Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Don’t Get Too Familiar with the Bible - Peter Krol

Beware the deceptive wiles of familiarity — that sweet but double-edged virtue that makes you feel at home in the word of God. Familiarity of the tender variety persists in reminding you of the gospel and deepening your communion with Christ. But if you’re not careful, cold-hearted familiarity will betray you with kisses, poison your wineglass, and watch impassively while your life slips steadily away. You might not even realize it’s happening.
Unexamined familiarity will prevent you from looking at the Book. Because such familiarity crowds out curiosity, it imperceptibly stiffens necks, hardens hearts, and deafens ears. Familiarity may lead us to assume things that are not in the text, and it may blind us to things that are.
How Familiarity Works
A reasonably harmless example: I’m preparing to attend a Bible study on David, Abigail, and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25. I’ve been here before; I know this story. I give the text a cursory read-through and prepare to discuss ways to avoid David’s hasty foolishness and to imitate Abigail’s thoughtful service. I’m no unschooled moralizer, however, so I can see Jesus in David’s eventual choice to act like a true king.
But at the meeting, the unfamiliar-but-wildly-curious folks see things I’ve never seen. The death of David’s chief spiritual advisor introduces the tale (1 Samuel 25:1). The narrative’s first mention of God comes when David swears to murder every wall-urinator in Nabal’s household (1 Samuel 25:22, KJV). Abigail directs David’s attention — not primarily to her gifts (mentioned in her speech once) — but to the Lord and his promises (mentioned seven times). David praises her — not for her gifts (absent from his response) — but for the Lord’s use of her to counsel and restrain him.
My familiarity tricked me into thinking I knew the story, but I had missed the point. The Anointed One acts like God’s king only when reminded of God’s word to him. By contrast, the innocent sagess rides in on a kingly donkey, yet humbles herself, takes all the blame, and brings the Lord’s free gift of salvation to many.
Don’t allow familiarity to blind you to the text. Always look at the Book.
Familiarity May Misconstrue the Bible’s Truth
Familiarity looks away from the Book; curiosity looks toward it. Careful observation reveals many things we always thought were in the Bible but really aren’t:
  • Adam and Eve regularly walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden.
  • Jesus’s ministry lasted 3 years.
  • Jesus died at the age of 33.
  • Jesus walked through walls after his resurrection.
  • God commands Christians to pray before every meal.
  • Money is the root of all evil.
The Bible says God walked in the Garden the day they ate the fruit (Genesis 3:8) but never says this was his common practice. Jesus began his ministry at about age 30 (Luke 3:23), and John records three Passover events during his ministry (John 2:136:411:55); but no Gospel states that these were the only Passover feasts Jesus and his disciples celebrated before he was put to death. Jesus entered locked rooms (John 20:1926), but we are not told of his entry method; perhaps he picked the lock, knocked until they opened, or had others let him through the roof on a pallet.
Like a Twitter addiction, familiarity sometimes creates intimate feelings without true closeness. We assume and repeat errors in children’s Bibles, Sunday school curricula, and informal conversation. We resist the allure, however, when we look at the Book.
Familiarity May Pilfer the Bible’s Riches
How much we miss when blinded by friendly familiarity! Its seductions are like busy little bees with no hive. We labor long and hard to search, follow, and understand their trail, but we’re rewarded with stings rather than honey. Looking carefully at the Bible’s first book, consider but a few points of drama commonly missed:
  • Chapter 3: It was not “Eve” that ate the fruit on that ancient earth-shattering day. The narrator calls her “the woman” — the one taken from man — until Adam renames her in light of God’s promise to provide a Savior-Seed through her (Genesis 3:16–20). Naming her “Eve” — “living” — evidences his faith that they will not yet die.
  • Chapter 4: God had promised to give the woman a son to crush the serpent’s head, and this son arrives to his mother’s exuberant delight: “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Genesis 4:1). However, the savior becomes a slayer, and God must appoint a replacement who will call on his name (Genesis 4:25). Vanity of vanities!
  • Chapters 6–9: Eden is reborn when men and their wives, food, water, animal mates according to their kinds, and wood from trees are all squished up into a three-decker mini-world with a window and a door. The “windows of the heavens” open, along with the “fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11), to cover “the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:3) Do you see the three-decker world at work? At the Flood, God clicks “reboot,” and we ought not be surprised at the end by a naked man in an upgraded garden and the pronouncement of a new curse. The Flood could cleanse the face of the earth from life, but it could not cleanse the face of man’s heart from sin.
  • Chapter 12: When God calls Abram to leave his country and kindred, he doesn’t tell him where to go (see Hebrews 11:8). He wanders aimlessly until God appears to him in Canaan and says, “This is it” (Genesis 12:7). What faith! Chapter 17: Though realizing the Hagar incident had been a bad idea, Abram still believes for 13 years that Ishmael is his promised son. Notice his utter shock when God promises another son through Sarah (Genesis 17:16–21).
Though familiarity can be a devious enemy, it can also be a delightful friend (Psalm 119:11). May the Lord open our eyes to behold wondrous things in his law, day after day after day (Psalm 119:18–19). 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Pursuit of Perceiving God

Hebrews 12:14-17            December 28, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

We were made to see God, to have the glorious, majestic, face-to-face relationship with God like Jesus Christ had. We will see God when we pursue seeing God in all His holiness; it is then we will be satisfied and be at peace in the wholeness of our hearts and with one another. But this is not a race we can run and win by ourselves but we can together by the power of God within us. Because God is holy, we can run the race no matter how hard the course. Strive for peace and holiness, give grace to all, forgive those who have hurt you, love God with all of your heart - and we will all win!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Birth of God

Luke 2:1-7                December 21, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

Our most sovereign God left glory and entered human time and space in the flesh as a baby - but still remained God. Jesus, who is God, who created the universe, became flesh like us. The One who knows all things came into the world to learn and grow in wisdom. The all-sufficient One lives with us and is hungry and thirsty. God in the flesh endures abandonment and judgment from God the Father. The Creator of life suffers and dies. The Creator of life re-creates life and rises from the dead. This is our God, who was born in the flesh, whose name is Jesus, who came to save us from our sins!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Praise We Didn’t Plan - Jonathan Parnell

The Psalms are an inspired record of the fight of faith; that’s one of the reasons we love them. By the time we get there in the story of Scripture, two competing realities grab our attention — the promise of God and Israel’s terrible situation. It goes like this:
On the one hand, there is the fact of God’s promise. Going back to Genesis, we see God’s word to bless Abraham and make him a great nation through which the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). This promise perseveres over hundreds of years and progresses into the promise to David, that he would have a son who would reign as king forever over a rescued and restored Israel (2 Samuel 7:16).
But on the other hand, there is the fact that Israel is deep in idolatry. The chosen people of God just can’t seem to listen to him for long, and therefore, judgment ensues, and they are taken captive by foreign powers. Captivity is where they find themselves by the time the Psalms have been collected. The stage has been set for these two competing realities to go head to head. God promises greatness and blessing, but they’re surrounded by turmoil and captivity. God says one thing, but they are experiencing another. Eventually these two competing realities lead to one central question: Is God going to keep his promise and do what he said?
Enter the Ascents
These two realities, and this one question, form the background to that section of psalms known as “The Psalms of Ascent.” This section, beginning with Psalm 120 and stretching through Psalm 134, is joined under that idea reflected in its name — “to ascend.” It means to step up or come out, and in the wider context of the psalter, these psalms envision the day when Israel comes out of their foreign exile. The hope is focused on the deliverance the Messiah will bring, rescuing his people from their captivity and restoring Jerusalem to glory and peace.
This section of psalms jumps right in the middle of the tension. It cuts through the competing realities and determines that God’s promise will take the day. If the Psalms at large are a record of the fight of faith, the Psalms of Ascent are an absolute brawl. We have so much to learn from them.
Psalm 120 starts the journey in exile, with the psalmist in distress about his situation. “Woe to me, that I sojourn . . . Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace” (Psalm 120:5–6). Put simply, the psalmist finds himself where he doesn’t want to be. He is a sojourner, unsettled, dreaming of a better day.
But then Psalm 121 comes next to remind God’s people that God is our keeper. Although we may be in exile, God keeps our going out and our coming in (Psalm 121:6–8).
Psalm 122 follows with homesickness for Jerusalem, but not just any Jerusalem. The psalmist dreams of a peaceful Jerusalem under the throne of David (v. 5).
Psalm 123 echoes the plight of their situation, but makes clear that their eyes are fixed on God (vv. 3–4). Psalm 124 says God has been faithful to keep his people in the past; 125 assures the people of coming peace in Jerusalem; 126 dreams yet again of that peace. Then Psalm 127 brings children into the picture, implying that God is going to make good on his promise to send a son of David. Psalm 128 envisions the coming day of peace and blessing in Jerusalem; 129 reminds the reader that Zion’s enemies will be put to shame; 130 refocuses the hope on God’s plentiful redemption. Then Psalm 131, a Psalm of Ascents of David, stands forth as a model of faith. Like David, the faithful reader should have a steady, patient soul that trusts in God.
By Psalm 132, the reader has gained good altitude. As the longest psalm in this section, it stands as the center of the overall message. It is all about the Messiah, refocusing the reader on the peace of Jerusalem that the son of David will bring by this reign. Psalm 133 highlights the unity and peace of that day, and Psalm 134 calls the people to praise.
This is the high note that the following two psalms continue to carry. Though neither names an author, their “anonymity” suggests they are added here with editorial intent. They repeat the praise of Psalm 134. “I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods,” Psalm 135:5 tells us. And then Psalm 136 repeats that marvelous line over and over: “his steadfast love endures forever.” This is praise and hope and wonder, leading us straight to Psalm 137:1: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”
Wait, what?
That Relevant Question
This should be surprising to us. We’ve been ascending this whole time, step by step, song by song, rising from Psalm 120 through Psalm 136, and then, all of a sudden, there is weeping. Weeping? We’ve read about the Messiah coming, about unity restored, about enemies banished, and then there is this jarring, depressing picture of an enslaved people. We’re back to Psalm 120. Israel has captors, tormentors — powers opposed to the will of God. And so they ask, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4).
There may not be another question so relevant for Jesus’s church in the rough and tumble of life in a fallen world. “How are we supposed to praise you here, God?” “How do we sing of your wonders here?”
Have you ever asked that? Have you felt that tension? Like Israel, we also live in competing realities. We have this new-creation redemption Jesus has accomplished, but this old-creation setting in which we’re left to live. We have promises deep and wide enough to make praise combustible. But we have situations so bleak and sad that we can barely lift our heads. How do we sing your praises here, God? Here where terrorists murder 132 children? Where thousands of babies are slaughtered every day? Where racism wreaks havoc, and governments commit atrocities, and the godless get more gain? How do we sing your song here?
Out of the Depths
We, too — new creatures in Christ, on this side of the cross and empty tomb — find ourselves in sojourning, on the road and not yet home. We might have thought that this great salvation we enjoy means smooth sailing from here out. We might have expected that since we are in Christ, the kingdom is complete and the waiting is over. But no. That’s not how it goes — not yet.
Even in all this grace, overcome with all this glory, one look around confirms that we’re not home yet. There is a new Jerusalem for which we long, a lasting city upon which our hope is set. Which means, we’re called to a kind of praise we didn’t plan. We would have never designed it this way, but God knows what he’s doing. He’s let us taste a joy that defies this world, a mirth that confounds its wisdom. How do we sing the Lord’s song here? By breathing in the air from there. We humbly realize, that for now, as one writer puts it, “the new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God.”
We’re in a fight of faith here, but we never fight alone. As distant as the New Jerusalem might seem, we can still reach out our hand. Home’s not that far away.      2014 Desiring God

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Prophetic Promise of Peace

Isaiah 9:1-7              December 7, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

Just as the Jews of Jesus’ day earnestly looked for a Messiah that would come as a great warrior king and deliver Israel from her enemies and establish Israel as sovereign among all the nations – so to do we often look for the return of Christ coming down from the heavens on a white horse to rescue us and claim victory over war, violence, terrorism, hate, prejudice, bitterness, brokenness, injustice, sin, satan and evil forces of the world. But the reality for us is that Jesus has already come! He has come and he rose from dead and ascended into heaven. God has fulfilled His promise to come with His presence, and because God’s promise has been realized in Jesus - we have peace. Jesus is our God, our King, our “Prince of Peace” - our victory!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Vicar of Baghdad and the Persecution of Iraqi Christians

Four Iraqi Christian children, who were all beheaded by the Islamic State, refused to betray Jesus and graciously died in his name when the ISIS militants gave them one last chance to say the Islamic words of conversion, the Rev. Canon Andrew White revealed in a recent interview.
In an interview last week with the Christian Broadcast Network published on the Orthodox Christian Network, White, who is the only Anglican vicar in Iraq and is know as "The Vicar of Baghdad," detailed the plight of Christians in Iraq and recounted two instances when Islamic State's forceful conversions directly pulled the strings of his heart.
Speaking on ISIS' brutal mistreatment of religious minorities, White recounted the recent incident when ISIS militants beheaded four kids, all of whom were under the age of 15, when the kids refused to say that they would follow the Prophet Muhammad and told the ISIS fighters that they will always "love" and "follow" Jesus.
"ISIS turned up and they said to the children, 'you say the words that you will follow Muhammad.' The Children, all under 15, four of them, they said, 'no, we love Yasua [Jesus]. We have always loved Yasua. We have always followed Yasua. Yasua has always been with us.'" White said. "[The Militants] said, 'say the words!' [The Children] said, 'no, we can't do that.' They chopped all their heads off."
"How do you respond to that?" White asked. "You just cry. They are my children. That is what we have been going through. That is what we are going through."
White spoke of another instance, which happened a few days prior to the children's beheading, where a male Christian adult was forced to say the Islamic words of conversion, or else all of his children were going to be beheaded. With his children's lives at stake, the man could not afford to be bold and caved in saying said the words of conversion.
White said that later that day, the man called him to ask if Jesus still loved him even though he had said the Islamic words of conversion.
"[Militants] say to one man, an adult, 'you say the words of conversion or we will kill all of your children.' He was desperate. He said the words," White said. "Then he phoned me and said '[Father], I said the words, does that mean Yasua doesn't love me anymore? I have always loved Yasua. I said those words because I couldn't see my children be killed.' I said, 'Jesus still loves you. He will always love you.'"
White, who is now staying in Israel after fleeing from Baghdad after receiving personal death threats from the Islamic State, said that it is "impossible" for Christians to live in Iraq because of the Islamic State's brutal mistreatment of religious minorities.
"They have threatened to kill me. They are after me. They wanted that Abuna [Father] from England," White said. "So the Archbishop of Canterbury said 'you've got to leave now.'"
White further notes that over 250,000 Christians have now fled from the caliphate and are living as refugees in the Kurdish North.
ISIS mistreatment of children and religious minorities goes well beyond just the forced Islamic conversions. White noted that many children, not just the four he previously mentioned, are being either beheaded and their bodies cut in half.
In addition, Yazidi refugees interviewed by the Daily Mail say that ISIS not only systematically kills yazidi and Christian men and women, they have also brutally cut the throats of babies. One 13-year-old Yazidi from one particular Yazidi village claims that the militants killed over 100 kids from his village.
ISIS militants are also kidnapping and selling off baby girls as sex slaves. A recent pricing guide released by Islamic State leadership reveals that Christian and Yazidi girls aged 1 to 9 years old are being sold as sex slaves for just $172.
Although ISIS recruits kids and other young adults to join the caliphate by advertising a false sense of Islamic Purpose, the ISIS leadership are also said to brutally treat their rank-and-file fighters.
Testimony from one 15-year-old former ISIS fighter says that ISIS leaders drugged fighters to make them more likely to commit a suicide bomb attack in battle. Additionally, a United Nations report states that ISIS militants are using kids as human shields in battle and also force them to donate blood to wounded ISIS fighters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Benjamin Watson – Response to the Ferguson Decision

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

The Glorious Provision of God’s Grace

Philippians 4:10-23             November 30, 2014          Link for audio/video/manuscript

It’s been said that a contented man is one who enjoys the scenery along the detours. In the face of the difficult circumstances of conflict, anxiety and ungodly influence Paul was joyfully “content” because he was a thermostat for Christ rather than a thermometer of his circumstances. Paul was content in Christ and his contentment came from knowing Jesus - and in knowing Jesus he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him, as he pressed on toward the goal of the upward prize of God in Christ Jesus. The glorious provision of God’s grace is that the gospel penetrates all strongholds, even the strongholds of relational conflict, fear/anxiety and ungodly influence deep within our own hearts.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson - Voddie Baucham

In early August my wife and I, along with seven of our nine children, left for a month-long ministry tour in Africa (Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa). It was a couple of days before we got settled and had any access to media. As such, I was taken aback when I began to receive Google alerts, emails, and Facebook and Twitter messages either demanding that I comment on “Ferguson,” or condemning me for failing to do so. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Who, what, or where was Ferguson? Why was it such a big deal? Why was I being condemned (along with other “high-profile” evangelicals) for “failing to speak out on such an important issue”?
I eventually got up to speed. Or at least I found out what all the fuss was about. Over the next several weeks I viewed this issue from a unique perspective. I was an American in Africa watching an issue ignite ethnic tensions in my homeland. It was almost surreal.
Who Am I to Speak?
My first response to Ferguson was to say nothing. I was on the outside looking in. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the communities or the issues surrounding the tensions. Second, I chose to remain silent because people were demanding that I speak—even condemning me for my silence. In this age of “I sure would love to hear your thoughts on” I get tired of the sense of entitlement with which people approach those whom they deem to be popular or high-profile Christians. No one is “entitled” to my opinion. Nor is my faithfulness to God determined by how quickly I respond to “relevant” issues.
As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.
The Plight of Black Men
Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.
There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?
In addition to violence, black men are plagued with criminality. Low-income black communities like Ferguson know all too well that black criminals preying on their neighbors makes life almost unlivable. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I know all too well what it’s like to have bars on the windows and doors for fear that thugs will break in to steal or kill. I remember being robbed at gunpoint on my way home from the store one day. It was one of the most frightening and disheartening events of my life. The fear, helplessness, and anger I felt stayed with me for years. And it taught me an unfortunate lesson: the greatest threat to me was other black men.
The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.
Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as many illegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.
But What About Racism?
I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.
It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.
I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!
As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs. I tell them, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay'” (Rom. 12:19). And I tell them that there are worse things than suffering injustice. That is why we must heed Peter’s words:
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord 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. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:15–17)
In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.
My sons have far more to fear from making bad choices than they have to fear from the police. The overwhelming majority of police officers are decent people just trying to make a living. They are much more likely to help you than to harm you. A life of thuggery, however, is NEVER your friend. In the end, it will cost you . . . sometimes, it costs you everything.
The Gospel Coalition - November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stand Firm in Christ!

Philippians 4:1-9          November 23, 2014              Link for audio/video/manuscript

As we move forward as a church, stepping out to reach our community for Christ and working within to prepare and develop our fellowship for the next season of ministry to reach the next generation for Christ – we must “stand firm” against the obstacles and struggles and pressures we are facing and will face as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” When we find ourselves in conflict, are to agree in the gospel. When we are fearful and anxious, we are to pray and give thanks for all things. When we are living for Jesus and sharing Jesus in our culture, we must sift everything with a Christ-centered screen

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pressing Toward the Goal of God

Philippians 3:12-21             November 16, 2014            Link for audio/video/manuscript

There will be a day in the future when Jesus will return to earth to take us home; as citizens of heaven he will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body, and we will reign with him forever and ever. But in the meantime let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus by living out the good works of God in our lives in a way that reveals Jesus in us, so that those who do see us will come to know Jesus. Let us hold true to what we have attained – and let us press on toward the goal of God until we have fully attained it!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lay Aside the Weight of “I’ll Never Change” – Jon Bloom

We all must come to terms with the way we are. But there are two ways we must do this. The first is to cultivate contentment with who God designed us to be, which results in a wonderful liberation from trying to be someone we’re not. The second is to lay aside the burdensome weight of the fatalistic resignation that we’ll never be any different than what we are, which results in an enslavement to our sin-infused predilections.
Cultivating Contentment and Fighting Fatalism
Cultivating contentment in the person God designed us to be is based on our belief in the glorious gospel truths that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), knitted us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), caused us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3) so that we are now a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) who lives by faith (Galatians 2:20) in the God who provides all we need (Philippians 4:19) so that we can exclaim with joy, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10)!
Believing these things sets us free to increasingly pursue living in the freedom that Jesus has provided us (John 8:36).
But they can be hard to believe in the face of our persistent sins and weaknesses, things we are so keenly aware of. Instead, we are tempted to believe the horrible, heavy lies that God’s grace toward us must, in fact, be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:10) or else simply withheld by a disapproving, unsatisfiable Heavenly Father, because we keep stumbling in the same old “many ways” (James 3:2) and we’ll never, at least in this age, ever really be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
Believing these things confines us to living in fear, shame, and the apathy of fatalistic resignation. We buy into the seductive, hope-sucking, energy-depleting, self-pitying deception that “I’ll never change.” The destructiveness of this lie goes beyond a particular sin or weakness. It creates a mindset of surrender that leads to further kinds of self-indulgence, compounding our problem and sense of defeat.
We must fight to take these lies captive and destroy their fatalistic arguments (2 Corinthians 10:5) so that we can lay aside the weights of their sins (Hebrews 12:1).
The Key to Transforming Power
The truth is that what keeps us from experiencing change is not a lack of power but a lack of belief. When Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), his point was that we “can do all things through him who strengthens [us]” (Philippians 4:13). For “all things are possible for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
In the battle against sin and pursuit of transformation, the Bible appeals almost exclusively to our belief as the conduit through which the Spirit’s power flows. Here’s a well-known example:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
The key to not being pressed into worldly sin, the key to transforming power is a change (a renewal) of mind. What does this change of mind look like? It looks like a change of belief. It’s believing and choosing to act on what Jesus promises and not what the world and all of its enslaving vices promise.
Get Fed Up!
Now, if you’re a regular to this blog or been a Christian for a while, you know this. What you might find yourself saying is, “A lot easier said than done.” Point granted. We all admit it: Sin habits and addictions are difficult to break, some more than others. I’m a sinner with terrible indwelling sin. I know from personal experience that the fight to change a mindset can be hard. And I have loved ones who have walked or are walking through very difficult sin issues, some of them the effects of unspeakable sins committed against them.
But let’s also all admit this: We need less whining and whimpering about how hard it is to change and how we don’t know how or where to start and we can never maintain our resolves, etc., ad nauseam. This has too often been a smoke screen for our lack of desire to make a change. Or we’ve been cowards, letting sin hold us prisoner because we hold our precious reputations so dear that we don’t ask anyone for help. Too often our attempts at transformation have been half-hearted because we’re proud, indulgent, and self-pitying. And we haven’t believed Jesus.
We must get fed up with teeny-weeny mud puddle happiness. Tweet
There comes a time when we don’t need more sermons or seminars or books or how-to’s laid out for us. What we need is some righteous indignation that we have allowed ourselves to be held captive to habitual sin and indulgence by a mindset — an evil argument (2 Corinthians 10:5)! We need to get fed up with “struggling” and start believing God. We need to resolve to stop disbelieving Jesus and start believing (John 20:27) and begin to take texts like these seriously:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Peter 2:16)
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. . . . For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12, 14)
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
We must get fed up with teeny-weeny mud puddle happiness! Jesus’s promises are ten thousand times better and they are worth bearing some discomfort or suffering to obtain!
The Grace of Slow Change
Pursuing transformation through a renewed mind doesn’t mean change will necessarily come quickly. Change is often very slow. Sometimes this is because we are “slow of heart to believe” (Luke 24:25). But God also has his wonderful purposes in sanctifying us slowly.
Slow change produces spiritual fruit in us that God values highly, maybe more than we do, fruit like patience, humility, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and self-control. And faith. Slow change often drives us to ransack the Word for promises to trust, an exercise which has loads of benefits.
Slow change also gives us insight into other purposes of God. There is a strong, consistent motif throughout the Bible of the saints waiting on God. Think of how God called Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Israel in Egypt, Hannah, David, Daniel, and many others to wait on him. Think of how long Israel waited for the long-expected Jesus. And think of how the church has waited for the long-expected “revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7).
There is often more in our waiting than we understand. God’s concept of time is different from ours and therefore God is not slow, as we tend to think (2 Peter 3:9). He is at work patiently conforming us into his image (Romans 8:29), and therefore very good work is being accomplished in our waiting. “The Lord is good to those who wait for him” (Lamentations 3:25); they “shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Lay the Lie Aside
There is no need for us to carry the lying weight that we will never change any further. We can lay it aside today and run the race believing the joyful promise that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
And today’s work: Be done with excuses and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
2014 Desiring God

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Powerful Priority of Passionate Joy

Philippians 3:1-7                   November 2, 2014            Link for audio/video/manuscript

When we "rejoice in the Lord" we then are given a joy that is independent of adverse circumstances. Joy in or from the Lord is inherently strengthening. What this means is that the joy of the Lord is our strength, and so when things in life don’t go our way we have cause to rejoice because our joy is in Jesus and we cannot lose what we have already gained in Jesus. What this means that if we lose any or all the things this world can offer, we will not lose our joy or our treasure or our life, because Jesus is our greatest joy and our greatest treasure and the greatest life that we could ever know. What this means is that if Christ is our Lord and Savior we will not put our confidence in anything outside of Christ. It is the continual rejoicing in the midst of trouble that marks the lives of those who are truly following Jesus!

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Power of Gospel Obedience

Philippians 2:12-18               October 12, 2014           Link for audio/video/manuscript

The power of God that enabled Jesus to humble himself and die on cross was the power of obedience for the sake of the gospel. When we do live out our lives in humble obedience like Jesus, we will know the power of God to empty of ourselves even to the point of death. The family of God is where our differences are to be celebrated and unified because God created us to be complementary, not divisive. And so with fear and trembling we are to humbly and obediently work out and work with our differences without grumbling and disputing. People who do not know Jesus will see Jesus is the light and life of the gospel when they see us united in gospel humility and empowered by gospel obedience in how we relate to one another and others around us.

The Poverty of Pluralism – Janie Cheaney

Two victims. Two severed heads. One black-masked, knife-wielding executioner—who, instead of screaming Allah akbar! spoke in conversational English with a British accent. Within days the internet buzzed with speculation that he might be Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, known professionally as the rapper L Jinny.
Days or weeks earlier, Bary had tweeted a picture of himself holding up the head of a hostage from the Syrian civil war, over a caption reading, Chillin’ with my homie or what’s left of him. Whether or not the masked executioner of James Foley and Steven Sotloff is the same man, he is almost certainly a British subject, meaning he was probably not driven to the ghastly extremes of jihad by ignorance or poverty. He’s not alone: Since 2012, thousands of U.K. and U.S. citizens have left their comfortable homeland to become “jihadi tourists.” Why?
“[A] yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal society can have trouble satisfying,” wrote Ross Douthat in The New York Times.
“His discontent … is driven by ideas, and by the human needs those ideas seek to satiate,” observed Charlie Cooke at National Review.
“The Islamic State not only has the romance of revolution and the promise of action and power, but also religious and apocalyptic appeal,” concluded Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week.
“Because it gives meaning to life,” Michael Ledeen summed up on his own blog.
In other words, they thought their pre-jihad lives were meaningless.
The West could presumably summon a bit of “meaning to life” by gearing up to stop those who find their meaning in pillage, rape, and butchery. The problem is, the West has spent the last two centuries chasing true belief from the main stage of public life. Pluralism, our highest communal value, requires no one to believe anything that would render anyone else’s beliefs invalid.
Or something like that—when truth retreats, it’s hard to defend whatever is left. Nineteenth-century skeptics like Matthew Arnold saw the difficulty coming. “Ah love, let us be true to one another!” he cried, in his iconic poem “Dover Beach.” When the “sea of faith” withdraws its ringing declarations, all that’s left is personal feeling, which like sand easily falls apart. The poverty of pluralism becomes apparent when rootless young Muslim men find transcendent meaning in slaughtering infidels—a purpose which also happens to feed their violent instincts. It fulfills a need that won’t be satisfied at any bargaining table. It will have to be fought and defeated.
But faith can only be fought with faith, and Western culture has undercut itself. It picked the juicy low-hanging fruits of Christianity while disregarding the Son who shines on them, valued the comforts but discounted the Comforter. That leaves “men of the West” (to borrow a designation from Tolkien) in an ignoble position: called to defend air conditioning, Walmart, upscale brands, Miley Cyrus, and all the other creature comforts and passing fads that constitute our “way of life.” For many of us, it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
For a Christian, though, the commonplace is always worth defending, for it is shot through with glory. It’s where the Lord meets us: on the road, at the dinner table, through the checkout line, in the flesh. Christians should never be sunk into everydayness, but of course we often are.
That sense of “meaningless, meaningless” tends to set in when we’re not paying attention, or not “being intentional.” Routine casts a haze over the days, making them all run together in a wash of the same old, same old. Here’s the reality: Our often-hurried prayers and distracted worship are weaving eternal union with the Holy Trinity, whose grace lavishes every step we take. Our jihad is in the workplace and school and home, not with bloody swords but gracious words and manners. Our transcendence is found not in passing moments but in the shining stitches that hold them together.
Violent conflict can look glamorous, especially to young men of a certain temperament. Humble service seldom does, even when humble service requires rushing into battle. Yet moment by moment, it lays up treasure in heaven.

World Magazine, Posted Sept. 19, 2014, 01:00 a.m.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Service with a Hug

 God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27

Monday, October 6, 2014

United in Gospel Humility

Philippians 2:1-11                      October 5, 2014            Link for audio/video/manuscript

God has called us to meet together and to be united not in our sameness but in our humble one-heartedness for Jesus. He has also called us to set aside the pursuit of our own personal interests so that we can obediently fulfill God’s plan for our lives. We need one another to do so because left to ourselves our common spiritual blindness will cause us to follow our own shadow. We are all equal in that struggle because we all equally desperately need God. But we are not all equal in the roles, personalities and giftings we have been given by God. When we meet there and empty ourselves of ourselves, united in gospel humility, we can be and will be a powerful unstoppable force for Jesus Christ that can and will change the world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Living the Worthy Life

Philippians 1:18b-30                  September 28, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

How much is the gospel of Christ worth? Everything. Everything considered valuable in life is nothing in comparison to the glory of Christ. So what does it look like to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It looks like walking with, loving with, and doing life with those who are different than we are. Our unity is not to be in our sameness but rather in our one-heartedness for Jesus Christ. It is then that Holy Spirit helps us as he teaches us the truth, humbles us, causes us to set aside our differences and helps us find our place as He empowers us to be a united front in the advance of the gospel in our lives, our families, our church and our community. Jesus is worthy and he is worth living for and dying for!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Joyful Priority of Proclaiming Christ

Philippians 1:12-18             September 21, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

God desires we pursue and possess real, overflowing, contagious joy in Jesus which flows out of a constant, unobstructed relationship with God. Yet there will be times in life when we will be sorrowful when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. That is just part of living out our lives in a fallen world. May Jesus be our greatest joy - and may the preeminent motivation of our hearts and lives be to boldly share our faith in the gospel of Christ with everyone we meet in all that we think, say and do!

Lay Aside the Weight of Irritability - Jon Bloom

Sunday morning. The Bloom family is bustling to the van for church and a debate arises between two or three about who’s going to sit where. We’re cutting it close for time as it is. Out of my mouth come firm words in a sharp tone, “Stop the bickering! Get in and sit down!”
Saturday, early afternoon. The Saturday family chore list is still long and my anxiety rises when I think that we won’t get done what needs to get done. I move into sergeant mode and start barking brusque orders. Things get done but the family tone has turned surly.
Weekday night, about 9pm. I enter the children’s bedroom to give the occupants their bedtime blessing and find clothes and toys still on the floor. With a clap of my hands I tersely say, “Get up and get these things put away—now! You were told to do this earlier!” Nothing like a peaceful bedtime blessing.
Irritability. I give into it too often. It’s time to take this sin more seriously and lay it aside (Hebrews 12:1). Every time I’m irritable I burden myself with the detrimental weights of prideful selfishness and relational conflict. And as my irritation overflows on others, it burdens them too because my harsh words stir up anger in them (Proverbs 15:1).

Does God Get Irritated?

We like to blame our irritability on someone or something else. We try to convince ourselves (and them) that they make us irritated. If they were different,we wouldn’t be irritated. Or we blame it on being tired, ill, or stressed. But Paul diagnoses irritability as a heart disease; a failure to love: “Love… is not irritable” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
But we need to press on this a bit, because the Greek word that Paul uses here,paroxynō, which the ESV translates as “irritable,” can also be translated as “provoked” or “kindled,” or “incited.” It’s the same Greek word (paroxynō) that the Greek Old Testament uses in Isaiah 5:25 when the prophet said that God wasprovoked or kindled to anger by Israel. So if love (agape) is not provoked (1 Corinthians 13:5), and God is love (agape) (1 John 4:7), how can it be okay for God to be provoked to anger?
The answer is that being provoked to anger in general isn’t the issue Paul is addressing. He (and we) knows there are just, righteous, loving, and therefore necessary reasons to be provoked to anger. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:5 is addressing the short fuse, our becoming too quickly or too easily provoked to anger. That’s why the ESV chose “irritable” and why the KJV translators chose “easily provoked.”
When God gets angry, he takes a remarkably slow time to get there (Exodus 34:6). God is provoked to anger, but he is never irritable. He only gets angry for very good reasons, when the glory of his holy righteousness and justice is despised and violated. And his anger, though when unleashed is the most devastating and terrifying thing any conscious being can experience, is always thoughtful, faultlessly appropriate, and perfectly measured. And like God, we too are to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19). We are to be angry, but not sin (Ephesians 4:26).

The Selfishness of Irritation

Our irritability never has its roots in the soils of righteousness. It springs out of the soil of selfishness and springs up fast, like the sin-weed that it is. We get irritated or easily provoked, not when God’s righteousness or justice is scorned, but when something we want is being denied, delayed, or disrupted. It works like this:
  • When I’m weary I want rest, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m sick or in pain I want relief, but if it’s denied/delayed/disruptedI get irritated.
  • When I’m preoccupied I want uninterrupted focus, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m running late I want to avoid appearing negligent, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m disappointed I want my desire fulfilled, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m fearful I want escape from a threat, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m uncertain I want certainty, preferably reassuring, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
  • When I’m enjoying something I want to continue until I wish to be done, but if it’s denied/delayed/disrupted I get irritated.
The reason irritability is unloving, unrighteous anger is that it is a selfish response to an obstacle to our desire. What we desire may not be sinful, but a selfish response to its denial, delay, or disruption is a failure to trust God at all times (Psalm 62:8) — and often a failure to value, love, and serve another human soul.
Jesus didn’t die for our punctuality, earthly reputation, convenience, or our leisure. But he did die for souls. It is likely that the worth of the soul(s) we’re irritable with is infinitely more precious to God than the thing we desire. We must not dishonor God, whose image that person bears, by being irritable with them. There are necessary times for considered, thoughtful, measured, righteous, loving anger at priceless but sinful souls. But there is never a right time for irritability. Love is not irritable.

S.T.O.P. Being Irritable

If you’re like me and have cultivated over the course of your life a habitual indulgence in selfish irritation, it’s going to take some hard work to retrain ourselves in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). We need something simple to call to mind when the oft-pulled irritation trigger is squeezed. This might be helpful:
  • S. — Stop, repent, and ask. We must awkwardly stop immediately — even mid-rant — to repent of our sin, and ask, “What am I desiring that is being denied, delayed or disrupted?”
  • T. — Trust a promise. Collect promises like 2 Corinthians 9:8Philippians 4:19, and Philippians 4:11–13 to trust that combat your areas of temptation to irritation.
  • O. — Obey. Remember that your emotions are gauges, not guides. Don’t let irritation reign in you (Romans 6:12). As you obey 1 Corinthians 13:5 in faith you will find that your emotions will, however reluctantly at first, follow. Love obeys (John 14:15).
  • P. — Plan. Yes, plan. More forethought and intention can be a spiritual discipline, an act of love, and a weapon against sin by avoiding temptations to irritability. Ask yourself, “When am I frequently irritable?” To test your self-understanding, ask this question of those who know you best (and often may be the recipients of your irritation). And based on the answers, seek to put into place some systems and habits that will remove irritable stumbling blocks from your path. Pursue the escape from temptation offered by the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:13) by taking advantage of the grace of planning.
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that this is hard going at first. Changing ingrained habits is hard work. But it is possible through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Keep working at it. Faithful effort to lay aside this weight will result in lighter, more loving, and more joyful faith-running down the road. 2014 Desiring God