How do you handle people you disagree with?
An honest answer would be “it depends.” If it’s a trivial issue, then often you ignore it. Othertimes you negotiate, or acquiesce. We often hear that the wisest and most productive path is to find common ground, to engage, to dialogue, to fully understand the other person so that they will try to fully understand you.
But what do you do when the issue concerns God, concerns worldview or religion? Many Christians would say the path of gentle dialogue is not only the most productive but is certainly the most loving, considerate, and “Christian” approach.
But in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, John MacArthur literally asks, “What did Jesus do?” How did Christ actually interact with people and religious leaders who differed from Him? Did He choose dialogue, discourse, & common ground? How did Christ handle the touchy, thorny areas?
In The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, MacArthur examines the Biblical record carefully & exhaustively, & concludes that Christ did exactly the opposite: He chose bold confrontation of theological error; He went out of his way to expose hypocrisy; He deliberately provoked the wrath of leaders who would not acknowledge His truth claims.
This book is classic MacArthur: readable, well-structured, on-target, and full of sound Biblical exposition. However, I don’t think I enjoyed or benefited from it as much as some of his previous works, just because I didn’t need 200 pages to convince me that theological error can’t be molly-coddled. For most people, I think a single article would have been all they needed to read on this subject, but having an entire book that is solidly written is still a welcome addition to my library.
Snow gently falling, the flickering lights of a Christmas tree, and the soaring strains of ancient carols— what wonderful ways to attune our spirits to this season of Advent!
I wish I could snap my fingers and whip up a winter wonderland outside your window right now, or at least help you put up your Christmas tree, but, alas, I can do neither. But I can add some music for your ears… here is a link to an iTunes list of some of my favorite Christmas music:
Here are melodies old and new, yet all seem to tap into the hope & awe & joy that I think God wants us to dwell in during this sacred time of the year. In no particular order, the songs are:
Angels We Have Heard on High– an ancient French carol on the adoration of Christ, it makes me think what it would have been like to hear those angel choruses and then kneel before the newborn babe:
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.
The Bells of Christmas– from one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Santa Clause, which really is a beautiful story of faith and supernatural personal transformation. I love this soaring score & lyrics:
In the silence of the night
When the snow lies soft & still
You can see a magic light
And hear the ring of Christmas bells
Breath of Heaven– I can imagine that young Mary could have prayed these very words so very long ago:
Breath of Heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness
For You are holy Breath of Heaven
The Coventry Carol– this was originally a Mediaeval passion play song, dating back at least to the 1400s. Its somber tone reflects the horror of the slaughter of the infants by Herod, and reminds us of the evil in the world that Christ came into:
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.
Ding Dong! Merrily on High– the melody was originally a dance tune in the 1500s, which reflects the joyous lyrics:
Ding dong! merrily on high
In heav’n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv’n with angel singing.
Emmanuel, God With Us– a contemporary song that tells us that the hope of Christ is still with us:
And still He calls
Through the night,
Beyond the days of old.
A voice of peace
To the weary ones,
Who struggle with the human soul.
All of us,
Through a given time.
Who can know
What tomorrow holds?
But over the horizon,
Surely you and I will find.
Emmanuel, God with us,
Emmanuel, God with us,
The son of Israel.
Good Christian Men, Rejoice– the original Latin words are thought to have come from a dream that the German mystic Henry Suso had in 1328:
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Jesus Christ was born to save
Calls you one and calls you all
To gain His everlasting hall
Christ was born to save
Christ was born to save
O Come O Come Emmanuel– parts of this carol may date back to 8th century Gregorian chants. Richly saturated with Old Testament prophecy verses, it reminds us that Christ truly does put death’s dark shadows to flight:
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
One Small Child– a contemporary carol that paints a beautiful picture of the babe in the manger:
See Him lying, a cradle beneath Him.
See Him smiling in the stall.
See His mother praising the Father.
See His tiny eyelids fall.
See the shepherds kneeling before Him.
See the kings on bended knee.
See the mother praising the Father.
See the blessed infant sleep.
One small child in a land of a thousand.
One small dream of a savior tonight.
One small hand reaching out to the starlight.
One small savior of life.
We Three Kings of Orient Are– was written by the Reverend John Henry Hopkins for a Christmas play in 1857. Written for a seminary, it speaks of Christ’s “three-fold office”— in that as the Messiah He is both prophet, priest, and king:
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Sounds through the earth and skies.
What Child is This– was written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix, a business manager who wrote these words while bed-confined with a life-threatening illness:
What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the king,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary!
What are your favorite Christmas carols? Enjoy them this Advent season!
Whole. Complete. Full.
All good sounding words, all words that we would like to say describe our souls.
We don’t start out on life’s journey feeling whole or complete or full. We’re always seeking, reaching, grasping, trying to find out what’s missing to make our life complete.
So, the question for today is: What is it for you? What are you seeking to make your heart whole, what do you think will complete you?
For many it is a person, whether you use the term “soul-mate” or “spouse” or “lover”— you’re looking for that special someone that will somehow sweep you off your feet (or that you can sweep off their feet), and you can gaze into each other’s eyes forever as you journey through life together.
For others of you right now it’s family that completes you: having children (or grandchildren) who you can love and who love you. Or maybe it’s career: finding the money or power or prestige or simply satisfaction that goes with that perfect job. Maybe your treasure is having that body that can sweat through a marathon or careen down a mountain bike trail, or maybe it’s just having a quiet, trouble-free life.
Whatever you are seeking to complete you, there are three problems with your quest:
Your first problem is that you may find your treasure unattainable. You may not be able to find that perfect mate or that perfect job or that perfect body. What happens when you decide within yourself you can never be whole without being married, and yet year after year goes by and you’re still single? You have no choice: you either live in misery with a big pit in the center of your soul, or you try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. You marry that person you really know wasn’t right for you, or you take that job that ends up emptying your soul, or you try to stop up the hole with some other pleasure or pastime.
Second, you may find that treasure didn’t complete you after all. You get your dream job or the children you longed for and you realize your heart is still empty. What do you do then? You either have to lead a disappointed life or toss away your first treasure in search of a better one.
Third, you may find a treasure that seems to complete you, but then the pressure’s on for life never to change. You get possessive of those children and wish they would never grow up, or control them so that they fulfill all of your dreams. You live in fear that you may lose your spouse to someone younger or richer or better. Your fears end up poisoning your treasure or poisoning your life.
If all that we seek to complete us will somehow fail us, then what’s the answer? Some people would say to look inward, to not seek any treasure outside yourself, that you are already complete if you would but realize it. That’s a fine sentiment, but it’s not a realistic one. We are all a mixture of beauty and ugliness, treasure and trash. We all have souls that are in need of healing and completion, and it cannot come from within ourselves.
By now, I hope you realize where I’m pointing: the answer is Christ. As 2 Corinthians 9:10 says, “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him.” In Christ we have a treasure that completes us like no other. Christ doesn’t just give us something that we want, He goes down to the core of our soul and remakes it.
Christ is the completion that we will never have a problem with. We will never have to worry that our treasure is unattainable: Christ has paid the bill, and He offers Himself to us freely. We never have to worry that Christ will not fully complete us: He is both our creator and completer for all eternity. And we never have to fear that Christ will leave us or forsake us: He has promised that nothing will ever separate us from His love and care.
Spouses, family, jobs, & health are all good things that we should enjoy if God blesses us with them. But none can take the place of Christ, the filler & completer of our souls.
Every day, you use a scale.
No, not two metal bowls that you put items in, but rather a scale in your heart.
It’s the scale that determines whether you are happy or sad, content or frustrated.
It’s the scale of what matters to you.
Think about it: How are you feeling, right now? Are you happy? Are you sad? What emotion do you have?
Ok, now consider this: why are you feeling this way? If you’re happy, why are you happy now, and not sad? Why are you frustrated, and not content?
It’s because that you’ve weighed your life in your scale of what matters, looked at the result, and said to yourself, “Ah, life is good, I am happy” or “Crap, life stinks, I feel bad.”
What’s Your Scale?
So the real question is: What scale are you using? How are you determining whether life is good or life is bad?
This is a vitally important question. The scale you are using will determine the life that you live, but often we live on “automatic pilot”— we don’t consciously think about what scale we are using in the back of our minds, and so we careen from one emotion to the next without realizing what is causing us to feel happy or sad.
To make things even more complicated, we usually are switching back and forth between multiple scales. We might start the day using the scale of success, how we are doing in our job or if we feel fulfilled in it. We might look in the mirror & use the scale of our physical body, how fit or healthy or attractive we are. We think about our last conversation and use our scale of relationships, how well we are liked or whether the people in our lives are meeting our needs. We see a sporty car at a stop light & start using the scale of money and material possessions. On & on it goes: we have so many different scales of what can make us happy to choose from.
But there’s actually the key: we have the ability to choose the scale. We aren’t locked in to using the scale we use now, or the scale that our parents or friends or the rest of society use. We have the freedom to choose which scale we use each day. Which brings us to the obvious question: What scale should we choose? What scale will bring us the greatest lasting joy?
A Scale Without Fail
Let’s look at the example of one person who was filled with joy & contentment no matter kind of day he was having: Saint Paul. Some of his most famous words are in his letter to the Philippians:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:11-12)
This letter is sometimes referred to as Paul’s “joy” letter, because there are a dozen references to joy and rejoicing in the letter, even though it was written while he was in a Roman prison.
So what was Paul’s secret to maintaining joy and contentment no matter what his circumstances? Obviously he wasn’t using the scale of success or material possessions. He couldn’t have even been using a scale of being free or having a full stomach.
To discover Paul’s scale of what mattered to him we just need to turn a few pages back to Chapter 3:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…
Paul had only one scale: his union with Christ. That’s all that he needed, and he consciously chose to abandon every other scale he had (“whatever gain I had, I counted as loss”). He had a position of great social, academic, and political power, leading a lifestyle of privilege, and he gave it all up to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” (verse 10)
Why did he do that? Why did he bank all of his happiness on the one scale of union with Christ? The simple explanation is that CHRIST WAS WORTH IT. Life with Christ far outweighed any other possible joy in Paul’s life. He was an example of the parable which Jesus taught in Matthew 13:44-6–
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Jesus said union with Him, life in the kingdom of heaven, is so precious that the person who realizes its worth will in joy be willing to give up everything else in his life to have it.
One Final Question
Which leaves us with one final question: Do you put Christ in your scale? Is He your hidden treasure? Is He your pearl of great price, which you would gladly sell all your possessions to have?
If He is, then you have a foundation of joy that can never be shaken, for your union with Christ can never be broken. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39–
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If we are always focusing the scale of our heart on Christ, we can always feel content and joyful regardless of other circumstances. May we pray daily for God to turn our hearts to be wholly focused on Him.
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:3-9)
What the world saw as waste, Jesus saw as beauty. What the world saw as destruction, Jesus saw as good. What the world scolded as foolish, Jesus lifted up as an everlasting memorial.
That’s the difference that’s seen in the cross too. The world sees the cross as a waste, the death of a “good man.” The redeemed of God see the cross as beautiful and precious beyond words. The world sees the cross as death and destruction; we see rebirth and eternal life. The world scolds it as foolish (think about the mainstream media’s reaction to The Passion movie some years back); we recognize the cross as the memorial to God’s incredible love to us.
As you meditate on what Mary did for Jesus, think on these things:
Think about your own love for Jesus. Mary gave up a year’s salary just to do something beautiful for the God that she loved. What have you given up for Jesus, not out of duty, not out of the “peer pressure” of other Christians, not out of what you thought you would receive back from God, but simply out of your love for Christ?
Think about the beauty of the cross. Think about what manner of love that God has for us, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and made us His children (1 John 3:1). If you have not read it, consider reading C. J. Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life.
Think that to be broken, humbled, poured out, spent, even to the point of destruction, for Jesus is not waste, but beauty in God’s eyes. In Don’t Waste Your Life John Piper again & again pleads for us to be willing to spend our lives for the cause of Christ:
I want to be able to say to suffering and perishing people, “I tried everything in the world… I was trying so hard.” And I want to be able to say to those around me when I die, “It’s all right. To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Note: The following is article #9 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
I don’t know about you, but life isn’t a walk in the park every day. The hard and narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14) is, well, hard and narrow. How do we keep going? What rock (Matthew 7:24-27) will withstand the strongest storm that can batter us?
For John Piper, that rock is the truth found within Romans 8:32:
He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Faith’s greatest foundation is that God “did not spare His own Son.” God did the hardest thing, not only that has ever been done, but the hardest thing that could ever even be conceivable to be done, in the universe: He allowed His Son, the being He loved more than anything else in the universe, to suffer and die. Why? The verse says it— “for us.” So Paul is saying that if God has already done the hardest thing in the universe, it is an easy thing, a simple thing, for Him to “graciously give us all things.”
Meditate on this. The hardest thing in the world to you, is a simple, easy thing for God. As Piper says, “Think on that every time you fear being denied something that would be good for you. You think it is a hard thing. You see many obstacles. It looks impossible.” But it’s not— it is an easy thing for God.
This truth, that God really will give us everything we need and not deny us anything that is for our good, is so vital and yet so hard to REALLY BELIEVE. But we have to keep going back to Romans 8 and see God’s explanation, and how absolutely certain we can be of God’s promise. Piper says:
You must believe this or you will not thrive, or perhaps even survive as a Christian, in the pressures and temptations of modern life. There is so much pain, so many setbacks and discouragements, so many controversies and pressures. I do not know where I would turn in the ministry if I did not believe that almighty God is taking every setback and every discouragement and every controversy and every pressure and every pain, and stripping it of its destructive power and making it work for the enlargement of my joy in God.
So, today, what painful area of your life are you struggling to believe that God is actually giving to you for your good? What promise of God that seems so long in coming are you struggling to keep believing that He will fulfill? Bathe your soul in the sweetness of Romans 8, and take both comfort and strength for your walk with Christ today.
The Scriptures give us so many pictures of our relationship to Christ. We are to abide in Him as a vine, we are to treasure Him as a pearl of great price, we are to follow Him as Lord, we are to regard everything else as dung in comparison to Him. These words and word pictures are meant to give form and structure to something that is greater and richer than any words can fully express: that Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality in the universe, and that we are made to live in the truth of that reality.
But what does that mean minute to minute in my daily life? For me, it helps me to ask myself, “Is Jesus Christ my Most Relevant Reality, right now in my life?” What do I mean by that? I mean among all the things competing for the attention of my mind and heart at any given moment, the reality of Jesus Christ is to be pre-eminent, is to be what takes center stage, is to be what influences me most, is to be the dominant force in my life.
An example: I’m at my office, 10:18AM. I have all these things, all these “realities” all circulating in my mind, all clamoring for attention: the differential diagnosis of Mrs. Smith’s headache, what I’m going to eat for lunch, the department meeting tomorrow night, whether my next patient will be crabby or not, my daughter’s science project, balancing the checkbook, and on and on it goes. All of these things are worthy of my consideration, and some of them are vital for me to consider. I won’t even mention all the other “realities” that are not worthy of my consideration, things that spring out of pride, lust, anxiety, & lack of faith that nonetheless are also clamoring to take center stage of my soul.
What do I do with all these realities? While many of them may be relevant (or claim to be!), only one can be the MOST relevant, only one can truly take center stage at any given time. Which one will it be? Which one SHOULD it be?
Even as I think about Mrs. Smith’s headache or what I’m going to have for lunch, I must choose that those realities are lesser things when compared with the reality of Jesus Christ: His sovereignty, His love, His holiness, His kingdom. Nothing should either take the place of or be considered apart from Jesus. Jesus must be my most relevant reality.
So here’s the word picture of the day: Take a look at the solar system. Each of the planets has a gravitational pull, but none has a pull that even comes close to that of the Sun. The Sun is the most relevant reality in the solar system. The Sun so dominates every other force on the planets that they orbit around it continually. That’s how our lives should be: letting the Son of God so dominate us that we are “orbiting” around Him continually, letting Him be the most relevant reality in our life.
But what if Mercury got too close to Venus? Even though Venus is much smaller than the Sun, Venus could end up pulling on Mercury hard enough to either: (1) cause Mercury’s solar orbit to be erratic and unstable (2) cause Mercury to start orbiting around Venus instead of the Sun or even (3) cause Mercury to crash into Venus.
So it is with me. If I take my eyes off Christ, and let a problem or an anxiety or a desire or even a good thing like my love for my children or my wish for ministry to go well, if I allow anything to become more dominant in my soul than Jesus, then that will cause my “orbit” around Christ to become erratic, or even unknowingly I will start to “orbit” around that problem or other thing in my life until it becomes the most relevant reality in my life instead of Christ. I may even get so close to it that I end up “crashing” into it in obsession or addiction or despair.
So, where is your life today? What are you orbiting around? Is it Christ? How can you today keep Christ as your most relevant reality?
In John Owen’s wonderful work Communion With God, he has a list of what it takes to walk with God. As you read the list, two truths jump out: First, Owen doesn’t attempt to give a “1-2-3 how anyone can walk with God” list, but rather challenges the reader with what must be true about our lives before we can even start to walk with God. Next, Owen shows that each point on the list can only be fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Only through Jesus can any man walk with God.
So, without further introduction, here is Owen’s list:
- We must be reconciled to God. The only way for man to be reconciled to God is through Christ (Rom 5:11, Eph 2:18, Heb 2:17, Gal 3:13, and many other verses).
- We must be friends of God. Only in Christ can we become God’s friend (1John 5:20, John 1:18)
- We must walk in God’s way of holiness. This way can only be learned from Christ (Heb 10:20, John 14:6, Is 35:8, 42:16)
- We must have strength. In ourselves, we do not have the strength to walk with God, but our strength is in Christ (Phil 4:13, 2Cor 3:5, Eph 6:10)
- We must have confidence. God is a consuming fire, and no sinful creature can be in His presence, let alone walk with Him, without being in Christ (Eph 3:12, Heb 10:19, Rom 8:15).
- We must have the same purpose as God. Here again, we cannot hope to be able to walk with our lives completely consummed with the glory of God except through Christ.
Ponder each of these points, and worship the Christ who makes it possible for us to walk with God.
I wasn’t really expecting getting my first traffic ticket a few years ago to teach me anything about Christ’s presence. But while standing in the darkness of the night in my driveway, holding the ticket in my hand, God had something to say. And so I listened, and I wrote:
Every moment of my life is a gift to be cherished,
For every moment is an invitation from God
To pursue the deepest desire of my heart,
Which is intimacy with the One
Whom I love and treasure supremely.
Every moment is to be seized and savored or else squandered.
Every moment beckons me to fulfill Christ’s prophecy
That I will love Him with all my heart, with all my soul,
With all my mind, and with all my strength.
Every moment draws me to abide in Christ,
And have my life hidden in Him.
Every moment I must choose.
If I choose to abide in myself,
I choose that my way is better than God’s,
That by my maneuvering or planning or controlling of circumstances,
My life will turn out better.
This is foolish and the root of sin.
If I choose to abide in a lesser treasure,
I choose to value something above intimacy with Christ.
This is idolatry.
I choose to value Christ above myself,
Above my circumstances,
Above all else.
I choose to abide in Christ.
I have been reminded of the truth of those words again and again. Larry Crabb talks about perceiving where you are spiritually, to be able to see “where your red dot is” (to use an analogy of the maps you find posted in shopping malls.) I am always abiding someplace. I am either abiding in myself, or abiding in something else, or abiding in Christ. The trick is to take a second, stop myself, and see where I am abiding— and if it is not in Christ, to recognize it and move. To learn how to remain in Christ and not be pulled away is one of those great tasks of spiritual maturity that I think I will be working on the rest of my life.
Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”
Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”
But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”
And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Mark 5:25-34)
The disciples did not perceive the difference between thronging around Jesus and touching Him. Do we?
There are hordes of people in churches thronging around Jesus, but how many are touching Him and seeing their lives transformed?
Note first that the woman knew she had an illness no man could cure. She knew her need, and it was a need for the miraculous. People who do not see their need for the miraculous will not touch Jesus; until they see that they have a need in their life that no other seminar or bank account or friend or medicine or religious rite will fix.
Second, note that the woman knew that Jesus could help her. That was the essence of her faith, that Jesus was real and that He alone had the power to heal her. No one will touch Jesus until God grants them the faith that Jesus is their Savior, their Redeemer, their Healer, their Lord.
Have you touched Jesus today?