View From The Summit

Biblical and theologically informed thoughts on life, culture and current issues.

"But when the Helper comes..." (What Jesus says about the Spirit)

"But when the Helper comes..." (What Jesus says about the Spirit)

The most glorious conjunction in Scripture is the word “but.” This word changes everything. In Ephesians 2, it brings God onto the scene. Without the life-altering words of Eph. 2:4 we would still be “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:3).

BUT God…” (2:4).

This simple three-letter word brings the dead to life, makes beggars rich, changes wrath to kindness.

In John 15, this conjunction is equally transformational. “But when the Helper comes…” (Jn. 15:26).

Again, one word changes everything. Left with Jesus’ words in John 15:18-25, any disciple would be rightly discouraged about the prospects of following the Messiah. Here are the promises Jesus has for those who would follow him: the world will hate you (Jn. 15:18-19), and they will persecute you (15:20).

“Good luck. I’m outta here.” Imagine if Jesus had said that! It certainly wouldn’t leave us much hope.

“BUT…”

In John 14 and John 16 the Holy Spirit changes everything. Jesus is marching the Calvary road, on his way to crucifixion and death, knowing that though resurrection and ascension will follow, his disciples will be left without his physical presence. And what becomes his refrain as his earthly ministry nears its climactic gospel crescendo? “But when the Helper comes.”

The Helper is coming. He is the hope for those about to be hated, persecuted, and killed (Jn. 16:2). He is the certain promise that we won’t be left as orphans (Jn. 14:18). He is the solution to our sorrow (Jn. 16:6). He will be Jesus inwardly when Jesus isn’t there outwardly (Jn. 16:7, 12-15).

And this is the Spirit’s main work, isn’t it? To be Jesus to us. I don’t mean in a salvific sense. We don’t want to conflate the Father, Son, and Spirit’s unique yet cooperative work in redemption. The Holy Spirit didn’t die on the cross or rise from the grave. Yet, in many ways it seems that Jesus really is saying that the Holy Spirit will be Jesus to us; that he will represent to us, and declare in us, and apply for us, all that Jesus did, all that Jesus does, and all that Jesus is.

Jesus says of him that “he will bear witness about me” (Jn. 15:26). He the Spirit of truth (Jn. 15:26; 16:13), and so by his very nature must represent and declare the truest truth, which is Jesus himself (Jn. 14:6). Jesus says, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (Jn. 15:14). Jesus is the focal point of all the Spirit does in us and through us. His work is Christo-centric.

At the risk of sounding redundant, this changes everything. It means that the Holy Spirit is not the multicolored Asian ghost-lady-thingy portrayed in William P. Young’s The Shack, flitting around doing her own thing, spontaneously jumping over here, unpredictably headed there. The Spirit is joined to the work of Jesus, because he is sent by Jesus (Jn. 15:26; 16:7). Thus, we can’t have the Spirit by himself, because the Spirit will only give us more of Jesus.

So much of what passes for Holy Spirit activity in Christian circles today is completely separated from the person and work of Jesus. It seems that the Holy Spirit is more tied to our emotional baggage than the risen Christ. Loving the Holy Spirit is confused with loving great guitar riffs, and welcoming the Holy Spirit with shedding inhibition. Now I’m not against great guitar riffs, but if the Holy Spirit is in them they are going to make me love, and know, and treasure Jesus more.

I was talking with our worship team at church recently about what it means to have the Holy Spirit active in our worship. We were discussing the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit, what hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on. It struck me that what makes for what some might call Spirit-empowered worship, is that we sing about the person and work of Jesus. When we proclaim the gospel in our music (and in our preaching, our prayers, our community groups) the Spirit can’t help but delight to bring life and meaning to worship in the hearts of his people, because the gospel is what he is tasked to put the spotlight on. He loves to illuminate Jesus.

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The Intersection of Sovereignty & Freedom

The Intersection of Sovereignty & Freedom

 

In his sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Mike quoted Charles Spurgeon on how we should understand apparently paradoxical biblical truths; namely, that God is sovereign over all things, and yet humanity is free to make unconstrained choices and is responsible for those choices. The quotation is one of my favorites because it is classic Spurgeon. He compellingly and beautifully argues for biblical truth without trying to solve all the mysteries of our incomprehensible God. Spurgeon's quote comes from a sermon preached in 1858 entitled: "Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility". The text for that Sunday morning was from Romans 10:20-21. You can find the entire sermon here, but I've reproduced the quoted section below:

     No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at two lines at once. I am taught in one book to believe that what I sow I shall reap: I am taught in another place, that "it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." I see in one place, God presiding over all in providence; and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure.

     Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

     If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

 

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Don't Die in Leviticus

Don't Die in Leviticus

     It’s that time of year. If you started 2016 off with a new Bible reading plan, or with the goal of reading through the Bible in a year, the beginning of February is a hard time. While you may have started January strong in Genesis, and even made it through the wilderness wanderings in Exodus, you feel like you’re about to die in the laws of Leviticus. But if you’re able to keep from getting bogged down in the details, Leviticus can give believers on this side of the cross a glorious view of God’s holiness, the need for purification, and the grace of God that eventually finds its fulfillment in Jesus.

     The Bible Project has been putting out some great video content over the past year. Creators Tim Mackie and Jonathan Collins have made biblical theology accessible through their simple, creative teaching. Their videos related to the book of Leviticus are helpful for anyone finding their Bible reading currently on life support as they trudge through sacrifices, purity laws, and priestly duties. Check them out below. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

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How To Grow Theologically

How To Grow Theologically

The summer of 1999 I worked as a trainer at a local gym in my hometown. I’d just finished my freshman year studying Human Kinetics (for the uninitiated - the study of human movement), and I was really keen to help people reach their fitness goals. But as I started talking to people as they worked out I was shocked how many thought “just showing up” would put them on the road to better health. A lot of members, even though they were intent on improving their fitness, had no idea where to start. They knew fitness mattered, they’d even taken a good first step in joining the gym, but they needed to be pointed to some next steps.

My experience at the gym reminds me of how we sometimes approach growing in our love for God through thinking theologically. Last week on the blog I looked at five reasons why theology matters. You might have read that article and thought, “I want to grow theologically, I even see the importance of it, but I’m not quite sure where to start.” If that’s you, here are four tips on where to start:

1. READ

Reading, and learning to really read well, is the single most transformative aspect of growing in loving God through thinking deeply about him. God loves words. Not superfluous, empty, wasted words, but meaningful words. It’s striking that the primary way God has determined to reveal himself to us is through his own Word, the Bible. The Bible is the main place we get to know God. And the Bible demands of us deep thinking.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in the perspicuity of Scripture, meaning Scripture has clarity. It’s not a murky mess in what it teaches. Scripture is accessible. My seven-year old daughter, who is beginning to love reading her Bible, can understand it and grow by reading it. However, for us to move into a fuller comprehension of God’s word and a greater love for it, we have to think more deeply about it, and work out its implications in every area of life. So reading, reading well, and cultivating the habit of reading regularly are key to growing in loving God with our mind.

In developing good reading and thinking habits, consider reading in these areas:

a.) The Bible:

Read wide and read deep. You read wide by reading large portions of Scripture on a daily basis. I try to get through the whole Bible each year. You can find great printable reading plans online or if you have a smartphone, through the YouVersion Bible App for iPhone and Android. But in reading wide, don’t neglect to read deep. This means diving into a single passage of Scripture and trying to unpack what it’s all about. There are resources through websites like BibleHub and Precept Austin to help you do just that. A great idea is to take the sermon passage for the upcoming Sunday and begin studying it the week before.

b.) Books about the Bible:

Reading rich, challenging, biblical and theological books is a huge aid in loving and understanding God and his Word better. Many books I’ve read have impacted my thinking for life. While books focused on your personal spiritual life can be helpful, without reading books that dive deeper theologically, your growth will be stunted. Below are some recommendations for where to begin.

Theology

Christian Beliefs - Wayne Grudem

The Christian Life - Sinclair Ferguson

Knowing God - J.I. Packer

The Knowledge of the Holy - A.W. Tozer

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God - D.A. Carson

Desiring God - John Piper

Delighting in the Trinity - Michael Reeves

 

Reading the Bible Better

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth - Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart

God’s Big Picture - Vaughn Roberts

According to Plan - Graeme Goldsworthy

A Christian's Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament - Alec Motyer

 

Church History

Church History in Plain Language - Bruce Shelley

 

Valuable reading if you're interested in going deeper...

Institutes of the Christian Religion - John Calvin

The Christian Faith - Michael Horton

The Religious Affections - Jonathan Edwards

Confessions - Augustine (Maria Boulding Translation)

The Pleasures of God - John Piper

 

c.) Blogs and online resources.

There are more and more great reading resources online to cultivate thinking deeply about God, His Word, and how to apply theology in all of life. Here are some I frequent.

The Gospel Coalition

Challies.com

Desiring God

Revive Our Hearts - focused especially on women

 

2. LISTEN & WATCH

With the plethora of online resources out there, countless churches, ministries and seminaries have made their audio and video resources available for free. When some of the best Bible teachers are accessible with a mouse click we should take advantage of it.

The Bible Project is one of the best resources available anywhere for getting to know your Bible better. Tim Mackie and Jonathan Collins have produced animated videos that introduce individual books of the Bible as well as biblical themes across Scripture.

Desiring God has countless sermons, lectures, videos, books and articles all for free.

Look at the Book. Pastor John Piper reads deeply in these short videos demonstrating how to unpack Scripture passages.

Ask Pastor John. These brief answers to a variety of questions can spur deeper thinking on a breadth of topics.

T.U.L.I.P. John Piper's 6-part seminar on the Doctrines of Grace is one of the best places to start thinking about a Reformed understanding of God's sovereignty in salvation.

BiblicalTraining.org has seminary level courses downloadable for free from some of the America's best evangelical professors.

Covenant Theological Seminary also has an incredible amount of free lectures, classes, and sermons. Requires free registration.

The Gospel Coalition has audio and video sessions from their own conferences as well as searchable gospel-centered resources from around the web.

 

3. TALK

You won’t be able to fully process what you’re learning through your reading and listening without interacting with other people. Theological discussions in community have challenged and refined my thinking in a way nothing else can. Whether it’s a reading group, late night theology with your spouse, or conversations with friends over coffee, make God’s Word and theology a topic you naturally go to for conversation. Ask questions. If there is someone who knows more than you do, ask them their thoughts and how they’ve formed them. Cultivating theological conversation can become one of the most joy-filled activities for us as we learn to know and love God more together in community.

 

4. PRAY

Finally, we need to remember that we can’t grow in our understanding of God without his help. The Holy Spirit has been given to us specifically to illuminate the Word he wrote and to reveal more of Jesus to us. All our pursuits in reading, listening and talking are useless without the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

 

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Why Does Theology Matter?

Why Does Theology Matter?


The following is adapted from Summit’s Theology for Women quarterly teaching series. You can watch or listen to the two sessions from “Why Theology Matters….for Women” on the Summit Christian sermon archive.

I’ll never forget the day. It was one of my first days on campus as a freshman at the University of British Columbia. It was a typically gorgeous Vancouver day. One of those stunning northwest September days that seem to be a demonstration of God’s mercy towards us before the fall and winter set in.

I was taking a walk across campus, getting a feel for this place where I would spend the next five years, when I stumbled upon a beautiful building in the middle of campus. The sign read: “Regent College.”

Now the University of British Columbia is a massive institution. Forty-thousand undergraduate students, ten-thousand grad students, fifteen-thousand faculty and staff. But right in the heart of this monument to secularism is Regent College, one of the most respected theological seminaries in Canada. So on this beautiful, dry, late summer day, I decided to go in. And me being, well… me, I ended up browsing around the bookstore.

As I was browsing, a particular book caught my eye on the shelf - It was called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I had no where to go, so I opened the book and began to read. The first chapter began with a phrase that absolutely gripped me:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

If you were to write out what’s most important about you, you’d probably start with your biggest personal identifiers: your marital status, your job, your education, your cultural background, your family relationships. It’s not likely, “how I think about God” would make the top 5. Yet, Tozer says that our understanding of God, what we believe about him, our theology, is number one on the inventory of importance. In other words, theology matters.

Theology is scary for a lot of people. We can easily associate theology only with big books, big beards, and big arguments. “Just give me Jesus,” we say, “not all this business about theology.” But for a Christian, theology is unavoidable. Every Christian is a theologian. Even if you “just want Jesus,” you have to believe something about who Jesus is. The content of that belief is inherently and deeply theological.

The question for every Christian then is not whether they will do theology, it’s whether they will do it well. Will you think deeply, studying, and thinking, and wrestling with what God reveals in his word about himself, about Christ, man, salvation, the Church, or will you simply form your beliefs through the default influences of your own feelings and the ideas of our culture? The former is doing good theology, the latter… not so much.

Theology, good theology, matters. Let me give you five reasons why:

 

1. Good theology glorifies God.

Right from the garden the Bible reveals God’s primary purpose for humanity. Humans are made as image-bearers. God has created people to reflect his glory in the world he has made. The Westminster Catechism captures humanity’s purpose succinctly: our chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Glorifying God as his image-bearers means reflecting who he is and what he is like.  We make truth known about him. Now, just like Adam and Even in the garden, we do this in many ways. First, we glorify God in our actions. How we work, our creativity, the way we love others, the way we parent our children, all we do can be a means to glorifying God.

Second, we glorify God in our thinking. If we don’t have an understanding of God as he truly is, while we might reflect him in part through how we live, we’re missing a key component of what it means to glorify him. In the way I think about God, talk about him, understand his word, sing to him, and tell others about him I am reflecting an image of who he is. Good, biblically faithful, well thought through theology glorifies God because it humbly seeks to reflect a clear, accurate image of him in what we think and speak.

2. Good theology helps you love Jesus more.

One of the worst caricatures of theologians is the stuffy, dusty, white-bearded old man in spectacles; a Scrooge-like figure far more comfortable with books than people, with a heart slowly shriveling from study. That picture expresses one of the biggest objections many Christians have to thinking deeply when it comes to theology: “Won’t theology dull my love for Jesus?”

In fact, just the opposite is true. Jesus himself connects our deep thinking about God to our deepened love for him. In Matthew 22 Jesus reminds his listeners of the greatest commandment in the law. Here it is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Jesus is saying that we need to love all of God with all of ourselves. This kind of loving requires the engagement of our minds. Followers of Jesus need to enlist their intellects in cultivating a growing love for God. John Piper helps define what this looks like. Loving God with our minds means “that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express this heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”1

Loving God and thinking deeply about him are wonderful dance partners. Thomas Goodwin, an English Puritan pastor, wrote these wonderful words about the interaction between deep thinking about God and deep loving of him:

Indeed, thoughts and affections are the mutual causes of each other: ‘Whilst I mused, the fire burned” (Ps. 39:3); so that thoughts are the bellows that kindle and inflame affections; and then if they are inflamed, they cause thoughts to boil; therefore men newly converted to God, having new and strong affections, can with more pleasure think of God than any.2

There is a mutual responsiveness between good theology and love for God. Good theology results in deepened affections for God, which in turn leads to a deeper study of his person, character, and ways through his word. Theology and love are a self-perpetuating cycle that results in the heartfelt worship of our Creator and Redeemer.

3. Good theology helps you understand yourself better.

Everyone wants to understand themselves better. An entire industry has been built around that assumption. If you go to the self-help section of your local Barnes & Noble you’ll discover it. But true knowledge of ourselves can’t come from the latest pop psychology book. True self-knowledge can only come from a true knowledge of God, because it’s God who defines who we are and what we’re made for.

John Calvin, began his theological thinking with this same thesis.

“Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self,” he asserts in the first chapter of his Institutes. “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”3 

Calvin’s contention, and I think it is a biblical one, is that we cannot define who we are on our own. It is our Creator who defines us, and so we must know him to truly know ourselves.

4. Good theology anchors you.  

Truth is the great anchor for a Christian. Truth steadies us when around us is blowing “every wind of doctrine”, and it stabilizes us through suffering and hardship. When God feels distant and temptation feels near, sometimes the only solid ground we’re able to find is the bedrock truths about God we’ve settled in our hearts and minds.

Trial always has a way of revealing our heart theology. We may think we think about God in certain ways, but hardship will show us what we actually believe. Are we sure of his goodness? His providence? The certainty of his salvation? Hardship will show us. That is why we have to put effort into thinking rightly while the waters are calm, so that when the waves start churning our hearts will be anchored.

5. Good theology is really, really practical.

Everything from how you parent your children to how you arrange flowers is affected by your theology. My theology even influences the type of coffee I buy. Theology literally affects everything we do, whether we are aware of it or not. How we parent our children will be influenced by how we understand original sin and the nature of God’s salvation. How we work at our jobs will be affected by our understanding of God’s purposes in creation and the effect of the fall. How we think about God and his nature will impact how we read books, celebrate beauty, appreciate music, savor good food. Our theology literally shapes every area of our lives.

Theology matters. How you think about God makes a difference. It’s what is most important about you.

If you’ve never read, thought, studied deeply and you’re not quite sure where to start, hold on. Next week we’ll look at four practical ways to begin growing theologically.

    

1 John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 88.

2 Ibid, 90.

3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1559 ed. Vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 37.

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Savoring God's Goodness Through Food

Savoring God's Goodness Through Food

 

Food and I have a very good relationship. It’s always been this way. From packing a can of smoked oysters with crackers in my first-grade lunch to indulging in knock-your-socks-off Sichuan Hot Pot in China’s spiciest region, food has captivated me with its entrancing array of aromas and flavors.

But it seems our cultural relationship with food has hit the skids. Food certainly hasn’t lost it’s popularity. Television offers us a plethora of celebrity chefs, food-travel shows, chef-competitions, and eating challenges, and that’s without even turning on cable's 24 hour Food Network.

Yet, statistics show that Americans cook less than ever before. In fact, they spend over $50 billion each year on trying not to eat. Right now 25 percent of men and 45 percent of women are dieting. American Christians spend more on dieting than on world missions. To say our relationship with food is dysfunctional would be an understatement.

Somehow our culture has lost the ability to truly enjoy food, and along with it forgotten the joys of breaking bread with others. Nothing unites like a meal. Every culture in the world enters into community over food and drink. Instead, Americans grab their caffeine fix alone at 5am from the closest drive-thru (the cheap, moldy beans are no matter when covered up by 300 calories of sugar-syrup), and inhale meals while running out the door to get every child to whatever this-will-make-you-an-incredibly-successful-human-being activity they are registered for. There is something wrong here.

But of all people, Christians should get the significance of food. We have a Savior who “came eating and drinking” (Lk 7:34) Jesus’ first miracle involved rescuing a dying party by creating wine. Jesus’ multiplied bread and fish so his followers could eat together, invited himself to dinner at Zaccheus’ house, and ate enough meals with other “sinners” that it became the main criticism of his opponents. Food was so central to Jesus’ ministry that one commentator suggests that, “In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”

For Jesus, food was the embodiment of worship, community, and mission. If we are going to follow Jesus and live as his disciples, we need to think about food the way he thought about food.

Food as Sacrament

Our approach to food is an act of worship. Wrongly approached, food easily can become an idol. Through indulgence or avoidance, food can usurp the place only God deserves in our affections. But food can also become an afterthought; merely a metabolic necessity that loses all meaning.

The biblical paradigm for food is different than either of these wrong approaches. There is something sacramental about God’s design for food and the meals that bring food and drink together. A sacrament is something that is sacred or symbolic. It is a means by which we worship God and experience his grace. Food and drink are to be “received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4). God is the creator and provider of these good gifts, and savoring them brings glory and honor to him. Let me give you two ways we need to work at this:

Savor Your Food

The sad reality of our culture today is that convenience trumps everything. We are constantly in search of the cheapest, easiest solution to meet our needs. We choose quantity over quality, what is instant over what takes time. This cultural norm is the reason for the success of innovations from the microwave to the Keurig coffee maker. But in our quest for convenience we’ve lost something.

If you stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, you wouldn’t rush the view. The same should be true of food. Savoring what we eat is an acknowledgement of the goodness of the God who created it.1 In the multitude of nuanced flavors and aromas that food offers we experience a small measure of the vastness of God’s character. Sensory events like drinking a cup of Kenyan AA coffee, tasting a carefully roasted prime rib alongside a perfectly paired merlot, or enjoying a spoonful of a delicious creme brûlée, are reminders of the deeper joys found in Jesus, and are a foretaste of those eternal joys that await us when he returns. Savoring them helps our hearts look forward to that day.

Savor Your Meals

Meals act out worship in community. Breaking bread around the table with family, neighbors, or friends allows us to enter into God’s goodness together with others, seeing God in more ways than just the flavors of our food.

A recent survey found that 40 percent of American families eat dinner together three or fewer times a week. 10 percent never eat dinner together at all. These statistics are sad. Meals are about more than filling our mouths, they are about filling our hearts. Meals offer the opportunity to remind one another of God’s goodness. They are a corporate celebration of the joy God provides for his people.

Ultimately, meals are a reminder of the gospel. If you have children, meals are an opportunity to preach this gospel to them, reminding them that following Jesus isn’t about “just saying no, keeping their nose clean, and staying out of trouble.” Instead it is about eating and drinking deeply of the feast that God has provided for his people at the cost of his own Son.

Next week we will examine food as a tool for mission.

 

1 I would also argue that savoring your food as I'm describing it here is significant in preventing overeating, but that is a discussion for another blog article.

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How Then Shall We Live?

How Then Shall We Live?

 

 

In a 5-to-4 decision this past week, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that states cannot ban so-called same-sex marriages. In effect they have redefined marriage and legalized, institutionalized, and normalized what the Bible calls sin, and what every culture, past and present, has recognized, at least at some point, as abnormal, perverted and socially unacceptable behavior. Reactions have been loud and passionate on both sides of the issue, and it has been difficult to step back and get perspective on the thing. But we need to try.

 

We should not be surprised that we find ourselves here today. We have been on a trajectory that finds us as a society endorsing, approving and now legalizing something that I would contend was unthinkable even 10 years ago in most people's minds. But if we are surprised, it is only because we have not been paying attention. If you go back to 1962 and the decision to eliminate prayer in our public schools, you can draw a straight line from that point to this. We have consistently taught our children that God is not to be worshipped and honored and adored. We have carefully indoctrinated them to believe that their own pleasures and wishes and desires are paramount, and the most important pursuit in life is the pursuit of self.

 

We told our children in 1962 that God needs to be kept out of certain areas of our lives. We reinforced that by removing His word as the pillar of truth in our schools. We told them that Bible is an error-filled, man-made book that has no relevance today and we shouldn't be shoving Christianity down people's throats. And then we began teaching them that they are products of random chance, accidents of a capricious universe that suddenly sprang somehow into existence, and there really was no purpose to their existence. Eventually we told them that human life was not all that sacred and it was okay to kill babies. We taught them that it was more important to save the whales than save the babies.

 

So this is not a surprise. The children we taught to walk away from God, to shake their fists at Him, have grown up exactly as intended, and learned exactly what we as a society have taught them, and are taking things to their logical end. If you read Romans chapter one this is what you see. It begins with a suppression of the truth and a denial and dishonoring of God and ends with people who are given over by God to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.

 

In 2003, when the Ten Commandments monument resting in the Alabama Supreme Court building was found to be in violation of the Constitution and removed, my first thought was 'When the law of God is no longer our foundation, anything is possible'. And here we are. These are dark days indeed. Not just for Christians, but for everyone, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, athiest, Buddhist, Jew, New Age, Wiccan, agnostic, everyone. We do not fully understand the disaster this landmark decision portends. We cannot even imagine the havoc this will wreak on the fabric of our society.

 

But we will not wring our hands in despair, or circle the wagons and fort up. Now more than ever, the grace that won our hearts to Christ must envelope the sin that confronts us. In one sense, everything has changed. But in another sense, nothing has changed. Jesus died for heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners and the glad tidings of the gospel are still the glad tidings of the gospel.

 

God is still on the throne and He governs everything under the sun. It is just that now the canvas of the world has become that much darker for the light of the gospel to shine that much brighter. Christians will still be reviled, only now we will be thrown into jail for hate speech. We will still be marginalized, and persecuted and hated, much like the Author of our salvation. But we will still proclaim the good news of the gospel, because only the gospel has the power to change the hearts of men and the course of nations. We will still continue to uphold marriage as God intended it to be, one man and one woman. We will continue to speak the truth in love and love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us, and bless those who curse us. God’s truth has not changed. His word is eternal. Our mission in the world has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

 

Our gracious God and heavenly Father,

 

We ask that in these dark days of open rebellion and the flood of evil that threatens to undo us, that you would grant Your people the joy and hope and strength to be the beacons of light and salvation to an unbelieving and hostile world. Let us be the instruments of Your grace to bring the light of the glorious gospel to those who now oppose You. Let the love of God that sent His only Son into the world to save those who hated Him be our standard and our guide. Grant that we would weep over the lost and dying in the world and make it our ambition to lead them to Christ. And if they be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go unwarned and unprayed for. Give us hearts as big as the world for Your name's sake and Your glory we pray in Jesus' precious name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Christian Life: A Well-Crafted Chair

The Christian Life: A Well-Crafted Chair

The Christian life is truly a miracle. Friends, we have been transformed! We used to be one thing: enemies of God, then, by believing that Jesus is who He said He is and did what He said He did, we become something else: children of God! This inward change has profound outward expressions in the lives of people. The history of Christianity is filled with people who have been changed by God, who in turn go out and become God’s agents in His redemptive plan for creation.

A majority of the significant humanitarian efforts in the world have been carried out by people living this transformation. Christians have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and freed the slave. We’ve brought medicine and technological advancements that have improved the daily lives of people all over the world.

God is at work in the world, not only gathering His people, but redeeming and reconciling “to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven...” (Col 1:20). When we serve others, we display the grace that changed us, proving by our selfless actions that God, and a restored relationship with Him, is better than anything the world has to offer. Brothers and sisters, we must engage in meeting the physical needs of those around us. (See also Romans 8:19-23)

Some Christians may be tempted to think that this is the primary task given to us by God, and to be sure there have been Christian movements committed to this idea, but in reality, this would be the equivalent of carefully crafting a beautiful wooden rocking chair and then just looking at it.

As a (very) novice woodworker, I see the chair-building process, from start to finish, as a process with three purposes. Each of them is dependent on the others, but one of them is the ultimate use, without which the other two lose much of their meaning. The first use is in the crafting of the chair. Crafting a piece of furniture is a labor of love and the craftsman derives pleasure and satisfaction from it. The second is the aesthetic value of the chair. The chair adds to the room it’s placed in, making it more beautiful. The final use is the ultimate use of the chair: a place to sit. It’s more beautiful because of the work that went into it and because of the practical use it offers.

It’s an imperfect analogy, but the Christian life is similar. We begin our Christian lives by experiencing the grace of God which changes our hearts and motivations and provides a deep and abiding joy and purpose. We experience the love and acceptance of our Creator. This is like the crafting phase. We then turn that joy and love outward and are motivated not only to spread the gospel that changed us, though that is the highest good we can offer, but we are also naturally inclined to meet the needs of the broken world and broken people around us in immediate ways. This is like the aesthetic value. Through and over and in all of our service in the world, though, is the ultimate hope of being resurrected to eternal life. This is when the chair fulfills its ultimate purpose: a place to sit and rest.

As we walk in the security of the promise of resurrection and eternal life, every other aspect of our lives increases in value and effectiveness. The change we experience (the crafting phase) is more glorious because what we are being changed into, and the deep joy that accompanies it extends past this brief life and becomes truly permanent; the good we can do (the aesthetic value) is increased in value because we can offer so much more than just temporary relief from the effects of a fallen world, we can show people the way to eternal life (the place to sit).

Paul says,

“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:16-19 ESV)”

That means that all of the temporal benefits, all of the attractive things about being a Christian, and all the good we can do in the world have to be motivated by and terminate in the ultimate hope and promise of a resurrected body and eternal fellowship with Christ and the church.

This can create tension as we endeavor to live out our Commission to preach the gospel, because it can feel a little weird to say. If you tell people that the best thing about being a Christian is having faith and hope in being resurrected after you die, most of them will look at you like you have two heads.

That’s ok, though, because the effectiveness and advancement of the gospel does not rely on our persuasive arguments, or our work for social justice, or our perfect imitation of Christ. God in His sovereignty has decided that the gospel would advance by His people speaking the good news to one another, and His Spirit giving those people the ears to hear. So it doesn’t matter if it sounds weird, and it’s not up to us to try to make it sound more appealing by changing the message or emphasizing the parts that are easier to swallow.

Should we try to make the world better by advocating for the poor and weak, helping those in need, and loving everyone around us? Absolutely! There is no question that this is a huge and often neglected part of what we are called to as followers of Jesus. We MUST love other people. The best description I’ve ever heard of love is this: choosing the highest good for the other person. Feeding a hungry person is good, and we are commanded to do it, but it’s temporary. The very highest good you can offer anyone is a restored relationship with God and the hope of resurrection and eternal fellowship with Jesus.

People are tired and weary. Showing them a beautiful chair might make their day a little brighter, but what they really need is a place to rest.



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Holy Week Prayer

Holy Week Prayer

 

“And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

- Matthew 26:39

 

Prayer is the most underused and over-analyzed way of knowing about and growing closer to God. Too often we over think how to approach prayer and how to engage with the Father, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection, our church will host Five Nights of Prayer.  You can let this week come and go like any other week or you can take the opportunity to rediscover (or discover for the first time) the glorious intimacy of beautiful prayer in the presence of the Father.  Five things stand out from the verse above on how to capture the beauty of prayer like Jesus did.

 

  • A significant amount of your time praying should be in private.

    “Be much in solitary prayer” - Spurgeon

  • Humble yourself before you enter into prayer.

This can be as simple as confessing that you haven’t been in prayer enough.  Nothing is more humbling than repenting and seeking forgiveness.

  • Make your prayers to the Father.

        Keep it as simple as talking to your father.

  • Make your prayers persevering.

        Continue to pray for what you have come to God about until you get an answer.

        “Cease not until you prevail” - Spurgeon

  • Make your prayers, prayers of resignation

        “Let it be as God wills” - Spurgeon

 

    Jesus was in constant, consistent prayer to the Father.  His pleas to God didn’t just happen in the garden. He prayed often for God to deliver Him from the certain death that awaited Him on the cross.

 

    “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.” Hebrews 5:7


    Jesus continued to pray for God to “let this cup pass from me”, and God answered Him.  Not the answer we might expect, but the answer we needed, for His glory and our salvation.  Jesus was resigned to the fate God had planned for Him, but that didn’t stop Him from praying about it “with loud cries and tears”. Jesus believed that if it was part of God’s will, He would be saved.  One of the fundamental truths we can take away from Jesus’ prayers is He believed the Father would answer, and so should we.

 

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Don't Be Afraid To Discern

Don't Be Afraid To Discern

A Subtle Sabotage

I recently came across a sermon clip online from a well-known pastor in our area. He gave a very impassioned account of a story from the scripture. There was a sense of immediacy and gravity to what he was saying. He would paraphrase a few words of the story, then add a few words for flavor, explanation, or commentary.

 

It was very compelling. I felt myself being drawn along in the current of what he was trying to communicate. I started to notice, though, every few minutes he would say something that set off a tiny alarm in the back of my head. It was like ordering a hamburger without pickles and about three bites in, you taste something...pickly. About halfway through the sermon clip, I started putting the pieces together and realized that there were, in fact, pickles on this hamburger. Even though the majority of the message, apart from the little bits of error was fine, those little bits pointed the whole thing in a direction that was not ultimately Biblical.

A Pervasive Problem

There is a pitfall that we Christians need to be aware of, and the Bible addresses it in a number of ways and places. Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven...” Peter says “...there will be false teachers among you.” Paul cautions Timothy that people will “...accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions...” John warns us that “...many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

While we are typically wary of the influence of blatant sinfulness, Christians have an inclination to see anything that “looks Christian” and immediately approve it and begin to allow it to shape their thoughts and feelings. As an extension of that, we defend things that “look Christian” against criticism. This is how, even in the church, we adopt some patently unbiblical ideas.

It is unfortunate but true that there is an abundance of humanism, materialism, and outright idolatry masquerading as Christianity in our culture today. Ranging from subtle to blatant, we are surrounded by all manner of media, and even churches who put on a very Christian-looking façade, but whose message is in opposition to the Bible and undermines the Gospel.

Prosperity gospel, liberal theology, works-salvation, there are as many flavors of false Christianity as there are types of sin. We must learn to be wise, discerning, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If the frequency of warnings in Scripture is any indication, this is an issue that deserves careful attention.

 

The Soap-Boxer and the Cynic

We are right to oppose those who would distort the Gospel and defame the Name we hold above all others. The shape that opposition takes, however, is critical. There are a number of wrong ways. These two are the ones I see most often, both of which I have been guilty of:

 

  1. The Soap Box/Megaphone Method

It can be tempting to respond to things we disagree with by being as loud as possible about it.

In fact, it is very fashionable in the Christian subculture to ‘take stands’ against things. We rant, we boycott, we blog, we nag. The soap-boxer never misses an opportunity to tell someone about something he disapproves of. Everyone around knows what companies he’s boycotting and which churches, pastors, or denominations he disagrees with.

The biggest problem with this method is that it can make us appear divisive, petty, and grumpy. When we become argumentative and preachy, we lose a lot of influence. We should avoid giving outsiders the excuse of disunity among Christians to dismiss our true message. There are times when this method is appropriate, but I think it’s rare.

 

    2. The Cynical Critic Method

It’s very easy to become jaded and cynical in our modern world. Looking around, it appears that everything is broken and there is little hope of redemption, in Christian culture or anywhere. The cynic assumes that everyone and everything is at least a little bit wrong, no one has pure motives and nothing is worth investing himself in. He ceases trying to find the good and disengages entirely from Christian culture.

The biggest problem with this method is that it’s not based in truth. God is at work extending grace, restoring His creation, and bringing His Kingdom to fruition. He’s doing this through the people who preach His gospel accurately, and with right motives, as well as through people who don’t.

 

A Right Response

What should we do then? Like nearly everything, deciding how to respond to counterfeit Christianity should be undertaken with a great deal of care. When you hear or see something, whether it’s a post on Facebook, an idea expressed by a fellow Christian, a book or movie making the rounds, or anything else in the Christian subculture, here are a few ideas of things to take into account when considering how to respond.

 

  1. James 1:19 - Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;’ This is some of the most intensely practical and applicable verses in the whole Bible. Start here.

  2. Read.‘...they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ Be like the Bereans. They were quick to listen, but made sure that anything they would accept and incorporate lined up with the Scriptures. This means you need to know your Bible.

  3. Pray.‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.’ Choosing a response is a matter of wisdom, and God wants you to have it.

  4. Get counsel.‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.’ What does your pastor think about it? How about the Christian community you are involved in? Try to get some outside perspective and input on how to proceed.

  5. Be helpful. This one is a little less straightforward and depends a lot on context, but we have to be conscious of the effect our opposition might have on the situation. Consider your platform. Is the way you are presenting your opposition likely to help effect a change? Will the relationship you are speaking into bear the weight of your criticism? Someone you know very well is more likely to receive direct criticism from you than someone you hardly know.

 

I have found that in most cases, the best response is to observe, consider, and take action for yourself and the people in your care. Don’t read the book, don’t see the movie, don’t attend the church, whatever it is, just don’t be a part of it. If your conscience and your God-given wisdom seem to be pointing you in the direction of a more substantial opposition, please consider the above suggestions. Above all, do everything for the glory of God.

 

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Behold The Lamb

Behold The Lamb

 

For a number of years, Andrew Peterson has been one of my favorite musicians.

Andrew is incredibly gifted not only as a musician, but as a songwriter, author and creative mind. He has written an epic children's book series, The Wingfeather Saga, and released a number of critically acclaimed albums.

One of the best things about advent season, is that it gives me a chance to listen to Andrew's Christmas album, Behold The Lamb. This is an album like no other. Andrew puts all his storytelling gifts to work, walking through the story of Jesus' incarnation.

From the longing of the Passover (Passover Us), Andrew walks through the Old Testament toward the coming of the Messiah (So Long Moses). He writes of Mary's experience giving birth to a son (Labor of Love), the shepherd's experience in the fields (While Shepherd's Watched Their Flocks), and the purpose for which Jesus came (Behold The Lamb). And only a writer like Andrew Peterson could give listeners a song from the Gospel of Matthew's genealogy (Matthew's Begats).

This isn't an album with well known Christmas classics. You won't just pick your favorite songs and stick them on a Christmas playlist. Like reading a great book, Behold The Lamb is an experience you want to take in from start to finish. Take the time to listen through it as you meditate on the arrival of the Messiah this Christmas.

Note: The entire album playlist will not embed on this website, so here is the first song. If you'd like to see the entire playlist click here.

 

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Thinking About How You Think About Community

Thinking About How You Think About Community

 

The past couple of years at Summit we’ve stressed over and over the importance of Community Groups. Community Groups are central to our life together. They open the door to authentic connection and meaningful relationship to happen. And the foundation of Community Groups isn’t just fun and fellowship, it is deeply theological, because community begins with God.

One theologian describes the essence of God’s existence as “persons in community.” It is this communal, Trinitarian God who created us in his image to be in community with him and with others. God uses community to change and transform us. Community is where we’re actually able live out Scripture’s “one another” commands, and operates as the engine room for discipleship and mission.

But no matter how much we grasp a theology of community, the reality is that most Sunday nights - at the end of a day of morning church service, corralling the kids so we can watch the Seahawks game in peace, and scarfing down dinner in order to get to group on time - this theological foundation gets chucked out the window and replaced with groans over having to get everyone, including ourselves, geared up to “do community.”

Part of the reason we dread Community Group at times is rooted in the way we actually think about our groups. The assumptions we have about what our groups should look like have a profound influence on how we approach attending and participating.

Over at The Gospel Coalition last week, Steven Lee wrote an excellent column looking at five myths we often believe about our Community Groups. In his article he argues that “what you believe about why you are in a small group will dictate how you behave in that group.”

He goes on to diagnose five myths we tend to believe about our groups. His points are worth recounting here:

Myth #1: A successful community group will not be relationally messy.
Myth #2: Community Groups exist for others to meet my needs.
Myth #3: Trust and transparency take many years to cultivate in a Community Group.
Myth #4: Community Group members should become best friends.
Myth #5: Community Groups should focus only on Bible study, not sharing sins or engaging in outreach.
Read the rest…

I would encourage you to take five or ten minutes to read through his article and ask yourself, “What myths am I believing about my Community Group and what would it look like to replace those with truth?”

The blessing of replacing these myths with truth are incredible. When you’ve experienced authentic community - where sin and suffering are openly acknowledged, where genuine prayer is offered, where the grace of God in the gospel is spoken, and where you are encouraged and equipped for mission - you want nothing else. Let’s pursue that type of community together by dispelling myths and believing both the theological and practical truths about our Community Groups.

 

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Outdo One Another In Showing Honor

Outdo One Another In Showing Honor

 

One of my favorite all-time movie scenes comes at the beginning of Gladiator. Russell Crowe plays Maximus, a general in the Roman army (a role that began a serious man-crush for me). His army is getting ready for an intense battle against the barbarians in the Roman borderlands. In the middle of a darkening forest, as a crazed enemy works themselves into a frenzy, a hardened Maximus calmly kneels down, rubs a handful of soil between his palms, shakes the hand of his lieutenant, and utters these famous words: “Strength and honor.”

At least for me the scene stirs up some serious feelings of victory, warrior-ness, and general manliness.

But what is honor really all about? Is honor just a dude thing? You know, chivalry and all that? How does the Bible talk about honor?

The Bible actually says quite a bit about honor. Christians are commanded to “honor your father and mother” (Eph. 6:2), as well as honoring the king and those in authority over us (1 Pet. 2:17, Rom. 13:1-6). But there is a short sentence about honor in Romans 12 that really stirred my heart this past week. It directs our gaze to what honor means in the context of God’s New Covenant Community, the Church. Here it is:

“Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10)

What Honor Is

There is something intangible about honor, yet you know it when you see it. Honor is a demonstration of love for another person. Honor shows value. It is a declaration of the inherent value others have as image-bearers of God. But honor goes even further by affirming the ongoing work of God in another’s life. Above all, since no one except God himself is truly deserving of it, honor is an act of grace. It is giving someone else what they they don’t always deserve and can never earn.

Honor is the opposite of shame. Shame drives people away from community. It marks people as outcasts, unloved and unvalued. A shamed person says, “if you really knew everything about me you wouldn’t love or value me.” But honor draws people into community. Honor says, “I know everything about you and I love and value you.”

In Romans 12:10 Paul is saying that the the church should be a place of unparalleled honor. A place where honor is mutually and lavishly exchanged. Within the church, even “on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor” (1 Cor. 12:23).

Honor comes with words. “I’m grateful to have you in my life.” “I really appreciate how God has gifted you.” “It encourages me to see you serve in that way.”

Honor also comes with action. Preferring others over ourselves is a form of honor. Inviting people into our lives and communities. Taking the time to genuinely enter others’ lives and communities.

The amazing thing is that Paul’s command isn’t just to honor each other, but to “outdo one another in showing honor.” This is competition in the best sense of the word. Imagine the transformation of every form of community if we followed this command.

The Foundation Of Honor

What makes honor so powerful is its foundation. Paul’s words to us aren’t just the result of social and organizational research, they come from the character of God himself.

We exist in community because God exists in community. For all of eternity the Triune God has found perfect delight in the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For us, as those “in Christ”, we’ve has been made a part of this divine community to get privilege of participating in its eternal joys and benefits.

Included in the category “All The Things the Triune God Has Been Doing For Eternity” is outdoing one another in showing honor. Read your Bible and you will find this everywhere. Jesus honoring the Father and Spirit, the Father honoring and generously giving Jesus and the Spirit, and the Spirit honoring and giving glory to the Father and Son. For all of eternity God has been engaged in this inter-trinitarian explosion of honor, and now he invites us as his Church to join in.

It’s this honor that God demonstrates toward us through the gospel. Suddenly we who were his enemies, orphans, beggars, naked and ashamed, have been cleansed, clothed, seated at his table, called sons and daughters. Toward us God says, “I know everything about you and I love and value you.”

We honor one another because we’ve been honored. Honor is central to who God is and what he does, it should be central to the life of every Christian. 

What would this look like for you this week? Who are you struggling to show honor to? That is likely the exact person God would have you honor today. By honoring others you are demonstrating the realities of God and his gospel.   

 

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Weekly Roundup - 10.11.14

Weekly Roundup - 10.11.14

Each week... y'know, maybe it's time we just face the facts and rename this column Occasional Roundup. We've been doing our best to sift and save the good blogs and articles that come our way, but then we got a Twitter account and it was all downhill from there. Now we're hashtagging, refreshing our feed every 30 seconds or so, and trying desperately to get a retweet from an athlete or celebrity pastor or even our Aunt Millie... We may have a problem. 

The Cure for Shame - Each and every one of us carries shame. There is a cure.

Mutual Confession: A Holy Experiment - God's purpose for calling His people into relationship not only with Himself, but with each other, requires much more of us and has much more to offer than small talk over coffee after service.

Two Fruits of True Forgiveness - A suitable follow-up to the article above.

The Big God in Your Small Group - As our community groups get back into gear after a summer lull, here are some helpful thoughts that might change how you approach the time.

Jesus Ever Lives Above, For You to Intercede - The intercession of Jesus on behalf of believers is a powerful reality of the Christian life.

Will Christians Be Left Behind? - A timely look at one contested aspect of the return of Jesus.

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Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

 

This Saturday is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. Most of us have a hard enough time keeping track of our own calendars let alone what can seem like random Jewish holidays. But the celebration of Yom Kippur offers a great opportunity for us to remember the gospel and what it means for us as Christians.

In Hebrew the word yom means “day”. Kippur comes from a root word that means “to atone”.  Yom Kippur then, means "Day of Atonement".

God commanded his people to observe the Day of Atonement the seventh day of the tenth month every year (Lev. 16:29). The Day of Atonement was the one day of the year on which the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of the nation and purify God’s people. The day involved several detailed practices:

- For seven days before Yom Kippur the High Priest would be sequestered in a chamber in the temple. There he would review the process for the Day of Atonement practices and go through ritual purification through washings and incense offerings.

- On the day itself the High Priest went through five different immersions in a ritual bath and four changes of clothing.

- After offering a bull as a sacrifice for his own sins and those of his household, the high priest would sacrifice a goat to cover the sins of the other priests as well as sacrifice two rams to purify the temple.

- The most important part of the day was the choosing of two goats to atone for the sins of the people. The goats would be selected by lottery - one to be sacrificed in the temple and the other, the scapegoat, to whom would be transferred the sins of the people. The scapegoat would then be sent off into the wilderness to carry the sins of God’s people away from God’s place.

    The Day of Atonement was bloody and gruesome, yet it offered a beautiful picture of the wrath of a holy God propitiated through sacrifice. Hebrews tells us that the scandalous truth of the gospel is that the practices of Yom Kippur were but a shadow of the reality that is found in Christ:

    “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…. he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Hebrews 9:11a, 12, 24-26

Jesus was a far greater reality than the image that Yom Kippur offers. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus, as both high priest and sacrifice, offered himself as a propiation, bearing the wrath of God in our place that we might be forever purified before him.

You may not enjoy the style of music, but rapper Shai Linne’s song High Priest communicates powerfully what happened on the Day of Atonement from the perspective of the High Priest:

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Weekly Roundup 09.20.14

Weekly Roundup 09.20.14

Every week about this time, the Internet shows up at my front door. It says to me "Can you publish me on your church's website, please?" Of course I respond "No way, you're way too big. Just give me the good stuff." Here's what it gave me.


Gospel Affection - The most important work we have to do as Christians is love. Here are 10 practical ways to love our brothers and sisters.

You Can't Catch Sin Like a Cold - A very helpful reminder to Christians that we choose our behavior.

Theological Impatience - God intends for us to put much time and much effort into knowing Him and following Him, regardless of our desire for instant gratification.

What's All This 'Gospel-Centered' Talk About? - You may have heard this phrase used around our church. Here's a good primer on what it means.

With his latest album 'Anomaly,' Lecrae became the first Christian Hip-Hop artist to hit #1 on the Billboard 200. Here's the video for the title track.

 

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Weekly Roundup 9.12.14 - Back in the Saddle Edition

Weekly Roundup 9.12.14 - Back in the Saddle Edition

Finally! it seems like forever since we got a Weekly Roundup published. See, what happened was, the wheelbarrow we were using to carry the internet over to the sorting room got a flat tire, and then I got lost on the way to hardware store and well, it's a long story, but suffice to say that marmot never knew what hit him. So, without further ado, Weekly Roundup!


Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry
- Living in the home of the greatest football team on earth puts us a heightened risk of getting our priorities out of line. A must read for anyone who loves sports.

Why Not Sin? - We know we shouldn't sin, but why not?

How to Decide About Your Next Job - Great wisdom on choosing a job that could really be applied to choices we have to make in many areas.

Regarded as Intolerant Haters: What's New? - Looking to the past, and how the early church flourished in a Pre-Christian culture can help us navigate our Post-Christian one.

We're Story Addicts: Mike Cosper on TV, Movies and the Hearts That Love Them - This interview with the author of a new book has some great thoughts on the design of the human heart and how we relate to the media around us.

John Piper's Message to Ray Rice - a 9 minute audio piece that addresses the heart behind domestic abuse.

 

 

 

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The Freedom of Forgetting Yourself

The Freedom of Forgetting Yourself

 

In his sermon this past Sunday, Nick Dawson did a great job describing how pride manifests itself. If you're proud (and pride lurks in all of us) you are consumed with yourself. You are always thinking about yourself, wondering what others think of you. If this is pride, then the person who outwardly meets our cultural definition of proud (arrogant, over-confident etc.) and the person who outwardly meets our cultural definition of humble (self-deprecating, timid, poor self-esteem etc.) both have the same root problem. They are both proud because they are both consumed with themselves. Gospel-humility however, is something completely different.

In his amazing little book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller helps us understand the nature of true gospel-humility:

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.

Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.

True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up. This is totally unique. Are we talking about high self-esteem? No. So is it low self-esteem? Certainly not. It is not about self-esteem. A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person.1

 


1Keller, Timothy (2012-04-01). The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (Kindle Locations 284-288). 10Publishing. Kindle Edition.


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Are You In The Grip Of Social Media Envy?

Are You In The Grip Of Social Media Envy?

 

I have a few confessions to make. I have a secret love for interior decorating. I started a Pinterest account before my wife. I harbor a desire to wear pink. Or at least purple. Yes, I’m confident in my own manliness but my domestic leanings resulted in an unexpected struggle last year when we redecorated the bedroom of our youngest two girls. Pinterest envy.

Definition: An inordinate and unhealthy desire to decorate a room in a way that others envy, the accomplishment (and subsequent online posting) of which will displace my own envy of others.
   
Facebook envy, mommy envy, Instagram envy… These terms have become common verbiage in our technological age. Publications from the New York Times to the Huffington Post have weighed in on the subject. The University of Michigan and Oxford University both did recent studies on the relationship between Facebook and envy. While envy itself hasn’t changed since Cain dealt an envious blow to his younger brother, the battleground clearly has. Social media is the new frontier of envy’s sinister reach.

So how gripped are you by social media envy? Here are three questions to ask yourself and three steps to take if you find yourself bound.

1. What are you looking at?

Social media is an incredible vehicle for communication. It’s great to be able to stay in touch with friends and relatives that you’d otherwise lose touch with. How grandparents survived without the cuteness of their grandchildren a mouse click away, I’ll never know. But what do you spend your time on Facebook doing? Do you communicate or do you stalk?

More than we’d like to admit we use Facebook to keep up on what people are spending their time doing and their money buying. We suppress a sneer when we see that family go on another vacation to Hawaii. A disconcerting cynicism rises up when that mom posts another humble brag about her kids. This is envy. It’s joyless. But for some reason we indulge it. Take a close look at your clicking habits. Think about how you feel after you log out of Facebook. If irritation at specific people is subtly creeping in, you are already in envy’s grip.

2. What are you posting?

Envy and pride are inseparable partners. They are so interrelated it’s difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. Look at the things you post. Are your updates, your photos, the comments you make, designed to engender the envy of others? Do you hope that others will look at the pictures of your vacation and wish it was them drinking margaritas on a Mexican beach? Are you being authentic or trying to create a particular portrayal of the perfection of your life? More often than not our prideful posts are just a cover-up for our own envious insecurities.

3. What is your focus?

This should be the biggest question in all our use of social media. More than any other medium in your life, social media points to what you worship. If all someone saw of you was your Facebook account would they see that your life is about Jesus or something else? Does your social media activity point to the worth of Jesus or the worth of yourself? If you’re stuck in the mire of social media envy, your social media use will quickly lose its godward focus.

If you’re finding that one of these areas is not as it should be, you need to act. Now.

1. Consider a fast from social media.

Taking an online break can refocus our hearts and get our perspective back.

2. Pray for those you’re tempted to envy.

When you find yourself dealing with annoyance at another post from that same person that always irritates you, pray for them.

3. Reach out to those you’re tempted to envy.

Envy can cause us to withdraw from the very people we envy. We don’t want to be around them, we gossip about them, we’d rather not see them. Instead, draw near. Humbly serve them.

In our series in Proverbs we’ve found the key to living with wisdom in every area of life is living in the fear of the Lord. The great saints used to call this living Coram Deo. To live Coram Deo means to live in God’s presence, under his authority, and for his glory — even in our use of social media.

You can check out our entire series on Proverbs — The Beginning and End of Wisdom — here.

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Ferguson, White Privilege, and the Gospel

Ferguson, White Privilege, and the Gospel



Yesterday’s funeral in Ferguson, Missouri finally brought some closure to the tensions the St. Louis suburb has experienced in the aftermath of the police shooting that killed Michael Brown. But while the violence may have stopped, the road to healing for Ferguson, and for other black communities like it, will be much longer.

Following the demonstrations and rioting in Ferguson, Matt Chandler (pastor of the Village Church in Dallas-Ft. Worth) stirred up some heated discussion on the internet with his comments on Ferguson and the problem of white privilege. You can read Matt’s article here.

In the article Chandler loosely describes white privilege as the belief “that our experiences, histories and benefits of our hard work are universal experiences for everyone.”

His point, which I agree with, is that privilege creates a prejudice that assumes every person goes through life on an even playing field. Privilege says that the opportunities afforded to middle-class white folks who grew up in South Hill in a stable family are the same as those offered to young black men who grew up in poverty with a single mom in a St. Louis ghetto.
   
What Chandler misses however, is that the problem of privilege isn’t merely a “white” problem. Privilege is a “human” problem. Privilege is really a specific form of pride. It is a sinful outlook that views one’s financial status, career stability, or success in life as due purely to hard work, ambition, wise decisions and smarts.

Scripture isn’t silent on the problem of privilege. in the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar, hardly a white man himself, looks over Babylon and pridefully praises his own accomplishments: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” God’s response is quick. While the words are still on Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth his kingdom is taken and he’s left in a field mooing and eating grass. Such is the warning for those who continue in prideful privilege.

Look at your own life. How many factors that determined who and what you are were completely out of your control? Where and when you were born, where you’ve lived, the opportunities you’ve had, the people you’ve met. The more we look at our own lives we shouldn’t see self-made success, we should see God’s grace.

That is what a gospel lens does. When the gospel truly transforms us there is no room for privilege. We should recognize that without God’s merciful hand at work in our life we could be a thousand different places than we are. But we aren’t. And we should be grateful. But this should also deeply affect our attitude toward others.

Conservative commentary on Ferguson has stressed the distance between abolition and 2014, the success of more recent African immigrants in America, and the plethora of opportunities afforded young black men. Liberals, on the other hand, victimize young black men and deny them the dignity of self-responsibility, Christians should do neither. Christians, both white and black, should recognize and repent of the prideful privilege that still lurks in our own hearts and become lavish distributors of God’s grace to places like Ferguson.

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