Monthly Archives: May 2012

Why Did God Include the Psalms in the Bible?

In his article, Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good, Edward T. Welch offers this helpful tidbit concerning the placement of psalms in the Bible and how we should use them in our suffering:

Why did God include psalms in the Bible?  Certainly, they teach us how to worship the Lord, but there is more.  Do you notice that God actually wants us to speak to him when we struggle, so much so that when we are speechless, He offers us words to speak?  In one psalm after another, He invites us to cry out to Him rather than cry on our beds alone.  The psalms teach us how to talk.

With this in mind, find a psalm to call your own, one that captures your experience and turns you to the Lord… Start with phrases or sections of the psalm to get started.  Speak them from your heart to the Lord.  Talk out loud.  God is a real person: “Hear my cry for help, O Lord.”  Don’t forget that these words are not simply those of a human poet expressing his sorrow or isolation.  They are divinely authorized words that Jesus Himself used to call out to His Father.  They teach us how to call out to God who delights to hear us.

This is exactly what you need.  All other paths loop back to yourself.  It is as if you can’t get away from you and your swirling emotions.  The Psalms come down, describe and name these swirling emotions, then take us outside of ourselves and to the God who gives hope.

 
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A Nugget of Truth for Tired Parents

Doing parenting God’s way is hard work.  In fact, I often wonder when my wife and I get to the end of our lives if raising kids will have been the hardest thing we ever did.  We have a responsibility to feed these children, clothe them, protect them, discipline them, teach them, share the gospel with them, model Christ-likeness to them, and, in short, seek to love them as God loves us.  These things you must do, and with a worshipful heart.  If we strive to do all of this (by God’s grace, of course), we will be exhausted… most of the time.

At that reality, you may be thinking that it’s not such a bad idea for five year-olds to start looking for work, cranking out a 9 to 5 gig to start pulling their weight.  But before you start coaching your kid on how to interview, be blessed by this verse from Proverbs:

Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart (29:17).

Now, we must understand that the book of Proverbs is not a book of promises, but rather a book of generalities (i.e. – this is what usually happens).  So, this is not a guarantee, but it is still meant to provide hope and incentive for us to keep up the good work.  According to this proverb, if you wear yourself out doing parenting God’s way, then, what usually happens is that God works through your parenting to develop your child in such a way that leaves them needing less of your labor and toil as a mom or dad.

 

 

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Gospel-Motivation for Hospitality

This past Sunday our pastor preached a convicting sermon on the necessity for hospitality in gospel communities.  One of his main points was to expose the predominant reason for our lack of hospitality within Christianity: we’re just plain selfish.  We like the peace and comfort that boundaries provide, so too often we stay behind them and make excuses for why we don’t invite people in.

This got me thinking of the contrast we see in the gospel.  In the gospel, God has opened up his home (heaven) to us.  But, in order for him to show this kind of hospitality, much more had to be done than simply extending an invitation.  God had to make a way for us to receive his hospitality because our rebellion kept us from enjoying his fellowship, sitting at his table.  He did this by leaving the comfort of his home and entering the wreck that is our home (Philippians 2:5-8).

By giving his life, Jesus made certain that we would enjoy God’s hospitality.  But God’s hospitality is more than simply being invited to his home for dinner and leaving to return to back to our home after laughing a bit and playing Jenga.  In his hospitality, God actually makes his home our home.  Philippians 3:20 tells us “our citizenship is heaven”, and more so, the doctrine of adoption has deep implications for the comfort and intimacy we will enjoy in heaven, not just as guests, but as sons and daughters.

Church, we get our motivation for hospitality from the reality that we have been treated ever-so hospitably in Christ.

 

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How Francis Schaeffer Impacts Me Most

Last night I finished Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, a biography by Colin Duriez who was a student of Schaffer’s at L’abri.  I began reading the book a while back because I knew next-to-nothing about the man.  All I knew was that he was a big player in the shaping of Evangelicalism in America in the 20th century and he developed some kind of Christian institution in Switzerland that became very influential.

While there was much I took away from his life and ministry, perhaps what impacted me most was something that had nothing to do with his books, his documentaries, his apologetics, or his wildly popular speaking ministry.  What impacted me most about Schaeffer was the fact that the dude knew how to have a conversation.  On a number of occasions, Duriez points out the unique way in which Schaeffer locked in to a conversation with a person so that they walked away sincerely blessed.  Take this quote for instance:

When Mr. Schaeffer would talk to you, there was nothing else in the world that was going on.  He was totally focused on you and what you were talking about and was very involved, very interested.  It wouldn’t matter who the person was.  It could be from the most simple person to the most intellectual-that focus and interest and involvement was the same.  I saw it time and time again.  I experienced it myself, and it wasn’t anything false.  He was really interested in people, and was something that was very, very striking.  I’d never seen that degree of concentration and having that kind of attention, I don’t think, with anyone else.  That enormous personality that he had, it would all be focused on you.  And he never forgot anything you ever told him.

Schaeffer’s daughter, Susan, also remembered this from her childhood and reflected,

… he seemed to have an intuition of letting a person actually enjoy things, become involved, ask their own questions, think their thoughts, and work through their thoughts.

I’ve met very few people that share this quality with Schaeffer, and I’m not one of them.  Many of need to take some pages from Schaeffer’s playbook on how to treat people like they matter.  How may conversations have we had with people where we are only half there and the other half of us is walking through our to-do list or crafting what we’re going to say next that’s “more important” than what they’re saying in the moment?  Talking with people like Schaeffer did, doesn’t come from simply keeping your eyes fixed on the person’s mouth as their lips move and words come out.   It comes from cultivating a heart for people that reflects God’s heart for people.  It comes from consistently reminding yourself that every person has value as God’s creation, stamped with his image (Gen. 1:27).  It comes from reminding yourself that God made us to be in relationship with him as well as other people.

 

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Using Summer Fun to Teach Your Kids About Jesus

Last week The Village Church in Dallas, TX put out a FREE resource that families would do well to take advantage of.  Their Summer Family Activity Book is full of creative ideas meant to bring families together and get them off the couch, but the best thing of all is that each activity includes a suggestion for how to bring it back to God and his Word. You’ll find a load of online family activity guides, but this is the only one I know about that combines family fun with God’s truth.

You can download it here.

And here’s a paragraph from the introduction:

We have put the Summer Family Activity Book together with this charge in mind. Whether you’re hanging out at home, traveling across the country or running errands around town, there is no shortage of opportunities to help your children see the things of the Lord. Our hope is to help you see and take advantage of these moments.

 

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How to Give Up Protecting Your Self-Righteousness

Yesterday we looked at the Christian’s fight against sin and the need we have to confess to God even the sinful desires in our hearts that seem to come out of nowhere.  The need for this comes from the reality that sinful desires actually don’t come out of nowhere but are in our hearts because we are sinful by nature.  In other words, our sinful desires do not come from Satan or some unknown outside source but from within us, whether we are conscious of them or not (see Matthew 15:19 and James 1:14).

Today I want to write about one of the reasons I think we may not like the idea that we are responsible for our sinful desires.  We have all had numerous experiences where in the middle of doing something seemingly virtuous, a sinful thought appears in our hearts and minds that is sick and corrupt.  It’s one of those thoughts that scares you because of the depth of its depravity and makes you feel dirty for having thought it.  Immediately, you shake your head (as if that’s going to do the trick) and say to yourself, “No!”.  You try to go back to what you were doing but the thought still threatens to unfold in your mind, and even after it’s gone the fact that it was in your mind still haunts you.  To confess that such thoughts come from within you obliterates any remaining dignity you thought you had, so you choose to write it off as uncategorized evil and only confess the sins you feel like you actively chose.  You know that if you confess that such thoughts come from you, then you are admitting you are capable of atrocities reserved only for the real scum of the earth.   We all want to protect our own self-righteousness (which is an illusion in the first place), so we hold back those desires from the light of the gospel.

Many of you are familiar with 1 John 1:7 which tells us we need to “walk in the light”, but do you remember the benefit John gives for doing this? – “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin”.  Similarly in verse 9 we are told, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  These verses, though often quoted to unbelievers who need to come to Christ for salvation, are actually written to believers to encourage us to walk before the Lord as an open book, believing that God, through Christ, continually cleanses us and removes many of the temporal consequences of sin that we experience as a daily reality in this life.  If we refuse to confess our sinful desires to God, we will miss out on the benefits of God’s conscience-cleansing, burden-lifting grace for those sins and should not expect to grow in great measure.

The gospel of Jesus Christ deals with sin fully and completely, so one of the best things we can do for God’s glory and our joy is to stop trying to protect our pride and spill out all known sin in confession to the Lord.  Stop hanging on to the lie that you yourself are good and embrace the reality that God is good  Then, remember that through the death of Jesus you receive the blessings of that goodness more and more as you agree with God about your sin… even the sin at the level of your desires.

 

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Should I Confess Sinful Desires that “Come Out of Nowhere”?

This past Saturday we put on a seminar for men and young men at our church called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust.  I was privileged to speak at this event as were two other pastors, one of which was our senior pastor, Dan Kirk.  Dan’s talk was titled Understanding the Heart of Sexual Lust and his main premise was that in the fight against sexual lust the battle begins on the level our desires.  That thought may not be new to you, but Dan’s prescription may be.  He taught that because we have sinful hearts, there is no outside source of temptation needed, (pornographic websites, tv commercials, etc.) for us to desire something we shouldn’t, therefore, we need to confess our sinful desires as well as our sinful words, actions, and thoughts.

Our hearts simply manufacture sinful desire on their own, which is why Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19).  We must, then, ask the Lord for forgiveness even if a desire for something sinful pops into our hearts seemingly out of nowhere.  Why?  Because the desire didn’t come out of nowhere… it came from your heart.  You say, “But how can I be responsible for that desire when I didn’t choose it?”  Well, if our very nature is sinful, then we are sinners; that’s who we are.  And if that’s who we are, then the sin in our lives is not just a series of choices that are thought-out intentionally (though those choices are a part of it); it also includes unconscious sin that flows out of our nature as sinners.  After all, in the famous text on the progression of sin, James writes, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14).  The immoral desire in this verse (lust) does not come from Satan or some other outside source… it comes from within.

You may say, “But sometimes Satan is responsible for tempting us.”  Yes, but we cannot ultimately blame Satan because he would have nothing to work with if we did not have sinful hearts.  It’s not just the conscious, willful sins that we need to confess and bring into the light of Christ, but also the sins that are there because our hearts are always actively desiring someone or something, whether we realize it or not.  Stay tuned because tomorrow I’ll be writing about one of the reasons I think we balk at this prescription.

 

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Book Review: From Creation to New Creation

The concept of the Bible as story is a popular one these days.  With the publication of The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Picture Story Bible, and others like it, parents and grandparents are seeing the cloud of confusion surrounding the cohesion of the Bible begin to lift as they read aloud.  Books of this nature geared toward adults are getting attention as well.  Graeme Goldsworthy’s book, According to Plan (written on this subject in 1991 before it was popular), is gaining a new audience and D.A. Carson’s The God Who is There comes at the concept from a fresh angle by drawing the reading to think about his/her place in God’s story.

Of the books stacking up on the subject, few will have heard of Tim Chester’s From Creation to New Creation.  This is an unfortunate reality, for it may well be the most useful one to date.  What do I mean?  While Carson’s book makes for an engaging read, sometimes leading one to forget he’s reading theology, Chester’s book reads more like a syllabus or a manual for understanding the storyline of the Bible.  The strength of this approach is in its organization and search-ability.  I enjoyed Carson’s book, but unless I can commit to reading it all the way through again, I’m not sure how often I’ll pick it up.  This book, however, makes it easy to pop into a specific motif in the story and get the basic information you need without a lot of sifting.

Chester follows the storyline motifs of a people who know God, a place of blessing, a King and a kingdom, and blessing to the nations and brings them all together under the umbrella of God’s promise fulfilled in Christ.  While not afraid to quote much Scripture, and often longer passages, Chester acts as a guide to the reader, making comments on important texts that highlight these different themes.

As I did, many readers will appreciate Chester’s helpful diagrams and his straight-forward, no fluff writing style, but there’s one thing that would have topped things off nicely: a conclusion that summarizes the content of the book and shows the cohesiveness of the story themes.  The book ended a bit abruptly and I found myself craving a reminder.

What I love about Chester’s book is that it’s great for getting the information.  If you need the information to be a bit more seasoned for the sake of palatability, you may want to choose another book like Carson’s.  But for teachers who need user-friendly resources for study and anyone who appreciates simplicity and succinctness, I highly recommend it.

 

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Can You Be Amazed by God and Not Believe Him?

In reading the Word yesterday I ran across a verse in Luke 20 that struck me.  Verse 26, speaking of the scribes and chief priests, reads, “… but marveling at his answer they became silent.”  Did you catch that?  Those religious leaders who despise Jesus are marveling at his teaching.  The same group of men who, just a few verses ago, sought to capture Jesus in order to put him to death (v. 19), are amazed at his answer to their question.  The conclusion here is clear: a heart can be amazed by Jesus without trusting Jesus.

There are two applications I think we can draw from this:

First, we should not assume that a person is a follower of Christ just because he/she is amazed by witnessing something God has done or said, like a direct answer to prayer, the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching, or a medical recovery that doctors cannot explain.  A person may stand awe-struck by God’s power much like king Nebuchadnezzar when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not burned by the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:24, 28), but just as with Nebuchadnezzar, may go right back to a “me-centered” life soon thereafter, proving their unbelief (4:28-30).

Second, even as believers, being amazed by something God has done or said does not mean that we are walking in right fellowship with him.  There may still be sins that we need to confess and turn from and there may areas of life wherein we need to begin to trust God’s promises instead of the lies our hearts so often believe.  Walking in faith is a much better indicator of spiritual health than walking in amazement.

 

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We Need to Know More than the Vileness of Sin If We’re Going to Change

This Saturday our church is hosting a seminar for men on the issue of battling sexual lust, and so, as I prepare to teach one of the sessions I’ve been doing some concentrated reading on the subject.  One book I’m reading in particular is Closing the Window: Steps to Living Porn-Free by Tim Chester.  In the introduction, Chester makes a suggestion that I  think is especially helpful for men struggling with lust:

Whenever you put the book down, spend a few moments in prayer and praise.  Make sure when you finish reading that you’re thinking about Christ and not about porn.

The reality is that when we are striving to fight the sin of lust, we need to grow in our hatred of it and understand what lies we are believing when we give in to it.  This requires probing our hearts to see what idols are at the root of our lust, doing some reading on the subject (both in the Word and in Christian books), and receiving accountability from believing brothers.  And even as we are thinking about lust and porn as evil, wicked, and abominable, because our hearts are deceitful, we can be tempted to lust in the midst of our assault against it.

This is exactly why every thought of the vileness of sin must never be without a thought of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Yes, sin is sick, but Jesus died to pay for that sin and transfer his righteousness to your account so that God treats you as if you lived Christ’s perfect life.  Yes, sin is sick, but Jesus rose from the dead conquering that sin so that you are no longer a slave to it.  Yes sin is sick, but your Father in heaven loved you with a love so great that he sent his only son to die for the forgiveness of that sin.

In Ephesians 5:1-2, right before Paul says “sexual immorality… must not even be named among you”, he writes, “Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Chester understands the same thing Paul did… the motivation for change is in the gospel.  The condemnation of sin is only part of the equation.  Even if we describe lust in the most horrific terms possible, our hearts will still be able to find something desirable in it.  But when we remember the love with which Christ loved us and all the resources for change that he gave us through his sacrifice, we will begin to find the fight being won more often.

 

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