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Archive for January, 2010

 

In the past few days, I’ve come across two articles that I heartily recommend.

“God Told Me”…Really? by Ray Pritchard is a reminder to be careful about how God’s name is used.

Ain’t No Shame by Kevin DeYoung asks whatever happened to being called a Christian?

For those keeping score at home, I agree with both of the authors.

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Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t bite the hand that disciplines you, either.

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we no much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

The hand that feeds us, provides for us, leads us, protects us, and keeps us is also the hand that disciplines us. May we not despise the loving hand of our Heavenly Father.

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How did Jesus handle pressure – pressure that was intense that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44)?

In Gethsemane, which means “oil press,” the Lord Jesus Christ prayed while His disciples slept (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1-2). Mark described Jesus as being “greatly distressed and troubled” (v. 33), and Jesus Himself said that “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (v. 34). The Lord was being pressed on every side with anxiety at what He would shortly face – having all the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him placed on Him and as a result have the wrath of His Father poured out on Him.

Even though it is not the point of the passage, and therefore not the point of my sermon last Sunday, we can learn from how Jesus faced pressure.

First, Jesus prayed. He went to Gethsemane to pray, not to eat the olives or take a nap. An experience such as the cross required serious prayer. Jesus went to His Father in prayer, which we see Him doing on many other occasions in the Gospels. Pressure should lead to prayer, not panic. When we are under pressure, prayer should be our first response and not the last.

Second, Jesus submitted His will to the Father’s. Jesus “prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (v. 35). In the face of the cross, He said, “Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (v. 36). Jesus stated His preference to His Father, but then deferred to the perfect, pure, holy, good, and acceptable will of God. When we are under pressure, we must submit to the will of our Heavenly Father – no matter what it is.

Third, Jesus remained committed to His priorities. In John 4:34, Jesus tells us what His priority is: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Doing His Father’s will was paramount in the life of Jesus, even if that meant being “made sin” for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). When we are under pressure, the temptation to forget our priorities, or even to change them, can be very strong. As powerful as those temptations may be, we can’t give in to it. Knowing and doing the will of God must remain our priority.

When faced with pressure, Jesus prayed, submitted to the will of His Father, and remained committed to His principles. A good lesson for us, modeled by Jesus in Gethsemane.

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If scholars and authors had trading cards, I’d have one of D.A. Carson’s. If he had a poster, I’d have one up on my wall. You get the picture! He’s one of my favorite Christian authors and thinkers. Here’s what he had to say about the many ways of destroying the church:

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful. Raw factionalism will do it. Rank heresy will do it. Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it – admittedly more slowly than rank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul. Building the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it. Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God. Gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism – all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church. And to do so is dangerous: ‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Amen. Well said, brother!

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There are three things we can count on in 2010. (In reality, for a Christian – a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ – there are hundreds, if not thousands, of certainties. I’ve chosen just three of them.) We can count on these things every day of every year, but since it’s the beginning of a new year, it’s appropriate to consider.

The first thing we can count on is that God is sovereign – He’s in absolute and total control of all things. Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar said of God, “for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand of say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:34-35). We can be certain that nothing is out of His control, whatever it may be.

Second,  because God is sovereign, we can be certain that God works all things together for the good of His people. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” says Paul in Romans 8:28. If God is not the sovereign ruler of His universe, this promise means nothing.

Third, because God works all things together for the good of His people, we can be certain that He will accomplish His purpose in and for us. What is that purpose? Romans 8:29 (which obviously follows verse 28, although we hardly ever read them together) explains it. To make us more like His Son Jesus Christ – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that we might be the firstborn among many brothers.” God’s purpose for “all things” is to make us progressively more like Jesus.

In 2010, we can be sure that God is sovereign (things are not out of control even if they sometimes seem that way), that God works all things for the good of His people (there is a purpose and meaning in everything), and God’s ultimate purpose is to make us more Christlike (the best thing we could ever conceive of being). Enjoy the year!

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I do not come to bury New Year’s resolutions but rather to praise them. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to make them, Even though they’ve received a lot a bad press, especially lately. Yes, some can be silly or seem inconsequential, and, of course, we probably won’t keep them perfectly or for long, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them.

Resolutions are a sign of our self-awareness. We recognize that we need to make changes in our life. There are always areas that require improvement and some that require elimination altogether. In Haggai 1:5 God speaks to the exiles who have returned to Jerusalem from Babylon some years earlier. They had begun to rebuild the temple but had stopped part way through the project, leading the Lord to say, through the prophet, “Consider your ways.” The beginning of a new year is a natural time to reflect, consider, and make some resolutions if necessary. If you happen to be perfect, this step won’t be needed. The rest of us, though, need a healthy dose of self-awareness.

Most New Year’s resolutions don’t last very long – that goes without question. However, that fact is no reason to avoid them. Just because we won’t keep them completely or perfectly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them – we should in many cases. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:9, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (the Lord, that is). Was he wrong to make such a “resolution”? Of course he wasn’t! No, the great apostle would not always live up to his aim, and none of us will either. His aim, or goal, was to please God. The very fact of having that aim “raised the bar” on every part of Paul’s life. Low goals tend to lead to a low-level of achievement. High goals, aims, and expectations tend to lead to a higher level of achievement.

Those of us who are Christians need to remember that both the desire and discipline needed to make and keep resolutions comes only from God the Holy Spirit. We don’t have the ability to do either by ourselves. We can rely on His perfect power and not our own imperfect ability. Praise God for that!

So, before the face of God, make resolutions and trust God to be at work in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

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