Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Making it easier to hear...

I can't make someone respond to rebuke correctly, but I sure can make it easier for them to do that...or more difficult.

It's not enough for merely to say the right thing, I need to think about the right way to say it. To quote Solomon, "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable..." (Proverbs 15:2)

What is involved exactly in doing that? In other words, what does the wise person do in order to make knowledge acceptable?

I know I don't have all the answers, perhaps you have some ideas. I'll just jot down a couple ideas that come to mind.

1.) He doesn't just think about what he's going to say, he thinks about who he is saying it to.

Paul talks about admonishing the unruly, helping the fainthearted, encouraging the weak. There are different ways we speak to different people. You get those categories mixed up and there's going to be alot of damage.

2.) He doesn't just say things the way he would like them to be said, he thinks about what is best for the other person.

I happen to be a very sensitive person. I know what you are thinking, that's another word for a wimp. Maybe, maybe not...my point is I like it when people rebuke me gently. I mean I'm usually pretty quick so you can kind of just put it out there and most of the time I'll get it.

Others though aren't so sensitive. They want you to give it to them straight. They actually like that.

I've found that sometimes I'll try to rebuke someone who isn't so sensitive the way I would like to be rebuked, and they just don't get it. They are kind of like, Josh can you please just get to the point? If I'm going to communicate well with them, I need to think about ways I can serve them by the way I speak. To totally twist the words of Paul, to the blunt I need to become blunt. (Astericks, astericks...so long as it doesn't violate clear biblical principles about say, being gentle.)

Taking Hits the Gospel Way

It is funny how some of the most obviously important things in life to do are also some of the most difficult things in the world to do.

Like responding to criticism well.

I think most every single one of us knows that we need to respond to criticism well if we're going to grow in our relationship with God, and even more fundamentally, if we are going to grow at all.

But how many of us actually do?

I've found the following article on the difference the gospel should make on the way we respond to criticism to be very helpful, though to be sure, if you have any problems with it you can lodge them elsewhere!

Active Unbelief

"Unbelief is not a negative but an active thing...It is not just a refusal to believe. This is how the devil foils us, of course - he persuades modern unbelievers into thinking that they are unbelievers because of their great intelligence, their wonderful intellect and understanding. They think that people who are Christians are fools, who have either not read or have not understood what they read. The unbeliever thinks he is in that state because of his marvellous brain and mind, and especially bcause of his scientific knowledge, and that it is in light of these things that he refuses to believe...according to the Bible that is an utter fallacy. Unbelief is terribly positive and active, a state and condition of the soul, with a very definite mentality and the Bible indeed does not hesitate to put it like this: Unbelief is one of the manifestations of sin; it is one of the symptoms of that fell and foul disease...Unbelievers of course do not agree with that, but that is what the Bible tells them. It tells them that they are unbelievers because they are the dupes of Satan, the slaves of sin and of evil. They rejoice in their great emancipation, that they have been delivered from the shackles of the Bible, and that they have been emancipated from this drug, this dope of the people which we call the gospel. Poor things! They are unconscious slaves and, like the victim of many another vice, they do not know that they are victims. It is like a person suffering from a disease without realising it...The trouble with all of us in such a state or condition is that we are not prepared to listen and we do not want any information and instruction. We start with the postulate that we have a theory of life, we know exactly what is needed and therefore we demand it and come to the gospel with our demands...The unbeliever does not come with an open mind, but with preconceived ideas and prejudices, waiting to criticise."

Martyn Lloyd Jones

Monday, November 28, 2005

Giving Thanks in All Things Begins with the Gospel

I haven't met too many Christians who would admit they want to be remembered as complainers.

For one thing, we've got the commands.

"Rejoice always..." "In everything give thanks..."

There's just way too much clear teaching on this subject for a professing Christian to say he wants to be a complainer and get away with it.

But besides all the commands, most of us don't want to be complainers because we're well aware of all its negative effects.

It destroys friendships.

It makes getting things done difficult.

It steals the joy out of life.

And on and on we could go.

Believer, unbeliever, most of the people I've met would say they don't want their lives to be characterized by complaining.

Thing is, I've met alot of complainers.

Most people would say they don't want their lives to be characterized by complaining and yet many, if not most people's lives are characterized by just that.

Oh, I know we've all got our excuses.


Family Background.


But I'm convinced the real reason our lives are characterized by complaining rather than thanksgiving is more fundamental, more basic than all that. Our complaining reveals we don't appreciate the gospel the way we should.

You show me a person whose life isn't characterized by thanksgiving and I'll show you a person who isn't really gripped by the truths of the gospel.

Think about some of the reasons a right understanding of the gospel should cause us to give thanks in all things.

I'll give you one.

We complain because we think we aren't getting what we deserve.

The gospel knocks us to our knees and causes us to give thanks because we know for sure we aren't getting what we deserve.

You have more?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Biblical Name Calling

I'm not the kind of guy who likes to call others names.

I'd like to think it was because of my spirituality, but probably a big part is personality. Strong language just isn't my thing. I know what people say about satire, but a whole lot of the time it just doesn't seem nice.

The problem of course is that I sometimes substitute my definition of what's nice with the Bible's definition of what's loving.

I'm not advocating going out of our way to call other people names, but I do think we have to be careful not to automatically equate using strong language with being unloving.

It certainly can be unloving and a whole lot of the time it is, but it isn't always. It can't be.

Because Jesus did.

How's "Get behind me, Satan."

I don't know about you but if someone called me Satan, I'd be a little bit offended.

It was Jesus, sure.

It was a pretty serious moment, I've got that.

There was a whole lot on the line, yes.

I've never found myself in a situation like that, I know.

But, listen using strong language can't automatically be unloving because here we see Jesus used it.

So did Paul.

"Look out for the dogs, the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh..."

Or how about my personal favorite, Galatians 5:12, "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves."


And don't forget, that sentence was inspired by God.

Being the sinners we are, we often use the Bible to rationalize away our being just plain mean. On the other hand, being the sinners we are, we need to be careful that we don't use the Bible to rationalize away a warped understanding of what it means to be nice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Stupid, Delicious Lies

I sometimes wonder if part of Satan's goal isn't to see how stupid of an idea he can get people to fall for. One of my personal favorites: He gets people to spend their entire lives trying to prove that we really are related to monkeys. You've got men and women with their PH.d's who will get infuriated with you for telling them they are not an animal.

I think Doug Bookman makes an important point when he writes:

"...the power of a lie is not intrinsic in its inherent credibility but in its attractiveness...the father of lies learned in the Garden that a lie of almost infinite implausibility will seduce if it is sufficiently tantalizing. In short, a lie is powerful not because it is deceptive but because it is delicious."

That seems important to remember in all the talk about Intelligent Design. I would guess there's something to be said for showing the reasonableness of believing in a Creator, but in the end, we need to remember when we are talking with people that the real problem is not reasonableness,or anything like that. It goes deeper (it's about authority) and if we're going to help people we've got to get to that.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Faith not fear...

Faith not fear because...

1.) God is bigger than my circumstances.

2.) God is for me even in the middle of difficult circumstances.

3.) God is so for me He crucified His Son that I might belong to Him.

4.) If I die, it gets better.

5.) God uses what looks like failure all the time to accomplish His goals, just think about the cross.

6.) It's not about what people think of me.

7.) God proved He was sovereign over every threat to my life when he walked the earth.

8.) It's not about my abilities. God has demonstrated a million times over that it's about Him working through us, not us working for Him.

9.) When I stand before God it's not going to be about how good I was, it's going to be about me trusting Jesus and how good He was.

10.) I'm never alone. God promises to hear and answer my prayers.

Can you think of any others?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Things that make you go hmmmm...

I don't know if it's because I'm teaching at my old high school or what, but I've been thinking lately about pop songs that were popular when I was a student. Actually, about one song in particular.

Things that make you go hmmmm. (Comment noted: I guess there are four m's in hmmmm, not two.)

I can't even really remember the words, but I do remember the idea. It's about things that don't seem to make sense, like seeing someone with a wool jacket, gloves and a hat walking around in the middle of a hundred degree weather.

Sometimes people do things that don't seem to connect with the way things are.

I think that's definitely true spiritually.

I'm sure God's not up in heaven looking at me and saying hmm. But if I were God and I was looking at my life and what I say I believe and how I sometimes live, I think I probably would.

Here we've got what we say at church we believe about the gospel and here we've got how we go out and actually act and you know what, a lot of times they don't really match.

It's funny, if you look at what Paul's letters his whole approach is basically connecting the gospel to life. It's like he begins, here is what we believe and ends, this is the difference it makes.

One of the areas I think we most need to do that is with the way we talk.

I mean, think about some of the things we say we believe.

God is creator - do I talk like He owns my words?

I'm a big old sinner and man, my sin goes deep - am I careful about the way I talk or do I just blurt things out trusting that hey, I'm a pretty good person?

Jesus died on a cross to save me - do I demonstrate his sacrificial love for others in the way I communicate with them.

I'm saved by grace not by works - is my conversation with others based on what I think they deserve or do my words demonstrate the grace of Christ?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How am I talking?

The way we speak is important. So important that James says if we don't control the way we speak our religion is worthless. Here are a couple questions I thought we might use to evaluate our speech, especially in the midst of conflict. Do you have any others?

1. Am I using my words to hurt others?

2. Am I speaking out of a desire to lift myself up?

3. Am I telling the truth out of love?

4. Am I exaggerating the other person's faults to make a point?

5. Am I dealing with the problem or attacking the person?

6. Am I talking to the person with whom I am upset or am I talking to someone else
about the person with whom I am upset?

7. Am I using appropriate words? Is my language respectful or disrespectful?

8. Am I talking to understand or talking to make my point?

9. Would a godly Christian looking on say that my speech is helpful and gracious?

10. Am I being wise about the time in which I am talking to this other person? Is
this the best possible time to talk about this issue?

11. Am I talking like I am better than the other person?

12. Am I trying to get the attention on to me or on to Jesus?

13. Am I thinking about how I can help the other person grow? Is that reflected in
the way I am speaking to them?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


I think this article by Tim Keller is powerful and important. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We've got it good...

I'm afraid many Christians have come to a point spiritually where they are somewhat bored by salvation.

Don’t get me wrong.

It’s not that they don’t feel privileged. They are grateful for the Bible, for the church, they are glad that their sins are forgiven, that they are saved from hell and all that. But deep down in the part of their heart that nobody else sees, there is this feeling that while all that stuff is good and nice, it isn’t very exciting and that others throughout history have had it better.

Have you ever felt like that?

Like you missed out on all the good spiritual action?

That if only you had been there at the parting of the Red Sea, or if only you had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, or if only God would talk to you directly like he did the prophets, then you would be excited about coming to worship, then you would be thrilled to be here, but as it is, where you are at, well, your salvation, what God has done for you, has lost some of its initial freshness.

I would be very surprised if there weren’t some of you, who would have to say, if you were going to be brutally honest with yourself, that although you are thankful you are saved, you aren’t all that incredibly excited about it.

I’ve been there...way too often.

The problem though is not with the salvation God has provided, it is with our appreciation of it.

Like a person who has lived in a Caribbean paradise all his life and takes his surroundings for granted, we are so spiritually privileged that we often take for granted how spiritually privileged we are.

That’s why I hope you’ll look very carefully to what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3-12 because what we find here is a man who is overwhelmed with the wonder of our salvation; and who wants us to know why.

We may take our salvation for granted, but he doesn’t.

After pointing us to the certainty of our future salvation in verses 3-5, and then describing how we are presently experiencing that salvation in verses 6-9, he concludes by showing us how privileged we are to know what we know about this salvation and to have experienced what we have experienced.

He achieves that in a stunning way; by taking us to the persons we would consider the most privileged spiritually and revealing their attitude towards our spiritual privileges.

He writes,

“Concerning this salvation…” he writes, “the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

I think most of us, regardless of what we might think about the spiritual privileges we experience would have to admit that the prophets experienced some amazing spiritual privileges. Certainly, the readers of 1 Peter would have thought so. The prophets held a high place in their thinking, and rightly so.

I mean, when we talk about the prophets we are talking about men who were called to a special work by God Himself, and not just called in the sense of hey this is what I think God wants me to do, but called in the sense of God coming to them and saying this is what I want you to do, I want you to be my messenger, to speak for me. Which means when we talk about the prophets, we’re talking about guys who when they talked to God, God talked back. It’s hard to imagine a greater privilege than being able to speak with God. Besides that, they got to see things that none of us have ever seen. Just take Isaiah, here’s a person who actually was given a vision of God sitting on His throne. In addition to speaking with God and seeing God, I for one am always pretty impressed by the miracles God enabled these men to perform. I love that time when Elijah was standing in front of all the prophets of Baal, and God sends down fire from heaven to prove that He is who He says He is, and that Elijah’s speaking the truth. We see here in 1 Peter that these men even had a special relationship with Christ. Peter tells us the Spirit of Christ was in them, and he was revealing certain things to them about the sufferings of Christ and the glories which would follow.

All that’s pretty awesome, and I think when hear about the prophets and their privileges, some of us are tempted to say to ourselves, if I experienced the spiritual privileges they experienced, I’d be excited about God too. These men were privileged.

But while we are talking about great spiritual privileges, how about the holy angels? That’s the second group Peter mentions. He doesn’t spend as much time talking about them, but again, regardless of what you think about your spiritual privileges, we’d all have to say the holy angels experience some great spiritual privileges.

In fact, I’d have to say if I didn’t know what I knew about the Scripture, but if I didn’t know what the Scripture actually said, and had to choose between being a holy angel and being a prophet, I’d be tempted to choose to be a holy angel. After all, they’ve got all kinds of privileges and they don’t even have to get thrown in prison or spit upon or hurt physically like the prophets.

They are these incredibly amazing beings who get to serve God and do His will, they worship God all the time, they appear before the presence of God, they apparently communicate directly with God, they celebrate the praises of God. They are privileged.

In fact, if I were to ask you who do you think are the most spiritually privileged people ever, I’m guessing many of you would answer the prophets or the angels; but if I asked that question of the prophets and the angels, do you know how they would answer?

They would point to you.

Isn’t that the point of the text?

What’s Peter doing here but showing us the attitude the prophets and angels have towards our salvation? Why’s Peter showing us their attitude but to magnify our great spiritual privileges?

Peter writes, “Concerning this salvation…”

The salvation that is the outcome of your faith, verse 9; the salvation, verse 5, that you know is going to be revealed in the last time; and the salvation, verse 3, that is yours through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the new birth to a living hope; the salvation you experienced, you are experiencing and you will experience, concerning this salvation, your spiritual privileges, Peter writes, “the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully…”

This is how the prophets felt about your salvation. They searched and inquired into it.

Those two terms indicate an intense, almost all consuming interest. When we use terms like search and inquire, we certainly aren’t talking about someone who has a passing interest in something, but rather when we talk about someone searching and inquiring into something we are talking about someone who takes an active interest in something, someone who we might say is consumed with finding something out.

The fact that Peter uses two words, search and inquire, which are basically synonymous only goes to show just how great an emphasis he wants to place on how earnestly these prophets sought to understand the salvation that they were prophesying about.

To get a mental picture of what Peter’s getting at with these terms, you might think about the way most single people would respond after receiving an anonymous love letter.

They open it up, they read the words of deep and lasting affection, roses are red, violets are blue, boy I love you, they look to see who wrote it, to find it signed “A secret admirer.”

What happens next? You know the story as well as I do. That letter, and discovering who wrote it suddenly becomes that person’s primary object of interest. It would be a rare person indeed who would be willing to rest until they discovered who wrote it. Few would sit back passively, most would actively search and inquire carefully to discover its author; they would be consumed with finding an answer, perhaps a bit like these prophets, who Peter says searched and inquired carefully concerning your salvation.

It may be that they went to God and asked him what He meant by what He told them to say; or it may be that they went to Scripture and searched in Scripture and even in their own earlier prophecies to discover more about the salvation and grace they were telling others about.

Either way, the salvation you are experiencing was the chief object of their interest. It was what kept them up at night. They had much to do. They weren’t just predicting the future; they also had a big responsibility to show God’s people what he wanted from them in the present. But, in spite of all the pressure on their shoulders, and even in spite of all the privileges they experienced, there was one issue that they were interested in above all others, how God was going to accomplish what He has accomplished for us through Christ.

Now who’s privileged?

We have something in the gospel that the greatest men in the Old Testament longed to have, to understand.

If the prophet’s attitude towards your salvation is not amazing enough for you, just read further in our text, the prophets aren’t the only ones who think your salvation is amazing, the holy angels do as well.

We live in a culture where many people are fascinated by angels. There’s a sense in which I can understand why. They are fascinating creatures. But do you know what Peter tells us angels are fascinated by?

Peter tells us in verse 12 that the prophets were serving us, “in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

Angels long – that’s the strongest Greek word for desire – to look – at the things God has done for you.

You might imagine turning a corner and seeing a group of glorious, shining, angels all crowded around something, kind of leaping up over each other to look at it. Wouldn’t you want to know what they were so interested in seeing? Peter tells us. They are longing to look at your salvation; specifically the things the preachers of the good news announced by the Holy Spirit. Angels delight in the glories of Christ’s kingdom.

Isn’t that awesome?

These mighty servants of God, have much to do, they are busy serving the saints, busy doing what God wants, all kinds of responsibilities, but there’s one thing they continually delight in, one thing long to reflect on and look at, and that’s the way God has accomplished your salvation.

I’m really not sure that Peter could make his point much clearer.

This is why I say, if you asked the prophets and the angels who they thought were the most spiritually privileged people, they would point to you.

We understand something that the greatest men in the Old Testament desperately desired to understand. We are experiencing something that the most amazing creatures in the heavens are continually amazed about.

There’s no question about the fact that spiritually we have it good!

The question though is, do we appreciate how good we have it spiritually?

Monday, November 14, 2005

What you say? Why you say it?

"Do not speak evil against one another brothers." James 4:11

I remember watching a story on Dateline about an EMT up in Boston who had only one arm.

It was amazing watching her go about her business, picking up stretchers, getting people into wheelchairs, she did it all; but you know, what was even more amazing was that to her, it wasn't even a big deal. She was so used to only having one arm that she didn't even really think about it; she just went about doing her job.

I think that's the way some of us are with the way we speak. We've got a major problem...you might say we are "missing an arm", but we don't even notice. We've been talking a certain way for years. We're so used to it, we're not even aware of we have a problem.

It's just who we are.

Take this command here in James. This is one of those sins that is such a common sin many of us do it without even realizing we are doing it. We speak against others all the time, but we don't even think of it as speaking against others because it's just the way we normally speak.

I thought we might take the next couple blogs to think about exactly how we fail to obey James' command in the way we speak.

We speak evil against others when we speak words that are intended to hurt, not help.

When you speak against someone your words are like soldiers that you send out to war. The term James uses literally means to speak down on. When you speak down on someone what are you doing? You are speaking to crush them, to hurt them, to punish them, to pummel them, to put them in their place.

When our words are motivated by hatred rather than love, when are words are motivated by a desire to tear others down instead of a desire to build them up, when our words are motivated by a desire to hurt others and nto to help them, we can know for sure, we are doing just what James warns against. We're speaking against each other.

We speak evil against others when we speak words that are produced by pride not humility.

You'll notice in the second part of verse 11, James expands his thought..."He who speaks against his brother, or judges his brother..." When we speak against others we are setting ourselves up as judge.

Some people get a little confused here, they use these verses as an excuse. Somebody confronts them in their sin and they say, "who are you to judge me?" But that's not what James is talking about. It's not wrong to confront in their sin. We're commanded to do so. Check out Galatians 6. God doesn't call us to be spiritual Barneys going around with plastic smiles ignoring reality. It's not wrong to confront. It's not even wrong to be passionate about the way we confront. Just listen to John the Baptist speaking to the Pharisees, "You brood of vipers..." Or perhaps Paul, "You foolish Galatians..." Or how about Philippians 3:2, "Beware of the dogs..." Or take Jesus, speaking to Peter, "Get behind me Satan..."

When James talks about not speaking against others or judging others he's not talking about lovingly dealing with someone's sin; he's not talking about closing your eyes to reality; he's not talking about humbly going to someone and dealing with a sin issue.

Really at a fundamental level, he's talking about selfish speech, speech that has one purpose, to make you look good and others look bad. He's talking about speech that flows out of heart filled with pride, speech that comes from a person who is looking down on others, and thinks he has the right to make disparaging comments about them because he is so much better than they are.

I want to get more specific in the next couple days about exactly how we go about doing that, but first we've got to start in a more general way and look at what motivates our words. Why am I saying what I am saying? Are my words motivated by pride or humility?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Patience is a Virtue...

I would be very surprised if there hasn’t been a point where those of you who have done much witnessing have become discouraged.

I know when I was in college, sometimes I’d go out to witness and it felt like, what am I doing? I’d go up to say hi and people would be like, no I don’t want to be a Christian.

You’ve probably all had the experience of praying for some one for a long time, looking for an opportunity to talk to them about the Lord, finally having the chance, sharing with them as best as you can, and having them look at you and you can just see in their eyes, they are like, what are you talking about?

It can be discouraging. I think some of us have become so discouraged about sharing the gospel with unbelievers in fact, that we quite honestly don’t do it very often anymore.

We just don’t see the point.

We’ve tried, we’ve gone out there, we’ve put ourselves on the line, we’ve stretched ourselves way past our comfort zone, we’ve shared some of what we know about Jesus Christ, only to be rejected time and time again.

We want to see results, and when we don’t…at least not the way we like, it can get pretty discouraging.

We might even start to ask ourselves, what in the world is God doing?

I mean, if this is His gospel and He’s got all this power, why when we share the gospel, does we sometimes feel so weak? Shouldn’t we be seeing more? More power? More something?

That’s a problem.

And it’s not like we’re the first ones to struggle with it.

Take the people in Jesus’ day for example.

Oh they wouldn’t have put it in quite the same terms we would have, but their problem with Jesus would have been pretty much just the same.

You see they were reading their Old Testaments and they were looking forward to this thing called the kingdom. Now, I don’t know what you know about the kingdom, but you start studying the Old Testament and you discover it's kind of a central theme. It's like foundational to the people of God's hope.

The prophets are case in point.

You know you couldn’t really emphasize the sovereignty of God more than the Old Testament prophets did, but that didn’t make them apathetic to the evil they saw going on all around them. You can’t find me a single Old Testament prophet, at least not one who was godly, who looked at what was going on in his world, threw up his hands and said, oh well, I guess that’s the way things are, after all God is king.

Nope, just the opposite.

They went around pointing out people’s sins, calling on people to repent, and what’s more they started talking about this day in the future where God was going to break through and establish His rule in a way that was evident to absolutely everyone.

They didn’t ignore the fact that there was a whole lot of injustice going on, no they wept about that, but they didn’t give up hope because they knew there was this day coming when God was going to set up His own righteous king.

They didn’t pretend like it wasn’t a sad, confusing thing for all these people who claimed to know God to be like living in absolute disobedience to His revealed will, no they mourned over that, but they pressed on because they knew the day was coming where people were going to experience a new relationship with Him, where His law would be written on their hearts and they would walk in obedience to Him.

They were all about the sovereignty of God don’t get me wrong, we might say they understood and believed and taught the invisible sovereignty of God, they knew very well as they looked at their crazy world, God was working His plan behind the scenes; but at the same time there was this other big old truth that was really important to them, and that was the fact that the day was coming when they would see God’s invisible sovereignty, in a clear, tangible hands on kind of way.

That’s what the Bible is talking about when it talks about the kingdom, the kingdom of God. And that’s why the Jewish people were so excited when Jesus came and announced the kingdom had arrived.

They had been reading prophets like Isaiah and they had been looking forward to the day when the Messiah would come and “…the haughtiness of man shall be humbled and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted…”

They had been reading prophets like Ezekiel and they had been looking forward to the day when the Messiah would come and God would “give them a new heart, and a new spirit He would put within them. And when God would remove the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”

But perhaps most of all they had been reading prophets like Jeremiah and they had been looking forward to the day when the Messiah would come and God would raise up a “righteous Branch, who would reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land.” A king who would “save Judah and cause Israel to dwell securely.”

They had been reading their Bibles and they had been looking forward to this day, which we’ll call the coming of the kingdom, which is why they were like really excited when Jesus came and announced the kingdom had arrived…they had all kinds of expectations as to what that meant and which is why they were like really confused when Jesus was immediately rejected.

That's the point of Mark 4. Jesus is explaining if you are going to understand the way God is working in this world, you’ve got to come to Him and like, really listen. There’s something you need to understand about the kingdom… about the way God is bringing all this about.

The Kingdom is coming in power, you just need to be patient.

Check out parables four and five.

God is accomplishing His work in this world even if we as people don’t fully understand how.

That’s what Jesus is getting in verses 26-28,

The farmer sows a seed, just because he doesn’t see results right away doesn’t mean he’s not going to have a harvest. And you know what just because he doesn’t know how it all works, doesn’t mean he isn’t going to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He just needs to sow, trust, and wait.

And the same is true for us. It’s really important for us to understand that God is not up in heaven, wondering what to do. We may not understand how He is accomplishing His will in this world, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is. We may not see it all clearly now, but the vital thing for us, is to trust God and be patient. There is, Jesus says, going to be a harvest.

What’s more, we have to be very careful not to judge what things are going to be like by the way they are now, the end result is going to be much greater than the beginning.

That’s what Jesus is getting at in verses 30-32.

The kingdom of God, it’s kind of like, a mustard seed.

A mustard seed is really small. You can barely see it. It doesn’t look like much. But you know what happens when a mustard grows? Actually, it becomes kind of a menace. It’s one of those plants that just spreads everywhere. And you know, the way God is working in this world, is kind of like that. It might not look like much right now. It might seem kind of small. But it won’t always be that way. We just have to be patient.

I'm convinced that's the fourth key component to a proper approach to responding to questions about the state of the world.

We need to be careful as we look at the problems going on in this world that we don’t make the mistake of minimizing God’s role. On the other hand, I don’t want us to make the opposite mistake and that is of distorting God’s role.

Instead, like Jesus let’s acknowledge that there are problems, let’s not deny that some things are to understand, let’s challenge people that they need to turn to Jesus if they are going to understand what God’s doing, and help them understand that God is going to work everything that seems like a mess right now out perfectly, our job is to trust Him and be patient.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Feeding Time...

Too close for comfort...


John Piper answers the question, what is humility?

Charles Spurgeon tries to humble us.

Thomas Watson tells us a humble man is a godly man.

Jonathan Edwards instructs us in humility.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Third Approach (Second Edition)

I’m a big fan of God’s sovereignty.

I want you to know that.

I don’t know how you could not be.

Sovereignty, it’s a word to describe what the Bible teaches about God’s power and control, and you know what the Bible says in a big way is that we serve a God whose power knows no limits and whose control extends in some mysterious way, to absolutely all things.

All things, you start thinking about that and it blows your mind, to the point where you are like, can that be true? and you turn to the Bible and you see in like, BOLD PRINT, it most certainly, totally is.

Daniel 4:34,35 “His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation, all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Lamentations 3:38, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad both come?”

Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.”

We would be making a big mistake if we, in thinking about the problems that are going on in this world, ever get, I don’t know, embarrassed and started minimizing that. But at the same time, I think we have to be careful as we talk about God’s sovereignty that we don’t act as if it were always easy. I’m kind of afraid of that.

I mean, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there are a lot of problems in this world.

Babies dying, people starving, grown men and women living their whole lives on the street. Rape, murder, theft, unjust governments, evil dictators, countries that are so given to false religions that they won’t even let missionaries in.

We know God is sovereign, that He is King, but you know there is a whole lot of stuff going on in this world that could cause a person to question that.

If you don’t, unbelievers do, they ask these kinds of questions all the time:

If God is good and God is all powerful, what in the world is going on?

I think when people ask questions like that, we tend to take one of two approaches.

We sometimes take the approach where we pretend God isn’t sovereign. Or we sometimes take an almost exact opposite approach where we act as if all God was was sovereign.

I want to look at what I believe is a third approach, it's found in Mark 4. I want you to look carefully with me at Mark 4 because there’s a sense in which Jesus here is addressing this very problem, and what I want us to see is that while Jesus doesn’t minimize God’s sovereignty at the same time He doesn’t distort it.

First, Jesus acknowledges there are problems.

That's part of the point of the parable of the sowers.

I’m not going to dive into this whole parable too deeply because we all know it pretty well but you remember he’s talking about the word and he’s talking about why people aren’t always transformed by it, and he brings up Satan, he talks about tribulation, and he talks about stuff and it’s obvious in Jesus’ mind these things are very real threats to the working of the word in people’s hearts.

He doesn’t say Satan swoops down like a bird and snatches away the word, wink, wink, asterisks, asterisks, look at all these other passages, it’s Satan but it’s not really Satan.

I’m not denying God’s sovereign purpose, I’m not denying God’s ultimate authority over things, I’m just saying as we try to understand what’s happening in this world and as we try to help other people understand what’s happening in this world, we have to recognize there are some problems in this world, there are some very real obstacles to the work of God in this world and in people’s hearts.

It's o.k. to say that.

Jesus certainly did.

He acknowledges there problems.

Second, he doesn’t pretend like everything is easy to understand right now.
We’ve got these kids at school who are really eager. You probably remember these kinds of students from your days in the classroom, the kind of kids who raise their hand to answer before the teacher even asks the question.

They are just so confident, so sure they know it.

I think sometimes when we’re talking about God’s sovereignty it’s easy to be like that, we’re so glad and excited about his sovereignty and really I’m talking about his invisible sovereignty, how He’s working behind the scenes that we don’t stop and consider the question.

When somebody comes and has questions about what’s going on in the world, we don’t need to pretend like understanding how God is working right now is always easy. That’s not where we find our strength, our hope. Really, we find our strength, our hope in the fact that it’s not always going to be like that. It may be hidden now, but it won’t always be.

That’s the point of parable number two.

“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.”

I don’t know about you, but I find great comfort in the fact that Jesus acknowledges it may seem like things are hidden. He doesn’t pretend that everything is really easy to understand. What he does is encourage them that it’s not always going to be that way.

Third, and this is really, really important, while Jesus certainly acknowledges that there are some things about what God’s doing that may seem to hard to understand, he’s not telling us just to throw our hands in the air and say, well, I guess that’s that.

No, there’s more to his response.

I want you to note a third key component: Jesus challenges people to focus on Him.

To put it another way, while there are problems and while not everything is easy to understand, what we need to do right now is pay very careful attention to what Jesus says. If you and I pay very careful attention to what He says we will grow in our understanding of what God is doing, but if we don’t we most definitely won’t.

To quote Jesus once again…parable number three:

“Pay attention to what you hear with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Perfect example: the disciples versus the pharisees.

If you were going to just try to chart where the disciples were at in terms of understanding, knowledge when they first met Jesus you’d have put them way down almost at ground zero.

The Pharisees on the other hand, were way up at the top. After all, they spent their life studying the Scriptures.

But the disciples came to Jesus humbly in faith and what happened?

Slowly but sure they grew in their understanding of what God was doing and how God was accomplishing His great plan for the world.

The Pharisees on the other hand, didn’t. And the results were just the opposite.

I hope you are seeing how all this works out.

When I’m talking to someone who is questioning what God is doing in this world, if I’m going to follow Jesus’ approach: one I’m going to acknowledge that there are some very real problems and two, I’m going to highlight the fact that while God is ultimately sovereign, much of what He is doing remains hidden right now. The key I’m going to tell them third of all is that they need to go to Jesus and let him explain what’s up. I really believe the best approach to understanding what’s going on in this world is to focus your attention on Jesus.

Tomorrow, component number four.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Not Changing is Not Normal...

You go to church, what once or twice a week?

You figure every good sermon you hear has maybe one or two good applications…at the very least. (That's a random number I know, but work with me here.)

2 applications times 52, that's 104 applications a year.

I know this is pretty silly way to go about it, but what I'd like to get you to ask yourself as you look at the way you approach God’s Word, is simply this: is God's Word slowly, progressively, changing you?

104 specific applications a year.

Are you any different?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as we've recently recognized new members in our church.

One of the things that we want new members to understand and what we want old members to understand and what we want all of us to understand and what I want myself to understand is that at church, we should be changing.

I want to highlight that, like really strongly, because out there in the world you’ll find that most people don’t.

At least not truly. There may be some external changes, but the core stuff, basically it doesn’t change all that much. And you know, that makes sense, biblically, knowing what we know about what we were like before God saved us. I mean, we were dead in our sins, we were in bondage.

But you know, that’s not true anymore. It’s not true at all.

If we have been saved, we have been changed. We have been made alive, we have been set free, we have been given the Holy Spirit, we are new people. That means, not changing is not normal.

It may be normal in the world for people to stay the same their entire life, but it is not normal in the church. I’m not talking about your personality, I’m talking about your spirituality. It’s not going to be all at once, it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be the exact same in absolutely everyone, but it is normal for people who are Christians and who are sitting under the ministry of the Word to be taking what they are hearing in the Word and applying it to their lives and to be slowly but surely becoming more and more like Jesus Christ as a result.

It’s so normal that Jesus uses it as a way to identify what it looks like to be a Christian in the first place. In the end, the reality of your Christianity is not going to be judged by whether or not you merely heard the word; but whether you heard the Word and stayed the same or heard the Word and acted on it.

Matthew 7: “Everyone who hears these words of mine, and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of min and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it.”

Monday, November 07, 2005

Law and Language

I think Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia offers some fascinating thoughts on law and language you might be interested in checking out.


I was thinking the other day a little bit about genius.

I was thinking if I met someone who say, could remember every word he spoke the day before and by every word, I mean every last word, down to a, an, and the; if he could remember every word he spoke in the exact order that he spoke it, I would call him a genius.

But if I met a person who, and I don't know how he would do this but it's an illustration so you'll have to give me a break, if I met a person who could remember every word say twenty or thirty other people spoke the day before, I'd be in absolute awe. If you can remember people's names real well, you might be able to get on a talk show and show off your genius but imagine being able to remember a day's worth of complete conversations for thirty people. You definitely wouldn't want to play chess with a guy like that.

But God, you want to talk about genius, we're talking six billion people. He knows every single word and what's more every single thought of six billion people. And not just like for one day, but we're talking their entire lives. It's just impossible to fathom the genius of God - the mind of the God we serve.

There are lots of issues that come up in the Christian life, we look at the world and we wonder what's going on, or we struggle say with election, how can God be good and sovereign and we all have our little questions but I just think it's important for us to remember when we are struggling with understanding what God's doing - the "mind" of the God we serve. Any person that can remember six billion people's words, and beyond that can comprehend six billion people's thoughts, any person that has that kind of capability, I'm not going to be real surprised that some of the things He does are hard for me to fully understand - His wisdom is just so far out of my league it's not even funny.

I'm definitely not saying I think it's wrong for us to wrestle with what the Scripture says, to ask our questions, to come to God and wonder about what's going on...we just have to be careful to do it humbly and to do it in faith. We just need to be careful to remember who we're talking to and who we're talking about...we're talking about the all-knowing, all-wise GOD!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hunting without leaving your bedroom!

I just wanted to take this moment to bow to Wayne Goldsberry's manliness. Yahoo News writes,

"It looked like a crime scene, but no charges will be filed after Wayne Goldsberry killed a buck with his bare hands in his daughter's bedroom. The engagement lasted an exhausting 40 minutes, but Goldsberry finally subdued the five-point whitetail deer that crashed through a bedroom window at his daughter's home Friday.
When it was over, blood splattered the walls and the deer lay on the bedroom floor, its neck broken.
Goldsberry was at his daughter's home when he heard glass breaking. He went back to check on the noise and found the deer.
"I was standing about like this peeking around the corner when the deer came out of the bedroom," said Goldsberry, demonstrating while peering around his kitchen wall. The deer ran down the hall and into the master bedroom — "jumping back and forth across the bed."
"I could tell he was really tearing up the place back there," Goldsberry said.
Goldsberry entered the bedroom to confront the deer and, after a brief struggle, emerged to tell his wife to call police. After returning to the bedroom, the fight continued. Goldsberry finally was able to grip the animal and twist its neck, killing it.
"He was trying to get up a corner wall and I just came in behind him and grabbed him by the horns and just started pushing down," said Goldsberry."

'Pleading with a Father for a Brother'

"My soul was in raptures when I mused yesterday upon two sweet thoughts...I thought if I had to intercede for anybody...I would want to intercede for my brother with my father...This is just what Jesus has to do. He has to intercede with his Father, and mark, with our Father too. There is a double comfort here. When Christ pleads he does not plead with one who is stronger than Him, but with His own father. 'My Father' says he, 'it is my delight to do your will and it is your delight to do your will, I will then that they, whom you have given me, will be with me where I am.' And then he adds this blessed argument, 'Father, those for whom I plead are thine own children, and you love them as muchg as I do, yea, you have loved them as you have loved me.' Oh it is no hard task to plead, when you are pleading with a Father for a brother..."

Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Somebody knows the troubles I've seen...

I don't know if you've ever had a boss who could really care less about you.
A real hard nose. You're sick, you need a day off and he's like, too bad.
You aren't making enough money, your family is in a desperate condition, you go to him to talk about a raise, and he does the whole fake violin thing - so sad.
"Look, a tear."
It's good to know Jesus isn't like that.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.
I'm not sure how that all works out, but we have a high priest who hurts when we hurt, who sympathizes with us, who is concerned when we are in trouble, who wants to help us with our trouble, and who is emotionally moved by our troubles.
One reason I'm confident Jesus is like that is because of the fact that he, "in every respect has been tempted as we are..."
Every respect...
He had people back-bite him.
He had people lie about him.
He had people laugh at him.
He's been poor.
He's been hungry.
He's been abandoned by the people he loved.
He's been victimized.
He's been placed in frightening situations.
He's had people in authority ignore him.
He had his own family misunderstand him.
He had religious people attack him.
He had friends feel like he let them down.
He's been harrassed and vexed by Satan.
He knows what it is like to be humiliated.
When you place your trust in Jesus you are placing your trust in the most glorious, most powerful, most beautiful, most important person who ever existed. He is high, high, high, high above everyone else. And yet at the same time you are placing your trust in someone who knows what it is like to be you. He knows the troubles we've seen, what's more He cares and what's even better, He's able to help us in our time of need.
Jesus is truly our great high priest!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

This is no Temple of Doom...

I'll admit at first, I thought it was a little strange to hear Jesus referred to as a high priest. For me, the term conjures up an image from something like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I don't think I've ever met a high priest, except for some Mormon I sat next to on a plane one time (I think he told me he was a high priest, but then again it was pretty late at night) and it would be easy to dismiss the concept, except that biblically speaking it is like vitally important.

The writer of Hebrews in particular seems stuck on it.

"Therefore holy brothers you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of your confession..."

"After being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek..."

"Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hnd of the throne of majesty in heaven..."

There are lots of great terms to describe the work of Jesus on our behalf...redeemer, King, teacher, you name it; but we're not going to fully appreciate what He does for us unless we begin to understand what it means that He is our high priest.

Fortunately, the writer of Hebrews gets specific.

Check out chapter 5, verses 1-3.

He's someone:

1.) chosen by God
2.) who acts on behalf of the people
3.) to offer gifts and sacrifices for their sins
4.) and minister to those in need

At the risk of over-simplification, the High Priest was someone especially chosen to represent men to God, to offer sacrifices on their behalf. And so when we say that one of the reasons Jesus became man was to become our high priest, we are saying one of the reasons Jesus became man was so that He might represent us to God. Quote, to "come before God, to fulfill the law and offer himself up to him a sacrifice of reconciliation for our sins and by his intercession to continue to apply the purchase of his blood for whom He shed it."

I guess if you think of yourself as someone really important that won't mean much to you, but if you think of yourself as weak what a great comfort this thought will be to you.

You never come to God the Father alone as a Christian, you come through Jesus Christ. He is the one who offered the sacrifice on your behalf, and He is the one who ministers right now on your behalf. We can be confident that God knows and cares about our needs because Jesus is our high priest.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Amazing Grace...

I don't know if you've ever stopped and thought about it, but some biblical duties are just strange.

Take hope.

We're commanded all over the Bible to hope in God. 1 Peter is just one example, "set your hope full on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

I think we get so used to commands like that, we don't recognize how crazy awesome it is. What kind of God do we serve? A God who commands us to look forward to the future with a confident expectation that He's going to do us all kinds of good.

Or how about prayer?

I should be begging God to get to talk to Him. I guarantee if I got off the internet right now, picked up my phone, called the White House and tried to talk to George Bush, they'd be like who are you? Why don't you go out and buy yourself a clue. Important men don't have time to talk to people like me. Even most important Christian men are going to have a hard time fitting me into their schedules.

Not God.

He makes the most important people in the world today look like peons, and yet He is every ready to take my call. What's more, I open up the Scripture and I find him pleading with me to pray. What kind of God do we serve? A God who actually commmands us to pray.

Sometimes when we talk about the grace of God we focus so much on how he forgives us when we break His commands, that we forget how gracious He is to just give us the commands.

I love the fact that God cares about me enough to tell me what to do and that when He does tell me what to do, He calls on me to do things that are like beyond my wildest expectations of possible good.