaves there. They had to be tutored. The wilderness was the Oxford and Cambridge for God’s students. There they went to the University, and he taught and trained them, and they took their degree before they entered into the promised land. There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial.”

“Marah Better Than Elim” (MTP 39, Sermon 2301, p.151).

8. “There are times when we cannot cry at all, and then he cries in us.”

“Is it not ourselves that cry? Yes, assuredly; and yet the Spirit cries also. The expressions are both correct. The Holy Spirit prompts and inspires the cry. He puts the cry into the heart and mouth of the believer. It is his cry because he suggests it, approves of it, and educates us to it. We should never have cried thus if he had not first taught us the way. . . . There are times when we cannot cry at all, and then he cries in us. There are seasons when doubts and fears abound, and so suffocate us with their fumes that we cannot even raise a cry, and then the indwelling Spirit represents us, and speaks for us, and makes intercession for us, crying in our name.”

“Adoption –The Spirit and the Cry” (MTP 24, Sermon 1435, p. 537, italics in the original).

9. “O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the very dust, worship there!”

“O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the very dust, worship there! If that spot has come to be thy Gethsemane, then present there thy ‘strong crying and tears’ unto thy God. Remember David’s words, ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts,’ — but do not stop there, finish the quotation, — ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts before him.’ Turn the vessel upside down; it is a good thing to empty it, for this grief may ferment into something more sour. Turn the vessel upside down, and let every drop run out; but let it be before the Lord. ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts before him: God is a refuge for us.’ When you are bowed down beneath a heavy burden of sorrow, then take to worshipping the Lord, and especially to that kind of worshipping which lies in adoring God, and in making a full surrender of yourself to the divine will.”

“Job’s Resignation” (MTP 42, Sermon 2457, p. 134).

10. “Fear not the storm, it brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”

“I, the preacher of this hour, beg to bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days, and when God has seemed most cruel to me, he has then been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than for anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me. Our Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with horror is big with mercy. Fear not the storm, it brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”

“Ziklag; Or, David Encouraging Himself in God” (MTP 27, Sermon 1606, p. 373).

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God’s Sovereign Grace in Timbuktu

In Soul Food on August 4, 2016 by The Spillover

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Randy Alcorn:

As a child, Steve Saint thought of Timbuktu as a made-up name for “the ends of the earth.” In 1986, while traveling in western Africa for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, he found himself stranded in the real Timbuktu.

Steve decided to rent a truck to travel elsewhere, despite warnings that if it broke down, he wouldn’t survive in the Sahara Desert. Men armed with scimitars and knives watched him suspiciously. After he failed to find a truck, Steve’s thoughts ran to his father, Nate Saint, a former missionary in Ecuador. When Steve was only five, natives speared to death his dad and four other missionaries. Now, thirty years later, Steve found himself questioning his father’s death. “I couldn’t help but think the murders were capricious, an accident of bad timing.”

Steve asked for directions to a church. Some children led him to a tiny mud-brick house with a poster on the wall showing wounded hands covering a cross. A dark-skinned man in flowing robes approached and introduced himself as Nouh Af Infa Yatara.

Steve asked Nouh, through a translator, how he came to faith in Christ. Nouh said he had stolen vegetables from a missionary’s garden. The missionary gave him the vegetables and promised him an ink pen if he memorized some verses from the Bible. Nouh believed the verses he learned and came to Christ. Nouh’s parents threw him out of the home and pulled him out of school. Nouh’s mother even put a sorcerer’s poison in Nouh’s food at a family feast. Nouh ate the food but suffered no ill effects.

Steve asked Nouh, “Why is your faith so important to you that you’re willing to give up everything, even your life?”

“I know God loves me and I’ll live with him forever.”

“Where did your courage come from?” Steve asked.

“The missionary gave me books about Christians who’d suffered for their faith. My favorite was about five young men who risked their lives to take God’s good news to stone-age Indians in the jungles of South America. The book said they let themselves be speared to death, even though they had guns and could have killed their attackers!”

Stunned at these words, Steve said, “One of those men was my father.” “Your father?” Now Nouh felt stunned.

Steve assured Nouh of the truth of the story. And then Nouh assured Steve that God had used his father’s death, many years later, to help a young Muslim-turned-Christian hold on to his faith. Steve realized that if God could plan the death of his own Son, He could also plan and use the death of Steve’s dad, Nate Saint, to accomplish His sovereign purpose—including reaching one young Muslim for Christ and orchestrating this God-ordained meeting of two men at the ends of the earth.

Stories like this don’t apply only to the deaths of missionary martyrs. Over time, God has brought countless people to Christ through the lives and deaths of ordinary housewives, common laborers, farmers, factory workers, business people, teachers, and schoolchildren.

We won’t all, in this life, meet someone whose story will suddenly shed light on God’s purpose in our loved one’s suffering or death. But I think most of us will have that very experience one day, beyond the ends of this Earth, on that New Earth, where we, eyes wide, will hear countless jaw-dropping stories of God’s sovereign grace.

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Why These 66 Books?

In Soul Food on April 28, 2016 by The Spillover

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Nathan Busenitz:

Have you ever looked at your Bible and wondered, “How do we know that these 66 books, and no others, comprise the inspired Word of God?”

That is a critically important question, since there are many today who would deny that these 66 books truly make up the complete canon of Scripture.

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, claims that the Apocryphal books which were written during the inter-testamental period (between the Old and New Testaments) ought to be included in the Bible. Cult groups like the Mormons want to add their own books to the Bible—things like the Book of Mormon, The Doctrines and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. And then there are popular books and movies, like The Da Vinci Code from several years back, that claim later Christians (like Constantine) determined what was in the Bible centuries after these books were written.

So, how do we know that “all Scripture” consists of these 66 books? How do we know that the Bible we hold in our hands is the complete Word of God?

There are a number of ways we could answer such questions; in fact, we could spend weeks studying the doctrine of canonicity, carefully walking through all of the relevant biblical and historical details. And there are many wonderful books available that can guide you through that wealth of information.

But in this article, I would like to offer a simple answer that I hope will be helpful – because it gets to the heart of the whole matter.

It is this:

We believe in the 39 books of the Old Testament, because the Lord Jesus Christ affirmed the Old Testament. And we believe in the 27 books of the New Testament, because the Lord Jesus Christauthorized His apostles to write the New Testament.

The doctrine of canonicity ultimately comes back to the lordship of Jesus Christ. If we believe in Him and submit to His authority, then we will simultaneously believe in and submit to His Word. Because He affirmed the Old Testament canon, we also affirm it. Because He authorized His apostles to write the New Testament, we likewise embrace it as well.

It was not the Catholic church that determined the canon. Constantine did not determine the canon. Joseph Smith certainly did not determine the canon. No, it is the authority of Christ Himself, the Lord of the church and the incarnate Son of God, on which the canon of Scripture rests.

The Old Testament Canon

When it comes to the Old Testament, Jesus Christ affirmed the Jewish canon of His day—consisting of the very same content that is in our Old Testaments today.

A study of the gospels shows that, throughout His ministry, Jesus affirmed the Old Testament in its entirety (Matt. 5:17–18)—including its historical reliability (cf. Matt. 10:15; 19:3–5; 12:40; 24:38–39), prophetic accuracy (Matt. 26:54), sufficiency (Luke 16:31), unity (Luke 24:27, 44), inerrancy (Matt. 22:29; John 17:17), infallibility (John 10:35), and authority (Matt. 21:13, 16, 42).

He affirmed the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets and all that was written in them; clearly seeing the Old Testament Scriptures as the Word of God (Matt. 15:16; Mark 7:13; Luke 3:2; 5:1; etc.).

Significantly, the first century Jews did not consider the Apocryphal books to be canonical. And neither did Jesus. He accepted the canon of the Jews as being the complete Old Testament. He never affirmed or cited the Apocryphal books – and neither do any of the other writers of the New Testament.

(At this point, some may be wondering about Jude’s reference to the Book of Enoch. But the Book of Enoch is not part of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha. It was simply a well-known piece of Jewish literature at that time period, which Jude cited for the purpose of giving an illustration, much like Paul did when he quoted pagan poets on Mars Hill in Acts 17.)

For those who might wonder, “Why don’t Protestants accept the Apocrypha?” the ultimate answer is that Jesus never affirmed it as being part of Scripture. And neither did the apostles.

Many of the early church fathers did not regard the Apocryphal books as being canonical either. They considered them to be helpful for the edification of the church, but they did not see them as authoritative. Even the fifth-century scholar Jerome (who translated the Latin Vulgate — which became the standard Roman Catholic version of the Middle Ages) acknowledged that the Apocraphyl books were not to be regarded as either authoritative or canonical.

So we accept the canonicity of the Old Testament on the basis of our Lord’s authoritative affirmation of it. And we reject the canonicity of the Apocryphal books based on the absence of His affirmation of those inter-testamental writings.

The New Testament Canon

The same principle applies to the New Testament canon. Our Lord not only affirmed the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, He also promised that He would give additional revelation to His church through His authorized representatives—namely, the apostles.

Jesus made this point explicit in John 14–16. On the night before his death, Jesus said to His disciples:

John 14:25–26 –  “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

That last line is especially significant for the doctrine of canonicity. Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would help them remember all the things that He had said to them.

That is an amazing promise, the fulfillment of which is found in the four gospel accounts—where the things that our Lord did and said are perfectly recorded for us.

Two chapters later, in the same context, the Lord promised the apostles that He would give them additional revelation through the Holy Spirit:

John 16:12–15 – “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak of His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

Where is that additional revelation found? It is found in the New Testament epistles, wherein the Spirit of Christ guided the apostles to provide the church with inspired truth.

The New Testament, then, was pre-authenticated by Christ Himself, as He authorized the apostles to be His witnesses in the world (Matt. 28:18–19; Acts 1:8). We embrace and submit to the New Testament writings because they were penned by Christ’s authorized representatives, being inspired by the Holy Spirit in the same way as the Old Testament prophets (cf. 2 Pet. 3:19–21).

With that in mind we could go book-by-book through the New Testament, and we will find that it meets this criteria.

• The Gospels of Matthew & John were both written by apostles.

• The Gospel of Mark is a record of the memoirs of the Apostle Peter, written by Mark under Peter’s apostolic authority.

• The Gospel of Luke (and the book of Acts) were both the product of a careful investigation and eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:2), research that would have included apostolic sources. Moreover, as the companion of the Apostle Paul, Luke wrote under Paul’s apostolic oversight. (For instance, Paul affirmed Luke 10:7 as being part of the Scripture in 1 Tim. 5:18.)

• The Pauline Epistles (Romans–Philemon) were all written by the Apostle Paul.

• The authorship of Hebrews is unknown, but many in church history believed it to have been also written by Paul. If not penned by Paul himself, it was clearly written by someone closely associated with Paul’s ministry—and therefore, by extension, under his apostolic authority.

• The General Epistles (the letters of James, Peter, and John) were written by apostles. Peter also acknowledged Paul’s writings as being Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15–16.

• The epistle of Jude was written by the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55;Mark 6:3) who operated under the apostolic oversight of his brother James (cf. Jude 1).

• And finally, the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John.

Every book of the New Testament was written under apostolic authority—either by an apostle or someone closely linked to their apostolic ministry. Thus, we submit to these books because they come from Christ’s authorized representatives. In submitting to them, we are submitting to the Lord Himself.

The reason the canon is closed is because there are no longer any apostles in the church today, and have not been since the end of the first century, when the foundation age of the church ended (cf. Eph. 2:20).

So … why these 66 books? Because God inspired them! They are His divine revelation. And Christ confirmed that fact. He affirmed the Old Testament canon, and He authorized the New Testament canon (cf. Heb. 1:1–2).

The authority of the Lord Jesus Himself, then, is the basis for our confidence in the fact that the Bible we hold in our hands is indeed “All Scripture.”

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Finally and Totally Justified

In Soul Food on February 28, 2016 by The Spillover

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John Piper:

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33)

Paul could have said here, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” and then answered, “No one! We are justified.” That’s true. But that is not what he said. His answer instead is, “God is the one who justifies.”

The emphasis is not on the act but on the Actor.

Why? Because in the world of courts and laws where this language comes from, the acquittal of our judge might be overturned by a higher one.

So what if a local judge acquits you when you are guilty, if a governor has the right to bring a charge against you? So what if a governor acquits you when you are guilty, if the emperor can bring a charge against you?

So here’s the point: Above God, there are no higher courts. If God is the one who acquits you – declares you righteous in his sight – no one can appeal, no one can call for a mistrial, no one can look for other counts against you. God’s sentence is final and total.

So hear this, all who will believe on Jesus, and become united to Christ, and show yourself among the elect: God is the one who justifies you. Not a human judge. Not a great prophet. Not an archangel from heaven. But God, the Creator of the world and Owner of all things and Ruler of the universe and every molecule and person in it, God is the one who justifies you.

The point: unshakable security in the face of tremendous suffering. If God is for us, no one can successfully be against us. If God gave his Son for us, he will give us everything that is good for us. If God is the one who justifies us, no charge against us can stand.

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What does it mean for a man to lead his home?

In Soul Food on January 29, 2016 by The Spillover

Great little video from Ray Ortlund:

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Finding Forgiveness After My Abortion

In Soul Food on January 7, 2016 by The Spillover

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Garrett Kell:

When I was 20 years old, I loved my life. It was carefree and full of good times. School, sports, parties, and girlfriends filled my mind most days.

Until one day that changed my life forever.

A girlfriend and I discovered we were pregnant. We hadn’t planned to get pregnant, but we were. When she broke the news to me, I was a little nervous, but reassured her we’d figure out a way to make it. My empty assurance was followed by a question that would push me to a place I’d never been before. With fearful eyes, she looked at me and asked, “Are you going to be with me? Are you going to marry me?”

I was young. I had hopes and dreams and plans. I had my whole life in front of me; I wasn’t ready to be married or to raise a child. But I’m not sure I would’ve thought about it exactly like that in those days. I didn’t know how to think about serious realities. I only operated in the moment.

I told my girlfriend I wasn’t ready to get married. She knew that, but my words confirmed it. A friend gave her the $400 we needed to have “the procedure,” as they called it. I was there when she took the pill. I was there when we flushed our child down the toilet. I was there when we cried, even though we didn’t know why. And some days I’m still there.

God Intervened

I think about the fact that I never heard my child’s laughter. Never locked eyes for the first time. Never saw a smile or cheered first steps. I never heard the sound of reading or endured endless questions about why the world is the way it is. Sady, I missed all that because I didn’t value my child’s life.

My child would be 18 today. I’d be looking forward to calls about how life away from home is going.

Sometimes I think about those things. But I don’t dwell on them, because God intervened.

A year after my girlfriend’s abortion, a friend shared the good news of Jesus Christ with me. I began to read the Bible and was convinced that Jesus was indeed who he claimed to be. I learned he is the Savior of sinners, who died to take our judgment and rose to extend forgiveness. By God’s grace, I believed those truths.

One of the events the Lord used to awaken me was the abortion. Through his Word, he showed me I wasn’t the good person I thought I was. Rather, I was a person so in love with myself that I agreed to end my own child’s life in order to keep my life going in the direction I wanted.

But this is where the gospel shines light into the darkness with rays of life-giving hope. Isaiah 53:4 says of Jesus: “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” God’s Son stepped down from his throne of glory to enter into our world of perversion and absorb the punishment we deserved. He was pierced for my transgressions so I could be guiltless. He was crushed for my sins so I wouldn’t stand condemned. He was punished so I could know peace with God.

Comfort, Grace, and Guilt

While it’s true Jesus gives peace with God, he also gives the peace of God to all who trust him. He brings healing to the scars that sin left behind. Through Christ God says to us, “Comfort, comfort, my people,” and provides a peace the world cannot give (Isa. 40:1; John 14:27).

So today, when I look back to what I did, I may still feel grief, but there is a comfort the Father of mercies gives in the midst of it. Not a comfort that says, “It’s okay, don’t feel bad,” but rather, “Do not fear, it is forgiven.” And it is from this comfort that I write these words. By God’s grace, Jesus doesn’t just forgive sinners like me; he delights in using them to help others.

Paul puts it this way: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4).

Jesus entered into my broken world and gave comfort when I deserved condemnation. He gave love where I withheld it. He gave mercy where I acted murderously. Why? One reason is so I can share his grace with others facing similar sorts of brokenness.

Friend, I do not know anything about you. But the Lord Jesus Christ does. He knows where you have been and what you have done. You may have a story like mine, or you may be someone who boasts that you have no such sin. Either way, God’s grace is enough to cover your transgression and give comfort in its place. Look to Jesus and find comfort, and then give his comfort to others who need it too.

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10 Kingdom Priorities

In Soul Food on November 10, 2015 by The Spillover

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David Murray:

One of the most common pieces of advice in business and self-help books is about the need to prioritize. We all have so much to do, that we need to plan and organize our lives so that we get the most important and urgent things done. There are various complex schemes and principles for achieving this productivity nirvana.

But there’s a divine priority that blows them all out of the water. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33).

But what does that look like? How do we do that? Here are 10 ways to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Enter the kingdom first. There’s only one entrance – and that’s through the door of regeneration (John 3:3,5). Before you do anything else, surrender to the King and submit to His rule.

Make the kingdom your greatest interest. Instead of asking “How is my team doing do?” “How are the polls doing?” How are my shares doing?” Ask “How is the kingdom doing?” Make the church of Christ your first interest and chief delight.

Give the first of your money to the kingdom. Instead of seeing how much is left over at the end of the week or the month, the first cut from your salary should be your tithe to the kingdom.

Devote the first minutes to the kingdom. Don’t wait until you can squeeze God in at some point in the day or delay until you give him the drowsy dregs of the day. As soon as you rise and are refreshed give time to listening to the King’s Word and petitioning the King’s throne.

Commit the first day to the kingdom. God set apart one day in seven to turn away from the kingdoms of the world and our personal kingdom-building to focus our attention on the upbuilding of His kingdom.

Dedicate your best energy to the kingdom. Don’t wait until you are old and can only offer a few tired years to the Lord’s kingdom. Serve him early, serve him young, serve him vigorously and energetically.

View everything through a kingdom filter. As you read and hear the news, apply the kingdom filter to it, look at world events through the lens of the kingdom.

Choose, decide, and plan using kingdom criteria. When you are faced with major life decisions, your first question shouldn’t be “How will this affect my family?” but “How will this affect the kingdom?”

Prioritize kingdom interests in your prayers. While there’s nothing wrong and plenty right with praying for personal and family needs, we must remember that “Your kingdom come” comes before, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Seek the salvation of our children above all else. While we may want our children to get a good education, and good jobs, and good spouses, and good houses, above all we want them to know the goodness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. If we asked our children “What do you think your parents want most for you?” would their answer be “The Kingdom.”

There’s a wonderful promise attached to this command: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What are these things? The context tells us — food, drink, and clothing. The necessities of life, in other words. It’s not a promise of health, wealth, and prosperity, but of basics, enough, and sufficient.

God’s basically saying, “If you take care of my interests, I’ll take care of yours.”

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Single You Will Be the Married You

In Home and Family,Soul Food on October 27, 2015 by The Spillover

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Phillip Holmes:

Joining a gym won’t instantly transform your physique. Starting a blog won’t immediately make you a good writer. Purchasing a piano won’t make you a musician. The same principle is true for marriage. Getting married will not make you a good spouse or a better person.

When I was single, I thought marriage might be the magic bullet. I believed that it would miraculously transform me. I assumed I would suddenly possess a new measure of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that I had not yet known or experienced as a single man. I believed that once I said, “I do,” I would see the world through a different lens and become a responsible and loving man — a responsible and loving husband.

I probably would have denied believing any of the above if you’d asked me before marriage. Privately, though, I believed that marriage was the missing link on my journey to Christlikeness. I could not have been more wrong.

Marriage will not instantly change you. It will only expose what was already inside of you.

Killing Sin While You’re Single

Some Christian singles live lives of passivity. Often there is little to no accountability in their lives. Therefore, secret sins survive and corrupt. Singles indulge in different kinds of sexual immorality, give little to nothing of themselves to the church, scarcely attend Sunday worship, spend their free time idly, rarely read the Bible or pray, and pay little attention to the sin that still abounds in their heart. Much of this was true for me in my singleness.

But as newlyweds, an uncomfortable truth is discovered: The single you still resides inside of the married you. If you’re lazy, irresponsible, selfish, prideful, greedy, and/or lustful when you’re single, you will be just as (or more) lazy, irresponsible, selfish, prideful, greedy, and/or lustful after you say I do.

It is essential that we not put off the practice of watching and killing sin in our lives. The sins that entangle you, as a single, will inevitably continue to entangle you in marriage. Nevertheless, singles shouldn’t kill sin simply because you want to be good spouses; you should kill it because you want to live happy and holy lives, whatever your marital status.

Paul warns everyone that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and that we should be about the business of putting to death “what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). This command is not simply for the married, but for the unmarried as well. If you don’t kill sin now, it will kill you later, unless you repent.

Don’t Put Off the Killing of Sin

Paul also uncovers the great danger in putting off the practice of killing known sin in our lives:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . .

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . .

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness. . . . Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:24–32)

God gave them up because “they knew God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” but continued in these things instead of repenting. While this passage addresses sexual immorality, it clearly also includes gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.

This passage is a warning to us all, especially to single people, of the risk in putting off (for whatever reason) the killing of sin. I say especially to single people because you’re living without the day-in, day-out accountability of a spouse. It is a dangerous thing to be given over to your sin. It is frightening to know that we can one day reach a point where we’re unable to see the suicidal foolishness of our transgressions.

The Grass Is Truly Greener in Jesus

We’ve all heard the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” The saying is meant to address mankind’s discontentment with his or her current position or plight. We all think that we’d be happier if we were in a different set of circumstances. The same is true for our marital status. Most of us know singles who want to be married or married people who want to be single again. Why? We think our current state of discontentment is external rather than internal.

Discontentment with present circumstances is near the root of every single person’s expectation that marriage will instantly change them. Marriage has gradually become their Holy Spirit and the wedding day has become their Pentecost. But after the wedding day has passed and the honeymoon phase fades — they discover the ceremony lacks the saving and sanctifying power they need, and they’re still the same sinful person they were when they were single.

It is spiritually and eternally irresponsible to put off the business of killing sin as a single — in hopes that a different life (marriage) will make one holier and happier. Only Jesus can make us happy. Regardless of our current circumstances, the grass can be greener with Jesus. Run to him. Repent of your sins. Drink from the only fountain that can quench the thirst that is inside of us all.

No, marriage will not instantly change you. God, because of Christ and through his Holy Spirit, will change you when you’ve surrendered yourself to him, whether married or unmarried.

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There Is No Better Life

In Soul Food on August 19, 2015 by The Spillover

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Tim Challies:

The old catechism says it well: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. You and I exist for God’s glory. In fact, all things exist for God’s glory. We get that. But how? How do we glorify God? I want to list 4 simple ways that you can glorify God today and every day.

GLORIFY GOD BY ADMIRING GOD

You glorify God by admiring God, by simply appreciating him for who he is and for what he has done. Within the Bible we see plenty of examples of each.

Consider Paul admiring God at the end of Romans 11. Paul has spent all this time discussing man’s great need and God’s great provision in Jesus Christ, and then he just can’t help himself: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” He just has to break into this little song of worship, this little song that brings glory to God.

You can also admire God for who he is, pondering his character and attributes. We see this in the little doxology at the end of Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude considers who God is and then naturally glorifies him.

You glorify God through your admiration of his character and his ways. Do you make it your habit to admire God?

GLORIFY GOD BY WORSHIPPING GOD

You glorify God by worshipping God. Just think of Psalm 29 which begins like this:

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

Worship is one of the great privileges of the Christian life (which is why I recently asked What Would I Lose if I Lost Worship?). Worship is ascribing to God his own worth. It is “the art of losing self in the adoration of another.” When we worship him we give him honor, we magnify him in the sight of those who join with us. We declare that he is the point and purpose of our entire world and our entire existence. God is glorified in this kind of self-forgetful worship.

Do you love to worship? Do you take every opportunity to worship? Do you worship for God’s sake and God’s glory?

GLORIFY GOD BY OBEYING GOD

You glorify God by obeying God. This is true whether that obedience is expressed through character or through action. You glorify God by living a life of obedience, by doing those things he says to do and by refusing to do those things he forbids. The New Testament tells us with crystal clarity that there is an old way of living that God tells us to turn away from and a new way of living that he tells us to embrace.

It makes God look great, it brings glory to his name, when you stop sinning, when you put to death those evil deeds and evil desires. It makes God look great when you begin living righteously and, even more, when you long to behave righteously. Why? Because you prove that the power of God is active in you.

God is glorified in your holiness, not in your sin. Do you grow in holiness so that God can be glorified? God is glorified in your selfless deeds, not your selfish ones. Do you love and serve others?

GLORIFY GOD BY DELIGHTING IN GOD

Finally, you glorify God by delighting in God. To delight in God is to have great affection for him, to find your heart moved by him, to find ultimate joy in him. It is to love and long to do things that make him look great. It is to engage all you are and all you’ve got in the full-out pursuit of God. Like Jesus said, it is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” When you delight in God you express free and willing love toward him. You see God as a great treasure who is worthy of your pursuit, worthy of your affection.

I love how Thomas Watson says it: “True saints are seraphims, burning in holy love to God.” Could it be said of you that you are burning in love to God?

NO BETTER LIFE

God does all things for his glory. If you can get this in your mind and into your heart, it will transform the way you look at the world and the way you live in the world. It will changes everything. It will allow you to give up pride and position as long as God is glorified. It will allow you to give up lifelong dreams and treasured sins as long as God is glorified. It will even allow you to joyfully give up your life, firmly believing that God will be glorified. There is no better life than the life lived for the sake and the glory of God.

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Keep Speaking

In Soul Food on August 14, 2015 by The Spillover

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Jon Bloom:

This is not the time for Christian timidity. This is not the time for Christian silence. This is not the time for Christian retreat. This is a time for Christian boldness. It is a time to speak.

Into a world that considers any exclusive truth claim to be the height of bigotry, we must lovingly speak that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]” (John 14:6).

Into a world that has rejected God’s objective meaning for marriage, opening the door to a wide range of perversities, we must lovingly speak that it was God who said, “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5).

Into a world that has embraced the horrific lie that to kill a child is an act of compassion to his mother, we must lovingly speak that God alone has the right to give and take life and that we shall not murder (Job 1:21; Exodus 20:13).

Speak Sanity Into the Madman’s World

Into a world that has repressed the truth and asserted the glorious order and fine tuning of the universe, the biological richness of earth, and the rational mind of man to comprehend quasars and quarks are the products of eons of chaos, unintelligent macroevolution, and unimaginable odds, we must lovingly speak that “what can be known about God is plain to [us], because God has shown it to [us]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [we] are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20).

A world that embraces the rejection of truth, the destruction of marriage, the extermination of the innocents, and the veneration of a mindless, value-less “creator” is the world of a madman. It is the devil’s playground (1 John 5:19). It is an insane nightmare.

But on “those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). The return to sanity, the end of the nightmare, is Jesus Christ, “the light of the world” (John 8:12).

And it is precisely when the dark descends that the light is most needed. We must shine the light.

Our Dishonor May Be God’s Answer to Our Prayers

We have prayed for Jesus to shine in this world. We have prayed for the completion of world evangelization. And now we in the West are seeing our societies grow increasingly hostile toward the gospel. Some of us are bewildered. Some are discouraged.

But we must bear in mind that God often answers our prayers in unexpected ways.

For what do we see in the New Testament? We see that human beings perceive the love of God in the gospel of Christ most clearly in this dark world, not through the prosperity of his servants, but through their suffering.

First, it was our Lord himself. The cross was the most evil and most righteous, most hateful and most loving, most profane and most holy event in all of human, indeed cosmic, history. Then the gospel began to spread to Samaria and all Judea and to other regions following the death of Stephen. Then the gospel spread through Asia Minor and into Europe through Paul and his band who suffered more than most of us can imagine (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).

Testifying and suffering — it is the motif of all of redemptive history. It is God’s chosen method to display his love and spread his gospel. The earliest Christians even rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

That might seem strange to us Westerners. But that’s because we’re strange in redemptive history. Most of us have not had to endure dishonor for bearing the name Christian.

But we have prayed for the gospel to spread through our nations and the world. Looking at redemptive history, should we be surprised if God answers our prayers by counting us worthy to suffer dishonor for his name? What if the cross of our dishonor is a means to the salvation of millions?

Jesus did say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). And he told us, “You will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. . . . [A]nd because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:9, 12).

And Paul prepared us too: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12–13).

If It’s Costly to Speak, It Must Be Valuable

So what are we to do as increasing dishonor comes to us? We are to do just what the early disciples did: keep speaking. When the governing authorities charged them to stop preaching the gospel, the apostles replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).

It is precisely when it is personally costly to speak, and we still speak, that people listen to what we have to say. When it’s costly to deliver a message, the message must be costly. For people only pay dearly for what is valuable. Paying dearly glorifies the valuable thing. And no message is more valuable than the gospel of Jesus.

Keep Speaking!

So keep speaking. Relentlessly keep speaking. Relentlessly keep speaking, not to win a culture war, but to win souls. Relentlessly keep speaking to win souls because you love souls.

And as we keep speaking, we should not expect to measure our success by immediate circumstantial improvement. In our short-term context, the gospel may appear to lose ground and evil appear to have the momentum. That is often how circumstances appeared to saints throughout history. But in fact, the gospel has only ever continually spread through the world, despite the mad devil’s best attempts to stamp it out.

So keep speaking the gospel. It is going to win. Jesus promised it would: “The one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:13–14).

Note this, we will have to endure. That means suffering and dishonor. But the gospel will be preached to the whole world.

God will answer our prayers, first by causing us to endure, and then bringing the end. Then Jesus will deliver the kingdom to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24). And then, pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

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A Call to Teenagers to Be Free

In Soul Food on July 28, 2015 by The Spillover

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John Piper:

I am writing for the liberation of teenagers. I write to challenge teenagers to “live as people who are free” (1 Peter 2:16). Be wise and strong and free from the slavery of culture-conformity. To put it another way, I am calling teenagers to a radical, wartime lifestyle.

The Creation of “Teenagers”

As teenagers, you should know that the idea of “teenagers” was created only seventy years ago. The word “teenager” did not exist before World War II. Between children and adults, there was no such category of human being. You were a child. Then you were a young adult.

Just a hundred years ago, you would bear crucial responsibility at age thirteen on the farm or in dad’s business — or mom’s kitchen and weaving room. You would be trained for gainful employment, or domestic enterprise, by age seventeen, and would marry before you were twenty, and be a responsible husband and father — or wife and mother — by your early twenties.

This scenario is perhaps hard for you to imagine. And I am not saying we can go back to that era, or should want to. My aim is that you be liberated by the truth. The truth will set you free. The truth that you do not have to fit into the contemporary lockstep expectations put on you by your culture or your peers.

Very few teenagers have an awareness of history. That ignorance leads to a kind of slavery. Most teenagers are slaves of the expectations of their peers and of the big industries that market their fashion and music and technology and entertainment.

This slavery is so pleasant — and so consistently rewarded — that the possibility of being free from conformity to teen-culture rarely enters your mind. Being aware from history that other possibilities exist can set you free for radical “wartime living” in the name of Jesus.

What “Teenager” Meant Seventy Years Ago

In 1944, when “teen-age” was still hyphenated, Life magazine covered the new teen phenomenon. The article said,

There is a time in the life of every American girl when the most important thing in the world is to be one of a crowd of other girls and to act and speak and dress exactly as they do. This is the teen age.

This was not a very enviable beginning for the meaning of “teenager.” Things have not changed much in sixty years. A teenager wrote to my hometown newspaper:

Most of my friends often are not comfortable with what is popular, but we wear it anyway. Standing out is just not always worth the struggle. Society tells us to be different, yet mainstream.

How do you dress to please yourself, your parents, and your peers? You can’t. Teens end up compromising their values to fit in. If we intend to make it through high school, or even junior high, without being tormented, then we must dress to please our peers.

We are the up-and-coming leaders of this nation, and we must see what we have become and change. (Minneapolis StarTribune, November 16, 2002: A23).

It is not easy to be a Christian teenager. You desperately want to be liked. To be rejected by friends can feel devastating. But just like this young woman, you know deep down that living to be liked is slavery. And if you belong to Jesus, that slavery may be a torment worse than rejection.

What Does It Mean to Be Cool?

For many, being cool is everything. But what is cool? Is it really which phone you have? Or what movies you’ve seen? Or how strong or fast or handsome you are? Or the way your hair falls and your figure is shaped? You are not stupid. You know that living for such things is superficial and meaningless.

What is cool for a fourteen-year-old young man? I think what follows is a hundred times more cool than phones and clothes and movies and games. The year is 1945. World War II was still raging. Thousands of teenagers wanted to fight. The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the deadliest — 6,800 American soldiers are buried on that tiny island, many of them teenagers.

Jack Lucas had fast-talked his way into the Marines at fourteen [in 1942], fooling the recruits with his muscled physique. . . . He stowed away on a transport out of Honolulu, surviving on food passed along to him by sympathetic leathernecks on board.

[At 17] he landed on D-Day [at Iwo Jima] without a rifle. He grabbed one lying on the beach and fought his way inland. Now, on D+1, Jack and three comrades were crawling through a trench when eight Japanese sprang in front of them. Jack shot one of them through the head.

Then his rifle jammed. As he struggled with it, a grenade landed at his feet. He yelled a warning to the others and rammed the grenade into the soft ash. Immediately, another rolled in. Jack Lucas, seventeen, fell on both grenades. “Luke, you’re gonna die,” he remembered thinking. . . .

Aboard the hospital ship Samaritan, the doctors could scarcely believe it. “Maybe he was too damned young and too damned tough to die,” one said. He endured twenty-one reconstructive operations and became the nation’s youngest Medal of Honor winner — and the only high school freshman to receive it. (James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers, 174–175)

You Are Teenage Soldiers in a War

Knowing you are in a war changes what is cool. If your family is under attack, fretting about your clothes and your hair stops. There are more important things at stake. And we are at war. The enemy is stronger than the Axis of Germany, Japan, and Italy. Indeed, stronger than all human powers put together. The battle is daily. It is fought in every locality. And its victories and defeats lead to heaven or to hell.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)

Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:12)

Wage the good warfare. (1 Timothy 1:18)

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3)

Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

What Is Really Going On?

Don’t be part of the blind, teenage masses who do not know what is going on. They think that to know the latest movie or iPhone app or hit song is to know what is going on. Those things are like cut flowers. Bright today, tossed out tomorrow. They are utterly insignificant compared to events that are shaping the course of eternity.

What is really going on is that people and nations are being enslaved by Satan or liberated by Christ. And Christ fights his liberating warfare through Christians, including teenage Christians.

But not through teenagers who are amusing themselves to death. The average teenager is so wrapped up in himself, and how he looks, and whether anyone likes him, that he makes a poor soldier. One of the great marks of the soldier in wartime is that personal comforts give way to the strategic mission. Soldiers may play cards the night before the battle, but when the trumpet sounds they lay down their lives.

The Battlefield of Money

Take the battlefield of money, for example. The trumpet has sounded. You are the soldier. The battle has begun. You may not feel rich, but you have lots of stuff. Your stuff threatens to strangle your soul by lying to you about how important and how satisfying it is (Mark 4:19). And the money you don’t have threatens to pierce you by creating a passion to be rich.

The Great General has sent you a personal message on the battlefield. It reads,

Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:9–10)

Does this call wake you up? Does it make you vigilant like a soldier on alert?

Then, along with the alert, he sends a great promise that he will not leave you stranded and alone in this battle:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)

You are set free from fear and greed by this confidence: The Commander-in-Chief will not abandon me to perish on the field of battle. So look your enemies in the eye. Stare down covetousness and craving, and slay them with the Sword of the Spirit and with the superior pleasures of Christ: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

The Battlefield of Comfort

Or take the battlefield of comfort and ease. Almost all the forces in your life put you under pressure to maximize your comfort with the ease and softness of our age. But the Great General has sent you a message, as the enemy surrounds you. Remember the great warrior Moses! Fight like he did!

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24–26)

O, there is reward for victories in this warfare! Yes, there is — beyond imagination! But the enemy wants you to think all the rewards are in this life. He has dropped propaganda leaflets behind the lines that read, “Heaven is a fairy tale. You are a fool to live for the reward of heaven and not the reward of comfort and ease in this life!”

But the Commander-in-Chief counters his propaganda at every turn with spectacular promises. No matter how hard the fighting is — no matter even if you die in his service — he will raise you up and give you the best pleasures forever.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11–12)

This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

In fact, the Great General has sent us word on the battlefield that he will not just reward us, but he will be our reward. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

With this sword in our hand, we drive back the lying hordes of safety and ease and comfort and offer ourselves for Christ’s service in the most risky assignments.

The Battlefield of Ego

Or take the battlefield of ego and peer-approval. O, how powerful this enemy is! He has swallowed up more teenagers perhaps than any other adversary, even lust. He comes with horrible stories of how painful your shame will be if you do not conform to this world. He will lie to you, and say that the only alternative to the mood and fashion and music and movies and sexual pleasures of this world is utter humiliation and embarrassment.

The Great General sees it all. His walkie-talkie lights up with messages for his embattled teens. Do not be deceived. They say you will experience shame. No. No. It is they who play the futile game of trying to turn their shame into their glory. But you see reality for what it is. They do not. They “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18–19).

They think all the fun lies with them. It is a fool’s fun — like a roller coaster that, at the most breathtaking moment, flies off the rails.

With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:4–5)

You are the ones who know reality. You know what lasts — what really satisfies. For them, all is grass and the flower of grass.

“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1 Peter 1:24–25)

Let the messages of the Commander sink in. Your identity is deeper and stronger and more durable and more glorious than any plastic veneer that your peers try to pressure you into. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). You are a treasured possession (1 Peter 2:9). You are a son or daughter of the Creator of the universe (Romans 8:16).

With these truth-daggers in your hand, slay the ghoulish lies of peer pressure that try to deceive you into thinking conformity is freedom.

Let None Despise Your Teenage Youth

We could go on with all the different kinds of battlefields you must fight on. But you get the idea. The enemy lies, and the Commander-in-Chief counters with truth. And the truth sets you free (John 8:32).

When the Great General says, “Let no one despise you for your youth” (1 Timothy 4:12), he means: Don’t fit into the stereotype of the aimless, careless, superficial youth. Break the mold. You belong to Christ. Show the world that there is another kind of teenager on the earth.

This teenager is not a leaf blown along with the wind of cultural trends. He is not a jellyfish floating with the current of the times. He is a tree that stands firm in the strongest storms. He is a dolphin who slices the waves against the tide. He is going somewhere.

Dream of being a kind of teenager that the world cannot explain. Maybe someday, if there are enough of you, they will invent a new name. And “teenager” will be a footnote in the history books.

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The Most Important Thing My Parents Did

In Home and Family,Soul Food on April 9, 2015 by The Spillover

Tim Challies:

I grew up in a church culture, a catechizing culture, and a family worship culture. Each of these was a tremendous, immeasurable blessing, I am sure. I am convinced that twice-each-Sunday services, and memorizing the catechisms, and worshipping as a family marked me deeply. I doubt I will ever forget that my only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong in body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, or that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I can still sing many of the psalms and hymns of my youth, and I have precious memories of my family bowing our heads around the kitchen table.

What was true of my family was true of many of my friends’ families. They, too, grew up around churches and catechisms and rigid family devotions. In fact, in all the times I visited their homes, I don’t think I ever witnessed a family skip over their devotions. It was the custom, it was the expectation, and it was good. Our church had near 100% attendance on Sunday morning and near 100% attendance on Sunday evening. It was just what we did.

But despite all of the advantages, many of the people I befriended as a child have since left the faith. Some have sprinted away, but many more have simply meandered away, so that an occasionally missed Sunday eventually became a missed month and a missed year. Not all of them, of course. Many are now fine believers, who are serving in their churches and even leading them. But a lot—too many—are gone.

Why? I ask the question from time-to-time. Why are all five of my parents’ kids following the Lord, while so many of our friends and their families are not? Obviously I have no ability to peer into God’s sovereignty and come to any firm conclusions. But as I think back, I can think of one great difference between my home and my friends’ homes—at least the homes of my friends who have since walked away from the Lord and his church. Though it is not universally true, it is generally true. Here’s the difference: I saw my parents living out their faith even when I wasn’t supposed to be watching.

When I tiptoed down the stairs in the morning, I would find my dad in the family room with his Bible open on his lap. Every time I picked up my mom’s old NIV Study Bible it was a little more wrecked than the time before, I would find a little more ink on the pages, and a few more pieces of tape trying desperately to hold together the worn binding. When life was tough, I heard my parents reason from the Bible and I saw them pray together. They weren’t doing these things for us. They weren’t doing them to be seen. They were doing these things because they loved the Lord and loved to spend time with him, and that spoke volumes to me. I had the rock-solid assurance that my parents believed and practiced what they preached. I knew they actually considered God’s Word trustworthy, because they began every day with it. I knew that they believed God was really there and really listening, because they got alone with him each morning to pray for themselves and for their kids. I saw that their faith was not only formal and public, but also intimate and private.

Here is one thing I learned from my parents: Nothing can take the place of simply living as a Christian in view of my children. No amount of formal theological training, church attendance, or family devotions will make up for a general apathy about the things of the Lord. I can catechize my children all day and every day, but if I have no joy and no delight in the Lord, and if I am not living out my faith, my children will see it and know it.

For all the good things my parents did for me, I believe that the most important was simply living as Christians before me. I don’t think anything shaped or challenged me more than that.

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You Can’t Arrest the Gospel

In Soul Food on March 11, 2015 by The Spillover

David Mathis:

It was a lesson in the school of hard knocks for a promising young leader.

A crowd had gathered in an urban center, ready to hear him speak. He rose to the occasion, feeling a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. He spoke with conviction and clarity, and found remarkable reception among the people.

But word of his explicitness about Jesus quickly made its way to the powers-that-be and ruffled their feathers. Soon they descended upon the young firebrand, and he and his ministry partner spent the night in custody before facing interrogation the following day.

Still his courage had not been in vain. They may have arrested Peter and his companion John (Acts 4:3), but “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4).

Arrest didn’t sink the advance of the gospel. The two went hand in hand.

The American Anomaly

The days of gospel persecution in the United States no longer just hang on the distant horizon; they are already here, at least for some. It’s beginning with the bakers, florists, and photographers. Before long, the consensus may be that faithful biblical exposition is “hate speech.”

For 350 years, the church on American soil has enjoyed relatively little affliction for her fidelity to the Scriptures. This nation, though, is an anomaly in church history. And those days are passing, more quickly than many of us expected.

Once the most basic beliefs and morals of Christianity were taken for granted not only in the church, but in society at large. Now many of our most deeply held, once uncontroversial claims are under full assault, within and without. Barring some change in trajectory, it will only be a matter of time before some of our leaders will find themselves in custody.

Think It Not Strange

Do not panic. For two thousand years, this has been what it has meant to identify with Christ in the world — the normal experience of those who follow a man who was crucified. Suffering for the gospel was not just tolerated in the early church; it was expected. Peter learned the lesson in Acts 4, and again in Acts 5. Then Stephen was stoned in Acts 7. After Acts 3, only three of the book’s remaining 25 chapters have no mention of persecution.

The storyline of the early church turns on opposition and oppression. This same Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

For now, deluded by American history, we’re prone to think it strange. We aresurprised. “Give us our country back!” Our angry, desperate reactions only show how out of step we are with the tenor of the New Testament. Our entitlement and resentment reveal a heart foreign to the reality of “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).

Soon enough, though, our expectations will necessarily adjust to what is normal for the true church in other times and places. We will increasingly realize that when we proclaim a gospel like ours, and make the sort of claims we do, the world won’t receive it well. For Christians, it really is strange not to be persecuted.

Through Many Tribulations

Jesus said as much. “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul picks up the refrain. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). The Scriptures seem to suggest we should be more concerned if we’re not being persecuted, than if we are.

Embracing persecution for the sake of the gospel is Christianity 101. How did Paul and Barnabas minister to fledgling churches? “They returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22). It is a sobering word, but not a cause for despair.

Arrest and Advance, Together

To say we will suffer opposition is not to say that the spread of the gospel will be stymied. In fact, what we learn from Peter and John in Acts 4:3–4, and from the life of the apostle Paul, and from Jesus himself, is that arrest and advance go together in God’s invincible story.

The same is true today, and will be tomorrow. We will find that our newfound opposition and affliction, while being difficult and painful, is a good and fruitful phenomena. It will be more and more like the first century, when the gospel was attacked on every side, and spread like wildfire.

Paul describes this powerfully from a prison cell in Rome. Look for the irony.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14)

You can’t arrest the gospel. In fact, when you imprison one whose words and life boldly declare the good news of Jesus, you only help it grow and spread. You may shackle the feet of the messenger, but his message will run. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8–9).

Affliction Joyfully Accepted

But our message will not run if we go kicking and screaming. It is not the grumblers and complainers who shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 4:14–15). Rather, it is those who embrace suffering for the name of Jesus with joy.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:13–14)

Christians are not a dour people, even in the darkness of a dungeon. We don’t whine and bellyache as our society lines up against us and our convictions. We plead. We grieve. But beneath it all we have untouchable strongholds of joy. Even in the worst, most inconvenient, most lonely days, we rejoice. The suffering days are good days for gospel advance. We have great cause to be optimistic about our good news, to “joyfully accept” prison and the plundering of our possessions and even our freedoms.

After all, they can take our civil liberties, garnish our wages, and smear our names, but they cannot take our Treasure, who is “a better possession and abiding one.”

So we are not surprised. We do not retreat. Instead, grounded in God’s eternal promises, armed with joy in him, and assured of victory in the end, we ready ourselves for whatever opposition comes. Perhaps one day it will be said of us,

You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:32–34)

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Don’t Give Up

In Soul Food on February 6, 2015 by The Spillover

Jon Bloom:

“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints” (Revelation 14:12).

We all long for rest from the fatigue of living. God placed the desire for rest in our souls, and he promises to fulfill it: “I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish” (Jeremiah 31:25).

The “Now” and “Not Yet” of Our Rest

In a very real way, Jesus gives rest to “all who labor and are heavy laden” and come to him (Matthew 11:28). But in this age, we cannot find complete rest.

In this age, Jesus grants us the gospel rest of ceasing the impossible labor of self-atonement for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21). But in embracing the gospel, we find ourselves also drafted into a war — a war to keep believing the gospel and a war to keep spreading it to others. In this age we “strive to enter that [complete] rest” of the age to come (Hebrews 4:11).

Wars are exhausting — especially long ones. That’s why you are often tired. Many soldiers, who experience the fierceness of combat, want to get out of it. That’s why you’re tempted to escape. That’s why you’re tempted to give up.

Don’t Give Up

But don’t give up. No, rather “take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15:7).

Don’t give up when that familiar sin, still crouching at your door after all these years, pounces again with temptation.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Don’t give up when you feel that deep soul weariness from long battles with persistent weaknesses.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:8–9)

Don’t give up when your long asked-and-sought-and-knocked-for prayers have not yet been answered.

And he told them [the parable of the persistent widow] to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

Don’t give up when the devil’s fiery darts of doubt find flesh and make you reel.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day…in all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.(Ephesians 6:13,16)

Don’t give up when the fragmenting effect of multiple pressures seems relentless.

“But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger . . . (2 Corinthians 6:4–5)

Don’t give up when the field the Lord has assigned you to is hard and the harvest does not look promising.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Don’t give up when you labor in obscurity and you wonder how much it even matters.

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)

Don’t give up when your reputation is damaged because you are trying to be faithful to Jesus.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matthew 5:11)

Don’t give up when waiting on God seems endless.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30–31)

Don’t give up when you have failed in sin. Don’t wallow. Repent (again), get your eyes off yourself (again), and fix your eyes on Jesus (again). Get up and get back in the fight.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9); if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

Hope and Help in the Hard

Living by faith in “things not seen” is hard (Hebrews 11:1). Jesus reminds us: “the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). But the way has always been hard, and you are not alone in the difficulty. You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have passed this way ahead of you (Hebrews 12:1). Many have suffered far more and have remained faithful. Remember them and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).

Above all, remember Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:8). Jesus knows your works (Revelation 2:2) and he understands your war (Hebrews 12:3). His grace will be given to you in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16) and it will be sufficient for you, even at the very worst times (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So, look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12), and finish your race (2 Timothy 4:7). When you have done the will of God, you will receive what is promised: his great and eternal reward (Hebrews 10:35-36). Measured by eternity, the hardships of this life will not be long, and “by your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19).

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

In Soul Food on November 20, 2014 by The Spillover

Kevin DeYoung:

The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in his Son. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in his Son. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples is so important: “Who do you say that I am?”

The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?

There’s Republican Jesus who is against tax increases and activists judges, and for family values and owning firearms.

There’s Democrat Jesus who is against Wall Street and Walmart, and for reducing our carbon footprint and spending other people’s money.

There’s Therapist Jesus who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.

There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes to film festivals.

There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.

There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes fun faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.

There’s Martyr Jesus, a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.

There’s Gentle Jesus who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash and looks German.

There’s Hippie Jesus who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagine a world without religion, and helps us remember all you need is love.

There’s Yuppie Jesus who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.

There’s Spirituality Jesus who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine; he wants us to find the god within and listening to ambiguously spiritual musical.

There’s Platitude Jesus, good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons; he inspires people to believe in themselves, and lifts us up so we can walk on mountains.

There’s Revolutionary Jesus who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and dream up impossible utopian schemes.

There’s Guru Jesus, a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.

There’s Boyfriend Jesus who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.

There’s Good Example Jesus who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.

And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world.

This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a new creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the serpent, the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood, the Christ promised to Abraham, the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died, the Christ promised to David when he was king, the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a suffering servant, the Christ predicted through the prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

This Christ is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father’s Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins-more loving, more holy, and more wonderfully terrifying than we ever thought possible.

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What Jesus Didn’t Say

In Soul Food on September 24, 2014 by The Spillover

Kevin DeYoung:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

But on the other hand, do not think that I have come to completely affirm everything in the Law or Prophets either. There are stories in the Old Testament that did not happen as they are recorded. Sometimes, God’s people thought they heard the voice of God, but were mistaken. Other times, ancient people used God to justify their violence and exclusion. We can still read those parts of the Hebrew Bible and learn how unenlightened people used to think, but those sections are best corrected or set aside.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Obviously, this is a bit of an overstatement–Jewish hyperbole, poetic license, that sort of thing. By “jots and tittles” I don’t mean every bit of chronology, cosmology, or history. I’m just trying to say that the Old Testament is still really important and that it points to me. But whether, say, the exodus happened like it says in Exodus, or if Isaiah made any predictive prophesies, or whether the whole storyline of the Old Testament is out of whack–that kind of thing is not terribly important.

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Again, let me clarify: I’m not actually against relaxing some of the more outdated commandments. After all, who doesn’t like relaxing! I don’t want my disciples getting hung up on minutia. As long as you are concerned about love–whatever you understand that to be–I wouldn’t worry about the particulars. People need relationships not rules, you know.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In hindsight, this is probably not the best way to express myself. I’m sorry for anyone who was hurt by the whole “never enter the kingdom of heaven” bit. That’s just an figure of speech for “the best way to live!” And I apologize if the righteousness piece felt legalistic. When I talk about hungering after righteousness or pursuing righteousness I’m thinking more on a cosmic level, not so much about your personal holiness. The only righteousness I expect to see from you is being right enough to know you are wrong. Look, the last thing I want is for people to get uptight with the Bible and start freaking out about doing everything by the book.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were super cool with his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had a realistic understanding of the Bible and helped the disciples feel better about themselves.

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10 Ways to Love Your Brothers and Sisters

In Soul Food on September 17, 2014 by The Spillover

Joe Thorn:

Consider what follows a simple encouragement to press into a life of love in practical ways. A life God has called us to, saved us for, and modeled for us.

1. Put Them First
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3)

Self-denial lives at the center of love. True love denies self and supports another. Putting others first should be more than an act of humility, but an act of affection. It’s not that we think so little of ourselves, but that we feel so warmly toward our brothers and sisters in Christ that we are happy to lay aside our interests and preferences so that another may experience blessing.

2. Seek Their Good
“always seek to do good to one another” (1 Thess. 5:15)

Love does more than put someone else first. One’s desires may be destructive, or their path may lead to danger. Love will seek their good, their betterment, their advancement. The questions we ask must be, “How can I personally help my brother do well?” “How can I serve my sister so that she prospers in faith and life?”

3. Ask for Their Forgiveness/Forgive Them
“forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col. 3:13)

If you love your fellow saints then you will ask for their forgiveness when you sin against them, and will freely forgive them when they sin against you. Sin grieves the heart of a believer for in it we know we have sinned against the Lord, hurt someone made in the image of God and recreated in the image of Jesus Christ. And as a people who have been forgiven of far worse crimes than have been committed against us, we must also forgive those who sin against us.

4. Listen to Them
“be quick to hear” (James 1:19)

Love listens. Just as God hears us when we call to him, so must we listen to others. We need to listen in order to gain understanding either of truth, or of the one speaking. Until we listen to another we are ill-equipped to know their needs and seek their good.

5. Include Them
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Pet. 4:9)

Hospitality is a welcoming of others into your life. Love includes; it draws near to others and invites them in. It will not dismiss people because they are different or difficult, but will pursue them and offer them a place at the table. Love looks around, sees the uninvolved or unknown, and extends a hand of welcome.

6. Be Generous
“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Cor. 9:11)

God has given you what you have for more than your own personal enjoyment. You are called by God to steward what he has entrusted you by sharing it with others. Love seeks to give, and give big. As John Calvin said, “the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others.”

7. Sacrifice
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

Generosity is important, but it’s easy to pick and choose what we will be generous with. Many today have an easier time parting with their money than their time. They would rather be generous with their wallet than their calendar. Such “generosity” is giving without real sacrifice. Love, in denying self, goes farther than an easy offering. Love gives untill it hurts. If you love your brothers and sisters it will be seen in your willingness to sacrifice what you have, and even yourself, for their good.

8. Tell the Truth
“let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Eph. 4:25)

Love doesn’t lie. In fact, it speaks truth. This isn’t about offering true opinions, but truth itself. It is willing to offer hard words when needed. Love corrects, rebukes even, but not from a mere love for truth. It is also connected to a sense of concern and compassion for people.

9. Encourage Them with the Gospel
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thess. 5:11)

Love doesn’t flatter, but it does encourage. Biblical encouragement is a kind of preaching; a gospel word offered to those who need it. Love points people to Jesus Christ, in whom we see love in its brightest display. Those around you need to hear how the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, remains good news for them today. It’s not just for the lost. It is for the found. For without it we drift back to false hopes, doubts, and fears.

10. Pray for Them
“pray for one another” (James 5:16)

If you love your brothers and sisters you will pray for them. It is sad that we so often quickly;y promise, “I’ll pray for ya!” only to walk away and never approach God on their behalf. Even sadder is that those who need the prayer are happy enough with the false promise. They appreciate the nice thought, and think it’s better than nothing. But it’s not. It’s just nothing. Love prays. It seeks God’s action in their lives. It pleads with God for greater grace on behalf of others. And to this God responds.

There are many other ways in which we should be loving one another in the church, but here’s a start. Let us love not “in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1Jn. 3:18) We can do this because we have come to know the love of God through the death of Jesus Christ. We have been saved by love (Rom. 5:8) and for love (1 Peter 1:22).

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Hope for the Despairing Heart

In Soul Food on May 8, 2014 by The Spillover

Christina Fox:

The gospel saved me.

“That’s elementary,” you might be thinking. Yes, the gospel, the truths of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, appropriated by faith, have saved me for all eternity. But that’s not the salvation about which I am thinking.

The gospel saved me from my pit of despair.

I have battled depression on and off since adolescence. It began the year my grandmother died, I switched schools, and close friendships were lost. There was a brief respite during college and graduate school. Then after the birth of each of my two children, the despair sucked me into a darkness I had never known before. It terrified me. The thoughts and feelings that consumed me were paralyzing. I had fallen into a deep pit and couldn’t find a way out.

What Jesus Has Done

As a trained counselor, I tried all the things I knew to do to manage it. Though they brought me some temporary help, it wasn’t enough to give me the hope I longed for and needed most. So one day, I met with my pastor to seek his help.

I recounted for him everything I had done to climb out of the pit. They were all good things, helpful things. He heard me list the coping skills I had used, my strategies to change my life’s circumstances, and all the external solutions I had tried. “But I haven’t heard you tell me how you are trusting in what Christ already did for you,” he responded.

I must have had a blank look on my face because he said it again.

In my mind, I wondered, “What does this have to do with my depression? I came here to find out what I should do to make my life better.”

We went on to talk about what it means that Jesus lived a perfect life for me, died for me, and rose from the grave for me. And here’s the truth, while I didn’t leave the office that day completely cured and transformed, I did leave with a new seed of hope. As the months went on, that hope grew and grew. Its roots dug deep in my heart and over time started to bear fruit.

While this conversation with my pastor may not seem earth shattering, and though what we discussed was not some amazing new concept, the conversation reminded me of a truth I had forgotten. It reminded me that my hope and joy are not found in what I can do but in what Jesus has already done.

Out of all the things I have done to manage my depression over the years, it is the gospel of what Jesus has already done for me that has given me lasting hope. Because the insidious thing about depression and despair is the way they strip away hope. The future is dark and bleak. The silence and isolation is deafening. There seems to be no end in sight.

But the gospel gives hope.

The Gospel of Hope

Jesus told the disciples, “In this world you will have sorrow, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This life is not trouble free. Jesus did not sugarcoat what it means to follow him. Life will be hard. But our hope lies in what Christ has done: he overcame sin and death.

The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was not unfamiliar with the pain and suffering of this life. He knew temptation, sorrow, fear, illness, and death. He experienced rejection, loss, poverty, loneliness, and abuse. There is not one tear we have shed that he does not understand. Jesus took on all our sin, shame, and sorrow at the cross. He bore the weight of our guilt and punishment. He suffered the torment of separation from God that was rightfully ours.

But because he was sinless, the grave could not hold him. When he rose from the grave he conquered sin and death. Through faith in his complete work of redemption, we have the hope of eternal life forever in a place where there will be no more sorrow and tears.

There’s more. Not only do we have the hope of forever, but we have hope right now. Because of what Jesus accomplished for us, we have been adopted into the family of God. He is our Father. We are co-heirs with Christ. All of God’s promises are for us.

Everything We Need

This means that when life is hard, we have free and complete access to the throne of grace. We can come to him and know that he hears us, that he cares, and that he will help us. As a beloved child, we can trust that he will provide for us. We can rest in assurance that his love for us is not dependent on what we do but what on Jesus has already done. And with that is the promise:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

We also have the promise that Jesus will finish what he started in us. He will not leave us unchanged. He will use every pain, every sorrow, and every tear in our lives for our good and his glory. We are not on our own in this, he promises to be our strength in weakness and will give us everything we need to live for him.

Depression may come and visit me again. As Jesus said, we will have sorrow in this life. But I know in whom I hope. When despair weighs heavy on my heart, I need to “take heart” and remember that Jesus “has overcome the world.” And because he overcame the world and conquered sin and death, I know he can resurrect hope in a heart filled with despair.

Articles

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.