Monthly Archives: February 2012
Man is eager for vengeance and God is eager for forgiveness.
– John MacArthur
There is only one against whom we have all sinned and we keep sinning, and yet he is the only one whose posture of forgiveness is more eager than eager. He has grace like riches (Eph. 1:7, 2:7). He doesn’t have to watch his spending. He forgives like it’s going out of style.
A fellow sinner may forgive but it takes some working up to do. In some cases, he may even be eager to forgive but this eagerness does not come naturally. In many cases, though, there is not eagerness but dutiful obligation. We bring our sorrow, our repentance, our request for pardon, and we receive questions, probing, testing, measuring. We deserve this, there’s no question about it. And really repentant persons will accept the difficulty of an offended party’s forgiveness as part of that repentance. So we slink, tail between our legs, chastened and stung. It has to be this way because of the nature of human hurt and the antisocial nature of sin.
But, genuinely sorrowed over our offense, aren’t we deep down hoping, craving, desperate for the offended not to stand off, arms crossed, waiting for us to drag ourselves into a posture of penitence, but smiling, ready to accept us again? And so our God runs to us. And he tells us to approach his throne with confidence (Heb. 4:16) to receive grace in our time of need.
The cross of Christ both proves and founds …
His story of his conversion sounds like gospel wakefulness to me:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. . . . The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. . . . He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 45:22].”
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand …
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!
(2 Timothy 2:3-9)
A good soldier joins the fight for the faith, committing to be faithful to the cause of Christ, his brothers in the church, the church as his family, and the elders to whom he’s accountable. He has the cause in view, understands the mission — if not totally, at least to the extent of his role in it — throws off distractions and entangling temptations, eager to please to whom and that to which he is pledged.
A good soldier follows the rules, not merely out of duty but out of his guts, out of an understanding of the importance of the rules. He doesn’t just obey the Law, he delights in it, having lost his taste for the way of the world. He rejects passivity, puts his nose to the grindstone, gets his hands dirty, develops blisters on his …
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
— Philippians 4:5-7
This is an excellent recipe for what it itself describes: a Spiritual settling of the heart, thankfulness, closeness to God. But let’s suppose you didn’t want those things, you didn’t want to be thankful in all circumstances (as God commands through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5). How would you design your system in order to crush any impulse of thanksgiving in your heart?
1. Freak out about everything.
Let your unreasonableness be known to everyone. Be unreasonable about everything. Turn everything into drama, everything into a crisis.
2. Practice practical atheism.
The Lord is at hand, which is certainly something to be thankful for. Our God isn’t just transcendent, but immanent. He wants to be known. You could therefore intellectually acknowledge God is there, but act like he’s not. Assume he has no interest in you or your life. If you pretend like God’s not there, you don’t have to thank him for anything.
3. Coddle worry.
Be anxious about everything. Really protect your worry from the good news.
4. Give God the silent treatment.
The best way not to give thanks is not to talk at all. That way you’ll never give thanks accidentally.
5. Don’t expect anything from God.
Don’t trust him for …
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you . . .
— 1 Corinthians 15:1
If you are a pastor committed to gospel-centrality, it can be frustrating and distressing to re-learn every day how difficult it is for people to “get it.” Every day in gospel-centered ministry is a new lesson in “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive” (Isaiah 6:9).
This is not a deficiency of pulpit preaching, because a) people seem very good at remembering the parts they want to remember, and b) the gospel is the primary message of everything else you do, isn’t it?, from counseling to children’s ministry curriculum to friendly chit-chat to social media and the like.
Still, many seem pathologically devoted to anything warm and fuzzy that is not the gospel. “If I just stay positive, things will be okay.” Well, no, they won’t. And I’ve told you that a billion times. “If I just pray more, my life wouldn’t be so difficult.” Are we reading the same Bible? “Just keep hoping; that’s all we’ve got.” That doesn’t even make sense.
It is heartbreaking and resolve-testing when those who hear the gospel clearly articulated on a regular basis couldn’t tell you in their own words what the gospel is.
I don’t have any personal experience with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, which for a while has been placed in a distinct position along the autism spectrum (but may soon be re-labeled and folded back into it), but I do have a few friends with children who are either diagnosed with or presumed to have Asperger’s.
If you’re not familiar with Asperger’s syndrome, in a nutshell it is commonly described as a “high-functioning” form of autism, most often characterized by a profound social awkwardness or disability. People with Asperger’s — and there is a spectrum of ability and function even within the syndrome — tend to be incredibly artistic and highly intelligent, and often very polite and mannered, but lack the ability to pick up on emotional cues, understand metaphor or irony or sarcasm, and empathize. A friend of mine recounted a conversation between coworkers including one with Asperger’s that went something like this:
One employee is consoling another who is crying. Employee with Asperger’s approaches and asks the tearful lady, “Sheila, do you have the reports from last Wednesday?”
The consoling coworker says, “John, Sheila’s father just died.”
John says, “Oh.” Pause. “Can I get the reports off your desk?”
It’s funny, but not “ha ha” funny. And John (a name I made up, just paraphrasing my recollection of the incident) was not trying to be rude. He just wasn’t able to emotionally understand what was appropriate at the moment. In the article linked above there is this anecdote:
Rachel Klein, a child psychiatrist …
Feels like a Mississippi John Hurt morning.
If you’re walking a lonesome valley this Monday morning, you have to walk it yourself but you don’t walk it by yourself.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.”
— Psalm 34:18
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God . . .”
— Ephesians 6:11-17
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10 to “be strong,” but he tells us to be strong in the Lord’s might, not ours, which is why before we get to praying and making supplication, we are to put on the armor of God. Notice that this armor consists entirely of things God does or provides for us. We don’t put on the helmet of self-affirmation. We don’t put on the shoes of motivation. We don’t put on the belt of intestinal fortitude. No, we put on what God has done for us in …
“We submit joyfully to our leaders as our leaders serve us humbly.”
That is a statement from our church‘s membership covenant, which must be agreed to by every member of our church. It is phrased this particular way on purpose. It is not just member submission we are after but leader humility. And neither is more or less important than the other. In fact, each part of this affirmation is married to the other. That is the function of that little word “as.”
This is what our covenant is — a commitment of mutual trust. Leaders “go first,” so if any leader will not serve humbly, he forfeits the expectation that a church member under his authority will submit joyfully. That member may submit under fear or coercion, but that is not the submission we’re after. Leaders must lead, not push. Leaders must serve, not domineer.
Likewise, church members commit to submitting joyfully, realizing that not to do so creates temptation for leaders to cave into the flesh in their work, abandoning humility and servanthood to adopt something else they think may “get the job done.” A leader’s sin is not a member’s fault — and vice versa — but a covenant community ought to be oriented around bearing with one another, leading each other not into temptation, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us, and outdoing one another showing honor.
In this covenant agreement, which is larger than just this one phrase, we agree to treat each other un-suspiciously and un-selfsconsciously, …
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
— Colossians 3:16
What does it mean that the word of Christ dwells richly?
The word of Christ is rich with Christ’s graces, according to John 1:16. To have the word of Christ is to be rich toward God, because Christ is the all-surpassing treasure.
The word of Christ is rich in substance, because his Scriptures are Spirit-breathed, a match for every need, leaving no need of man lacking (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There is “all wisdom” in the word of Christ.
The word of Christ is rich in its effects, since it results in an abundance of myriad goodnesses, from teaching to admonishing to singing to an overflow of thanksgiving, and to more not mentioned here.
The word of Christ is rich with life, since it affords us eternity.
So let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Not meagerly or momentarily. Don’t just sip; drink deep. Taste and savor.
John Gill writes:
His meaning is, that not one part of the Scripture only should be regarded and attended to but the whole of it, every truth and doctrine in it, even the whole counsel of God; which as it is to be declared and preached in its utmost compass, so all and every part of it is to be received in the love of it, and to be abode in and by; there is a …