“If one could run without getting tired I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”
“If one could run without getting tired I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”
By David Powlison
We all love it when life leaps into forward gear and we make all kinds of progress. Problems just seem to fall away. Perhaps in your life you’ve had a season like that, a season when your life seemed to shine and flourish. Maybe it was when you first became a believer or during some period when you were very well nurtured by good community and wise input.
Then there are those seasons where things go very slowly. You wonder, “Is this all there is? Why do I keep struggling with the same old things? I keep losing my temper, or feeling anxious, or being clumsy in relationships . . . ” What vision does God give us for what our lives are supposed to look like, especially when we’re dealing with the long, hard struggle part of being a Christian? Let me say two things.
First, often when we hear the words sanctification, growth, and transformation, we have an idealized image of what that might look like. Though each of us may picture slightly different things, I doubt for most of us that the image includes three quarters of the book of Psalms which portray life where faith and hope happen in the midst of honest struggles—hard struggle, a sense that “I need God to hear me.”
Psalm 28, for example, says, “If you don’t hear me, God, I will die!” It is not unusual for life to be difficult. We bump up against things in the world around us that are intimidating or overwhelming or discouraging. We see things within ourselves that we wish would change, but we keep failing in some way.
The Psalms are about that. They’re about struggle with hard things in our world and in ourselves. And the Psalms are a window into the heart of Jesus Christ himself.
If sanctification means becoming like Christ, then the way we struggle is as much a part of our sanctification as some idealized image of what we hope that we would become. Struggling honestly, actually needing help, is what the Psalms are about.
The Lord is enough. You can go through hard things and not lose your faith.
Second, there are particular kinds of growth and strength that may be happening in our lives that we don’t even see. Jesus’s first four Beatitudes are about needing help: feeling your need, grieving the wrong in the world, submitting to God’s will, hungering for all wrongs to be made right.
Living such weakness doesn’t necessarily feel like growth. And the second half of the Beatitudes can also happen in ways that you’re not always aware.
The fifth Beatitude says that the merciful are blessed because they’ll receive mercy. In your life—in part because you struggle, in part because you know God’s mercies to you—your heart may be becoming more generous to other people.
You have less of a sense of me, me, me, of my rights and prerogatives, what I want to accomplish, that I need to own this piece of turf, need to get credit. You have a growing sense that other people really matter.
You can be gracious to them in their shortcomings and their heartaches. Are you gradually decentering off yourself?
And think about the sixth Beatitude, about the pure heart. That means that you go into conversations as less conniving, less fearful, less manipulative, less comparative, less performance oriented. You’re able to simply be truer to what it actually means to care for others. You look out for their interests as well as your own.
Or think about being a peacemaker, the seventh Beatitude.
You are less prone to leap into conflict, less prone to be defensively self-righteous when someone criticizes you. You may be changing into a more gracious person, and others see it in you more than you see it in yourself.
And, finally, consider the final Beatitude, about persevering and having courage in the face of suffering and difficulty. You’re able—in a deep-down way—to say “It’s okay that life is a long, hard road.”
You don’t have to always get your way. Not everybody has to agree with you. You aren’t living for your dreams and your bucket list. The Lord is enough. You can go through hard things and not lose your faith.
Now none of those things—becoming a more generous-hearted person, having more simplicity in the way you approach people, being the one seeking to solve conflict instead of instigate it, and having courage and perseverance—are splashy transformations. They’re just good, quiet, strong, steady fruits of the Lord working in our lives.
I do think that if you add these two things together—realism about the ongoing struggle that makes you actually need the Lord and then contentment with these quiet, unspectacular graces that are about living a human life that’s worth living—then sanctification can, in fact, go forward even when you’re going through a hard patch in life.
David Powlison (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a teacher, a counselor, and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He is also the senior editor of the Journal of Biblical Counseling and the author of Seeing with New Eyes, Good and Angry, and Speaking Truth in Love.
44 Scripture Passages
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Romans 12:16)
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:17)
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:18-21)
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10)
“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:1-4)
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:1-2)
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5)
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
“Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29 NASB)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender- hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NASB)
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14)
“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.” (Colossians 3:8-9)
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)
“For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12:20)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same.” (Matthew 5:43-47)
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-15)
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16)
“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:9)
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9)
“For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (1 John 3:11)
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-21)
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13.13)
“And have mercy on those who doubt.” (Jude 22)
(All Scripture taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted)
All of the little choices that you and I make have a long term cumulative effect on our lives. Randy Alcorn recently wrote a great article on this subject. Here are a few quotes that I pulled from the post (emphasis mine).
Cumulative Little Choices
By Randy Alcorn
“Every day we’re becoming someone—the question is, who? Author Jerry Bridges, hearing me address this, told me that Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, used to say, ‘You are going to be what you are now becoming.'”
“Who you become will be the cumulative result of the daily choices you make.”
“‘A long obedience in the same direction,’ to borrow a Eugene Peterson phrase, is sustained by the small choices we make each day. Most of us know the difference between eating cottage cheese and donuts, or the difference between a daily workout and spending life on a couch. What I eat and whether I exercise will determine the state of my body. The same is true of our spiritual lives. Whether I read Scripture and great books, or spend my best hours watching TV and looking at my phone, will make me into the person I will be several years from now. I should discipline myself today, not for discipline’s sake, but for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).”
“Following Christ isn’t magic. It requires repeated actions on our part, which develop into habits and life disciplines. Our spirituality hinges on the development of these little habits, such as Bible reading and memorization and prayer. In putting one foot in front of the other day after day, we become the kind of person who grows in Christlikeness. Once we develop Christ-honoring habits and experience their rewards, we’ll instinctively turn our minds to what makes us happy in Christ.”
“A decade from now, would you like to look back at your life, knowing you’ve made consistently good decisions about eating right and exercising regularly? Sure. But there’s a huge gap between wishes and reality. The bridge over the gap is self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).”
“The key to self-control is discipline, which produces a long-term track record of small choices in which we yield to God’s Spirit, resulting in new habits and lifestyles. In fact, Spirit-control and self-control are interrelated in Scripture, because godly self-control is a yielding of self to the Holy Spirit.”
“It’s true we are creatures of habit—but it’s also true Christ can empower us to form new habits.”
“So how can you start to make the right small choices? Ephesians 5:15-16 tells us to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.” Why not redeem two hours of your day that you would have spent on television, newspaper, video games, phone, working overtime, or hobbies? Change your habits. Spend one hour meditating on and/or memorizing Scripture. Spend the other hour reading a great book. Share what you’re learning with your spouse and children, or a friend.”
“May we call upon Christ’s strength today to make choices that will honor Him, bring us great happiness, and help us become the kind of people we want to be ten years from now!”
Click here for the full article.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows; it empties today of its strength.” (Corrie Ten Boom)
“As soon as we think God owes us mercy, we’re not thinking about mercy anymore.”
“There is no way to have a real relationship without becoming vulnerable to hurt.”
“May I be far more concerned with being godly, than appearing godly.”
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” (Tim Keller)
“If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.”
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from The Cost of Discipleship)
“I have done less waiting than working, and my works would have been better had I waited more. But I have enjoyed God’s incomparable companionship. I have walked the world with God as my friend.” (Carl F.H. Henry)
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” (John Wesley)
“I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds … Satan is quite aware of the power of silence.” (Jim Elliot)
“Lord, give me character that is greater than my gifts, and humility that is greater than my influence.” (Scott Sauls)
“There’s nothing that makes you more miserable, or less interesting, than self-absorption.” (Tim Keller)
“We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.” (Rosaria Butterfield)
“We do not grieve as those who have no hope. But we grieve. We grieve.” (Russ Ramsey)
“If it’s petty, get over it. If it’s not petty, deal honestly with it. Simmering resentment is not only sin. It’s like a cancer to the soul.” (Beth Moore)
“How can you be totally sure when you look at all the horrible stuff that has happened in your life and out in the world that someday God is going to make it all right? How can you not just hope so, but be absolutely sure that in spite of your own failures, God loves you and will never let you go? How can you know that when you face death it is not the end? Only if you know that Jesus rose from the dead and therefore so will you.” (Tim Keller)
“The check engine light is blinking in my soul when… My sense of wonder is low, I don’t want to pray, I’m easily angered, and the Bible is boring.” (Scotty Smith)
“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on him who has all things safely in his hands.” (Elisabeth Elliot)
“Living for Jesus is just as grace-filled as coming to Jesus.” (Ray Ortlund)
“The least secure person in the room is the one who gossips the most.” (Scott Sauls)
“Jesus did not come with a sword in his hands; he came with nails in his hands. He did not come to bring judgment; he came to bear judgment.” (Tim Keller)
“Grace is humbling and restorative. It pulls you down because Christ had to die for you, but also lifts you up because he wanted to die for you.” (Tim Keller)
“Refuse resentment like you would refuse to put a straw in used motor oil and start sucking. Resentment is just as deadly.” (Scotty Smith)
“Resentment sucks… the heart, life, freedom, and beauty right out of us.” (Scotty
“Joy and cynicism. Both are contagious. Everyone infects the world with one or the other.” (Scott Sauls)
“To say there is no absolute truth is an absolute. To say all truth is relative means even that truth is relative. All people make truth claims. The only difference is between those who know it and those who don’t. The question isn’t about if there is truth or not, but which truth will lead to human flourishing.” (Tim Keller)
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” (Winston Churchill)
“People know instinctively that if Christianity is true they will lose control, and they will not be able to live anyway they wish. So they are rooting for it not to be true, and are more than willing to accept any objections to the faith they hear.” (Tim Keller)
“God hides his most precious treasures from his saints in their most difficult and painful experiences.” (Jon Bloom)
“You don’t get to decide to worship. Everyone worships something. The only choice you get is what to worship.” (Tim Keller)
“Fear not, sleepless one, I am with you and for you. I’ve numbered your sorrows, bottled your tears, and will redeem your pain.” (Scotty Smith)
“Courage is facing your heart’s greatest nightmare and doing the right thing anyway.” (Tim Keller)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 – NASB)
Reading in my friend Michael Kelley’s book Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal, about his family’s journey of faith through their young son’s battle with leukemia, I found a passage of reflection taking me back in time. I do not know the fear and grief of having a child with a life-threatening illness, but when Michael writes —
I prayed. I petitioned. I cried. And I felt . . . nothing. Emptiness. Despair. Isolation. Darkness. Where was He, this God who so loved the world? Where was the great Healer? We needed Him there, in that cubicle of a hospital room. Doing something. Healing something. Springing into action. I didn’t need a Jesus that was sleeping in the boat while the storms raged around His friends. I needed a Jesus who was turning over the tables of sickness and disease and calling out cancerous cells like they were demons.
— this I know.
I was taken back to the smell of the guest bedroom carpet, where my nose had been many hours of many nights, my eyes wetting the fabric as I cried out to God. You ever groaned? If you have, you’d know. I planted my face in that floor and prayed guttural one-word prayers til I couldn’t speak any more. The lullaby music from my daughter’s room across the hall haunted me. I felt alone, unloved, unaccepted, and unacceptable. But I knew I deserved it all, so I was trying to be as submissive to God’s discipline as I could. But it hurt. Oh God it hurt.
I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment in desperation in those days, beyond begging him for the restoration of my marriage, beyond begging him for forgiveness of my sins, beyond begging him to take away my thoughts of suicide. I just wanted to know he was there.
The Bible says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). And by his grace I had that faith. A tiny sliver of it, to be sure, but I had it. Half a mustard seed maybe, clenched in my fist. All visible evidence to the contrary, I was still too afraid of the alternative. I was too scared to believe God didn’t exist, that he didn’t love me, that he didn’t care. I was exhausted, but my stubbornness and that speck of faith persisted even in the spiritual silence.
And then one night I heard the voice of the Spirit, not audibly mind you, but clearly, straight to my heart, applying the word of the gospel to me: “I love you, and I approve of you.” Because I had been exposing my mind to the gospel at that time, I knew he meant that he approved of me “in Christ,” not that he approved of my sin or righteousness; that much was clear by the devastation I was in. Like the prodigal son, “I came to my senses.”
In my pained estimation in those dark days, the Lord was moving much too slowly, but I knew in that moment that he is not slow in keeping his promises (2 Pet. 3:9). He was holding me all along, and his reviving word came right on time. I pray I will remember this in dark days to come.
The Lord is never late.
Don’t give up.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
— Habakkuk 2:3
“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.”
Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NIV)
I thought this post by Russ Ramsey on The Gospel Coalition blog was a helpful guide to the chronology of events that took place during the last week of Jesus’ life. Enjoy!
As we enter Holy Week—that sacred span from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday—here is a day-by-day breakdown of what Scripture tells us happened on each day.
Use this guide to lead you through Scripture reading this week.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem perched on a colt, it was the first time since raising Lazarus from the dead that he’d shown his face in the city. The story of Lazarus’s resurrection had circulated so that many regarded Jesus as a celebrity. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse. They went out to meet him and received him like a King, because they heard he had done this (John 12:18).
Jesus said Lazarus’s death would end in the faith of many, and in the “glory of God—that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). But the glory he had in mind was even more glorious than his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In fact, he wasn’t referring to the glory these people gave him at all. Lazarus’s resurrection would steel the resolve of the religious leaders to hand Jesus over to a death he would embrace—a death he would conquer. That was the glory he meant. As he rode into Jerusalem, the people cried, “Your King is coming!” They praised his victory over Lazarus’s death. But the irony was that he wasn’t coming to claim his crown on account of Lazarus’s death and resurrection, but on account of his own.
If Jerusalem was a beehive, with his triumphal entry Jesus had hit it with a stick. You could hear the buzz grow as the anger within got organized. His kingly arrival was a strong declaration about his authority over all the conventions of man.
On Monday, Jesus returns for more—this time to declare the failure of God’s people to live up to their covenant mandate to be a blessing to the world. Much of what the Gospels tell us about Monday centers on the theme of Jesus’s authority—both over the created world and his right to judge it. Everything Jesus did, he did with authority. So when he awoke his disciples Monday saying he wanted to go back into Jerusalem to teach, as risky as it sounded it wasn’t surprising. Everyone sensed something stirring, as if Jesus had rounded a corner and his end was coming fast. He was a marked man.
If Monday’s arrival in the temple was an all-inclusive, living parable of cleansing God’s house, Tuesday’s entrance is a direct, verbal confrontation with the appointed leadership. After Jesus clarifies he doesn’t regard these leaders as having any authority over him, he spends the rest of the day right there in the temple to teach the people God’s Word. But Tuesday afternoon is the last time Jesus publicly teaches in the temple as a free man. His words on this day are his closing argument, his manifesto.
When Jesus leaves the temple on Tuesday, the chief priests and scribes are “seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him” (Mark 14:1). But they can’t take his life from him solely on the strength of the charges they plan to bring—not if he defends himself. But he won’t. Instead, by his silence, he’ll offer up his life for a world of blasphemers and traitors and liars. This was what he has come to do, and as he exits the temple that Tuesday afternoon, he knows he will do it soon.
To read the rest of the article, click here.
If you’ve lived long enough, you know the truth of the above statement.
Several years ago, I read a short little book entitled Brokenness: The Heart God Revives by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I’ve come back to it many times over the years because of its richness and depth.
Here are a few quotes from her book…
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
Lord, High and Holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite heart is the rejoicing spirit
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
the joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.
From The Valley of Vision; A Collection of Puritan Prayers And Devotions
Five Differences Between Proud people and Broken people
With all our talk of worship, unity, reconciliation, love, and the power of God, we have bypassed the essential ingredient that makes these things possible. I believe a return to this truth—the need for brokenness and humility—is the starting place for experiencing the revival we so desperately need in our lives, our homes, and our churches. (Page 25)
To be broken is the beginning of revival. It is painful, it is humiliating, but it is the only way.
For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity,
Whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
“In the Gospel of Luke, we find three vivid illustrations of the contrast between a broken person and a proud, unbroken person. Interestingly, in each case, proud people are linked with Pharisees. Now when you and I think of Pharisees, we think of the “bad guys.” But in those days, the Pharisees were considered the “good guys.”
“These were the seminary graduates, the biblical scholars, the pastors, the spiritual leaders of their day. Everyone looked up to them: no one questioned their spirituality or their authority. And no one felt he could possibly measure up to them. It was assumed that the Pharisees were closer to God than anyone else.
“Over and over again, He [Jesus] exposed the proud, self-righteous attitudes and motives of the Pharisees and insisted that God rejects that kind of heart. Then and now, broken sinners are the kinds of people God chooses to save, to bless, and to help.” (Pages 67-68)
Today, I wanted to share a portion of Dr. Timothy Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods, that I found to be particularly insightful. Enjoy!
“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:6)
Sociologist Christian Smith gave the name “moralistic, therapeutic deism” to the dominant understanding of God he discovered among younger Americans.
In his book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, he describes this set of beliefs.
This view of God (Deism) literally makes you master of your fate and captain of your soul. Salvation and happiness is up to you.
Some have pointed out that “moralistic, therapeutic deism” could only develop in a comfortable, prosperous society among privileged people.
People “at the top” are eager to attribute their position to their own intellect, savvy, and hard work. The reality is much more complicated. Personal connections, family environment, and what appears to be plain luck determine how successful a person is.
We are the product of three things—genetics, environment, and our personal choices—but two of these three factors we have no power over.
We are not nearly as responsible for our success as our popular views of God and reality lead us to think.
Popular culture often tells young people, “You can be anything you set your mind to.” But it is cruel to say that to a five-foot-four-inch eighteen-year-old boy who yearns, more than anything else, to be an NFL linebacker.
To use an extreme example, if you had been born in a yurt in Outer Mongolia, instead of where you were, it wouldn’t have mattered how hard you worked or used your talents—you would have ended up poor and powerless.
To come closer to home, think of the impact of your family background on you. You may spend your younger years telling yourself that you will not be like your parents, you will be your own person. However, somewhere around the middle of your life, it will become clearer how indelibly your family has shaped you.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers is filled with case studies that demonstrate how our success is largely the product of our environment. …
…Although, unlike Gladwell, I would grant equal importance to the three factors of heredity, environment, and personal choice, his book makes a strong case that we are not as personally responsible for our success as we would like to think.
Most of the forces that make us who we are lie in the hand of God.
We should not “take pride in one man over against another,” wrote the Apostle Paul. “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
(1 Corinthians 4:6-7)
(from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller – Pages 115-117)
You may have noticed that I have a newly updated design on my blog – all thanks to my son, James Madson (JM Designs)! It was a timely and much appreciated gift from him for Christmas this last year. Thanks James!
One important update – there is a new “Search” feature now included which allows a person to search the past eight years’ worth of blog posts by topic, author, scripture or word.
I found these 6 principles from Tim Keller timely and helpful… both in our interactions within the Church and among secular culture. They remind us that we as Christ-Followers are to interact with people that we may disagree with in a way that integrates biblical wisdom and grace.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)
Here’s what Tim Keller writes in an extended callout in Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:
All Christian movements must be based on commonly held biblical truths, and yet they must be characterized by trust and a willingness to unite around central truths and accept differences on secondary matters that—in the view of ministry partners—do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. On the one hand, we must realize that if we are going to maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. On the other hand, we must engage in such a way that we show great respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not just punish them.
How can this be done? I suggest the following principles for “polemics”—contending over doctrine—that is seasoned in tone and strategy by the gospel itself. As I’ve read a number of respected Christian authors over the years, I have distilled a few “rules of engagement” that I believe can keep us from either avoiding polemics or engaging in it in a spiritually destructive way.
1. Take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of others’ views. In our Internet age, we are quick to dash off a response because we think Mr. A promotes view X. And when someone points out that Mr. A didn’t mean X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize—or maybe we don’t even do that. Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr. A believes and promotes before you publish. This leads to a related rule.
2. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own. Nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander stated that we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views. “Attribute to an antagonist no opinion he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” In other words, even if you believe that Mr. A’s belief X could or will lead others who hold that position to belief Y, do not accuse Mr. A of holding to belief Y himself if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent, but this is not the same as implying or insisting that he actually holds belief Y when he does not. A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr. A quotes a particular author favorably at any point, then Mr. A must hold to all the views held by the author. If we, through guilt by association, hint or insist that Mr. A must hold other beliefs of that particular author, then we are not only alienating him or her; we are also misrepresenting our opponent.
3. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively. A host of Christian doctrines have an “on the one hand/on the other hand” dimension about them—and without both emphases we can fall into heresy. What if we find Mr. A making what appears to be an unqualified statement that sounds very unbalanced? If that is all Mr. A ever said about the subject, it would be right to conclude something about his position. But what if Mr. A has been speaking or writing these statements to an audience that already believed certain things, and therefore he was assuming those points of doctrine without stating them? At minimum, we must realize that Mr. A simply can’t say everything he believes about a subject every time he speaks. We should not pull out certain statements by Mr. A while overlooking or actually concealing explanations, qualifications, or balancing statements he may have made elsewhere.
4. Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form. This may be the most comprehensive rule of all in polemics, because, if you adhere to it, most of the other policies and principles will follow. Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and actually have the possibility of being persuasive—which leads to our next point.
5. Seek to persuade, not antagonize—but watch your motives! John Calvin was a Reformer in Geneva, Switzerland. His comrade in this work was William Farel, who was outspoken and hotheaded by temperament. At one point, Calvin wrote Farel a letter in which he urged Farel to do more to “accommodate people”—i.e., to seek to persuade them, to win them over. Calvin then distinguished two very different motivations for seeking to be winsome and persuasive: “There are, as you know, two kinds of popularity: the one, when we seek favor from motives of ambition and the desire of pleasing; the other, when, by fairness and moderation, we gain their esteem so as to make them teachable by us.”
The Farels of the world believe any effort to be judicious and prudent is a cowardly sellout. But Calvin wisely recognized that his friend’s constant, intemperate denunciations often stemmed not from a selfless courage, but rather from the opposite—pride. Writing to Pierre Viret about Farel, Calvin said, “He cannot bear with patience those who do not comply with his wishes.”
In short, it is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. We may be winsome in an attempt to be popular. It is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we must take care that our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.
6. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology—because only God sees the heart. Much criticism today is filled with scorn, mockery, and sarcasm rather than marked by careful exegesis and reflection. Such an approach is not persuasive. No one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton in his well-known “Letter on Controversy.”
Newton states that before you write a single word against your opponent “and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.” This practice will stir up love for him, and “such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” Later in the letter, Newton writes:
“What will it profit a man if he gain his cause and silence his adversary, if, at the same time, he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? … Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”
Newton also reminds us that it is a great danger to “be content with showing your wit and gaining the laugh on your side,” to make your opponent look evil and ridiculous instead of engaging their views with “the compassion due to the souls of men.”
The fourth principle above is especially important. Compare what Keller says earlier in the book:
Related: “How Should You Relate to Fellow Christians When Your Consciences Disagree about Disputable Matters?”, ch. 5 in Conscience