Archive for the ‘Soul Food’ Category

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We Are All Virgins Now

In Being Real,Perspective,Soul Food on July 25, 2013 by The Spillover

Tim Challies:

We Evangelicals are known for our obsession with virginity. Now don’t get me wrong—I affirm that it is good and God-honoring to remain sexually pure before marriage (and within marriage and after marriage). As a pastor I want to teach the people in my care the value of having their first sexual experiences with their spouse in the marriage bed and not with a prom date in the back of a car. I want my children to value sexual purity and to understand that lust is not love, that love expresses itself in self-control. Virginity matters because sexual purity matters because God says it matters. But it is not the highest of virtues. It is not the measure of a godly young man or young woman. It is not the goal and the measure of Christian living.

This Evangelical obsession with virginity manifests itself in youth conferences where a flower is passed around a room, going from hand to hand, until the speaker can hold it up, all bent and twisted, and ask with a knowing grin, “Who would want a rose like this?” The teens look and say, “I would never want a rose like that.” But then there are the few who silently look away and weep because they are that rose. They learn they have been spoiled, that their beauty has been given away. (As Matt Chandler reminds us, Jesus wants the rose!)

The obsession manifests itself in the pre-marriage course where the young man who burned up his teens and early twenties staring at tens of thousands of pornographic images somehow thinks he holds the moral high ground over the young woman who had sex one time with one boyfriend. After all, he is a virgin and she is not. She is the one who ought to seek his forgiveness for giving to someone else what was rightly his.

It manifests itself in young people who ask questions about “technical virginity” like doing these sexual acts, which stop short of full-on sexual intercourse, are somehow less serious or less morally significant than going all the way. “It’s okay, I’m still a virgin!”

This obsession with virginity measures so many of the wrong things, asks so many of the wrong questions, delivers so many of the wrong answers.

Not only that, but this obsession causes such pain. Elevating virginity to the first place among the virtues hurts those who were raised in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, who were genuinely saved, who knew better, and who chose to ignore God’s good command. They may feel they sinned irreversibly, that this was the greatest of all sins, that they have been relegated to a lesser class of Christian, that they can only ever disappoint that future spouse.

It is painful to those who were raised in ignorance of what God commands, who simply acted the way unbelievers will act as they committed sexual sin. They may feel like second-class citizens of the kingdom, those who gave away the most precious thing they could bring to a marriage.

It is particularly painful to those whose virginity was taken from them, who were unwilling participants in abuse or rape. They may feel spoiled, like all they had to offer was brutally, heartlessly taken from them, and they now carry a diminished status into marriage.

God does not look upon his people as non-virgins and virgins, spoiled and unspoiled, defiled and undefiled. He does not see two classes of people: those who have waited to experience sex within marriage and those have not. So why do we? Why do we obsess about those who have experienced sexual intercourse and those who have not, like this remains a matter of the utmost significance? Why is this the one sin in the whole pantheon of sin that forever marks a person, that forever changes their status?

This whole obsession with virginity misses one New Testament key, the gospel key. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth he specifically addresses sexual sin along with a whole litany of other offenses against God. He addresses the sexual immoral, the adulterer, the homosexual, and at the end of it all he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” A key word in all of that is were. Such were some of you. You were these things, but then God washed you. You were these things, but then he made you holy. You were these things, but then he justified you. And now you are these things no longer. Your sexual immorality was transferred to Christ and he bore its shame, its guilt, its punishment.

Paul tells us that in God’s eyes we are all holy. Through Christ we are all redeemed, all forgiven, all made new, all unspoiled. In Christ we are all virgins.

Articles

For Those Feeling Forgotten

In Soul Food on July 22, 2013 by The Spillover

Marshall Segal with a word on the character Dave preached about yesterday:

Some of the greatest disappointments in our relationships are made in the moments our memories fail us. No one enjoys being forgotten, especially by those we love most.

Your memory is one of the most powerful and fragile things about you. When it’s good, you can surprise the 64-year-old birthday boy or be there to celebrate ten years in with the not-so-newlyweds. When it’s bad, you forget your coffee appointment with a co-worker or your daughter’s dance recital or the last item on your wife’s grocery list.

Forgetfulness hurts. We’ve all been forgotten and know the pain of expecting someone to remember — to show up, call, write, ask, make time — and coming up empty and alone. If they really cared, they would’ve remembered, right?

Someone Who Can Relate

Joseph, the prized son of Jacob and the eventual ruler of Egypt, was forgotten when he needed to be remembered most. He’d been sold into slavery by his brothers, then slandered into prison by Potiphar’s wife.

While in prison, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker are arrested and jailed (Genesis 40:1). Both were suspected of crimes against Pharaoh himself and are facing almost certain death. They know no one crosses the most powerful person in Egypt and lives to tell about it.

No Fortune-Cookie Fortunes

One night, they both have nightmares (40:11–19). Joseph hears the two dreams and tells the cupbearer that not only will he live, but he’ll be Pharaoh’s cupbearer again in just three days. In exchange for this amazing news, he makes one request: Please remember mebefore Pharaoh. One sentence from you might finally free me.

Then he turns to the baker with bad news. He’ll be executed in those same three days. Joseph didn’t give soft, vague, fortune-cookie predictions. They talk about grapes, birds, and buns, and he says you will live, and you will die, all in three days. So what happens?

A Walk to Remember

You can imagine that walk from the prison. Your life hangs in the balance. You know you’ll receive death if convicted. It seems it may all end right here. Was that guy in prison right? Could Pharaoh really pardon me? Will Pharaoh execute me right there on the spot? There’s no way Joseph could have known those things.

Sure enough, Pharaoh preserves the cupbearer and mercifully welcomes him back to his prized place at his side. And the baker is, well, baked.

Forgetting the Unforgettable

So the cupbearer remembered Joseph, mentioned him to Pharaoh, Joseph was released, and they all lived on happily together, only with fewer pastries, right? No, the text says, “Yet the cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:23).

It says that he really just forgot. It’s not that he was scared of what Pharaoh might do or worried that he might make Joseph the cupbearer. He just forgot. How?

Where’s God?

Did God forget Joseph? He did not. We know this because of what it says when Joseph was first put in jail: “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (39:21). If God was so concerned about making Joseph popular in the prison, we know he didn’t check out now.

This becomes clear in the next chapter when Pharaoh has a dream. He asks all the wise men in Egypt, and none of them can interpret. Finally, the cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh what happened.

Pharaoh calls Joseph, God speaks to Joseph, he rightly interprets Pharaoh’s dream, and he saves Egypt from famine and ruin. So Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of all of Egypt, second in command. God shows his infinite wisdom and power through Joseph, even when our unnamed cup carrier forgets him. So what do we learn for us?

God Always Remembers You

First, God never forgets his children. When it looked like Joseph had been completely forgotten, even when he was considered to have done the unthinkable, God was with him and working to free him and use him for his glory.

You will experience all kinds of hard things in this life. You might be forgotten or betrayed by the people you love most, but nothing that can happen to you here can deny what God has said about you once and for all because of Jesus’s life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. God never forgets you.

Always Remember Your Redeemer

Second, keep your cup filled with the gospel about this Jesus. The cupbearer forgot his savior. Okay, Joseph didn’t exactly save him, but he did bring the good news. Every minute the cupbearer lived, every luxury he enjoyed at Pharaoh’s right hand, every bit of recognition he received was the fulfillment of Joseph’s words. And he forgot him. How much more awful would it be for us to forget our Christ? How much more awful to take for granted the one who took away our sin?

He didn’t just say that you would live, but he died to make it happen. If we remember one thing, it should be that we were locked away, truly guilty, deserving of death, and God sent his Son so that he, God, could say “innocent,” “righteous,” “trusted,” “free,” “mine.”

So remember you are remembered in Jesus. Though you may feel forgotten today, your Father will never forget you or forsake you.

Articles

When Sin Is Grievous and Grace Is Stunning

In Soul Food on June 24, 2013 by The Spillover

Tim Keller:

I have noticed over the years that some ministries, in their effort to stress holiness of life, do not put a great deal of emphasis on God’s gracious acceptance of us despite our sins. And other ministries, in their effort to avoid legalism and rejoice in grace, are reluctant to call people to close, exacting self-examination and deep repentance. But the 18th-century pastor John Newton is remarkable in giving equal weight to self-examination and grace.

In a previous article, we saw how Newton gives us some deeply convicting ways to examine our hearts. Christians, he says, put too little time and effort into examining themselves and seeking to grow in holiness, in the fruit of the Spirit. But does such close examination mean that we are doomed to always feel inadequate, ashamed, and guilty? No, because Newton sees  deeper knowledge of sin leading to richer rejoicing in grace. No one was better than Newton at urging people to “use the gospel of grace” on the heart in order to change it. Here are two things I’ve learned from Newton over the years on how to do this.

People often try to fill their hearts with the danger of what they are doing. You can tell yourself, If I keep doing this it will cause problems for me. That may be true and could be good “smelling salts” to get you to recognize your problem. But if that’s all you say to your heart, it effectively bends the metal of your heart but doesn’t really soften and permanently reshape it. The motivation is ultimately selfish and only brings short-term change.

We need to go deeper to the only lasting way to change our hearts—take them to the radical, costly grace of God in Christ on the cross. You show your heart the infinite depths to which he went so that you would be free from sin and its condemnation. This fills you with a sense not just of the danger or sin, but also of its grievousness. Think about how ungrateful it is, think of how your sin is not just against God’s law but also against his heart. Melt your heart with the knowledge of what he’s done for you. Tremble before the knowledge of what he is worth—worthy of all glory.

A second powerful thought from Newton is this: we sin not simply out of a rebellious desire to be our own masters, but also because we are looking to things besides God to satisfy and fulfill us. While Newton was good at pointing out the danger of having too low or light a view of one’s sin, he was also good at pointing out the opposite problem—too light a grasp of what Jesus has done for us. Newton wrote to a man who was discouraged:

You say, you find it hard to believe it [is] compatible with the divine purity to embrace or employ such a monster as yourself. [In thinking this, you] express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer; which is certainly wrong. . . . Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. He sometimes offers to teach us humility; but though I wish to be humble, I desire not to learn in this school. His premises perhaps are true, that we are vile, wretched creatures—but he then draws abominable conclusions from them; and would teach us, that, therefore, we ought to question either the power, or the willingness, or the faithfulness of Christ. Indeed, though our complaints are good, so far as they spring from a dislike of sin; yet, when we come to examine them closely, there is often so much self-will, self-righteousness, unbelief, pride, and impatience mingled with them, that they are little better than the worst evils we can complain of. . . . You have not, you cannot have, anything in the sight of God, but what you derive from the righteousness and atonement of Jesus. If you could keep him more constantly in view, you would be more comfortable. He would be more honored. . . . Let us pray that we may be enabled to follow the apostle’s, or rather the Lord’s command by him, Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice. We have little to rejoice in ourselves, but we have right and reason to rejoice in him. (“Letter XI, to the Rev. Mr. S.,” Works of John Newton, Vol. 6, 185-187)

If we are going to grow in grace, we must stay aware of being both sinners and also loved children in Christ. We need a high and due sense of our sin before God and a deep and profound sense of our union with and acceptance in Christ.

In the end, it’s the joy and wonder of the gospel that will change you permanently.

Articles

Finally Satisfied

In Soul Food on June 13, 2013 by The Spillover

John Piper:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

This text points to the fact that believing in Jesus is a feeding and drinking from all that Jesus is. It goes so far as to say that our soul-thirst is satisfied with Jesus, so that we don’t thirst anymore.

He is the end of our quest for satisfaction.

When we trust Jesus the way John intends for us to, the presence and promise of Jesus is so satisfying that we are not dominated by the alluring pleasures of sin (see Romans 6:14). This accounts for why such faith in Jesus nullifies the power of sin and enables obedience.

John 4:14 points in the same direction: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In accord with John 6:35, saving faith is spoken of here as a drinking of water that satisfies the deepest longings of the soul.

It’s the same in John 7:37–38: “Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Through faith, Christ becomes in us an inexhaustible fountain of satisfying life that lasts forever and leads us to heaven. This he does by sending us his Spirit (John 7:38–39).

Articles

When the Not-Yet Married Meet: Dating to Display Jesus

In Gals,Guys,Perspective,Soul Food on June 6, 2013 by The Spillover

Marshall Segal:

Dating is dead.

So says the media. Girls, stop expecting guys to make any formal attempt at winning your affections. Don’t sit around waiting for a boy to make you a priority, communicate his intentions, or even call you on the phone. Exclusivity and intentionality are ancient rituals, things of the past, and misplaced hopes.

I beg to differ. It’s not that this new line of thinking is necessarily untrue today, or that it’s not the current and corrupt trend of our culture. It’s wrong. One of our most precious pursuits, that of a life-long partner for all of life, is tragically being relegated to tweets, texts, and Facebook pokes, to ambiguous flirtation and fooling around. It’s wrong.

Dating That Preserves Marriage

There is a God. And this God created and rules his world, including men, women, the biological compulsions that bind them together, and the institution that declares their union and keeps it sacred and safe. Therefore, only he can prescribe the purpose, parameters, and means of our marriages.

If fullness of life could be found in sexual stimulation, or if it was just a matter of making babies, the “forget formality and just have sex” approach might temporarily satisfy cravings and cause enough conception. But God had much more in mind with romance than orgasms or even procreation, and so should we. So must we.

When people in the world are expecting less and less of each other in dating, God isn’t — so among the single we have to work harder in our not-yet married relationships to preserve what marriage ought to picture and provide.

Mom, Where Do Weddings Come From?

Nothing in my life and faith has been more confusing and spiritually hazardous than my pursuit of marriage. From far too young, I longed for the affection, safety, and intimacy I anticipated with a wife.

Sadly, my immature and unhealthy desires predictably did much more harm than good. I started dating too early. I stayed in relationships too long. I experimented too much with our hearts and allowed things to go too far. I said, “I love you,” too soon. And now my singleness is a regular reminder that I messed up, missed opportunities, or did it wrong.

Maybe dating has been hard for you, too, for these reasons or others. Maybe Mr. (or Mrs.) Right has started to look like Mr. (or Mrs.) Myth. Maybe you’ve wanted the relationship or liked the guy or girl, and you’ve never had the chance. Maybe all the suggestions and advice you’ve collected has become a confusing mess of good-intentioned contradictions and ambiguity. It’s enough to leave you like an 8-year-old, asking, “Mom, where do weddings come from?”

Expecting More from Marriage

The vision of marriage we see in God’s word –– the beautiful, radical display of God’s infinite, persevering love for sinners –– makes it worth it to date, and date well. The world’s approach can provide fun and sex and children and eventually even some level of commitment, but it cannot lead to the life-giving Jesus after whom our marriages are to take their cues.

Friends who enjoy sex with “no strings attached” will find pleasure, but not the peaks waiting on the other side of mutual promises. The happiness of marriage is not only or even mainly physical. With the sex, there ought to be a deep sense of safety, a sense of being loved and accepted for who you are, a desire to please without the need to impress. When God engineered the sexual bond between a man and a woman, he made something much more satisfying than the act itself.

Those who recklessly give themselves to a love-life of dating without really dating, of romantic rendezvouses without Christ and commitment, are settling. They’re settling for less than God intended and less than he made possible by sending his Son to rescue and repurpose our lives, including our love-lives, for something more. More happiness. More security. More purpose.

And the more is found in a mutual faith in and following of Jesus. With this “more,” we can say to the watching world, don’t settle for artificial and thin loyalty, affection, security, and sexual experimentation when God intends and promises so much more through a Christian union. And a Christian union can only be found through Christian dating.

If Christian dating, the intentional, selfless, and prayerful process of pursuing marriage, sounds like slavery, we don’t get it. If low-commitment sexual promiscuity sounds like freedom, we don’t get it. Jesus may ask more of us, but he does so to secure and increase our greatest and longest-lasting (sexual) happiness.

How Then Shall We Date?

For those whose roads are marked more by mistakes than selflessness, patience, and sound judgment, take hope in the God who truly and mysteriously blesses your broken road and redeems you from it, and who can begin in you a new, pure, wise, godly pursuit of marriage today.

Here are (some) principles for your not-yet marriages. It’s not nearly a comprehensive or exhaustive list. They’re simply lessons I’ve learned and hope can be a blessing for you, your boyfriend or girlfriend, and your future spouse.

1. It really is as simple as they say.

In a day when people are marrying later and later and more and more are resorting to online matchmaking, we probably need to be reminded that marriage really is less about compatibility than commitment. After all, there has never been a less compatible relationship than a holy God and his sinful bride, and that’s the mold we’re aiming for in our marriages.

There is a reason the Bible doesn’t have a book devoted to how to choose a spouse. It was not an oversight on the part of the God of all history, as if he couldn’t see into the 21st century. The qualifications are wonderfully clear and simple: 1) they must believe your God (2 Corinthians 6:14) and 2) they must be of the opposite sex (Genesis 2:23–24Matthew 19:4–6Ephesians 5:24–32).

Now undeniably there will be more involved in your discernment while dating. Apart from questions of attraction and chemistry, which are not insignificant, the Bible articulates some roles for wives and husbands. Men ought to protect and provide for their wife (Ephesians 5:25–29). Women ought to help and submit to their man (Genesis 2:18;Ephesians 5:22–24). Fathers ought to lead their families in God’s word (Ephesians 6:4). Parents must love and raise their children in the faith (Deuteronomy 6:7). So admittedly we are looking for more than an attractive person who “loves Jesus.”

That said, many of us need to be reminded that God’s perfect person for me isn’t all that perfect. Every person who marries is a sinner, so the search for a spouse isn’t a pursuit of perfection, but a mutually flawed pursuit of Jesus. It is a faith-filled attempt to become like him and make him known together. Regardless of the believer you marry, you will likely find out soon that you do not feel as “compatible” as you once did, but hopefully you will marvel more at God’s love for you in Jesus and the amazing privilege it is to live out that love together, especially in light of your differences.

2. Know what makes a marriage worth having.

In our worst moments, our objectives are small and misguided. We just don’t want to be alone on a Friday night anymore. We just want to post almost-candid, artistically-framed pictures with someone on a bridge somewhere. We want a guilt-free way to enjoy sex. We just want a guy or girl to tell us we’re handsome and funny and smart and good at our job, etc.

If marriage only offered us these things, though, it really wouldn’t be worth it. Many will try to deny that, but the divorce statistics are enough to establish that marriage asks more of you than most could have ever imagined on their wedding day. Most of my married friends would say that what seems fun and pretty and unbreakable at the altar did not feel as clean or easy even days into their lives together. It’s still intensely good and beautiful, but it’s costly, too costly for small aims.

Marriage is worth having because you get God in your lifelong commitment to one another. Marriage is about knowing God, worshiping God, depending on God, displaying God, being made like God. God made man and woman in his image and joined them together, giving them unique responsibilities to care for one another in their broken, but beautiful union.

What makes marriage worth having is that you, your spouse, and those around you see more of God and his love for us in Jesus. If you’re not experiencing that with your boyfriend, break up with him. If that’s not our priority, we need to get a new game plan and probably a new scorecard for our next significant other.

3. Look for clarity more than intimacy.

The greatest danger of dating is giving parts of our hearts and lives to someone to whom we’re not married. It is a significant risk, and many, many men and women have deep and lasting wounds from relationships because a couple enjoyed emotional or physical closeness without a lasting, durable commitment. Cheap intimacy feels real for the moment, but you get what you pay for.

While the great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy, the great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. Intimacy is safest in the context of marriage, and marriage is safest in the context of clarity. The purpose of our dating is determining whether the two of us should get married, so we should focus our effort there.

In our pursuit of clarity, we will undoubtedly develop intimacy, but we ought not do so too quickly or too naively. Be intentional and outspoken to one another that, as Christians, intimacy before marriage is dangerous, while clarity is unbelievably precious.

4. Find a fiancé on the frontlines.

This is a throwback to a previous post. The idea is to look for love in the right places.Focus on the harvest, and you’re bound to find a helper. Instead of making it your mission to get married, make your mission God’s global cause and the advance of the gospel where you are, and look for someone pursuing the same. If you’re hoping to marry someone who passionately loves Jesus and makes him known, it’s probably best to put yourself in a community of people committed to that.

This does not mean that we should serve because we might find love. God is not ultimately honored with that kind of self-serving service. No, it simply means that if we’re looking for a particular kind of person, there are good, safe, identifiable places those kinds of people live and serve and worship together. Get involved in a community like that, serve each other, and look for God to open doors for dating.

5. Don’t let your mind marry him before the rest of you can.

While this may seem like it’s much more common among women, I’ve been single long enough around enough single guys to know it’s not exclusively a female problem. The trajectory of all truly Christian romance ought to be marriage, so it should not surprise us that our dreams and expectations, our hearts, race out ahead of everything else.

It simply isn’t that hard to imagine what your children would look like or where you would vacation together or how family holidays would work or what kind of house you might buy. And just like sex, all these things could be really good and safe and beautiful, but in the context of your covenant. Satan wants to subtly help you build marriage and family idols that are too fragile for your not-yet married relationship.

“He told me he loved me.” “She said she would never leave.” They’re the seemingly priceless sentences that don’t always cash. They’re often said with good intentions, but without the ring — and without a ring, the results can be devastating. Guard your heart and imagination from running out ahead of your current commitment.

6. Boundaries make for the best of friends.

The most oft-asked dating question among Christians might be, “How far is too far before marriage?” The fact that we keep asking that question suggests we all agree we need to draw some lines, and that the lines seem pretty blurry to most. If you’re pursuing marriage and it’s going well, you’re going to experience temptation, a lot of temptation.

Sexual sin may be the devil’s weapon of choice in corrupting Christian relationships. If you don’t acknowledge your enemy and engage him, you’ll find yourselves wondering how you lost so easily. Some of our best friends in the battle will be the boundaries we set to keep us pure.

While spontaneous plunges into intimacy look great in chick-flicks and feel great in the moment, they breed shame, regret, and distrust. Let’s try talking about touching before touching. Trade some titillation for trust, surprise for clarity and confidence. Make decisions prayerfully and intentionally before diving in.

Boundaries are necessary because on the road to marriage and its consummation, the appetite for intimacy only grows as you feed it. You are biologically built that way. Touching leads to more touching. Being alone together in certain situations will welcome fierce temptation. Even praying together or talking for hours upon hours on the phone can create unhealthy overdoses of intimacy with not-yet spouses.

If we’re honest, we much more often like to error by wading into love too far rather than waiting too long to take the next step. You will be hard-pressed, though, to find a couple regretting the boundaries they made in dating, while you will very easily find those that wish they would have made more. As followers of Christ, we really ought to be the most careful and vigilant.

Boundaries protect, and boundaries provide the trenches of trust-building. As we establish some mutual boundaries, small and large, and commit to keeping them together, we develop depths and patterns of trust that will serve our intimacy, covenant-keeping, and decision-making should God lead us to marry each other.

7. Consistently include your community.

Dating is a matter of doing your best to discern a person’s ability to fulfill God’s vision and purpose for marriage with you. While you might be the one with the final say, you might not be the best person to assess at every point. Just as in every other area of your Christian life, you need the body of Christ as you think about who to date, how to date, and when to wed.

While it’s rarely quick or convenient, gaining the perspective of people who know you, love you, and have great hope for your future will always pay dividends. It may lead to hard conversations or deep disagreement, but it will force you to deal with things you did not or could not have seen on your own. You’ll find safety with an abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14).

Invite other people to look into your relationship. Spend time together with other people, couples and singles, who are willing to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly.

8. Let all your dating be missionary dating.

No, I am not encouraging you to date not-yet believing men or women. When I say missionary dating, I mean dating that displays and promotes faith in Jesus and his good news, a dating that is in step with the gospel before the watching world. I want us to win disciples by dating radically, by confronting the world’s paradigms and pleasure-seeking with sacrifice, selflessness, and intentionality.

Men and women in the world want many of the same things you want: affection, commitment, conversation, stability, sex, etc. And eventually they will see that the ground under your lives and relationship is firmer than the flimsy flings they know. They’ll see something deeper, stronger, and more meaningful between you and your significant other.

Do the people in each of your lives know and love Jesus more because you’re together? Do they see God’s grace and truth working in you and your relationship as you walk through life together? Are the two of you thinking proactively about how to bless your friends and family and point them to Christ? More and more, as the world is watering down dating, your relationship can be a provocative picture of your fidelity to Christ and a call to follow him.

Pursuing Marriage the Right Way

Is this dating perfectly safe? No. Will it keep you from being hurt or disappointed? No. Will it guarantee you never go through another break up? No. But, by God’s grace, it may guard us from deeper heartache and more devastating failure. My prayer is that these principles would prepare you to love your spouse in a way that more beautifully and dramatically displays the truth and power of the gospel.

If you are like me, you may have blown it on multiple fronts already. Maybe you’re blowing it right now in a relationship. Be willing to make the hard decisions, large and small, to pursue marriage the right way today. Whether you’re ultimately married to one another or not (or married at all, for that matter), you will thank each other later.

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Let Us Read, As in Read

In Soul Food on May 26, 2013 by The Spillover

Jonathan Parnell:

I read the Bible at the dinner table last night.

One of our daughters was laid out horizontally across her chair. Our son was crying, reaching for me to pick him up. And then our other daughter was doodling letters on the table with her sauce-glossed finger.

So I helped with that, and then I read. Galatians 3:26 says, simply, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Within a minute, I gave a short explanation, prayed, and closed with a hearty amen.

But before we transitioned to busing the table, our three-year-old spoke up. She claimed it was her turn to share and so, without reservation, I slid her the Bible and leaned in with full attention. She opened to some random pages and mumbled something about God and Satan and so forth. She then closed the Bible and said amen with a big smile on her face. It was really cute.

She made a statement about God with language from an open Bible without actually reading it. What she said was pure fluff. And it was cute. But only because she is three and can’t actually read.

It’s a Human Problem

It is an altogether different story when literate adults say stuff about reality in the name of Jesus without actually listening to what Jesus has said.

There’s a way to do that, of course, that doesn’t look as troubling as it sounds. Keep it nice and cheery and float in a verse citation when you can. As it turns out, our world isn’t so much turned off about Jesus-talk so long as it bears his name but not his truth.

For example, telling the world that everyone who does good will be redeemed by Jesus garners popularity, but it ironically fails to meet its own criterion. Despite how wonderful they may sound, lies are never loving.

But, hey, people like them. It’s cool to cite the Book, just don’t hold too tight to its authority on the things that repel us. We prefer fluff, not facts. Trifles, not truth. This is not a generational issue, nor a cultural one. It’s a human problem — a fallen human problem.

Not Really a Game

We see it happening vividly in the Book of Jeremiah. Hananiah of Gibeon tells a people under Babylonian threat that the threat is ending. He says that God is going to break the yoke of the king of Babylon, and within two years everything will be back to normal (Jeremiah 28:1–4). And this would have been great, if it had been accurate. But it wasn’t. Hananiah simply knew what the people wanted to hear, and that’s what he said. From our vantage looking back, that is so obviously silly. Just silly. But had we been there in the Jerusalem of 580 BC, Hananiah could have been our hero.

It’s dangerous, though, to vouch for ease over validity. We can so easily slip into this way of thinking that sees the world as one giant T-ball game of talk — just a cosmic clutter of ideas running after the same ball. So play nicely and keep it cute. It’s a gnostic T-ball game, after all. We defer to what sounds good in the moment and reading becomes part of the fun. It becomes this exercise of decoding our own desires rather than discovering the data of the Page.

But where reading is a game, people get hurt, and Jesus isn’t heard. For Christians, we don’t merely live among a world of words, but under the Word made flesh — who speaks with ultimate authority. What Jesus has to say isn’t stuck in the realm of his lessons, but in the rights of his lordship.

The Lord of Words

Behind every text of Scripture is no mere idea, but the person who reigns over everything. Jesus, crucified, dead, buried, and risen, seated on a real throne, reigns here and now by his Spirit, both in his people and throughout the world, through what he says. The biblical canon is where he speaks. How we read it is emphatically a lordship issue.

Reading is excavation, not invention. We observe — we don’t create. Faithful interpretation at its best is faith-filled repetition. God speaks through what we say from what he has said. And that means what we do with texts says more about our hearts than our intellects. By grace, we lean humbly on him, the divine author. We put our ear next to his heart by putting our eyes intently on his word. That’s when we shed the scales of carnal preference and cultural pressure.

That’s when we read as in read, not like a three-year-old, but as listeners who don’t want to make the text say what it doesn’t. For one, because we can’t. And most importantly, because why would we want to anyway? Only one has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Jesus is Lord, not us.

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Love Letter to a Lesbian

In Being Real,Perspective,Soul Food on May 20, 2013 by The Spillover

Jackie Hill:

Dear ______,

I just want you to know that I understand.

I understand how it feels to be in love with a woman. To want nothing more than to be with her forever. Feeling as if the universe has played a cruel joke on your heart by allowing it to fall into the hands of a creature that looks just like you.

I too was a lesbian. I had same-sex attractions as early as five-years old. As I grew up, those feelings never subsided. They only grew. I would find myself having crushes on my female best friends, but I was far too ashamed to admit it to them — let alone to myself.

At the age of 17, I finally made the decision to pursue these desires. I entered into a relationship with a young lady who became my “first.” The first time we kissed, it felt extremely natural, as if this feeling is what I had been missing all along. After her came another woman and then another woman. Both relationships were very serious, each lasting over a year. I enjoyed these relationships and loved these women a lot. And it came to the point that I was willing to forsake all, including my soul, to enjoy their love on earth.

In October 2008, at the age of 19, my superficial reality was shaken up by a deeper love — one from the outside, one that I’d heard of before but never experienced. For the first time, I was convicted of my sin in a way that made me consider everything I loved (idolized), and its consequences. I looked at my life, and saw that I had been in love with everything except God, and these decisions would ultimately be the death of me, eternally. My eyes were opened, and I began to believe everything God says in his word. I began to believe that what he says about sin, death, and hell were completely true.

And amazingly, at the same time that the penalty of my sin became true to me, so did the preciousness of the cross. A vision of God’s Son crucified, bearing the wrath I deserved, and an empty tomb displaying his power over death — all things I had heard before without any interest had become the most glorious revelation of love imaginable.

After realizing all of what I would have to give up, I said to God, “I cannot let these things or people go on my own. I love them too much. But I know you are good and strong enough to help me.”

Now, at the age of 23, I can say with all honesty that God has done just that. He has helped me love him more than anything.

Now why did I just tell you about this? I gave you a glimpse of my story because I want you to understand that I understand. But I also want you to know that I also understand how it feels to be in love with the Creator of the universe. To want nothing more than to be with him forever. To feel his grace, the best news ever announced to mankind. To see his forgiveness, that he would take such a wicked heart into his hands of mercy.

But with that in mind, we’re in a culture where stories like mine either seem impossible or hilarious, depending on the audience. Homosexuality is everywhere — from music, to TV, even sports. If you’d believe all that society had to say about homosexuality, you’d come to the conclusion that it is completely normal, even somewhat admirable. But that is far from the truth. God tells us that homosexuality is sinful, abominable, and unnatural (Leviticus 18:2220:13Romans 1:18–321 Corinthians 6:9–111 Timothy 1:8–10). But if I were to be honest, sometimes homosexual attractions can seem natural to me.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this may be your dilemma as well. You see what God has to say about homosexuality, but your heart doesn’t utter the same sentiments. God’s word says it’s sinful; your heart says it feels right. God’s word says it’s abominable; your heart says it’s delightful. God’s word says it’s unnatural; your heart says it’s totally normal. Do you see that there is a clear divide between what God’s word says and how your heart feels?

So which voice should you believe?

There was a time in my walk with Christ where I experienced a lot of temptation about falling back into lesbianism. These temptations caused me to doubt God’s word. My temptations and desires began to become more real to me than the truth of the Bible. As I was praying and meditating on these things, God put this impression on my heart: “Jackie, you have to believe that my word is true even if it contradicts how you feel.” Wow! This is right. Either I trust in his word or I trust my own feelings. Either I look to him for the pleasure my soul craves or I search for it in lesser things. Either I walk in obedience to what he says or I reject his truth as if it were a lie.

The struggle with homosexuality is a battle of faithIs God my joy? Is he good enough? Or am I still looking to broken cisterns to quench a thirst only he can satisfy? That is the battle. It is for me, and it is for you.

The choice is yours, my friend. I pray you put your faith in Christ and flee from the lies of our society that coincide with the voices of your heart — a heart that Scripture says is wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Run to Jesus instead.

You were made for him (Romans 11:36). He is ultimately all that you need! He is good and wise (Psalm 145:9). He is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). He is kind and patient (2 Peter 3:9). He is righteous and faithful (Psalm 33:4). He is holy and just (1 John 1:9). He is our true King (Psalm 47:7). He is our Savior (Jude 1:25). And he is inviting you to be not just his servant, but also his friend. If lasting love is what you’re looking for anywhere else, you are chasing the wind, seeking what you will never find, slowly being destroyed by your pursuit.

But in Jesus, there is fullness of joy. In Jesus, there is a relationship worth everything, because he is everything. Run to him.

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God Wins

In Soul Food on May 3, 2013 by The Spillover

Get a tissue, take 5 minutes, and watch this video. I promise it will change your day.

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The Explosion in West, Texas and Fatherhood

In Perspective,Soul Food on April 22, 2013 by The Spillover

 

Grant Castleberry:

It was late in the afternoon of September 23, 1986. I was just two years old, and my dad had just taken off on a routine training exercise in his F-4 Phantom Marine Corps fighter jet. He was flying over the Atlantic Ocean, not far from our home in Beaufort, South Carolina, when his F-4 crashed into another F-4 during a dog-fight maneuver. Both my dad, Captain Charles Kelly Castleberry, and his navigator, Major Christopher Brammer, were never seen again. Search and Rescue crews scoured the Eastern seaboard for days, but they were never able to locate my father.

Ever since that day, I have had a special place in my heart for the “fatherless” of this world, especially those who have experienced loss through traumatic circumstances. This ache for the fatherless was stirred up again two nights ago, as the news aired the horrific events concerning the giant fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. I was distraught to learn that a crew of firemen had been at the site, trying to put out the fire when the blast exploded. Two thoughts immediately came to my mind: 1) Unless there had been a miracle, the firemen on site would not have survived the blast; 2) Those firemen were never again going to see their wives and children on this earth. It may have been a “routine” call for these trained professionals, but in an instant, it became a deadly tragedy. The lives of their loved ones would never be the same. Their children are left, clinging to every possible memory of their fathers, but they will never again, on this side of eternity, see their dads’ faces or be able to physically talk to them.

Losing a father is unspeakably horrific for all children. The son has lost the one person primarily responsible to train him to be a man, and to help him through that process. The daughter has lost her provider, protector, and teacher of being cherished and valued as a woman. I believe this is one reason why God has such a special, tender heart for the fatherless and the widows of the world. David, by the Holy Spirit, writes in Psalm 68:5,“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”

I have experienced this special fatherly love by God in numerous ways. I have genuinely felt God’s special hand of providence guiding me throughout my life, and he really has been a father to me. One way that he has shown this love is through another godly man, Preston Abbott, who was sent to be my earthly dad four years after my first dad died. Another provision from my Heavenly Father is the amazing legacy of my first father, Kelly. God enabled my father to do some extraordinary things in his short twenty-six years on earth. These have shaped and will continue to shape me for the rest of my life.

Three Ways My Father’s Legacy Has Impacted Me

  1. My Father’s Faith: God used my father’s untimely death to make me think about the realities of death, Heaven, and Hell at a very early age (probably earlier than most children). This enabled my mom to share with me about my father’s Lord, Jesus Christ, and how “because my father had trusted Christ as his Savior from sin, he was with Jesus now in Heaven.” Because I admired my dad so much, I knew that if he loved Jesus, then I should learn more about Jesus, too. Eventually I came to see how irresistibly good Jesus is, so one night I prayed with my mom and expressed faith in Christ. I rejoiced that I too would one day get to see Jesus in Heaven.
  2.  My Father’s Purity: One night my dad’s squadron took a “mandatory” trip to a beach house somewhere along the Atlantic Coast. No wives or children were allowed to come. This was a special night in which many of the young pilots would receive their “call-signs.” Shortly after my father arrived at the beach house, he realized why family members were not invited. Someone had invited strippers as entertainment for the evening. Later that night, when he confided this event to my mom, she asked him how he responded. He said that he had stayed in the corner of the beach house with his hand over his eyes. A few months after my father’s crash, a pilot in the squadron gave my mom a picture that someone had taken inside the beach house that night. He told my mom that deep down “everyone respected Kelly for it, but no one had the guts to follow him.” Sure enough, in the background was my father with his hand covering his eyes. As a young boy, my mom showed me that picture and explained to me the integrity and courage my dad had displayed in that moment. She then explained the necessity of walking a path of purity in my own life. My mom framed the picture and put it in my room for me as a constant reminder to always walk in purity. The legacy of purity my father left for me has made a huge difference in my life. Many of my heroes growing up (Jesus, Joseph, my dad), faced incredible temptation and realized in that moment that those temptations “had no lasting city,” but they sought “the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). In high school, college, and the Marine Corps, I had numerous temptations to compromise, but God used the legacy of my dad and other biblical heroes, through the Holy Spirit, to help me withstand temptation.
  3. My Father’s Life of Prayer: After my dad’s death, my mom told me how he’d spent hours each night over my crib, praying for me after I had fallen asleep. As a three, four, and five-year-old fatherless boy, when I missed my dad immensely, my mom would often remind me of these prayers and how much my dad loved me. She would tell me that God loved me more than my dad ever could and that he was my Father now. Since I was a boy, I have been sensitive to the blessings God has bestowed on my life, such as a calling to ministry, a beautiful wife, two precious daughters, and incredible relationships with family and friends. I thank God for these gifts (Jam. 1:17), and I believe they are answers to my father’s prayers. Now, as a daddy to two little girls, I often spend a lot of time at night over their cribs praying for them. In that way, my father’s legacy has not only impacted me, but it’s impacted my children.

What I’ve learned From My Father About Leaving a Godly Legacy

  1. We live in a cursed world, and we never know when the Lord could take us from our families. As Christians, we no longer need to fear death because of Christ’s death and resurrection (Heb. 2:15), but we should prepare for it. We should live every day to maximize the glory of Christ (Phil. 1:20-26).
  2. Any valuable Christian legacy that we have to pass down to our children is only due to the precious blood of Jesus Christ. After all, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).
  3. Don’t underestimate the value of a life lived for Christ. Although our lives are but a vapor, the Spirit can use the example of our lives in extraordinary ways for the building of the kingdom. Iain Murray wrote in his outstanding book Heroes, “The Bible no more knows a separate class of heroes than it does of saints. Because of Jesus Christ, every Christian is extraordinary and attains to glory. Yet grace so shines in some (as in the portraits of Hebrews 11), that it lightens the path of many. As A.W. Tozer could write, ‘Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.’”

As we consider the legacies that parents leave for their families, please join with me in praying for the children of the firemen that lost their lives two nights ago. Pray that God would use the legacy of their fathers for good and that they would come to faith in Christ. Also pray that we, like Paul, would be able to say at the end of our lives, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).

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Loving One Another in Observable Ways

In Perspective,Soul Food on April 2, 2013 by The Spillover

Via Ray Ortlund:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

Three things here.  One, the command of Christ, that we love one another.  Two, the example of Christ, that we are to love one another as he loved us.  Three, the promise of Christ, that all kinds of people will see we are real disciples of Jesus, when we love one another his way.

Francis Schaeffer proposed two powerful things we can do, to display observable love for one another in response to these verses and also John 17:23:

One, “When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, ‘I’m sorry.’  That is first.  It may seem a letdown — that the first thing we speak of should be so simple.  But if you think it is easy, you have never tried to practice it. . . .”

Two, “There must also be open forgiveness.  And though it’s hard to say ‘I’m sorry,’ it’s even harder to forgive.  The Bible, however, makes plain that the world must observe a forgiving spirit in the midst of God’s people. . . .”

“[Does the world] observe that we say ‘I’m sorry,’ and do they observe a forgiving heart?  Let me repeat: Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe it, or it does not fit into the structure of John 13 and 17.  And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make the two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians, and that Christ was not sent by the Father.”

Francis Schaeffer, “The Mark of the Christian,” in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 143-146.

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The White Flag as Victory Banner

In Perspective,Soul Food on March 26, 2013 by The Spillover

Via Jared Wilson:

We are not just ordinary. Nothing is just ordinary. “The whole earth is full of his glory.” We keep trying to fill it with monuments to our own glory — kingdoms, businesses, hit songs, athletic victories, and other mechanisms of self-salvation. But the truth is better than all that. Created reality is a continuous explosion of the glory of God. And history is the drama of his grace awakening in us dead sinners eyes to see and taste to enjoy and courage to obey.

Do you realize that it is God’s will to make this earth into an extension of his throne room in Heaven? Do you realize that it is God’s will for his kingdom of glory to come into your life and for his will to be done in you as it is done in Heaven? Heaven is expanding, spreading in your direction.

That is the meaning of existence, if you will accept it and enter in.

Heaven is taking over. Yield.

Ray Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word Commentary: Crossway, 2005).

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Being an Example of His Message

In Soul Food on March 18, 2013 by The Spillover

Via My Utmost for His Highest:

We are not saved only to be instruments for God, but to be His sons and daughters. He does not turn us into spiritual agents but into spiritual messengers, and the message must be a part of us. The Son of God was His own message— “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). As His disciples, our lives must be a holy example of the reality of our message. Even the natural heart of the unsaved will serve if called upon to do so, but it takes a heart broken by conviction of sin, baptized by the Holy Spirit, and crushed into submission to God’s purpose to make a person’s life a holy example of God’s message.

There is a difference between giving a testimony and preaching. A preacher is someone who has received the call of God and is determined to use all his energy to proclaim God’s truth. God takes us beyond our own aspirations and ideas for our lives, and molds and shapes us for His purpose, just as He worked in the disciples’ lives after Pentecost. The purpose of Pentecost was not to teach the disciples something, but to make them the incarnation of what they preached so that they would literally become God’s message in the flesh. “. . . you shall be witnesses to Me . . .” (Acts 1:8).

Allow God to have complete liberty in your life when you speak. Before God’s message can liberate other people, His liberation must first be real in you. Gather your material carefully, and then allow God to “set your words on fire” for His glory.

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How Jonathan Edwards Defined Life

In Soul Food on March 8, 2013 by The Spillover

Via Ray Ortlund:

“In the Edwardses’ world, the meaning of life was found in intense loves, including earthly loves.”

–George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, 2003), page 497.

If I were in conversation with Jonathan Edwards and he began a sentence by saying, “Ray, the meaning of life is . . .,” and then he paused, I would await the completion of that sentence with deep interest.  Here is an intellectual genius.  Here is a man of God.  Here is a formidable theologian.  Here is a wise pastor.  And he is about to propose to me the meaning of life.  “Okay, Pastor Edwards, I am listening.  Please complete that sentence for me.”

Then he says, “Ray, the meaning of life is intense loves, including earthly loves.”  Not moderate loves.  Not play-it-safe loves.  Not this-won’t-cost-you-anything loves.  Not let’s-dabble-in-the-shallows loves.  But intense loves.  Brightly burning loves.  All-consuming loves.

Hiding in our timid hearts is a desire to be loved mildly, nothing more.  That way, we retain control, we set the terms, we avoid risk.  Our loving God, in his ferocious intensity, will have none of it.  He defines the meaning of our lives, and we are saved from our mild loves and brought by degrees into intense loves, like his own.

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The Itch of Self-Regard

In Soul Food on March 7, 2013 by The Spillover

HT: Adam Young (of Owl City fame):

The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval. That is, if we are getting our pleasure from feeling self-sufficient, we will not be satisfied without others seeing and applauding our self-sufficiency.

This is ironic. Self-sufficiency should free the proud person from the need to be made much of by others. That’s what sufficient means. But evidently there is a void in this so-called self-sufficiency.

The self was never designed to satisfy itself or rely upon itself. It never can be sufficient. We are but in the image of God, not God himself. We are shadows and echoes. So there will always be an emptiness in the soul that struggles to be satisfied with the resources of self.

This empty craving for the praise of others signals the failure of pride and the absence of faith in God’s ongoing grace. Jesus saw the terrible effect of this itch for human glory. He named it in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” The answer is, you can’t. Itching for glory from other people makes faith impossible. Why?

Because faith is being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. And if you are bent on getting the satisfaction of your itch from the scratch of others’ acclaim, you will turn away from Jesus.

But if you would turn from self as the source of satisfaction (repentance), and come to Jesus for the enjoyment of all that God is for us in him faith), then the itch would be replaced by a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

–John Piper

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Why Do We Fast?

In Perspective,Soul Food on March 4, 2013 by The Spillover

Why do we fast as disciples of Jesus? Because our souls feast on the glory of God. Fasting is an external expression of an internal reality. When we fast for a meal or a day or a week, we remind ourselves that more than our stomachs long for the pleasure of food, our souls long for the presence of God. We are satisfied in him and by him in a way that nothing in this world can compare to — not even the basic daily necessity of food. Fasting makes sense as a discipline in the Christian life only if it is connected with desire for Christ. When we fast, we say, “More than we want our hunger to cease, we want your Kingdom to come!”

–Platt, Follow Me, p. 119

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7 Reasons to Care About the Great Commission

In Perspective,Soul Food on February 26, 2013 by The Spillover

Thabiti Anyabwile:

1. To experience the power of God (Matt. 28:18). “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” proclaims the Lord. He invests that authority and might in the work of redemption. Our participation in the Great Commission brings us under that Heavenly Authority. No better place to be.

2. For the glory of God in Christ (Matt. 28:18). The Lord’s words in verse 18 harken back to that wonderful vision of Daniel 7:13-14. The transfer of “authority, glory and sovereign power” that Daniel foresaw is completed in our Lord’s post-Resurrection commission to His Church. The bringing of nations to worship Christ spreads the glory of God in His Son.

3. To express obedience and love (Matt. 28:19). The commands us to “go and make disciples.” We’re not only to “teach them to obey everything I commanded,” but we’re also to express such obedience ourselves. Participating in the Great Commission is in a sense the simultaneous way we both obey and teach others to obey. The Lord knows our love for Him by our obedience to Him (John 14:152123).

4. For eternal significance (Matt. 28:19). Is there a purpose in life loftier than working to bring every nation under the sovereign rule and worship of Jesus Christ? Can we give our lives to any greater purpose? Is there a human pursuit that will echo louder in the halls of heaven than the conversion of sinners and salvation of the lost?

5. For the joy of all peoples (Matt. 28:19). Those nations brought to the Savior, confessing their faith in baptism, will simultaneously be brought to the Pearl of Great Price. They will be like that man who found treasure hidden in a field and “in his joy” sold everything to purchase it (Matt. 13:44). Those who give themselves to the Great Commission work for the joy of the nations (2 Cor. 1:24).

6. For abiding presence and fellowship of Jesus (Matt. 28:20). “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The Lord promises His presence with His Church.  That presence is felt most when we’re on mission for and with Him.

7. Because God cares (Matt. 28:18-20). Men and women tend to think their last words are their most important words. Perhaps we should apply that thinking to the Master’s last words in Matthew. He leaves us His enduring charge, a charge resting on His power, blessed with His presence and purchased with His blood. It seems anti-climactic to say “God cares about the nations” or “God cares about the Great Commission.” But He does. And because the Lord cares, we should care, too.

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Why Do We Worship?

In Soul Food on February 23, 2013 by The Spillover

Why do we worship God? Because we want God. We exalt him precisely because we enjoy him. C.S. Lewis expresses this wonderfully when he writes,

All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise… The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game… I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.

When we delight in something, we declare our delight. When we adore someone, we announce our adoration. Isn’t this, then, the essence of worship — lifting up with our lips and our lives the one we love above everything else?

–David Platt, Follow Me, p. 119

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A Prayer About Being Known and Loved

In Perspective,Soul Food on February 19, 2013 by The Spillover

Scotty Smith:

Dear heavenly Father, there are so many things attributed to you in the Scriptures that are clearly not our domain, calling or business. Heart-knowing is one of them. We often speak of being drawn to someone’s heart, or of being offended, confused, or shut out from their heart; but only you really know what’s in each of our hearts.

That’s why we pray with humility and joy, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139:23), for we cannot and must not trust our own diagnosis. There’s nothing more deceitful on the face of the earth than the heart, including our hearts (Jer. 17:9). Only you understand the ways of the heart, Father. Only you can cure its great sickness.

Sometimes we think of ourselves much more highly than we ought—so wanting to believe we’re more like Jesus than reality affirms. Sometimes we fall into shame and contempt, and act like strangers to your mercy and grace—like orphans without a loving Father above or your consoling Spirit within. Sometimes we just think about ourselves too often, period. Way too often we arrogantly assume we know what’s in the hearts of others—playing judge and jury, warden and executioner. Forgive us and free us from such meanness and madness.

Father, here’s our sure and only hope: Through Jesus, you’ve already sprinkled clean water on us and have declared us to be clean. You’ve cleansed us from our impurities and are freeing us from our idols. You’ve already given us a new heart and placed your Spirit within us. You removed our stony hearts and gave us hearts of flesh—hearts that beat for you and your glory (Ezek. 36:24-27). What a generous and powerful God you are!

And you will complete this good work you’ve begun in each of us and in all of creation (Phil. 1:6). Justified sinners are destined to be your glorified children (Rom. 8:30). Oh, how we praise you for the peace and assurance we enjoy, all because the gospel is true. Help us to walk in greater humility before you and in observable kindness toward one another. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ loving and heart-transforming name.

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The Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”

In Soul Food on February 11, 2013 by The Spillover

Sinclair Ferguson:

Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .”

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

Articles

He Has Done All Things Well

In Soul Food on February 7, 2013 by The Spillover

Jared Wilson:

And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
– Mark 7:37

But oh, kids, that’s just the beginning! For when he looks up to say “Eph-pha-tha – Be opened” (Mark 7:34) he’s not just talking about the ears and the eyes of the deaf and the blind but about heaven itself. Heaven, be opened! Heaven, spill out your glory. And because it was the Father’s will, heaven has given forth its King, its honored Son, the firstborn of all Creation. Heaven has opened up and given us God in the flesh. In these miracles, heaven has opened up and shown us glimpses of new life beyond the veil, glimpses of life after life after death. Heaven has opened up in the life and ministry of Jesus showing us the kingdom’s coming to earth, renewing all things. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak, yes, but Behold!, he also, according to Revelation 21:5, is making all things new!

And he does all things well! So the newness is well done. It glistens with eternity, it has the glow of the radiance of the glory of God about it. When he gives life, he gives it abundantly (John 10:10). When he gives a burden and a yoke, he makes sure it’s a light one and an easy one (Mt. 11:30). When he welcomes the weary, he gives them rest (Mt. 11:28). When he sets a person free, they are free indeed (John 8:36). He does all things well.

He justifies us. He sanctifies us. He glorifies us. His work grounds our adoption. Our union. Our reconciliation.

He does all things well.

Look back over your life and if you see the valleys, see how the Lord has brought you out of them time and time again. His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). His lovingkindness endures forever (Ps. 100:5). His promises are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20). He will not leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Nothing can separate you from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). No one can snatch you out of his hand (Jn. 10:28). Lo, he is with you always, even until the ends of the earth (Mt. 28:20).

He has done all things well.

But don’t just see the valleys, see the mountains. He has given you heights of joy, if you care to see them. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). He fills you with joy inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Pet. 1:8). The joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10). He has made your feet like the deer’s, setting you on secure heights (Ps. 18:33) and lifted you up on wings of eagles (Is. 40:31). Time and time again, he has brought you through and delivered you and given you victories expected and unexpected.

He has done all things well.

And as you view the majestic peaks of his faithfulness throughout your life, beautiful snowy peaks in a breathtaking mountain range glistening in the light of heaven, see the one standing tall above them, the most high, the Mt. Everest of God’s faithfulness to you – Mount Calvary, where Christ took your sin and its death to the cross, bore your punishment, casting it away into the void, and thereby declared not “It is mostly done” or “It is begun” but “It. Is. Finished.”

He has done all things well.