Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Philippians 1:2: You Still Need Grace and Peace

3 hours 6 min ago

We may outgrow childhood clothes and car seats, but as children of God, we never outgrow our need for grace and peace.

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4-Minute Clip: The One-Sentence Definition of Happiness

9 hours 6 min ago

God’s design and passion for his glory in the world includes your desire and pursuit for joy that lasts forever.

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The Most Important Text on Marriage

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 8:02pm

June 29. We couldn’t help but enjoy all the free publicity Apple was giving to our special day.

It was the spring of 2007, and our upcoming wedding date was plastered on billboards and seemed to appear just about everywhere online and in print ads. Months before we had landed on this date for our wedding. But long before that, the tech giant had pinpointed June 29, 2007, for the much-celebrated release of a new device called the “iPhone.”

So, on the same day, ten years ago now, we debuted with the iPhone. We promised each other, “Till death do us part,” and thought we’d easily outlast this new iPod with a monthly phone bill. We’ll see. The iPhone may still be strong a decade later, but our for-life vows to each other are much firmer even than a for-profit’s commitment to a product that has sold more than a billion units since 2007.

One, Simple, Impossible Verse

Ephesians 5:22–33 is the classic Bible text on marriage. It’s a critical place for Christian couples to regularly return to get their bearings. It’s often read at weddings, and often referenced in articles, sermons, and books on marriage. But in our ten years of marriage, it has not been the most significant biblical passage for us. If I had to pick one, it would come a few verses earlier, before the focus turns explicitly to marriage. It’s just one, simple verse:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Looking back on our ten years, what we have needed most hasn’t been the pointed charge to love and submit (important as they are!), or the popular vision of love in 1 Corinthians 13 (wonderful as it is!). And what we’ve needed most hasn’t been practical tips and techniques from veteran counselors and famous Christian couples. What we’ve needed most is to learn to be Christians — with all that entails — as we live with each other inside a covenant.

Even though Ephesians 4:32 isn’t explicitly about marriage, it’s been the single most important verse for us because it’s a penetrating summons to being Christian in a way that is especially poignant in the daily rough and tumble of marriage.

Be Kind to Each Other

As for marital tips and techniques, new research is discovering the power of what Ephesians 4:32 has said for almost two millennia. For the last four decades, psychologist John Gottman has been watching married couples — both “the masters” and “the disasters,” as he calls them. What makes the difference between a great marriage and a bad one? When Gottman boils it down to one thing, he says kindness.

Gottman and his wife have observed the regular “requests for connection” couples make to each other throughout any given day — call them “bids.” They are the small talk we make as we ride together in the car, or take a walk, or sit together over dinner. Each bid is an opportunity to “connect, however momentarily.” Spouses can respond to these bids for emotional connection by “turning toward” each other or “turning away.”

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.” (“Masters of Love”)

But how do we cultivate such kindness when we have no simple switch just to turn it on? The Gottmans’s guidance only takes us so far. They commend ways to practice kindness: “being generous about your partner’s intentions” or “connecting over each other’s good news” (pursuing “shared joys”), but the researchers can’t drill much deeper than more specific external actions.

What’s missing is a pathway for internal transformation. How does an unkind heart change?


Where secular research comes to its end, God has more to say than simply “be kind.” Ephesians 4:32 doesn’t leave us at the level of behavior. Are kind actions essential? Absolutely. But where do they come from? Not mere willpower, but a tender heart.

We chose Colossians 3:12 as a reading at our wedding: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”

But God not only calls us to actions, but to a certain heart: a kind heart, a tender heart — what Colossians 3:12 calls “compassionate hearts.” God doesn’t mean for us to merely produce kind actions, but to have the heart to back it up.

The word for “tenderhearted” in Ephesians 4:32 appears twice in the New Testament. The other place is 1 Peter 3:8–9:

All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

It’s another spot-on text for marriage that’s not just about marriage, but the whole Christian life. Or to flip it around, the most common problem in “disaster” marriages, according to the Gottmans, is contempt. And contempt is in the heart. Beneath actions that are unkind, or “mean” (to talk in terms of a common marital complaint), is the feeling of deep frustration and low-grade anger called contempt. But a “tender heart” is the opposite of such inner hardness toward each other. Contempt produces meanness, but a “tender heart” or “compassionate heart” produces genuine kindness.

Ask yourself, is my prevailing heart-orientation toward my spouse one of compassion or frustration?

Forgiving One Another

Marriage in this age is always marriage to another sinner. Acknowledgment, confession, and forgiveness of sin will be a regular part of any authentic marriage. Expect to find something unforgiven beneath a heart of marital contempt.

Now, forgiveness is not the same as trust. Marriage is the most intimate of human relationships, and with that comes its explosive potential for betrayal and hurt. The call to forgive is not a call to feign trust. Sin has consequences; trust is quickly lost and slowly restored. But for the Christian, we never have a reason to withhold forgiveness.

No human, even our spouse, has wronged us as much as we have wronged God, and if we claim the name of Christ, we claim he has forgiven us.

Part of what it means for me as a husband to be head of our marriage is that God calls me to go ahead and apologize first. I cannot recall a single instance in ten years in which any tangle was totally her fault. In our spats, tensions, and run-ins, we’re not always equally at fault, but we both have been imperfect and sinful in some way. I always have some problem in me to identify and confess. My calling as a husband is not to save face, but have the egg on my face first.

What We’ve Needed Most

What makes the vision of Ephesians 4:32 distinctively Christian is those last six words: “. . . as God in Christ forgave you.” It all starts with our Father’s heart and actions of forgiveness toward us. Kindness toward each other begins with God’s kindness toward us in Christ. God has forgiven me, therefore I can forgive her. Therefore, my heart can be tender, compassionate — not just in general, but specifically toward her. Therefore, I can act with kindness.

Ultimately, it is the kindness of God that melts an unforgiving spirit, softens a hard heart, and transforms unkind actions.

What we’ve needed most in our ten years has been to be Christian toward each other. And what’s been most catalytic is kindness. Greater than any need for my wife to hear the charge to submit has been my hearing the charge to be kind to her — because of how kind God has been to me.

3-Minute Clip: Trust Pastors Who Lead by the Book

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 1:00pm

The church obeys her leaders as her leaders obey the Bible. Authority only reaches as far as it’s based on the book.

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Are Your Relational Problems Inherited?

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 10:03am

Jackson, Mississippi has two types of homes: those that have foundation issues and those that are waiting for their owners to find out they have foundation issues.

We lived in one of the former for years. The house slanted so severely that if a round object of any type was put on the floor, it would race from one side of the room to the other. We constantly employed paint and mortar to remove the visual reminders of the foundation problems we had. But no matter how hard we tried, the cracks returned. The only way to get them remedied was to do significant work to the faulty foundation.

Similarly, when people come from unhealthy homes, they can come with foundational issues. Ones which can cause problems throughout life if they are not dealt with in a healthy manner. Fortunately, we have the balm of the gospel which can overcome any earthly deficit (1 Corinthians 1:26–31).

Foundation Flaws

In order to apply God’s word with skill and wisdom, we should think carefully about the sorts of “foundation” issues that can cause troubles in other areas of life. Wherever there is sin, Christ can give forgiveness (1 John 1:9); wherever our thoughts are twisted, Christ can give us wisdom (James 1:5); wherever there is weakness and brokenness, Christ gives his perfect power (2 Corinthians 12:9). So, as we look to Christ to supply our every need (Philippians 4:19), what sort of “foundation” issues are most common?

1. Attachment

One of the most common issues is the ability to have a healthy level of attachment. Healthy attachment is where we know how to meet other people’s needs and have our own needs met as well. It means we are willing to sacrifice even when our own satisfaction seems nowhere on the horizon (Matthew 16:24), yet we are also able to honestly speak up about our own unmet desires.

Unhealthy attachment comes in two forms. In the first, it believes that all needs are met by others and therefore clings desperately to them. This sort of codependent attachment leans too heavily on others for emotional protection and security, and tries to bear the burden of other people’s emotional weight, even when it’s not their responsibility. Life experiences are filtered through the lens of being responsible for others’ needs and having others be responsible for their needs. But because it’s impossible to be responsible for someone else’s emotional world, all parties end up feeling exhausted.

In the second type of unhealthy attachment, people believe that others are a source of pain and rarely, if ever, are able to reliably meet needs. If those in the first category are over-dependent on others, those in this category are over-isolated. They avoid vulnerability like the plague because it so seldom leads to anything but agony. For them, islands of isolation are better than communities of pain, making intimate emotional experiences both fleeting and rare. They cannot respond to others’ needs because they are so preoccupied with keeping themselves from getting hurt. Sacrifice is a foreign concept, and intimacy begins to dry up.

2. Conflict

The next most common set of issues I see from those that come from an unhealthy family background are those that revolve around conflict resolution. Conflict happens in all relationships — even the apostles had it (Galatians 2:11–14)! But still, sometimes conflict reveals more than we want to see in ourselves. Again, let me paint two opposite poles.

On the one hand, there are those that are ardent conflict avoiders. Conflict has either been incredibly scary in their family of origin, or they’ve never seen it done at all. To be in conflict at all feels like death, so they avoid it at all costs. When forced to have conflict because they can no longer run away, wounds — weeks, months, sometimes even years old — come pouring out all at once, sometimes adding more pain to an already painful situation.

Then there are conflict provokers. For some, chaos simply feels like home. When it isn’t present, they feel like they are just waiting for the other shoe to drop — so they often make it drop on their own terms. For others, they are so afraid that something might get swept under the rug that they feel driven to conflict about any minor relational infraction. The ability to overlook sin and forgive (Proverbs 19:11) without giving it the slow-motion play-by-play treatment only seems like deception.

3. Boundaries

Giving and receiving the word “no” is another skill that people often inherit from their family of origin. Some families treat boundaries like four-letter words — boundaries are not clearly defined or understood, causing confusion and frustration in place of healthy freedom within clear borders. Again, this foundation flaw can split in two directions.

Some are too flexible, allowing others to run over reasonable boundaries and push them into relationships and activities that are neither healthy nor sanctifying. Without the structure and authority to say “no” to some things, their energies are directed not by themselves or kingdom purposes — for example, saying “no” to an extra hour of work in order to be present at the dinner table — but by the people around them.

On the other hand, others are too rigid, breaking off relationship at the slightest hint of disagreement, destroying relationships that otherwise would be helpful. Their boundaries are too tall and too wide. If it doesn’t fit their plans, the answer is automatically “no.” There is no category for sacrificing plans and structure in order to serve others. There is no flexibility to turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile when called by the Lord to do so (Matthew 5:38–42).

Foundation Repair

While all three of these patterns may be problematic, none of them is fatal. Why? Because the love of God is greater than all of these. Christ’s love — not our flawed families — controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14). Christ does not forsake those with flawed family foundations. In fact, this is often where he shows grace most powerfully (2 Corinthians 12:9).

1. Hope for Attachment

Perhaps you feel you can never be whole on your own — if there’s any hope for a happy life, it depends on the people around you. This is a lie. As much as God loves to give us his grace through the people around us, he does not leave us dependent on them for the grace we need. Indeed, even when everyone around us fails us, we are not alone. We always have Christ’s grace, the Father’s love, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Perhaps, on the other hand, you fear that vulnerability is just the prelude to betrayal. Remember that God knows us more fully than we even know ourselves, and still, rather than rejecting us, he chose to send his most precious Son to die for us that we might be his.

2. Peace in Conflict

And for those that struggle with conflict, they too can find rest in the gospel. While the Christian life is full of conflict (John 15:19), Christ gives us his peace through his Spirit, the Great Comforter (John 14:27). Timidity and anxiety in the face of conflict may give way to confident praises, as we wait for the day when peace will reign in all creation and conflict will be a matter for history books (Isaiah 2:4).

And for those who find conflict normal, or even comforting, we should show them that the fruit of the indwelling Spirit will yield a soul-soothing peace (Galatians 5:22–23), not just on the last day, but here and now. They too have the ability to find comfort in the calm.

3. Love in Boundaries

Lastly, for those for whom “no” feels like a sort of personal assault, the gospel frees us to make wise and loving decisions about gospel resources. Those resources include our time, our money, and our affections. Our commitments, relationships, and energies are not in the control of those around us; they’re not even in our own hands to control. Rather, everything belongs to Christ and must be used to glorify him (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Our choices should enable us to focus outward more and more on Christ’s kingdom, serving others skillfully so that the great Servant and King may be made manifest in us (Philippians 2:3–11).

A Father Who Gives and Gives

In the end, none of us comes from perfect families, however healthy they might be. Always, our goal should be to apply the balm of the gospel to our relationships, while looking for the evidence of its fruit. Where there are strengths, you lean into them while thanking God for his goodness. And where there are weaknesses, you bring them to the cross and wait expectantly for Christ to work there, too.

God is not stingy with his mercy, because he wants to get glory through our gratitude, awe, and dependence on his mercy (Romans 15:9). This is where our hope lies: not in perfect family origins, but in the perfect Father who gives us the grace we need to follow him.

How Far Is Too Far?

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 8:02pm

My wife and I love the beach.

She lived near a dozen beautiful beaches outside of Los Angeles until I ripped her away to snowy Minnesota. We have water in Minneapolis; it’s just frozen half the year. Part of enjoying the beach, at least in California, is enjoying the sunshine. We have weather like theirs here, too, blue skies, burning sun, light breeze — at least for two or three weeks every year.

More than half of enjoying the beach, though, is being able to stand that close to something that big. Something happens deep inside of us when we walk up, let the water splash over our feet, and stare out over endless waves, extending far beyond our imagination can run.

It’s estimated that the Pacific Ocean holds 187 quintillion gallons (eighteen zeroes) of water. Scientists have discovered at least one place in the ocean that’s almost seven miles deep. And we can safely play there in its wake at Newport Beach, wading carelessly into seemingly infinite power and mystery.

He Drew a Line in the Sand

How is something that big that safe for us? Because God holds it back with a word. The Lord says to Job,

“Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (Job 38:8–11)

He created something as massive and powerful as the ocean to show us a little picture of his power. He wanted to give us categories for his bigness and his majesty. And then he drew a line in the sand and told the waves they could go no farther.

“He established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth” (Proverbs 8:28–29). He set a boundary. Why? To show us that the waves are his, to tell us that he is sovereign, creative, and wise — and that he can be trusted.

Gallons of Mystery

God does the same kind of work in marriage and dating. As we walk up to the edge of marriage, we draw close to something so much bigger than ourselves. There’s a power and a mystery in love like this. It’s a vibrant picture of the love God has shown us in sending his Son for us, a love wider and deeper than the Pacific Ocean.

God designed love in marriage, like gallons and gallons of ocean, to show us how unsearchable his love is for us. We could never contain it or know it completely. And because love within a covenant is so large, so intense, so captivating, he established a boundary, a shoreline. He drew a line in the sand for our safety, and to secure our greatest happiness in marriage.

Setting good boundaries in dating will rest on recognizing and even appreciating God’s one massive boundary. Any woman who is not your wife is not your wife. Any man who is not your husband is not your husband. “Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). No almost-husbands, not kind-of-wives, no probably-one-day marriages.

God intended for one man to be joined with one woman in the promises of marriage, and he intended for us to enjoy marital intimacy and pleasure, especially sexual intimacy and pleasure, only in the context of those promises. Sex is reserved for the ocean deeps of marriage, not the safe wading depth of dating.

Is God Stingy?

Satan’s still telling the same lies he was telling in the garden when he convinced Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. God says to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16–17). You may eat of every tree, but one. Satan takes the infinite creativity and generosity of the Father, and makes him sound stingy.

“He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’” (Genesis 3:1). Do you hear the manipulation and deception — making freedom look like slavery?

Why did God tell them not to eat from the one tree? “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” He wasn’t trying to deprive them. He was trying to save them. Satan takes the infinite wisdom and love of the Father, and makes him sound overprotective. “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:4). He makes suicide seem harmless. And he’s still telling the same lies in dating today.

Satan takes the wisdom and love in good boundaries and makes them look stingy, overprotective, and unnecessary.

How Far Is Too Far?

“How far is too far before marriage?” That’s where most of our conversations about boundaries begin.

Where do we need to draw the line?
What are we allowed to do now?
How much should we save for marriage?

Many couples get boundaries wrong because we’re asking the wrong questions. What if you and your boyfriend (or girlfriend) started by asking a different question? What are we really after in dating (or in all of life)? What are we trying to secure or enjoy in this relationship?

If the honest answer is affection and intimacy, no number of boundaries can guard us completely. We can put up all the fences we want, but the brokenness hides inside of us (and all our fences), and it waits to strike when we’re at our weakest and most vulnerable.

But if we’re able to answer that we’re after more of Jesus in dating and in marriage, the boundaries that once looked so stale, boring, and old-fashioned suddenly become our best friends in the fight. They’re the courageous, faith-filled steps we take to find more of Jesus together. They’re the battles we win together against all of Satan’s worst attacks.

Acts of War in Dating

We get so defensive about dating — always on guard against evil, always fighting against temptation. But what if the boundaries we keep were really meant to help us fight for something? What if, instead of fence-building, they were acts of war in love?

Boundaries are hard to keep, at least in part, because Satan convinces us we’re only sacrificing and never gaining, that we’re holed up in this dark, cold, damp cave called Christian dating. He makes Christian dating sound like slavery. Christ came to us not to enslave us, though, but to liberate us. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). A life in Christ is a life of freedom. A relationship in Christ — believing in him, following him, submitting to him, obeying him — is a relationship filled with freedom, not slavery or oppression.

There is sacrifice in relationships like these, but it’s not worth comparing with our reward. There is patience and self-control, but they don’t quench love. They nourish and strengthen the kind of love we’re really longing for. The boundaries — these spiritual acts of war — are not stealing anything from us. They’re the tracks on which we run the fastest and freest with Jesus (and each other).

Every act of obedience, in life and in dating, is a free act of defiance in the face of Satan’s schemes and lies. We’re not just guarding ourselves from him by setting and keeping boundaries; we’re seizing territory back from him in dating.

Should Patriotism Have a Place in Church?

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 8:00pm

The dominant expression of patriotism in American churches should be the supremacy of Christ and his work to forgive American sins and American sinners.

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Sometimes God Just Closes Doors

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 10:00am

For the last few years, my body has had a strange relationship with food. By strange, I mean terrible. Rather than providing nutrition, many foods provide me with small doses of poison. Which foods do this and in what amounts? I’m not sure. Actually, no one is sure — and that’s the hardest part.

When the pain spikes and my stomach swells, I know I’m having a reaction. Most of the time, my only defense is to get some extra sleep and take more medicine, knowing the sickness will be gone in a few days. Sometimes, however, I worry something is really wrong, that I might be dying. I feel like Humpty Dumpty: all the king’s horses and all the king’s men — and all of the medical specialists and all of nature’s holistic remedies — can’t seem to get my digestive system working again. Over the last four years, I’ve accumulated a cabinet full of plastic bottles with strange labels, but found very little help.

Sometimes God Closes Doors and Windows

As I’ve processed the nearly constant pain and inconvenience, I have been helped by Jared Wilson. He beautifully describes what it means to be broken and yet still loved by God. He knows what it’s like to let go of the rope we’re all holding on to and let Jesus catch him.

Wilson writes,

I have a problem with all the “chase your dreams!” cheerleading from Christian leaders. It’s not because I begrudge people who want to achieve their dreams, but because I think we don’t readily see how easy it is to conflate our dream-chasing with God’s will in Christ.

You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open the window, but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough? (The Story of Everything, 122)

This paragraph reflects a theme of Christianity that is often neglected in even our best churches: tomorrow might not be better than today.

Sometimes Decreasing Means Death

Two things from Wilson’s quote can be illustrated by looking briefly at the life of John the Baptist. First, the statement about littleness. John the Baptist said with reference to Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John desired that Jesus would move into the spotlight instead of him, modeling for us the eternal beauty of littleness now.

Second, Wilson spoofs a common phrase in Christian lingo: that a closed door must mean another opportunity (a better opportunity!) will always arise. But it’s possible that won’t be the case — it wasn’t for John. When God sent John to prison, he didn’t get out. He was executed there (Matthew 14:1–12).

But before he was killed, John sent messengers to Jesus to ask if he was the Messiah, or if they should look for another (Matthew 11:1–3). Rather than nourishing his faith, the difficult circumstances of John’s life were acting like poison, which then led him toward doubt and disillusionment. It just didn’t seem like Jesus was doing the kinds of things he expected the Messiah would do. If Jesus came to set captives free (Luke 4:18), then why am I still locked up?

To be more blunt, in prison John was asking whether Jesus would be enough for him when he actually did decrease and it seemed he was going to die.

Will Christ Be Enough?

And the question we often ask is similar. Will Jesus be enough for us when one door closes and God doesn’t open a window?

Yes, yes he will.

When you stand up for what’s right and end up in jail (as was the case for John); when you have cancer; when you lose your job; when your house is robbed; when your parents get divorced; when you’re sick and lying on the floor and your children ask, “Daddy, are you okay?” Jesus is still Jesus. And he will be enough for you.

When the apostle Paul repeatedly prayed for his difficulties to be taken away, God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Elsewhere God reminds his people, “I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Today, if you are weak, know that Jesus is strong and he loves you dearly — even if you don’t understand your own pain and God’s plan for it. Our afflictions are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Though the whole house falls down, our foundation in Christ will never crack.

Philippians 1:1: Who Does God Want to Govern His Church?

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 7:00am

Kingdoms need a king. Children need parents. Sheep need shepherds. The Church needs servant leaders that point them to their King, Father, and Shepherd.

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You Will Die Without Good Friends

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 1:00am

Christian relationships exist to keep us believing. Without Jesus speaking to us through our brothers and sisters, we won’t survive.

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Stop Dating Jesus: We Know He Will Come, Just Not When

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 8:01pm

Ever since the time of Jesus, people have been claiming that end-time events will occur in their own day.

In the mid-1800s, a Bible scholar named William Miller claimed Jesus would return by March 21, 1844. It didn’t happen. Spring came and went with no sign of Jesus. Miller determined that his calculations had been wrong and claimed a divine delay was part of God’s plan. He eventually settled on a date in October 1844 that again proved wrong. His followers were ridiculed. Some underwent physical hardship as they quit their jobs to devote themselves to spreading the word about the imminent return. Some farmers left their crops unharvested; others gave away their possessions. Out of Miller’s failed prophecies (called “The Great Disappointment”) arose Seventh-day Adventism.

Fast-forward to 1988. Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA rocket engineer, wrote a booklet called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, in which he claimed that Jesus would return sometime between September 11–13, and that the tribulation would begin at sunset on October 3. Two million copies of the booklet circulated in the years leading up to 1988. Some people in the American South quit their jobs, sold their homes, and gave themselves completely to prayer before the predicted date. September 1988 passed quietly. The sun set on October 3 and rose again on October 4 with no sign of the tribulation. Whisenant recalculated, this time figuring the end would come in September 1989, then 1993, and then 1994. He died in 2001.

On and on it goes. It’s easy to mock these failed predictions, but there’s a related and more widely accepted trend among evangelical Christians that Graham Beynon has called “implicit date-setting.” While not setting a specific date for the return of Jesus, many claim we are living at the very end of history, and support this claim by matching current events with specific biblical prophecies. It is estimated that a third of white American evangelicals (about 20 million people) believe they will live to see the end of the world. As a pastor, I’ve been told quite often by Christians that they believe Jesus will return in our own generation.

How should we respond to explicit and implicit date-setting?

We should begin by recognizing the positive aspect of mistaken attempts to discern the date of Jesus’s return: they draw upon and promote an eager expectation of the return of Jesus. We can applaud that restlessness for Jesus. If we’re honest, we may admit that we don’t feel enough of it ourselves. However, many of these attempts ignore the words and spirit of Jesus’s saying in Matthew 24:36, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” As claim after claim of the imminent return of Jesus has proven wrong over the last two thousand years, Jesus’s words have proven true.

Three Problems with Date-Setting

Additionally, attempts at date-setting (of both the explicit and implicit varieties) undermine a biblical approach to waiting for Jesus in three significant ways.

1. Date-setting encourages a type of restlessness for the end of time that discourages patience. When the New Testament authors cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” it is always with the perspective that Jesus will only come when God intends him to and that we don’t know exactly when that is. Our ignorance of the date of Jesus’s return requires a mingling of eager expectation and humble patience. But that humility and patience is undermined when Christians believe they have “figured out” that we live in the last generation.

2. Date-setting discourages productive living. When charismatic date-setters convince their followers of specific dates, they often leave them very unproductive. Followers have emptied their bank accounts, quit their jobs, and squandered resources that could have been put to better use for the kingdom.

Jesus aims for just the opposite. At the end of his great section of end-time teaching in Mark 13, Jesus tells a story that makes the case for productivity. He says that a man went on a journey, left his servants in charge, and told the doorkeeper to stay awake. Jesus then commands his disciples to stay awake, because they don’t know when he will return. In this context, staying awake doesn’t mean figuring out when Jesus will return, but getting on with our responsibilities in this life, “in the meantime,” until he returns.

3. Date-setting attempts to seize control. Waiting for an event when we don’t know it’s timing can be uncomfortable and demanding. It seems that Jesus wants us to feel this discomfort because he wants us to be always prepared for his coming. The conclusion to the parable of the ten virgins is this: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). As the theologian G.C. Berkouwer once said, we’re not called to reckon the time of Jesus’s return — we’re called to reckon with it, to allow it to fruitfully shape our lives in the present.

Waiting for Jesus

Waiting based on explicit or implicit date-setting is our human attempt to seize control of the time of Jesus’s coming. It removes the uncomfortable, awkward uncertainty of not knowing when Jesus will return by establishing a date, whether exact or approximate. But God wants us to wait for Jesus not because we’re confident of a date, but because we trust God’s promise. The apostle Peter told his readers how they were to wait: “According to [God’s] promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

When our waiting for Jesus is founded on God’s promise, we draw our confidence from the dependability of the one who has made the promise. That’s good news for Christians because the God of promise is the sovereign Lord of history, and therefore totally reliable. Our certainty arises from the dependability of God’s character, not the precision of our calculations. Jesus’s return is not a puzzle to figure out, but rather a promise from God to trust.

Waiting based on God’s promise produces humility and hope. Humility, because this kind of waiting can never run away from God to find the certainty of Jesus’s return in a hidden code or clue or correlation with modern events separable from God himself. The certain assurance that Jesus will return can only be obtained by leaning upon God’s promise, which means leaning upon God himself. This brings us to a deeper awareness that we don’t and can’t make it happen; it is totally up to God. This humbles us.

But waiting for Jesus on the basis of God’s promise also produces hope, because it means the foundation of our waiting is not merely a wish; it’s a certainty grounded in the character of God himself. In Acts 1:10–11, two angels promise that Jesus will return from heaven. That promise produces great hope within us as we cling to it and build our lives upon it. It yields a robustly biblical hope that we will not be condemned at the last day, because Jesus our advocate will rescue us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

Worship: We Get Joy, God Gets Praise

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 1:00pm

Our worship of God involves a multitude of emotions, but the emotion at the root of all of them — if it’s true, spiritual worship — is joy.

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Not Yet Married

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 8:03pm

Now available: This is a book for not-yet-married people that’s not mainly about marriage, or even dating, but about God and our role in his world.

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Love Suffers Long

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 8:03pm

Ask the apostle Paul what the fruits of the Spirit are, and the first thing he says is love (Galatians 5:22). Paul would say love is the greatest of the fruit of the Spirit, just as he said love was the greatest gift of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Then ask Paul what love is, and what does he say first? “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Now, I don’t assume this necessarily means Paul believed patience is the greatest quality of love. But the fact that he mentions it first in this beautiful description of Christian love must give us pause.

Love Versus Endurance

What did Paul have in mind when he wrote, “Love is patient”? The answer may not be as obvious as it seems.

We use the term patience for a wide variety of things: for instance, putting up with a generally difficult person; not losing our temper in rush hour traffic; financial investing for the long term; not yelling at our child who’s throwing his umpteenth tantrum today or who’s left the milk on the counter for the umpteenth time; working steadily toward that degree; or not thinking (or uttering) a profanity when the software program stalls, requiring a hard shutdown and losing our unsaved work.

But Paul had a specific meaning in mind when he said this. The King James translation gives us a little more linguistic help: “Charity suffereth long.” Looking at the Greek word Paul chose is even more helpful, a version of the word makrothymia.

Sometimes English translators choose to translate the Greek word hypomonē as “patience” (e.g. Luke 8:15; Romans 2:7; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Revelation 2:3). But hypomonē differs from makrothymia. Hypomonē almost always refers to perseverance or endurance in the face of difficult or painful circumstances (think James 1:3). But makrothymia almost always refers to a forbearing, persevering, patient love toward a person. It is a form of self-sacrificial love we extend to someone else.

God’s Longsuffering Love

This word had powerful connotations for Paul. As a Jew, he understood makrothymia — “longsuffering love” — as one of God’s most fundamental character traits. For when God revealed his glory to Moses on the mountain, he proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)

This description of God is repeated over and over in the Old Testament (e.g. Numbers 14:18; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). And in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), which Paul knew like the back of his hand, the phrase “slow to anger” is captured in one Greek word: a version of makrothymia.

This word is powerful because it describes God’s incredibly patient love toward sinners. God was lovingly slow to anger with the continual sin of the antediluvian peoples for many centuries. He was lovingly slow to anger with horrible and grotesque sins of the Canaanite peoples for many centuries (Genesis 15:16). He was lovingly slow to anger with the idolatrous rebellion of Israel during the period of the judges, and then during the period of the kings for many centuries. And he has been lovingly slow to anger with the wicked world for many centuries since Christ came, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

That’s why Paul used makrothymia in sentences like these:

  • Or do you presume on the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
  • What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)

God, who is love (1 John 4:8), suffers long with sinners. And that’s why those who are born of God and know God also lovingly suffer long with sinners.

Our Longsuffering Love

And so Paul and other New Testament writers frequently use makrothymia, because:

  • We are to remember the kind of merciful, gracious, longsuffering, slow-to-anger patience God has shown to us in Christ. (1 Timothy 1:16)
  • Therefore, like God, we are to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (makrothymia), bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven [us], so [we] also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:12–13; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2)
  • And when God orders our paths through pain and difficulty, we are to also extend to him longsuffering, slow-to-anger patience. This isn’t because God wrongs us in ways that require us to forgive him. Rather, we are to recall his redemptive purposes with Abraham, Job, the prophets, and others so that we, like them, will patiently wait (makrothymia) on God to obtain his promises, deliverances, and vindication. (Hebrews 6:15; James 5:10–11)

This is why the first thing Paul said about love in the great Love Chapter of the Bible is that it is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). He’s not referring to patience with inconveniences (those perhaps fit better under the “love is not irritable” category, 1 Corinthians 13:5). He’s not even referring to longsuffering patience in the midst of affliction (Revelation 14:12). He’s referring to patience toward persons.

And this is a longsuffering patience. God is calling you and me to love the people he has placed in our lives, even though some of them have done or are doing great evil. We are to love them with makrothymia love — longsuffering love.

Makrothymia love is not permissive; it doesn’t tolerate sin, abuse, or injustice in the sense of enabling those things. We are to confront them. But we do so in the spirit of Exodus 34:6 and in the power of the Spirit of 1 Corinthians 13, remembering that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” and that “love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:7–8).

A love that never ends is a love that suffers long.

How Is Jesus Both Joy and Master?

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 8:00pm

The Bible calls us to serve God, but we must remember that we can only do that because God first came to serve and help us.

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How the Reformation Rediscovered Happiness

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 8:01pm

Imagine facing Judgment Day every week.

Near to where I grew up, in the Oxfordshire village of South Leigh, is the parish church of St. James the Great. Over the chancel arch is a medieval wall painting depicting the final judgment.

To the left, the righteous rose from their graves to be welcomed into paradise. To the right, the damned were roped together to be dragged towards the gaping mouth of a huge red dragon. This is what the churchgoers of South Leigh saw every Sunday. And they would find no relief, even if they turned away. For on the wall of the south aisle, another wall painting depicted St. Michael weighing souls in a balance. More demons hover, ready to carry away those found wanting.

Heaven was a possibility for the churchgoers of South Leigh — but so was hell. And the church offered no assurance of salvation. Perhaps you might be righteous enough for God with boosts offered by the sacraments. Perhaps you might not. No one could be sure. Indeed, to claim any assurance was an act of pride. How could anyone consider himself good enough for the holy God? The best you could hope for was that the sanctifying torments of purgatory to get you into heaven.

Scrupulous, Joyless Monk

What was it like to live in this environment? Most people hoped for the best and had to get on with life. But one man refused to avoid the logic of the medieval church.

In 1505, when Luther was still a student, he was walking back to his university after a visit to his parents when a bolt of lightning narrowly missed him. This near-death experience changed his life. Ten days later, he applied to join the Augustinian order of monks.

Luther quickly gained a reputation for the zeal with which he pursued his new calling. Believing that he could only receive absolution for sins he confessed to a priest, he became obsessed with visiting the confessional. It drove his superior up the wall. At one point, his superior allegedly exclaimed, “Look here, Brother Martin, if you’re going to confess so much, why don’t you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Stop coming in here with such flummery and fake sins!”

But all Luther’s zealous endeavors brought him no joy.

Discovering Good News, Great Joy

In 1512, at age 26, Luther was sent to lecture in biblical studies at the new University at Wittenberg. It was studying Augustine and lecturing on the Psalms, Romans, and Galatians that eventually brought joy to Luther’s heart. Luther discovered a righteousness that would unlock joy that would serve generations to come.

In German, as in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, justice and righteousness are the same word. For Luther, “the justice of God” had meant one thing: the standard by which God finds us guilty. “I hated that word ‘justice of God,’ which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as . . . that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.” Paul’s claim in Romans 1:17 that the justice or righteousness of God is “gospel” or “good news” merely taunted Luther. “I did not love — no, rather I hated — the just God who punishes sinners.”

But then Luther realized Paul was describing righteousness as a gift God gives, which we receive by faith. Speaking of Romans 1:17, Luther says, “I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is, by faith.” God credits us with the perfect righteousness of Christ while Christ endures the punishment deserved by our unrighteousness. “All at once,” he continues, “I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates.” A little later he writes, “I exalted this sweetest word of mine, ‘the justice of God,’ with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise.”

Here was a message that could bring assurance. Why? Because here was a confidence which was based not on our merits, but on Christ’s. The righteousness of Christ, credited to us through faith, promised God’s children heaven — no need for purgatory or fear of hell. The gospel moved Luther from fear to faith, from despair to joy.

Gospel Makes Glad

One of the key men responsible for introducing Luther’s rediscovery of joy into England was William Tyndale. In 1526, Tyndale published the New Testament in English. It was his second attempt to do so.

The first time around he had been forced to flee when the authorities raided the press where it was being printed. He was living in exile and would eventually be martyred for his passion to make an English Bible available to everyone in the land. He included a preface to that first edition which he later expanded into A Pathway into the Holy Scripture. In it, he beautifully describes the joy-bringing power of the gospel.

Evangelion (what we call “the gospel”) is a Greek word; and signifies good, merry, glad, and joyful tidings, that make a man’s heart glad, and make him sing, dance, and leap for joy. . . . Christ before his death commanded and appointed that such evangelion, gospel or tidings, should be declared throughout all the world, and thereby to give to all that believe all his goods, that is to say: his life, through which he swallowed and devoured up death; his righteousness, through which he banished sin; his salvation, through which he overcame eternal damnation. Now can the wretched man (that is wrapped in sin, and is in danger to death and hell) hear no more joyous a thing, than such glad and comfortable tidings of Christ? So he cannot but be glad and laugh from the low bottom of his heart if he believes that the tidings are true.

Leap for Joy

It is a message we need to keep on hearing. Even if we trust Christ for our acquittal on the final day, we can all too easily seek to establish our own identity today. Even as we preach justification by faith, we can be practicing justification by preaching instead, where our sense of well-being depends on how our sermons are received. We can think our approval before the Father depends on our behavior. And if you fear God’s disapproval, then you will not approach him with joy.

But the gospel “signifies merry, glad, and joyful tidings, that make a man’s heart glad, and make him sing, dance, and leap for joy.” For “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1–2). And so, we can join with Tyndale and Luther as they laugh from the bottom of their hearts — as they rejoice in their righteousness.

Husbands Who Love Like Christ and the Wives Who Submit to Them

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 1:00pm

Marriage points beyond an earthly reality to a heavenly one. Husbands and wives are a living drama of Jesus and the church.

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Learn How to Be Brought Low

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 8:02pm

You don’t need to be anyone special to know what it means to be brought low.

You don’t need to be Job to know that God gives and takes away (Job 1:21). You just need to know the heartsickness of hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12), or the bitterness of solitary pain (Proverbs 14:10), or the ache of God’s seeming silence (Psalm 13:1). In other words, anyone with a pulse knows what it means to be brought low.

But can we stand up, square our shoulders, and say with the apostle Paul, “I know how to be brought low” (Philippians 4:12)?

Can we say, “I know how to face financial disaster,” or “I know how to be betrayed,” or “I know how to endure years of chronic pain”? The words stick in my throat.

School of Faithful Suffering

There was a time when Paul didn’t know how to be brought low. We know that because he says a verse earlier, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

There was a time when Paul didn’t know how to give thanks from the dirt floor of a prison cell. But God taught him (Philippians 1:3–5). There was a time when he didn’t know how to rejoice when others in ministry stabbed him in the back. But God taught him (Philippians 1:17–18). There was a time when he didn’t know how to gaze at the blade of Caesar’s sword and say, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” But God taught him (Philippians 1:21).

And God can teach us. So, let’s take a seat in this bittersweet classroom and learn, with Philippians as our study guide, three lessons in being brought low.

1. God works wonders in the low places.

When Paul drafted his plan to evangelize the known world, he surely didn’t write at the top, “Get stuck in prison.” We can safely assume a jail cell didn’t fit neatly in his five-year personal ministry goals or church-planting strategies.

But it fit into God’s. And at some point, shackled to a Roman prison guard, Paul realized as much. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12–13).

Paul’s imprisonment did not sabotage God’s plan to advance the gospel. Prison was God’s plan to advance the gospel. And the same is true for us. Being brought low may ruin our plans, but not God’s better, wiser, kinder plans for us. If we will learn how to be brought low, we will one day testify, “I want you to know, brothers, that this bankruptcy has really served to free me from money’s stranglehold.” Or, “I want you to know that this betrayal has really taught me how to forgive.” Or, “I want you to know that this sickness has fueled my hope for heaven like nothing else.”

It’s okay if you’re still too low to look back and chart the sweep of God’s good purposes over the expanse of your sorrow. But while you’re there, remember this, on the testimony of Scripture and a thousand saints: God works wonders when he brings us low.

2. Jesus knows the low places.

Perhaps the most painful part of being brought low is the loneliness. Even the most faithful comforters cannot plumb the depths of our sorrows, or always speak the right word in the right tone, or discern our ever-changing needs. But there is one who has promised, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). And he is one who knows the low places.

For us, being brought low is usually a passive experience. We’re thrown, dragged, and kicked into this pit; we don’t jump in ourselves. Who would choose this grief?

Jesus would. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7).

Jesus traveled from the highest place to the lowest place on purpose. He left the praises of angels to face the scorn of men. He left the happiness of heaven to feel the horror of Gethsemane. He left the right hand of his Father to endure the forsakenness of the cross.

Jesus has seen every shade of sorrow, heard every tone of grief, and tasted every flavor of pain. So, as Zach Eswine writes, “When we search for someone, anyone, to know what it means to walk in our shoes, Jesus emerges as the preeminent and truest companion to our afflictions” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, 85).

The time will come when we’ll sit in the bright light of hindsight, and praise will cascade from our mouths in fountains. But until then, we are not walking this trackless waste alone. We have a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and he leads our way.

3. God will raise you up from the low places.

But Jesus does more than comfort and console when he meets us in our pain. He also promises, with all authority in heaven and on earth, that we will not stay there.

Jesus embraced a lowly station, and he submitted to the lowliest death humans have devised — “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) — but he did not stay low, and he did not stay dead. He rose up from his humiliation in a blaze of resurrection glory, and took his seat in the highest place, receiving from his Father “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

And now this King of heaven pledges to all who are his that he will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). Jesus’s living, glorified, death-conquering body declares that the low places do not last forever, that the grief of the tomb gives way to Easter gladness. Whereas God’s wonder-working power (lesson one above) assures us that he is doing good things right now that will bear fruit for this life, his promise to raise us up guarantees that one day we will be done with pain altogether. We will be done with being brought low.

When Jesus breathes life into your lowly body and raises it up in glory, you can be sure it’ll be the end to everything else that’s broken. Your poverty will turn to riches, your heartache to healing, your loneliness to steadfast love. You’ll finally gain Christ himself (Philippians 1:21–23; 3:8). You’ll bow and sing beneath his lordship (Philippians 2:10–11). You’ll know the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

Your citizenship does not lie under this shadow of sadness, but in the bright skies of heaven, from which “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Grieve and Give Thanks

Those who know how to be brought low do not play the stoic, as if these lessons could shield us from the stabs of our sorrows. Instead, we move forward in faith, learning to let joy and sorrow mingle together in the same heart, learning what it means to feel, and speak, and act in a way that is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

We are not sorrowful only, as if this low valley has swallowed all that is high and lovely and good. Nor do we only rejoice, as if the valley is not really a dreadful place after all. No, we grieve and give thanks. We sob and we sing. We say with George Herbert, in his poem “Bittersweet,”

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

God Loves Good Hip-Hop

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 1:16pm

Music is arguably the most influential art form on earth.

This influence is not only attested to by music psychology, but also by the Bible in its attention to at least two realities. First, all art forms are powerful, but those which involve words exercise extra influence.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). God used words to create the world, and our use of words is a way we mirror him as image bearers (Hebrews 11:3; Genesis 1:27). God also uses words to save the world. “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

The preaching of Christians through hip-hop has been used by God to move many listeners to call on the name of the Lord.

Music and the Mind

Second, Scripture affirms the effect of music on the mind.

In 2 Kings 3, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha when a harpist played. In 1 Samuel 16, a harmful spirit from God tormented Saul until David played a lyre. God used music in these passages as a means to breed serenity.

Matthew Henry said in his commentary on 1 Samuel, “Music cannot work upon the devil, but it may shut up the passages by which he has access to the mind.” It’s no wonder why a group of harp, tambourine, flute, lyre-wielding prophets is mentioned in 1 Samuel 10.

John Piper encouraged readers of his book When I Don’t Desire God to “wield the weapon of music in the fight for joy in God” because the Bible repeatedly commands us to sing and to play instruments (Exodus 15:21; 1 Chronicles 16:23; Psalm 33:2–3; 57:8; 81:2; 96:1; 150:1–6).

“Surely God has not created music as a pointless distraction from rational apprehensions of God,” Piper said. “Surely, this too is part of the creation that is ‘declaring the glory of God.’”

A Perfect Place for Joy

The genre of Christian music that has arguably used words the most influentially since the mid-90s has been hip-hop. And Christian hip-hop has often been significantly influenced by Reformed theology, especially Christian Hedonism.

Artists like Trip Lee, KB, Shai Linne, and S.O. have each waved the banner of satisfaction in Christ alone throughout their discographies. Jackie Hill-Perry, a Desiring God contributor, dedicated an entire album called The Art of Joy to the concept.

Outsiders may condemn hip-hop entirely because secular artists wave banners of misogyny, violence, and substance abuse. But hip-hop is a perfect place to proclaim our message of joy in God for his glory, for at least two reasons.


At its roots, hip-hop culture demands authenticity. Pioneering hip-hop emcee KRS-One once said, “It’s not about a salary. It’s all about reality.” Where better for us to declare the reality that our highest happiness is rooted in knowing the infinitely valuable Creator and Lord of the universe?

Authentic artists who truly believe “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” will organically express this satisfaction in their art. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). Artists will write and rap so that their joy in God may be complete (1 John 1:4).


An even more central characteristic of hip-hop is braggadocio. “The art of the brag has been integral to hip-hop since the very beginning,” top hip-hop website DJBooth said.

The art of the brag precedes hip-hop (by several thousand years). God told the prophet Jeremiah, “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24).

By definition, “boast” is synonymous with praise or glorify. God created humans to glorify him (Isaiah 43:7). Emcees who boast in talent, money, or women are doing what they were designed to do — only with a mistaken supreme love.

Trip Lee grasps this. The teaching pastor, rapper, and founder of a ministry named Built to Brag released a single in 2011 titled “Brag on My Lord,” which says,

We don’t wanna waste our time braggin’ on small pleasures, you know?
We wanna brag on the greatest treasure.

A Playlist of Pleasure in God

Below are some examples of Christ-exalting hip-hop found at Rapzilla’s playlist on Spotify. These songs pass a test given by Piper in When I Don’t Desire God:

“Is this joy [that music awakens in us] rooted in something good about God? Is it shaping my emotions into a Christ-exalting configuration? Is it stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort?”

“Give My All” by KB

KB began his 100 EP with a similar heartbeat to Paul in Acts 20:24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Funny how I don’t want the stuff people dream of,
Rich living in a beachfront, eased up with my ease up.
So what if they think you the man?
That don’t mean nothing in the kingdom.
So what I want y’all to remember me for?
If you forget my name, please remember my Jesus.

“My Portion” by Shai Linne

Since his debut album The Solus Christus Project, Shai Linne has been a champion of lyrical theology, “The study of God within the context of hip-hop.” Shai’s study of God took him to Psalm 73 on his song “My Portion.”

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire but you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, however,
The Lord is my portion forever.

“Stronger” by Json (feat. HillaryJane)

When Paul pleaded with God to remove the thorn in his flesh, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Json and HillaryJane capture what was likely an emotional Paul with raw deliveries on the 2 Corinthians 12-inspired “Stronger.”

We’ll boast in our shame, we’ll boast in our weakness.
When we’re dead and we’re done, the world should look only to Jesus.

“Satisfy” by S.O. (feat. Adenikè)

Shortly after Jesus fed the five thousand, he told his disciples, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). S.O. critiques people’s thirst for everything except Christ on “Satisfy,” for which Desiring God premiered the music video.

How it feel like chasing the wind homie?
Don’t we do it all the time?
We never chase God,
But think that the women or the money will forever satisfy.

“The Art of Joy” by Jackie Hill-Perry

“Satisfaction only happens to those who are glad in you.” That is the message of Piper’s signature book Desiring God, and it’s the message of the title track of an album which the book inspired, Hill-Perry’s The Art of Joy.

Brought me back to himself, now I’m living in reverse,
Seeing good gifts as a glimpse of the giver,
Not the gifts as a giver.
Merry Christmas if the vision works.

“Instruments of Mercy” by Beautiful Eulogy (feat. Hello Abigail)

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul said God appointed him a preacher, apostle, and teacher for the reason Rome imprisoned him: the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8–12). God uses Christians who suffer for the gospel, which invokes praise, as “Instruments of Mercy” beautifully articulates.

It’s the strumming and pressing of strings that momentarily stings.
But in the end, it ultimately brings us to a place that causes hearts to sing.

“Lose (Jim Elliot)” by God’s Servant

Missionary Jim Elliot reasoned that his life was not too valuable to risk for the sake of spreading the gospel when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” These powerful words inspired an anthem by God’s Servant, who listeners will be able to tell is a pastor.

Ride with Jim Elliot, yeah, ‘cause Christ is all that our lives are for.
If we got to lose our lives, so be it, ‘cause Christ is our soul’s reward.

“Certified Gold” by Eshon Burgundy

David was as wealthy as anyone would aspire to be, yet he wrote in Psalm 19:9–10, “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold.” Like David, Eshon Burgundy declares that “the One that’s risen” is more valuable than riches.

I feel like we spend time prayin’ for more distractions,
Things that keep us from the glory of the main attraction.

“Amen” by Reconcile

Reconcile declares his allegiance to the Lord and proceeds to explain why on “Amen,” an open letter reminiscent of Ephesians 2. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4–5).

Courtrooms, probation, got kicked up out the home.
I wanted to change, couldn’t change on my own.
But you took my sin, I should’ve died all alone.
That night I cried, till all them tears was gone.
Grace brought us this far, grace gon’ bring us home.
Jesus I love you, you all I’m living for.

“Tell the World” by Lecrae (feat. Mali Music)

Fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ left John joyful, but he needed to tell others about it so his “joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). Lecrae and Mali Music vow to “Tell the World” how God graciously saved and changed them.

I was so dead, I couldn’t hear you,
Too deep in sin to come near you.
But you drew me in, you cleaned me up.
So take me home, beam me up.
Before you do, just let me tell the truth,
And let these folks know that I done seen your love.

“The Daily Gospel” by Timothy Brindle

When Paul said, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,” he was writing to Christians (Romans 1:15). Celebration of the gospel does not cease after you become a Christian, and Timothy Brindle explains why it’s the Christian’s source of joy daily.

And when I see my beautiful Savior who suffered
For all of the numerous ways I have blundered,
I’m then moved to be truly gracious to others
And exhibit the Spirit’s fruit of patience to brothers.
But most of all, the gospel brings me close to my Father,
So in the warmth of his love I can soak like a sauna.
So now I want to obey him and show him my honor,
Not to earn his love, but as a chosen responder.

“Take Me There” by Trip Lee (feat. Jimmy Needham)

Paul saw death as gain because death meant fellowship with Jesus, which he said is “far better” than life on earth (Philippians 1:21–23). Trip Lee and Jimmy Needham also long for a better country on “Take Me There.”

Hey, I ain’t know about you, but I can’t wait till the day
When I’ll be with my Lord and everything is okay.
And I’ll be just like him, so my sin ain’t in the way.
Baskin’ in his glory, that’s where I wanna stay.

The Missing Link Between Bible and Prayer

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 1:00pm

The Christian discipline of Bible meditation is the most important, underrated, and misunderstood of all the ways of receiving God’s word.

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