Archive for February 2007
My pastors have been preaching through Exodus, and just finished ten weeks in the ten commandments. They have done an incredible job of helping us to feel the weight and glory of God’s holiness; but without letting us forget that the law sits on the bedrock foundation of the gospel (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you . . . out of the house of slavery”), and that our reading of the law absolutely must be infused with gospel hope.
Yet it is still so tempting for me to hear such a message and nurse my conviction, without really going any farther. Perhaps I resolve to change some things, but in reality my ears are tuning out the very gospel hope and power that are the only way I can possibly move beyond conviction. Mark Lauterbach critiques his sermons on this point, but we should also critique our listening — are our ears tuned in to savor conviction, or savor the gospel:
Is conviction of sin the measure of a sermon? … I used to notice that people would give me the most response to a sermon that was the most demanding. “Oh Pastor, that was such a wonderful sermon, I was so very convicted.” Should I have found this encouraging?
[But] while conviction is a gift to us, it is always conviction to lead people to the cross. I know the arguments about people needing to be slain by the law — and agree that awareness of need of forgiveness is crucial. But if I leave them there, I have not been faithful to the Savior. Conviction should drive people to the cross — and they should leave with hope toward the Savior.
We want to welcome the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and repent, but we shouldn’t get off the bus there. Our conviction should drive us to look upward to our Savior rather than inward on our sin; the gospel is our only hope and power for forgiveness and for real change.
How do we make that something more than a mantra? How can we practically seize this gospel power to change? Here are some regular practices that can strengthen our faith and empower our obedience; please comment to add more:
- Regularly recount the gospel to ourselves, thanking God that our sins are completely forgiven and that we approach him clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
- Regularly acknowledge that whatever success we have in obedience is a gift from God.
- Regularly pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to change, knowing that this grace and help will surely be given to us because of the cross.
- Remind ourselves of the reasons that we should obey. Regularly feed our souls with these truths as a way of provoking joyful, grateful, faith-filled obedience:
- God is my creator, and he is good; he knows what is best for me.
- True and lasting joy are only found in God and in pleasing him; these idols that I cling to cannot compare to God’s glory and beauty and goodness and joy.
- God has saved me from condemnation and wrath, and my gratitude at this precious gift should overflow in obedience.
- God is my loving father and I should reflect his character.
- Christ has purchased my very life with his blood and I should reflect his character.
- The Holy Spirit indwells me and empowers me to reflect Christ’s character.
- Read books that fuel our appreciation for the gospel and our love for God, such as Jerry Bridges’ The Gospel For Real Life, C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life, and John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God (download, purchase).
Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch
Rick Phillips writes to encourage “unheralded, unknown, unpublished pastors”:
God bless you. I believe that future history (whether in heaven or on earth) will look back on these present years and realize that the most valuable servants in Christ’s kingdom were those humble, faithful, Spirit-filled men of God who labored in obscurity, usually serving small churches. You are more important to Christ’s kingdom than the media celebrities. And you are more important than hardly-celebrity types like those of use who write on websites like this one and have the privilege of publishing books and speaking at conferences. (In fact, the main value in our broader ministries is the help and encouragement we might give to you.) When the loads of chaff from so many superstar “ministries” has been carted away, the good fruit you have borne will endure forever.
So don’t be discouraged because you don’t pastor a megachurch (neither do I). Don’t be distracted by the winds and waves of trendy spirituality. And don’t forget that the reward of your service to Christ is the joy of serving Christ, giving glory to His name, and shepherding His beloved sheep.
Pray for your pastors today. Take time today to thank them for their labors and prayers on your behalf; encourage them! Don’t simply resolve to do this; do it now. Hebrews 13 instructs us to do this, reminding us that our pastors are precious gifts from God to us:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
God forbids stealing in the eighth commandment, and in the tenth commandment he forbids even coveting. All of this connects to how we see the money and possessions that God has given to us. If we clutch them tightly as ours, or if we are discontent with what we are given, then our hearts are walking along the same road that is home to stealing.
One of the graces God has given to train our hearts in gratitude and away from selfishness is giving, whether it is almsgiving, tithing, voluntary offerings, etc. We love to give out of gratitude to our Savior, but at the same time God uses our giving to provoke still greater affections for him, releasing the hold that possessions have on our affections! Randy Alcorn describes how God uses giving to do this in his book The Treasure Principle:
Another benefit of giving is freedom. It’s a matter of basic physics. The greater the mass, the greater the hold that mass exerts. The more things we own–the greater their total mass the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them. Finally, like a black hole, they suck us in.
Giving changes all that. It breaks us out of orbit around our possessions. We escape their gravity, entering a new orbit around our treasures in heaven. . . .
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). . . . Suppose you buy shares of General Motors. What happens? You suddenly develop interest in GM. . . . Suppose you’re giving to help African children with AIDS. When you see an article on the subject, you’re hooked. . . . As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. Money leads; hearts follow.
Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch
God gives us rest and leisure as a gift to be enjoyed. Since it is a gift from him and since we belong to him, the way we receive and enjoy this gift is an important part of how we worship and honor God. There are some principles we can draw from this:
- We ought to see leisure as a gift and enjoy it with gratitude to God. We routinely thank God for providing our food; do we thank him equally for our leisure?
- Leisure is a gift and not a right; we should not make an idol out of it. Do we selfishly demand it and spend it? How do we respond when God allows it to be interrupted or taken away? What are the things we value enough that we are glad to give up our rest and leisure for them?
- Christ is our Lord; our very lives are purchased by his blood. We should spend our God-given leisure time in ways pleasing and honoring to him. We need to do more than ask “is it sin?” We need to ask whether our general pattern is to stir up fleshly appetites or to enjoy Christ-honoring refreshment.
This last point doesn’t mean that we necessarily avoid most movies, TV shows and secular music; nor does it mean that the books we read are always theology books. God is honored even in the eating of ice cream, after all, if it is done with a heart of gratitude. Since it is our heart that is on center stage, two different people may be enjoying the same good gift, but only one might be doing it in a way that acknowledges, enjoys, and honors our Lord. In general, our question should be, what appetite are we feeding: our appetite for the world or for God? Are we generally growing in our appreciation of God’s greatness and glory and beauty as revealed in creation and in his gifts to men? Are we generally refreshing, stimulating and stewarding our God-given minds, souls, bodies, families and friendships? Or are these things beginning to waste away as we enjoy our leisure just because it feels good and because we think we deserve it?
Often we will be able to see a connection between our approach to leisure and the sins we struggle with such as lust, greed, jealousy and envy. As we grow in seeing leisure, sex, wealth and possessions as good gifts from God, we will grow in a faith and gratitude that loves to please him with our enjoyment of these gifts.
Crossposted to Reflections on Upchurch