Articles

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.

Articles

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)

Articles

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).

Articles

What is your Bible-reading plan for 2015?

In Scripture on December 29, 2014 by The Spillover

Tim Challies:

Tis the season to think about next season. As 2014 draws to a close, our thoughts begin to turn to the new year. Whenever I consider a new year, I think of how I will approach another 365 daily devotions. At this point I am still undecided. There are so many good ways to read the Bible and each one seems better than the last. While I think and pray about it, I thought I’d share what I have found so far.

Here is a round-up of some of the ways you can read the Bible in 2015.

Ligonier Reading Plans. Ligonier offers what is probably the best and most thorough round-up of reading plans. They have plans that will take you through the Bible in a year, plans that will take you through the Bible in a few years, and plans that you can do at your own pace. Some of the plans involve only reading the Bible while others offer daily devotionals. There is something for everyone here.

ESV Bible Plans – The ESV site offers 12 different plans that are available in a variety of formats. You can also subscribe to their podcast which will allow you to listen to the Bible; if you do that you will go once through the Old Testament each year, and twice through the New Testament and Psalms.

Logos. The Logos software has Bible-reading plans built right into it, but you will need to use the Logos software to access them.

Bible.com – Bible.com, which offers the amazing Bible app, has a long list of plans to choose from. You will need to use the site or app to access them.

INTERESTING PLANS

Here are a few plans that look particularly interesting or different.

Professor Horner’s System – Professor Horner’s System is intense—10 chapters per day. You’ll read 10 chapters from 10 different books each day, which means you’ll always be reading different combinations. It’s a great system but takes a lot of commitment.

A Bible Plan for Readers – Peter Krol’s plan begins with reading through the entire Bible as quickly as you can, then slowing the pace a little bit.

The Change Your Mind Plan – This plan is very simple: “1. Choose a book of the Bible. 2. Read it in its entirety. 3. Repeat step #2 twenty times. 4. Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.”

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment. This plan structures Scripture readings around Jim Hamilton’s book God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment. Through the year you will read both the Book and the book about the Book.

Denny Burk’s Plan. Denny Burk’s plan goes through the Bible in a year in canonical order, one book at a time. There are a handfull of “catchup” days thrown in in case you get behind. (Denny also offers a Greek New Testament plan.)

Articles

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.

Articles

7 Things Your Church Needs From You

In Calvary Baptist Church on October 14, 2014 by The Spillover

Tim Challies:

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of young adults from several churches across our city. I chose to speak about how any Christian (not only young adults) can make a church better and stronger. Here are some of the things I came up with: 7 things your church needs from you.

Your church needs you to…

…BE HUMBLE

There is no character quality more important than humility. While humility does not come naturally to any of us, it can be learned, because here’s the thing: Humility isn’t a feeling or an attitude—it’s action. If you want to learn humility, you need to act humble. Here are 3 quick tips on becoming humble:

  • Find mature Christians who exemplify humility and spend time around them. Learn from them and learn to be like them.
  • Volunteer for the lowliest of tasks. Don’t ask to be in the public eye when you serve, but be content to stay in the back. Find joy in doing the lowliest jobs and do them when and where only Jesus will see.
  • Get to know Jesus. It was Jesus who said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12). And it was Jesus who humbled himself the deepest and was exalted the highest.

…PRIORITIZE CHURCH

Every church has people who make the public gatherings of the church a low priority. These are the people who only come to church when it is convenient and who use any excuse to miss a day or miss a service. Every church desperately needs people who will make the public gatherings a top priority. Today is the day to begin elevating the importance of church in your life.

Let me give you two reasons:

  • First, you need your church. God made you part of your church for your good. You cannot do life on your own. You aren’t strong enough, you aren’t wise enough, you aren’t mature enough, you aren’t godly enough. Without the beautifully ordinary means of grace you encounter in the church, you won’t make it. Without the support of your brothers and sisters, you won’t make it.
  • Second, your church needs you. God made you part of your church for the good of others. 1 Peter 4 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” God has gifted you to be part of your church, and those gifts are to be used for the good of other people. So prioritize church as an expression of generosity toward others.

…CONSIDER GIVING GOD A DAY

Why don’t you considering setting aside an entire day of the week and dedicating it to the Lord in a special way? We believe that the Old Testament law has been fulfilled in Christ, though there is some disagreement among Christians about the implications. But even if you believe that the Sabbath command is no longer binding on us, there is still value in learning from it.

It completely changes Sunday when you give the entire day to the Lord and his people. Now you’re not having to decide whether to take that class or join that club that meets Sunday afternoon. You’re not skipping church during exam time because you’ve got studying to do. You’re not leaving early to get home before the football game starts. Instead, you’re leaving behind all the cares of life, and even many of the joys of life, and dedicating an entire day to worship, to fellowship, and to serving others.

…LIVE LIKE A CHRISTIAN ALL WEEK LONG

It is easy enough to be a Christian at church, but then you get home. But then you go to work. But then you go to school. And then you’re surrounded by people acting ungodly, and even worse, you’re left along with your own thoughts and your own desires. Yet your church needs you to live like a Christian all week long.

Each of us faces different challenges and different temptations. But one key to living like a Christian all week long is spending time in Word and prayer every day. Make this a priority no matter how busy you are and no matter how crazy life seems. Make this something you do no matter how badly you’ve sinned and how little you feel like doing it. Pray day-by-day not only for yourself, but for your church. Take that membership directly and pray through it from A to Z, and then start over.Make your devotional life something you do not just for the good of yourself, but for the good of others.

…GET TO KNOW PEOPLE NOT LIKE YOU

Churches are involuntary communities—we don’t get to pick who comes to them, God does. So what we have to do is learn to live with these people and learn to love these people, even when they are very different from us. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” If your church is divided so that all the young adults hang out together and all the older folk hang out together, or if all the people with accents hang out together and all the people without accents hang out together, that makes a statement about the gospel—that the gospel is not big enough and powerful enough to really make people love one another even though they are different.

So commit to get to know people not like you. There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to say that some of your best and closest relationships are with people who are very different from you.

…LEARN GENEROSITY

Few things reveal the heart better than money. Money has an amazing way of displaying what you really believe and what you really value. No matter who and what stage of life you are at, there is no better time than now to learn to be generous with your money. Here’s what the Bible says: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” You must give, and you must learn to do it cheerfully.

Here are just 2 quick tips:

  • Remember that it’s not your money. The money belongs to God—he just gives it to you to manage it. And he means for you to manage it well and to his glory.
  • Give to the Lord first. I know people who say they can’t give to the church, and yet they’ve got a new cell phone and are carrying a cup of Starbucks into church every week. That doesn’t compute. Learn to give the first and best of your money to the Lord. The harder that seems, the more you need to do it.

…BE A GREAT CHURCH MEMBER

Make yourself invaluable to your church, and do this by serving other people. I love reading about Dorcas, the woman Peter raised from the dead who was described as being “full of good works and acts of charity” (see Acts 9). “When Peter arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.” Dorcas was a great church member. She loved people so much, and did so much good to them, that the whole community mourned when she died.

Articles

Same-Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court: What Now for the Church?

In Home and Family on October 6, 2014 by The Spillover

Russell Moore:

The Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?

There are two responses we should avoid.

The first is the temptation to listen to those who would want to jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus has handed down to us. Our vision of marriage is not the equivalent of a church constitution and by-laws, adaptable by a majority vote. Marriage is not simply a cultural or legal practice, but is instead an icon of the union between Christ and his church, embedded in the creation (Eph. 5:22-31). Without a Christian vision of marriage, we have no Christian vision of the gospel.

The second, though, is to respond with a siege mentality. We wring our hands or shake our fists at the cultural moment in a way that also detracts from the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers, which is why the Bible is consistently equipping the churches to live in a world of prostitution and adultery and so on. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us.

We ought to have the confidence of people who have heard a word from God and the compassion of a people who are on a mission with God. The Supreme Court can do many things, but the Supreme Court cannot get Jesus back into his cemetery plot.

Our model here ought to be the best aspects of the pro-life movement. Were there angry people who were anti-abortion who simply wanted the “wedge issue” in order to differentiate themselves from their opponents? I’m sure there were. But the primary thrust of the movement wasn’t about culture wars but cultural persuasion. That was by necessity, since real-life women were making real-life decisions about real-life babies. We don’t demonize them. We speak to them, with an alternative vision of what it means to love and to cherish every human life, in our families and in our laws.

Jesus wasn’t shocked by the Samaritan woman at the well, who had had five husbands and was now living outside of wedlock. He also wasn’t afraid to speak a word of repentance to her conscience. He said to her, “Woman, go get your husband and come here” (Jn. 4:16). Both aspects of that sentence must be part of our witness: an honest assessment of sin and an invitation not just to morality, but to life.

Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it. Let’s articulate a Christian vision of what marriage should be, and let’s embody that vision in our churches. Let’s love our gay and lesbian neighbors. Let’s move forward with persuasion and with confidence. This is no time for retreat or for resentment. This is a time for mission.

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When God Himself Speaks to You

In Videos on October 2, 2014 by The Spillover

Here’s a 4-minute video of John Piper reading truths from Romans 8, as if they were being spoken to us by God Himself.

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

In Perspective on June 2, 2014 by The Spillover

Jared Wilson:

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

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

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

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

– Mark 3:31-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They asked whether I was prepared to die as a Christian

In Awareness on May 16, 2014 by The Spillover

Denny Burk:

NBC News has the story of a Nigerian Christian man who was shot by Boko Haram terrorists for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. This man’s name is Habila Adamu, and he was attacked by the same group of terrorists who recently abducted 200 Nigerian school girls. They broke into his home, shot him, and left him for dead all in full view of his wife and son. It’s a miracle that he is alive. It’s even more a miracle that he stood.

You must read his story in his own words. Below is an extended excerpt from the NBC News report:

A father who was shot point-blank in the face by Boko Haram recounted how the militants asked whether he was “prepared to die as a Christian” and then left for dead.

Habila Adamu, 40, was so badly wounded in the attack that he said goodbye to his wife as blood poured from a gaping wound.

The father-of-one said the April 15 capture by Boko Haram of more than 200 girls from a boarding school brought back painful memories of the night he was shot and beaten in his home.

“When I heard about those girls I started to pray,” Adamu told NBC News on Tuesday. “Boko Haram have no mercy. All they want to do is drive the Christian community out of northern Nigeria and they won’t stop until they do it.”

Many of the minority Christians in Yobe province were fearful of Boko Haram because the militants had attacked homes and businesses in the region, according to Adamu.

“They asked whether I was prepared to die as a Christian … My wife was crying but I could not deny Christ”

The businessman initially thought they were soldiers on patrol near his home one night in November 2012.

“But when I saw their robes and AK-47 rifles I knew they were not from the army,” he said. “They told me they were there to do the work of Allah.”

With his wife Vivian and son David, now aged seven, looking on, four men forced their way indoors and asked whether he was a member of the police force or army. He told them he was not.

“Then they asked me whether I would convert to Islam and when I refused they asked whether I was prepared to die as a Christian. My wife was crying but I could not deny Christ. I felt powerful, unafraid, I don’t know why.”

Before he could refuse a second time, a bullet pierced his neck.

“I fell on the ground,” Adamu said. “They thought I was dead because they stomped on me twice and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘God is great.’”

Adamu mustered the strength to talk to his wife before slipping out of consciousness.

“She was crying so many tears,” he said. “Neither of us thought I would survive so I told her that to live in this world was to live for Christ. I told her to look after our son and herself.”

“A doctor told my wife there was no point in treating me”

Recovering her composure, Vivian ran to find help from fellow members of the Christian community – only to find that militants had killed 12 others.

Too scared to leave the house, she tended to her husband for eight hours. At first light, she was able to arrange transport to a nearby medical center.

“When they saw the wound, a doctor told my wife there was no point in treating me,” Adamu said. “I had lost so much blood.”

However, they gave him painkillers and transferred him to the Jos University Hospital, hundreds of miles further south, where doctors funded by the non-profit organization Voice of Martyrs were able to treat him.

Adamu’s condition gradually stabilized and he was discharged about two weeks later.

I thank God that He spared Adamu’s life. I thank Him even more that He gave Adamu the courage to stand. Read the rest here.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12

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4 Questions When Jesus Confronts Us

In Being Real on May 15, 2014 by The Spillover

J.D. Greear:

One of the ironies of our current culture is that most people today find Jesus rather boring. Most people don’t mind Jesus, but they don’t really love him or hate him either. This proves that which proves they haven’t actually met him.

No one in the Bible was ever bored with Jesus. The real Jesus was polarizing; people either loved him or hated him. The more attractive he grew to some, the more loathsome he grew to others. Certain people thronged to him, while others plotted his death.

That’s why I love it when I bump up against a tough saying of Jesus, like you find in Luke 12:51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Here is Jesus confronting each and every one of us, saying, “I didn’t come to be a religious addition to your life. I came to turn your entire world upside-down.”

Four questions in light of that:

1. Have I “owned” Jesus in all my relationships?

Are we really letting Jesus take the lead in our families? Parents, are you teaching your kids to obey Jesus more than you? The Christian world is filled with parents who don’t want their kids to obey God and go on the mission field. And if they must defy you to obey God, then that’s what Jesus is asking. But do we really want our kids to obey God in spite of us?

Are we letting Jesus redirect our work? I know business leaders in the community who have lost jobs because they refused to sacrifice their integrity. I know others who were ostracized or fired for sharing their faith. As our society continues to debate about public religious liberty, this may be more and more costly for us. Are we going to own Jesus at our workplaces?

Will you own Jesus in your friendships? Will you continue to confess Christ in the midst of withering criticism from those you hold most dear? When they lie about you, and cut you out of their circles? Or will you treasure certain relationships more than your devotion to Christ?

2. Am I obeying him with what’s in front of me right now?

It’s pretty easy to talk about “total sacrifice” in the abstract. Would I die for Jesus? Of course! But are we obeying him right now? It’s always easier to be obedient in a dramatic hypothetical than in the nitty-gritty of life. Before we say we’re willing to have our throats slit for Jesus, we need to examine our current habits. Are we serving others, giving to the mission, or spending time in biblical community?

Here’s a huge one: are we submitting to the biblical pattern of sexual ethics?Most young Christians have no qualms with sleeping together before marriage. What business do we have saying we would die for Jesus when we aren’t willing to obey him with our lives today? Dying isn’t the hard part; living is.

3. Do I have any conditions for following Jesus?

What areas do I insist that God provide for me if I’m going to follow him? I have been tempted this way plenty in the past, and I know people who have walked away from Jesus because of some pain or disappointment in their life. They thought that they deserved a better marriage, or a better job, or they were broken up about somebody’s death.

All that revealed was that Jesus wasn’t “all” to them. He was a means to an end. When the means stopped working, they looked for a better one. Jesus doesn’t want us following him because he’s the fast track to a better life; he wants us to follow him without reservation and without condition.

4. Where I am causing division, am I doing it like him?

Sadly, a lot of Christians take Jesus’ words about division and they apply them in all the wrong ways. They’re divisive, but only because they’re acting like jerks.

But Jesus didn’t cause division like that. Jesus spoke the truth, and when that caused division, he drew all of the fire onto himself. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

We tend to defend ourselves in anger, but Jesus bore our insults with compassion. We tend to press the issue, but Jesus patiently responded to different people in different ways. We tend to dismiss people when they disagree with us, but Jesus was able to clearly confront sin and still draw us close to him.

Is there division in your life because of Christ? Or do people around you still think Jesus is boring?

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I Hate Sharing My Faith

In Evangelism, Videos on May 9, 2014 by The Spillover

Francis Chan:

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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.

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Braille – Consecrated to Jesus (spoken word)

In Videos on May 2, 2014 by The Spillover

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

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

David Mathis:

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

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

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

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

The Sacraments As Means of Grace

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

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

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

Grace in the Water

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

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

Improve Your Baptism

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

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

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

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

Watch in Faith, Wash Your Soul

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

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

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A Dad Who Sings

In Perspective on April 30, 2014 by The Spillover

Trevin Wax:

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

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

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

Oh, the humanity!

At least we were in this together.

~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

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

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

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

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God Working in You, and You Working to Follow God

In Perspective on April 25, 2014 by The Spillover

Randy Alcorn:

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

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

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

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

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

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Good Friday

In Easter on April 18, 2014 by The Spillover

Jon Bloom:

It is Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. It is the darkest day in human history, though most humans have no clue of this. In Rome, Tiberius attends to the demanding business of the empire. Throughout the inhabited world, babies are born, people eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage, barter in marketplaces, sail merchant ships, and fight battles. Children play, old women gossip, young men lust, and people die.

But today one death, one brutal, gruesome death, the worst and best of all human deaths will leave upon the canvas of human history the darkest brushstroke. In Jerusalem, God the Son, the Creator of all that is (John 1:3), will be executed.

The Garden

The Jewish day dawns with night, and never has it been more fitting, since today the hour has come and the power of darkness (Luke 22:53). Jesus is in Gethsemane, where he has prayed with loud cries and tears, being heard by his Father (Hebrews 5:7) whose will will be done. Jesus hears noises and looks up. Torches and hushed voices signal the arrest party’s arrival.

Jesus wakes his sleepy friends who are jarred alert at the sight of their brother, Judas, betraying his Rabbi with a kiss. Soldiers and servants encircle Jesus. Peter, flushed with anger, pulls out his sword and lunges at those nearest Jesus. Malchus flinches, but not enough. Blinding pain and blood surge where his ear had been. Voices speak, but Malchus only hears the screaming wound, which he’s grabbed with both hands. He feels a hand touch his hands and the pain vanishes. Under his hands is an ear. Stunned, he looks at Jesus, already being led away. Disciples are scattering. Malchus looks down at his bloody hands.

The Sanhedrin

Jesus is led brusquely into to the house of Annas, a former High Priest, who questions him about his teaching. Jesus knows this informal interrogation is meant to catch him disoriented and unguarded. He is neither, and gives this manipulative leader nothing. Rather, he refers Annas to his hearers and is struck with irony by a Jewish officer for showing disrespect. Frustrated, Annas sends Jesus on to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the current High Priest.

At Caiaphas’s house the trial gets underway quickly. Morning will come fast. The Council needs a damning verdict by daybreak. The examination proceeds as bleary-eyed Sanhedrin members continue to file in.

The trial has been assembled hastily and witnesses haven’t been screened well. Testimonies don’t line up. Council members look disconcerted. Jesus is silent as a lamb. Irritated and impatient, Caiaphas cuts to the quick: “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).

The hour has come. Charged in the name of his Father to answer, Jesus speaks the words that seal the doom for which he had come to endure (John 12:27): “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

In a moment of law-breaking (Leviticus 21:10) politically religious theater, Caiaphas tears his robes in feigned outrage and thinly concealed relief over Jesus’s blasphemy. He declares the trial’s end with, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves form his own lips” (Luke 22:71).

As the sun breaks over Jerusalem’s eastern ridge, Judas swings from his own belt, Peter writhes in the grief of his failure and Jesus’s face is streaked with dried blood and saliva from the pre-dawn sport of the temple police. The Council’s verdict: guilty of blasphemy. Their sentence: death. But it’s a sentence they cannot carry out. Rome refuses to delegate capital punishment.

The Governor

Pilate’s mood, already sour over the Sanhedrin’s sudden insistent intrusion so early in the morning, worsens as he grasps the situation. They want him to execute a Galilean “prophet.” His seasoned instincts tell him something isn’t right. He questions Jesus and then tells the Council, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4).

A game of political chess ensues between Pilate and the Sanhedrin, neither realizing that they are pawns, not kings.

Pilate makes a move. As a Galilean, Jesus falls under Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction. Let Herod judge. Herod initially receives Jesus happily, hoping to see a miracle. But Jesus refuses to entertain or even respond. Antipas, disappointed, blocks the move by returning Jesus to Pilate.

Pilate makes another move. He offers to release Jesus as this year’s annual Passover pardoned prisoner. The Council blocks the move. “Not this man, but Barabbas!” they cry (John 18:40). Pilate is astounded. The Sanhedrin prefers a thief and murderer to this peasant prophet?

Pilate tries another move. He has Jesus severely flogged and humiliated, hoping to curb the Council’s blood thirst. Again the move is blocked when the Council insists that Jesus must be crucified because “he has made himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). Check. Pilate’s fear grows. Jesus’s divine claim could threaten Rome. Worse, it could be true. Roman deities supposedly could take on human form. His further questioning of Jesus unnerves him.

One last move. Pilate tries to persuade the Sanhedrin to release Jesus. One last block and trap. “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). The Council has Pilate where they want him: cornered. Checkmate.

And the triune God has the Council, Pilate, and Satan where he wants them. They would have no authority over the Son at all unless it had been given them from above (John 19:11). Fallen Jews, Gentiles and spiritual powers unwittingly collaborate in executing the only innocent death that could possibly grant the guilty life. Checkmate.

The Cross

Morning wanes as Jesus stumbles out of the Praetorium, horribly beaten and bleeding profusely. The Roman soldiers had been brutal in their creative cruelty. Thorns have ripped Jesus’s scalp and his back is one grotesque, oozing wound. Golgotha is barely a third of a mile through the Garden Gate, but Jesus has no strength to manage the forty-pound crossbar. Simon of Cyrene is drafted from the crowd.

Twenty-five minutes later, Jesus is hanging in sheer agony on one of the cruelest instruments of torture ever devised. Nails have been driven through his wrists (which we only know about because of the doubt Thomas will express in a couple days (John 20:25)). A sign above Jesus declares in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic who he is: the King of the Jews.

The King is flanked on either side by thieves and around him are gawkers and mockers. “Let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” some yell (Luke 23:35). One dying thief even joins in the derision. They do not understand that if the King saves himself, their only hope for salvation is lost. Jesus asks his Father to forgive them. The other crucified thief sees a Messiah in the mutilated man beside him, and he asks the Messiah to remember him. Jesus’s prayer is beginning to be answered. Hundreds of millions will follow.

It is mid-afternoon now and the eerie darkness that has fallen has everyone on edge. But for Jesus, the darkness is a horror he has never known. This, more than the nails and thorns and lashings, is what made him sweat blood in the garden. The Father’s wrath is hitting him in full force. He is in that moment no longer the Blessed, but the Cursed (Galatians 3:13). He has become sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). In terrifying isolation, cut off from his Father and all humans he screams, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani,” Aramaic for “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46Psalm 22:1). No greater love (John 15:13), humility (Philippians 2:8), or obedience (Hebrews 5:8) has ever or will ever be displayed.

Shortly after 3 PM, Jesus whispers hoarsely for a drink. In love, he has drained the cup of his Father’s wrath to the dregs. He has born our full curse. There is no debt left to pay and he has nothing left to give. The wine moistens his mouth just enough to say one final word: “It is finished” (John 19:30). And God the Son dies.

It is the worst and best of all human deaths. For on this tree he bears our sins in his body (1 Peter 2:24), “the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). And now it is finished.

The Tomb

A bright irony on this darkest of days is that the men who step forward to claim the corpse of the Christ for burial are not family members or disciples. They are members of the Sanhedrin: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. It is one more unexpected thread of grace woven into this tapestry of redemption. They quickly wrap Jesus’s body in a sheet and lay it in a nearby tomb. Evening is falling and they don’t have time to fully dress it with spices.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses accompany them, careful to note the tomb’s location. They plan to return with more spices after the Sabbath, on the first day of the week, to make sure that it is finished.