Thursday, February 26, 2009

This much, O God, I want you

I am reading John Piper's book A Hunger for God during this Lenten season and as I read it I plan on sharing some thoughts and quotes from it that might help or encourage those who are fasting. In the introduction he says this:

"The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable."
He is careful to clearly affirm that food and other things we fast from are indeed good gifts of God. His point is that good things, when they replace God instead of lead us to God, can become destructive and idolatrous. So it isn't the thing in itself that's the problem- our sinful heart is the problem.

The book is set out to argue that fasting is one way we can expose these subtle idols of the heart and train ourselves to find satisfaction in God rather than in food, or TV, or any other good thing. It is easy to just say we love God above everything else, but we must continually put that love to the test through sacrifice. Fasting is one God given way to examine our hearts. So when we fast we are really training our hearts to say with the psalmist:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
Piper closes the introduction with an excellent quote to ponder. He says:
"If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.”"

Tim Keller - How is Christianity relevant for today's culture?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: Joel 2:12-17
12 "Even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." 13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 14 Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing— grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God. 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the temple porch and the altar. Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?' "

The Gospel: St. Matthew 6:16-21
16"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gathered for Mission

The Holy Spirit came to earth in power at Pentecost. Jesus ascended to Heaven and told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit’s arrival. On the Feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell upon those in Jerusalem and they spoke in tongues, and flames of fire hovered over their heads. The upshot is this: God’s presence is no longer focused in the Temple in Jerusalem, but poured out “wherever two or three are gathered together in the name of the Lord” (Mt. 18). The Church is now the temple of the Lord. Let’s read Ephesians 2:19-22.

"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
The apostles and prophets are the foundation of the New Testament Church and Jesus is the Chief cornerstone. Today the Holy Spirit is calling the church to holiness, and holiness is Christlikeness. Whereas in the Old Covenant the Holy Spirit came upon a few believers here and there, under the new covenant the presence of God the Spirit is constant, and steady. If you are in Christ by faith, you have the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit dwells in you. You have access to a constant flow of oil. Know that and believe it.

That being the case, be a witness to those around you. When I was a little boy in Sunday School we used to sing, “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray”. You are called to be the light of the world. You have an unending supply of oil, so keep your witness burning. The Church, when it is truly the Church, can never be a cozy club of insiders. It must always see itself as the Temple of God gathered for mission. Look for opportunities to share your faith, let your light shine to those in darkness.

Don’t be like Cain

Tim Challies had a post on his blog a few days ago citing a section of John Piper's new book Finally Alive (downloadable for free). The quoted section fits nicely with some of the things that pastor touched on in his sermon this week on 1 Corinthians 13, particularly the part about "love does not envy." Here is what Piper says commenting on 1 John 3:11-14:

This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. (1 John 3:11-14)

Now this specific form of love in verse 12 may seem to you to be totally unneeded. “Don’t be like Cain who murdered his brother.” Am I really concerned that there will be a spate of murders among Christians? No. And I don’t think John feared that either, though it does happen. He doesn’t focus on the murder. He asks in verse 12, “And why did he murder him?” That’s John’s concern. There is something about Cain’s motive that he thinks will be relevant to the way believers love each other.

He answers at the end of verse 12: “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” What John is saying here is not merely that love doesn’t kill a brother, but that love doesn’t feel resentful when a brother is superior in some spiritual or moral way. Cain didn’t kill Abel simply because Cain was evil. He killed him because the contrast between Abel’s goodness and Cain’s evil made Cain angry. It made him feel guilty. Abel didn’t have to say anything; Abel’s goodness was a constant reminder to Cain that he was evil. And instead of dealing with his own evil by repentance and change, he got rid of Abel. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, shoot the mirror.

So what would it be like for any of us to be like Cain? It would mean that anytime some weakness or bad habit in our lives is exposed by contrast to someone else’s goodness, instead of dealing with the weakness or the bad habit, we keep away from those whose lives make us feel defective. We don’t kill them. We avoid them. Or worse, we find ways to criticize them so as to neutralize the part of their lives that was making us feel convicted. We feel like the best way to nullify someone’s good point is to draw attention to their bad point. And so we protect ourselves from whatever good they might be or us.

But John’s point is: Love doesn’t act like that. Love is glad when our brothers and sisters are making progress in good habits or good attitudes or good behavior. Love rejoices in this growth. And if it happens to be faster than our own growth, then love is humble and rejoices with those who rejoice.

So the lesson for us is: Everywhere you see some growth, some virtue, some, spiritual discipline, some good habit, or good attitude, rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. Compliment it. Don’t resent it. Don’t be like Cain. Respond the opposite from Cain. Be inspired by other people’s goodness.

Love is humble. Love delights in other people’s good. Love doesn’t protect its own flaws. Love takes steps to change them. What a beautiful fellowship where everyone is rejoicing in each other’s strengths, not resenting them! This is what the love of God looks like when the new birth gives it life in the people of God.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thoughts on Fasting

Here is a post from Peter Leithart's blog a couple months ago on fasting:

For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body. We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical. The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked. The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.

Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure. After all, if good and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them? Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.
For more thoughts on fasting check out these posts on Tim Chester's blog:
  1. Should Christians Fast?
  2. Using a hunger for food to cultivate a hunger for God
  3. How Should we Fast?
  4. Marcus Honeysett on Fasting

Love the Church

Nehemiah 4:16-18:

From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
What a scene! Families spread out along the miles of broken down wall surrounding Jerusalem. Every man held a trowel and a sword. The trumpet was at hand ready to blast. Wherever the trumpet sounded, the people dropped their trowels, wielded their swords and beat back the enemy. Then they returned to their trowels, placing mortar and stones, raising the wall, making it strong, high, and impregnable. They finished the job in 52 days. The people were secure; the city safe.

This is how we live the Christian life, with sword, trowel, and trumpet. With the sword we fight, with the trowel we build up, and with the trumpet we sing and praise the Lord. This same dedication that the people under Nehemiah gave to the work of Jerusalem should mark us in our work for the Lord in the Kingdom of God, and the center of God’s Kingdom is the church.

Something is wrong if we do not identify with the Church, love it, and invest ourselves in it, carrying its needs on our hearts. Just as the consuming goal of Nehemiah was to rebuild Jerusalem, our goal should be to build the Church. Jesus told Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:17).

Of course the building of the church is not primarily bricks and mortar, wood and drywall - it is spiritual graces: holiness, love, and service. God builds His church through the Word, the Holy Spirit, and the Sacraments. Again, Paul states that the Family of God, the Household of God, is “built on Christ and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21).

The upshot is this: we are the temple, built on Christ and growing by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you love Jesus Christ, you will love the Church. Don’t make excuses that you love Jesus, but you don’t love the Church, or you are not a joiner, or that you prefer the Lone Ranger style. Those excuses don’t work. Get excited about the church. Get involved in the Church. Learn to love the worship and history, the music and richness, the service and ministry of the Body of Christ.

The apostle Paul said in Eph. 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her...” The apostle pronounces in Eph. 3:21, “To [God] be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” The glory “in the church” complements the glory “in Christ Jesus”. Jesus loves the church, His bride, and strives to sanctify her and make her beautiful, and even give Himself for her. He will come back for her and she will be His bride at the Last Day. Given those facts, how can we have a low view of the Church? Part of Christlikeness means that we follow Christ by loving the church and caring for her welfare.

Excerpt from a sermon on Nehemiah

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Questioning Evangelism

I wanted to add a hearty amen to Pastor’s thoughts in the post Fishers of Men below. The point about asking questions in evangelism is a very important one.

Somebody once told me a bit of wisdom that always stuck with me, he said, “People don’t want answers unless they have questions.” I think a huge part of what many approaches to evangelism lack is this realization that the best way to get people to deeply think about something is to ask them a question that goes straight to their heart.

There is a book that I have just recently heard about that is all about doing evangelism this way, it is called Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman. In the first chapter he explains how Jesus is his model for this approach. This is what he says:

“It is uncanny how often our Lord answered a question with a question

A rich man asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That question was a great setup for a clear, concise gospel presentation. I can almost hear a disciple whispering in Jesus’ ear, “Take out the booklet.” How could Jesus not launch into the most perfect model for every evangelistic training seminar for all time? But how did he respond? He posed a question, “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:17-18)

When religious leaders asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes, Jesus referred to a coin and asked, “Whose portrait is this?” (Matt. 22:17-20). When the Pharisees, “looking for a reason to accuse Jesus,” asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus’ response was a question: “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matt. 12:9-12).

I once did a study of how Jesus answered every question that was asked of Him in all four gospels. Answering a question with a question was the norm. A clear, concise, direct answer was a rarity."
He goes on to say that often in evangelism he answered questions with Biblically accurate, watertight arguments only to have the questioners brush those answers aside. His solution is to model our evangelism after Jesus and ask questions that guide people to the truth.

It isn’t that we shouldn’t give answers, but like I said, people won’t hear our answers to the deepest problems in their heart unless we get them to ponder real questions that penetrate their heart.

If this interests you, I suggest you get the book Questioning Evangelism and study this further. To listen to a couple of talks at Covenant Life Church related to the book, go here:

The Gospel, Moralism, and Irreligion

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fishers of Men

John 21:5-6:

Jesus said to them, "Children, do you have any fish?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.
Evangelism is another lesson we learn from this episode on the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee. The boat is the church. You are sitting in the “nave” of the church. The church is a ship, an ark, a sailing vessel toiling amidst a restless world. As such, our obligation is fishing, or evangelism.

The first time Jesus performed the miracle of a big catch, He taught, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). With their boats practically sinking under the weight of the fishes, Jesus promised, “From now on you will catch men” (Luke 5:10). And then there is the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven being “like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered [fish] of every kind” (Matthew 13:47).

On that first occasion they immediately left their nets and followed Him. He calls to you as of old, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus calls you to the mighty work of catching human beings for Christ and pulling them to safety from the floods of judgment. It is an awesome task. Do you feel inadequate for the job? That is a natural feeling. Fishing is hard work with nets. How can we overcome our incompetence in evangelism?

The answer is to be found in following Jesus, “Come after Me”, “Follow Me”, “Walk with me”. That is the answer. Concentrate on that. Jesus promises to equip you – “I will make you become fishers of men.” You do not have to make yourself into a fisherman. You are not responsible for guaranteeing a catch. That belongs to the Lord. If you follow Jesus, you can leave everything in His hands. “I will make you” is the answer to your inadequacies.

The secret to evangelism doesn’t depend on some gimmick, or fancy lure, or expensive fishing rod, or fast boat equipped with sonar. It depends upon your walk with the Lord. “For without Me you can do nothing,” Jesus stated. He will make you a fisher of men if you follow Him. Follow Him in love, obedience, fellowship, prayer and Bible study, and He will make you to become a fisher of men.

In a practical sense, how can I share my faith with others? Now that I desire to become a fisher of men, how can I approach unbelievers and speak to them about spiritual things? Asking good questions may be the best tactic.

By asking questions you give people a chance to voice their opinion, and they may be more willing to open up and dialogue with you. Growing our church is what Christ wants us to do. We have much potential at Grace Church. Be a fisher of men with those you meet. Start casting your net.

Excerpt from a sermon on John 21:1-14

Thursday, February 19, 2009

In Our Joy

Matthew 13:44:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
From the intro to the booklet "In Our Joy" by John Piper.
"Fifteen minutes before his discovery in the field, the thought of selling all that he owned would have seemed unwise to this man, even excruciating. But fifteen minutes afterward he was off to do it with joy. What made the difference?

The treasure. This man suddenly found something that transformed his whole outlook on life. It restructured his priorities. It altered his goals. His values changed. The treasure revolutionized the man.

There was a cost to obtaining the treasure. Viewing it one way, it was a high cost. Imagine being his neighbor. You would have been bewildered as you watched him liquidate his assets. You might have questioned him. You might have warned him of the dangers of imperiling his family. You might have talked to other neighbors, wondering if the man was going bonkers. You would have been puzzled at his joy.

But viewing it another way, the cost was very small. The man was shrewd. Standing there in the field, he did a quick cost-benefit analysis. It didn’t take much time to realize that selling all his possessions was going to make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. What he did might have appeared foolish at first. But in reality the benefits so far outweighed the costs that he would have been foolish not to sell everything...

...There is a cost to obtaining the treasure. We must be realistic about it: it will cost us everything. But if we’ve really discovered the treasure, the most realistic conclusion is that we would be foolish not to go and in our joy sell all that we have to get it."
I guess that's the hard part, seeing Christ for what he is; infinitely valuable. The more we get that down the more it really is simple math.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sanctification Through Failure

In a way Peter was a failure. He had promised to remain faithful to Jesus, but he hadn’t. What kind of leader is that? Well the truth is: most leaders have failed. Failure is necessary for growth and spiritual progress. It is pride and sloth if you are so fearful of failure that you attempt nothing. Failure is fine if you do your best.

Have you failed the Lord? Have you caught nothing? Have you betrayed the Lord? Peter was not alone in betraying Jesus. The other disciples had also. You and I have betrayed the Lord as well. We betray Him with our apathy for the lost. We betray Him when we go throughout the day as if He didn’t exist. We betray Him when we forget to pray. Nobody is free of faults. You too have had your failures, haven’t you? Your shipwrecks, and denials, and sins and fears. You fail the Lord, and you have failed others.

The good news is this: Jesus will restore you. He will sanctify your failure. He says, “Come. Are you tired and weary and embarrassed by your failure? Do you feel like a laughingstock? Are you discouraged? Have you betrayed Me to the world? I forgive you. I love you. Come. Let’s eat breakfast together.”

excerpt from a sermon on John 21:1-14

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another Bulletin Cover

Life has been busy so I haven't had time to update the blog or the website lately. I hope to start updating here more in the near future. Look for some thoughts on evangelism, maybe a book review or two. Enjoy this bulletin cover from a few weeks ago for now: