Choosing to Remain

March 28, 2013 — 2 Comments
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A lot of time when we think about the decisions that weigh on our mind, we are making a choice about what’s next. With alternatives presented before us, we have to decide what option we are going to pursue. We equate making a choice with selecting a certain course of action, and action of course means doing something different.

It is true that many times when we are making a decision we are discontinuing what we have been doing in order to do something new. However continuing to do the same thing is a choice as well. I can make a decision about where to go on vacation, but I can also go to work and not take a vacation at all. It may not seem like maintaining my normal routine involves much decision-making prowess, but making that call is just as much as a decision as selecting between Hawaii and the Bahamas. This is why people are rightly aghast when witnesses to a crime do not intervene. Continuing on with what they had been doing instead of helping someone in need is choosing their own priorities over someone that needed their assistance.

In a similar way, I’m convinced that the collapse of many marriages is caused because people do not recognize that choosing to remain in that marriage is not a matter of habit but a matter of decision. This is a choice that must not just be made in crisis moments; it is one that must be selected each and every day. People may think that staying in a marriage is simply a routine that is formed over time, however, in reality it is a proactive commitment that each partner makes and reinforces on a regular basis.

We can see that remaining in a relationship is a choice because Christ commanded His followers to remain in a relationship with Him. “Abide in Me” He stated (John 15:4). In other words, stay with Me; choose each and every day to remain My dedicated follower, committed to doing My Will and intent on demonstrating My love. If following this directive didn’t necessitate some volition on our part, than it would be a nonsensical command. If abiding in Christ simply happened as a matter of course than He wouldn’t need to provide His followers with this direction. Similarly, remaining in a marriage isn’t just second nature; it requires dedication, commitment and daily perseverance.

Recognizing this distinction is important because it is too easy to think that marriages remain intact based solely on some unknown quantification of whether a couple was “meant to be.” Instead, marriages remain together if, by the grace of God, the couple regularly and intentionally purposes to stay that way. It may seem like couples only makes a proactive choice when a marriage ends, but that is not the case. Husbands and wives also choose to remain, and marriages that last will make that choice, time and time again.

What Happened to Hospitality? - “I think some of it is a failure to understand the value of opening our homes to others. Beyond the service and the feeding of the meal, there’s something wonderful about the conversations that can come out of having people over. Some of the greatest discussions are centered around meals.”

No, It Actually Is More Blessed To Give Than to Receive - “But I can attest–and have to remind myself often–that the Lord means what he says, and that the joy that comes through obedience, the joy that comes through giving, is deeper and better and more satisfying than the fleeting joy that comes through hoarding. It actually is more blessed to give than to receive.”

8 Questions to Assess Your Evangelism - “What questions might a believer ask himself in order to assess his evangelistic practices? In “Tell It Often-Tell It Well,” Mark McCloskey offers three essential questions every believer should ask himself/herself in order to assess his/her evangelism and its methods biblically. In addition to McCloskey’s three questions (which are enumerated first in the list below), I suggest five additional questions. A believer’s response to each of these questions assists him in discerning 1) whether or not someone else’s critique of his evangelism proves warranted, and 2) what aspects of his evangelism fall short of the biblical ideal and need adjusting.” (H/T)

7 Words from the Cross - “How different were Jesus cries from the cross. Jesus was neither a criminal nor a captive. He sacrificed himself voluntarily. His cries were neither curses nor complaints.  Instead he forgave his enemies, assured a repentant criminal of salvation, provided for his mother, showed us that he bore God’s wrath in our place, displayed his human nature, proclaimed his victory, and committed his spirit to his Father.”

Christ Forsaken - “With Jesus as our substitute, God’s wrath is satisfied and God can justify those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). Christ’s penal suffering, therefore, is vicarious — He suffered on our behalf. He did not simply share our forsakenness, but He saved us from it. He endured it for us, not with us. You are immune to condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and to God’s anathema (Gal. 3:13) because Christ bore it for you in that outer darkness. Golgotha secured our immunity, not mere sympathy.”

Promises in Sight

March 27, 2013 — Leave a comment
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Reading the Psalms can often feel like you are viewing pages ripped from David’s diary. You get the “inside story” as you eavesdrop on his prayers. Instead of simply reading about what happened, you get glimpses into the heart of the man that endured it.

Several of the Psalms of David are written as he is running from King Saul. In this time between his ordination and his coronation, as my pastor likes to call it, David knew that he was rightfully the king. However, his predecessor wasn’t eager to hand him the keys to the kingdom. In fact, King Saul was intent on hunting down and killing David ensuring that Saul’s son, and not David, would be the successor. Having once obtained a position of honor in the king’s house, David was now on the run. His comrades were the ragamuffins and outcasts, people who, like him, were not acceptable in “polite” society (I Sam. 22:2).

As David evades captures and waits for the time when he will wear the crown that is rightfully his, it must have been tempting to wonder if the prophecy about his rule would ever come to past.  After all, hiding in caves and camping out with the enemy weren’t exactly kingly activities. I wonder if David worried about his reputation or whether he was too busy simply trying to stay alive. If he were to be king one day, as Samuel had pronounced and God had promised (I Samuel 16:1-13), would anyone take him seriously – this misfit and loser?

While we might suspect that these questions would permeate David’s mind, the Psalms give us a much different perspective. As we peer into his heart, we see that David was not fretting over whether God’s promises would come to past. Instead, despite the many potential reasons for despair, David remained confident in what was to come. We see a prime example of this in Psalm 59:10 when David writes:

My God in his steadfast love will meet me;

God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

Earlier, in Psalm 57:2-3, David additionally proclaims:

I cry out to God Most High,

to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

He will send from heaven and save me;

he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah

God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!

Read these carefully and what you’ll see is that David is sure of what is to come. He knows what God has promised him and he believes that those promises will come to past. He is not concerned that his enemies will triumph; he knows his eventual victory is secured in the Lord. Because God has vowed to him that he would be king, he knows that one day he will be so.

While it may seem easy to look at the situation retrospectively and say “Well of course David would be confident; he became king!” what we must remember is that David was not given a timeline or an itinerary of when these events would take place. As far as we know, he was unaware of whether his time in the wilderness would be short or long. His temporary conditions didn’t shake his permanent confidence in God. He lived with the promises that God had made him firmly in his sight. He focused on what was sure, even in the midst of a lot of uncertainty.

David was given specific promises and eagerly waited for their fulfillment. In a similar way, Scripture is replete with promises for the children of God. We would do well to live with these promises firmly in our sight. We should constantly refer back to them, reminding ourselves of the good that God has in store. We should be encouraged that no temptation will face us for which God has not provided a way of escape (I Cor. 10:13). We should be emboldened to share what God has given us, knowing that He has promised to provide all our needs (Phil. 4:19). We should be passionate about doing the work that God has called us to, persevering through trials and difficulties, knowing that one day He will reward us with eternal commendations (Jam. 1:12). In other words, just like David lived his life with the constant awareness that God had a future plan for him, we should live our lives with a similar mindset. God is molding the lives of His children to bring about our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28). Even on the days when it feels like we’ve been abandoned to a cave, that the enemy surrounds us and there is no feasible way to escape, we should be encouraged that nothing will thwart God’s purposes (Job 42:2). We can live with the surety of His promises being fulfilled. We can have confidence that on the near or far horizon what He has vowed to us will come to fruition.

Stealing All the Good Promises - “…when life stinks, there are really only two options: faith or fear. You can curl up in the fetal position and let your circumstances pummel you, or you can stand strong in faith. Faith is the God-honoring, biblical response, and through his promises God has given us every reason to have extreme, uplifting faith.”

What the Starbucks CEO Really Said - You’ve undoubtedly seen a Facebook post regarding what the CEO of Starbucks allegedly said regarding customers who support traditional marriage. It’s worth reading what he really stated. Accuracy matters, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the person.

Why Christians Should Read Fiction – “I’ve found that most people who tell me that fiction is a waste of time are folks who seem to hold to a kind of sola cerebravision of the Christian life that just doesn’t square with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe. Fiction helps to shape and hone what Russell Kirk called the moral imagination.”

Marriage in the Dock - “The U.S. Supreme Court may well decide the future of marriage as a legal institution, but the church must hold to marriage as far more, but not less than, a legal reality. Marriage is one of God’s most gracious gifts to humanity. It will be the Church’s responsibility to honor marriage, no matter what the Court may decide.”

The Dropbox - This is powerful trailer for what looks to be a powerful movie. Having the tissues handy.

Free eBook: The Truth of the Cross – Ligonier Ministries has made “The Truth of the Cross” by R.C Sproul available for free in a variety of formats.

Free Book from Logos: Life of a Risen Savior - If you haven’t yet downloaded your free book from Logos for the month of March you should do so now, before the month comes to an end.

Dual Options

March 26, 2013 — Leave a comment
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Life is filled with options.

Either you can go to the park or go to the museum.

Either you can have chicken or beef.

Either you can run a mile or you can not.

These options, and more, shape the trajectory of our lives. It’s the choices that we make that determine the direction that we go.

As we make these choices we invariably encounter difficulties. We wonder whether we should have chosen differently, and if we had, whether things would have turned out better. We wonder what choice we should make to mitigate the trial we face. We ponder whether there is any way to minimize the pain.

As Christians face their trials they should recognize that God also has a choice in how He will deal with us as we walk through them. Either He will remove the trial, or He will give us what we need to navigate the difficult road in a manner that will glorify Him. Either He is preparing a way out or He is preparing us for the challenges we face. Despite how it may feel at times, He will not merely abandon us to our difficulties (see Mt. 28:20).

This should give the believer great comfort and great hope. The Christian knows that there is no trial that takes God by surprise. Therefore, for every difficulty there is a “game plan.” If the trial ends, than we know that God has ordained relief. If the trial persists, than we know that God has given us what we need to persevere in a manner that will bring Him praise. We can take comfort in the fact that He has already prepared us for whatever lies ahead. We can have hope that even when the days may be uncertain, He is not (see Ja. 1:17). Our trial may be weighty, but His burden is light (Mt. 11:30).

So the next time we are faced with something unexpected, or the next time that our feet seem trapped on a difficult road, let us take heart that one of two things will happen – the trial will end or we will be equipped for it. There is nothing that can be thrown at us that we can’t glorify Christ through. There is no road that we will walk that He hasn’t prepared us for. In Christ we are “more than conquerors” (Ro. 8:37) and regardless of the choices that life offers us, being in His care is the best option there is.

My Spouse Doesn’t Meet My Needs - “When we have an expectation that a husband or wife fulfill us, we set ourselves up for disappointment, because no human being can satisfy another human being.  To hope that another human can meet our needs is asking too much of anyone.  For only Jesus can meet our needs.  Only Jesus can satisfy us.  Only Jesus can fulfill all our desires.”

The Sentence Against God -”Some people can’t believe God would create a world in which people would suffer so much. Isn’t it more remarkable that God would create a world in which no one would suffer more than he?”

Dead Is Dead - “Without death Easter celebrates a comeback, not a miracle. Without a realization of Jesus’ death Easter celebrates the unexpected rather than the impossible. Without a real death there isn’t a real resurrection. Without a real resurrection there isn’t a real point in being a Christian—no hope, no future, no perfect new creation. So Jesus’ death matters. It cannot be underplayed and can scarcely be overplayed. He spend three days breathless, brain-dead, heart-beatless, and decaying. Then He was alive. And, yes, He died for our sins, to give us life. To give us life after death—like Him.”

The Case for Getting Married Young – I thought this piece was especially interesting because it comes from a nonreligious publication (The Atlantic). One thing of particular note that the author wrote was “Marriage actually works best as a formative institution, not an institution you enter once you think you’re fully formed. We learn marriage, just as we learn language, and to the teachable, some lessons just come easier earlier in life.” (H/T)

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross: Story & Download – “Watts’ giftedness for writing hymns, combined with his courage in publishing them, would eventually turn the tide against singing only psalms and set a new standard for Christian worship in the English language. Today Watts is widely recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody.” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is his greatest hymn.”

Free eBook: Fox’s Book of Martyrs - Get a free Kindle version of the classic book.

Grateful to Be Used

March 25, 2013 — 2 Comments
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There often seems to be a disconnect between what people hoped to achieve and their actual accomplishments. This gap is the cause of many mid-life crisis, as well as a thousand other smaller examples of discontentment. Even when our aim is godly, when we hope to accomplish much for the sake of God’s Kingdom, dissatisfaction with what we were able to do compared to what we wanted to do can slowly and destructively creep in.

It may be that sometimes this uneasiness is caused by God stirring our souls to move beyond what is comfortable in to a new area of service or ministry. However, it seems that more often then not this restlessness occurs, not when our eyes are on God, but when they are firmly fixated on us. As much as we might couch our discord in biblical terms and with lofty aspirations, the truth is that the reason we feel ill at ease is because of what we expected for our lives, not God. We look at the gifts God has given us, and undoubtedly compare them to the talents and abilities of others, and assume that we can accomplish more than our humble achievements reveal. We want to be used in mighty ways and while we might say that this is for the sake of God’s Kingdom, more often than not, it is for the sake of ours.

When we are faced with this unsettling situation, it is important to remember that God did not have to use us at all to accomplish His purposes. Instead of being discontent with the fact that our reach may not be as far or our ministry as well-known as we would have liked, we should be grateful that God chose to use us at all for the purposes of eternity. He has the power and the ability to accomplish everything He wants to on this Earth, but instead of doing it without our involvement, He choose to prepare good works  for us to do (Eph. 2:10). We are only able to do anything of worth because of Him. Instead of complaining that our lofty aspirations were not achieved, we should be thankful that we are able to do anything that has eternal significance.

This call to gratefulness should not be seen as an excuse to be complacent. We should work with diligence and commitment for the sake of God’s Kingdom. But it does mean that if we are doing so, if we are pouring out our lives for Him as Christ poured out His life for us, than we need to leave the results up to God (see Phil. 2:5-18). Our renown may not be great on Earth, but what we are striving for is renown in Heaven. Hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” will be greater than any commendation we could receive on Earth.

 

From a Symbol of Fear to a Symbol of Faith - “If you want to know the true perspective on the seriousness of sin, however, look to the cross. Look at the extreme nature of the solution to this problem. If sin were ‘no big deal,’ would God have sent His only begotten Son to die a shameful death on a cross to deal with it? And what kind of love is this? What kind of love is displayed when God sends His only begotten Son to die for the sins we commit against Him? This is love of a kind and degree that we can hardly fathom. This is what changed the cross from a symbol of fear to a symbol of faith.

Is it True That “If You Don’t Have a Conversion Story You Don’t Have a Conversion”? - I really appreciated this article, and although I suspect many will disagree with it, I think it adds an important element in the discussion around conversion stories.

Put Down The Cheetos, Read This Post, and Stop Being So Lazy! - “….laziness isn’t defined by mere lack of activity. Laziness is not doing the tasksGod has given you to do. It doesn’t matter whether you fill the void with hours of Star Trek reruns or with answering work-related emails. If it’s not what God has called you to do, then it’s laziness. So you can be perpetually busy and chronically lazy.”

Only 57 Churches Left in Iraq; From 300 in 2003 – “Iraq had 300 churches and 1.4 million Christians in 2003, but now only 57 churches and about half a million Christians remain with members of the minority fleeing Islamist attacks, according to local reports.”

March Madness Explained…Star Wars Style - Just in case you need a laugh this Monday morning, check out this video. I would guess, however, that Star War fans and March Madness fans often fall into two different camps.

The Grand WeaverNotice of full disclosure – I am a fan of Ravi Zacharias. Ever since the first book I read of his, I have been impressed with not only the depths of the truth he communicates, but the thoughtful and linear way in which he does so. I wish I could say that I have read every book he has written, but I haven’t. Yet when I get a chance to read one, I always leave with a deeper appreciation for our Savior and specific ways that I can apply biblical truths to my life.

The Grand Weaver by Zacharias was no exception to this trend. The book’s purpose is to help readers understand that our lives are not accidents; they’re directed and guided by a loving God. As the author states, “We may not fully understand his (God’s) design as it takes shape, but we should not conclude that his design lacks a directing plan” (p. 14). Walking through key components of our lives including our DNA, our disappointments, our will and our worship, Zacharias helps the reader see how God is not only witness to what happens in our lives but He is orchestrating the big and small things alike in order to accomplish His purposes.

In a day and age where people seem intent on discovering their purpose, and when many may start to wonder whether such a purpose exists, Zacharias offers a bilbically-based perspective on how we should consider and answer such monumental questions. Whether you are a college-aged young adult who is faced with the inevitable question of “what’s next” or a middle age individual who is struggling with whether their life is everything it should be, this book will not only offer you insight, it will offer you encouragement. Zacharias persuasively helps the reader understand that there is no single thing that defines what God has designed specifically for you; He is working through everything in your life, even the seemingly disparate parts, to bring about His purpose.

If you are grappling with the questions of whether the threads of your life are “accidentally tangled or intentionally arranged,” consider reading The Grand Weaver. If you aren’t, you likely know someone that is. As you dig in to Dr. Zacharias’ book you will be equipped to not only answer these questions as they pertain to your own life, but you will be better suited to help those you love respond biblically when the questions are put in front of them.

 

 

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Humble Casting - “But what if we didn’t have to wait until we are reminded to start that process? What if a moment of crisis didn’t have to awaken that sense of dependence? What if, instead of waiting in our false sense of power, we instead made it our practice to preemptively cast our cares upon the Lord?” (H/T)

The Audacity of Imitation - “Originality is by far the more the accepted fashion of the day. And the pressure to be original—to be different than, better than, more than—is both constant and intense. It is the modern way of distinguishing oneself after all, whether applying for college or making a pithy tweet. From impressions to possessions to thoughts, being original seems to be everything.” Except for the Christian, our lives should be a life of imitation.

The Antidote to Materialism - “What is the antidote to materialism?  Generosity.  Easily sharing the things we have, and giving money and possessions away reminds us that they are temporal and God-given.” (H/T)

Are You Worried About Your Daily Bread? - “Your heavenly Father did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you. After all that will he now withhold something that you need (Rom. 8:32)? Read God’s word to remind yourself what God is like. He is good! Think on these things.”

When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain - “Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can..”