Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

The glass is a quarter full

Things that occur to you while you’re preparing a devotional (things which are probably tediously familiar to pastors and teachers already)…

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, ESV)

What occurred to me while reading this was, first of all (I’ve written about this here before), three-quarters of the seed is lost. Out of four kinds of soil where the seed falls, only one of them is actually arable and productive.

But the yield of the productive soil is 100, sixty, or thirty times the investment. The crop that does grow is worth the loss.

But something else occurred to me too. We’re accustomed to dividing people into “glass half full” and “glass half empty” groups. Optimists and pessimists.

God seems to think that a quarter full is just great.

Here endeth the lesson.

Dostoevsky’s Characters Speak for Themselves

What makes Dostoevsky’s characters so real? They aren’t just mouthpieces for the author’s voice.  Peter Leithart describes it.

Dostoevsky’s polyphonic world is full of free subjects, not objects. We don’t know what they might say or do next, and we suspect that the author doesn’t know either. They speak in their own voices, and Dostoevsky doesn’t drown them out. His voice is only one among many.

But Dostoevsky is also concerned with the suppression and source of true human freedom. “True freedom is love, the capacity to sacrifice one’s Ego for the good of others.” And the only way to sacrifice one’s Ego is to surrender to Christ. (via Prufrock News)

When God Passes By

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but… (Mark 6:47-49)

Here’s a somewhat academic analysis of the last clause from the quotation above from Derek Rishmawy. Jesus walked out to this disciples while they floated in the sea, and “he meant to pass by them.” Does this aside refer to something in the Old Testament as so many Gospel references do? How about Job 9:4-13 and Exodus 33:17-23?

It’s subtle but beautiful.

 

Don’t Believe In Yourself: Dying to Self-love

Today seems a good day to remember this post on dying to ourselves.

There’s much talk of self-love in Christian circles right now, the kind of self-love that promotes a perceived circumstantial happiness. When I hear of Christian bloggers or authors or even just professing Christians in my own private life diverging from orthodox Christian faith or values because it’s “too hard,” I feel a depressing weight on my shoulders. Their quest for happiness outside of orthodoxy demoralizes me in a way a combative atheist never could. They demoralize me in a way even my own particular burdens of suffering do not.

Believe in yourself

Does God ever call us to accept ourselves, believe in ourselves, or understand that we’re are okay just as we are? No, I think he calls his people saints who are hidden in Christ and completely righteous. He urges us to believe in him, because he has all power and authority. He is the loving father of both the tiger and the kitten. The kitten shouldn’t tell himself he is a tiger. The tiger shouldn’t tell himself he is the greatest. Both are subjects of the Kings of kings, meant to give him glory in their own way.

A pastor friend talks about this is much better ways this year for the Lenten season. He’s putting together three-minute sermons for every day in Lent. Each one has been a stirring meditation on a life that carries the cross. Even if you don’t remember Lent in any personal way, I recommend these brief messages for this month and next.

Dr. Wayne Barber

From now on, the national news and your social media friends will remind you that Gene Wilder died on August 29, 2016, but another man died that day who had far greater influence on my life. He wasn’t visible to national news writers, but his work was arguably more important than 95% of those who will be profiled this week and next. He was Dr. Wayne Barber, pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Wayne emphasized God’s grace for as long as I knew him. I studied the book of Romans with him in a class at Precept Ministries, which took two years and required reading that epistle several times–a great way to study the Bible. I believe he said his favorite song mirrored his favorite topic: Jesus be Jesus in me.

I wish I could say I will never forget one of his messages on Romans 6, but the truth is I can barely remember any of it, but the effect of the whole moved me. It was essentially an extended illustration. He even paused after fifteen minutes to say he was not just winging it to burn time but would come to a point soon. That point, bringing with it all the power of a good story, was that we cannot outrun God’s grace nor can we abuse it. If God intends to save us, we can’t force him to forget us, but if he has saved us, he won’t let us forget him either. If we are truly free of sin’s bonds, he will not allow us to continue to submit to sin’s authority.

But the other side of that message is what Wayne apparently saw in many congregations, the desire to live free of sin in our own power. We recognize that we have been made in the image of a hand, designed to hold, pull, touch, and lift things, but we are only gloves. We can’t grab anything without an outside power within us, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying.

Wayne was easily the kind of pastor you’d want to see in a quarter of all of the churches in the world. He was funny, loving, and wise. May the Lord continue to bless us with men like him.

No One Believes in Self-Fulfillment

Among the things that could be said to be rocking the American church in 2016 are writers and teachers who have claimed a Christian mantle to teach decidedly unchristian things. Jen Pollock Michel writes for Christianity Today about Glennon Doyle Melton’s recent announcement that she was dating another woman.

Melton is as modern as she boasts—even if her effusive references to “love” and “joy” are reassuringly offered to confirm that her choices are in everyone’s best interest. From the public announcements both of her divorce and her new dating relationship, she wants us to understand this: The greatest gift any of us gives to the world is our true self. Let’s not look to anyone else for permission or feel any obligation for explanation. Humans flourish as they obey their desires.

She goes on to contrast this with the marvelous story Augustine tells of his conversion, but I want to jot down a thought on this idea of being our true selves.

“Humans flourish as they obey their desires.” No one really believes this. They only believe it for themselves, that they will flourish if they are allowed to do their own thing. Follow your dream, kid; just don’t let your dream interfere with mine.

Politicians live high on public money by obeying their desires. Thieves follow UPS trucks to pick up their deliveries before the owners do. Rioters destroy their neighbors’ businesses. Poachers kill off animal life. This is the flourishing we can expect when humans obey their desires.

Lars said this earlier this year:

It is Christians, after all, who (almost alone in our present age) recognize that “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Our confessions declare that we are not good people but evil people, saved not by our golden deeds and noble aspirations, but by the work of Someone Else.

Human beings will only flourish when they recognize themselves as servants and stewards on the vast estate of the Governor of the Universe. Our kindness, love, hope, and courage are defined by him, not our own desires, so yes, humanism can do a lot of good when it runs parallel to the goodness Christ has taught us, but that’s the only time.

We weren’t made for self-fulfillment. We were made to be filled by Christ.

If My People… Will Humble Themselves

I have often chafed at appeals to 2 Chronicles 7:14 for American health, but I have wanted to believe them too.

The context is Solomon’s dedication of the temple. The Lord comes to him at night, saying, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

Many Evangelical voices tell us that if we, the church, will humble ourselves and pray, then our Lord will heal, bless, rebuke, correct the American people, but as Dr. Moore explains, interpretation like that is corrupt.

When God said to [the original readers], “If my people who are called by name,” he was specifically pointing them back to the covenant that he made with their forefather Abraham. At a specific point in their history, God had told Abraham about his descendants, saying “I will be their God” and “They will be my people.” That’s what “My people” means. God reminded a people who had been exiled, enslaved, and defeated that a rebuilt temple or a displaced nation cannot change who they were. They were God’s people, and would see the future God has for them.

We can’t blur the line on who God is talking about here and attempt to claim divine blessing that isn’t offered. The straightest line to draw from this verse to us will not lead to America, but to Christ.

His Kindness!

Jared Wilson tells a wonderful story on how we don’t want to be put a period where J.I. Packer puts an exclamation point.

Also, if you missed the news earlier this month, Packer, that greatly anointed author, has lost his sight. He talks about it in this interview.

No, in the days when it was physically possible for me to do these things I was concerned, even anxious, to get ahead with doing them. Now that it’s no longer possible I acknowledge the sovereignty of God. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21). Now that I’m nearly 90 years old he’s taken away. And I won’t get any stronger, physically, as I go on in this world. And I don’t know how much longer I’ll be going on anyway.

Jesus, Were You Anxious?

I’m encouraged to see two of my Advent-themed posts go up recently on For The Church.

  1. The first asks whether Jesus was chomping at the bit to start his earthly ministry. “I don’t think the Lord has the same concept of time I do. Just look at the incarnation. Christ Jesus did not appear to us like Melchizedek in Genesis, an established priest and king of the city of peace. He didn’t walk out of the desert and begin casting out demons like a fabled dragon slayer. He came to us as an infant. He spent years growing into adulthood, asking questions of his parents, learning his father’s trade skills, and studying at the synagogue.”
  2. The second reflects on a great hymn of the season. “Save us, Lord, and all the nations. By your authority, we live. The doors you open, no one can shut, and the doors you shut, no one can open. Lead us through that door to heaven and bring with us the rebels, strangers, hypocrites, and refugees who have exchanged their lives for yours. Lock up the door to misery, for your name’s sake, so that we may rejoice.”

Did God Change in the Incarnation?

Jared Wilson writes about the problem we ignore at Christmastime: if God is immutable, if he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then how did he not change when he was incarnated as a man? He says, “What Paul is getting at in Philippians 2:5-8 is not that Jesus did not ‘hold’ or ‘maintain’ the fullness of his divinity but that he did not exploit it or leverage it against his experiencing the fullness of humanity. He didn’t pull the parachute, in other words.”

Is Pastoral Advice Making Pastors Depressed?

The gospel isn’t “do better” or “try harder”, and yet the advice we tell ourselves about preaching usually falls into this category. Why do we believe that “do better” and “try harder” will motivate better preaching? If it’s powerless for the banker, it’s powerless for the preacher as well.

Pastor Mike Leake offers this point as one of the reasons for depression among pastors.

Thomas R. Schreiner on Value in Hebrews

“Why does it matter that Christ’s sacrifice is superior to Levitical sacrifices?​ The author emphasizes that Christ’s blood truly cleanses our guilt, and thus we can enter God’s presence boldly and confidently. As believers, we can be full of joy because our evil is cleansed forever. People today aren’t tempted to offer animal sacrifices, but they struggle mightily with guilt. They aren’t tempted to look to Levitical priests for salvation, but they find great comfort in knowing that Jesus is an exalted priest who intercedes for them at the right hand of God.” – See more in this interview.

‘God Gives No Empty Titles’

Thomas Boston said, “God gives no empty titles, nor will empty titles answer the necessities of believers. As his name, so is his nature; the name truly expresses what he is. He manifests himself to be what the name bears. What he is called, he is found to be in the experience of saints.”

I quote Boston in a devotional on living in Jesus’ glorious name, which has been posted on Midwestern Seminary’s For the Church website.

Birthday Meditation

Icon of the Good Shepherd. Public Domain.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46:3-5, ESV)

Today is my birthday. I will not tell you my age; suffice it to say that I have reached the age at which I expected to die, when I was a kid. (I place no prophetic weight on that expectation, by the way. Nothing else in my life has gone as I expected, why should this?).

The passage above is from a chapter that intrigues me, because its meaning is implicit. It’s not spelled out. You have to put two and two together. The message of the chapter as a whole is, “The heathen have to carry their gods from place to place with them. Our God carries us.”

This is the testimony of a man who has reached the full span of years he expected in his youth — Jesus Christ has carried me all the way. If I had not been carried, I would not have made it this far.

Joy Beyond Agony by Jane Roach

Jane Roach has written a strong, deeply moving study of Christ Jesus and the cross that I hope becomes the talk of many congregations. Joy Beyond Agony: Embracing the Cross of Christ, new this year from P&R Publishing, takes twelve lessons to dig into the immeasurable wealth of Christ Jesus’ character and his work on the cross.

For readers who don’t skip the introduction, Roach encourages us to set goals for our Bible study in order to clarify our intentions and pray that the Lord will help us meet them. “Lurking behind our goals and best efforts are our past failures in keeping up with them,” she explains. Part of that failure may be simply leaving our goals undefined and consequently unfulfilled. “We find ourselves captive to empty pursuits that gobble up precious time,” she says. If we identify those pursuits or the time slots they fill, we will be better able to replace them, and then we’ll see the spiritual growth we’ve been hoping to see.

In the study itself, she leads readers through a full 360 review of the cross and its implications for us. In one lesson: “How can God’s gracious promises come true for guilty people? How can the Holy One of Israel bless sinful people?” In another lesson, she walks through Jesus’ seven “I am” statements, such as “I am the bread of life,” to reveal the character of one who hung on that cross.

With prayers, faith stories, insightful questions, and personal instruction, Roach has written a beautiful study on the joy that was set before our Lord.

In one story, a woman with cancer describes how her church communities poured out their love for her. “The more kindness I was shown, the more frustrated I became, and the more frustrated I grew with myself for being so ungrateful. When I finally put words to my frustration, I realized I was angry that I was utterly undeserving. . . . I must–there is no other way–I must abandon my pride and self-reliance and cling to his cross and his mercy.”

I hope Joy Beyond Agony will be able to drive home that one glorious idea to thousands of American Evangelical families this year and next, so that we will know the joy of Christ far more intimately than anything in this world.