Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category
Posted on May 16th, 2013 by David Burnette
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by citing from Deuteronomy 6:5, a call for God’s people to love Him. The second great commandment is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:34-40).
Similarly, Paul says that all the commandments are summed up in the command to love our neighbor. Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:9-10).
In light of the centrality of love as a mark of following Christ, it is good to take our own temperature concerning whether or not love marks our thoughts, desires, words, and actions. This doesn’t have to be an overly introspective process, but rather a way of pursuing Christ-likeness by the power of the Spirit. Only the gospel creates in us a new heart capable of loving God and neighbor, and until our redemption is complete our love will always be insufficient and mixed with sin. Nevertheless, we should pursue and expect to see “faith working through love,” to use Paul’s phrase (Gal 5:6).
Using the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, the subject of a previous post, here are several questions to help us get below the surface and pursue love:
1. Love is patient and kind (v.4)
Am I easily irritated when others don’t meet my expectations? Do I become angry when I feel like my time is being wasted? Do I believe God is using ‘seemingly’ pointless delays for my good? Is my general demeanor toward family and co-workers gracious?
2. Love does not envy or boast (v.4)
Do I steer conversations to highlight my strengths? When others around me succeed, do I get worried? Are there highly gifted people around me that I seek to find fault with? Do I secretly want my accomplishments, both past and present, to be known to those around me? Is God’s assessment of me in Christ more or less important to me than my perceived reputation in the eyes of others?
3. Love is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way (v.5)
Am I more interested in expressing my feelings and opinions than seeking to understand the needs of others? How do I treat those with whom I strongly disagree? Do I shut down when people dismiss my ideas? How do I treat those who can’t repay me or return the favor? Does my attitude and demeanor give any indication that God has cancelled my infinitely large sin debt?
4. Love is not irritable or resentful (v.5)
Do I avoid those who disagree with me? Is it enjoyable for me to rehearse and point out the folly of others? How often do I give reasons why I shouldn’t forgive someone? Do I trust that judgment ultimately belongs to God, and that He will carry it out perfectly?
5. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (v. 6)
Do I prefer to keep half-truths hidden if they make me uncomfortable? Am I more concerned about how people and events affect my kingdom or God’s? Does sin and evil in the world grieve me or entertain me? Am I grateful when truth and justice prevail? Is my first concern for God’s glory and not my own vindication?
6. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (v. 7)
Do I tend to give up on people when they fail? Do I avoid long-term ministry commitments? Is all my time spent finding ways to avoid hardships? How do I respond to tragedy? Do I actually believe that my future is what God’s Word says it will be?
Each of us can find ways that we fail the test when it comes to love. However, the answer is not to despair, but to confess our lack of love and look to God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ (1 Jn 1:9). We should ask God to continue His work in us, and the good news for unloving people like us is that, according to Philippians 1:6, God has promised to do just that.
So let’s pursue love, and as the apostle John reminds us, let’s remember that our love is not the main focus:
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).
Posted on May 16th, 2013 by Jonathan Lenning
In Saudi Arabia, a Lebanese man has recently been sentenced to 6 years in prison and 300 lashings for leading a Saudi woman to Christ, and then allegedly helping her escape the country.
There’s not a country on the planet more inherently Muslim than Saudi Arabia. It is, after all, home to the Muslim holy city and destination for millions of pilgrim worshippers each year – Mecca. So for Muslims who live there, to convert from Islam to another religion is a capitol offense that can result in execution. Proselytizing there is also illegal: It doesn’t matter if you’re from another country and have a different belief system altogether… you’re expected to keep that to yourself.
So let’s pray for this man. But let’s also pray for prospective missionaries who are trying to get into Saudi Arabia and for believers who may already be there. The battle there is uphill, to be sure, but our God’s mighty arm is not too short to save. He deserves the praise of Saudis too.
HT: First Things
Posted on May 13th, 2013 by David Burnette
It almost sounds cliched now to hear Christians criticize our culture’s distorted definition of love. And, of course, this criticism is warranted. People seem to be using the word ‘love’ and then pouring in any old definition that suits their purposes.
We should question our culture’s squishy, unbiblical view of love, but we need to make sure that we put something more solid in its place. To do this, there are few places in Scripture that offer us more help than 1 Corinthians 13. This is a text we often hear at weddings, and it certainly fits the bill in terms of how husbands and wives ought to relate to one another. However, love in 1 Corinthians 13 is more than sentimental and pink roses; this is the work of the Spirit in the believer’s heart.
Paul expounds on the theme of love to believers in Corinth who were struggling with pride and divisiveness. For them (and for us) the apostle seeks to explain biblical love and to help us spot it.
Based on 1 Corinthians 13, we can identify 6 things that do NOT necessarily indicate that love is present:
- speaking with the tongues of men and of angels (1)
- possessing prophetic powers (2)
- understanding all mysteries and all knowledge (2)
- believing in such a way that mountains are moved (2)
- giving away all your possessions (3)
- sacrificing your body to be burned up with fire (3)
So if these things are not necessarily indications that love is present, what should we look for? Paul tells us that love is:
- patient and kind (4)
- not envious or boastful or rude (4-5)
- not insistent on its own way (5)
- not irritable or resentful (5)
- not glad about wrongdoing (6)
- glad about the truth (6)
- willing to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things (7)
- never-ending (8)
Much more could be said of the Bible’s definition and description of love, but 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a good start. Notice that the first list above, the things that don’t necessarily mean that true love is present, don’t require a transformed heart. Possessing great power, great abilities, and even sacrificing one’s own life can be done without a heart transformed by the Spirit. However, the second list of items requires new desires and affections.
We cannot simply muster up the willpower to stop being envious or to genuinely rejoice with the truth. Sure, some of these characteristics are present in unbelievers, at least in part; this is part of being created in God’s image. However, a genuine work of the Spirit will produce a love that perseveres in each of these characteristics. Christians don’t love perfectly, but they do continue to grow in this kind of love.
As we rightly call into question our culture’s perverted definition of love, let us keep in mind what love really looks like. And if we forget how to spot it, 1 Corinthians 13 can serve as our guide.
Posted on May 8th, 2013 by David Burnette
Among the various theories and images related to the cross – redemption, reconciliation, etc. – John Stott referred to Christ’s substitution as the “foundation of them all” (The Cross of Christ, 168). Stott is surely on the mark here. If Christ had not willingly substituted himself in the place of sinners, bearing God’s holy and just wrath, none of God’s blessings would be ours. Only His judgment would remain.
However, in the previous post we saw that 1 Peter presents Jesus as our example. Peter calls on us to imitate the One who trusted and obeyed God perfectly in the midst of unimaginable suffering (1 Pet 2:21). But how do these two realities fit together? How does Jesus’ substitution relate to his example for us? Or does it?
One way to answer this question would be to look at 1 Peter 2:21-24, where the theme of imitating Christ is tied to Christ’s death on behalf of sinners. Peter tells the believers scattered throughout Asia Minor that Christ left them an example in the way that He suffered. They are to “follow in his steps” (21). Jesus didn’t sin, revile, or threaten in the face of suffering, but instead he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (23). Then comes verse 24, where we see these two themes – imitation and substitution – converge. Peter says,
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
Notice the uniqueness of Christ’s suffering in this verse: He bore our sins in his body. There is no imitating this example. We dare not seek to add to the sufficient sacrifice of the Son of God. Yet, Peter is saying something more (though certainly not less) than that Christ died for sinners. Jesus’ death has a specific purpose in verse 24. Did you catch it?
“…that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
In other words, Jesus bore our sins so that we might die to sin’s enslaving power and live righteously. Living righteously here is specifically set in the context of submission to masters, even the unjust ones (1 Pet 2:18). Christ’s example at the hands of his persecutors gives us the perfect pattern for how we are to react when we are mistreated.
See, then, the connection between Christ as our substitute and Christ as our example: Christ’s death in the place of sinners (substitution) frees them from sin’s dominion so that they are able to imitate his righteous life (example) in their own suffering. On the other hand, we could also say that Christ’s example of suffering righteously qualified Him as our sinless substitute.
Seeing these themes come together is a reminder of the glory of the One who accomplished our salvation. Our Lord Jesus not only suffered for us, as if that wasn’t enough; He also showed us how to suffer in the process. Our Substitute is our Example.
Posted on May 7th, 2013 by David Burnette
I must admit that hearing someone go on and on about imitating Jesus can make me, well, a little concerned.
I’m concerned that the person sees the life of Jesus only as an example to be followed. Concerned that the once-for-all work of Christ on the cross is being downplayed. Concerned that I’m being called to imitate Someone who calmed a storm with a word and spoke the world into existence. And, at the bottom of it all, I’m concerned that a form of works-righteousness is being brought in through the backdoor.
But my concerns, while sometimes valid, aren’t always justified.
Regardless of the fact that preaching and teaching about Jesus is sometimes merely moralistic, and though some people like to trumpet Jesus as our example because they (sadly) find the idea of Christ absorbing God’s wrath on the cross to be cruel or beneath God’s loving character, looking to Jesus as our example is a biblical concept. After all, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Of course, not every aspect of Christ’s suffering can or should be imitated; for instance, we aren’t sinless, so our death won’t atone for sin. Nevertheless, we are called upon and enabled by God to imitate the One who was faithful until death.
We could look to many places in Scripture to see this truth, but 1 Peter is especially clear on this theme of imitating Jesus. Peter points us to both the finished work of Christ and the perfect example of Christ.
In 1 Peter, the example set by Christ is primarily in the context of suffering and submission. To be clear, the call to imitate Jesus in the midst of our suffering doesn’t downplay the absolutely necessary and foundational role of Christ’s substitutionary death for our salvation. Without the cross, we could never persevere through suffering, no matter how much we reflected on Jesus’ perfect example. Yet, Scripture is not shy about telling us to imitate Jesus. Consider three different texts from 1 Peter that speak to this point:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (2:21)
“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (3:17-18)
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1)
In the follow-up post, we’ll consider how the theme of imitating Jesus fits with His sin-bearing, substitutionary death. We’ll see that following Christ’s example in suffering requires being redeemed by His “precious blood” (1:19). Even still, we need to be reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect pattern for trusting God through our own difficulties (Heb 12:1-4).
As we read 1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament, not least the Gospels, we ought to have an eye out for how Jesus responded to suffering. His prayer in Gethsemane is a great place to start: Jesus submitted to His Father’s will, knowing that this meant drinking the cup of God’s wrath (Matt 26:36-42). This was an utterly crucial step in the accomplishment of our salvation, but it was also a disposition of trust to be imitated by future disciples. Such an example gives us wisdom as we seek to obey the following exhortation in 1 Peter 4:19:
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
Unlike Jesus, we don’t have to face the prospect of God’s judgment against sin; however, we are called on to persevere through the trials that God sends for our eternal good (1 Pet 1:6-7). Jesus’ obedience to and unflinching trust in His Heavenly Father is an example we are called to imitate. And, as we’ll see tomorrow, the cross makes that imitation possible.
Posted on May 2nd, 2013 by David Burnette
Yesterday we considered two different responses to the gospel that miss the mark as far as God’s Word is concerned. You can read that first post here.
Andy represents the first wrong response to the gospel, as his faith has produced little to no fruit. Andy gladly affirms justification by grace alone through faith alone, but believing in Jesus doesn’t seem to have changed his heart or his life.
Ashley’s situation is very different: she has sought to follow Christ as long as she can remember, longing to please Him and to put her Christian faith into action. She is growing weary in her walk with the Lord, though, never feeling as if she’s quite done enough. Ashley is not really sure that she’s even a child of God.
In responding to these two different misunderstandings of the gospel, Pastor David Platt says in Radical Together that we must “embrace a gospel that both saves us from work and saves us to work” (26). Applying this truth to Andy and Ashley will, however, look different.
As for Andy, he needs to be confronted with the Bible’s teaching about what saving faith ought to produce. Platt notes, “So-called faith without acts prompted by that faith is a farce. Real faith always creates fruit” (29) This is not a call for Andy to work harder; it’s a call for him to surrender to the lordship of Christ, if he hasn’t already. He needs to be reminded that though we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, the grace that saves us continues to change us by faith. That change may be slow and gradual, but true saving faith doesn’t continue to walk in darkness (1 Jn 1:6). Andy needs to repent, maybe for the first time.
Ashley, on the other hand, should be approached differently. Pastor David notes, “I get frightened when I think about Radical in Ashley’s hands” (26), referring to the high cost of following Christ emphasized in his previous book. He remarks,
“Though in writing that book I tried to show the entirely undeserved grace of God toward us in the gospel, I know Ashley is prone to think, ‘I need to do more for God. I need to sell this possession and make this pledge in order to be right before God.’ Guilt will motivate her obedience, and action will be her obligation.
If you are Ashley and you read Radical, I must tell you something: you will never be radical enough. Now matter what you do – even if you sell all your possessions and move to the most dangerous country in the world for the sake of ministry – you cannot do enough to be accepted before God. And the beauty of the gospel is that you don’t have to.” (27)
Ashley needs to concern herself less with how radical she is, and instead look outside of herself for help. Platt notes, “Jesus alone has kept the commands of God. He alone has been faithful enough, generous enough, and compassionate enough. Indeed he alone has been radical enough.” (27) Ashley needs to know that what God has done in Christ is the ground of our hope:
“Though Jesus was free from sin throughout his life, he bore the penalty of sin in his death. He took your place and your punishment, dying the death you deserved. Then he rose from the grave in victory over sin. And, Ashley, when you turn from yourself and trust in your Savior, he will cleanse you from all your rebellion and clothe you in his righteousness. The starting point of your radical life is your radical death – death to yourself and death to your every attempt to do enough before God.” (27)
We should be aware of the tendencies of Andy and Ashley in our own lives. And we should be aware of such tendencies in others as we seek to encourage, rebuke, and give loving and true counsel.
We dare not add to the requirements of repentance and faith in response to the finished work of Christ. At the same time, it would be foolish to think that the gift of a new heart will leave us enslaved to sin (Ezek 36:26). We cannot say ‘yes’ to eternal life in Jesus while saying ‘no’ to His lordship.
“The gospel that saves us from work also saves us to work” (28). So don’t be like Andy or Ashley. Repent and believe (Mk 1:15). Rest in Jesus and take his yoke of discipleship, for he is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29).
Posted on May 1st, 2013 by David Burnette
Responding to the gospel is, in one sense, quite simple. Repent and believe (Mk 1:15). That’s it, really. To be sure, this response comes only as a work of God’s Spirit, but it is not meant to be confusing. “Turn to me,” the Lord says, “and be saved” (Is 45:22).
So is it possible to misunderstand our response to that invitation? Well, if the last two thousand years of church history are any indication, including the responses we see in our own day, it’s pretty common for the gospel to be misunderstood. But how can that be? The short answer is this: sin.
Because we are dead in sin (Eph 2:1), and because everything in us and around us has been affected by the Fall, we seem to find countless ways to misconstrue the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus. Luther once compared the church to a “drunken peasant” who is prone to fall off either side of the horse. In other words, we will find a way to err, be it one side or the other. Below we’ll consider two common ways we misunderstand the greatest news in all the world.
In Radical Together, Pastor David Platt gives an illustration using two fictitious characters – Andy and Ashley – who have polar opposite views of the Christian life (25-26).
Andy professed faith in Christ a few years ago, and he holds firmly to salvation by grace alone through faith alone. However, according to Andy, his actions have nothing to do with his salvation, a notion that is clearly evident in his life. “Though he boldly claims belief in the gospel, there is no fruit of faith in his life beyond the religious routine of cultural Christianity” (26).
Ashley, on the other hand, has been in the church all her life, she’s been baptized four times, and she’s heard countless sermons about what she needs to do for God. “She wants to please God, and she works hard at putting Christianity into action. Yet she never feels as if she has done enough, and she is never sure of her salvation. Trying to live out the gospel is wearing Ashley out” (26).
So which is it for you? Are you prone to take Christ’s lordship lightly? Or do you have that nagging sensation that you’re just not radical enough to be called a Christian? Are you Andy or Ashley? In reality, all of us have both tendencies; we’re all prone to treat grace as something cheap and we’re also tempted to be little legalists at times. Even still, most of us typically find ourselves in one camp or the other.
Gratefully, God’s Word has a corrective for both of these errors. Tomorrow we’ll consider how Scripture corrects both Andy and Ashley on their misguided notions of the gospel.
Posted on April 18th, 2013 by Eric Parker
Much has been written recently over the Kermit Gosnell case as news of his horrific acts spread like wildfire across the social media world late last week. Secular media outlets have only in the last few days begun to take notice. Gosnell’s crimes against women and children are nothing short of disturbing. It’s the issue of abortion and infanticide that we want to briefly consider below.
As believers rightly continue to argue that an unborn child is a person and not merely a fetus, some in our culture want to redefine what it means to be a person. Not surprisingly, this redefinition of personhood doesn’t include babies in the womb.
While we must maintain that a baby in the womb is a person, Graham Cole points to a biblical category that may help us as we think through and articulate the biblical position on this issue. At a foundational level, the Bible portrays God as being chiefly concerned with the preservation and dignity of human life. This doesn’t mean we give up on our definition of personhood, but it does give us another angle to view this issue. Consider Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
Life is God’s creation, and God’s concern for life continues as He addresses the penalty for the taking of life: “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” And again in Leviticus 24:17: “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.” The emphasis is on the taking of life.
The Bible certainly has much more to say on the issue of abortion and personhood, and every approach we take will meet with some level of opposition by abortion advocates. Nevertheless, we must maintain that God is concerned with preserving human life. And life begins at conception (Ps 139:13).
The real difference between Gosnell’s crimes of late term abortions/infanticide and more commonly accepted forms of abortion is that with the former, people are confronted with a disturbing visual display of the taking of life. Abortion in its various forms takes place literally millions of times around the world each year. Tragically, most people have an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to the horrific reality of abortion. That must not be the case for those who love God and His image-bearers.
May we, as God’s people, be zealous for the life of men and women, born and unborn, physical and spiritual, in a moral landscape that is looking increasingly like Romans 1:19-32. Our God is concerned with persons, and He is concerned with life.
We must be too.
To read some helpful articles covering the case, see our recent “Well Said…” for a good starting point.
Posted on March 27th, 2013 by Jonathan Lenning
The Brook Hills worship team has just released a new five track EP for Secret Church this Friday called Emmanuel’s Land. This collection is based on themes that stem from this year’s topic – Heaven, Hell, and the End of the World. With songs about God’s glory, the return of Christ, and one track titled “Prayer for the Hui” (our prayer focus this Secret Church is on the Hui people), this EP is aimed at leading us to worship God in light of the truths we’ll see in Scripture on Friday. Enjoy!
If you still want to register for the simulcast, it’s not too late… check out www.LifeWay.com/SecretChurch for details about registering.
Posted on February 8th, 2013 by David Platt
I wrote “Follow Me” in response to two particular burdens in my personal life and pastoral ministry. First, I am burdened by the reality that scores of people today, both here and around the world, culturally identify themselves as Christians who biblically are not followers of Christ. Second, I am burdened by how we have taken the costly command of Christ to go, baptize, and teach all nations, and turned it into a comfortable call for Christians to come, be baptized, and sit in one location. In the end, I am convinced that these two burdens represent overlapping issues. Could it be that so many professing Christians are not urgently making disciples because casual, cultural Christianity has skewed what it means to be a disciple in the first place? This book represents my attempt to address both of these burdens: to show biblically what it means to follow Jesus, and then to show practically how being a disciple inevitably and always leads to making disciples.
To find out more about the book click here.
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