To whom shall we go?

21 Apr

“To whom, indeed, shall we go for help, strength, and comfort if we turn our backs on Christ?

We live in a world of troubles, whether we like it or not. Our bodies are liable to a thousand ailments, and our hearts to a thousand sorrows. No creature on earth is so vulnerable, and so capable of intense physical as well as mental suffering, as man. Sickness, and death, and funerals, and partings, and separations, and losses, and failures, and disappointments, and private family trials, which no mortal eyes sees, will break in upon us from time to time, and human nature imperatively demands help, help, help to meet them! Alas, where will thirsty, wailing human nature find such help if we leave Christ?

The plan truth is, that nothing but an almighty personal Friend will ever meet the legitimate wants of man’s soul…And…where will you find one so perfectly suited to satisfy man as the Christ of the Bible? Look round the world, and point out if you can, any object of faith fit to be compared with this blessed Son of God, set forth before our eyes in the Gospels.  In face of a dying world, we want positives and not negatives.

‘To whom shall we go, if we go away from Christ?’”

J.C. Ryle

A Different Mindset

18 Apr

Russell Moore:

“Your people can’t have the mindset of, “We are going to minister to the other ethnic groups around us.” Especially when your people have the mindset of, “We are here in this primarily Latino community­­­—or it is becoming more Latino­—so let’s minister to the Hispanic people in our community.” That is a mindset that I think needs to change, especially among majority ethnic groups of white people of America.

White people in America are really a tiny minority in the body of Christ. We are part of a cloud of witnesses, the Scripture says, in heaven. There aren’t many white people there. Abraham is not a white guy, and neither is Jesus. These are Middle Eastern, Jewish people. Augustine is an African. You go through the whole list of everyone in the history of the church and that great cloud around us. We are not the people that God has given—whoever the majority race is or ethnic group in that church is­—to bless the nations. The nations are being blessed through the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Which means we need to change that mindset.

We also need to recognize that the people in that congregation are not just going to minister to, but are going to be ministered to. It is easy, especially for some of us who have Messiah complexes, to want to minister to all sorts of people, because we can be in charge of that. We need to say, “We want to be ministered to in ways we don’t even recognize we need to be ministered to.”

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Helps Towards Appreciating Your Adoption: part two

16 Apr

Being adopted by God is one of the biggest privileges we have as believers.  Yet, we don’t often appreciate it the way we should.  We are taking some time to think through what makes this spiritual blessing so important.  

In a previous post we enjoyed the fact that our adoption means we are a child of God.  Now, we want to delight in the fact that our adoption means we are loved by God.

This is one of the most important truths you can take away from this idea of adoption. Listen to what Paul says at the end of verse 4 and the beginning of verse 5 in Ephesians chapter 1.

He says, “In love God predestined us.”

Predestine means predetermined or planned beforehand.  He is saying, “How did God predetermine this? What was God’s attitude as He did this?”

This whole decision to adopt was motivated by and wrapped in love.

I have heard of people who adopted children because they felt guilty. Maybe it was an uncle whose sister died and so they had to take the kids into the home. And so every time they saw the children, they would think aahh, why did I have to take this child into my home.

This is not how God adopted us. This was a delight for God.

Actually if you look at the next phrase, he says, “In love….according to the purpose of His will.” According to means on the basis of. The purpose. Or a better translation might be, the good pleasure, the delight of His will.

As one author explains, “This word purpose signifies not just the purpose of God, but also the happiness he takes in his plan. It draws attention to God’s joy in doing this.”

If you were going to before the beginning of the world and watching God making a plan, and you were wondering why is God happy right now, why is God smiling, this was the delight of His will, this was love that motivated God to adopt us.

This is one of the special treasures of thinking about adoption.

What if you only knew that God chose you? He could have only chosen you to be His slave. But adoption tells you that He chose you to be part of His family. That’s love.  Or take forgiveness. If you only knew about forgiveness, that God pardons you of your guilt, that is amazing, but if you only thought about that, you might not get the extent of God’s love, because this is a legal thing, it is like you are standing before God as judge and the judge says you are righteous, and that is amazing, but there is a big difference between calling someone your honor and calling them daddy, and adoption tells you that the Judge who pardoned your sin and guilt, now calls you son. You are loved like a son.

And I want to add something here.

God not only loves you like a son. He wants you to believe that. That is one of the most important things for you as a believer to know and enjoy on a daily basis, that God loves you and delights in you like a Son.

1 John 3:1, “Behold (Look! See!) what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.”

It is almost like John is saying no way, check it out, you need to see this you need to be amazed by this that God loves enough to call His family.

John 17:26, We are loved by the Father with a similar kind of love that He loved His Son. Jesus is the Eternal Son. His Sonship is of a different order than ours, but now that we are in Christ, we are loved with a similar kind of love by the Father that he has for His eternal Son. You say that seems too much, but listen to John 17:26. “I made know to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” I want them to know and experience the same kind of love that you have loved me with.

Wow. What a privilege to be loved like that. How much does God love Jesus Christ the Son? How much does God love us?

J.I. Packer writes,

“God receives us as sons and loves us with the same affection with which He eternally loves His only begotten Son.” 

And at this moment I should be crying. If I was enjoying this the way I should, I should be on my knees crying. To be able to say that. To be able to say that. It’s like a fairy story, the reigning king adopts a beggar to make a prince of him, but praise God it is not a fairy story, it’s hard and solid fact. God the Father feels the same way about his adopted children as He does about their elder brother Jesus Christ, and God wants you to believe that, you do not honor God by not believing that, in fact the primary way you honor him in this world is by believing that.

You are a bigger sinner than you think you are but you are not only a sinner, you are a son. Don’t deny that you are a sinner. But don’t deny the fact that you are a Son. Remember every time you look at yourself, you are going to see stuff that is going to make you sad, but look at this, it is important you realize every time you look at your failures that God’s basic attitude as He looks at you is one of affection and delight, because you are not only a sinner, you are a son, and one of the greatest sorrows, one of the greatest ways you can grieve God the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do God as a Christian is not to believe that He loves you.

Heap it Up Mountain High

11 Apr

J. Gresham Machen:

“There may be some foul spot in our lives; the kind of thing that the world never forgives, the kind of thing, at any rate, for which we who know all can never forgive ourselves. But what care we whether the world forgives, or even whether we can forgive ourselves, if God forgives, if God has received us by the death of His Son?

If we could appeal to God’s approval as ours by right, how bravely we should boast—boast in the presence of a world of enemies! If God knows that we are right, what care we for the blame of men? Such boasting, indeed, can never be ours. But we can boast in what God has done. Little care we whether our sin be thought unpardonable or no, little interested are we in the exact calculation of our guilt. Heap it up mountain high, yet God has removed it all.

I know not,’ the Christian says, ‘what my guilt may be; one thing I know: Christ loved me and gave Himself for me.’”

 

Necessary but not enough

11 Apr

Matt Perman:

“God’s statement that he desires mercy and not sacrifice is a great passage, in other words, on the importance of social action and meeting physical needs. This is especially clear from the tie with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan’s actions to meet the man’s physical needs are called “compassion” (Luke 10:33) and “mercy” (Luke 10:37). Jesus also often had compassion on the crowds, resulting in meeting their physical needs (Matthew 14:14; 9:35-36). To be a merciful person necessarily includes being on the lookout to meet physical needs.

But there is something even deeper in Matthew 9:13. When Jesus says “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” there, he gives it as the reason and foundation for why he is interacting with sinners. For he immediately adds: “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

At the heart of what Jesus is saying is this: True compassion involves not just taking action to meet people’s needs, but doing this even for the unworthy. “I desire mercy” does not simply mean “do good to those who do good to you.” Jesus is defining true compassion as having love for sinful,unworthy people at its very essence. What the Pharisees didn’t get is that when God calls us to have compassion on people, he doesn’t restrict it to apparently “worthy” people. Love that does not love the unworthy is actually not true love at all. That’s why the call to love one’s enemies is central, not an aside, to the biblical ethic of love (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:19-21). True compassion has compassion even on sinners, those who have failed, and even one’s enemies.

Which is, of course, all of us (something else the Pharisees didn’t get).

This is why Jesus came to earth. He came because he is a loving, compassionate God, which means not simply that he does good for those who do good, but that he also seeks to rescue those who have done evil. That’s the true meaning of love. That’s Jesus’ point here. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call not the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

This is also the meaning of John 3:16. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” That is, God’s love is the kind of love that gives utterly sacrificially even for the welfare of sinners–those who, as John puts it here, are in danger of perishing.

Seeking the welfare of unworthy — demonstrated in action — is part of the very definition of God’s love.

This is why social action is not enough. Love for others will and must manifest itself in meeting people’s concrete, tangible needs for food, shelter, companionship, and purpose in life. But beyond all of these things, we have a more fundamental, even deeper need: we are estranged from God because of our sin. True compassion does not stop at meeting people’s physical and social needs, therefore. It goes all the way and seeks to meet their spiritual need for reconciliation with God as well.”

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Exegetical Matters: The Book of Acts, ‘Having Favour With All the People’

8 Apr

Is there any example in Scripture where the church is distinguished by its practical, loving concern for its unbelieving neighbors?

Very early in the book of Acts, Luke begins telling us about the life and ministry of the early church.  In Acts 2:44ff, we begin to see their sacrificial concern for one another.  It is possible we also may get a hint of their sacrificial and loving concern for the people of the city in which they lived. 

We read,

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

The phrase to focus on here is where Luke says they were ‘having favor with all the people.’  What does he mean by that exactly?

In his book, Exemplary Life, Andy Chambers comments on this passage, 

“The Greek word for ‘favor’ (charin) can be translated ‘grace,’ ‘kindness,’ or ‘good will.’ Translating the phrase ‘having favor with all the people’…raises the following question: Who was showing favor to whom – the church to the city of Jerusalem or the city to the church? Most English translations and commentators see the church experiencing the good will of the city of Jerusalem, although a few recognize both possibilities. The preposition with (pros) can also be translated ‘toward,’ making it difficult to state with certainty what Luke means beyond what the context suggests.

Two clues in the context can be put forward as evidence for seeing the church as the recipient of Jerusalem’s good will. First, several statements in surrounding narratives indicate the positive disposition of the people of Jerusalem towards the church (Acts 4:21; 5:13-16, 26). Second, Luke’s next statement that people were being saved daily fits with the positive attitude of the people toward the church. However, neither of these clues requires ‘pros’ to be translated with. One could just as easily argue that the surrounding notes about Jerusalem’s good will call for seeing Acts 2:47 as an affirmation by Luke that the reverse was true too. Favor flowed from the church towards Jerusalem, and the church’s concern for others was used by God to bring salvation to the people of Jerusalem.

Rhetorical and linguistic reasons suggest that the phrase should be understood as the church having good will towards the city of Jerusalem. All of the preceding statements are part of Luke’s strategy of using the rhetorical exemplum in his portrait of the Jerusalem church, which focuses on the exemplary behavior of believers. They gave generously. They met daily. They ate together with glad and sincere hearts. They praised God. And they had good will toward all the people. It makes sense to see Luke’s emphasis on the positive behavior of the church continuing, rather than shift toward the attitude in Jerusalem, which he waits until Acts 5:13-16 to describe.

Additionally, there are strong linguistic grounds for translating ‘pros’ as ‘toward’ rather than ‘with.’ The word charis appears with the preposition pros only here in the New Testament, but the pair occurs six times in Josephus and three times in Philo. In each occurrence the object of the preposition pros is in the accusative case and is always the person towards whom the good will is directed. In Acts 2:47 the object of pros in the accusative case is ‘all the people.’ Thus, the people of Jerusalem are the ones toward whom the good will of the church is directed.

Luke’s exemplary portrait makes clear that not only did the believers love one another, they also loved their neighbors (Lev. 19:18, Luke 10:27), the people of Jerusalem. God’s grace changed their lives, and it caused them to love the city where they lived and to practice hospitality toward her people.”

Andy Chambers, Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts, p. 79,80

Thinking Out Loud about the Church and Mercy Ministry

8 Apr

Sometimes when people talk about the responsibility of church leaders to help the church care for the poor, they think what’s being said is that church leaders have the responsibility to organize institutional strategies and programs for the church to reach out to the poor in their community. 

I don’t think however that is necessarily true. 

I know it is not true at least for me.  It should be obvious.  But if a church as an institution never has a feeding program or clothing distribution center or an orphanage, it still can be a church.  Now, if the church as a church, stops preaching God’s Word and the gospel, it is no longer a church. 

Where communication may break down a bit however, is that I don’t think that principle means the leadership of the church has no responsibility when it comes to helping Christians care for the poor. When Jesus told us to go and make disciples, he taught us to teach them to obey all that God’s commanded, and therefore, part of our responsibility as disciple-makers in the church is to help the church learn to obey what the Scripture teaches about our individual responsibility to the those in need.  We have a responsibility after all to help our people learn to live righteous lives, and God’s Word makes clear that part of living a righteous life is having a concern for the poor. 

While I do not doubt that the writers of Scripture could look at a church that has no organized way of caring for the physically needy and still see it as a church, I do doubt that these same writers would look at an individual who says that he understands the gospel and yet has no concern for the needy, and especially of course needy believers and think they are actually a Christian. 

Ken Jones has said, “If the church never offers a single hot meal but preaches the gospel, then she is true to her calling.”

I don’t really have a problem with that statement, I don’t think, given that he’s talking about the church as an institution.  

But I just wonder, if the same could be said about an individual Christian. Could we say of an individual Christian, as long as he says the right things, but never actually moves out in love to those in need, he is true to his calling? 

I don’t think so. 

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to him, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things need for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him.”

Now, I know people say that’s just talking about other Christians in need. O.k., sure. (Though if everyone who made this argument loved Christians like this, I don’t think we would really have much of an argument at all.) 

But how about this then, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…For you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?”

It may be helpful I think in conversations about the church and the poor to recognize that not everyone who is saying the church is not required to help the unbelieving poor means by that it is acceptable for individual Christians to be compassionless or to opt out of helping those in need. On the other hand it would also be helpful to recognize that not everyone who says leaders of the church need to be concerned about helping their congregation think through how to show Christ’s love to the poor means by that it is required for the church as an institution or organization to have programmed mercy ministries.    

In other words, sometimes when people seem to be saying the church should do less for the poor, they don’t actually mean individual Christians should stop caring as much for those who are in need but instead that the church as an institution is unique and exists to express God’s love and mercy in a unique way through the proclamation of God’s Word and the worship of God.  On the other hand, sometimes when people seem to be saying the church should be doing more for the poor, they don’t actually mean primarily that the church as an institution should begin all sorts of different programmed social justice kinds of ministry, but instead that the individual Christians within the church need to be pushed and encouraged and discipled to care deeply for and love sacrificially those who are hurting around them. 

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