Thursday, April 30, 2015

Why God's Will Isn't Always Clear - Jon Bloom

If God wants us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:10), why doesn’t he give us more specific guidance in our decisions?
The Spontaneous 95%
Consider all of the decisions you make during a typical day. Most are quick and spur-of-the-minute. John Piper estimates “that a good 95% of [our] behavior [we] do not premeditate. That is, most of [our] thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous.” That’s true. And it’s a bit unnerving when you think about it. The majority of the decisions that end up becoming the bricks in the building of lives are just “spill over from what’s inside.”
Even if we do stop and pray about such decisions, it is very rare that we discern God’s specific leading regarding what we should wear, what or where we should eat, if we should respond to this instance of our child’s sin with correction or forbearance, if we should put off that time-consuming errand till tomorrow, or whether we should check our email again?
The Massive 5%
But what about the other five percent of our decisions?
Some of these are massive and life shaping. Should I marry this person? How much money should I give away and where? How much should we save for retirement? Should we adopt a child? Should I pursue a different vocation? Should we homeschool or not? Should I pursue chemo or an alternative cancer treatment? Should we buy this home? Which college should I attend? Is it time to put my elderly parent in a nursing home? Should I go to the mission field?
Shouldn’t we expect God to direct us more explicitly in these?
A Concealing Design
The answer is no, not necessarily. Why? Well, the short answer is because he is God, and we are not. “It is the glory of God to conceal things” (Proverbs 25:2). His wisdom and knowledge are unfathomably deep, his judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). Considering all the factors in play in the universe, it is likely no exaggeration that there are trillions of reasons for why God directs the course of our lives, and he prefers to carry out his purposes in ways that confound, surprise, and humble humans, angels, and demons.
There is a tremendous glory that God displays when, without tipping his hand to us in advance, we suddenly recognize that he was working his will all along when we couldn’t see it. And he is also merciful to withhold information from us that he knows we aren’t ready to know, even if we think we really want to.
A Revealing Design
But one reason why God usually doesn’t give us specific guidance in our sometimes-perplexing decisions is that he places a higher priority on our being transformed than our being informed in order that we will be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). That’s why Paul writes,
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)
What does this mean? It means that God has a design in the difficulty of our discerning. The motives and affections of our hearts, or “renewed minds,” are more clearly revealed in the testing of ambiguous decision-making.
In Scripture, God reveals to us everything we need to know to live godly lives (2 Peter 1:3) and to “be complete [and] equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). But the Father is not seeking workers, but worshipers (John 4:23). And he knows that if he made his will for our specific decisions more explicit more often, we would tend to focus more on what we do rather than what we love. Like the Pharisees, we would tend to focus more on our actions, rather than our affections.
But in decisions that require discernment, the wheat is distinguished from the tares. When we’re not quite sure, we end up making decisions based on what we really love. If deep down we love the world, this will become apparent in the pattern of decisions that we make over time — we will conform to this world.
But if we really love Jesus, we will increasingly love what he loves — we will be transformed by renewed minds. And our love for him and his kingdom will be revealed in the pattern of small and large decisions that we make.
The Pattern of Our Decisions
I say “pattern of decisions” because all of us sin and make mistakes. But conformity to the world or to Jesus is most clearly seen in the pattern of decisions we make over time.
That’s one reason why God makes us wrestle with uncertainty. He wants us to mature and have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
The wonderful thing to remember in all of our decisions is that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He laid down his life for us so that all of our sins are covered — including every sinful or defective decision. He will never leave us or forsake us. He has a staff long enough to pull us out of every hole and a rod to guide us back when we stray.
And someday, if we really seek to love him and trust him, we will see that he really was leading us through the confusing terrain of difficult decisions all along.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Power of the Law and the Victory of Grace

Romans 7:1-25                  April 26, 2015                 Link for audio/video/manuscript

After plowing through the deep, muddy fields of reflecting on the darkness of fallen humanity’s sin and sinful behavior in Romans 1-4; the apostle Paul began to build and define the power of God in salvation through the gospel with words like faith and peace and grace and hope in Romans 5. In Romans 6 he chewed through the issues of how grace and law and sin are related, and how they affect our walk of faith with Christ – which continued on into Romans 7 where Paul then set the eyes of our hearts toward Romans 8 and steps on the path that goes through the thick, thorny forest of the relational conflict between sin and the law of God. It is here, after just having explained all of the things the Law does do, Paul now explains that the Law cannot give him the power to overcome the deep conflict with his heart between his fallen, sinful, carnal nature and the holy, righteous and good “spiritual” nature of the “law” of God that is in his “inner being” – to which he cries out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Freedom of Slavery

Romans 6:15-23                  April 19, 2015                  Link for audio/video/manuscript

We have been chosen by God to be instruments of His grace rather than instruments of sin. We were created by God to love Him and know Him and serve Him and share Him through Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” In Christ, freedom is the not freedom to do what we want, but rather the freedom to give ourselves wholly to God. In Christ we don’t belong to sin and we don’t belong to ourselves because we belong to God. The only true freedom God offers us is our radical love for Him and our radical dependence on Him. We are only truly free when we are slaves of God!

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Triumph of Joy - David Mathis

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:6)
The word on the street that Sunday in the Holy City was almost too good to be true. This was so unexpected, so stupendous, such a dramatic reversal of the heartbreak and devastation of the previous three days. This would take days to sink it. Weeks even.
In some ways, it would take his disciples the rest of their lives to grasp the impact of this news. He has risen. Indeed, for all eternity his people still will stand in awe of the love of God on display in Christ’s death, and the power of God bursting forth in his resurrection.
The Sheep Had Scattered
No one truly saw this coming, except Jesus himself. He told his disciples plainly that he would be killed, then rise again (Mark 8:31Matthew 17:22–23Luke 9:22). He had hinted at it as early as the first temple cleaning (John 2:19). At his trial some testified against him that he’d made such an outlandish claim (Mark 14:58;Matthew 26:6127:63). Then there were his references to “the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 12:3916:4), and the rejected one becoming the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42).
But as much as he’d done to prepare his disciples for it, a literal crucifixion was so contrary to their paradigm that they had no meaningful way to bring it into their minds and hearts. It was “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling” (Isaiah 8:14) for the long-awaited Messiah to go out like this. His men had abandoned their master in his most critical hour, leaving him alone to carry the weight of the world’s sin. And the greatest burden of all — being forsaken by his Father.
One of his own had betrayed him. The chief among his men had denied him three times. After his death, the disciples dispersed. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7). Their doors were locked (John 20:19). Two even took to the road and were on their way out of Jerusalem (Luke 24:13).
When news came from the women, it seemed like sheer fantasy. “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). It was beyond their imagination, but not beyond God. Could such a dream become reality? Might there be, after all, some deep magic that could turn back time? Better, might there be a power magnanimous enough to bring in a whole new age — the age of resurrection — and triumph over the final enemy, death itself?
Seized with Astonishment
The initial report left them in shock. Mark tells us the women “went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). Astonishment seized them. Had the news been less spectacular, perhaps they would have celebrated right way. But this was far too big, and too surprising, to melt into immediate rejoicing. They were stunned. That’s what Easter does to the human soul when we own up to the reality of its message. That’s how explosive, how cataclysmic, how world-shattering it is that Jesus is alive.
It is a joy too great for instant gratification. First there is utter astonishment. Then comes the mingling of “fear with great joy,” and finally the freedom to rejoice and tell others (Matthew 28:8).
Sadness Comes Untrue
But what now of his passion? What of his excruciating agony at Golgotha? Yes, as C.S. Lewis says, the dawning of this resurrection age “will turn even that agony into a glory.” Now Joy has triumphed over sorrow. Day finally has dominion over night. Light has thrashed against the darkness. Christ, through death, has destroyed the one who had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Easter now has become our annual dress rehearsal for that great coming Day. When our perishable bodies will put on the imperishable. When the mortal finally puts on immortality. When we join in the triumph song with the prophets and the apostles,
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (Hosea 13:141 Corinthians 15:55)
Just as rehearsing the details of Jesus’s final days leading up to the cross prepares us for the fiery trial coming on us, so also Easter readies us for the triumph that will follow. Easter is our foretaste of glory divine.
“This is our annual dress rehearsal for that great coming Day. Easter is our foretaste of glory divine.”Tweet
Christ has been raised. Day no longer is fading to black, but night is awakening to the brightness. Darkness is not suffocating the sun, but light is chasing away the shadows. Sin is not winning, but death is swallowed up in victory.
More Than Conquerors
Indeed, even agony will turn to glory, but Easter doesn’t suppress our pain. It doesn’t minimize our loss. It bids our burdens stand as they are, in all their weight, with all their threats. And this risen Christ, with the brilliance of indestructible life in his eyes, says, “These too I will claim in the victory. These too will serve your joy. These too, even these, I can make an occasion for rejoicing. I have overcome, and you will more than conquer.”
Easter is not an occasion to repress whatever ails you and put on a happy face. Rather, the joy of Easter speaks tenderly to the pains that plague you. Whatever loss you lament, whatever burden weighs you down, Easter says, “It will not always be this way for you. The new age has begun. Jesus has risen, and the kingdom of the Messiah is here. He has conquered death and sin and hell. He is alive and on his throne. And he is putting your enemies, all your enemies, under his feet.”
Not only will he remedy what’s wrong in your life and bring glorious order to the mess and vanquish your foe, but he will make your pain, your grief, your loss, your burden, through the deep magic of resurrection, to be a real ingredient in your everlasting joy. You will not only conquer this one day soon, but you will be more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).
When he wipes away every tear, our faces glisten more brilliantly than if we never would have cried. Such power is too great to simply return us to the Garden. He ushers us into a garden-city, the New Jerusalem. Easter announces, in the voice of the risen Christ, “Your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20) and “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
Easter says that the one who has conquered death has now made it the servant of our joy.

Heart Experience with the Risen Christ

Luke 24:13-35             April 5, 2015          Link for audio/video/manuscript

It is a simple fact of life that we can see only what our hearts will let us see. Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” If God is truly the treasure of our hearts, we, will see Him. If Jesus is truly the treasure of our hearts he will open our eyes and we will see him and he will transform our hearts and our lives forever. May we treasure God above all things so that we might see the risen Jesus and be transformed by the risen Jesus so that our hearts will burn with a fire for the risen Jesus. He has risen and let us rise with him!