Monthly Archives: April 2012

A couple thoughts about T4G

I have just returned from an amazing week at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky (t4g.org). The focus of the conference was on the underestimated Gospel and I want to share just a few things that stood out to me this week.

  • The Gospel of Jesus Christ can change anyone. No one, no matter what they’ve done or what they’re currently doing, is beyond his saving reach.
  • We have to ask ourselves from time to time: “Do I really believe that God can answer the requests I’m praying for?” In our mind we may know that, yes, God is powerful enough to act. But often our heart betrays our beliefs and we pray without faith.
  • The Gospel has the power to sustain us in Christian ministry no matter how difficult the trials may get (2 Corinthians 4:1-6) so that we “do not lose heart.”
  • God is deeply concerned about our holiness. His grace and free offer of forgiveness to cover our sin do not in any way remove the heavy responsibly to exert “faith-fueled effort” in seeking to obey his Word.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)


Go to Dark Gethsemane

An excellent post by Kevin DeYoung this morning.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” (Mark 14:32)

Sometimes we picture Jesus far too serene. We imagine him in the garden praying rather stoically, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But the mood at Gethsemane was anything but tranquil. Mark 14:33 says Jesus began to be greatly distressed and troubled. Verse 34 says his soul was sorrowful unto death. And in verse 35 Jesus fell flat on the ground. Here is a man with the weight of the world, and heaven and hell, on his shoulders.

Never has a man prayed facing more temptation than Jesus faced in the garden. Never has a man prayed awaiting so much suffering. Never has a man prayed with such emotion and anguish. Luke records that “being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat become like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). It’s called hematidrosis: under intense pressure or fear, the blood vessels around the sweat glands contract and then dilate violently, causing them to rupture. Blood then enters the glands and is secreted through the pores of the skin. The endocrine system knew what was coming.

It is impossible to exaggerate the depth of Jesus’ anguish in the garden. Imagine knowing your child would die later today or that the planes were going to crash into the Twin Towers or that you’ll have a terrible car accident next Friday. That’s what Jesus knew was coming, only terribly and eternally worse. Jesus was facing more than death or sadness. He was facing God-forsakeness.

Jesus stared at the worst drink a man could drink–the cup of God’s wrath. He gazed into its bitter poison. He thought of draining it down to the dregs. And hoped for another way.

But there was no other way. Upon making his request three times–”Remove this cup from me”–Jesus was not set free from the suffering before him. Just the opposite. After praying in the garden, his closest friends disappoint him (Mark 14:36-41), one of his disciples betray him (14:42-49), and all his companions desert him (14:50). Even the anonymous young man in the background would rather run stark naked through the woods in the middle of the night than be caught next to Jesus.

This is dark Gethsemane where Jesus Christ–the perfectly obedient, perfectly faithful Son of God in perfect relationship with his Father–did not get his request granted. At least not his first one. The cup was not taken from him. The wrath would not be assuaged another way. Jesus could not avoid his infinitely grievous dark weekend of the soul. God’s will would be done. Not the way Jesus had hoped. But the way he was willing for it to be.

For us. For joy. For glory.


Love your neighbor…Yes, that one! (James 2:8-13)

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:8–13, ESV)

In today’s passage, we are reminded that there can be no exceptions to fulfilling the command:

Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Really God? No exceptions? I can think of a few I’d like to make, but when we do, we discriminate as to who gets the Gospel of grace and who doesn’t. What we’re really saying is “I’m more deserving of being loved than you are.” There’s only one teeny problem with that. The Bible is peppered with clear teaching that over and over again reminds us no one deserves God’s favor — not the cheerful people, not the grumpy people, not the cool people, nor the annoying people. Not you. Not me. That’s why he calls it grace.

James even goes so far as to say when we choose not to love that certain neighbor/coworker/family member, etc. we break God’s law. And we’re not just busted for one law, but for the entirety of the law. Ouch! Don’t play favorites with God’s grace. Love that neighbor today! (You know the one.)


The Perils of Wealth (James 2:5-7)

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2:5–7, ESV)

Does the Bible ever say anything nice about rich people? I mean, really. Think about it. When you search from beginning to end, the Bible almost always refers to wealth with ominous warning language. Having means provides us with many opportunities to bless others, but the road to riches is beset with danger (1 Tim 6:10). A couple examples:

The Israelites were warned in the Old Testament about the likelihood of wealth leading them into self-sufficiency:

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, (Deuteronomy 8:11–14, ESV)

Proverbs frequently warns against the same thing:

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28, ESV) 

In the New Testament Jesus tells us that it is very difficult for rich people to go to heaven (Matt. 19:23-24) and that it is impossible to be in love with your money and call yourself a Christian (Matt. 6:24). Of course the problem is not money in and of itself. Money is very necessary at all times and in all cultures. The sin arises when we idolize our money, when money causes us to be self-sufficient and proud. Most wealthy people don’t need a Savior because they believe their portfolio to be their Savior. The line of thinking frequently leads to arrogance and, as in today’s passage, a mistreatment of those in a lower economic bracket.

God does not want this attitude to be part of his church. He wants he children to be generous whether they are wealthy or not. He wants them to look out for the poor and the oppressed and seek ways to meet their needs, just like Jesus did. And if he so chooses to bless us with wealth (it could be argued that most Americans are wealthy — an annual income higher than $20,000 puts you in the top 11% of the world’s wealthiest people!) then we should use those means to bring glory to His name by showering blessings upon others out of our abundance. Support missionaries, help fund new ministries at your church, send an underprivileged child to summer camp, donate to a food pantry — do something with your money to further God’s kingdom rather than be proud, self-reliant and condescending to the poor.


Rescued

Praise the God who rescues!

When I was just a little  girl, like a wee little thing, I had a different mom and dad. And they were  kind to me, but they had hurts and they had addictions and they didn’t  know how to take care of themselves, much less a wee girl and her little  brother.
I mean, they tried. They hung on to us for  several years, but things kept slipping and they kept falling and failing and  they mustered up what strength they could, but they just couldn’t make it work  and they couldn’t make it right. And so the policemen came over and over again,  and took us away and my mama cried in the back of that police car, hands cuffed,  and she told me that she loved me. And I knew in my little heart, as I looked  up at her, tears streaming and mascara running, I knew that she really did love  me. She just couldn’t make it work.
And I still remember my daddy’s face, another  time, when the police finally caught up with him, and took his drugs and took  his booze and took us kids. And even though I was just a little thing, legs not  even long enough to dangle from the seat, I knew deep inside that he was in  trouble and that he couldn’t make it right.
And I cried for them because every little girl  wants her mommy and needs her daddy, but they were gone, again, and I felt lost. And the  social workers took us to some foster homes, lots of times they took us, but we  were never safe. (Did you know bad guys can live in foster homes?) I lay in bed  at night wishing they would go away. And I was just a little thing.

But, one day something  beautiful happened. Something strange. The social workers came and got us and  put our stuff in a brown paper bag and we met a different mom and dad. And they  said they wanted us. Like, forever. And we could live with them and never go  away. And I really liked the idea, but I didn’t know what it really meant to  trust, so deep inside I didn’t believe them. Not yet.
So, we came to our new home, and I had a big  brother and a big sister and from the get-go they loved us and they never made  us feel afraid. And my mom and dad told me how they had prayed for us, because  God had put it on their heart to, and so they asked Him to show them where we  were and what to do. And one day my mama walked into that government office,  saw our picture and knew right away. And she told that social worker that we  were her kids. And the  lady disagreed and tried to protest and said it wasn’t possible, but my mama  knew about the God of all the impossibles, and so it wasn’t long before we came  home. For good. And time passed and no one ever took us away, so I believed.

And as days have turned to  months which have turned to years, I still believe. I believe in that God of  all the impossibles. And I’ve come to find that He’s the One who rescues and He  redeems, but He uses our hands and our feet. And He whispers His rescue plan  into our hearts and hopes that we’ll obey.
And this same God has healed those wounds from a  mama and a daddy who just couldn’t make it work and couldn’t make it right.  Because He gave me another mama and daddy who didn’t have it altogether, but  who depended on the only One who does. And people say that time heals all  wounds, but I think it’s love.
And every day I’m thankful that I’ve been  rescued and that my life has been redeemed by the God who can make beauty from  a mess. And I’m thankful for a family who became His hands and feet to reach  out with a love that heals—reached out to the likes of me. When I was just a  little thing.

(Thank you, Ma and Pa—a million times, and with  tears, thank you.)

And thank You, Jesus, for always coming for me,  for scooping me up and bringing me home. And thank You for how you take the bad  and the ugly and the messed up in this world and You make it beautiful. You are  good. You are so good. Amen.

by Maggie Paulus