Paul Madson

THOUGHTS, QUOTES & REFLECTIONS

Year: 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Hidden Christmas

Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, recently interviewed Tim Keller about his brand new book Hidden Christmas.

Here are a few questions from the interview with selected excerpts from the answers (click here to read the full article):

 

Tim Keller wants you to stop underestimating Christmas

By Matt Smethurst

Why is Christmas “the most unsentimental, realistic way of looking at life”? 
 
The Bible doesn’t say “from the world a light has dawned” but “upon the world a light has dawned.” The point is that the world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it. This means the end of cheery statements like, “If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place.” No, we can’t. We don’t have what it takes. This is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to our problems. It’s not rah-rah optimism. Yet it’s not pessimistic either, because there is hope, and a certainty that God will eventually destroy all evil.
 
Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?
 
Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
 
What can we learn about the difference between closed-minded doubt and open-minded doubt from contrasting Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1?
 
There’s a kind of doubt that really is seeking more information—that “wants” to believe if it’s possible. There’s also a kind of doubt that really is looking for a way out, that doesn’t want to believe or submit, that’s looking for a way to keep control of one’s own life.
 
This is a wonderfully nuanced approach to doubt. The Bible doesn’t view doubts as always rebellious, nor does it encourage people to live in doubt perpetually. That’s why we’re told to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). 

How Christianity Flourishes

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I wanted to share a timely article from author Jared C. Wilson that I found to be hopeful and encouraging. Enjoy!

How Christianity Flourishes
By Jared C. Wilson

Christian mission has always thrived by surging in the margins and under the radar. When we somehow get into positions of power, the wheels always come off. This is pretty much the way it’s always been. I once heard Steve Brown relate this story on the radio: “A Muslim scholar once said to a Christian, ‘I cannot find anywhere in the Qur’an that it teaches Muslims how to be a minority presence in the world. And I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where it teaches Christians how to be a majority presence in the world.’”
 
Indeed, as Christianity spread throughout the first few centuries as a persecuted minority people, the conversion of Constantine paved the way for its becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire by the end of the fourth century. That’s quite a turnaround for some backwater sect splintering off an oppressed Palestinian Judaism. But as my old religion professor in college, M. B. Jackson, used to say, “When everyone’s a Christian, no one is.” And once Christianity became the official religion, the church lost its prophetic voice and its vibrancy.
 
Many religions, like Islam for example, seem to thrive on conquest and power. Christianity grows best under hardship. Christianity is in decline in America, and Christendom is already in ruins in Europe, but in the East and in Africa, where it is new, a grassroots movement, and/or under persecution, it is spreading like wildfire. I sometimes wonder if God has set the growth of Christianity to work this way to keep in the forefront of our minds the treasure and glory of heaven over and above the treasure and glory of earth. Jesus sets the tone for Christians’ quiet mission this way:
 
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:1–4)
 
Unlike other religions, where good works are central to success, Christianity proclaims the glory of Jesus Christ and his work, and the good works of his followers become the beautiful dust stirred up in our following him wherever he goes. Christians are not earning their salvation with their good deeds; they are working it out (Phil. 2:12).
 
Since Christians believe that the work of salvation is already accomplished by Jesus, and there is nothing left for them to do to contribute to this work, they are now free to unselfconsciously love and serve others without worrying about recognition or reward. They will be vindicated in heaven, even if they are violated here.
 
Christians are called to good works. This is how people know we are Christians. But they also know we are Christians—and not charitable Buddhists—because we don’t make good works our boast.
 
(This is an excerpt from Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes it Compelling)
 
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. 

Quotes to Note – October 2016

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“The burdens of this day aren’t bigger than the shoulders of our God.”

“Bad discipleship: Giving God a place in our story. Gospel discipleship: Taking our place in God’s story.” (Scotty Smith)

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it, including you.” (Anne Lamott) #Sabbath

“Nazi death camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997) wrote, ‘Happiness [is] the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.’ This explains why so many of us aren’t happy – we’re our own biggest cause, the most important people in our lives. And we’re way too small and powerless to create or sustain our own happiness.” (Randy Alcorn, from his latest book Happiness – page 172).

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

“You get to decide whether you’re going to spend your one life trying to make an impression and look good —or make a difference and do good.” (Ann Voskamp)

“Life’s ultimate statistic is the same for all people: One out of one dies.” (George Bernard Shaw) #‎perspective

“The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures…What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us. The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Worry is our way of inviting our fears to disciple us. A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.” (Scott Sauls)

“Mercy is the theme of God’s story. Mercy is the thread that runs through all of Scripture. Mercy is the reason for Jesus’s coming. Mercy is what your desperate heart needs. Mercy is the healer your relationships need. Mercy is what gives you comfort in weakness and hope in times of trial. Mercy can do what the law is powerless to do. Mercy not only meets you in your struggle, but guarantees that someday your struggle will end. Mercy is what this sin-broken world groans for. Mercy triumphs where justice can’t. If God offered us only justice, no one would run to him. It is the knowledge of his mercy that makes us honestly face ourselves and gladly run to him. And it is mercy that we will sing about and celebrate a million years into eternity.

I love the words of Lamentations 3:22-23: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ Let these amazing words sink it. If you are God’s child, they describe your identity and your hope. They give you reason to get up in the morning and to continue. They enable you to face and admit how messed up you really are. They allow you to extend mercy to the failing people around you. And they allow you to be comforted by God’s presence rather than be terrified at the thought that he is near.” (Paul David Tripp, from his new devotional, New Morning Mercies – August 14)

“Everything is necessary that God sends. Nothing can be necessary that God withholds.” (John Newton)

“Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

(Psalm 73:25-26 – NASB)

“Moral stupidity comes in two forms: relativism & legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people. Legalism sees no people, only principles.” (Peter Kreeft)

“Truth aims at love.

Love aims at truth.

Love shapes how to speak truth.

Truth shapes how to love.”

(John Piper)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Dr. Timothy Keller

I wanted to share about an excellent new book released by author and pastor, Dr. Timothy Keller. Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, wrote the following about it on Tuesday:

“In Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Viking) [20 quotes], Keller offers a prequel to his bestselling The Reason for God (2008). Whereas that book assumed interest in a rational case for the faith, Making Sense of God doesn’t. It starts farther back.

“Christianity makes more ‘emotional, cultural, and rational’ sense of our lived experience than any alternative worldview, Keller has long insisted. In The Reason for God, he made the rational case. In this volume, he tackles the other two.”

Author Timothy Keller made these additional points about the new book, and how it is differentiated from The Reason for God:

“My overarching point is that Christianity makes sense emotionally, culturally, and rationally. We come to believe in a universe without God—or with God—by consulting our emotions, relationships, and reason. Making Sense of God is actually a “prequel” to The Reason for God because it argues that Christianity makes sense emotionally and culturally. It shows that secularism has major problems giving people meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, and hope; Christianity has better resources for all of them. This does not, of course, prove Christianity is true. But it does make the case that if you really reflect on things, you should grant that it would be great if Christianity were true.

“If after Making Sense of God you’re motivated to explore the rational case for Christianity, you can move on to The Reason for God. In general, I’d say that younger non-believers need to hear why Christianity makes emotional and cultural sense before they’re willing to devote significant time to weighing the more traditional, rational arguments for our faith.”

20 Quotes from Making Sense of God
 
“Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov sarcastically summarized the ethical reasoning of secular humanism like this: ‘Man descended from apes, therefore we must love one another.’ The second clause does not follow from the first. If it was natural for the strong to eat the weak in the past, why aren’t people allowed to do it now? . . . Given the secular view of the universe, the conclusion of love or social justice is no more logical than the conclusion to hate or destroy. These two sets of beliefs—in a thoroughgoing scientific materialism and in a liberal humanism—simply do not fit with one another. Each set of beliefs is evidence against the other. Many would call this a deeply incoherent view of the world.” (42–43)
 
“All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better.” (166)
 
“If there is no God, then either original matter sprang from nothing, or original matter has always existed without a cause, or there is an infinite regress of causes without a beginning. Each of these answers takes us out of the realm of science and the universe we know. They are nothing short of miracles.” (218)
 
“Jesus himself is the main argument for why we should believe Christianity.” (228)
 
“In the whole history of the world, there is only one person who not only claimed to be God himself but also got enormous numbers of people to believe it. Only Jesus combines claims of divinity with the most beautiful life of humanity.” (237)
 
“[These are] Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.” (216)
 
“The declaration that science is the only arbiter of truth is not itself a scientific finding. It is a belief.” (35)
 
“To move from religion to secularism is not so much a loss of faith as a shift into a new set of beliefs and into a new community of faith, one that draws the lines between orthodoxy and heresy in different places.” (31)
 
“If you say you don’t believe in God but you do believe in the rights of every person and the requirement to care for all the weak and the poor, then you are still holding on to Christian beliefs, whether you will admit it or not. Why, for example, should you look at love and aggression—both parts of life, both rooted in our human nature—and choose one as good and reject one as bad? They are both part of life. Where do you get a standard to do that? If there is no God or supernatural realm, it doesn’t exist.” (47–48)
 
“Through faith in the cross we get a new foundation for an identity that both humbles us out of our egoism yet is so infallibly secure in love that we are enabled to embrace rather than exclude those who are different.” (147)
 
“A moral judgment about something can never be made apart from an examination of its given purpose. . . . How, then, can we tell if a human being is good or bad? Only if we know our purpose, what human life is for. If you don’t know the answer to that, then you can never determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ human behavior.” (186–87)
 
“Why is freedom so important [today]? Why is that the absolute, unquestioned ‘good’—and who gets to define it as such? Are you not assuming a value-laden standard that you are using to critique all other approaches to life? Are you not, then, actually giving a universal answer to the Meaning question, namely, that the meaning of life is to have the freedom to determine your own meaning? Are you not, then, doing the very thing you say should not be done?” (63–64)
 
To read more, see this article (also by Matt Smethurst) from The Gospel Coalition blog. 

Important thoughts on the worst mass shooting in American History (Orlando, FL)

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I wanted to share with you (what I consider to be) some very important, thoughtful, wise and ultimately Scriptural thoughts having to do with the Orlando tragedy.

I pulled a few quotes from the two best articles that I read this week on the subject. I wish every Christ-Follower could read them. Hyperlinks are included below to the full articles. But today, for the sake of valuing your time, here are just a few highlights.

Scott Sauls and Russell Moore are the authors of these pieces. For those who may not know them, here is a brief background:

Scott Sauls: He was mentored and trained under Dr. Timothy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Sauls filled the pulpit many times when Keller was not speaking. Sauls then went on to plant two churches, and now he serves as Sr. Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN. He is also author of Jesus Outside the Lines: A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides (Tyndale Publishers). Scott is an outstanding, insightful writer (and speaker)… and I don’t use those words lightly. Scott’s blog is one that I regularly read.
Russell Moore: Dr. Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. His article appeared in TIME Magazine (online) this week. Again, very wise words, from a very thoughtful, kind, gracious, biblical communicator.
Here are a few excerpts from Scott Sauls’ article

 

“Violence Toward LGBTQ: A Pastor’s Reflection”
by Scott Sauls

It was seventeenth century Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, who first coined the famous words:
 
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
 
Today, and especially in light of the horrendous massacre in Orlando, in which forty nine souls had their lives cut short by a shooting spree at a gay night club, I would like to focus on the third of Meldenius’ three statements. For the purposes of this reflection, I will add the words, “and toward all people and all people groups” to the charity part.
 
Because of the way that Jesus came to us in love—not while we were at our best but while we were at our worst, not when we were treating him as a friend but when we were treating him as an enemy—we Christians of all people should find creative and consistent ways to love, listen to, and serve all kinds of people… especially in their days of need and loss and sorrow.
 
In light of the Orlando tragedy, I am especially moved to highlight this basic gospel imperative, to love your neighbor as yourself. This is not a time to be silent about the horrible injustice that occurred in Orlando last weekend. And it is not a time for preaching one’s views about right and wrong when it comes to sexuality. This is a time to love. This is a time for compassion. This is a time for tears, to enter into the sorrow and the loss, not with answers but with presence.
 
And, whatever one’s beliefs may be about sexuality, silence is never an option where abuse and injustice are perpetrated. Because, as Dr. King once said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
 
Furthermore, Jesus never seemed too concerned about sending “mixed messages.” He welcomed sinners of every kind—religious sinners and irreligious sinners, sexual sinners and pious sinners, bottom of the barrel and holier-than- thou sinners—and ate with them. Without caveats. And he took a lot of criticism for it from pious religious folk. But he didn’t seem to care.
 
A day or two after the Orlando shooting, I came across a tweet by an LGBTQ advocate named Tamara Lunardo, retweeted by Rachel Held Evans, which said the following:
 
“Straight friends, especially you Christians, please know: We hear your silence so loud.”

Now, before you get defensive (as I – Paul – did initially), please read on!

According to Ms. Lunardo, most of the outcries about Orlando seemed to be coming from everyone except those who identify as followers of Jesus. It’s as if she was saying, “Hey you Christians, they are hurting down there in Orlando. So then, you Christians, where are your tears? Where are your outcries? Where is your compassion? If it’s there, let us see it and feel it and experience it. If you have a light, you Christians, this is most certainly not the time to be hiding it beneath a bushel.”
 
There are exceptions to Ms. Lunardo’s concern, like this thoughtful piece about weeping and mourning together over lives and loved ones lost from the Southern Baptist leader, and a relatively new friend of mine, Russell Moore. Or one tweet and then another from another friend of mine, pastor Matt Chandler, to his sizable number of followers:
 
“What a horrific act of evil. Christians your Muslim friends & neighbors woke up this morning wondering how they will be viewed. Love them. Also consider the fear and pain this will have in the LGBT community. Let’s be the people of God in this heinous and awful violence.”…
 
Is it possible to disagree with each other on sensitive subjects, and still maintain meaningful and even loving friendships with each other? And, as Russell Moore suggests, is it not only possible but imperative and right to weep and mourn across such lines…and in such a way that the lines become transformed into bridges?…
 
“Who is my neighbor?” the teacher of the law asked Jesus.
 
Your neighbor, O child of God and heir of the Kingdom, is anyone who is near and anyone who has a need…
 
You know, Jesus…the same Jesus who healed ten lepers even though only one of them would say thank you, the same Jesus who made a Samaritan the hero of his story about neighbor-love right in the face of the reality that Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews, the same Jesus who commended Rahab for providing refuge for Israel’s spies even though she was still, at the time, an active prostitute, the same Jesus who went after Peter in love when Peter had denied him three times, before Peter ever repented or said that he was sorry, the same Jesus who looked a prostitute dead in the eye, while she was still dressed like a prostitute and had come to him straight off the streets to kiss his feet with her prostitute’s lips and douse his skin with her prostitute’s perfume, and praised her for her expression of love, regardless of how unorthodox it may have been to the cultural norms of the day.
 
…Chick Fil-A, a Christian owned and operated restaurant, did [something] in response to the Orlando shootings. On Sunday, the day that Chick Fil-A is always closed so its employees can worship God at their churches and observe a Sabbath rest, they decided instead to brew gallons of tea and prepare hundreds of their sandwiches, and then they handed them out free of charge to people who were donating blood for the LGBTQ shooting victims
 
The truest disciples of Jesus, not in spite of their Christian beliefs but because of them, take initiative to love, listen to, and serve those who don’t share their beliefs.
 
It is God’s kindness that leads us to repent.
 
It is not our repentance that leads God to be kind.
 
Let’s make sure that God’s kindness is tasted not only on the pages of Scripture, but through our lives and through our loving. Because the more we are into Jesus, the more conservative we are in our belief that every single word of the Bible is right and good and true, the more liberal we will be in the ways that we love
 
The response that makes us suspect in the eyes of those who are religiously smug and relationally scared, the response that leads some to even accuse us of being soft on law because we are so heavy on grace. The response that causes onlookers, especially the more pious ones, to mischaracterize us as “gluttons and drunks” because of the aroma of Jesus, who was similarly accused, that seeps out of us
 
And so I ask again, is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love them deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and embrace people who reject your deep convictions simultaneously?
 
Yes, it is.
 
Do you remember Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man (Mark 10:17-27)? Do you remember how Jesus told the man to sell all of his possessions, give to the poor, and then follow him? Do you remember how the man then turned away from Jesus because he had great wealth? If you do remember the encounter, did you catch these two incredibly significant details? First, Jesus looked at the man and loved him.
 
Second, the man walked away from Jesus feeling sad. Not judged. Not ticked off. Not feeling bullied or dismissed or excluded or marginalized. Not saying to Jesus and his followers, “I hear your silence so loud.” No. Not this. But SAD. The man walked away in the tension of paradox—held captive by the chains of his money idol, yet sensing a forfeiture of a different and perhaps more life-giving form of wealth.
 
So let’s ask ourselves, what will matter more to us in the end—that we successfully put others in their place, that we took a “moral stand” regardless of who we alienated and whose fragile spirits we crushed in the process…or that we loved well enough for lines to turn into bridges?
 
God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning culture wars and taking moral stands that put people in their place but don’t win any people’s hearts. I want to contend that truth and love can go together. I want to contend that truth and love must go together.
 
Into a climate in which Christians were routinely made fun of, maligned, and persecuted for their convictions, Peter wrote these words:
 
“In your hearts honor Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
 
Critics turned to friends, lines turned to bridges…through gentleness and respect. Can you imagine it?

And finally, here is the excerpt I wanted to share from Russell Moore’s excellent piece featured on TIME magazine’s site:

Can We Still Weep Together After Orlando?
by Dr. Russell Moore

It seems now that there’s rarely a time of grieving together.
 
We woke up Sunday morning to news of the worst mass shooting in American history, as a terrorist murdered and injured over a hundred people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the aftermath, we’ve seen some of the best aspects of America: people lining up, for example, to give blood for the victims. We’ve also seen some of the worst—as the aftermath turned into an excuse for social media wars over everything from gun control to presidential politics. What I wonder is whether the country still has the capacity to grieve, together, in moments of national crisis.
 
When we’re accustomed to seeing news in real time on our television screens and on our phones, it is sometimes easy to forget that the news we are viewing is real. At least 50 people—created in the image of God—were slaughtered in cold blood. Families who were waiting to see their loved ones are finding out that they will never see them again in this life. That ought to drive us to mourn.
 
Our nation has shared moments of crisis and tragedy before. Think of Pearl Harbor, when the country rallied around President Roosevelt and toward a common purpose of defeating the Axis Powers. Think of the John F. Kennedy assassination, when the country—even the Kennedy family’s enemies—seemed to grieve together. Think of Sept. 11—before the fracturing of the Iraq War—when the country looked to common cultural expressions, from the service at the National Cathedral to the cold open of Saturday Night Live, for a sense of lament together.
 
It seems now, though, that there’s rarely a time of grieving together. The time of lament morphs almost immediately into arguments over what the President should have said or whether this validates or annihilates someone’s views on guns or immigration or whatever. Some of that, of course, is just the speed of social media. People are able to discuss, rather publicly, issues much quicker than they could before. But there seems to be more than that.
 
Our national divisions increasingly make it difficult for us not just to work together, but even to pause and weep together. We become more concerned about protecting ourselves from one another’s political pronouncements than we do with mourning with those who mourn…
 
How then do we weep with those who weep?
 
Let’s call our congregations to pray together. Let’s realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn’t be? Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them.
 
We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism. Let’s also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let’s mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let’s call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers.
 
As the Body of Christ, though, we can love and serve and weep and mourn. And we can remind ourselves and our neighbors that this is not the way it is supposed to be. We mourn, but we mourn in the hope of a kingdom where blood is not shed and where bullets never fly.
 
**(All bold & italics are mine – to help emphasize key portions of these articles)

Are You Called? Thoughts to Stimulate and Challenge Your Idea of Calling

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“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner)

The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” (Martin Luther)

“Do we enjoy our work, love our work, virtually worship our work so that our devotion to Jesus is off-center? Do we put our emphasis on service, usefulness or being productive in working for God—at his expense? Do we strive to prove our own significance? To make a difference in the world? To carve our names in marble on the monuments of time? The call of God blocks the path of all such deeply human tendencies. We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.” (Os Guinness)

“Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him… The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him… The men and women our Lord sends out on His enterprises are the ordinary human stuff, plus dominating devotion to Himself wrought by the Holy Spirit. Be absolutely His.” (Oswald Chambers)

Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.” (Tim Keller)

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

“If all that a believer does grows out of faith and is done for the glory of God, then all dualistic distinctions are demolished. There is no higher / lower, sacred / secular, perfect / permitted, contemplative / active or first class / second class. Calling is the premise of Christian existence itself. Calling means that everyone, everywhere and in everything fulfills his or her (secondary) callings in response to God’s (primary) calling. For Luther, the peasant and the merchant—for us, the business person, the teacher, the factory worker and the television anchor—can do God’s work (or fail to do it) just as much as the minister or missionary.” (Os Guinness)

Good Friday Reflections

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB)

Our growth in holiness does not come by becoming obsessed with the sin we are trying to overcome. Rather, it comes by becoming obsessed with Jesus and His finished work on the Cross…and the reality of His life-giving resurrection.

“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,
so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
(1 Peter 2:24 NASB)

I grew up in a Lutheran church, sitting in the pews from infancy on into my mid-elementary years (when my parents transitioned us to another evangelical church). Those were the days when families would have all of their children sit with them in the adult worship service. Looking back now, I’m so glad they did. The great hymns of the faith – and the profound theology they taught – are now deeply imprinted upon my heart and my mind because of it.

One of my favorite hymns has always been Beneath the Cross of Jesus. To this day, the third stanza of that great song means more to me than almost any other song I can think of. For all of my adult life I have sung these words to myself during my devotional times with the Lord. It brings me to tears often because of what it means to me.

I take, O cross, thy shadow
for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
the sunshine of his face;
content to let the world go by,
to know no gain nor loss,
my sinful self my only shame,
my glory all the cross.
(Beneath the Cross of Jesus)

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26 – NASB)

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Forbid it Lord that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood

See from His head His hands His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far too small
Love so amazing so divine
Demands my soul
Love demands my soul
My life my all
(When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
(Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus)

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!
(Christ the Lord is Risen Today)

“But may it never be that I would boast,
except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world.”
(Galatians 6:14 NASB)

“For it was the Father’s good pleasure
for all the fullness to dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself,
having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
(Colossians 1:19-20 NASB)

“For Christ also died for sins once for all,
the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God,
having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”
(1 Peter 2:18 NASB)

Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016), an author who impacted me deeply

Jerry Bridges, well-known author and Christian speaker, passed away this week. Over the past 35+ years I have read almost all of Jerry’s books (20), and God has used them to impact me in profound ways. There were four of Jerry’s books that I read twice (yes, they were that good):

Jerry’s passing this past week reminded me why it is so important for those within the body of Christ who have been gifted by God to write exceptionally well – to carve out time to write! Their writings will outlive them. Long after they are gone, their books will continue to be used by God to bless, encourage, equip, challenge and shape Christians – like you and me.

Here are a few quotes (and a few of my thoughts) taken from a sermon series I preached a few years ago on the subject of growing spiritually and living our lives from acceptance rather than for acceptance (James 1:22-25; Philippians 2:12-13; Romans 5:1; 6:1; 8:1; Galatians 2:16; Hebrews 12:8).

As you will see, Jerry Bridges’ quotes were peppered throughout. Why?  Because he communicated far more clearly what I needed to say as I tried to preach on this subject.

Enjoy!

What is a sign of maturity? Practicing what you hear. Through practice you become mature. You see, it’s one thing to grow old in the Lord, but it’s another thing to grow up in the Lord.
        
“There are many people cruising from church to church, from Bible conference to Bible conference, filling notebook after notebook, wearing out Bible after Bible, who are still some of the crankiest, fussiest, grumpiest, most irresponsible people you meet. Why? Because they do not practice the things they hear. This is the whole thrust of the book of James. He wants you to put to the test what you claim to believe – by doing it. A mature person is one who is involved in practicing on a regular, consistent basis what he hears and what he takes in. Just being exposed to Bible instruction won’t solve problems.” (Chuck Swindoll)

The best two word phrase that I have heard that describes how we change and grow in Christ (i.e. sanctification) is: Active Dependence!

The pattern in Scripture is… indicatives (i.e. the Truth about who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us) must precede imperatives (i.e. God’s commands)! It’s understanding and believing the indicatives that gives us the power to carry out the imperatives!

“A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates – all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside of himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God.
        
Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities to plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate, he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season. In a sense he is in a partnership with God, and he will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his own responsibilities. Farming is a joint venture between God and the farmer. The farmer cannot do what God must do, and God will not do what the farmer should do.
 
“We can say just as accurately that the pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But He has given to us the responsibility of doing the walking; He does not do that for us.
 
“…holiness is a process, something we never attain in this life. That is why we will always be pursuing – as opposed to attaining – holiness in this life.” (Jerry Bridges – from The Pursuit of Holiness)
 
In the Preface to The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges begins by writing the following – the very first sentence in the preface of his book:

“Shortly after my book The Pursuit of Holiness was published in 1978, I was invited to give a series of ten lectures on that subject at a church in our city. One night I titled my lecture ‘The Chapter I Wish I Had Written.’ The nature of that message was that the pursuit of holiness must be motivated by an ever-increasing understanding of the grace of God; or else it can become oppressive and joyless.”

Here were a few other favorite Bridges quotes:

“We are to live our lives from acceptance, not for acceptance.”
 
“Living by grace instead of by works means you are free from the performance treadmill. It means God has already given you an “A” when you deserved an “F”. He has already given you a full day’s pay even though you may have worked only one hour. It means you don’t have to perform certain spiritual disciplines to earn God’s approval. Jesus Christ has already done that for you. You are loved and accepted by God through the merit of Jesus, and you are blessed by God through the merit of Jesus. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or any less. He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus!” (Jerry BridgesTransforming Grace)

What is Legalism? Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.

“Legalism has its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law, then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means the glory goes to people rather than God.” (Thomas Schreiner)
 
“The antidote to legalism is living a ‘gospel-centered’ life!” (Jerry Bridges)
 
“Preach the gospel to yourself every day! By doing so, it addresses the self-righteous Pharisee and the guilt-laden sinner that dwell in our hearts.” (Jerry Bridges)
 
“The gospel-centered life is a life where a Christian experiences a growing personal reliance on the gospel that protects him from depending on his own religious performance and being seduced and overwhelmed by idols.” (Jerry Bridges)

What does it mean to live a “gospel-centered life?”

“1. Confidence (Heb. 3:14; 4:16) When the gospel is central in our lives we have confidence before God – not because of our achievements, but because of Christ’s atonement. We can approach God knowing that he receives us as his children. We do not allow our sins to anchor us to guilt and despair, but their very presence in our lives compels us to flee again and again to Christ for grace that restores our spirits and gives us strength.
 
“2. Intimacy (Heb. 7:25; 10:22; James 4:8) When the gospel is central in our lives we have and maintain intimacy with God, not because of our religious performance, but because of Jesus’ priestly ministry. We know that Jesus is our mediator with God the Father and that he has made perfect peace for us through his sacrifice allowing us to draw near to God with the eager expectation of receiving grace, not judgment.
 
“3. Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13) When the gospel is central in our lives we experience spiritual transformation, not just moral improvement, and this change does not come about by our willpower, but by the power of the resurrection. Our hope for becoming what God designed and desires for us is not trying harder, but trusting more – relying on his truth and Spirit to sanctify us.” (Tim Challies and Joe Thorn)
 
“We believers do need to be challenged to a life of committed discipleship, but that challenge needs to be based on the gospel, not on duty or guilt. Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.”
 
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” (Jerry BridgesThe Discipline of Grace)

The overall theme of the book of James is: Real faith produces genuine works! If your faith is genuine then your works will be real. If you say that you have the real disease, then you will have the genuine germs. Faith is the root. Works are the fruit. If you have the root, then you will have the fruit. James isn’t preaching salvation by works. He is simply saying that if a person genuinely knows Christ, then their will be fruit. As John Calvin so famously said: “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.”

Don’t simply read, study and listen to God’s Word, make it a priority to put what you learn into practice!

“We must daily soak ourselves in the Scriptures. We must not just study, as through a microscope, the linguistic minutiae of a few verses, but take our telescope and scan the wide expanses of God’s Word, assimilating its grand theme of divine sovereignty in the redemption of mankind. ‘It is blessed,’ wrote Charles Spurgeon, ‘to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.” (John Stott)
 
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Living for Something (and Someone) Bigger than Yourself

Big Stock Photo

Last week, John Piper wrote a blog post that I found to be soul-stirring and challenging, especially as one of the “Baby Boomer” generation. I wanted to share it with you. Here is his post in its entirety:

Hillary, Bernie, Donald and Me
 by John Piper
 
At 70, I am energized to dream great things, because this year Hillary turns 69, Bernie turns 75, and Donald turns 70. My rising energy has nothing to do with their policies or character. It has to do with the incredible fact that all of them want to spend their seventies doing the hardest job in the world.
 
This is wonderfully counter-cultural. I doubt that it’s motivated by a passion to magnify the greatness of Jesus. But that makes it all the more inspiring for me, because nothing gets me more excited than spending my seventies spreading a passion for the glory of Christ and his word. Paul is still my hero when he says, “My eager expectation and hope is that Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).
 
So if Hillary and Bernie and Donald want to bear the weight of the world for the next four to eight years out of man-centered, philanthropic motives, I find my seventy-something zeal for Jesus heating up.
 
They only get to be president of a tiny territory called the U.S.A.
 
I get to be an ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe.
 
They only get to change the way some people live for a few decades.
 
I get to change the way some people live forever — with a lot of good spill-over for this world in the process.
 
But this is not an article mainly about me. It’s about the 70 million Baby Boomers coming behind me. I’m the oldest (born in 1946; the youngest born in 1964).
 
Ten thousand Americans turn 70 every day.
 
And they will continue to do so for about nineteen years. Billions of dollars are spent every year trying to get us to waste the last chapter of our lives on leisure. I’m spending one afternoon to plead with the rising seventy-somethings: Don’t waste it.
 
A History of Impact over Seventy
 
Hillary, Bernie, and Donald are not unique. Let them — and all the others — inspire you.
 
Five of the eight current Supreme Court justices are over 65, and three are over 75.
 
Ronald Reagan served as president from age 70 to 78. He was shot at age 70 and recovered. Then at 76, he stood against the U.S.S.R. in West Berlin and said to Mikhail Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall!”
 
Winston Churchill became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940 at the age of 66. He wielded his mighty eloquence against the Nazis till he was 70. Six years later, he was reelected and served till he was 81. At 82, he wrote A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.
 
Theologian Charles Hodge (1797–1878) lived to be 80. His biographer, Paul Gutjahr, wrote, “His last years were among his most productive . . . wielding his favorite pen to compose literally thousands of manuscript pages, which would eventually become his monumental Systematic Theology and his incisive What Is Darwinism?.”
 
At 70, Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence.
 
John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at age 77.
 
At the same age, Grandma Moses started painting. Started!
 
At 82, Goethe finished writing his famous Faust.
 
At 89, Albert Schweitzer ran a hospital in Africa.
 
At 93, Strom Thurmond won reelection after promising not to run again at age 99. He lived to be 100.
 
At 93, P.G. Wodehouse worked on his 97th novel, got knighted, and then died.
 
I heard J. Oswald Sanders lecture when he was 89. He said, “I have written a book a year since I was 70.” So I have just arrived at the beginning of this writing life. The beginning! What a thrilling example!
 
Ralph Winter, the great missions visionary and activist was thinking and writing and strategizing for world evangelization until he died at 84. He was passionate about non-retirement. He wrote,
 
“Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. I read somewhere that half the men retiring in the state of New York die within two years. Save your life and you’ll lose it. Just like other drugs, other psychological addictions, retirement is a virulent disease, not a blessing. . . . Where in the Bible do they see that? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”
 
Whether in Weakness or Strength
 
I am not unaware — my body makes me aware — that not everyone has the wonderful privilege of health and resources in old age. Over four million people over 65 live in poverty. Millions more suffer from the dreaded woes of aging — heart disease, arthritis, cancer, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis. Not to mention the typical loss of hearing and eyesight and energy.
 
I do not want to add a burden to those who would love to dream with me, but can’t act on their dreams. You have your calling to live where you are, with all your weaknesses, for the glory of Christ. And, yes, he does get glory in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
 
God has great promises for those of you who trust your precious and ever-present Savior, Jesus Christ: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).
 
Rather, I am writing to the 25 million Americans over 65 who are healthy and have resources — and to the seven thousand Boomers who turn 70 every day with health and wealth. I am inviting you to look around you. Look at Hillary and Bernie and Donald, and thousands of others, who are dreaming their dreams. Whatever their motives are, what are yours?
 
Without Excuse
 
“Jesus gave himself for us to purify for himself a people who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). No age limit. Zealous. Passionate. To the end. For good works. Works that he has gifted you to do. He has given you a lifetime of experience and wisdom and resources. You have a decade of freedom in front of you. This is a trust. All your previous life was designed for this season of fruitfulness. What is your dream?
 
“Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement.”
 
“The righteous . . . still bear fruit in old age . . . to declare that the Lord is upright” (Psalm 92:12–15). Why would God tell us that? Because he wants us to dream that. He wants us to pray for that.
 
Not everyone gets the privilege. Some die young. Some must bear the burden of immobilizing pain. But millions of you are free. If you do not dream a joyful dream of productive service for Christ in your seventies, what will you say to the Savior? Your only excuse will be that you listened to the voice of this age rather than to God’s. It will not be a good excuse.
 
Redefine Retirement
 
The apostle Paul was on his way to evangelize Spain when he died in his sixties (Romans 15:23–28). He called himself an “old man” (Philemon 1:9). But as an “old man,” he planned, while he had breath, to do all he could for Christ and his kingdom. Spending the last season of his life playing games in a perishing world was not in his plan. It should not be in yours.
 
Join the happy psalmist: “My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Psalm 71:8–9). We have good reason to believe God will answer that prayer for Christ’s sake.
 
Break free from the spirit of this age. See the world — see your life — the way God sees it. In his reckoning, sweet soul-rest begins when you are born again (Hebrews 4:3, 10), and rest from our labor — true retirement — begins when you die.
 
Make no mistake. The Bible believes in retirement. It’s called heaven. Then the new earth. It lasts forever. Compared to it, this life is a vapor’s breath. All our trials here are “a light and momentary affliction” that are preparing for us an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Keep your eyes on this prize. Such a rest the world has never dreamed of.
 
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13). Be up and doing. Joyfully. For Christ. Full of hope.
 
Related Resources
 
▪ Rethinking Retirement –  In this little book, John Piper challenges fellow Baby Boomers to forego the American dream of retirement and live out their golden years with a far greater purpose in mind.
 
▪ Boomers’ Bodies — And Yours – All of the 10,000 people in America who turn 65 each day have wrinkles. For Christians, God takes the deep creases of our bondage to corruption and turns them into the dignity of spiritual beauty.
 
▪ Resolutions on Growing Old with God – For those who do not want to be a grumpy old man or woman, here are eight resolutions for an aging saint.
 
▪ The Books Boomers Will Never Read – The older we get, it becomes clearer that many unread books will not be read in this life. For Christians, life, learning, and reading never end.
 
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

Soli Deo Gloria

Photo by Cameron Baptist Church

This past weekend, the staff of Global Training Network traveled from across the country and around the world to gather together in the heart of Phoenix for three days of worship, prayer, teaching, collaboration and strategic planning for greater ministry effectiveness in the months and years to come. I’ve never felt more privileged to work with such a humble, gracious, godly, passionate-for-Jesus group of people in my life.

On Sunday evening after everyone had left and traveled back home, our daughter, Carrisa (who serves on staff, along with her husband Josh) wrote in her Journal these words (I asked for her permission to share this)…

“I was reminded yesterday morning that I have such a privilege to work with this amazing group of people. In our world that is obsessed with celebrity, fame and success, it is so refreshing to spend time with this team. They may not stand out in a crowd, and you wouldn’t hear anything about them in the media, but what Christ has done in them is spiritually ‘glorious’ – like the beings in C.S. Lewis’  book The Great Divorce who are finally the physical manifestation of their spiritual selves. Resilient, free, joyful, centered, running the ultra-marathon of life. They are running with eyes on the prize, casting aside the weights and burdens of this life. They are hard core, steadfast, “good soldiers” of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3). Yes, they bear scars from life, but it has not crushed them or made them small in soul or spirit. They are large-hearted and unafraid to love.”

On Saturday morning I shared with our staff several thoughts that are central to who we are and why we exist as a ministry organization. At the heart of why we exist is summed up in the famous Latin phrase, Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone). John Piper’s words are so fitting:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God…Missions begins and ends with worship!

“I am not pleading for a diminishing of missions but for a magnifying of God. When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God’s true worth, the light of missions will shine to the darkest peoples on earth. Where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak. “All of history is moving toward one great goal, the white-hot worship of God and his Son among all the peoples of the earth. Missions is not that goal. It is the means. And for that reason it is the second greatest human activity in the world.”

(John PiperLet the Nations be Glad)

And finally, this passage from Revelation 7 is what keeps all of us moving forward with passion and conviction…

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

(Revelation 7:9-12 NIV)

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