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A few months ago we visited some dear friends of almost 40 years in Utah. It was so good to get away, if only for a few days. There were tears as we shared our heartaches of the past few years with each other but there was also much joy as we talked about God’s grace. There was laughter as we shared our memories of our Jesus people days with a few of our grown children. And listening to some of our old Jesus music took us back to simpler times. Guitars were brought out for some singing of old praise songs. It was a beautiful time.
Friendships that last over decades are a rare gift. There was much healing that went on in my heart while we were there. It was good to be real and be with real people who truly cared for us.
A couple of days before we left for our trip I made the decision to shut down my Facebook. I felt I needed to begin living real again with Read the rest of this entry »
Today I read a prayer by Scotty Ward Smith for those who suffer from depression. I was struck by this phrase:
For friends who are depressed for no other reason than they are living with a graceless, gospel-less heart, keep them miserable until they rest in the finished work of your Son, Jesus. May they despair of their own unrighteousness and their wannabe righteousness, until they are driven to the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus. It’s good to be miserable unto mercy.
I don’t know the cause of my depression but I do know the result – I came back to the gospel and my first love. I had become so wrapped up in doing more and doing it better to gain the acceptance of God and those around me that I forgot the message of the cross. The message that He is never disappointed with me. He never turns His face from me. I can never do anything to add to my salvation because it was paid for in full. I can never surprise Him with my sin. I can honestly say it was good to stay miserable unto mercy.
Here is the prayer. I hope you will read it and be encouraged if you are suffering right now. And if you aren’t suffering, perhaps you are like I was and had pat answers for those who do suffer, please read it and maybe gain a new perspective.
This piece by Sam Storms is well worth a look.
With the passing of Brennan Manning last week, there has been a lot of buzz on different social medias. I was most grabbed by these quotes from his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel:
Put bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works–but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in a house of fear and not in the house of love.
This certainly described me a few years ago. I talked about grace and the gospel, but they were buzz words void of power. They were things to say mostly because prominent Christian authors and speakers were saying them and shame on me if I fall behind or appear uninformed. On one hand, the gospel was faddish because I was eager to parrot what I was hearing to those around me but at the same time, I was being critical of those who spoke about it too much, or spoke of it as a present tense, relevant, and life-changing reality. I and others around me would never have put it the way Brennan did, but he’s right. That’s what happens when Read the rest of this entry »
A friend posted this short video by J. I. Packer on Twitter and I wanted to pass it on to you. This really blessed me.
God is pleased to use us in our weakness and brokenness for his glory.
Do you have about 2 minutes to watch this and be blown away by God’s grace?
I’ve fought the idea of writing about my own story of depression and anxiety. I haven’t ever felt ‘well’ enough to write coherently, let alone find the courage to answer those who would disagree with me. Those who would think my pain was something I could or can control. Most people don’t understand depression/anxiety unless they have had it or have walked with someone who has. I was clueless to this whole issue until it happened to me, and it didn’t go away. Not for a long time. It still rears its ugly head from time to time.
Does that mean I can’t be a believer or that God is somehow disappointed in me? Does it mean I just don’t understand the sovereignty of God in my life? NO, it does not. This is not something I can control and believe me, if there was some to-do list that would make it stop I’d be all over it. But there’s not. There’s not even Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never been to a masquerade party, but that hasn’t stopped me from wearing these masks at different times and in different settings.
Life in a fallen world is like attending the ultimate masquerade party. Impatient yelling wears the costume of a zeal for truth. Lust can masquerade as a love for beauty. Gossip does its evil work by living in the costume of concern and prayer. Craving for power and control wears the mask of biblical leadership. Fear of man gets dressed up as a servant heart. The pride of always being right masquerades as a love for biblical wisdom. Evil simply doesn’t present itself as evil, which is part of its draw. -Paul Tripp
I was going to write more here, but after re-reading Tripp’s words, I can’t really think of anything to add except to say thank you Jesus for rescuing grace!
Someone once asked me why anyone would look to the Psalms for comfort when we have the New Testament. It was reasoned that the Psalms are messy and not an accurate reflection of the Christian life today. The Christian is supposed to have it all together because after all, he or she has been given a new heart and this side of Pentecost, we have the fullness of God’s revelation in the New Testament. This is code for “we should be able to outperform the Psalmist and our lives should not reflect that same messiness.” I’ve seen the benefits of embracing the messiness of the Psalms reasoned away by statements like, “well, they were a loud culture. We shouldn’t be like that.”
I couldn’t disagree more. The Christian life is messy. I’m messy and I need Someone outside of myself to love me in my messiness. Paul Tripp said it better than I can,
The Psalms are in the Bible to keep us honest about the brokenness of our world and the messiness of our faith.
Take a look at this short video by Tripp. I think you’ll be encouraged.
Churches can produce an environment where the doctrines of grace may be correctly understood, but a gospel environment is non-existent. The facts of grace may be understood with our minds, but if a gracious environment where those truths can flourish in our one another relationships isn’t present, things can turn ugly. Ray Ortlund put it best in his recent message at the 2013 Liberate Conference. He said,
Grace on paper only creates churches where Christians beat each other up with a clear conscience because their doctrine is right.
When gospel doctrine and gospel culture converge in a church, that church become prophetic… Without the doctrines of grace the culture is weak. Without the [gospel] culture, the doctrines seem pointless. Even offensive and frustrating.
I love this quote by Martin Luther:
When it comes to experience, you will find the Gospel a rare guest but the Law a constant guest in your conscience.
That’s how we’re wired, isn’t it? We want to do something. We think we can fix ourselves and those around us. We want a rule, a list, guidelines, or some type of law to tell us what to do so that our conscience is relieved by the doing of the thing. We don’t naturally run to the gospel because the gospel doesn’t have a to-do list for us to keep. The gospel makes us uncomfortable because it presents us with a “done” list and tells us there’s nothing we can do to add to or take away from what’s already been done. Our minds are naturally hostile toward the gospel because each of us feels an innate need to earn what we get. This is true both prior to our conversion and after it. We’re thankful for the good news message of the gospel and it’s ability to get us into God’s kingdom, but then we marginalize it by thinking we now need to move beyond it. In our sanctification, our more natural tendency is to pursue law-keeping of some sort that will keep the gospel at bay in our conscience. We may never say it that way, but that’s what we do. We have a natural bent toward some kind of law and away from grace. That’s how we’re wired.
I remember leading a small group Bible study a number of years ago when I was in the throes of gospel-lite performance-ism and our text was James 2:8-13. Allow me to post it here:
8) If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9) But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10) For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11) For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12) So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13) For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Looking back, I remember that our entire time was spent discussing what laws we’re obligated to obey and which Read the rest of this entry »
I hear it a lot and you probably do too. It goes something like this. “Yes, the Christian life is all about grace, but let’s be balanced here. We don’t want to get carried away” Balanced? Really? Look at Paul’s words to the Ephesians:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9)
That’s way out of balance! And it’s way out of balance in our favor! Grace is never balanced. It’s always unbalanced and it’s given to those who are least deserving. We were dead in trespasses and sins until God poured out his grace and mercy on us through Jesus and his finished work on the cross. Grace is so far out of balance that when we were dead in sin and enemies of God (Romans 5:6), he made us alive together with Christ. Grace is God’s one-way unmerited love being dumped on us without restraint. It’s unbalanced in every way. Praise God for that because our condition was so bad and in ruin that and unbalanced assault of unconditional grace is the only thing that could (and can) fix us.
So the next time we’re tempted to think or say, “yes grace, but…” let’s stop and hear what we’re really saying. While we wouldn’t word it this way, what we’re really saying is that we want some measure of control because it’s in our old nature to think we have some measure of control. We call it balance, but it’s not balance. It’s self-centeredness that’s rooted in original sin and pulses through the veins of our old self. So when we say that grace must be balanced, we’re really saying that we want to be in control and have the final say. It’s bondage, not balance.
On the other hand, justice and wrath are balanced because in those, we get what we deserve. Lose yourself in saving grace today. Get out of balance and enjoy the freedom we’ve been given in the unbalanced one-way love that is ours in Christ. Be glad you’re not in control and enjoy the freedom that only grace can bring.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
We are doers. We like to do and we like to be in control, or at least feel like we’re in control. When we talk about justification, we’re usually pretty quick to to concede that we’re justified by grace alone, apart from anything we do. But when we come to the subject of sanctification, we tend to throw grace out the window to one degree or another, roll up our sleeves, and get down to the business of moral improvement. We may not say it that way, but when put under the microscope, that’s our tendency. It’s how the old self is wired and it’s one reason I need to hear the gospel over and over. I recently read an essay by Gerhard Forde on the subject of sanctification that I found extremely helpful. Here’s an excerpt from that essay:
Talk about sanctification is dangerous. It is too seductive for the old being. What seems to have happened in the tradition is that sanctification has been sharply distinguished from justification, and thus separated out as the part of the “salvationing” we are to do. God alone does the justifying simply by declaring the ungodly to be so, for Jesus’ sake. Most everyone is willing to concede that, at least in some fashion. But, of course, then comes the question: what happens next? Must not the justified live properly? Must not justification be safeguarded so it will not be abused? So sanctification enters the picture supposedly to rescue the good ship Salvation from shipwreck on the rocks of Grace Alone. Sanctification, it seems, is our part of the bargain. But, of course, once it is looked on that way, we must be careful not to undo Read the rest of this entry »
A little over four years ago the Lord began a journey with us to bring us back to the gospel. Over the years, we had slowly drifted away from it into performance. We had begun to understand the gospel as that bit of doctrine that got us into the Kingdom, but was of little or no value subsequent to that initial encounter. We had moved on (or so we thought) to the deeper things of God.
One way he began opening our eyes to the condition of our own hearts, was through some pretty severe trials. Much was revealed to us in those first few months about ourselves (and so much more since!) with the result that we were brought to a complete standstill. Literally. We went from being on 120% of the time to being completely shut down and sidelined. Those were hard times for us because performance-based Christianity demands better and better performance and when you can’t perform, you feel like God must certainly be displeased or disappointed with you. You become critical of yourself because of your non-performance. If you knew me back then you know that my blogs were theologically heavy, doctrine driven, and performance soaked, with very little heart application. I stopped writing for a couple of months when all of this started because my performance masks were coming off one by one as the gospel was brought to bear over and over on my proud and cynical heart, and I quite literally didn’t know what was going on or where my life was headed.
One of the things that happens in performance-ism is that you view suffering as an opponent – something to be gotten past, because you need to get back to performing well and suffering inhibits that. You don’t give others time to suffer and meet Jesus in their suffering because your goal is to “fix” them, whatever your definition of “fix” happens to be. But by his amazing grace, Jesus brought a type of suffering our way that gave us nowhere to run to baby; nowhere to hide. He literally stopped us in our tracks and left us with nothing to cling to and nowhere to turn but back to the cross and his amazing grace! Praise his holy name! After a couple of months, I wrote my first blog as a recovering performer. It’s the very first blog on this site (I was blogging at another site back then that I’ve since shut down). At my wife’s request, I’ve decided to re-post it here for you. This was written in February of 2009, near the very beginning of our Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago I received an email promoting Tullian Tchividjian’s new book, One Way Love: The Power of Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. That email included the intro to the book which was so good I wanted to pass an excerpt along to you. He said,
The Christian church has sadly not proven to be immune to performancism. Far from it, in fact. It often seems that the good news of God’s grace for those who don’t measure up has been tragically hijacked by an oppressive religious moralism that is all about rules, rules, and more rules; doing more, trying harder, getting better, and fixing, fixing, fixing–ourselves, our kids, our spouse, our coworkers, our boss, our friends, our enemies. Christianity is perceived as being a vehicle for good behavior and clean living—and the judgments that result from them—rather than the only recourse for those who have failed over and over and over again. Believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything, it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good. Ask any of the “religious nones” who answered differently in past years, and I guarantee you will hear a story about either spiritual burn-out or heavy-handed condemnation from fellow believers, or both. Author Jerry Bridges puts it perfectly when he writes:
My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our relationship with God on our performance instead of on His grace. If we’ve performed well—whatever ‘well’ is in our opinion—then we expect God to bless us. If we haven’t done so well, our expectations are reduced accordingly. In this sense, we live by works, rather than by grace. We are saved by grace, but we are living by the ‘sweat’ of our own performance. Moreover, we are always challenging ourselves and one another to ‘try harder’. We seem to believe success in the Christian life is basically up to us; our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is very freeing and joyous experience. But it is not meant to be a one-time experience; the truth needs to be reaffirmed daily.
What Bridges describes is nothing less than the human compulsion for taking the reigns of our lives and our salvation back from God, the only One remotely qualified for the job. “Works righteousness” is the word that the Protestant Reformation used, and it has plagued the church–and the world—since the Garden of Eden. It might not be too much of an overstatement to say that if Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom for the oppressed, sight to the blind, then Christianity has come to stand for, and in practice perpetuate, the exact opposite of what its founder intended (Luke 4:18-19).
I’ve been in the church long enough to listen for certain things when Christians talk about grace. I listen for “buts and brakes.” Christians often speak about grace with a thousand qualifications. Our greatest concern, it seems, is that people will take advantage of grace and use it as a justification to live licentiously. Sadly, while attacks on morality typically come from outside the church, attacks on grace typically come from inside the church. The reason is because somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier today someone directed me to a blog dealing with the subject of being late. The author was talking about those who are habitually late for things. I think he might have made a couple of valid points here and there, but because the overall tone of the blog was harsh, judgmental, and critical, those points were lost on me. It was very matter-of-fact and at times, just plain mean.
As I was reading, I remembered this story from the book When Bad Christians Happen to Good People: Where We Have Failed Each Other and How to Reverse the Damage, by Dave Burchett:
Author Philip Yancey shared a compelling illustration about a recovering alcoholic friend who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. His friend said, “When I’m late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get the clear message that I’m not as responsible as they are. When I’m late to AA, the meeting comes to a halt and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn’t make it.”
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
Andy Naselli wrote a short piece some time ago on one-issue organizations that is well worth the read. He says,
I still remember one of my theology professors taking our class to a room with a piano in it. He sat down at the piano and presented a “Middle C concert” to us. He just kept hitting Middle C over and over.
His point was that that’s a bad way to do theology because truth is truth proportionally.
And that’s a danger for one-issue organizations—whether they are advocating a particular view of worship, creation, gender roles, revival, or whatever—because they tend to overemphasize the importance of their one issue:
[I]t often seems to be the case that organizations with such narrow focus and which have been formed for the conscious purpose of advocating that position in opposition to a position viewed as biblically flawed . . . tend to over-speak their case. —Rodney J. Decker, “The English Standard Version: A Review Article,” Journal of Ministry and Theology 8, no. 2 (2004): 11n17.
I’m not opposed to one-issue organizations in principle; I happily support some and thank God for them. I’m merely pointing out a common weakness.
I have to agree… http://andynaselli.com/one-issue-organizations
Here’s a link to a blog by Lauren Larkin that reflects the beauty of the gospel by reminding us that He loved us first and He continues to love us even in our brokeness. I hope you are as encouraged by it as I was. Here’s the link:
Here are some recent quotes from my Twitter feed I thought you might like. The first group is on the need to be right and the second bunch is on failure. I can relate to both!
On the need to be right:
If you feel compelled to respond every time you’re criticized it reveals how much you’ve built your identity on being right. -Tullian Tchividian
Jesus, show me the difference between believing I’m right about a matter and needing to be right. -Scotty Smith
Too many Christians live to not make mistakes instead of resting in the love of the One whose blood covers all our mistakes. -Tullian Tchividjian
Theological arrogance devalues grace. It confuses knowledge with maturity, so it doesn’t treasure the grace alone that causes you to grow. -Paul Tripp
Jesus, show me the difference between faithfully guarding the gospel and arrogantly Read the rest of this entry »
I think Ray Ortlund’s words on how to read the Bible are insightful,
If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us that we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the commands are conditioned by promise…. The laws and commands and examples are all there, fulfilled in Christ and revered by us. But they do not provide the hermeneutic with which we make sense of the whole. We can and should understand them as qualified by God’s gracious promise, for all who will bank their hopes on him.
There are two types of people in the church. The two types aren’t those that are broken and need rescued and those that are not broken and doing okay. The two types of people in the church are those that are broken and their eyes have been opened to their brokenness and those that are broken, but who’s eyes haven’t been opened to their brokenness.
Here are a few quotes I wanted to pass along on the perils of gospel-lite or gospel-less introspection:
If our goal is to discover, analyze, and root out every aspect of sinfulness in our hearts, then we will never come to the end of the task.
Satan loves to take the tender conscience and stir up doubt of salvation, doubt of sanctification, and doubt of progression in holiness. Then, he turns the gaze of the introspective person inward, where the dark recesses of our hearts continue to lead to darker recesses still. Instead of living in the shining light of gospel truth, the gospel that dispels all this darkness and grants us a new heart, we travel deeper and deeper into the cavernous rooms of our remaining sin.
We will never be effective missiologically if the main source of our energy is spent rooting out every sinful tendency we have in our hearts. There is no end to discovering our depravity. The paradoxical truth is that the more we rest in the goodness of our Savior, the more progress we make in our fight against sin.
Trevin Wax tweeted this today:
The beauty of assurance is undercut when we stress “the fruit of sanctification more than the fact of justification.”
Somewhere along the way we’ve managed to convince ourselves that the focus of the New Testament is the personal holiness of the Christian. We’re encouraged to look at ourselves and how we’re doing in our sanctification for our assurance instead of looking outside of ourselves to what Jesus has accomplished for us and placed into our account. We’re encouraged to focus on our sin and point out the sin of those around us because we’re supposed to be getting better at this whole Christian life thing. Were told that if we’re not improving, maybe we’re not Christians at all.
If you want to struggle with assurance, or lose your assurance altogether, keep your Read the rest of this entry »
An idol is something that we look to for things that only God can give. Idolatry functions widely inside religious communities when doctrinal truth is elevated to the position of a false god. This occurs when people rely on the rightness of their doctrine for their standing with God rather than on God himself and his grace. It is a subtle but deadly mistake. The sign that you have slipped into this form of self-justification is that you become what the book of Proverbs calls a scoffer. Scoffers always show contempt and disdain (ether inwardly or outwardly) for opponents rather than graciousness. This is a sign that they do not see themselves as sinners saved by grace. Instead, they trust in the rightness of their view (which) makes them feel superior. -Tim Keller
I love to read Tim Keller on idols. He goes straight to my heart in a good and much needed way.
Ray Ortlund has re-posted a piece on his blog that first appeared about a year ago. I posted it here when he first posted it and I’m posting it again now that it’s been re-posted. It’s that important and I need to hear it over and over. He said,
It’s what everyone needs. Everyone. Gospel + safety + time. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.
Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.
Safety: a non-accusing environment. No finger-pointing. No embarrassing anyone. No manipulation. No oppression. No condescension. But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.
Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. Urgency, but not hurry, because no one changes quickly. A lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. God is patient.
This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s where we’re finally free to grow.
When we pressure other Christians to change in ways we think they should change (because after all, a believer looks a certain way), or if change doesn’t happen according to our time table (because after all, a believer looks a certain way), we are putting our own egos ahead of grace and the gospel. We are not preaching Christ, but ourselves. The Holy Spirit has His own time table for change. The church is called to be a gentle, patient, safe haven for broken sinners like us while the Holy Spirit gently works. Colossians 3:12-15
These quotes really spoke to me. Nothing robs us of our joy faster than fixing our gaze on our performance. They’re from Tullian Tchividjian’s latest book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free.
Think about it: Do you walk out of church feeling burdened or comforted? Does your pastor direct you inward or outward? Does the worship service revolve around the Christian or Christ?
When the goal becomes conquering our sin instead of soaking in the conquest of our Savior, we actually begin to shrink spiritually.
I thought this was insightful and well worth sharing. How true it is…
A lot of Christian fellowship, Bible studies, and focus groups in the church are little more than efforts to fix one another. We become obsessive over fixing one another, almost to the point of mass hysteria. No wonder pagans don’t want to be around us. -Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom, p.90
Paul Tripp has said that most of the strategies for Christian growth amount merely to “rose-stapling techniques.” Give away more money. Be more serious about your sin. Be more disciplined in your life. Read your Bible and have accountability partners. Go to a small group. Spiritual disciplines have their place (we’ll get to that later). But nothing can take the place of organic change in the heart. – JD Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary
Rick Thomas posted this great piece on his web site on January 16, 2012. Enjoy!
Sandra has struggled all her life with people pleasing. She said she could not remember a time when she was free from thinking about what others thought about her. The way she dresses, the car she drives, the technology she carries, and the house she owns are all controlled to some degree by what others think of her.
A Peek into her Life
- She is fanatical about working out because of her keen awareness of what a “nice looking body” should look like.
- On a few occasions she has caught herself stretching the truth. She says she spins her stories because the real story doesn’t seem as interesting.
- She is fearful of bringing a bag lunch to the office because everyone else goes out to a local restaurant to eat. She’d rather go into debt than feeling like the odd man out.
- She has a low-grade anger toward her boyfriend because he pressured her to have sex with him. She believed he would leave her if she didn’t have sex. She needs to be loved by someone. Having a boyfriend is one of her ways of feeling significant.
Her biblical counselor quickly discerned that her problem was fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). The counselor told her she needed to be more concerned with pleasing God rather than others.
From there, the counselor laid out a plan of prayer, Bible study, and service oriented activities in order for her to Read the rest of this entry »