Bell Creek Community Church

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

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He Sealed His Fate with a Song: The Most Famous Psalm in Scripture

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 8:02pm

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)

He almost sealed his fate that Sunday. Riding in on the humble steed (Matthew 21:7; Zechariah 9:9), he had stirred up the whole city with messianic hopes (Matthew 21:10–11). Then Monday he cleansed the temple, and refused to rebuke the children’s hosannas (Matthew 21:15–16). Now there was no turning back, and he confirmed it with his words on Tuesday.

With each passing hour, Jesus drew nearer to the lion’s jaws. In just three days, he would be shamed and humiliated, tortured and executed — each step toward Calvary met with increasing friction. Yet, on the inside, he was singing.

As he walked that harrowing road, he was rehearsing the Psalms and living out the ancient Script with every act of faith. On Tuesday, he drew the Psalm from its blessed scabbard, stumping the brightest minds of his day and silencing the loudest mouths. Now, their only recourse would be to kill him.

David Called Him ‘Lord’

When John the Baptist came from the wilderness, Psalm 110 was among the greatest riddles in Scripture, and yet it became the single most quoted Old Testament chapter in the New. It all began here on the Tuesday before Jesus died, when Jesus himself planted his foot on ground so holy and high that no one else dared trod there.

That Tuesday was intense. He captured their attention with a donkey and a whip, and then fed them a full day of teaching, showing the Jerusalem elites what the Galileans had seen: one who spoke with authority (Matthew 7:29; Mark 1:22). He didn’t sidestep the inevitable conflict with the powers, but strode back into their den and held his ground. When they questioned his authority, he answered with three parables (Matthew 21:28–22:14). Baffled as they were, he made it plain enough he directed his riddles against them. Having endured their challenges with patience, he then turned the tables with Psalm 110.

At last, he asked, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” As expected, they answered, “The son of David” (Matthew 22:42). Then Psalm 110 and the zinger: “If then David calls [the Christ] Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:45). How could the younger be greater than the older? Unless . . . but the dialogue was done. “No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46).

At God’s Right Hand

Jesus would not leave Psalm 110 behind on Tuesday. He would unsheathe its revelation again as he stood trial late Thursday night before the high priest. He remained silent at the parade of false witnesses (Matthew 26:59–63). Finally, the high priest erupted, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus then willingly sealed his fate, combining Psalm 110 with the prophecy of Daniel 7:13:

“You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.” (Matthew 26:64–65)

Off he went to be condemned, scourged, and crucified, with Psalm 110 fresh in his mind. On the other side of the grave, his apostles would follow their pioneer and unleash David’s greatest oracle. Peter preached Psalm 110 at Pentecost (Acts 2:33–36), and before the high priest (Acts 5:31). Stephen’s last words echoed Psalm 110 (Acts 7:55–56). Paul stepped onto that same holy ground (Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1). And what do we say of Hebrews, which has Psalm 110 at its very heart, and referenced eight times?

The great riddle of David’s prophecy gave way to one of the new covenant’s great revelations. We might even summarize the message of the New Testament like this: Psalm 110 has come true. Jesus is not only of David’s line but also his Lord, now seated at the Father’s right hand. But before the great oracle fed the faith of the church, these words nourished the faith of Jesus himself.

Nine Great Promises

What did Christ hear as he rehearsed Psalm 110 during the week of his passion? How did David’s great oracle give hope to David’s greater son?

Jesus would have tasted at least nine promises of his Father’s provision in these seven short verses. The first is implicit: “until I make your enemies your footstool” (Psalm 110:1). God will do it; he will see to the victory. Then eight explicit promises follow, seen in the eight repetitions of will (in our English). How would these faith-feeding pledges have landed on Jesus as he stared down death and listened again and again to the Psalm?

  • Verse 1: I will both defeat your enemies and put them under your feet, for your everlasting joy.
  • Verse 3: I will work in your people’s hearts to follow you gladly, not begrudgingly.
  • Verse 3: I will refresh you continually, not leave you languishing.
  • Verse 4: I am God and will not change my mind.
  • Verse 5: I will defeat leaders who oppose you.
  • Verse 6: I will repay unbelievers who threaten you.
  • Verse 6: I will destroy those who mean harm against you.
  • Verse 7: I will give you all you need to endure.
  • Verse 7: I will preserve you in what is coming upon you.
His Father’s Right Hand

As Jesus sings verse 1, he remembers who he is to his Father: his right-hand man. How emboldening to walk into that holy week knowing himself more than “son of David,” and even more than “lord of David.” He pursues Calvary’s arduous path knowing something greater still: he is the Son of his Father, who will welcome him to his right hand.

What is the deepest meaning of Jesus being at his Father’s right hand? This: the very power of God Almighty is for him. With unassailable sovereign muscle, the Father will execute perfect justice, in his perfect timing, for every uncovered detractor of his Son — all the way to the top, to “shatter kings” and “shatter chiefs” (Psalm 110:5–6). Weak and vulnerable as this Lamb may look before his shearers, he has been sent by his Father, with a mighty scepter in his hand, to rule, even from the cross, in the midst of his enemies (Psalm 110:2).

Here, during the greatest week in the history of the world, the Son knows himself not only destined for his Father’s right hand, but he acts, by faith, as his Father’s right hand. He serves as the ultimate human instrument through which God channels his power to remake the world.

Is There Any Place for Fear in the Christian Life?

Sun, 04/14/2019 - 9:02pm

Fear does not govern the Christian life. But we have a skewed view of the Christian life if we exclude fear.

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He Loved the Children to Death: The Unassailable Strength of Weakness

Sun, 04/14/2019 - 8:01pm

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)

It was the children they couldn’t bear.

They had tolerated the palm branches and the crowd’s acclamations. They held their tongues as the money-changers dragged their tables from the temple. They barely endured the city’s blind and lame coming to him in the outer courts. But when the chief priests and the scribes heard the high-pitched hosannas echo through Jerusalem, “they were indignant” (Matthew 21:15).

Indignant — a dignified word for what the King James Version renders more vividly as sore displeased. The kingdom belonged to children such as these (Matthew 19:13–14), but Israel’s elites couldn’t stand their songs to the King.

So, like old men shouting in the middle of an orchestra, they asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these are saying?” (Matthew 21:16). They might have expected his response by now. For the fourth time in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4), Jesus asks the Bible scholars if they’ve read their Bibles:

Yes; have you never read,
     “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
           you have prepared praise”? (Matthew 21:16; Psalm 8:2)

Too Old for the Kingdom

Have you never read? The priests and scribes had done more than read Psalm 8. They had copied it, memorized it, taught it. But for all their familiarity, they were acting like the word psalm was a foreign language. What had they missed?

Psalm 8, unlike most of the psalms Jesus quotes, is a song with nearly no shadows. David takes us back before the conquest, the exodus, and the flood, back even through the cherubim’s fiery sword, into the lost land of Eden. Here is a world without darkness, where the glory of God sits high above the heavens (Psalm 8:1), rests like a crown upon his people (Psalm 8:5), and follows his image-bearers wherever they go (Psalm 8:1, 9). Men and women, mere dust motes on the cosmic scale, nevertheless walk as royalty (Psalm 8:3–6), taking God’s majestic name from Eden to the ends of the earth (Psalm 8:6–9).

Like Eden, however, the garden of Psalm 8 is not without its serpents. Foes, enemies, and avengers lurk behind the bushes (Psalm 8:2), at war with God’s name and God’s people. In response, God sends against them his finest troops, a battalion that has subdued more armies than David’s mighty men: children. “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes” (Psalm 8:2).

Who are these children who wage war with their mouths? Not literal newborns, most likely, but rather humans as God made them to be: limited, needy, and filled with praise. Although mere babes in the world’s eyes, they defeat devils and rebels with a song: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). These are the children God uses to conquer the world.

Somehow, the chief priests and scribes looked up to the same heavens and saw no glory worth singing about. And even now, as the heavenly glory stood before them as human, they refused to add their hosannas to the children’s song. Hardened into self-sufficient, respectable adulthood, they had grown too old for the kingdom.

Let the Children Come

What is it about children that makes them God’s soldiers of choice? Psalm 8 has already given us some clues. The God who fashions galaxies with his fingers needs no assistance from the world’s mighty ones (Psalm 8:3). He delights, rather, in those who find their strength in his strength, and leave self-sufficiency to the devil.

The Gospel of Matthew, however, adds new notes to David’s psalm. Children, literal and figurative, are some of Jesus’s favorites in the Gospels. They are the models of true greatness (Matthew 18:1–4). They are on intimate terms with the Father (Matthew 11:25). To them belongs the kingdom (Matthew 19:13–14).

Perhaps the clearest window into Jesus’s affinity for children comes in Matthew 11:25–26:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.

Children, unlike the worldly wise, cannot claim to have found the kingdom through discernment, power, or influence, for they have none. Their only hope is in the Lord of heaven and earth, who is pleased to make a name for himself in the world’s most unlikely characters, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

Jesus did not come to curry favor with the proud ones of the earth, asking if maybe they might consider joining his kingdom. He came to confound them. He came to shame them. And he came to gather all the weak and wounded, all the poor and needy, all the helpless and destitute — anyone willing to repent of self-importance and, with the children, sing, “Hosanna! Save me.”

Praise Will Conquer the World

Holy Week, then, is an invitation to join Jerusalem’s children, and stand in awe of how God wields weakness for glory.

Holy Week itself is the climax of a story of weakness slaying strength. As an infant, Jesus confounded the king and escaped the serpent’s mouth (Matthew 2:13–18). In his ministry, Jesus mingled with the blind, the lame, the deaf, the leprous, the dirty (Matthew 8:16–17). And when his hour finally came, he gave himself to the foe, the enemy, and the avenger, and “was crucified in weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:4).

If the rulers of the world knew what they were doing, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). Through weakness, Jesus dragged worldly strength down from its throne. He pierced the dragon through with its own fangs. He took the sin that damns us and drowned it in his blood. And then, when weakness seemed to bury him, he rose up in the power of an indestructible life.

This is how God saves us, and this is how we go forth to conquer the world. Not with a sword in our hands, but with a song in our mouths, inviting everyone to lay down every mirror of self-worth, every mantra of “I am enough,” every filtered image of strength and beauty, and to join the kingdom of children as we worship Christ the King.

He Wept as They Welcomed Him: The Hope and Sorrow of Palm Sunday

Sat, 04/13/2019 - 8:02pm

Save us, we pray, O Lord! . . . Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Psalm 118:25–26)

When Jesus approached Jerusalem on what history remembers as Palm Sunday, he wept over her. To a casual observer, it might have seemed like Jesus wept at strange times.

He recently had wept at Lazarus’s tomb, only to call him out of it moments later (John 11:35–44). Now the enthusiastic crowds who had heard of this great miracle (John 12:17–18) were escorting him royally into the city of David, crying the words of Psalm 118:25–26: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13). All Jews would have understood these words as a messianic salutation — and Jesus responded with a tearful lament.

Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you. . . . And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:42–44)

This is a response worth pausing to ponder — what a psalmist might call a selah moment. The great King wept over the city of the great King just before his “triumphal entry” through her gates, to the prophesied rejoicing of many (Luke 19:41; Zechariah 9:9).

Rejected Stone, the Lord’s Doing

Psalm 118 was much in the Savior’s ears and eyes as Holy Week began — that consummate week when all that the temple and sacrificial systems foreshadowed (Hebrews 10:1) would be fulfilled in a single, great, once-for-all sacrifice conducted by the great high priest himself (Hebrews 4:14; 9:26).

Jesus heard the psalm in the “Hosanna!” shouts of the crowds. And he saw the psalm in the murderous machinations of the Jewish leaders: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22–23). This is what broke the heart of Jesus as he rode the donkey’s foal toward Jerusalem amid the waving palms. And it was marvelous.

It was marvelous that Jerusalem, “the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48:2), did not recognize when the Joy of her joy arrived after her long centuries of waiting.

It was marvelous that the sovereign King of kings (1 Timothy 6:15), the Son and Lord of David (Matthew 22:44–45), who ordained from ages past that the builders would reject their cornerstone, felt profound grief over their blindness and rejection, and deeply wished they had known all he was doing to make peace (Luke 19:42).

It was marvelous that the Jewish Messiah had come to answer the “Hosanna!” cries and make peace not only for the Jewish people, but also for the Gentile peoples of the earth — a mystery “kept secret for long ages” (Romans 16:25) that would soon be proclaimed to the Gentiles by a Jewish Pharisee (Ephesians 3:1–6) who, if present as Jesus entered the city, would have zealously hated everything the procession implied.

And all this was “the Lord’s doing” (Psalm 118:23). Yes, for the Lord had said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).

Oh, for the things that made for peace!

The Day the Lord Had Made

The marvel is not only that the builders rejected the cornerstone, but that the Blessed One had come to become a curse for all of us who would later call him blessed (Galatians 3:13).

The great psalm celebrates, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” (Psalm 118:27). Who on that day of the King’s great arrival would have imagined that this King had come to be the Sacrifice of sacrifices, and that the Roman cross to which he would be bound would become the most sacred altar ever constructed?

No one but King Jesus. This was why he had come, and why his soul was so troubled in the midst of the rejoicing crowd (John 12:27).

But the crowd’s rejoicing was the right response. Indeed, the psalm called for it: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). What deeply troubled the great Deliverer was a work set before him that would atone for the sin of myriad millions of sinners (Ephesians 1:7).

This was the day that the Lord had made, a day of rejoicing and gladness for sinners. But a day of weeping for the Lord. For oh, the things that made for peace!

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

But Jesus’s grief was not hopeless. No, he knew his weeping was only for the night, and joy would come with the morning (Psalm 30:5). He knew it was the will of his Father to crush him and put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). He also knew that after he had made the supreme offering for sin, after he had borne the iniquities of many that they might be accounted righteous, after the anguish of his soul was past, he would see his redeemed spiritual offspring and know supreme satisfaction (Isaiah 53:10–11). Even through his tears, Jesus looked to the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2) and set his face toward what lay ahead in Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

This was the resolve of fathomless love — a love stronger than death and fiercer than the grave — the very flame of the Lord (Song of Solomon 8:6). It was a love so good, so steadfast, so enduring, so high, so broad, so long, so deep that it requires the very strength of God even to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18–19). It was the way God so loved the world (John 3:16), a world that had rejected him (Psalm 118:22). It was love that went to unimaginable extremes to accomplish the things that made for peace — for us.

Therefore, in honor of such a King, we join with that ancient crowd in rejoicing in the day that the Lord has made, lifting our hands, as if holding festal palms, and declaring,

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! . . . You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:26, 28–29)

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18: Will There Be a Rapture?

Sat, 04/13/2019 - 11:02am

The Bible speaks of deep suffering in the last days. Does it also promise that God will spare believers from it through the rapture?

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Does Grace Still Amaze You?

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 8:02pm

Years ago, I spoke at a large event where the vocalist sang one of my favorite songs, “Amazing Grace.” But I was taken aback when I heard the first line: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a soul like me.” The word soul was substituted for the word wretch. Why? Because the word wretch is considered by some to be demeaning to human beings.

I couldn’t help but think of John Newton, the writer of the song. He was an immoral slave trader and blasphemer — a man who knew he was a wretch and who had wept over the depth of his sins. Only because he understood that fact so profoundly could he then understand why God’s grace to him was so utterly amazing. And hence the immortal song he bequeathed to all of us.

Grace doesn’t minimize or ignore the awful reality of our sin. Grace emphasizes the depths of sin by virtue of the unthinkable price paid to redeem us from it. Paul said if men were good enough, “then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). If we don’t come to grips with the hideous reality of our own sin, God’s grace won’t ever seem amazing.

His Call to Sinners

God’s word tells us that Christ died for utterly unworthy people (Romans 5:7–8). The fact that he died for us is never given in Scripture as a proof of our value as wonderful people. Rather, it is a demonstration of his unfathomable and unearned love. So unfathomable that he would die for rotten people, wretches like you and me, to free us from our sin.

Because grace is so incomprehensible to us, we instinctively smuggle in conditions so we won’t look so bad and God’s offer won’t seem so counterintuitive. By the time we’re done qualifying the gospel, we’re no longer unworthy and powerless. We’re no longer wretches. And grace is no longer grace.

The worst thing we can teach people is that they’re good without Jesus. The truth is, God doesn’t offer grace to good people, any more than doctors offer lifesaving surgery to healthy people. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).

Our Lord also said, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment” (Revelation 21:6). Without cost to us, but at unimaginable cost to himself — a cost that will be visible for eternity as we behold his nail-scarred hands and feet (John 20:24–29). Bonhoeffer was right: grace is free, but it is not cheap.

Life-Changing Grace

You and I weren’t merely sick in our sins; we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). That means I’m not just unworthy of salvation; I’m utterly incapable of earning it. Corpses can’t raise themselves from the grave. What a relief to realize that my salvation is completely the result of God’s grace. It cannot be earned by good works.

True grace recognizes and deals with sin in the most radical and painful way: Christ’s redemption. There’s only one requirement for enjoying God’s grace: being broken and knowing it. That’s why Jesus said, “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” (Matthew 5:3, GNT)

Our justification by faith in Christ satisfies the demands of God’s holiness by exchanging our sins for Christ’s righteousness (Romans 3:21–26). When Jesus saves us, we become new creatures in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Now we can draw upon God’s power to overcome evil. We start seeing sin for what it really is: bondage, not freedom.

The old summary is correct: God’s children have been saved from the penalty of sin, we are being saved from the power of sin, and we will be saved from the presence of sin. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are all grounded solidly in exactly the same place: God’s grace.

God’s Grace Hunts Sin

The grace of Jesus isn’t an add-on or makeover that enhances our lives. It causes a radical transformation — from being sin-enslaved to being righteousness-liberated. Paul writes of the life-transforming and sin-overcoming power of grace: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11–12).

Don’t ever tell yourself you may as well go ahead and sin since God will forgive you. This cheapens grace. Grace that trivializes sin is not true grace. Paul makes that clear: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1–2).

John Piper says, “Grace is not simply leniency when we have sinned. Grace is the enabling gift of God not to sin. Grace is power, not just pardon.” So while God forgives when we sincerely confess (1 John 1:9), we prove that sincerity by taking necessary steps to avoid temptation. As Jesus said, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (Matthew 7:16, NLT).

No sin is small that crucified Christ. Sin matters, yet grace has power over sin, offering not only forgiveness but also transformed character (Galatians 5:22–23). Every sin pales in comparison to God’s grace to us in Christ (Romans 5:20–21).

Proclaiming God’s Offer of Grace

There is one sense in which God’s grace is unconditional — we don’t deserve it. Yet in his kindness he offers it to us. But in another sense it is conditional, in that in order to receive it we must repent, ask forgiveness, and place our faith in him. This is a paradox — an apparent (but not actual) contradiction. If we see God as the one who does the work of convicting us and drawing us to repentance, this helps. We did not merit salvation.

But even if we fail to understand this paradox of conditional and unconditional grace, I think God calls upon us to believe it and live in it. Sinclair Ferguson says, “The spiritual life is lived between two polarities: our sin and God’s grace. The discovery of the former brings us to seek the latter; the work of the latter illuminates the depths of the former and causes us to seek yet more grace.”

When we’re acutely aware of our own sins, we’ll proclaim and exemplify God’s “good news of happiness” (Isaiah 52:7). We’ll do so not with a spirit of superiority but with the contagious excitement of a sinner saved by grace — one person rescued from starvation sharing bountiful food and drink with others. We’ll face each day and each person we see with humility, knowing that we too still desperately need God’s grace — every bit as much as those we’re offering it to.

How to Engage Lost Loved Ones

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 8:01am

Tell them earnestly. Tell them compassionately. Tell them prayerfully. Tell them that Jesus Christ died for sinners and is coming back.

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How Does God Answer Today’s Skeptics?

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 9:02pm

Many of today’s skeptics ask questions that God himself has already addressed. Sometimes, we just need to hear how God responds to his critics.

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The Psalms Must Be Fulfilled: The Son’s Script and Strength for Holy Week

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 8:02pm

This is the first meditation in our 2019 Holy Week series. Each day from Palm Sunday to Easter, we will reflect on a psalm Jesus rehearsed on the way to the cross and resurrection.

As Holy Week comes, we can listen to the soul of Jesus as he silently sings the Psalms. Jesus quoted the Psalms more than any other Old Testament book:

He offered the true bread as better than the God-given manna of Psalm 78:24 (John 6:31).

He interpreted the children’s hosannas as an echo of Psalm 8:2 (Matthew 21:16).

He announced with Psalm 118:26 that the day would come when all Israel would see him in final triumph and say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39).

He saw in himself the marvel of a rejected stone becoming the head of the corner from Psalm 118:22–23 (Matthew 21:42).

He absorbed the hatred of his enemies with the words of Psalm 35:19 (John 15:25).

He embraced the tragic role of Judas with Psalm 41:9 (John 13:18).

He deflected the charge of blasphemy with Psalm 82:6 (John 10:34).

He stunned the high priest by claiming a seat at God’s right hand from Psalm 110:1 (Matthew 26:64).

His cry of forsakenness on the cross burst from Psalm 22:1 (Matthew 27:46).

With his last breath, he commended his spirit to God with Psalm 31:5 (Luke 23:46).

When Jesus quoted the Psalms, he was never looking down at a manuscript. You can’t hold a manuscript when your hands are bound in court, or nailed to a cross. He knew them. Many of them, no doubt, by heart.

In other words, Jesus not only fulfilled the Psalms; he was full of the Psalms. He not only said, “Everything written about me in . . . the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44); he also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Psalms were his food. And he was their fulfillment.

His Script and Strength

For Jesus, the Psalms were the very word of God. He said that David wrote his psalms “in the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12:36). This is why they “must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). This is why, after quoting Psalm 82:6, he said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). This is why they were his food, and he was their fulfillment.

All of Scripture — but especially the Psalms — was the script and the strength of Jesus’s life. Jesus was truly God and truly man. As true God, he was omnipotent and needed nothing. As true man, he was frail and needed strength. He needed the food of Scripture to have the strength to fulfill Scripture. In this way, he became for us an example of living by faith.

Christ . . . suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21–23)

In his perfect manhood, Jesus was not self-sufficient. He looked to his Father for all that he needed in order to do the Father’s will. He knew that he must die. And he knew that without the sustaining power of his Father, the weakness of his human flesh would fail in the hour of trial. So, he prayed.

Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

Not that he was saved from the event of death, but he was saved from the faith-destroying curse of death. Death came, but it did not defeat.

Hear What His Soul Sings

The strength to conquer unbelief, as Jesus died, came through the sure word of God — especially the Psalms. He did not get his power from bread. He got it from “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” He trusted his Father’s promises. And followed his Father’s plan.

The plan was scripted in the Psalms. And the strength was given through the Psalms. They were his faith-sustaining food so that he could be their Father-obeying fulfillment. So, the example he left us was how to live by faith in future grace — the future grace promised to him in the Psalms. Not because he needed grace, but because he needed the help which for us is all grace.

Jesus had no sin (1 Peter 2:22). When his Father heard his prayers, he was worthy to be heard. Jesus did not plead the blood of Jesus in order to be heard. But he did pray for help. And he did trust his Father’s promises, and provision, and power. This is how he becomes our example in suffering.

The sustaining food of the Psalms and the infallible script of the Psalms brought Jesus to Holy Week — and to the cross. So, I invite you again: Come, listen to the soul of Jesus as he silently sings the Psalms in his final days. Tune your heart to the Psalms with the sound of Jesus’s faith.

Two Verses Held Me Through Suffering

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 11:03am

She put her world on hold for my sake.

Four years ago, when I suddenly found myself in the hospital for ten scary and torturous days, my wife Luella never left my side. It wasn’t just that she was there during normal visiting hours to talk with doctors and to greet the visitors whom I was unable to greet. She slept next to me in an uncomfortable recliner every night.

When the spasms returned, the pain intensified, or the nurse awakened me for medication, Luella was with me. In the morning when I awoke to face a day I really didn’t want to face, Luella was right there with me. When tears came, she was there to comfort. When I got discouraged, she was quick to encourage.

She said many encouraging things to me in that hospital room in my moments of physical and spiritual suffering, but there were five words she repeated to me over and over again that I needed to hear most: “Paul, your Lord is near.”

More Than Words

I have thought many times since then that Luella’s faithful, attentive presence in the darkest of days and the weakest of moments is a beautiful picture of the faithful presence of another. God is the ultimate present one. He has invaded our life by his grace. He is with us, for us, and in us.

The hope we have is more than a theological system or some wisdom principles for everyday life. Our hope rests on the willing, faithful, powerful, and loving presence of God with us. It is the ultimate gift of gifts to everyone who walks the harsh and bumpy road between birth and eternity. God has given us no sweeter, more beautiful gift than the gift of himself. He is the gift that changes everything.

Our hope is not found in understanding why God brings hardship into our lives. Our hope is not found in the belief that somehow we will tough our way through. Our hope is not found in doctors, lawyers, pastors, family, or friends. Our hope is not found in our resilience or ingenuity. Our hope is not found in ideas or things. Though we may look to all those for temporary help, ultimately our hope rests in the faithful and gracious presence of the Lord with us.

Two Verses to Memorize Again

I’m certain that you have memorized these two verses countless times, but I want to direct your attention to them again. These two amazing promises about God’s presence provide true, lasting, and sturdy hope when things you have hoped in lie beaten, battered, and broken into pieces.

“Behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

It is important to note that Jesus spoke these words to his disciples while they were being commissioned to give their lives as agents of his great redemptive mission. Jesus ended his commission with these words because he knew the world he was sending his disciples into, and he knew what they would face.

He knew that their way would be difficult and their job uncomfortable. He knew that they would face constant opposition, misunderstanding, accusation, and rejection. He knew that they would be chased and imprisoned, persecuted, and beaten, and that many of them would give their lives for his cause.

But he would not let them suffer alone. He would not let them suffer in their own strength. He would not leave them to their own political standing. He would not let them rely on their own wisdom. He would give these loyal suffering ones the best assurance ever — that he would always be with them. He would not think of sending them into the cruelty of this fallen world without going with them. He knew what they were facing, and he would give them what they needed — and, more than anything else, what they needed was him.

“I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

This promise is given numerous times in Scripture. Every time one of God’s children or the whole community of God’s children faced something hard, new, difficult, or overwhelming, God greeted them with this promise. He never called them to a task, sent them to a destination, or led them into difficulty, and then abandoned them. No matter how hard the situation or inadequate their response, God was with them and for them. The declaration that he would never leave them is a significant reminder and protection for everyone who suffers.

Not a Distant Lord

In an indescribable act of unmerited grace, God has made you the place where he lives, and in the faithfulness of that grace he will never walk away from you.

In all the emotional and spiritual ups and downs, on the good days and the bad days, when you fight or succumb, one thing is for sure: Your Lord is with you, and there is no struggle without or war within that will ever drive him away from his children. And his presence guarantees that in your suffering you will have everything you need.

Below is a meditation in the form of verse that I wrote to encourage my soul when my Lord led me into unexpected and hard places. I pray that the truths of the gospel will stimulate a worship, rest, and celebration in you that the difficulties of life, this side of eternity, will not have the power to end.

You are not a distant Lord,
a detached Master
moving the pawns
on the board
in an impersonal act
of winning.
Your lordship
does not separate
me from you
as a serf
would be separated
from a king. No, you accomplished
your sovereign plan
by invading my
dark and messy world
in the person
of your Son,
giving yourself
in radical grace
to people
who saw no value
in your nearness.
You are Master,
but you are
Emmanuel.
You are Lord,
but you are
Father.
You are King,
but you are
Friend.
You are Sovereign,
but you are
Shepherd.
Your rule is not from
afar.
No, your rule brings you
near.
I have hope today
because you are not
distant.
And I celebrate
the amazing
rest and strength
to be found in the reality that
your sovereignty
has brought you
near.

He Died a Thousand Times — and Lived: Adoniram Judson (1788–1850)

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 8:02pm

The story of Adoniram Judson’s losses is almost overwhelming. Just when you think the last one was the worst, and he could endure no more, another comes. In fact, it would be overwhelming if we could not see it all from God’s long historical view. The seed that died a thousand times has given life in Myanmar (formerly Burma) to an extraordinary movement to Christ.

When Adoniram Judson entered Burma in July 1813, it was a hostile and utterly unreached place. William Carey had told Judson in India a few months earlier not to go there. Today it probably would have been considered a closed country — with anarchic despotism, fierce war with Siam, enemy raids, constant rebellion, and no religious toleration. All the previous missionaries had died or left.

But Judson went there with his 23-year-old wife of seventeen months. He was 24 years old, and he worked there for 38 years until his death at age 61, with one trip home to New England after 33 years. The price he paid was immense. He was a seed that fell into the ground and died again and again.

An Unusual Proposal

Judson entered Andover Seminary in Newton, Massachusetts, in October 1808, and on December 2 made solemn dedication of himself to God. The fire was burning for missions at Andover. On June 28, 1810, Judson and others presented themselves for missionary service in the East. He met Ann Hasseltine that same day and fell in love. After knowing Ann for one month, he declared his intention to become a suitor and wrote to her father the following letter:

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair? (To the Golden Shore, 83)

Her father, amazingly, said she could make up her own mind. Adoniram and Ann were married on February 5, 1812, and sailed for India fourteen days later with two other couples and two single men divided among two ships, in case one went down. After a brief time in India, Adoniram and Ann chose to take the risks of venturing to a new field. They arrived in Rangoon, Burma, on July 13, 1813.

A Long and Painful Harvest

In Burma, there began a lifelong battle in 108-degree heat with cholera, malaria, dysentery, and unknown that would take not only Ann but a second wife, seven of his thirteen children, and colleague after colleague in death.

Through all the struggles with sickness and interruptions, Judson labored to learn the language, translate the Bible, and do evangelism on the streets. Six years after he and Ann arrived, they baptized their first convert, Maung Nau. The sowing was long and hard, the reaping even harder, for years. But in 1831, nineteen years after their arrival, there was a new spirit in the land. Judson wrote:

The spirit of inquiry . . . is spreading everywhere, through the whole length and breadth of the land.” [We have distributed] nearly 10,000 tracts, giving to none but those who ask. I presume there have been 6000 applications at the house. Some come two or three months’ journey, from the borders of Siam and China — “Sir, we hear that there is an eternal hell. We are afraid of it. Do give us a writing that will tell us how to escape it.” Others, from the frontiers of Kathay, 100 miles north of Ava — “Sir, we have seen a writing that tells about an eternal God. Are you the man that gives away such writings? If so, pray give us one, for we want to know the truth before we die.” Others, from the interior of the country, where the name of Jesus Christ is a little known — “Are you Jesus Christ’s man? Give us a writing that tells us about Jesus Christ.” (To the Golden Shore, 398–99)

But there had been an enormous price to pay between the first convert in 1819 and this outpouring of God’s power in 1831.

Imprisoned and Alone

In 1823, Adoniram and Ann moved from Rangoon to Ava, the capital, about three hundred miles inland and further up the Irrawaddy River. It was risky to be that near the despotic emperor. In May of the next year, a British fleet arrived in Rangoon and bombarded the harbor. All Westerners were immediately viewed as spies, and Adoniram was dragged from his home. On June 8, 1824, he was put in prison. His feet were fettered, and at night a long horizontal bamboo pole was lowered and passed between the fettered legs and hoisted up until only the shoulder and heads of the prisoners rested on the ground.

Ann was pregnant, but she walked the two miles daily to the palace to plead that Judson was not a spy and that they should have mercy. On November 4, 1825, Judson was suddenly released. The government needed him as a translator in negotiations with Britain. The long ordeal was over — seventeen months in prison and on the brink of death, with his wife sacrificing herself and her baby to care for him as she could. Ann’s health was broken. Eleven months later, on October 24, 1826, she died. And six months after that, their daughter died.

“I Find Him Not”

The psychological effect of these losses was devastating. Self-doubt overtook his mind, and he wondered if he had become a missionary for ambition and fame, not humility and self-denying love. He began to read Catholic mystics like Madame Guyon, Fenelon, and Thomas à Kempis who led him into solitary asceticism and various forms of self-mortification. He dropped his Old Testament translation work, the love of his life, and retreated more and more from people and from “anything that might conceivably support pride or promote his pleasure” (To the Golden Shore, 387).

He had a grave dug beside his hut and sat beside it contemplating the stages of the body’s dissolution. He retreated for forty days alone into the tiger-infested jungle and wrote in one letter that he felt utter spiritual desolation. “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not” (To the Golden Shore, 391).

His brother Elnathan died May 8, 1829, at the age of 35. Paradoxically, this proved the turning point of Judson’s recovery, because he had reason to believe that the brother that he had left in unbelief seventeen years earlier had died in faith. All through the year of 1830, Adoniram was climbing out of his darkness.

A Finished Bible and a New Wife

Central to Judson’s missionary labors from the beginning, and especially at this juncture in his life, was the translation of the Bible. In these years of spiritual recovery, without a wife and children, he confined himself to a small room built for the purpose of being able to devote almost all his energy to refining the New Testament translation and pressing on with the Old Testament. At the end of 1832, three thousand copies of the completed New Testament were printed. He finished the Old Testament on January 31, 1834.

With the first draft of the Bible in Burmese complete, it seems as though God smiled on these labors with the favor of a new wife. Three years earlier, another missionary in Burma named George Boardman had died. His widow, Sarah, stayed in Burma and became a legend in her own right, pressing into the interior with her baby, George. In February 1834, Judson received a letter from Sarah. On April 1, he left Moulmein for Tavoy, resolved to court her. On April 10, they were married.

These were to be some of his happiest times in Burma, but not without pain, and not to last much more than a decade. After bearing eight children in eleven years, Sarah became so ill that the family decided to travel to America in the hopes that the sea air would work healing. Judson had not been to America now for 33 years and was returning only for the sake of his wife. As they rounded the tip of Africa in September 1845, Sarah died. The ship dropped anchor at St. Helena Island long enough to dig a grave and bury a wife and mother and then sail on.

This time, Adoniram did not descend into the depths of depression as before. He had his children. But even more, his sufferings had disengaged him from hoping for too much in this world. He was learning how to “hate his life” in this world without bitterness or depression (John 12:25). And now, he had one passion: to return and give his life for Burma.

Few Die So Hard

Judson’s stay in the States did not go according to plan. To everyone’s amazement, he fell in love a third time, this time with Emily Chubbuck, and married her on June 2, 1846. She was 29; he was 57. She was a famous writer and left her fame and writing career to go with Judson to Burma. They arrived in November 1846. And God gave them four of the happiest years that either of them had ever known.

Adoniram and Emily had one child. Things looked bright, but then the old sicknesses attacked Adoniram one last time. The only hope was to send the desperately ill Judson on a voyage. On April 3, 1850, they carried Adoniram onto The Aristide Marie bound for the Isle of France with one friend, Thomas Ranney, to care for him. In his misery, he would be roused from time to time by terrible pain ending in vomiting. One of his last sentences was, “How few there are who . . . who die so hard!” (To the Golden Shore, 504).

At 4:15 on Friday afternoon, April 12, 1850, Adoniram Judson died at sea, away from all his family and the Burmese church. That evening the ship hove to. “The crew assembled quietly. The larboard port was opened. There were no prayers. . . . The captain gave the order. The coffin slid through the port into the night” (To the Golden Shore, 505).

Ten days later, Emily gave birth to their second child, who died at birth. She learned four months later that her husband was dead. She returned to New England that next January and died of tuberculosis three years later at the age of 37.

The Fruit of This Dead Seed

Judson’s life was a grain of wheat that fell into the soil of Myanmar and died — again and again (John 12:24). The suffering was immense. And so was the fruit. At the turn from the second to the third millennium, Patrick Johnstone estimated the Myanmar (Burma’s new name) Baptist Convention to be 3,700 congregations with 617,781 members and 1,900,000 affiliates — the fruit of this dead seed.

Of course, there were others besides Judson — hundreds of others over time. They too came and gave away their lives. Many of them died much younger than Judson. They only serve to make the point. The astonishing fruit in Myanmar today has grown in the soil of the suffering and death of many missionaries, especially Adoniram Judson.

A Task Too Big for One: The Third Person in Evangelism

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 11:02am

I came to the Quran study prepared, though not without some trepidation. One of the members of the group had invited me to his home on the outskirts of our Central Asian town. We had met the previous week at a park, where I had given him a copy of the Scriptures. That’s when he told me about his men’s group that gathered one night a week to discuss Islam. Having heard me talk about Jesus, he wondered if I’d be willing to do the same for his friends. “Could you come,” he asked, “and explain to us the message of the New Testament?” I readily agreed.

Almost instantly, however, I began to question my willing response. If this man or his group wanted to do this foreigner harm, it would be all too easy in an isolated location at night. So, in the days that followed his invitation, my mind scurried after all the reasons why I shouldn’t go. I rehearsed my inadequacies. I questioned my language ability. I thought of my wife and kids.

Ultimately, though, I was convinced that I couldn’t turn down such a unique opportunity, so I did the only thing I could do: I asked for help. First, of course, from God. But then I asked a few brothers in Christ to come with me.

Evangelism with a Third Person

Sometimes when confronting our evangelistic responsibility, our spoken or unspoken response is, How am I supposed to do that? I’m not gifted for evangelism. I don’t know all the answers. What if something goes wrong?

Behind those apparently self-effacing lines may lie genuine fear — something akin to what I experienced that night — but they may reveal a hidden assumption of self-sufficient individualism. In order to be a good evangelist, we assume, one must be adequate in and of oneself. You must be bold yet relatable. You need to be an accessible theologian, personable though persuasive. You’re supposed to be both studied apologist and winsome communicator. Yet who among us fits that category? No one.

No one individual is sufficient to match our calling. Like Moses, each of us has legitimate cause for doubting our abilities as a spokesperson for God. But in our insufficiency, God reminds us of his power and presence with us — and he gives us helpers. We’re not left alone to accomplish this task. We’re members of Christ’s body, and I believe we need to rediscover the value of doing evangelism in this God-supplied community.

Some of my fondest memories from Central Asia were my gospel conversations with Muslims. If possible, I would always arrange for a time to meet when Dave, a Canadian brother, could come along. Dave was more welcoming and friendlier than me, while I was more comfortable leading a discussion in the local language. As I spoke, Dave was constantly praying and engaging. Invariably, a moment would come in our conversation about Christianity when I’d be stumped. I’d lack a good answer. Or I’d forget a verse. At that moment, without fail, Dave would step in. He’d have just the words, timely and true. For me, the joy of seeing the Spirit use us as a team was thrilling.

We, Not I

Given our creaturely interdependence, it shouldn’t be surprising that the New Testament regularly portrays witnesses going out in groups. Jesus set the pattern by sending out his first followers two by two (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). In the early chapters of Acts, we find Peter and John praying and preaching together (Acts 3–4). At Antioch, the Spirit set apart Saul and Barnabas for a collaborative mission (Acts 13:2). Priscilla and Aquila, wife and husband, worked in tandem to disciple Apollos (Acts 18:26). Early evangelists also ministered in larger groups. The apostles bore witness together at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4) and regularly at the temple (Acts 5:12–21). Later, when Peter was summoned to preach to Cornelius, he brought along some brothers (Acts 10:23). Paul also, like his Master, gathered disciples around him and traveled with them. He constantly ministered and preached in community (Acts 16:10–13; 19:9).

This evangelistic method offers built-in accountability, prayer, assurance, and guidance. Many times, when meeting individually with an unbeliever, I’ve felt the need to speak the gospel only to shy away from doing so. But when meeting non-Christians alongside a brother or sister in Christ, I usually feel more encouraged and compelled to speak.

Not only that, but I believe our witness is more persuasive when we evangelize alongside a third person. When done in community — by more than one individual believer — evangelism can expand beyond what “I believe” and “I think.” From my perspective, this was particularly important living as a minority and outsider in a Muslim nation. By working together, either with my wife and kids or other church members, our collective witness lovingly conveyed what we believed, what we experienced, what we shared in Christ. A consistent message from multiple voices is harder to ignore, especially when it comes from a community of joy, fellowship, and conviction.

Evangelism for the Third Person

But there’s another benefit to conceiving of evangelism carried out in community, especially when we’re talking with more than one person. I like to think of this as doing evangelism for the third person.

Here again the Bible gives us examples. When Peter and company visited Cornelius, they preached the gospel to a group of relatives and friends (Acts 10:24). When Paul and Silas spoke with the Philippian jailer, they gathered his whole household to hear the good news (Acts 16:32). In Scripture, we regularly find evangelists meeting in homes, synagogues, at a river’s edge, in community halls, and the marketplace — often in community.

More than once, I’ve experienced the unexpected blessing of meeting with someone who was interested in the gospel, only to have the other person in the room respond positively. On different occasions, we’d meet with an individual who had questions about Christianity. As the discussion continued, it became clear that their questions were more like accusations. But since we tried to do evangelism in community — either hosting friends or gathering groups at a café — there were usually other people in the room. And sometimes we would later learn that, even though silent, they were the ones most drawn to Christ.

Not only that, but when we do evangelism in our homes, we do so with our children. They listen as well. They observe their parents’ faith made real as we reason with others about the gospel. And in that process, they can be shaped by a second-hand gospel as the third person in the room. In fact, sometimes I wonder if one reason some children grow up and walk away from the faith is because they’ve never heard their parents speak the gospel to anyone else.

Another Person at the Table

So, whenever you consider an opportunity for evangelism, don’t merely think of it as a one-on-one conversation. Personal evangelism doesn’t have to be individualistic. You don’t have to wait for that perfect moment when you’re alone with a non-Christian. You don’t need to muster up the strength or courage to do it all by yourself. Instead, do evangelism with a third person in mind.

When you’re invited by non-Christians to a party — maybe a place you’d hesitate to go alone — take a friend in Christ. When you have unchurched neighbors over for a meal, invite others from church to come as well. When you set out to communicate the gospel to whomever, don’t just focus on your target audience. Think about inviting and including others. Be conscious of the other person at the table. Think about your listening children. Remember to bring along brothers and sisters, the gifts God has given, and experience the mutual encouragement that comes by doing evangelism in community.

Are You Trading Away Your Soul?

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 8:01am

Bigger bank accounts and the newest gadgets will always try to lure our hearts from storing our treasure where it matters most.

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How Do Christians Survive in Middle-Class America?

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 9:00pm

“Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are full now. Woe to you who laugh.” What do Jesus’s woes mean for mean for middle-class Americans?

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Love the Sinner — by Hating His Sin

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 8:01pm

If you stood as a German soldier that day overlooking Normandy beach, you might have blinked several times. Amidst the bloodiest of invasions, when bullets reportedly flew in such volume as to actually create wind, one weaponless, heavyset man, limped up and down the beach striking his fellow soldiers with his cane. He hit the men repeatedly, yelled frantically, and pointed feverishly. What was he doing?

Saving their lives.

After horribly spraining his ankle upon arrival, the self-reportedly out of shape Captain Finke hobbled to shore to find many of his soldiers taking cover in a death trap. Petrified, they took shelter behind whatever they could find — in this case, tall planks the size of telephone poles with explosive devices secured to the top of them. As men fell beside him, as his men crouched before him, he stood up and struck his men, individual by individual, commanding them to press on to a bank several hundred yards away.

But why did he hit them? If he yelled without using the cane, “each man could pretend that he was talking to someone else. But if he hit a man personally with the cane, there would then be no ambiguity — get moving or else” (The Dead and Those About to Die, 83). So, he struck them — wack, wack, wack — and yelled, “Come on! Get up! Go on!” Some did not move — they were already dead. But the living, having been generally called and personally admonished, snapped out of it and went on to better cover. Captain Finke’s vigilance saved many lives that day.

Safe Spaces for Sin

If Captain Finke was needed at Normandy, how much more might we need his kind today in our pulpits, pews, and accountability groups? We need more men and women who do not fear making someone uncomfortable in order to protect their soul.

Of course, this does not justify becoming brash, graceless, and harsh. But we also want to avoid creating safe spaces for sin in our fellowship where the cane of specificity is outlawed, even when used to get one another to safety. God, save us from nurturing spaces where we never address individuals, call all standards “legalistic,” secretly coddle our own iniquity, and think wrongly about humility. Consider these four dangers in turn.

1. Never Single Anyone Out

I know by experience — by witnessing it, receiving it, and doing it — that we can lighten our correction by letting the person know that we are, of course, all sinners. Our vocabulary during hard conversations abandons the second-person singular, choosing the much safer first-person plural. We need to stop indulging in pornography. We need to read the Bible more. We need to not live harshly with our wives. And so we must, as Captain Finke’s soldiers needed to press on to greater cover.

At first glance, only talking about our sin in group phraseology can seem loving — because it can be. Context is crucial. Seldom is it appropriate to call out a brother publicly, by name, in big group settings (Galatians 2:11–13). The point is not to give the overzealous among us license to strike his brother carelessly, but to chafe at Christian circles — especially accountability groups — where sharp tools are never allowed, even for surgery. Love, at times, will express itself simply, baldly, directly: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:5–7). “Get up, press on, keep going!”

I can still remember my shock when a brother, having taken me aside, looked me in the eye and said, “Brother, your negligence of God’s word is not okay. You need to be looking to Christ. How can I help you pursue him with greater discipline this week?” He did not soften it by confessing how undisciplined he had been that week. He did not join me as I crouched by my pole: he called me onward towards Christ (Hebrews 12:1–2). And he offered to help get me there. He wounded me with the loving cane of reproof, reminded me of gospel grace, and offered to help me along the way. I need such men in my life. We all do.

2. Call All Standards ‘Legalistic’

I have been around Christians who appear to believe that they are too gospel-centered to rebuke, correct, or say a hard word to another believer. All standards are law and legalism, an offense to our atmosphere of grace. We need to woo the sinner from sin with understanding and love, not create divisions with strong words and specific accountability.

Such a person may have forgotten what is at stake:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:12–14)

Regular exhortation is necessary because sin is deceitful and drags us from the living God. It is no coincidence that the man who seeks his sinful desires isolates himself (Proverbs 18:1) — he does not want to hear such exhortations or be held to any standards. Do not aid and abet the enemy, flesh, and the world by calling essential Christian disciplines and specific exhortations “legalism.” Rather, grow beyond what John Piper calls “the adolescent stage that thinks good habits are legalism.” As long as each day is still called “today,” it is a day to exhort and be exhorted to faith, repentance, love, and good works.

3. Secretly Coddle Your Own Sin

I know that I have shielded myself from specificity because I knew innately the principle Jesus taught: the measure we use to judge others will be applied to us (Luke 6:38). We know not to throw boomerangs we do not wish to return.

I did not want high standards placed on my behavior, so I rendered low standards. I have coddled others’ sin because I secretly wanted others to coddle mine. This is a sick form of doing unto others as you would have them do for you.

To speak frankly and challengingly requires courage that stems from a hatred of one’s own sins first. We deal with specks and logs in our eyes to ready us to speak lovingly and non-hypocritically to the logs and specks in our brothers’. And we welcome it when they return the favor.

4. Think Wrongly About Humility

Humility does not shrink back from calling sin sin; pride does. A love for one’s own reputation, not a love for another brother’s soul, keeps us from “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). We learn a different way from three of the humblest men in Scripture: John the Baptist, Moses, and Jesus.

John the Baptist, a man born with the Spirit, who spoke of not being worthy to untie Jesus’s sandal, spoke confrontationally of others’ sin. The same man who said that Jesus must increase (and he must decrease) would publicly call out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7–8).

Moses, the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), constantly called the people to repentance over their grumbling and stubbornness. “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). After the golden calf incident, he even burned the gold down to make the people drink their treachery (Exodus 32:20).

Finally, Jesus, the man of humility who cracked a whip in the temple, named names, and wasn’t afraid to call his own disciple “Satan” when Peter set his mind on the things of man (Mark 8:33). Humility loves others enough to make them uncomfortable when needed.

Love the Sinner by Hating His Sin

Do we no longer cherish the wounds of a friend? Have we, putting our identity on the shifting sand of our performance, become too brittle for correction? Do we coddle the evils our Lord gave his life to purge from our hearts and lives? “Whoever hates reproof will die” (Proverbs 15:10); he despises himself (Proverbs 15:31–32) and leads himself and others astray (Proverbs 10:17).

We love the sinner by hating his sin. We hate our own sin, first and foremost, and we take others’ sin seriously because we take their eternal good seriously. We do not wound to cause harm. We wound as the Almighty does: to bind up and heal (Job 5:17–18).

So, with earnest prayer and careful discernment, we patiently and lovingly address individuals, build good habits together, invite others to hate our sin, and think rightfully about humility. We confront each other as we are tempted to crouch behind our telephone poles and call each other onwards towards greater shores.

What Should a Pastor’s Wife Be Like?

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 11:02am

You might be surprised to know that your pastor’s wife is much like you. She is not a celebrity or a super-Christian, but like you, she desires to be a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means her God-given priority is to minister to her husband and the children God has given her. That is a big job, as all the other women in the church understand. Like them, she is called to build her house (Proverbs 14:1) and to provide a joyful oasis for her family. Hers is not the special calling of the pastor’s wife, but of all Christian wives.

I never aspired to be “a pastor’s wife,” but I most certainly did desire to be Doug’s wife. When we got married, I didn’t know exactly where he was going, but I knew that I wanted to go too. So later, when he was called to be a pastor, it was obvious that I was called to be a pastor’s wife. At that time, I was fairly clear on my wifely duties, but as to what my being a pastor’s wife might entail, I had little clue. But that was four decades ago.

What Should She Be?

Just like every vintage of wine is unique to its own particular region, climate, altitude, and soil, so every church community has a unique personality and history. And there’s no getting around the fact that the pastor has a big impact on the flavor of the congregation. The goal is for the church to have the aroma of Christ (Ephesians 5:2), to smell and taste like the Glad News of the gospel (Psalm 34:8).

The pastor’s wife and children will undoubtedly contribute (for good or ill) to his overall impact on the church. Our kids grew up having a high view of their dad’s calling, and they also knew that they were his central qualification for the ministry. If they were wild and disobedient, he would not be fit to be a pastor. How could he lead a congregation if he couldn’t even lead his own children (1 Timothy 3:4–5; Titus 1:6)? This made them feel especially central in his life and calling. They were not brushed aside while he was doing “important” things. They knew that they were his primary “important” things. And now that they are adults, they still enjoy this station.

So too, the pastor’s wife knows that the health of their marriage is another central aspect to his qualification for leadership. I know that if I am not doing well, my husband is handicapped. This is not a trivial thing, but a godly pressure to walk faithfully. Paul lays out qualifications for wives of church officers (1 Timothy 3:11), and I believe the commands to older women in Titus 2:3–5, though applying to all older women, most certainly apply to the minister’s wife, no matter what her age.

Though the pastor’s wife shares the same wifely duties as all the married women in her congregation (see Ephesians 5:22–24, 33; Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1–6), her ministry to her husband is of course connected to his particular calling as a minister. A wife is called to be her husband’s helper (Genesis 2:18), so his particular calling will require particular help.

Helper in the Mission

What kind of special help does he need? His wife has a close-up view, so she can pray specifically for his responsibilities, temptations, and challenges. Sometimes she may be called in to help him with pastoral counseling. She knows these duties are privileges that come with being his co-laborer and co-soldier (Philippians 2:25). Much of this service will be behind the scenes, but some of it will be visible to the congregation.

The minister’s wife is not a church officer, but rather, as a congregant, she desires to serve the church as a faithful member, alongside the other women in the church. This means she wants to participate in, but not necessarily organize the church’s social events. She rejoices to see other women using their gifts and skills to build up the body because this is the sign of a healthy church body.

The pastor’s wife is not a conduit for the congregation to send messages, suggestions, or criticisms to the pastor. He is her husband, but he is also her pastor. She benefits from his teaching and preaching like the other members of the congregation. She is not responsible for the decisions her husband or the board of elders makes. So, when someone in the congregation objects to a decision and tells the pastor’s wife, she will point them in the right direction to register their opinion. In other words, she is not the complaint box.

Treat Her Like a Sister

I remember thinking that being my husband’s co-laborer was definitely more appealing to me than being his co-soldier. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in the line of fire. But a minister’s wife can’t opt out of what God calls her to do. Trusting him and following him is never guaranteed to be easy or comfortable, but he has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. I think as the pastor’s wife, I have had tremendous advantages. He is available to me for counsel, for teaching, for hundreds of questions over the years. He is my pastor as well as the congregation’s, and I benefit the most from his ministry. What a joy and blessing that has been!

The minister’s wife does not require your sympathy for the hardships that come with her calling. Every calling comes with hardships. She serves the Lord gladly at her post, and even in trials, she rejoices that God has called her to serve the church alongside her husband. But she does need and appreciate your prayers and your support. She enjoys friendships in the congregation that are centered on Christ and not centered on her position or her husband’s position. She doesn’t want the congregation to hold her at arm’s length or be intimidated by her. She wants to enjoy the fellowship and communion we have in Christ. The minister’s wife, it turns out, is your sister in Christ, striving to be fruitful and faithful in him, just as you are.

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18: When Will the Dead Be Raised?

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 9:02am

The most spectacular event in history is coming: the earthly coronation of the King, the rising of the dead, the climax of all human history.

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What If Tears Don’t Come? How to Weep with Those Who Weep

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 8:02pm

God commands us to cry.

It’s not my favorite command either. Yet, while God’s command in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep” is quite clear, many of us aren’t very good at it. We struggle because grief makes us uncomfortable. Or we feel we shouldn’t grieve if God is sovereign. Or we worry that weeping with others will encourage them to stay mired in bitterness. Or we simply don’t have the first clue how to enter someone else’s emotional world. Or all of the above.

If you can relate, I have good news. The simple truth that we are image-bearers of the God who enters our pain makes a huge difference in heeding God’s call to enter others’ suffering. Let me unpack why.

God Grieves

We begin by reflecting on what God has done for us. The incarnation of Christ is a glorious mystery — God himself came into our world, our experience, our very flesh. He chose to be a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, not just in body but in spirit (John 11:32–36). He was tempted in every way as we are. He knew the valley of the shadow of death, the Father turning his face away.

In short, in love for us, he entered into the depths of our experience.

This entering and identifying with us did not end at his death or resurrection though. In fact, because of the presence of his Spirit in us, he is now more connected to us than ever, even to the point of seeing attacks against us as attacks against himself (Acts 9:1–5). How strange that Jesus not only rejoices with our triumphs of faith but weeps with us in our weaknesses and wounds!

Love’s first step in entering others’ sorrows is simply to appreciate the breathtaking choice Christ made to enter ours.

Enter Another’s World

I find, however, that even when we see this, we still often stumble because we are more anxious to fix people than to love them. An old ministry proverb, which I greatly appreciate, says that people “don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care,” or that you have to “build the bridge of relationship before you drive across the truck of truth.” While this wisely identifies our need to demonstrate tenderness and genuine compassion before expecting people to listen to our counsel, it misses that showing someone you care or building a relational bridge is not merely preparation for the “good stuff” that will come when you finally unload truth on them.

Entering, caring, and showing compassion already are the good stuff. Coming alongside hurting people to simply sit with them in their pain is the good stuff. Entering another person’s world is a form of ministry, even before you’ve said a word.

Is This Hard for You?

But what if I find all this convincing, yet when the rubber hits the road, I find myself unable to weep with those who weep?

First, Romans 12:15 isn’t written to a subset of Christians who are good at empathy. It’s written to all of us. This means we can all confidently expect our Lord to answer our pleas for growth in this area. His help is not limited to the touchy-feely people in our congregations. So ask him boldly for help.

Second, you can’t spend too much time thinking about specific ways Christ has done this for you. He knows everything about you — in which tender, raw, fragile, uncomfortable places has he loved you? Remember, he does not hold you at arm’s length because of your hurts, but rather, they arouse his personal, specific compassion and affection for you.

Third, practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. By this I do not mean looking at someone’s situation and saying, “I’d never have myself in this mess. You made your bed, so forgive me if I tell you to lie in it.” Instead, try asking yourself, “What if I saw this as completely overwhelming and devastating to my major hopes in life?” While you might deal with a strained relationship, a fender bender, or a significant upcoming surgery with equanimity, others may experience these things as a catastrophe.

Part of compassion is sympathizing with others even when you see their crisis as a minor inconvenience or have a ready solution to their problems. After all, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus in love for his friend, and for Mary and Martha, even though he was about to raise him from the dead and “fix” the problem in the next ten minutes. Solving people’s problems is not wrong, but compassion first enters their world, rather than dragging them into yours.

Does Compassion Overwhelm You?

Sometimes our problem is not that the problems of others seem too petty, but that they are too overwhelming to us. What then?

First, being overwhelmed and undone by the sufferings of another person or group is not necessarily bad. Ezra was shocked and horrified by the sin of the people after God brought them back from exile. Jeremiah was devastated by both the faithlessness and the destruction of his countrymen. David, Job, and Jacob sat in ashes and mourning when they heard news that loved ones had been slain. It’s okay to be flattened by a broken world.

Second, however, a warning: it’s really easy to step into the place of the Messiah without realizing it. Far too often a good desire to care for others drives us to functionally usurp Christ’s role as Keeper and Savior. We can feel as if others’ fates rest in our hands — that they stand or fall based on our help. As a result, the most common reason we get overwhelmed by others’ problems is that we are trying to own their responsibilities and burdens as our own.

While we may be right to care deeply about their predicament — spiritual, physical, emotional, relational — we are free to leave their lives in God’s hands. Our call is simply to love them faithfully, acknowledging where life is painful and broken, grieving losses with those we love, and letting the process leave us all the hungrier for a coming day of unfiltered righteousness and healing.

Weep with God

Just as we are commanded to weep with God’s people, so we are commanded to weep with him. God gives us grief in order that we may share his heart for his people, his kingdom, and his glory. To worship him is to ever increasingly delight in what he delights in and also to grieve over what grieves him. So be encouraged; even your most uncomfortable emotions — and those of the ones you love — are your chance to walk more closely with the Shepherd of your soul.

The Golden Stitches of Sovereignty: What Holds Our Gospel Together

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 11:01am

The death of Jesus Christ was no mere product of coincidences. God planned every detail to ensure the salvation of his people. John Piper preached this message at The Gospel Coalition 2019 National Conference.

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What Is the Sovereignty of God?

Sun, 04/07/2019 - 9:02pm

God’s sovereignty over all creation is one of the grandest themes in the Bible. Pastor John overviews some of the basics.

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