Bell Creek Community Church

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

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The Glory of God and Why We Sing

Sat, 07/27/2019 - 8:01pm

The greatness of God’s glory invites a response that moves his people beyond mere words. And so we sing. John Piper preached this sermon at the Sing! Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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Job 19:11–42:12: The Lord Gives and Takes Away

Sat, 07/27/2019 - 10:47am

Though God may take away, he has made a promise — and sealed it with his Son’s blood — that he will give back more.

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Grow, Learn, and Let Go: How Parenting Exposes Our Need for Faith

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 8:02pm

Whether we’re making meals, changing diapers, or shuttling kids to baseball practice, parents are doers. Always in protective mode, we apply sunscreen and Band-Aids as needed, and when we hit a wall with a need we can’t meet ourselves, we consult with the experts.

Long before parents could ransack Google or WebMD for medical advice, the distraught dad of Mark 9 wore his son’s need day and night — until the day he carried it in hope to Jesus. With disappointment written plainly on his face, he stepped out of the crowd and met Jesus’s level gaze. One arm protectively encircled his son’s shoulders, but any family resemblance was obscured by the son’s disfiguring burn scars, patchy hair, and missing eyebrows. Love and anguish constricted the man’s voice as he explained his dilemma to Jesus.

I went to your disciples, but they couldn’t help. A demon has stolen my son’s voice, and he throws the boy to the ground, into the water and into the fire. Please. If you can help us. . . . (see Mark 9:17–18, 22)

Before he could finish the story and fully convey his frustration and need, his boy hit the ground right there before Jesus’s compassionate eyes.

Mark alone of the four Gospel writers records the father’s anxious response to Jesus’s certainty that “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23): “I believe,” he says. “Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). With an eye to portraying Christ’s humanity and emotional responses, Mark departed from his usual spare, just-the-facts-ma’am narrative style to document a father’s expression of faith diluted by doubt but emboldened by desperation. In his outburst, we hear the lingering horror of near drownings, the blurted exhaustion of continual vigilance.

What Jesus Can Do

Parenting does that. Like nothing else in my following life, mothering has taken me to the edge of what I know for sure about God and how to follow him well. Parenting has continually exposed my need for stronger faith. Even in the comparatively tame experience of raising four healthy sons, plagued only by passing afflictions and the odd eternal flu season, I have found myself pushed to the chasm between belief and unbelief on a fairly regular basis. Do I believe Jesus can rescue my children? Do I trust him to work redemptively in their hearts?

I want to.

Like this New Testament dad, I have made the mistake of taking my children for healing and help to places where the offers sounded good, but the outcome was disappointing. I have listened to the parenting experts, read the books, crowdsourced with my mum friends, and talked long into the night with my husband about the needs of our kids. With Jesus fully present in every room, I have sought him out as a last resort — or failed to bring him into the problem at all.

With parental desperation on full display, the Mark 9 dad’s slippage toward despair was halted by the discovery that Jesus could do for his son what no one else could do. We follow his lead when we do what is ours to do while also making room in our parenting practices for Jesus to put on display his power and his love for our children. What does that look like in practice?

1. Emphasize relationship over rules.

Since “the springs of life” flow from the heart, internal motivation for obedience is key (Proverbs 4:23). We begin the process by taking our parenting emphasis off behavior and focusing instead on relationship. Certainly, we want our children to get along with others, obey house rules, and be kind to their siblings, but unless their good behavior flows from a desire to please God and to live in right relationship with him, we’re just producing a generation of rule-followers.

This mindset requires a marathon mentality, for we’re not simply in the business of extinguishing annoying or inconvenient behaviors. Instead, the goal is to model a strong foundation of spiritual disciplines (prayer, Scripture reading, service, giving, worship) that our children embrace as part of a growing relationship with God. The sooner we can duck out of the position as middleman in our children’s spiritual growth, the better.

2. Do the ambassadorial work.

The parenting journey is a mission with the goal of connecting our children with Jesus. Paul Tripp refers to parenting as “ambassadorial work from beginning to end. . . . [P]arenting is not first about what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children” (Parenting, 14). And so, we do our best work when we intentionally seize every opportunity to turn their thoughts (and our own) toward him.

Kristen Welch, founder of Mercy House Global, has resisted a parenting narrative with the goal of “happy children,” instead inspiring her family toward compassionate concern for others. In Raising World Changers in a Changing World, she reminds parents, “We were created to be satisfied by God, not this world, so all our searching for happiness will only lead us to unhappiness” (127). As we seize the opportunities to reinforce this truth, opportunities that inevitably come along with life’s disappointments, we strengthen our children’s connection to Jesus as Provider, Guide, and Source of contentment.

God desires our children’s spiritual growth even more than we do. He is committed to the ongoing work of salvation and sanctification, for “he who began a good work in you [and your children!] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Oswald Chambers warns believers about becoming an “amateur providence” for others, swooping in as if we can do the work of God in their lives. This is a real and present temptation for loving parents, but when we rush in to meet every need and solve every problem, we may be short-circuiting the work God wants to do and getting in the Spirit’s way.

3. View discipleship as a daily habit.

Jesus becomes central to even the most mundane aspects of life when parents cultivate a Deuteronomy 6 family culture. Shelly Wildman, author of First Ask Why, believes fiercely that “parents are and should be the primary influence in the lives of their children” (21). Like the Wildman family, we also have a family history of devotions and Bible stories at mealtime. Shared traditions and memories are sturdy knots to strengthen family ties and to reinforce a sense of belonging.

However, discipleship that sticks around the dining room table and never finds its way out into the great wide world of practical application is not in keeping with the principles of Deuteronomy 6:4–9, which describe an all-day-long discipleship — a sitting, walking, rising, and lying-down learning that takes unique forms in every family.

If our goal is to develop a resilient faith, everything we do must point our children toward a meaningful and lively relationship with Christ. In doing so, we help them to fulfill their ultimate purpose: to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We communicate this in the way we get out of bed in the morning, the way we sit in traffic, and even in the way we disagree with one another.

Bringing our children to Jesus includes offering our living and breathing selves as a “holy and acceptable” offering to God (Romans 12:1). Tish Harrison Warren calls this a Liturgy of the Ordinary, for although the way we “spend our days looks very similar to our unbelieving neighbors” (29), with peanut butter sandwiches constructed at kitchen counters and piano practice after dinner, the massive difference is a mindset in which believers live with “eyes open to God’s presence in this ordinary day” (36). We treat our bodies with respect because they are a gift from God. We make our bed, eat leftovers, and hunt for our lost keys in hope because we believe God is present in all our routines and run-of-the-mill moments.

Pray Your Way Through Parenting

When the crowd in Mark 9 had dispersed and Jesus had a private moment with his disciples, they eagerly quizzed him about their failed attempt at exorcism. After all, they had been commissioned and given authority over “unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7), and three of them were fresh off the heady experience of having witnessed Jesus’s transfiguration.

Jesus’s response takes the focus off the disciples and their own personal power: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). Is it possible their failure was linked to the misconception that they could have made a difference on their own? In this aha moment, the disciples must have realized with awe that they could have brought the desperate father and his son directly to Jesus themselves through the power source of prayer. In the same vein, whether I’m on my last nerve with an argumentative teen or awake on my pillow with worries about an adult child’s job prospects, my right response as a parent is to hand my child over to Jesus — not as a last resort, but as a daily discipline, a well-beaten path.

In the wake of my own faithless failures, it is both redemptive and humbling to hear Jesus say, “There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen” (Mark 9:23 MSG). When we as fathers and mothers bring our children to Jesus, we acknowledge his role in the growing and the learning and the letting go of the parenting journey. He alone can deliver us from our feeble and failed efforts, and he is the power source who enables us to make our parenting vision a reality.

What Dulls Your Appetite for God?

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 8:02pm

What is the greatest threat to your soul? Whatever keeps you from God. And not every threat will be sin. In fact, for many of us, perhaps most of the greatest threats to our souls are not sin, but some good God himself has given to us.

John Piper offers a perceptive warning:

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. (A Hunger for God, 18)

Do you know what awakens your appetite for heaven? Do you know what dulls those same desires? We may think we know well what sin will reap, but we’re often far less aware of just how dangerous apple pie can be.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked,” the apostle Paul writes, “for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). The trouble is that we fool ourselves into thinking there’s some safe middle ground — that we can make excuses and put off sowing to the Spirit, while still denying the flesh. But we always sow to something, very often to ourselves. And what we sow slowly reveals, and shapes, what we love most in life.

The Excuses We Make

Jesus was once confronted by a group of men who had been sowing seeds in the wrong places, and for a long time. He tells them a story:

A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. (Luke 14:16–18)

The Pharisees loved being the protectors of God’s promises, the gatekeepers of his kingdom. They loved the law not because it humbled them before God, but because it gave them power over other people. They hated Jesus because he threatened that power. The Old Testament had been one long invitation to kiss the Son, but when he finally came, they tried to slaughter him with it. Having treasured the invitation for hundreds of years, they made excuses to skip the banquet — the kinds of excuses we’re still tempted to make today.

First Excuse: “I have too much to do.”

To make his point, Jesus briefly lists three excuses, but together they speak for thousands. He even says that the many invited guests “all alike began to make excuses” (Luke 14:18). The three are meant to be representative, to lead us deeper to the root under every excuse, especially our own. The first two overlap significantly:

The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” (Luke 14:18–19)

The first had a home to care for. The second was providing for his family. Lest we criticize them too quickly, they were (and are) basic human needs: food, water, and shelter. Leaving their field meant they and their loved ones might be homeless and go hungry.

Either way, when the banquet came, they were too busy. Business was calling. Too many house projects. Money had to be made and spent. Food needed to be on the table. Who else is going to inspect that field? Who’s going to inspect those oxen? In the story, the excuses seem ridiculous at first — until we think about them longer. The reality is that they hit dangerously close to home, to our own fields and stables. What feels so pressing to you, on any given day, that you’re willing to forgo the greater banquet set before you — to skip communing with God in his word and prayer?

No one on earth is too busy for this banquet, not even you. He is worth whatever we must not do to have him. So, “whether you eat or drink” — or own a home, or take a job, or secure your own livestock (or phone, or computer, or car) — “or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Wherever you work, “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Manage your household well (1 Timothy 3:5). Work and keep the land God has given you (Genesis 2:15). But do not build your home apart from God, or labor apart from walking with him. There are no good excuses for skipping this banquet.

Second Excuse: “I need to focus on my family.”

The second great excuse may be more sensitive for most. It was for me. “Another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’” (Luke 14:20). Some stood up the master because they were too preoccupied with marriage. The vows they had made before God now kept them from God. When the Bridegroom of heaven came at last to have his bride, they were unwilling to interrupt the marriage they were already enjoying. For better or worse, our spouse often has the most influence under heaven on our love for God.

Paul warns us about this temptation: “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32–34). The husband in Jesus’s parable, however, was no longer divided. He was all-in at home, and with no room in the inn for Christ. Did his marriage begin that way, or did the idolatry grow slowly, even imperceptibly, over time?

But doesn’t wisdom say, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22)? Yes, unless his wife keeps him from feasting with his Lord. The earthly distractions in marriage are real enough to keep some of us from Jesus entirely. Anyone who dares to marry should weigh the spiritual cost of matrimony. Mines are hiding in the marriage bed for those who are not ready for them.

The wife stands in here, of course, for any loved one who demands our time, attention, and affection. Husbands can be as spiritually dangerous as wives. So can mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers (Luke 14:26). In Christ, we learn to count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), but not more significant than God. We can only love others well in the end when we love them for his sake. If our spouse or kids or parents or friends consume our lives (consciously or unconsciously), they rob us of what we need to love them well: God. Don’t let love you enjoy below be an excuse to neglect love from above.

Real Excuse: “I prefer my life to the banquet.”

Jesus wasn’t really talking about fields, or oxen, or even spouses, but about anything that keeps us from picking up our cross and following him (Luke 14:27). We are prone to let the pleasures and burdens of daily life become excuses for putting off Christ and his commands. When the cost of discipleship rises, when the cross we bear weighs heavier and heavier, we are tempted to scramble for excuses not to come.

Because we can prefer the life we have to a truly crucified life with Christ, we risk forfeiting the abundant life to come. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). That word may have been the most piercing to the Pharisees. They loved the comfort, control, and celebrity they enjoyed before Jesus came and rocked their boat. They preferred the life they had to a life with Jesus in it, so they made their excuses. And Jesus says to anyone making excuses, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24).

How will we feel the real horror of those words if we do not long to feast with Christ? Satan’s lifelong work is to keep us from the table — distracting us with lesser, fading pleasures, busying us with anything and everything under the sun, belittling the finest, most mouthwatering banquet ever assembled. The word of God spoils all his treachery and whets our appetite for heaven:

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:7–9)

When that meal finally is served, every soul will want to have been invited. And they were, but many would not come. For wife, for work, for whatever reason, they traded the banquet for bread crumbs.

Scarcely Recognizable, Almost Incurable

Piper, still writing about the greatest enemy to our hunger for God, continues,

For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable. (18)

The most dangerous part of our excuses may lie in their subtlety. God gave the land. God gave the oxen. God gave the bride. Shouldn’t we steward what he has provided and placed under our care? Yes, but never at the cost of our enjoying him. Sin takes the gifts and responsibilities God has given to us, and makes them excuses for avoiding God — an idolatry that is scarcely recognizable, often very religious, and almost incurable.

Almost. The excuses we have made before become new opportunities to come. The Father sent his own Son not only to warn us about missing the banquet, but to buy our seat with his blood. If we are willing to die with him, overcoming our excuses and bearing our cross, he will bring us safely to the table. He will live in and through us by his Spirit, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14).

And best of all, God himself will be our inheritance, the richest course of the finest banquet we have ever tasted.

What Is God’s Glory?

Thu, 07/25/2019 - 8:00pm

We love to talk about it, but can we define it? God means for us not only to see his glory profusely, but to speak about it precisely.

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God Will Give You the Energy: Working Hard in Another’s Strength

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 8:02pm

Do you “manage” your energy? A growing chorus of experts have been pointing out the limits of managing our time and commending we pay more attention to managing our energy. According to Tony Schwartz, one of the leading voices for energy-management,

Between digital technology and rising complexity, there’s more information and more requests coming at us, faster and more relentlessly than ever. Unlike computers, however, human beings aren’t meant to operate continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re designed to move rhythmically between high and low electrical frequencies. Our hearts beat at varying intervals. Our lungs expand and contract depending on demand. It’s not sufficient to be good at inhaling. Indeed, the more deeply you exhale, the calmer and more capable you become. (Tony Schwartz, Manage Your Day-to-Day, 51)

I don’t know Schwartz’s religious commitments, but I appreciate the acknowledgment that we are “designed.” Yes, we truly are designed: finite creatures fearfully and wonderfully formed by the infinite Creator. Wisdom entails recognizing that we have limits, and locating them. And yet, as Schwartz continues, “Instead, we live linear lives, progressively burning down our energy reservoirs throughout the day. It’s the equivalent of withdrawing funds from a bank account without ever making a deposit. At some point, you go bankrupt.”

Supernatural Work

Schwartz’s observation may be insightful, but his solution is thin — and inadequate for those of us who not only acknowledge we’re designed, but claim to know our Designer: “The good news is that we can influence the way we manage our energy. By doing so skillfully, you can get more done in less time, at a higher level of quality, in a more sustainable way.” Many of us may have much to learn about better managing our energy in modern times, but as Christians we have much better and deeper good news to offer than influence, management, and greater productivity.

To begin with, we do not see our own energy as a closed system. We are not resigned to our energy ups and downs as entirely the product of natural forces, of cause and effect, of rest and recovery, of nourishment and exercise. The natural factors are important; we minimize and ignore them to our detriment, even peril. But as Christians, we are supernaturalists. We know that our world is not a closed system. Neither is our body. God can, and often does, intervene into the normal course of our lives. Jesus Christ upholds the universe, moment by moment, with his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17). And not only can he uphold, and replenish, our energy with his own, but it’s actually a repeated (and often overlooked) theme in the letters of Paul.

Fierce Work Ethic

The end of the first chapter of Colossians is where it most recently caught my attention. This is a well-worn passage for many of us in which Paul captures the heart of his ministry as an apostle — which, in this instance, is not distinct to his apostleship but shared by us all in some sense, especially pastors and elders:

Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28–29)

Paul had a fierce work ethic. No one in the Scripture talks more about work — and specifically hard work — than the apostle Paul. Maybe he would have acknowledged that he had some unusual wiring. Perhaps it was his life of singleness that freed him for extraordinary ministry output. He not only claimed “far greater labors” than his detractors (2 Corinthians 11:23), but compared himself to the other apostles, saying, “I worked harder than any of them” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Again and again, however, Paul puts his uncommon exertions of energy forward not as an exception to admire but as an example to follow — within the capacity God has given each, and with the understanding that every Christian can grow and expand our capacity for productive labor.

Christ Who Energizes

As he worked harder than anyone, Paul shared “the secret” of his remarkable energy and contentment “in any and every circumstance” (Philippians 4:12). In Colossians 1:29, he says that he labors “with all his energy that he powerfully works within me,” but Philippians 4:13 explains how: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” The him is “the Lord,” meaning Christ, from verse 10, which is why some translations make it plain: “through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul identifies Christ here as the particular person of the Godhead who gives him strength.

A quick turn to 1 Timothy 1:12 confirms that Paul indeed has Christ Jesus our Lord specifically in mind as the supplier of his strength: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord.” Similarly, Ephesians 6:10 confirms this connection of human strength provided supernaturally by Christ himself, the God-man — the particular person of the Godhead who Christians confess as “Lord”: “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Finally, 2 Timothy 2:1 makes the same connection between spiritual strength and Jesus as the source: “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Paul not only claims to be strengthened by divine power — infinitely precious as that is. Paul speaks with more specificity. He testifies to divine-human power, to having Jesus’s own energy — “all his energy” — worked in him, and done so “powerfully,” by Christ himself.

With His Own Energy

When God strengthens us as Christians — when he shatters unbelieving notions of a closed system, not only supplying energy for us through natural means but by supernatural grace — he does so specifically through our brother and fellow human, Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man. The King of kings and Lord of lords, seated in power as sovereign of the universe, is not only God but man. Humanity sits on heaven’s throne.

Jesus knows what it’s like to press up against the limits of our flesh and blood and the bounds of finitude in our created world. He knows what it’s like to have limited capacity, and limited time, and end the day with unfinished tasks. He knows what it’s like to be wearied physically (John 4:6) and what it’s like to need and carve out time for rest (Mark 6:31). He knows what it’s like to have work to accomplish (John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4). He had energy enough to work (almost) tirelessly, even on the Sabbath, when he encountered those in need (Luke 13:14–17; John 5:16–17; Mark 2:27–28). Through his works, his output of human energy, he not only bore witness to his Father (John 5:36; 9:3–5) and demonstrated whose he was (John 8:39–41; 10:25, 32) but also presented himself as the giver and focus of our faith (John 10:37–38; 14:10–11).

This same Jesus not only calls us his brothers but also fellow “laborers” (Matthew 9:37–38; Luke 10:7) and bids us to work with the energy we have for the good of others (Matthew 5:16). But he also does not leave us to our own energy. He doesn’t abandon us to what verve we can muster on our own, what we can produce merely through wise (and important) energy-management. He works in us — and does so powerfully, Paul says — to give us his own energy for the work to which he calls us.

Ask Him for Energy

As Christians, we will do well to learn to steward the energy God gives us naturally through diet, exercise, and rest. It would be irresponsible and foolish for us to treat lightly the God-created gifts of food and sleep, and presume that he will energize us apart from these natural means. But oh, how foolish it would be to ignore or neglect Jesus’s amazing offer: that he himself, the God-man, would work his own powerful energy in us.

How could we not make this a regular rhythm of our lives, to both faithfully steward and humbly acknowledge the limits of our own energy, and ask Jesus regularly to fill us with his own energy to fulfill the callings which he’s given us? Here, at last, we can lay down our weary sense of independence, and work hard in the strength he supplies.

‘Run Away and Never Return’: How Villains Leave the Deepest Scars

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 8:02pm

The most dangerous villains speak. That serves as an enduring apologetic to the power of words.

The worst villains are talkers. They do not grunt and mumble inarticulately as they knock down buildings — they watch, they plan, they wait, they smile. While uninspired renditions gut the Frankenstein’s monster of sophistication, Mary Shelley gave us a truly horrifying antagonist: A strong, intelligent, speaking creature, capable of both good and evil, love and hate. The screws-in the-neck, staggering moaner is a parody of true villainy.

Scar, in Disney’s beloved Lion King, is no parody of evil. He is an archetypal villain, not merely a wild brute. This made it hard to watch for me as a child. He unnerved me. No matter how I yelled at the screen, Mufasa and Simba couldn’t hear my warnings. I loved watching the Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, and Batman combat evil, but to watch someone get stabbed from behind hit a different nerve. The bewildered cry of “Et tu Brute?” cut its victim and its hearer.

The liar feasts on his prey’s mind and spirit. He aims at the soul, not just the body. Liars use their words to turn their prey’s own strength against them. They presume innocence in their craftiness: “Did God really say?” They shake their heads and smile as they say, “You will not surely die.” They lure (not push) their victim off the cliff: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.”

Scar, like humanity’s greatest adversary, does not overwhelm; he outwits. His whisper, not his bite, ruins souls.

Into Pride Valley

It was known by all on Pride Rock that Mufasa was king. He was the benevolent alpha of the pride: The just, the stern, the tender. As with the best rulers, his roar sounded the fiercest, and his laugh the heartiest. He was a king worthy of the name.

But not all welcomed his reign. Alone, one brooded in the shadows. Mufasa’s younger brother, Taka, received his nickname “Scar” after he was slashed over his eye during a failed attack on Mufasa’s life. In his failed coup, the legend of the lion mimics the true story of the dragon: “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9).

Years after the botched assassination, Lion King picks up with Scar, still second in line (and inexplicably the only other male lion on Pride Rock), biding his time, waiting in the cleft to be enthroned. His strategy changes, however, with the birth of Simba, the new heir to the throne. The scepter, never held, beckons Scar back to former plots.

But Scar is prudent. He does not go after Mufasa alone — or even Simba. He conspires with hyenas in his first attempt to kill the cub. He entices him, ever so nonchalantly, to wander into the elephant’s graveyard. He succeeds, but for Mufasa rescuing his son.

The next attempt on Simba’s life is the defining event of the movie. Scar and company lure Simba into the Pride Lands, incite a stampede of wildebeest, into which, Mufasa charges to again save his son. Mufasa rescues Simba, escaping up the cliff himself where Scar, watching all unfold at the top, sees his opportunity. Seeing Mufasa vulnerable, he exacts vengeance, digging his claws into his paws and throwing him down from the cliff. Simba finds his father below, dead.

Scar now has to improvise. What to do with Simba, the rightful heir?

Accuser of the Brethren

Having just flung his brother to his death, the murderer casts down Simba using his words. He accuses him. Simba was responsible for his father’s death. He claws at his identity: How can he be a fit son or ruler of the kingdom? He must banish himself and never return. He sends shame stampeding towards the young cub, concluding, “Run away Simba. . . . Run. Run away and never return.”

Does this sound familiar?

Satan’s name literally means “accuser.” He is the one who accuses believers day and night before God (Revelation 12:10). Like Scar, the evil one orchestrates many temptations, constantly attempting to lure us with false promises into the Pride Lands. Finding a friend in man’s nature, he suggests, waits, and watches — ready to accuse us the moment we fall.

Have you heard his voice recently? He stands at hand to condemn every failure and shame every sin. You did it again, I see. How can you really call yourself a child of the king? Run away and never return. Like Scar, Satan tells you lies to get you to banish yourself from the kingdom of heaven because he cannot forcibly remove you.

When Satan Tells the Truth

Satan does not always need to lie. He will force even the truth from his lips in order to damn us. And unlike Simba, we are guilty. Standing before the just Judge, the hellish prosecutor points at real sins and cries for our condemnation. What is our defense against his lies and truth? Jesus.

Our King, our Mufasa charged into the stampede, climbed up the rock for Scar to thrust him down, and endured our punishment from a Father who “crushed him.” His great act, in the Pride Lands of Golgotha, led to our right standing and life before God (Romans 5:18). Christ suffered once for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He exonerated us at the cost of his life because of his great love. And he did not stay motionless in the valley.

Scar hates this. If he lies to unbelievers that they are not sick at all, and therefore do not need a Savior, he tells believers that this sacrifice was not enough, that god will not forgive them, that their sin is too great, their failures too many, that they are not really children — that God frowns and holds his nose when they draw near.

Mufasa’s Song

Simba, like many of us who don’t hear the voice of truth as we once did, lived away from his kingdom, slurping worms and singing “Hakuna Matata.” His shame made him deny who he was. He lived like a warthog and meerkat.

If Satan cannot finally destroy us, if he cannot finally rob us of the life the Spirit has given or the grace God has bestowed, if he cannot unmake the new creation, or lay you to rest as a child of wrath, he means to banish you to live in the jungle away from God’s voice, away from your purpose. If you have authority to become a child of God (John 1:12), he means to shame you into not exercising it.

Nala, a lioness, finds Simba in exile, not knowing who he is. He fled his identity, his family, his calling. And he, like many of us, need to hear something. We need to listen to a different voice. Mufasa’s words brought Simba home. Mufasa speaks to us today: You are a child. You are light. You are holy. You are forgiven. You are new. Rise, and sin no more.

He exposes lies. Warns against sin. Roars of his love for his people. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts or allow Satan to mute his words with accusations over forgiven sin. “Who can bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:33–34). Rise from your guilt. Rise from your sin. Rise from your pigsty — they’re no place for a prince or princess of the King. Show yourself upon the safari’s plain, and he will run to meet you with a ring, a robe, and a song of love.

Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 8:00pm

Alcohol consumption is permissible and can be a blessing, but it is also fraught with dangers.

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Job 2:4–10: How a Fool Responds to Suffering

Tue, 07/23/2019 - 9:02am

We have a refuge in times of trouble, safety amid life’s storms. Only a fool curses the shelter and runs into the eye of the storm.

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You Waited Long and Well for Him: For My Daughter and Her Groom

Mon, 07/22/2019 - 8:02pm

How right it is, since this broken world gives to each of us times of sorrow and woe, that we should savor this moment. As the Proverb says, “A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:19).

We all know the anguish of unfulfilled desires. Each in his way can say, “I am weary with my crying out. . . . My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God” (Psalm 69:3). The chronic heartache of loneliness is especially painful. Many end it by whatever means necessary.

You took the road less traveled — a road that, despite your desire to marry and have children, took you away to the mission field, and for almost a decade. While you waited, you sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). You waited long and well. Your groom joined you on that road, the road paved with, “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land” (Psalm 37:34). And now, at last, God has fulfilled your heart’s desire. From this moment forward, your quiet and lonely nights are over. You get to replace the dream of marriage with the joys and challenges of it.

Delight Yourself in the Lord

When people say, “I want to get married,” what are they saying? I think this is simply short-hand for saying, “I long for a healthy, tender, passionate, mutually-satisfying, long-term relationship with someone of the opposite sex.” This is what the poet, Robert Browning, was pointing to when he wrote of his desire to “Ride, ride together, forever ride.” What, then, can I say to speed you on your ride together?

I’m a strong believer in the life philosophy that says, “Put all your eggs in one basket!” Not too smart, you say? That depends on the basket. The basket I commend says,

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 34:7)

This basket holds God’s will and human desire firmly together. The call to delight in God means to make him your chief delight, or ultimate source of happiness. The promise of this verse is that God will delight to fulfill your heart’s desires, just as a father delights to give good things to his children. Store all your eggs with him.

You might object, “How can God give me the desires of my heart? Not all my desires are good. Some are selfish and destructive.” True. And pursuing sinful or selfish desires are a sure way to destroy your marriage. But, in my observation, people who delight in a God tend to develop godly desires. People who love God become better lovers of people. Their desires and God’s will fall into alignment.

Your desire to get married — to establish a healthy, tender, passionate, mutually-satisfying, long-term relationship with each other — is also God’s will. Therefore, rejoice in him and expect his help in fulfilling this desire.

All Men Have Faults

Adopting this philosophy has the immediate benefit of helping you avoid common mistakes. For example, it prevents you from expecting and demanding too much from one another. People who look to their spouse to meet their every need and to make them happy put too much pressure on the marriage. No one can meet these expectations. Marriages like these eventually move from, “I love you because you make me so happy,” to, “I’m angry at you because you are not making me happy right now,” to, “I hate you because you failed to make me happy.”

In such cases, as marriage counselor, Larry Crabb, says, “you have two ticks and no dog!” Even good marriages must remember Shakespeare: “Roses have thorns and silver fountains mud. . . . All men have faults.” Making God the ultimate source of your happiness, not the marriage, keeps expectations real. It allows you to take the worse with the better in marriage.

We Are Always Wooing

If delighting in God keeps you from expecting too much of marriage, it also prevents you from making too little of romance. Shakespeare said,

She is beautiful and therefore to be woo’d.
She is a woman, therefore to be won.

But, as the years unfold, we husbands tend to let go of wooing. This is a big mistake. Wives never complain that you woo them too much.

Delight in God and he will nudge you along regarding the true state of things between you. When things begin to wilt, you will feel prompted to act; to show her by tender-words of affection or acts of service that you love her still and delight in her. Like a wilted flower getting fresh water, wooing your wife is a good habit and brings many happy returns.

Resolve to Resolve Conflict Quickly

Delighting in God is God’s primary way of guiding you into your heart’s desire for a healthy, tender, passionate, mutually satisfying, long-term relationship with one another. If you delight in him, you will keep his commands. His commands are designed to fulfill your heart’s desire.

For example, conflict resolution is key to a mutually-satisfying, long-term relationship. The apostle Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). Follow this rule and you will go far. Husband, make sure of it, even if you need to break the stony silence first.

God invites you to delight in one another, to give yourself freely to each other and to flee every form of sexual immorality. Following this call is, self-evidently, a safeguard to a healthy, passionate, mutually-satisfying, long-term marriage.

To Husbands and Wives

The God that you delight in says, “Let each of you (husbands) love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Husband, this means, love your wife as if she were an extension of your own body. To see her in anguish is to be in anguish, in some measure, with her. To see her fulfilled is to feel fulfilled yourself. It’s not selfish to seek your own happiness this way. It is selfish to seek your own happiness apart from hers. But if you seek your happiness in the holy happiness of your wife, she will love you for it.

Wife, you already respect your husband. Now, in marriage, God desires that you see to it that you keep respecting him. “See to it” implies times when his choices are poor, his confidence is shaken, his love wanes and more. In these times, you will either insult and attack him, or you will see to it that you pray for him and help him regain his footing. God’s will is, see to it that you keep respecting him in private and in public.

As you take your vows, I say, delight in God and expect him to help fulfill your heart’s desire for marriage. Take each other’s hand and say with Robert Browning,

Grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be.
The last of life, for which the first was made,
Our times are in his hand.

The Question Abortion Advocates Won’t Answer: Five Ways They Avoid the Unborn

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 8:02pm

Abortion discussions can get ugly real fast.

In a June 11 interview with the Des Moines Register, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) likened judges who oppose abortion to bigots who promote racism. She was just getting started.

A moment later, she put the entire pro-life movement in her crosshairs. “I think there are some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable,” the presidential hopeful said. Lest anyone miss the point, the ultra liberal Huffington Post summarized the interview in its headline: “Kirsten Gillibrand Compares Anti-Abortion Views to Racism.”

For Gillibrand, pro-lifers are not only bigots; they are religious bigots who wrongly force their sectarian views on others. “All these efforts by . . . ultra-radical conservative judges and justices to impose their faith on Americans is contrary to our constitution,” she told the paper. “Church and state are separated by law,” but the conservative right is legislating the religious views of pro-life advocates. Put simply, opposing abortion is an unacceptable form of religious bigotry.

Is Abortion About Privacy?

I think Senator Gillibrand is correct. Abortion is a private matter, and laws restricting it are unjust. She’s right that pro-lifers should not impose their views on others. She’s right that only women should decide the issue. She’s right that the government should stay out. Yes, she is right about all of that if . . . If what?

If the unborn are not human beings. And yet that is precisely the question she refused to engage. She simply changed the subject to a personal attack on pro-lifers.

Contra the senator, the issue that divides us is not that she is pro-choice and I am anti-choice, or that she is tolerant and I’m a bigot. Truth is, I am vigorously “pro-choice” when it comes to women choosing a number of moral goods. I support a woman’s right to choose her own healthcare provider, to choose her own education, to choose her own husband, to choose her own car, and to choose her own career path — to name a few. These are among the many choices I fully support for the women of our country. But some choices are wrong, like intentionally killing innocent human beings simply because they’re unwanted. No, we shouldn’t be allowed to choose that.

In short, the abortion issue is not about forcing religious views; it’s not about privacy; it’s not about who hates women and who loves them. It’s about one question: What is the unborn?

Men and women have an equal right to weigh in on that question. Religious and non-religious people do as well. A tolerant society will welcome a free exchange of ideas and judge arguments according to their merits, not according to the religion or gender of those advancing them.

The Simple, Irrefutable Logic of Life

In a society that wants to change the subject on abortion, it’s vital that pro-life advocates keep the main thing the main thing. We begin with a clear syllogism to keep discussions on point:

Premise #1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is morally wrong.

Pro-life advocates defend that syllogism with science and philosophy. We argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. We argue from philosophy there is no relevant difference between you the embryo and you the adult that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.

Of course, even with a clear syllogism, your critics may object. But here’s the good news: You don’t need to memorize responses to every possible objection. Just ask yourself one key question: Does the objection refute my pro-life syllogism? That is, does it prove that the unborn are not human or that intentionally killing them is okay?

Five Ways They Avoid the Unborn

Nearly always, your critic is changing the subject rather than engaging your syllogism. When he calls you names or dismisses your argument, don’t let him get away with it. Stick to your syllogism and narrate the debate. Graciously say,

Can I make an observation? I made an argument that abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, and I offered evidence in support. My argument may be mistaken, but I noticed that you didn’t engage it. Instead, you called me names. I’m open-minded, so if the premises of my argument are untrue, or if my conclusion doesn’t follow, I’ll happily reconsider. Can you show me where my argument goes wrong?

Sometimes that’s enough to give him pause. But don’t hold your breath for a compelling counterargument. And that’s the problem! Instead of formally arguing, the critic of the pro-life position will do one of the following five things to avoid the real question.

1. They dodge rather than argue.

Senator Gillibrand’s opposition to the pro-life position is a dodge, not a refutation. As Francis Beckwith points out, arguments are either true or false, valid or invalid. Calling an argument “religious” is a category mistake like asking, “How tall is the number three?” Pro-lifers argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Abortion does that. Therefore, it’s wrong. If Gillibrand can refute that argument with evidence, she should go for it. Pro-lifers welcome her challenge. But dismissing the pro-life argument with a label just won’t do.

Pro-life Christians aren’t imposing their views any more than abolitionist Christians were imposing theirs or the Reverend King was imposing his. Rather, we’re proposing them in hopes we can persuade our fellow citizens to vote them into law. That’s how a constitutional republic like ours works. We’re not looking to establish a theocracy we impose on non-Christians, only a more just society for the weakest members of the human family.

Indeed, it is no more religious to claim a human embryo has value than to claim it doesn’t. Both claims answer the same exact question: What makes humans valuable in the first place? That is an inherently religious question with no neutral ground.

As mentioned in my earlier piece, either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life, or you don’t. The pro-life view is that humans are intrinsically valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are. The abortion-choice view is that humans have value only because of an acquired property like self-awareness or sentience.

Notice that both positions — pro-life and abortion-choice — use philosophical reflection to answer an inherently religious question: What makes humans valuable in the first place? Thus, if the pro-life view is disqualified for asking religious questions, so is the abortion-choice one. At issue is not which view of abortion has religious underpinnings and which does not, but which view of human value does a better job of accounting for human rights and human dignity.

Finally, what does Gillibrand mean by “the church and state are seperated by law?” Does she mean it in the modest sense that the state should not establish a denomination, or in the strong sense that religious believers have no right to bring their values to the public square and argue for them like everyone else? As Ed Feser once pointed out, why the constant harping about the separation of Christianity and the state but not the separation of secular metaphysics and the state or feminist theory and the state?

In short, do pro-life Christians get to participate in their own government, or is that right reserved only for pro-abortion secularists? If only the latter, where is that found in the constitution?

2. They assume rather than argue.

Consider the back-alley argument: “The law can’t stop all abortions. Women will be forced to get dangerous illegal ones.” Note how the objection assumes the unborn are not human. Otherwise, the argument is saying that because some people die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal to do so. But why should the law be faulted for making it riskier for one human to intentionally take the life of another completely innocent one? In The Case for Life, I refute the claim that thousands of women died annually from illegal abortion. But the first step is to expose the faulty assumption.

3. They attack rather than argue.

Bring up abortion, and you’ll quickly hear that men can’t get pregnant, meaning only women should decide the issue. But this response attacks the person rather than his argument. In short, it’s completely beside the point.

Arguments don’t have gender; people do. Pro-life women use the same arguments as pro-life men. Indeed, if men can’t speak on abortion, Roe v. Wade should be reversed because nine men decided the case. Should only generals decide the morality of war? You’ll also hear that pro-life advocates have no right to oppose abortion unless they adopt unwanted children. Rather than buying your critic’s premise, recognize the objection for what it is — a disguised attempt to change the subject. Let’s go back to our syllogism:

Premise #1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is morally wrong.

Now ask your critic this question: “How does my alleged unwillingness to adopt a child justify an abortionist intentionally killing one?” Put simply, “How does it refute my syllogism?”

4. They assert rather than argue.

Suppose instead of refuting your syllogism, your critic responds, “Well, women have a right to choose.” Is that an argument or an assertion? It’s an assertion because no evidence is offered to support the claim. The obvious question is, “Choose what? And where does the right to choose come from?”

To expose the undefended assertion, ask, “Why would you believe a thing like that?” Sometimes the assertion comes in the form of a hidden premise. For example, a professor discounts your case with an assertion: “The embryo is not self-aware and has no immediately exercisable desires.” The hidden and undefended premise is that self-awareness and desires give us a right to life. But he presents no argument for that hidden premise. Begin by exposing it: “Why is having immediately exercisable desires or having self-awareness value-giving in the first place?” The burden of proof is on him, not on you.

5. They hide behind the hard cases.

Two types of people bring up rape — the inquirer and the crusader. The former is looking honestly at the arguments, but stumbles emotionally to say the mother must give birth. The crusader is not honest. He just wants to make you look bad by painting you as an extremist. Your approach to each is different.

For the inquirer, ask, “Given we both agree a woman who is sexually assaulted suffers a terrible injustice and may in fact be reminded of it should she give birth, how should a civil society treat innocent human beings who remind us of a painful event?” Let the question sink in. Then ask, “Is it okay to kill them so we can feel better?” If the unborn are human, hardship does not justify homicide.

For the crusader, say, “I’ll grant for the sake of argument we allow abortion for rape. Will you join me in opposing all other abortions?” He won’t. He wants all abortion legal. Now, call his bluff. “Your position is not that abortion should be legal only in cases of rape. You want it legal for any reason the mother wants. Why don’t you defend that position instead of hiding behind rape victims?”

In short, even if the rape objection works, which it does not, it would justify abortion only for rape, not for any reason the mother wants. Beckwith puts it well: Arguing for the abolition of all abortion laws because of rape is kind of like arguing we should get rid of all traffic laws because you might need to run a red light rushing a loved to the hospital (105).

Memorize the pro-life syllogism. Practice it out loud. Then, argue for God’s sake as if lives hang in the balance. They do.

Would You Attend a Gay Wedding?

Sun, 07/21/2019 - 8:00pm

Christians do not celebrate what dishonors Christ. Pastor John gives five reasons why he would not attend a so-called same-sex wedding.

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Our Worth Is Not in What We Own: Fifteen-Minute Gospel Presentation

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 8:01pm

We will never find true worth in what we have or who we are. True, full, lasting satisfaction can only come through all that God is for us in Jesus Christ. After the congregation sang “My Worth Is Not in What I Own,” John Piper presented this gospel message at the Sing! Belfast conference.

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Job 1:20–2:8: If God Afflicts You, Will You Curse Him?

Sat, 07/20/2019 - 10:47am

No suffering takes God by surprise. He alone is the perfect help in our pain. Should all around our soul give way, he then is all our hope and stay.

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One Small Step for Man: Apollo 11 Fifty Years Later

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 8:02pm

July 20, 2019, marks the fiftieth anniversary of perhaps the crowning achievement of human creativity and ingenuity. On that day in 1969, two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, landed their spacecraft on the surface of the moon.

This mission was the culmination of an expansive national effort initiated by John F. Kennedy’s bold challenge to the nation to send a man to the moon and return him safely home before the end of the decade. In spite of the fact that the United States had a mere fifteen minutes of manned space flight at the time of Kennedy’s challenge, the task was accomplished when Armstrong, Aldrin, and command module pilot Michael Collins splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969.

This remarkable achievement of engineering and ingenuity is worthy of reflection. Here are four lessons we can learn from the Apollo moon missions fifty years later.

1. God’s image-bearers possess remarkable creativity.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27–28)

After God created Adam and Eve, he commanded them to fill the earth and subdue it, but he did not give them detailed instructions on how to fulfill their mission. When God created humanity in his image, he gave us remarkable creativity with which to fulfill our God-given tasks. This creativity has enabled humans to use plants, animals, and materials from the earth to create tools, shelter, clothing, art, literature, music, and other objects that bring glory to God and joy to other human beings. While creativity is too often used for evil, this does not diminish the magnificence of the creative abilities that God has bestowed on humanity.

Subduing Space

God-given creativity and ingenuity allow humans to harness the power of animals, plants, and the rest of creation to subdue the earth in ways that are outside the realm of what we can accomplish by human power alone. Horses can be trained and controlled to move heavy loads. Minerals can be extracted from the ground, purified, and formed into useful devices. Plants can be harvested and processed into materials with many different beneficial properties. These materials can be creatively arranged into a sweater, a bicycle, the computer I am typing with, the smartphone many of you are reading with. They can be used to build cities and create things no human has yet imagined. Solids, liquids, and gases can be extracted and refined into fuels that power machines that can literally move the face of the earth — or fly away from the earth.

One of the most awe-inspiring examples of human creativity and ingenuity is the immensely powerful Saturn V rocket that was used to transport human beings to the moon. Anyone who has stood next to one of the three Saturn Vs on display at museums in the United States can’t help but feel overwhelmed by this mammoth of engineering muscle. The Saturn V is still the most powerful rocket ever assembled, standing 363 feet high, producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust, and burning a staggering twenty tons of rocket fuel per second. It was transported to the launch pad by a Mobile Service Structure almost five hundred feet tall and larger than a baseball diamond. The launch pad included a six-story-tall flame deflector pit to prevent the immense exhaust flame from deflecting up and destroying the rocket.

To the Moon — and Back

In addition to engineering muscle, the quest to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth required remarkable creativity. As powerful as the Saturn V rockets were, they weren’t nearly powerful enough to launch a rocket on a direct round trip to the moon and back. So a lunar orbit rendezvous mission strategy was devised in which a small lunar module landed on the moon while a larger command module remained in orbit around the moon until the two modules rendezvoused and the astronauts traveled back to earth.

Communications technologies were developed to send spacecraft telemetry data to mission control, measure the vital signs of the crew, relay video display back to earth, and enable the astronauts to talk to the president while 240,000 miles away. Space suits were developed to sustain life in the vacuum of space and shelter astronauts from the extreme temperature range in the shade and sunlight of space (from colder than 250 below zero to hotter than 250 degrees Fahrenheit). In order to safely return the astronauts to earth, a heat shield was developed using specialized materials that could withstand the temperatures that the spacecraft was exposed to during reentry into the earth’s atmosphere — temperatures nearly half that of the surface of the sun.

In the words of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “The legacy of Apollo is when a group of people seize a challenge, human beings can accept a challenge and chart a course and do just remarkable things” (When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions).


2. God’s creativity surpasses ours.

As amazing as human creativity and ingenuity are, our creative powers are very limited. We cannot create matter out of nothing; we simply can reorder it (albeit in some pretty remarkable ways!). The sum total of all human ingenuity in the history of mankind is insufficient to create even a single grain of sand. God’s creative powers are unlimited — he created the entire universe out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3). He merely says, “Let there be . . .” and it is (Genesis 1:3). God spoke, and light, gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force which binds quarks together to form protons and neutrons, the weak force without which stars could not form, and everything else that brings order and beauty to his creation came into existence.

God’s creativity was primary in the Apollo moon landings; our creativity was derivative. We turned minerals into useful alloys, but God made the ore that the minerals were extracted from. We developed a fuel mixture capable of powering rockets, but God made the kerosene and oxygen used in the fuel. We developed the complex spacecraft, but God made the brain we used to create it. We created the mission plan, but God made the moon.

The creativity of God is like a jewel with many facets. The beauty of God’s creativity is displayed through delicate flowers of the field (Matthew 6:28–29) and the immense Orion Nebula (Psalm 19:1–4). The power of his creativity is seen in light generated by nuclear fusion occurring in our sun and in infinitely dark black holes that hold together galaxies by the power of their gravity. The wisdom of his creativity is seen in the working together of the members of the human body — eyes that allow us to see, ears that allow us to hear, nerves that allow us to feel, white blood cells that fight off disease, taste buds by which we enjoy chocolate chip cookies and milk, digestive enzymes that turn food into useful energy, and a brain that is able to comprehend how fearfully and wonderfully we have been made (Psalm 139:14).

The mercy of his creativity is seen on the cross, where he upheld his justice while finding a solution to the problem of our guilt due to sin (Romans 3:23–26). Who else would have conceived of such a plan of salvation? So much more can be said about God’s creativity. “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36).

3. Creation is unfathomably big — and God is even bigger.

In the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, astronaut Jim Lovell says,

We learned a lot about the moon, but what we really learned was about the earth: The fact that just from the distance of the moon, you can put your thumb up, and you can hide the earth behind your thumb. Everything that you’ve ever known, your loved ones, your business, the problems of the earth itself — all behind your thumb. And how insignificant we really all are, but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the earth itself.

Most people think that the crew of Apollo 11 were the first human beings to travel to the moon, but that is only partly correct. In December of 1968, the crew of Apollo 8 (Jim Lovell, William Anders, and Frank Borman) traveled to, but did not land on, the moon. On Christmas Eve of that year, Apollo 8 entered into orbit around the moon. The crew read from Genesis 1 as they transmitted to approximately one billion people worldwide a breathtaking view of the earth rising above the surface of the moon. Our immense earth — a little blue jewel in the vast darkness of space. Our earth, one little speck in the solar system surrounding an ordinary star. Our sun, one of approximately four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Our galaxy, one medium-sized galaxy among a couple of trillion galaxies!

We rightly marvel at the extraordinary Apollo moon missions that transported human beings to our nearest cosmic neighbor. The Apollo spacecrafts traveled at a top speed of approximately twenty-four thousand miles per hour on their journey to the moon. How incredible that such machines were created fifty years ago and accomplished so much while being controlled by a computer with far less computing power than your cell phone! What an accomplishment. Yet what a small fraction of the universe we have explored. What a small fraction of the universe we can explore. Even traveling at the top speed of the Apollo spacecraft, it would take 122 thousand years to reach the nearest star other than the sun. It would take more than seventy billion years to reach the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy.

As big as the creation is, the Bible shows us that our Creator is even bigger. The vast oceans of the earth, which when perturbed by an earthquake create tsunamis powerful enough to wipe out provinces, all can be measured by God in the hollow of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). The enormous heavens are described by David as the work of God’s fingers — not even his whole hands (Psalm 8:3). Whether we are in the heavens or in the depths, our God will be there with us (Psalm 139:8). He “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). The creation is big; our God is unfathomably bigger.

4. The infinite Creator cares about his creatures.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. (Psalm 113:4–9 NIV)

The picture of God given to us in Psalm 113 is of One so awesome and big that he has to stoop down to see the heavens and the earth he created (“Let me stoop down and find that beautiful blue earth. Oh, there it is down there! Wow, that is a pretty one!”). Jim Lovell was rightly humbled by how small we and our earth are in comparison to the expanse of God’s creation. Yet amazingly, we are precious in the Creator’s eyes.

The biblical picture of God is not merely that of a powerful and omnipresent Creator, but also of a God who actually cares about seemingly insignificant people located in a tiny corner of the universe. He is a compassionate Father who cares for the poor and needy, and draws near to them (Psalm 34:4–7). He takes note of weak and vulnerable people, and works for their good (Psalm 147:3–6). Lord, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” we ask with David (Psalm 8:4).

God so loved weak and sinful sinners like us that he sent his one and only Son to the tiny blue speck orbiting an ordinary star on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life. What an amazing God.

Memorize the Promises of Sin: Fighting Three Great Temptations

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 8:02pm

Nothing will help us fight temptation like intimacy with the promises of God. To overcome the seductive force of sin’s deceit, we need to know the sweeter, stronger, and surer voice of our Father in heaven. One way he trains his children to escape the entanglement of sin, however, is to study the awful and intoxicating voice of our enemy. He wants us to know our enemy’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11), and recognize temptation wherever we find it.

When the sage of Proverbs imparts wisdom to his son, he begins with a warning: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent” (Proverbs 1:10). One mark of godly maturity and wisdom is a heightened awareness of, and vigilance against, temptation. But how will the boy know when he’s being enticed?

What would you say to your own son? How would you prepare him to recognize and reject temptation when it inevitably comes? Sin preys with subtlety and ambiguity, even when the sin itself is not subtle or ambiguous. The wise father wants his vulnerable son to be able to discern enticement in all its disguises, so he goes on to rehearse several of the promises of sin:

If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
     let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
     and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
     we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
     we will all have one purse . . .” (Proverbs 1:11–14)

Do you hear the enticement — the seductive power of this kind of corruption? Do you recognize the deception — how each honeyed promise hangs on some lie? Ask yourself what makes these evils appealing to the human heart, to a heart like yours. God, in his word, teaches us to meditate on the promises of sin, so that we are not fooled, allured, and destroyed by them.

“You are the lord of your life.”

The first temptation may be the hardest for many of us to relate to: “Let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit” (Proverbs 1:11–12). Who secretly wants to ambush and murder anyone, much less the innocent? How would such a violent and vile thought ever entice someone?

When King David writes about the wicked, he provides a key for understanding this kind of temptation:

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
     all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” . . .
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
     throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.” . . .
He sits in ambush in the villages;
     in hiding places he murders the innocent. (Psalm 10:4, 6, 8).

Pride has the power to make even murder intoxicating. Only a heart who says, “There is no God,” can plot, and hide, and wait to harm the harmless. Do you hear the exhilaration in his monstrous voice? “I shall not be moved.” I can kill an innocent person for no reason, and still not be punished. Nothing will happen to me. There is no God — no god but me. The height of wickedness is believing God will not have his vengeance against our sin, that he will not judge our every thought, word, and action with perfect justice.

As I began to see how violent pride can be, I thought of a mystifying headline I read about a horrible viral video of a gang attacking an innocent, unsuspecting stranger. Why would anyone ever do that? I thought. “There is no God. . . . I shall not be moved.” The wicked relish doing the worst they can imagine to prove no one can punish them. They even recorded the crime, and then posted it for all to see, including the police. Pride desperately tries to prove itself.

Worse, even still, we are all grossly acquainted with the murder of innocents in our day, at least in America — millions of innocents. Abortion persists because of the prideful illusion of anonymity. Planned Parenthood (and others) survives on this gospel: No one will know, and there are no consequences. “You are the god of your body” — not the God who composed the masterpiece playing in your womb (Psalm 139:13). Pro-choice preachers may not recite the words of Proverbs 1:11–12, but the merciless insanity is written across every pretty pink ad and billboard: “There is no God.”

But there is a God. He sees every speck of our evil, and we will all meet him. On that day, he will call every ounce of wickedness to account until he finds none (Psalm 10:15). Solomon highlights the irony in the wickeds’ cruelty: “These men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). When sinners lure us, saying, “You are the only lord of your life,” they are enticing us into an ambush of our own making. Our pride whispers us toward self-destruction.

Do you see this impulse in your own heart — to pretend that God does not see your secret sins, or that he will not really do anything about them? How quickly have we murdered in our hearts (Matthew 5:21–22), telling ourselves that no one knows the anger we’ve nurtured? How often have we draped the flag of grace over our shoulders while we plunged back into lust, or greed, or selfishness, assuming God must forgive us? If God must forgive us no matter what we do, then we believe we are god. Perhaps the horror in this temptation is not so foreign after all.

When Satan whispers otherwise, remember that God will account for each and every sin we have committed, either in the blood of his precious Son or in unrelenting waves of wrath. He will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7), and the cross will not be prostituted. If God has forgiven our pride, it will and must die.

“I can give you more than God.”

Having fueled and inflamed our pride, temptation turns in the next verse to our desires, where greed and covetousness often disguise themselves. “We shall find all precious goods,” the wicked say, “we shall fill our houses with plunder” (Proverbs 1:13). The allure here is more obvious: We can satisfy all your secret desires for more. The chorus is as old as it is familiar. As Satan slid up to Eve in the garden, he held out the precious good God had forbidden: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).

This is one of sin’s favorite promises: I can give you more than God. How many of our besetting sins are rooted in the twin beliefs that we’re entitled to more than God has given, and that God alone cannot satisfy our souls? Satan seeds the disturbing idea that we deserve so much more than we have. That God will hold back his best from us. That holiness and purity are safe paths to boredom and regret. Our flesh desperately chases that sinful fantasy, but we will lose everything in our search for more than God.

The wise man warns later in Proverbs 1, “Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors” (Proverbs 1:19). Greed steals even more than it promises. Instead of satisfying the restless hunger in our hearts, it cuts off all the oxygen. Just like pride, when the wicked give in to greed, they set a deadly trap for themselves:

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

While they lie in bed, with their eyes closed, imagining themselves indulging in the next comfort or luxury, they stab themselves over and over and over again.

As I write, another billionaire is in the news for this wicked, insatiable search for more. Unsatisfied with enormous success, wealth, and fame, he preyed on dozens of young girls. And when the United States Attorney agreed to a horrifically soft plea deal in 2008 (the attorney has since been forced to resign over the case), the billionaire thought he had gotten away with his evil — “There is no God. I shall not be moved.” He did not stop plundering the innocent then, and so he’s back in court for charges of sex trafficking. Enticed by sin, there was no price too high — even his soul. The only consolation is knowing that God, unlike human justice systems, can and will punish every evil committed. The billionaire will realize then that the price for abusing those girls — for ignoring God to steal sinful gain — was far higher than he ever imagined.

The secret to discontentment — in plenty or in hunger, with billions of dollars or without — is to place our hope and joy in something or someone other than God. To believe that precious good lies anywhere outside the beauty of God’s commands. For followers of Christ, death, not sin, is gain (Philippians 1:21). Because in his presence is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures — real, intense, unrivaled pleasures — forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

“You never have to feel left out or alone.”

One of the easiest phrases to overlook in the father’s warning is also one of the most revealing. “If they say, ‘Come with us . . .’” (Proverbs 1:11). Loneliness quietly terrifies many of us. And the plague is spreading in America, not only among Baby Boomers, but across younger generations too. Satan spreads the plague in a thousand ways, separating the weak from the rest of the pack, and then feasting on our fear and self-pity.

The wolves in Proverbs 1 circle back to this vulnerability in us: “Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse” (Proverbs 1:14). The lie should be so obvious — why would we entrust ourselves to the ones murdering the innocent to satisfy themselves? — and yet the promise is undeniably enticing: You never have to feel left out or alone again.

It’s not simply the appeal of community, but of community without judgment or boundaries. We can hear them whispering, “We won’t judge or reject you. We won’t confront you over sin; we’ll sin with you!” Their “friendship” makes sin feel so safe (we’re hidden and protected by one another), satisfying (everyone else is doing it and loving it), and even sentimental (we’re enjoying this together). Sin’s promises weave a stronger and stronger fabric of lies that become harder and harder to discern.

We need not avoid our fear of loneliness, because God told us we were not made to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In fact, to the degree we try to deny our need for others, the words become even more enticing: “Come with us.” No, we need to know our need well, and recognize the counterfeit community sin offers — the kind that falls apart when trials come.

Everyone who follows Christ will feel left out and alone at times in this life. If others shared the gospel with you and failed to ever mention that, they did not prepare you well to walk with Jesus. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). We will not only be ignored, neglected, and left out; we will be hated — not by some, but by all. Again, he says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Being chosen by God means being rejected by man. Even Jesus’s promises remind us we will feel snubbed and shunned: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22).

So, we should expect to feel left out and alone — even by our families (Mark 10:29). But not ultimately alone. Jesus also says, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Even when we feel the most alone, we are not alone if we are in Christ. And along with him, we are adopted into a deeper, wider, and forever family. Christ says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Expose the Promises of Sin

As part of your war against sin, meditate on its false promises. Don’t live there, but don’t let them catch you by surprise, either. We can confront the enticing lies head-on, without insecurity or trepidation, because we have far better promises — and because we have a Savior who has already fought and won the war against temptation.

When sin says to our starving desires, “I can give you more than God,” we can say with Christ, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). When sin says to our lonely hearts, “I will keep you safe, and you never have to feel left out or alone,” we can say with Christ, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7). When sin says to our pride, “You are the lord of your life,” we can say with Christ, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).

Having memorized the promises of sin, we conquer them with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), which is the word of our God.

Can a Born-Again Christian Lose Salvation?

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 8:00pm

A born-again person cannot be unborn again. If God has called you by name, he is faithful to keep you until the end.

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Pride Disqualifies a Pastor: Why Humility Is Vital for Ministry

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 8:02pm

Few things poison the church, and sully her reputation in the world, like arrogant pastors. Manifest arrogance in politicians, lamentable as it is, we might expect. But arrogance in the pulpit — this is a great blight on the church and in the community where she is to shine her light.

It’s not as though the New Testament didn’t foresee the danger, or that somehow this is a recent development for the church. Christians have always known to keep conceited men from church office. If the Scriptures’ pervasive condemnations of pride and arrogance weren’t enough, then the express qualifications for pastor-elder make it all the clearer:

He must not be arrogant. (Titus 1:7)

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:6)

“Recent convert” (Greek neophytos) means, literally, “newly planted.” It’s a fitting image for a new convert to Christianity. New plants haven’t yet had time to grow their roots deep and wide. New plants — whether transplanted or from the seed — are much easier to uproot than trees that have grown deep into the soil over a matter of month and years, rather than days and weeks.

Elsewhere, when Paul addresses the formal appointing of pastors and elders, he charges Timothy, and the churches, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22). This principle of patience in appointment to office applies not only to pastors, but to deacons as well: “Let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless” (1 Timothy 3:10).

A thread holds these warnings together: Swelling pride in a leader endangers the whole church, and the longer a man has faithfully walked with God, the less likely the remaining pride in him is growing rather than shrinking.

Why No New Plants

Pastoral ministry can be very trying emotionally — not typically at every step, but acutely so in crisis moments. It’s only a matter of time until pastoral ministry proves more emotionally challenging than anticipated. Certain kinds of spiritual trauma are inevitable because pastors are more regularly exposed to the depths of human depravity.

The surprising depths of indwelling sin in professing Christians, multiplied across a congregation, can be enough to damage, if not uproot, young plants. New plants aren’t yet ready to endure every kind of storm. They need to send roots down and out and strengthen stalks and sprout leaves and bear some initial fruit. Soon enough they will be ready for the hard winds and driving rains of pastoral ministry, but not right away.

Added to that, Satan loves to target the opposing lieutenants, and all the more when one is manifestly young and weak. A new convert among the pastors can be an easy target, a convenient foothold for the devil’s efforts (Ephesians 4:27). Wise churches arm themselves against such schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

These are real dangers with putting new plants in leadership, but the specific danger Paul mentions — and so deserves the most attention — is that the new plant might be “puffed up with conceit” (1 Timothy 3:6). Such conceit apparently had become a problem in the Ephesian church (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:4). The false teachers there may have arisen in precisely this way. Newly converted, and manifestly gifted in teaching and looked to as natural leaders, perhaps they were hastily ordained to the pastoral office, which may have produced two effects at once: (1) they were not given sufficient testing to see what these men were really made of spiritually and (2) the appointment itself, and serving in office, may have altered the trajectory of what otherwise could have been healthy growth and development.

1. How Has Old Pride Persisted?

In the first case, the new convert’s arrogance may simply remain from his former life of unbelief. Paul lists “swollen with conceit” as characteristic of those outside the church (2 Timothy 3:4). Accordingly, new converts need some time in the faith to let the swelling go down. The caution may be more than simply the concern that being put in leadership may make an immature man arrogant, but that being a new convert, he hasn’t yet had as much conceit pounded out of him yet. His mind is still being brought under the authority of God in fundamental ways. Not only does the dust need to settle; the roots need to go down deep.

Pastors must not be arrogant (Titus 1:7), among other reasons, because they are to be men under authority, stewards of, and under, the words of Christ and his apostles. Paul identifies one who is “puffed up with conceit” with one who “teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3–4). The very heart of the pastoral task is teaching — and not teaching self or preference but teaching “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul mentions “the condemnation of the devil,” who in his pride and swollen conceit was unwilling to bow to God’s authority.

2. Will Leadership Provoke New Pride?

But not only do new converts need time for the swelling of his old pride to go down, but also we should consider how the appointment to leadership might affect a man. Will being put forward as a church officer be the occasion of a new kind of puffing up? This seems to be the main concern Paul has in mind in 1 Timothy 3:6: not just getting over former conceit, but will he be puffed up by the leadership role itself and thus fall into the same (prideful) condemnation as Satan?

In seeking to fill positions and opportunities for leadership, we often take one of two approaches: “man for the job” or “job for the man.” “Man for the job” means the need is such that the candidate should fill the role and its expectations from day one. “Job for the man” means the role is an opportunity for a developing leader to grow into the role and expectations as he serves. While the pastorate is never fully a man-for-the-job scenario (who is sufficient for these things?), we should not approach our search with a job-for-the-man mentality when it comes to pride and arrogance.

A man may be able to grow into teaching, and aspects of pastoral manner, and a host of other things while serving, but not so with humility. We are not to think of the pastorate as a helpful crucible that might make an arrogant man humble. The pastorate is indeed a crucible. It will make a humble man all the more humble (2 Corinthians 12:7), but it is not a lab for arrogant men.

Keeping new converts from the council serves not only the church but also the new convert. It is healthy to be established for a season as a Christian, to first soak in one’s identity being in Christ, not his office. Before attempting, in ministry, to have “the spirits subject to us,” we first need a good, solid season of rejoicing that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

How Recent?

But how recent a convert? How new a plant? Here the wisdom of plurality in local-church leadership is on display. The New Testament doesn’t give us a particular timeframe, whether a year or five. As with the other elder qualifications, “not a new convert” is analog, not digital. It’s not that a man goes to sleep one night a “new plant” and wakes up the next day ready to weather the storms. Rather, such maturity — and in particular, humility — is incremental and on a spectrum. And Paul leaves such to be determined collectively by the plurality of elders, confirmed by the church, given the age and maturity of both the candidate and the church and other relevant circumstances, not least of which is the present needs of the church.

Observe the differences between the well-established Ephesian church (1 Timothy) and the fledgling Cretan church (Titus). When writing to Ephesus, Paul specifies “not a new convert.” The Ephesian church was old enough, likely a decade old or more, that relatively new converts would not be needed in leadership. Crete didn’t have the same luxury. The whole church was new planted, and as Titus went to appoint elders, it was inevitable that they all would be, in some sense, new plants. However, the underlying concern remained: conceit. And so Paul specifies for the Cretans, “he must not be arrogant” (Titus 1:7).

An important qualification is that “not a new convert” does not necessarily mean “not young.” We know that Timothy himself was relatively young, likely in his upper twenties or early thirties. Yet Paul writes to him not to let the church look down on him for his youth, but to set an example (1 Timothy 4:12), including fleeing youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:22). As Elihu spoke truthfully to Job, it is not age that makes a man wise but the Spirit of God (Job 32:8–9). Pray that the passage of time increases the Spirit’s work of wisdom in a man, but don’t assume such merely by the passing of years.

Two Key Questions

To make the pursuit of pastoral humility tangible — for churches and councils searching for a pastor and for men aspiring to ministry — consider two particular manifestations of humility essential in pastors and elders:

1. Does he think with sober judgment?

Here the question is not only about sober judgment in general (which is vital, called sober-mindedness, 1 Timothy 3:2), but in particular related to self-assessment. Romans 12:3 says, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Is he self-deprecating? Is he willing to admit faults? Is he regularly angling to build himself up in others’ minds wiht his own words? Does he give evidence of thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think?

2. Does he count others more significant than himself?

Paul writes to all Christians in Philippians 2:3–4 a word that is especially pressing for church leaders: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Counting others more significant than self cuts to the very heart of the pastoral calling, and to the heart of the faith. Jesus himself, the great Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25), is the paradigmatic humble leader who took note of, looked to, and gave himself for the ultimate interests of others (Philippians 2:5–8). Pastoral labor never eclipses or replaces the perfect humility of Christ, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2:8), but it does seek to echo his humility, and so point to it, in our daily efforts.

Give Us Humble Pastors

When God does the double miracle of producing humble men and giving them as pastor-teachers to local churches, what kind of men might we expect to find teaching and leading our churches? Humble pastors love the Scriptures and “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:3). They receive their calling as undershepherds, gladly embracing their role under the authority of their Chief. Humble pastors love preaching not themselves but Christ Jesus as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Humble pastors give benefit of the doubt and expect the best (not assume the worst) from each other and from the flock. They don’t let cynicism about their people develop and fester in their hearts. They have a kind of gentleness of spirit, and no less zeal for God’s honor, that keeps them from being afraid of being wrong and, therefore, feeling a constant need to self-protect.

Humble pastors are transparent rather than evasive; authentic (in the best of senses), rather than superficial. Not defensive but eager to learn and grow and improve. Humble pastors listen. They are the kind of men not inclined to absorb others’ attention, more interested in hearing from others than telling others about themselves. If we could sum up, in one word, what one attribute we need most in the pastorate today, as in every generation, few would come close to humility.

God, give us humble pastors.

How Do I Live Like a Son Rather Than a Slave?

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 9:02pm

God has called us sons and daughters, but his people sometimes talk as if we were still slaves. What does it mean to talk like children of God?

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God Will Daily Bear You Up

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 8:02pm

Our worst days have a way of making the future feel impossible.

Perhaps we wake up to a depression that makes our chest cave in. Or a relationship on the verge of collapse. Or pain in our bones that makes the smallest focus a feat. The thought of enduring for a lifetime, or even another week, can send us searching for an escape.

We do not, however, need to know on our worst days how God will sustain us for a lifetime. We do not need to know even how he will sustain us tomorrow. We need to know, even with a mustard seed of faith, that he will get us through today.

We might think that God, creator of continents and stars, would be too big to notice our days. Don’t a thousand years pass before him like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4)? Yes. But God’s care for his world is as intricate as it is grand. He keeps inventory of every hair (Matthew 10:30). He catches every sigh (Psalm 139:4). He slows down to walk through every 24 hours with his children.

And so, he not only gives us promises that cover the span of our lives, but also a precious few that meet us on our worst days, and remind us what he will do for us today.

He will daily bear you up.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. (Psalm 68:19)

Our salvation does not rest merely somewhere in the past, at that first moment of repentance and faith. God did save us then. But as long as we are in this world, we need daily saving. “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up.”

For David, Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Psalm 68:4–10) and conquest of Canaan (Psalm 68:11–18) write in big letters the story God writes every day, though it often goes unnoticed. Every day, he guards orphans and protects widows (Psalm 68:5). He settles the solitary in a home and leads prisoners to freedom (Psalm 68:6). He meets the needy in their trouble and gently bears them up (Psalm 68:10).

If the exodus and conquest wrote God’s care for his people in big letters, then the cross of Jesus writes it in letters bigger still (Romans 8:32). If Christ has carried our sin to the grave, will he not also carry us through today? If God has raised Jesus from the dead, will he not also raise our heads above today’s high waters?

Our sorrows can sometimes make today feel unbearable. And that is the point of this promise: when we meet the unbearable, God himself will bear us. Even to old age, even to gray hairs, even when our legs can no longer bear our bodies (Isaiah 46:4).

He will daily show you mercy.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22–23)

Some comforters, for all their good intentions, eventually withdraw when they find our sorrows to be deeper and more complex than they imagined. Even the best of friends sometimes grasps for sympathy. But God’s compassions never fail. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies “are new every morning.”

When I hear this promise, I naturally imagine a scene of calm and peace — the sun rising over a mountain lake, birds chirping in the background. But Jeremiah wrote these words as the sun rose over a different scene: men cut down in the streets (Lamentations 1:20), infants dead on their mother’s bosoms (Lamentations 2:12), priests slain in the temple (Lamentations 2:20). The destruction was enough to make him vomit (Lamentations 2:11).

How could Jeremiah look on such devastation and then speak of God’s new mercies? Because the wreckage of our lives is never the final word about God’s heart toward those who hope in him. Even when God disciplines us for sin, mercy, not wrath, is the banner that trails behind each morning’s sun. Jeremiah knew it because God declared his mercy at Sinai (Exodus 34:6–7; Lamentations 3:21). We know it because Jesus demonstrated God’s mercy at Calvary (Romans 5:8).

Our dreams falter and fail; God does not. Our hearts grow weak; his steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting. Our hopes rise and fall; God’s mercies come at their appointed time every morning — and they will carry us through today.

He will daily make you new.

We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Many of us would be content simply to know that God will get us through our worst days — that we will come to the end of them still sane, still trusting in Christ. But God does not want us to stop there. He also wants us to know that no day endured in faith will be wasted. Even on our most miserable days, when our outer self is wasting away, God is on his potter’s wheel, shaping us, forming us. “Our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

As with the new mercies Jeremiah proclaimed, our inner renewal is largely hidden from us in the moment. From the outside, we may feel, like Paul, “afflicted in every way, . . . perplexed, . . . persecuted, . . . struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). We are left looking like a city under siege.

But even as body and mind are battered, God is at work on the inside, building something that will last forever. “This light momentary affliction,” which wreaks such havoc on our outer self, does something quite different to our inner self. As we keep our eyes on things unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18), our afflictions become the furnace where God renews us and prepares “for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

We sometimes catch glimpses of the new self God is fashioning through our trials. But the great unveiling lies on the other side of this life. The saints of God walk into the Jordan furrowed and torn; they arise on the other side new, never to die again. Until that great day, God will be fitting us for our eternal home. He will daily make us new.

Morning and Night

How shall we respond to such unflagging love, such daily mercy? We can take our stand with the psalmist, and say, “It is good . . . to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night” (Psalm 92:1–2). Every morning, look ahead and remember: God will show me steadfast love today. And every evening, look back and declare his faithfulness.

If you are in Christ, God will bear you up today. He will show you mercy. He will make you new. And when tomorrow comes, he will do it all again.