Everybody hates the Big Guy

Big Government. Big Oil. Big Brother. This morning I even heard a story on the news about Big Whiskey (wasn’t that the setting in “Unforgiven”?). There is this distrust of anything or anyone big. Why?

Maybe it’s because of the fear that anything or anyone too big won’t play by the rules. The thinkings is that the Big Guy ignores the rules and overpowers the Little Guy — you and me. But what if the Big Guy makes the rules? Then what?

God tells us in the Bible “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3) For the average person in the culture I live in, that is a threatening statement. It threatens because it takes any kind of control I may have out of my hands. Like anything or anyone Big, we ask “But does he know what’s best for me?” “Can I trust him?” And, the big question whether we ask or not “What about my rights?”

Anyone who takes a moment to look at the world around them soon will realize that there is much that goes out of control. War. Weather. Relationships. But ultimate control rests in God’s hands, who created this world. The less we choose to believe this, the greater our distress in what looks like chaos in this world.

That is a battle I fight every day. A favorite passage of mine is I Peter 5:6-7, where it says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, for he cares for you.” Just prior to that, it says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So, my battle is to be humble and trust the “mighty hand of God” — that is, the God who does spectacular things for his people.

So, the battle is to trust the ultimate Big Guy who makes the rules and does more than I could possibly do. And part of that battle is to not make myself the Big Guy, because I don’t have the authority or the power to run the world, even my own little one.

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The greatest event in history: Look and marvel at Jesus and his death

From John Piper, talking about the two paradoxes in the death of Christ:

The death of Christ was the curse of God and the wrath of God; and yet, at the same time, it was pleasing to God and a sweet fragrance. While turning from his Son and giving him up to die laden with our sin, he delighted in the obedience and love and perfection of the Son.

Therefore, let us stand in awe and look with trembling joy on the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is no greater event in history. There is no greater thing for our minds to ponder or our hearts to admire. Stay close to this. Everything important and good gathers here. It is a wise and weighty and happy place to be.

What is the good news of the gospel?

Greg Gilbert has written a new book, “What Is The Gospel?” in which he tries to clear up some misconceptions about what the gospel is and present it clearly. As Kevin DeYoung says, “Greg Gilbert, with a sharp mind and a pastor’s heart, has written a book that will be helpful for seekers, new Christians, and anyone who wants to understand the gospel with greater clarity. … As a sure-footed guide to a surprisingly controversial subject, it clears up misconceptions about the gospel, the kingdom, and the meaning of the cross.”

Gilbert explains why he wrote the book in this interview:

Here is a portion of sample chapter that you can read for free online:

Since the very beginning of time, people have been trying to save themselves in ways that make sense to them, rather than listening and submitting to God. They have been trying to figure out how to get salvation to work—how to get the gospel to work—apart from the Wicket Gate, that is, apart from the cross of Jesus Christ.

That is no less true in our own day. Indeed I believe one of the greatest dangers the body of Christ faces today is the temptation to rethink and rearticulate the gospel in a way that makes its center something other than the death of Jesus on the cross in the place of sinners.

The pressure to do that is enormous, and it seems to come from several directions. One of the main sources of pressure is the increasingly common idea that the gospel of forgiveness of sin through Christ’s death is somehow not “big” enough—that it doesn’t address problems like war, oppression, poverty, and injustice, and really “isn’t terribly important,” as one writer put it, when it comes to the real problems of this world.

Especially now, when we are in the Easter season, this is a good book to consider. But since it is small (124 pages) it would be a great book to read at any time and to give to others as well for good, sound advice.

The favor you didn’t ask for but God gave you anyway

I was reading the blog of a friend who is living overseas and this story really struck me as some kind of providence that God had provided (although I don’t exactly know why, but that’s what it seemed like). Perhaps I could be accused of overspiritualizing everything, but I know that there are no such things as coincidences. It would be better that we teach ourselves not to shrug off every occurrence in our days and think about how God has his hand on every moment of our lives. How would your life change? How about your attitude?

Today, as I think about it, I would pray that my eyes be opened to see that God is working in the details of my life. When the Bible says in 2 Chronicles 16:9 that the Lord “run(s) to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” that encourages me. It is good to know that God is working in ways that I haven’t even thought of yet. So, it’s a good thing every once in awhile to stop and look around you. There are amazing things happening.

God is still God. And He is still good. To God be the glory

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! — Matthew 7:11

From Zac Smith: God cannot give me a bad gift … If God chooses to heal me, then God is God and he is good. If God chooses not to heal me, then God is still God, and he is still Good. To God be the glory.”

HT: John Piper

With God on your side is better than at arm’s length

I’ve been reading through “A Praying Life” by Paul E. Miller. In it, he says that prayerlessness “is rooted in a core unbelief that can shape our lives, even as Christians. Because of prayerlessness, our lives are often marked by fear, anxiety, joylessness, and spiritual lethargy.” There is a lot about prayer that we either don’t understand or else we understand and don’t like. In a recent chapter I read, Miller talks about how there is a tendency  we have to avoid intimacy with God.

Why would we do that? Well, for one, we don’t really want God nosing around in our business. Miller says there is a reason, perhaps, that we keep God at arm’s length, even with our prayers to him:

Frankly, God makes us nervous when he gets too close. We don’t want a physical dependence on him. It feels hokey, like we are controlling God. Deep down we just don’t like grace. We don’t want to risk our prayer not being answered. We prefer the safety of isolation to engaging the living God. To embrace the Father and thus prayer is to accept what one pastor called “the sting of particularity.” (A Praying Life, p. 125)

The very human prayer of Jesus asking that “this cup pass from me.” is much different than what Miller sees as the Buddhist and Neoplatonic attitudes that have crept into the church. That is, the attitude that we need to resist our own desires and deny physical urges. Those kind of simple, intimate prayers are the ones we hear children saying because they are more humble than “wiser” adults.

I don’t have it all together. The thing I want to battle against is the attitude that I will not lay it all on the line when I pray. That is to deny a personal God, and it doesn’t honor him.

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.

Our record of good deeds doesn’t save us

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. — Col. 2:13-14

There is a way that people of many faiths blur the lines among them. It happens when they mistakenly think that their good deeds can one day outweigh their bad deeds. As Christians, we are told through the Bible that this is not possible. Indeed, rather than paying our debt (through good deeds), it says we are only saved through the cancellation of our debt by God. And that is only done through Jesus taking that debt on the cross.

We are fooling ourselves when we think our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds because, the Bible says, even our good deeds are defective when they are not done in faith. (Romans 14:23). Besides, that is not the way God saves. Rather, we are saved through Jesus Christ, who took the curse of our sin upon himself on the cross. In that act, the debt of our sin was erased before God. We will never be able to save ourselves through the law, as Romans 8:3-4 says: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Look to Jesus Christ, the only way for you to erase the debt of your sin.

A love story with a happy ending for those who believe

[He]  loved me and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20

I love the blessing God has given me in that I have two females in my house who love romances. More than once I have been persuaded to sit with them and watch a movie (usually something based on a Jane Austen novel, the favorite around here) about a young woman who struggles in a relationship with a man. At first, she thinks he is rude or cold or something unattractive like that. But, as the movie progresses, we see that he has been working — usually without her knowing it — on her behalf out of his deep love for her. When she comes to this realization she swoons, her heart melts and they end up marrying. The movie ends there and my women are pleased.

The idea that someone does something for us not just out of duty but out of love is something that is hard for any of us to resist. We know that God demonstrated his great love for us in sacrificing the most precious person to him for our sins. (Romans 5:7-8). But it wasn’t just God who showed an incredible love. Time and again the Bible points to the great love Jesus himself showed on our behalf. It certainly wasn’t because we deserved his love. After all, we are the ones who have rebelled against God. We are ones with a heart of stone, doomed to a just punishment for our sin. (Romans 3:23) But the Bible tells us that Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galations 2:20), that he “loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) and that he “(laid) down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

Is that you, or me? Are we his friend, the church?

And I hear the answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). (from Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die by John Piper, p. 31)

The story is moving along. We are being wooed by the perfect suitor. If we look, we can see it unfolding before us. Will you let Jesus melt your heart with his love?  Jesus died because of his great love for you and prayed, near the end of his life: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me.” (John 17:24) There is a glorious future with Jesus for those who see and believe.