Tag Archives: Christianity

Ten Questions That May Change Your Life, Pt. 2

These are the other five questions from Donald Whitney’s book. We look at the first five questions in a previous post.

6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ?

This was one of those questions that did not seem to fit in with the rest of the questions. My first reaction was this, “What does this have to do with my ‘personal’ faith journey?” And, fundamentally, that was part of the problem. When I create a scenario where my faith is all about “me” and my faith is not a part of the greater “we,” (i.e., the church), then I have set myself up to no longer need anybody else. In order to avoid this we have to see the faith as something that we come into rather than as something that belongs to me. I just bought shares in the Kingdom of God. That is not how it works.

“So one of the best tests of whether we belong to Christ is whether we delight in His delight, namely, the people who comprise His church.” (Kindle Location, 754)

This is a wonderful reflection of what is missing in many areas of the church. There are places where members of the same congregation have not spoken to each other in years, maybe even decades. This is not a good witness to the world about the love of God in us, for them. If I do not or cannot delight in the company of the other believers, heaven will not be as blissful as many have imagined. This next statment and question helped me to clearly understand what this idea of delighting in the Bride of Christ meant.

“The truth of Scripture is better expressed by a congregation confessing, ‘We are the bride of Christ,’ than by a solitary Christian saying, ‘I am the bride of Christ.’ Therefore, do you delight in the church, that is, in the gathering of believers, their corporate experiences and labor?” (Kindle Location, 772)

7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?

My first reaction was, “No.” I have not participated in spiritual disciplines like I should. The primary reason is that I was unaware that there were a variety that could be practiced. After reading Whitney I have discovered that the spiritual disciplines must move from the category of “could be done” and become “should be done.” There are several statements made by Whitney in this chapter that are worth highlighting.

“Remember also that the spiritual disciplines found in Christian Scripture are sufficient.” (Kindle Location, 876)

“All the Christian spiritual disciplines are important and singularly beneficial. A discipline neglected is a blessing unclaimed.” (Kindle Location, 879)

This final example reveals the goal of the disciples life. To learn and grow and foster a consistent witness and a growing faith. We shouldn’t want to be a flash of fervor followed by nothing.

“Perhaps you are like a Christian woman I know who sometimes wonders if she is still growing spiritually, because the original God-kindled blaze of eternal life that once illuminated the darkness of her life so suddenly, seldom flames up as dramatically as when she was first converted. But what is true for the woodstove is true in this case for the Christian heart as well: just because the beginning of the combustion may briefly be more spectacular than at present doesn’t mean the fire isn’t growing. The initial burst of spiritual flame may be more dazzling, but the heartfire’s greatest effectiveness occurs as it burns into consistency.” (Kindle Location, 861)

8. Do you still grieve over sin?

My first reaction to this was, “I am not even sure people would understand this question.” As I read through the chapter it was just amazing to me how easy it is to become prideful in having received God’s grace. The wonderful words of God’s love are supposed to make us for full of ourselves. We should be moved to become more full of Him. Grieve over my sin changes how I look at everything, or at least it should.

“The closer you get to Christ, the more you will hate sin; for nothing is more unlike Christ than sin. Because Jesus hates sin, the more like Him you grow the more you will grow to hate sin. And the more you hate sin, the more you will grieve whenever you realize that you have embraced that which killed your Savior.” Kindle Location, 956)

Whitney’s clear description of what it means to draw closer to Jesus is important. Sin is darkness. It is everything that God is not and will never be. Therefore, if we are drawing closer to the eternal life of the Son of God the must necessarily be change occurring in our lives. This understanding of drawing close and the quote from Thomas D. Bernard, was also very revealing.

“The closer you come to the light of Christ, the more sins His holy light will expose in you. In the words of nineteenth century Bible scholar Thomas D. Bernard, ‘Our sense of sin is in proportion to our nearness to God.'” (Kindle Location, 971)

Finally, I was struck by the unshakable reality that grieving over sin will actually have the opposite effect than what I anticipated. Whitney says that

“Godly sorrow in the growing Christian makes him a thousand times more aware of his pride than his humility.” (Kindle Location, 1013)

9. Are you a quicker forgiver?

As I mentioned in Part 1, these question are so simple and direct the longer you look at them the more you realize how important the answers are. This question in particular has that effect. Let the two following passages sink in for a moment.

“Repenters toward God are forgivers toward others. Those who find themselves unable to forgive reveal that they’ve never experienced the transforming forgiveness of God.” (Kindle Location, 1084)

“The one who announces forgiveness where it hasn’t been sought not only discounts the importance of repentance, he also misunderstands the requirement of Scripture. But the one who is not willing to forgive is contradicting the Scripture, and for the moment at least, is putting the reality of his salvation to the test.” (Kindle Location, 1106)

I do not think that Whitney was off the mark here. Not only is our testimony questionable when we fail to forgive, but we should be concerned about where we stand before. When we are unable or unwilling to extend forgiveness to others after we have experienced it for ourselves, something is terribly wrong.

10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

We have all heard that there are some people who are “So heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Well, the truth may actually be the opposite. What if we are not heavenly minded enough? What if we have failed to truly consider the wonder and joy of heaven? What if, because we do not appreciate what is to come, we have sold ourselves and those around us short of God’s best?

The twist that Whitney provides here is that the yearning for heaven that all Christian’s should have is at its heart a longer for the completion of God’s work of making us totally holy. When the work of Salvation that Jesus ratified on the cross is completed, we will be able to enjoy God’s company forever. But, only a holy people can enjoy that. That is why a yearning for heaven is a desire to holy. This was last statement is just a striking truth.

Jonathan Edwards put it this way: “But neither a … longing to be in Heaven, nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart.”‘” (Kindle Location, 1198)

“Paul wrote like a man who had not only tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), but like one who has found the holiness of the Lord eternally and irresistibly addictive.” (Kindle Location, 1229)

The single best sermon I have EVER heard on what heaven will be like was given by Dr. Sam Storms in 2003 at the Desiring God National Conference. It was called “Joy’s Eternal Increase: Edwards on the Beauty of Heaven”. You can listen online or download the video here.

Conclusion

These ten question have the potential to provide a major course correction in your faith journey. But, they could also end up doing nothing to take you deeper into God’s plan and purposes for your life. The choice is yours.


Advertisements

Book Review | Why On Earth Did Jesus Come?

In the booklet “Why on Earth did Jesus come?” John Blanchard tackles the long asked question about Jesus mission. The forty pages really do pack a punch. The discussion begins by exploring the Church’s selection and use of December 25th as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Blanchard explains that the question surround Jesus birthday did not pick up momentum until the third century. For the next one hundred years eight dates were suggested with December 25 being selected because it served as a counter to a “Roman feast held on that day in honour (sic) of the pagan sun god” (pg. 4). Overall the book is a quick read and provides a succinct overview of some important doctrines and misconceptions surround Jesus’ life, ministry and mission.

The book covers many of the major issues regarding the birth of and the purpose for Jesus coming to earth. Here are is a short list of the subjects addressed

  1. The Virginity of Mary
  2. The Immaculate Conception of Mary
  3. The Incarnation of Christ (Theological and Biological Reflections)
  4. The Identity of Jesus (Prophetically, Biblically, Personally)
  5. The Biblical Doctrine of Sin and Depravity
  6. The Act and Process of Redemption in Christ

This is a wonderful resource for anyone that is interested in exploring any of the above topics. The life of Jesus is not something that we can learn enough about. The more we know about him the greater our understanding of his mission and victory over sin. And the more our love for our Savior grows.

Blanchard does not waste words trying to convince you of something that is false. Rather, there is a simple progression through the key ideas and challenges to the work and life of Jesus. While the content is rich, it does not get bogged down in technical jargon. I would strongly recommend this book for a new believer or even a maturing believer that is looking to be reminded of the miraculous life of Jesus.

Book Review | Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God

If reading Dr. David Platt’s first book Radical was like getting a punch in the stomach, then reading Radical Together was like getting your teeth knocked in. Dr. Platt uses a simple and direct way of communicating the heart motivation that believers should have. And every time I read something that was not present in my life my heart was pricked by conviction. The Gospel is radically good news. It should change us and leave us wanting for more, but this is not always the case.

In Radical Together Dr. Platt moves the focus from the individual Christian to the corporate fellowship of believers. How should radically transformed believers live out their lives together? This is a powerful question that we have to take seriously. There are six areas that are covered in the book:

  1. The tendency to be satisfied to easily
  2. Misunderstanding what the Gospel is and does
  3. A failure to trust the Word of God
  4. The arrogance of favoritism
  5. Our fear of what’s to come
  6. Our prideful sense of our own worth

These are my takeaway’s from reading the book. It is difficult at times to come face-to-face with what you are doing, or not doing for that matter. What makes Radical Together helpful is the way that you are confronted, comforted, and challenged to make the changes that need to be made. It is not that you are doing these things on your own. I think that this really is the point. The combination of the church’s power and presence to facilitate these changes is invaluable and incalculable.

I would say that the book is worth the price of three pages found at the end of the book. As I read them I was so convicted that I had to re-read them as they spoke to my heart. Dr. Platt shares a personal story about sharing tracts to an unreached people group and thinking to himself that “God must be really glad to have me on his team.” He then quotes several paragraphs from A. W. Tozer‘s book The Knowledge of the Holy. As Dr. Platt puts it, he just so happened to be holding the book. This particular passage captures the essence of whole.

“An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support. I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.” (A. W. Tozer, quoted in Radical Together, p. 122)

This section alone is worth the price of the book! I am thankful for Dr. Platt’s faithfulness in sharing these insights and encouragements. I pray that the universal church would take to heart what God has called her to. I also pray that I would live a life worthy of the God who saves in such a radical way.

Why Not Me?: Rethinking How and Why We Suffer | Part 3

Why are we so surprised when we suffer?

I am not going to be looking at how the Bible, or the Christian faith for that matter, addresses the suffering of others. What I want to look at is what the Bible describes when it comes to the way that a Christian should suffer. Please understand that I understand suffering to be an expected reality as did many of the writers of the scriptures, including Jesus. I think that one of the more difficult thoughts that we have to overcome is that as Christians we can fall for the often told, or implied, lie that as Christians suffering will no longer be a part of our lives.  And if it is, it is because of some moral failure, some lesson that we have to learn, or that it is something that just happens and God is somehow going to make things all right. I think that when we frame suffering in this way we are left with a deficient theology of suffering and in many ways we undermine God’s character. Not only that, but all are terrible alternatives to a Christian’s response to or understanding of suffering.  I think that they are shallow, hurtful and inconsistent with the what the bible says. What makes matters more amazing is that we have not investigated deeply enough what God, Jesus, and the writers of the Old and New Testament have to teach us about suffering.

I have come to realize that many believer’s have a theology of suffering that is inconsistent with what the bible teaches. What this leads to is a self-centered view of suffering, avoidance of difficult circumstances and an unwillingness to be instruments of God’s glory regardless of what happens to us and in our lives.

Ridiculous Verses

The question becomes this: What does the bible say about how a Christian should suffer? I will not attempt to capture the whole of the scriptures witness on the issue of Christian suffering, but I would like to provide a representative sample so that we can begin to understand how Christian’s are supposed to accept, receive and understand suffering. And then, after entering into suffering how we should respond.

Joseph is standing in a position of power and his brothers, the ones that sold him into a life of misery are now standing before him. There would be no greater opportunity to exact his revenge. But that is not how Joseph sees the situation. Joseph has come to understand that God’s purpose for his life far different from what even his brothers could have known. Joseph looks at them and says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20, NLT). How could Joseph had said this? Joseph had come to understand that the circumstances of his life were the necessary steps of God will and glory to be seen in the world. For some, this is a very difficult pill to swallow. I can understand and appreciate that.

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. (John 15:18-21, ESV)

If there is anyone in the scripture that understood what Jesus meant about the animosity that the world would have toward Christians it was Paul. I want to share a few passages that are just mind-blowing odd, not because of what he describes, but in the way that Paul thinks about the suffering that he is enduring.

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, ESV)

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16-18, ESV)

Who talks like this? Seriously! How can you look at the suffering that you are enduring and not become bitter or hardened by it. Paul had become convinced of EVERY word that Jesus taught. There were no reservations. There was no doubt. There was nothing that could distract this apostle from the task that was laid before him. Peter in his first letter provides us with two helpful passages that put suffering for Christ in their proper context.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. … 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. … 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-14, 16, 19, ESV)

9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:9-10, ESV)

Suffering as a Christian is one of the marks and one of the evidences that we are pressing into the enemy’s territory. When we are satisfied with the way things are; when we are comfortable with the events that are taking place around us, we have not fully grasped the power and intensity of the Gospel. Why do I make such a statement? I say this for one simple reason, a reason that Paul himself offered up for his devotion and single-minded tenacity in spreading the message of Jesus: he believed that Good News was worthy of being spread to as many as would receive it.

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:3, ESV)

We have just hit the twilight zone of bible verses. I had read this verse so often and I had missed the full weight of what Paul was saying here. Paul is saying that when he looked at his countrymen, the Jews, his love for them was so strong that he was willing to forsake the single most precious thing that he had. To say it another way, Paul is saying that he would chose to endure the fires of hell and eternal torment “for the sake of” his countrymen! The longing of his heart; the depth of his love; the tenderness of his ministry was always for one thing, that others might come to know Jesus. If that meant being jailed, beaten, stoned, almost drown or chased out of town. The Gospel was such Good News to Paul’s soul and mind that anything and everything was worth enduring so that Jesus would be proclaimed.

Here are several other passages that continue to put suffering not in the category of a curse, but rather the blessed opportunity of every believer to make Jesus known.

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ … 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Philippians 3:7-8, 10, ESV)

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, … 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. ( 2 Timothy 1:8, 12, ESV)

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (James 2:19-24, ESV)

Opportunities Wasted

One of the thoughts that runs through my mind is wondering how many opportunities have I wasted, where I was faced with a difficult situation, and rather than turning to God to sustain me through it I blamed him for what I was dealing with. When we don’t know what to do we do what feels right. The danger with this approach to life is that our feelings are never fully informed of all that is happening around us. So, when we rely on such an unreliable source of information we make decisions and entertain thoughts that are not congruent or consistent with God’s word and plan for us.

Suffering, not pleasure, strengthens our faith. Suffering forces us to depend upon God to sustain us. Pleasure drives all of our attention and affections inward. When this happens we lose sight of almost everything around us. I guess the question becomes this: Why do we run from suffering so quickly? I am not advocating that we wallow in misery. What I am wondering is why don’t we see, or maybe we just can’t see, how God could use what is happening for his glory. The underlying assumption here is that God would allow this to happen. God will protect us from the world and its influences. I think that John’s words are a fitting end to this discussion. When we are convinced of this simple truth we will be driven to the Gospel, into the arms of our Savior, and we will no longer find our satisfaction in the small and dissipating pleasures this world offers.

13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (1 John 3:13, ESV)


Additional Passages to Consider:
2 Corinthians 1:5-6; Galatians 6:17; Philippians 1:21, 29; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 5:8; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 3:14-17