Still in school: Learning from a book about failures

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” — John 8:31-33

There is a tendency for me not to get it. And not only to I not get it, I do what I don’t want to do again and again. That is why I am encouraged when I take up the Bible and read it. Why? Because over and over I see people who fail miserably yet are able, with God’s help, to come back to God. I agree with Scotty Smith, who prays “As you dealt with Peter, so deal with me. Give me all the life-giving rebukes I need to keep me living in gospel-sanity.”

We have not graduated from the gospel. We need it each day. The hard lessons are a good thing for me. I am glad for the imperfect people of the Bible who are there to show me that only God can make me what I need to be, what I hope to be.

Scotty’s prayer is a great one. Read it all and let it soak it.

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Jesus, Proverbs and American idols: An appeal to be humble, open-minded, generous, obedient and patient

Tim Keller, digging through Proverbs 3, has come up with five guides to godly living that are useful to pray about for ourselves, our families and our church leaders. They are good checks to see if we are putting these things in our hearts.

1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart (Prov 3:3-5a)

2. Submit your whole mind to the Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov 3:5b-6)

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (Prov 3:7-8)

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Prov 3:9-10)

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Prov 3:11-12)

Keller goes on to say that this wisdom is personified in the New Testament in Jesus, who did all this by 1) trusting God, 2) being saturated in and shaped by the Scripture, 3) being meek and lowly, 4) becoming poor for us, though he was rich, and 5) patiently enduring suffering on our behalf. These are good, solid truths to think on, pray about and ask God to put in your life and others’.

HT: The Gospel Coalition and Redeemer City to City

Being liberated from the hard yoke — by the easy one

I have been enthalled again rereading and listening to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer streches and challenges my mind when I read sections like this:

When the Bible speaks of “following Jesus”, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogma, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which afflicts the conscience. If they follow Jesus, men escape from the hard yoke of their own laws, and submit to the kindly yoke of Jesus Christ. But does this mean that we can ignore the seriousness of His command? Far from it! We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when His command, His call to absolute discipleship, is appreciated in its entirety. Only the man who follows the command of Jesus without reserve, and submits unresistingly to His yoke, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard –unutterably hard — for those who try to resist it. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, xxxiii)

There was a conversation we had the other day at my house. We were talking about reserve and how people’s personalities change. It was my contention that, while there are always instances of indecision, a person who comes to Christ (and follows him as a disciple) has a boldness that goes beyond his own personal inhibitions because Christ has already secured everything for him. The irony is that you are freed from oppression only by complete surrender.

You will not be disappointed if you read “The Cost of Discipleship.” At the very least, go download it for free and listen. If you are like me, you will be rewarded for the effort.

The breach that comes from following Christ

I was listening to the excellent audiobook of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” today while on the road. As a reminder you can pick this up for FREE this month at christianaudio.com. It is a challenging book that I am so glad I read and now am being challenged again hearing the audiobook.

 We are called to become disciples of Christ, but what does that mean? Bonhoeffer, who wrote this book over 60 years ago before he was martyred in Germany, says that the call to Christ is a call to die — to yourself. There were many parts that I found myself challenged by today as I rode on barren stretches of Nebraska highway listening to this book. The part that struck me today came from Chapter 5: Discipleship and the Individual. Earlier in the book, Bonhoeffer described how a discple is called by Christ and does not offer his services of his own will. We see Jesus calling Matthew to follow him and also the instance where Jesus comes to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee and he calls Peter to come to him from the boat. Jesus makes his disciples. Here, in Chapter 5, Bonhoeffer goes further, telling the reader that being called to discpleship is a solitary thing:

The call of Jesus teaches us that our relation to the world has been built on an illusion. All the time we had thought we had enjoyed a direct relation with men and things. This is what had hindered us from faith and obedience. Now we learn that in the most intimate relations in life, in our kinship with father and mother, brothers and sisters, in married love, and in our duty to the community, direct relationships are impossible. Since the coming of Christ, his followers have no more immediate realities of their own, not in their family relationships, nor in the ties with their nation nor in the relationships formed in the process of living. Between father and son, husband and wife, the individual and the nation, stand Christ the Mediator, whether they are able to recognize him or not. We cannot establish direct contact outside ourselves except through him, through his word, and through our following of  him. To think otherwise is to deceive him. (The Cost of Discipleship, page 50)

Because this is the case, Bonhoeffer says that we must repudiate anything that comes between us and Christ, whatever form that group takes, for the sake of Christ. It is not that we have no relation with that group, it is that we can have no relation outside of Christ the Mediator. To try to do so would be hatred of Christ and thus be a denial of our discipleship with him. These are hard things to hear and grasp, but to follow Christ as a disciple is not something to be taken lightly. But also, as Jesus said in Matthew 11:30: “My burden is easy, and my yoke is light.” Yes, it is a yoke, but it is not something that we cannot bear.

People of the Book

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. — Acts 17:10-12

This was the passage we looked at today at church. In the passage, it says the people in Berea “were more noble” than those in Thessalonica, who expelled Paul and Silas from their midst. In the ESV Study Bible, it says: Noble translates the Greek eugenēs, which originally meant “of noble birth” or “well born.” The word was also applied to people who exhibited noble behavior, in that they were open-minded, fair, and thoughtful.

In other words, Luke is commending those who are open-minded when it comes to examining the scripture, those who look to it daily, examining what it says and not trying to shape it with their own biases and preconceived ideas. It is my prayer that I will seek God’s word so that it may teach me, rebuke me, encourage me, shock me and ultimately make me into someone who knows God intimately. The world likes to tell you what the Bible says and how it is either right or wrong about what we see every day. Instead, we need to go to the Bible first and let it be the prism through which we see everything else.

Lectures on ‘The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor’

On Thursday, April 23, 2009, at Park Community Church in Chicago, IL, the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School hosted Dr. John Piper ofBethlehem Baptist Church and Dr. D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Titled “The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry with John Piper and D.A. Carson”, the evening featured hour-long lectures by Drs. Piper and Carson offering reflections of a theological and personal nature on the work of the pastor and the scholar, respectively. Below are video links to their talks.

Carson talk

Pastor as Scholar


The benefit of living in fear

One devotional I read is Daily Light on the Daily Path, which is a collection of similarly themed verses broken into a morning and evening reading. It is beneficial in that a) it is the Word of God, which speaks tremendously to you and b) it provides a good wellspring for prayer. You should be able to find it in several versions as a book as well as in an online form.

The reading for this morning was titled “Consider what great things he has done for you,” but I couldn’t help but notice how the idea of fearing God was woven into them as well. Verses like “Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (I Samuel 12:24) and “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;” (Psalm 103:11). Mixed with those were verses talking about how God afflicts those he loves and disciplines them such as Deuteronomy 8:5, which says “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.”

That isn’t what I want to hear as a sinful person. I don’t want to hear that God disciplines me or tests me to see whether my love is genuine. But I need it because otherwise I will fall in love with myself and not God. When Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan, the verses he cited were from Deuteronomy where God says he is testing his people (Deuteronomy 8:3).

What is so good about being fearful? When you live in fear you live in a state of awareness. You are aware of your surroundings, what your state is, what you need to do. You are alert. Obviously, we should not live in fear of everything because that is not how God has commanded us to live. But we are also to be aware that there in one final Judge, and that is where we should fear.

Living in fear of God is not an oppressive thing because he loves those who fear him, that is, living in a way that you are alert to what he wants and not what you what. As it says in Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” And with that knowledge comes a joy that is beyond anything this world offers.

Today my prayer is like Nehemiah as is written in Nehemiah 1:11: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

A great site to aid your devotions

Devotional Christian

Tony Kummer has created a wonderful site to help your daily devotions. Here is a brief description of what it does:

Devotional Christian makes it easy to read your daily Bible devotional online. We list all the best Christian devotionals on one page. We aggreagate daily Bible devotions and present them in a user friendly format.

Here are just some of the devotionals that can be found there:

  • My Utmost For His Highest
  • Our Daily Bread Devotional
  • Pray for World Missions
  • Charles Spurgeon Devotional
  • A.W. Tozer Devotions
  • Max Lucado Devotion
  • Billy Graham Devotions
  • John MacArthur Devotions
  • Read Through The Bible Daily (ESV)

Free teaching by Wayne Grudem from Systematic Theology

For the past five years, Dr. Wayne Grudem has been teaching through his comprehensive Systematic Theology in the Christian Essentials class at Scottsdale Bible Church. You can join in on the class as they offer the teaching online for free, including class outlines.

If you are unfamiliar with Systematic Theology, this is the description from the publisher:

The Christian church has a long tradition of systematic theology, that is, studying theology and doctrine organized around fairly standard categories such as the Word of God, redemption, and Jesus Christ. This introduction to systematic theology has several distinctive features:
– A strong emphasis on the scriptural basis for each doctrine and teaching
– Clear writing, with technical terms kept to a minimum
– A contemporary approach, treating subjects of special interest to the church today
– A friendly tone, appealing to the emotions and the spirit as well as the intellect
– Frequent application to life – Resources for worship with each chapter
– Bibliographies with each chapter that cross-reference subjects to a wide range of other systematic theologies.

This is an incredible opportunity to not only go through a great book, but have the author take you on the journey. For example, earlier this month Dr. Grudem taught “The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment — Who will be judged? What is hell?” Buy the book and take the class. You won’t regret it.

HT: Justin Taylor

‘I Have Seen The Lord.’ Do you see?

The resurrection of Jesus is viewed skeptically outside the church and, sadly, even within it in some corners. The resurrection of Jesus matters today because it means everything about who we are and where we are going. From the Easter message delivered this past Sunday by John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church:

(I)t was God’s intentional design not for the risen Christ to be seen by everyone—not even in the day when it happened. And not today, as much as we might wish we could! His intentional design is: He appeared repeatedly and with many proofs (Acts 1:3) to a limited group of people whose job it was to bear witness in what they said and what they wrote so that everyone who hears or reads this witness will be able know the assurance that God provides for the world about the resurrection of his Son. That’s the way God designed for us to know.

If you think this does not matter to you, remember, those who are in Christ—that is, who believe on him, and belong to him, and receive forgiveness and reconciliation from him—will be raised with him. And Paul says in Philippians 3:21 that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” This is not a UFO, or irrelevant life on another galaxy. This is what will happen when God judges the world by a man, Jesus Christ.

If you belong to him by faith in him, you will receive a body like his, which will be suited to see him and enjoy him and enter finally into the new heavens and the new earth where you will spend eternity admiring God in all that he has made. And this world that we love so much, compared to that one, will be like a candle compared to the sun.

Here’s the issue: Do you see? In verse 8 it says, “Then the other disciple [John], who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). What did he see? What did he believe? Jesus wasn’t there—just some cloths that he left behind.

Compare this to Mary in verse 18: She has met Jesus in the garden and spoken to him. She returns to the disciples and says, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). We don’t have Mary’s direct evidence. We are more like John in the tomb—there is evidence, and either we see through it or we don’t. The issue is: Do you see?

i-have-seen-the-lord