Worship fully. Spend less.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

It is Christmas season. While we may lament the encroachment of a hectic, rushed season that seems to come earlier and earlier, let us not forget that it is a time to be joyous for what those who believe. If we have been made a new creation through Jesus Christ, then we are to actively seek good for those around us, for His sake. I’ve just become aware of Advent Conspiracy, which is a way of putting Ephesians 2:10 into practice during this wonderful time of year.

If we really believe that we are not to be conformed to the image of this world, then we need to rethink how we celebrate Christmas. The idea that we spend less and worship fully is something we can all do well to put into practice.

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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.

The beautiful and perfect obedience of Christ

who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. — 2 Timothy 1:9

A truly amazing part of the death of Jesus Christ was that it was done willingly, out of perfect obedience to His Father. Returning once again to Fifty Reasons Jesus Came To Die, we see John Piper put it this way (my emphasis):

Jesus did not wrestle his angry Father to the floor of heaven and take the whip out of his hand. He did not force him to be mer- ciful to humanity. His death was not the begrudging consent of God to be lenient to sinners. No, what Jesus did when he suffered and died was the Father’s idea. It was a breathtaking strategy, conceived even before creation, as God saw and planned the history of the world. That is why the Bible speaks of God’s “purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

The idea that God had planned for the death of Jesus to satisfy justice before any history took place is astounding and shows God’s great love. As we have talked about, it is a high standard that God sets, but it is an equally great love He shows in providing a way for us who fall way short of that standard. The fact that it says in Ephesians 5:2 that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” shows that not only was the death of Jesus a willing act of love, but that it pleased His Father at the same time.

We have been saved not by some begrudging arm twisting, but by a beautiful act of obedience. It is well worth our time to consider this and worship the one who has not only planned this by done it for us out of love.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. — the words of Jesus in John 10:17-18

The demand for justice: He had to die. The bountiful love: He provided a substitute.

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. — Romans 3:25 (ESV)

Continuing from our post yesterday, we are looking further at the death of Jesus and why it matters so much to us today. There are two sides to the death of Jesus, namely: It is a just act and it is a loving act.

The reason it is a just act is because God is just and the punishment for sin demands a price. After all, in Deuteronomy 6:5 it says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That is a high standard that no one has achieved. It’s not that we don’t try to achieve that, it’s that we can’t fully. Sin itself is preferring something else to God, and we do it all the time in the choices we make. We show our love is greater for other things rather than for God. That is why the Bible also says in Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So what is that price? The price is death and punishment. In Fifty Reasons Why Christ Suffered and Died, John Piper says “[S]in is not small, because it is not against a small Sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The Creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore, failure to love him is not trivial—it is treason. It defames God and destroys human happiness.”

If God were to brush sin aside or put it under the rug, it would make Him smaller and make him less worthy of worship. But God is at war with sin and has made clear through the Bible what that means. “For the wages of sin is death” it says in Romans 3:23 and “The soul that sins shall die” it says in Ezekiel 18:4. Clearly there is a consequence to sin, and justice is demanded from a holy God.

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Head over heart: The danger of showing love and why it’s worth it

There is pain all around us, and it is our nature to avoid that pain as much as possible. But, in this season of colds and flus (and flu shots), we know that there is some pain that is unavoidable and, sometimes, necessary. Regarding pain in relationships, we often see that the some of the deepest pain can come from someone or something you love. So that begs the question as to whether it is safer to not love in the first place because your heart can just be broken.

C.S. Lewis provides a wise answer and a strong rebuke in The Four Loves:

Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.…

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

HT: Tyler Kenney

Love is the essence of God

From Tim Keller in “The Reason For God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism“:

If there is no God, then everything in and about us is the product of blind impersonal forces. The experience of love may feel significant, but evolutionary naturalists tell us that it is merely a biochemical state in the brain.

But what if there is a God? Does love fare any better? It depends on who you think God is. If God is unipersonal, then until God created other beings there was no love, since love is something that one person has for another. This means that a unipersonal God was power, sovereignty, and greatness all from eternity, but not love. Love then is not the essence of God, nor is it at the heart of the universe. Power is primary.

However, if God is triune [Father, Son, Holy Spirit], then loving relationships in community are the “great fountain … at the center of reality.” When people say “God is love,” I think they mean that love is extremely important, or that God really wants us to love. But in the Christian conception, God really has love as his essence. If he was just one person he couldn’t have been loving for all eternity.

You’re not OK: God’s love is conditional yet unconditional

David Powlinson, in his booklet “God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional,” examines what people are intending when they talk about God’s “unconditional love” for them and how they may be not getting it right:

We can do better. Saying “God’s love is unconditional love” is a bit like saying “The sun’s light at high noon is a flashlight in a blackout.” Come again? A dim bulb sustains certain analogies to the sun. Unconditional love does sustain certain analogies to God’s love. But why not start with the blazing sun rather than the flashlight? When you look closely, God’s love is very different from “unconditional positive regard,” the seedbed of contemporary notions of unconditional love. God does not accept me just as I am; He loves me despite how I am; He loves me just as Jesus is; He loves me enough to devote my life to renewing me in the image of Jesus. This love is much, much, much better than unconditional! Perhaps we could call it “contraconditional” love. Contrary to the conditions for knowing God’s blessing, He has blessed me because His Son fulfilled the conditions. Contrary to my due, He loves me. And now I can begin to change, not to earn love but because of love.

. . . You need something better than unconditional love. You need the crown of thorns. You need the touch of life to the dead son of the widow of Nain. You need the promise to the repentant thief. You need to know, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” You need forgiveness. You need a Vinedresser, a Shepherd, a Father, a Savior. You need to become like the one who loves you. You need the better love of Jesus.

If you’re still not convinced, consider a recent post where John Piper examines specific scriptures that point to how there are conditions God has set before us. Consider:

Matthew 25:46 — And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Romans 5:1 — Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Romans 8:28 — And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

John 14:21 — Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

But also consider what aspects of God are really unconditional. That is, his electing love:

Ephesians 1:4-5 — even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will

Acts 13:48 — And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

The danger we need to guard against is having too high a regard of ourselves and too low a regard for God. If we are “OK” we don’t need a savior, and that’s just not the case.

HT: Justin Taylor

What to say to someone who is depressed, angry, doubting or skeptical

If we call ourselves Christians, then we are to take to heart the Bible’s instructions to bear one another’s burdens. And, in this day and age, there are many things we are burdened with whether it’s finances, relationships, family, health or career. At the Desiring God blog, pastor John Piper gives great counsel about what to say to those who are depressed, angry, doubting or skeptical:

1. Don’t be offended.

First, resist the temptation to be offended. Don’t pout or take your ball and go home. That’s what you may feel like. They wanted to talk, and here they are throwing my suggestions back in my face with a dismissive attitude. Don’t leave. Not yet. “Love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4, NKJV).

2. Listen.

Second, listen to their responses. Part of your power is not only what you say, but how they feel about the way you listen. If your truth produces empathetic ears, it will feel more compelling. This listening will be a witness. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Paul describes the kind of engagement that may set people free from sin and error. One feature is “patiently enduring evil.”

3. End with hope.

Third, when you have spoken all the experiential counsel you can think of, and they seem to have demeaned it all, don’t let them have the last word of despair. You leave the last word of hope.

Read the whole thing.