Listening

May 28, 2010

An encouraging prayer from Pastor Scotty Smith about listening and James 1:19-20. Here’s an excerpt:

Jesus, I take my cue from you, because there’s no one who’s more quick to listen than you. I never have to snap my fingers to get your attention or to “reel” you back into focus. I never catch you looking away, as though you’re bored with me. I never have to repeat myself several times to make sure you heard what I really said. You never interrupt me. You never spin what I’m saying. You never “over-speak” when I’m trying to tell you something. There’s no one who listens so attentively, respectively and compassionately as you, Jesus.

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Use It All, Lord

May 17, 2010

Today you will make a thousand decisions. Some small, seemingly insignificant and mundane. Others may be of monumental importance. And it is quite possible that, today, something will happen to you. A circumstance will interrupt and intrude upon your life without warning, and it will be fierce in its pursuit of you. The unexpected nature of the circumstance may very well shake the foundation of your faith, and it will most certainly tempt you to capitulate to its demands. These circumstances come in many forms: unexpected financial windfall, disease, a new relationship, betrayal, death, graduation, a new client, unemployment, a rebellious child, etc. In every case, the “test” is meant to have an effect in your life. It is meant to produce something in your life. Ever wonder what that is? Check out James 1:2-4. And if after figured out what the test is meant to produce in your, meditate on the fruit that blossoms when we respond to testing circumstances with hope in God. And may it be said of us, as Phillip Brooks once said, “Lord, by all Thy dealing with us, whether of joy or pain, of light or darkness, let us be brought to Thee.”

Tullian Tchividjian is now a part of the Gospel Coalition blog roll. He recently posted on our ever-present need for grace – not just in the cross event – but at every moment of our lives. I hope you are encouraged by this insightful post.

The story of Jonah shows us that the gospel—the good news that God relentlessly pursues sinners in order to rescue them—is just as much for Christians as it is for non-Christians. Jonah’s life proves this, because Jonah, who knows God, obviously needs divine deliverance as much as anyone else in the story. In fact, his need for rescue gets far more emphasis than anyone else’s. It’s his destitution, not that of the Ninevites, that gets the most play. That alone should be enough to convince us that God’s rescue is a continuing requirement for Christians and non-Christians alike.

The gospel isn’t simply a set of truths that non-Christians must believe in order to become saved. It’s a reality that Christians must daily embrace in order to experience being saved. The gospel not only saves us from the penalty of sin (justification), but it also saves us from the power of sin (sanctification) day after day. Or, as John Piper has said, “The cross is not only a past place of objective substitution; it is a present place of subjective execution.”  Our daily sin requires God’s daily grace—the grace that comes to us through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Churches for years have struggled over whether their worship services ought to be geared toward Christians (to encourage and strengthen them) or non-Christians (to appeal to and win them). But this debate and the struggle over it are misguided. We’re asking the wrong questions and making the wrong assumptions. The truth is that our worship services should be geared to sinners in need of God’s rescue—and that includes both Christians and non-Christians. Since both groups need his deliverance, both need his gospel.

Christians need the gospel because our hearts are always prone to wander; we’re always tempted to run from God. It takes the power of the gospel to direct us back to our first love. Consciously going to the gospel ought to be a daily reality and experience for us all. It means, as Jerry Bridges reminds us, “preaching the gospel to yourself every day.”  We have to allow God to remind us every day through his Word of Christ’s finished work on behalf of sinners in order to stay convinced that the gospel is relevant.

I find that I especially need a gospel refocus to help steer me away from a constant tendency to drift into a performance-driven relationship with God. I’m not alone in that tendency; Jerry Bridges observes how pervasive it is among us all:

My observation of Christendom is that most of us tend to base our personal 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 (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.

The difference between living for God and living for anything else is that when we live for anything else we do so to gain acceptance, but when we live for God we do so because we are already accepted. Real freedom (the freedom that only the gospel grants) is living for something because we already have favor instead of living for something in order to gain favor.

Kevin DeYoung often posts are often practical and helpful. This one is no different.

Are Christians Meant to Feel Guilty All the Time?

I imagine there are plenty of Christians who rarely feel the sting of conscience or the pangs of regret. But I also know many, many Christians (including the one I see in the mirror) who easily feel bad for all the things they are not doing or are doing less than perfectly. In fact, I’m convinced most serious Christians live their lives with an almost constant low-level sense of guilt.

How do we feel guilty? Let me count the ways.

  • We could pray more.
  • We aren’t bold enough in evangelism.
  • We like sports too much.
  • We watch movies and television too often.
  • Our quiet times are too short or too sporadic.
  • We don’t give enough.
  • We bought a new couch.
  • We don’t read to our kids enough.
  • Our kids eat Cheetos and french fries.
  • We don’t recycle enough.
  • We need to lost 20 pounds.
  • We could use our time better.
  • We could live some place harder or in something smaller.

What do we do with all this behind the scenes guilt? We don’t feel stop-dead-in-our-tracks kind of remorse for these things.  But these shortcomings can have a cumulative effect whereby even the mature Christian can feel like he’s rather disappointing to God, maybe just barely Christian.

Here’s the tricky part: we should feel guilty sometimes, because sometimes we are guilty of sin. Moreover, complacency as Christians is a real danger, especially in America.

But yet, I don’t believe God redeemed us through the blood of his Son that we might feel like constant failures. Do Peter and John post-Pentecost seemed racked with self-loathing and introspective fear? Does Paul seem constantly concerned that he could be doing more? Amazingly enough, Paul actually says at one point “I am not aware of anything against myself” (1 Cor. 4:4). He’s quick to add, “I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” But it sure seems like Paul put his head on the pillow at night with a clean conscience. So why do so many Christian feel guilty all the time?

1. We don’t fully embrace the good news of the gospel. We forget that we have been made alive together with Christ. We have been raised with him. We have been saved through faith alone. And this is the gift of God, not a result of works (Eph. 2:4-8). We can be so scared of antinomianism, which is a legitimate danger, that we are afraid to speak too lavishly of God’s grace. But if we’ve never been charged with being antinomian, we probably haven’t presented the gospel in all it’s scandalous glory (Rom. 6:1).

2. Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace. Instead of urging our fellow believers to be who they are in Christ, we command them to do more for Christ (see Rom. 6:5-14 for the proper motivation). So we see Christlikeness as something we are royally screwing up, when we should it as something we already possess but need to grow into.

3. Most of our low-level guilt falls under the ambiguous category of “not doing enough.” Look at the list above. None one of the items are necessarily sinful. They all deal with possible infractions, perceptions, and ways in which we’d like to do more. These are the hardest areas to deal with because no Christian, for example, will ever confess to praying enough. So it is always easy to feel terrible about prayer (or evangelism or giving or any number of disciplines). We must be careful that we don’t insist on a certain standard of practice when the Bible merely insists on a general principle.

Let me give another example. Every Christian must give generously and contribute to the needs of the saints (2 Cor. 9:6-11; Rom. 12:13). This we can insist on with absolute certainty. But what this generosity looks like–how much we give, how much we retain–is not bound by any formula, nor can it be exacted by compulsion (2 Cor. 9:7). So if we want people to be more generous we would do well to follow Paul’s example in 2 Corinthians and emphasize the blessings of generosity and the gospel rooted motivation for generosity as opposed to shaming those who don’t give us much.

4. When we are truly guilty of sin it is imperative we repent and receive God’s mercy. Paul had a clean conscience, not because he never sinned, but, I imagine, because he quickly went to the Lord when he knew he was wrong and rested in the “no condemnation” of the gospel (Rom. 8:1). If we confess our sins, John says, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We aren’t meant to feel borderline miserable all the time. We are meant to live in the joy of our salvation. So when we sin–and we’ll all sin (1 Kings 8:46; 1 John 1:8)–we confess it, get cleansed, and move on.

This underlines one of the great dangers with constant guilt: we learn to ignore our consciences. If we are truly sinning, we need to repent and implore the Lord to help us change. But if we aren’t sinning, if we are perhaps not as mature as we could be, or are not as disciplined as some believers, or we are making different choices that may be acceptable but not extraordinary, then we should not be made to feel guilty. Challenged, stirred, inspired, but not guilty.

As a pastor this means I don’t expect that everyone in my congregation should feel awful about everything I ever preach on. It is ok, after all, for people to actually be obedient to God’s commands. Not perfectly, not without some mixed motives, not as fully as they could be, but still faithfully, God-pleasingly obedient. Faithful preaching does not require that sincere Christians feel miserable all the time. In fact, the best preaching ought to make sincere Christians see more of Christ and experience more of his grace.

Deeper grace will produce better gratitude, which means less guilt. And that’ s a good thing all the way around.

This post by Justin Taylor was helpful.

The dominant mode of evangelical preaching on sanctification, the main way to motivate for godly living, sounds something like this:

You are not _____;

You should be _________;

Therefore, do or be ________!

Fill in the blank with anything good and biblical (holy; salt and light; feed the poor; walk humbly; give generously; etc.).

This is not how Paul and the other New Testament writers motivated the church in light of the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. They did give imperatives (=what you should do), but they do so only based on indicatives (=what God has done).

The problem with the typical evangelical motivation toward radical or sacrificial living is that “imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities” (to quote Tullian Tchividjian). Or another way that Tullian puts it: “gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”

This “become what you are” way of speaking is strange for many us us. It seems precisely backward. But we must adjust our mental compass in order to walk this biblical path and recalibrate in order to speak this biblical language.

We see this all throughout the NT. Here are a few examples of this gospel logic and language:

“You really are unleavened” (indicative),
therefore “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump” (imperative). [1 Cor. 5:7].

“You are not under law but under grace” and you “have been brought from death to life (indicatives),
therefore “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. . . .
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness,
but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (imperatives). [Rom. 6:12-14]

“Having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness (indicatives) . . .
[therefore] now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (imperative). [Rom. 6:18-19]

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (indicative),
therefore, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (imperative). [Gal. 5:16, 24]

Pastor, are you encouraging your people to become who they already are in Christ Jesus?