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I’m Glad the Bible Isn’t Photoshopped

There has been much written about the scourge of Photoshop, the program that enhances nearly every photo we see in magazines and on the net. Every blemish, every wart gone. No fat from that Christmas candy. Every muscle perfectly toned from hours of disciplined exercise, oh, sorry, every muscle perfectly toned from a few clicks of a mouse. 
 
With the right computer program, you can even generate a completely artificial computer perfection. The face at right is constructed from the best features of 22 different beauty pageant contestants. She’s not just beautiful, she is actually more beautiful than any real human face is physically capable of being.  
 
The danger of Photoshop is obvious: we see this unrealistic unattainable beauty, and then we start comparing it to the real people in our lives. Not suprisingly, the real people always come up short. No one can live up to the dazzling standard of perfection that Photoshop gives us. 
 
But the danger extends beyond photographs: we are also exposed to “Photoshopped” lives as well. We watch movie romances where the men and women respond perfectly to each other, or if there is any conflict it is perfectly orchestrated to work itself out within an hour of screen time. At the end, the leading man or leading woman says and does everything just right, and everyone smiles and sighs, “Why isn’t my life like that?” If not romance, we see the team win the big game, the family work out all their differences, the girl get her big break. We subconsciously question why we can’t have a perfect life since we see ones lived out before our eyes on a screen or in the pages of a book. 
 
But there’s one book that isn’t Photoshopped at all, and I’m very thankful for it. It’s the Bible. All of its people are real, with real joys, real struggles, real failures, real hope. We see where a truly good king can become so lost and entangled he commits murder. We see where the strongest man in the world cannot control himself, becomes a blind slave, and yet finally sees the light in the end. We see how a man who truly loved Jesus denied him, but later died for him. 
 
The Bible shows us that people, all people, are human. That there is selfishness pettiness & foolishness in us all. And that God’s love & grace extend to us all, and can work miracles. 
 
Most of all, we see that there was one man who did not need to be Photoshopped, who the Bible could present in every detail of his life to be human, and yet beyond human in his perfect love & strength & wisdom. We can gaze on the perfect image of Christ, and realize with hope & joy that through God’s grace He is transforming us too into His likeness.  

Spiritual Seed Pack 1: Living by Grace

John Piper’s Future Grace is a book so deep & yet so practical that it is certainly on my “must-read” list for every Christian.  This spiritual seed pack gives you core concepts and ideas from Future Grace to plant and grow in your life.  There are direct quotes from Dr. Piper, major ideas distilled down into my own words, and quotes from other writers.

Hungry for the whole book?  Click here to see it on Amazon.com.

Want more depth? Click here for a series of articles going through the book chapter by chapter.

Faith Is the Key to Grace

Faith is the key, the channel, that God’s grace flows through. So to experience grace you must possess faith.  Faith is absolutely central.

If you go wrong on the nature of faith, everything in the Christian life will go wrong.

So, what is faith?  Here are some key concepts:

Faith trusts in the promises that God has made through Christ, and loves them, cherishes them, prizes them with all the heart.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that faith is more than mere knowledge, more than belief, but is a joyful response of the heart to the truth of the Gospel.

Eternal life is not given to people who think that Jesus is the Son of God.  It is given to people who drink from Jesus as the Son of God.

Faith, embracing the spiritual beauty of Christ, is the key to my joy and spiritual growth.

If we can look in our hearts and see God’s love within, sense a spiritual eye for Christ’s light and an ear for Christ’s voice and a taste for Christ’s living water, then we can rejoice and thank God for His glorious grace in our lives, for these are the marks of true faith.

Because building my faith is central to grace, destroying my faith is central to Satan.

Whether it is a discouraging situation, a tempting thought, or any other kind of battle, the real target of Satan is always my faith.

Whenever we turn from faith (total trust and reliance) in God and turn toward anything else, we open the door to sin in our lives.

All the sinful states of our hearts are owing to unbelief in God’s super-abounding future grace.

All our sin comes from failing to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.

Example: the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer.  So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.  You can’t trust in God and in money at the same time.  Belief in one is unbelief in the other.

Where faith in God fails, sin follows.  Faith stands or falls on the truth that the future with God is more satisfying than the one promised by sin. Where this truth is embraced and God is cherished above all, the power of sin is broken.

Grace is God’s Power At Work in My Life

God’s Grace is Boundless

The reason God saved us was so He could lavish the riches of His grace on us, and it will take God all of eternity to do it. (see Ephesians 2:4-7)

We never have to worry about being beyond the reach of God’s grace, and we never have to worry or manipulate to try and win God’s grace.

God’s grace is a boundless infinite ocean. This reservoir of future grace is hidden from our eyes, but each of us can look back and see a sea of grace that has already flowed from God’s hand, and it grows broader and deeper every day.

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? Romans 8:32 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.”

Having Faith in God’s Grace Changes Everything

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.

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest… nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls …Outside all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.  Outside this promise of all-encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions…once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom…The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.  When God’s people really live by the future grace of Romans 8:28— from measles to the mortuary— we are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world.

God’s Answer to Every Prayer is Grace.

Many of us have been taught that God answers prayers either “yes” “no” or “wait.”  But in reality God always answers every prayer by giving us His grace—the grace of a blessing, the grace to endure a hardship, or the grace of patience.

Grace Gives Me a Heart for Holiness

Jesus repeatedly spoke of the importance of becoming like God—loving & holy.  Jesus said that he did not come to do away with God’s laws but to fulfill them. Bottom line:

The law is so wonderful and important that part of the reason Jesus died was that we could obey it and fulfill it.

The commandments of God are not negligible because we are under grace. They are doable because we are under grace.

How does grace do give me a heart for holiness? Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. Sin makes a promise to us, to satisfy us, just as God does.  Obeying God is learning to trust and value God’s promises to satisfy us in Jesus more than trusting or valuing the promises of sin.

There is a power that comes from prizing God which leaves no nook or cranny of life untouched.

Grace Gives Me a Heart of Patience

Patience is a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience— to wait in His place, and go at His pace.

On his deathbed the 18th century pastor Charles Simeon wrote:

Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole (of my life) with infinite love; and infinite power enables me— to rest upon that love.  I am in a dear Father’s hands— all is secure.  When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness— and immutability— and truth; and I have the sweetest peace— I cannot have more peace.

Grace Gives Me a Heart of Contentment

Faith is the experience of contentment in Jesus, the satisfaction of my soul’s thirst and my heart’s hunger. The fight of faith is the fight to keep your heart contented in Christ— to really believe, and keep on believing, that He will meet every need and satisfy every longing.

As bitterness rears its ugly taste in our soul, we can successfully banish it with the assurance that God’s justice will be satisfied and by cherishing the even sweeter taste of God’s own forgiveness and love for us.

Grace Gives Me a Heart of Endurance

The Apostle Paul uses two word pictures of the walk of faith: a fight and a race.  That means it must be hard, and that we must endure to the end.  Knowing that we are in a race and a fight helps us to endure when the way becomes hard.

Grace Brings Suffering & Redeems Suffering

The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God.

When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost.

In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe.

There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel. And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.

God has purposes that He intends to accomplish through suffering:
Suffering Shapes an Unshakable Faith
Suffering Shapes our Character
Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ

Grace Frees Me From Fear

The aim of grace is to liberate me from fears and desires that enslave my soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.

Freeing me to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives me grace.

Grace Gives Me a Heart for God’s Glory

One thing is past all question: we shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.  If I have much faith, so that I can take God at His Word… I shall greatly honor my Lord and King. (Charles Spurgeon)

Grace Gives Me a Heart for Ministry

The state of the heart is shown by the things that satisfy its desires.

Ministry is a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness.

But a lifestyle of ministry is costly, in acts of sacrificial love. None of these costly acts of love just happens.  They are impelled by a new appetite— the appetite of faith for the fullest experience of God’s grace.”

Grace Frees Me to Pursue Joy in God

The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of His worth in our life.

God commands us to pursue joy in Him. In fact, He commands us to pursue joy with as much passion and zeal and intensity as we can.  Pursuing joy is not sin, but pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found is sin.

“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a secondary suggestion.  It is a radical call to pursue your fullest satisfaction in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus.  It is a call to live in the joyful freedom and sacrificial love that comes from faith in future grace.

Live by faith. Live by grace. Live for joy in God.

Accepted by God

To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.  (Ephesians 1:6KJV)

Acceptance.  It’s a beautiful word, one that speaks deeply to our hearts.  Acceptance is one of the greatest blessings that God gives to His children, and so it’s important for us to understand the nature of God’s acceptance and then to rejoice in it.

What is it to be accepted by God?  The Greek word used in the above Bible verse is charitoo, which roughly translates “to make graceful.”  To really understand what that means, you first have to go to the definition of the root word charis, which means “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness.”  Next, you have to see that we are charitoo, made accepted, “in the beloved,” that is, in Christ.  Putting it all together, the verse means that God looks at us and it gives Him joy, pleasure, & delight because He sees the charm and loveliness of His Beloved Son, of Jesus, in us.  That is absolutely dazzling to me, realizing that God has joy when He looks at me (at me!), because of Christ. 

Another insight into how precious this acceptance really is can be found in the only other use of the Greek word charitoo in the Bible.  In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, O favored (accepted) one, the Lord is with you!”  Yes, the way that God looked at Mary, the one He chose to be the mother of Christ, is the way that he looks at us once we are in Christ.

How incredible it is, to be accepted by God.  This acceptance goes beyond love; for you can love someone without accepting them.  You can act in love, being kind and gracious and even sacrificing to them, without seeing them with joy in your heart, without them being beautiful in your eyes.  But not so with God: He both loves us and accepts us.

When I meditate on God’s acceptance of me, I remember that it is full, it is free, and it is forever.  The best illustration of this is seen in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When the father accepts his wayward son, it is full acceptance: the son immediately is given a fine robe to show his father’s favor, and a ring to show he once again has legal authority as a son of his father. 

The acceptance is free: no conditions are stated; no action or any goodness at all in the son merits the Father’s acceptance of Him.  Actually, under Jewish law the son could have been put to death for his behavior, and at the very least the father should disown him.  But no, the father both forgives him and fully and freely accepts him.  For those of us who have had experiences of conditional acceptance in relationships, the preciousness of full and free acceptance is very real.

Lastly, for the Christian God’s acceptance is forever.  Nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:28-29), and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-39).  We can rest in God’s complete and uninterrupted acceptance no matter the fears and doubts that may assail our hearts.

What are the results of focusing on God’s acceptance?  As already mentioned, it brings great peace and joy to our hearts.  It also gives us the freedom to accept others as God has accepted us, in the same way that relishing in God’s forgiveness of us helps us to forgive others (see Matthew 18).  Knowing God’s acceptance also encourages us in our quest for righteousness and holiness.  Knowing that God sees us as lovely, we long to become ever more lovely in His sight, yet we now do not do it out of compulsion or fear or bargaining, but out of a joyful, loving, and grateful heart.

Dwell on God’s acceptance of you today, and let it spur you to feel more loved, to be more loving, and to become more lovely for God’s glory.

The Rebirth of Creation

Note: The following is article #30 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.    

In Chapter 30 of the book Future Grace John Piper looks at the final future grace that we set our eyes toward, that of the rebirth of creation.  Before he looks at heaven, though, he once more talks about what the purpose of living by future grace is.  Living by God’s grace is to show God’s glory.  Specifically, living by grace allows us to live lives that, “show that our treasure in God is more precious than the fleeting attractions of sin.”

What does such a changed life consist of?  First, we will be noted for what we don’t do:

We don’t yield to the sinful pleasures of the moment. We don’t devote our best energies to laying up treasures on earth.  We don’t dream our most exciting dreams about accomplishments and relationships that perish.  We don’t fret over what this life fails to give (marriage, wealth, health, fame).

Second, Piper states what we will be seen to do:

We savor the wonder that the Owner and Ruler of the universe loves us, and has destined us for the enjoyment of his glory, and is working inallibly to bring us to his eternal kingdom.  So we live to meet the needs of others, because God is living to meet our needs.  We love our enemies, and do good, and bless those who curse us and pray for those who despise us…

All of this we can do through grace, through faith in what God has in store for us.  And that brings us to the final grace that God will one day bestow upon us, the rebirth of creation.

God has not told us every detail about the new heaven and the new earth, but he has revealed to us what is important, and what is glorious for us to keep in our hearts.  The first thing God has revealed is that we will be raised and we will be changed.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15:52 that, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

We will be raised to inhabit our body, and yet it will not be the frail body subject to sickness and death such as we have now, for it will be imperishable.  It will be a body that reflects the glory of God and that we will be able to use to glorify God for all eternity, no longer subject to the curse of sin.

Next, God will bring forth a new heaven & a new earth that will be just as glorious:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Theologians differ on whether the new heaven & new earth will be entirely new, or just the renewal and recreation of our present planet.  In the final analysis, it won’t matter: it will be glorious beyond all our present imagination.

But even with glorious new bodies and a glorious new creation, the real glory will remain the same: the presence of God Himself, now in full view of His children for the first time. Experiencing God in His fullness, without sin, without sadness, without death, for all eternity, is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams.  As Piper states,

Thus the purpose of God in creation will be fulfilled: the exhibition of his glory for the enjoyment of his people in the never-ending increase of infinite future grace.

Piper ends the chapter with a poem of praise and hope, which includes these words:

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass…
I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy…
The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That is should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me. 

 

The Future Grace of Dying

Note: The following is article #29 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.    

Dying.  It is something we will all face.  And like every other part of our walk with Christ, His grace can infuse all aspects of our death, from attitude to expectation to the actual experience.

In Chapter 29 of Future Grace Dr. Piper discusses grace & death.  He reiterates his aim for the entire book:

The aim of this book is to liberate people from fears and desires that enslave the soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.

Freeing us to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives us grace.  But fear often stops us from radical obedience to Christ, and fear of death is among them.  We fear the unknown, we fear the pain, we fear the disability, we fear the loss of death.

But if by faith we grasp that God’s grace will truly be with us, even in death, and if by faith we see beyond death to our eternal joy in Christ (Romans 8:18), then even death shall lose its power over us.  Dr Piper states,

There is only future grace in front of us….if we do not need to fear our last and greatest enemy, death, then we do not need to fear anything.  We can be free.  Free for joy.  Free for others… when the future grace of dying in Christ takes hold of you, it frees from fear and gives courage to live the most radical, self-sacrificing life of love.

We need to dwell on God’s grace in death, and let it empower us, let it embolden us, let it fill our hearts with joy.  We need to meditate on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5 now, when we are young and healthy, and not only when we are dying:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Grace can indeed give us courage in the face of death.  But grace does more. Paul saw that the actual process of aging and dying in itself was a means of grace:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Dr Piper comments that, “The unseen thing that Paul looked at to renew his inner man was the immense weight of glory that was being prepared for him not just after, but through and by, the wasting away of his body.”

As children of God, we can embrace all of life with grace, even death.  As Dr. Piper states, our new heart frees us to lie awake at night not fearing eternity, but looking for it:

But if you find, written on the tablet of your heart, the truth that there is a Creator, and that you are created to have a relationship with him, and that what separates you from whales and dophins and chimpanzees is not mutations and chemicals, but personhood in the image of God, then you will probably lie awake at night and think about eternity.

We can hope & pray, as Christians have for 2000 years, for eternity to come, either by death or by Christ’s return. Either way, come, Lord Jesus.

Grace & Suffering

Note: The following is article #28 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.    

“Grace in suffering”— it seems like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  Yet experience affirms that people suffer, and the Bible teaches extensively about God’s grace in suffering.

Suffering Comes to Those Who Live By Grace
First, the Bible teaches that people who follow God, living by grace, will suffer in this life: 

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:19)

through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29)

John Piper in Chapter 28 of Future Grace goes so far as to say that “the way of life that comes from living by faith in future grace will very likely involve more suffering, not less.”  That is a very sobering conclusion, but history bears it out.  The first 300 years of Christianity were marked by intense persecution, and there are still tens of thousands of people who die every year due solely to their faith in Christ.  For many Christians facing death is the ultimate test of what they love more, life & comfort or God & His glory.

The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God.  Piper states:

When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost…. In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe.  There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel.  And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.

God Has Purposes in Suffering
Which brings us to the next great truth that the Bible teaches about suffering, namely that God has purposes that he intends to accomplish through suffering.  Piper states that we need to see suffering “not merely as a consequence of living by faith in future grace, but as another gift of future grace.”

How is suffering a gift? The Bible teaches us that:

Suffering Shapes an Unshakeable Faith—
There are many stories of amazing faith in the lives of the early church, faith that grew stronger in the face of suffering.  Paul recounts one of his experiences in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, and the purpose that he saw in it:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

When we suffer, it turns our eyes away from the world and our own resources and focus on God.  When God “comes through” and brings us through the trial or gives us the strength to endure it, then our faith in His love and goodness increases.  The key, however, is understanding the nature of God and His purposes.  Piper states:

If you think your suffering is pointless, or that God is not in control, or that he is whimsical or cruel, then your suffering will drive you from God, instead of driving you from everything but God.

Suffering Shapes our Character
Paul had learned God’s purposes in suffering well, by both revelation from God and by intense personal experience.  In Romans 5:2-4 he states:

Paul mentions that suffering grows our endurance, our character, and our hope.  In the Greek the word “character” means “proven character”— when we endure suffering well, we prove that our faith is real. 

Although it seems paradoxical at first, suffering infused with God’s grace actually increases our hope.  Piper observes:

 The people who are most unwavering in their hope are those who have been tested most deeply. The people who look most earnestly and steadfastly and eagerly to the hope of glory are those who have had the comforts of this life stripped away through tribulations.  These are the freest of all people.  Their love cannot be daunted by threats or calamities.

Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ
Lastly, the Bible teaches that suffering magnifies the worth of Christ. Again here, Paul is our teacher:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Here God directly speaks to Paul and explains His reason for this instance of suffering in Paul’s life, and God specifically says that it is to show His strength on Paul’s behalf.  And Paul’s response?

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Let us, then, grow in grace so that we will be able to join Paul in being content in any suffering, knowing that Christ will be glorified as His power rests on us.

Fighting Despondency with Faith

Note: The following is article #24 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

Chapter 24 of Future Grace is entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Despondency.” Studies show that half of all people experience what doctors term clinical depression at some time in their lives.  For some it can be a lifelong struggle.  As a family physician I am well acquainted with these matters of the soul; the tissue boxes in my exam room get used nearly every day. 

There is much that can be profitably said about depression and faith, so in this short chapter Dr. Piper touches three main points: (1) The complexity of despondency  (2) Preaching the promises of God to yourself in despondency and (3) Christ’s response to despondency.

First, he discusses that despondency and depression is rarely a simple matter, but rather a complex intertwining of genetic/biochemical factors, conditioning/social factors, and spiritual factors.  But he correctly agrees with Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones that, “The ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief.”  Many things press against us, but they all ultimately try to undo our belief in God’s grace and goodness in our lives.  Ultimately we must see this as the central root in depression, and this is the root we must attack.

Next, Piper touches on a main theme in Jones’ book Spiritual Depression, that of realizing that re-orienting our thoughts with truth is a powerful weapon.  He quotes the book:

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now [the psalmist's] treament was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why are thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks.  His soul had been depressing him, crushing him.  So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you… Why art thou cast down?— what business have you to be disquieted?… And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who He is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.  Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

Anyone, Christian or not, can utilize such “positive self-talk” with benefit.  But the child of God has more than mere wishful thinking at his disposal; he can call upon the promises of God with full confidence that what God has promised, that He will do.  Knowing what God has promised His children is a vital reason to closely study the Bible.  I have seen many who become disheartened because they are not aware of God’s promises, and others who become disheartened because they think God has promised them something which He has not.

The last area covered is an examination of how Jesus Himself dealt with despondency.  In Matthew 26 Jesus is contemplating His imminent death:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Notice that Jesus was facing a real, horrible situation.  On a human level he was emotionally in agony.  How did He choose to face this crushing weight?

  1. He chose some close friends to be with Him (Matthew 26:37)
  2. He opened His soul to them (Matthew 26:38)
  3. He asked for their partnership and their prayers (Matthew 26:39)
  4. He poured out his heart to His Father in prayer (Matthew 26:39)
  5. He rested His soul in the sovereign wisdom of God (Matthew 26:39)
  6. He fixed his eyes on the glorious future grace that awaited Him on the other side of the cross (see Hebrews 12:2)

When faced with despondency, we can do the same.  With the help of wise counsel we can search the various factors influencing our emotions, we can “tell ourselves the truth” with the promises of God, and we can emulate the steps of Jesus by actively involving good friends and our Father in our journey through the dark times.

Loving Ministry More Than Life

Note: The following is article #23 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

William CareyWilliam Carey: tried to convince people for years that people in India needed to hear the gospel, founded the first missionary organization, sailed to India himself with his family against British law in 1793, lost his five year old son, lost two wives (one to insanity), worked for years translating the Bible only to see all his work lost in a fire, stayed in India forty years without furlough.

Adoniram JudsonAdoniram Judson: went to Burma 1814, lost infant son, lost wife, spent over a year in a “death prison”, after seventeen years had only ten converts in a country where converting from Buddhism carried a legal death penalty, yet when he died from infection at age 61 there were 100 churches with 8000 believers.

Evelyn BrandEvelyn Brand: went to India age 34, lost husband, suffered from recurrent malaria, sickness, multiple fractures, at age 67 after a broken hip her son asked her to retire for her health’s sake.  She replied, “Why preserve this old body if it’s not going to be used where God needs me?”  When her missions agency retired her anyway, she refused to go home, moving up into the remote hill country loving and serving people until she died at age 95.

What did these three people have in common?  They loved ministry more than life. They were convinced that fulfilling their ministry was more important than anything else in the world, even staying alive.

Oh, we say, that’s all well and good if you’re off in a foreign country somewhere, but I’m not really in “ministry” like they were.

But what is “ministry” anyway? Dr. Piper defines ministry as “a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness.”  Guess what? That’s everyone’s lifestyle if they are a true follower of Jesus Christ.  Doesn’t matter where we live, how we earn a living, what people we have contact with, we can still have a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness. And not only can we have such a life, we are commanded to live such a life.

How can we live such a radical life? Only by relying on God.  In 2 Corinthians 9:8 Paul says,

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Dr. Piper observes that this grace that “abounds” for “every good work” does not mean every possible thing that could be done, but that God will supply everything that we need for what God has individually appointed for us to do, day by day, moment by moment. 

Through faith we trust that God’s grace will be there when we need it, for what we need it. Dr. Piper cites Ephesians 4:29 (NASB), “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”  He notes that as we trust God and allow His grace to flow through us that we will be able to build each other up in grace.

He states in Chapter 22:

Before this day is done, there will be an occasion in your life which Paul calls “the need of the moment.” Someone will be positioned to benefit from your words. If you put your faith in future grace and serve in the strength that God supplies, you will become a channel of that grace. When it comes–to you and through you–the satisfaction is so deep, you will know why you were created and why you were called.

After I re-read that passage, I prayed for God to use me somehow, somewhere, to someone this very day as a channel of grace.  And he did, completely out of the blue, in a way I never imagined.  What if I prayed that prayer every day?  What if I humbly sought to be a channel of God’s grace, to structure my life so that my #1 priority was advancing others’ faith and holiness?  What would change in my life, and other lives? What would I have to look back on at the end of my life?  What is stopping me?

 

Bitterness & Grace

Note: The following is article #21 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.

bitterness by eggybird via flickrBitterness.  We’ve all tasted it.  We’ve all struggled to get that taste out of our mouth as well.

What does grace have to say about defeating bitterness in our lives? First, we must be blunt about what Christ commands us to do: show mercy & forgive.  There are many passages such as Luke 6:35-36–

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

But we don’t want to be merciful, we want JUSTICE.  We have a “judicial predicament”– part of us understands mercy, but we also realize there is a real need for justice and we want that as well.  How do we find a way out?  God, in His grace, has given us a way, which Jesus used Himself:

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:22-23)

Jesus trusted himself to His Father, who he knew would judge justly, who he knew would bring justice in His perfect timing.  We just have to realize what our role is and what God’s role is, and stick to it.  Piper says, “Ours is to love.  God’s is to settle accounts justly.” 

How will God’s justice be served?  In one of two ways.  For the sinner outside of Christ, God’s terrible judgement will be satisfied by an eternity separated from Him in hell.  But for those in Christ, that same judgement has already been paid, already been avenged in the death of Jesus.  As Piper writes, “All sin will be avenged— severely and thoroughly and justly.  Either in hell, or at the cross.”

This fact should have a profound influence on how we view the wrongs done to us by our brothers and sisters in Christ:

If my wife hurts me with an unkind word, I do not need to have the last word.  I don’t need to get even, because her sin was laid on Jesus, and he has suffered horribly to bear it for her— and for me.

But there is a further dimension to defeating bitterness as well:

The battle against bitterness is fought not only by trusting the promise of God to avenge wrongs done against us, it is also fought by cherishing the experience of being forgiven by God. Saving faith is not merely believing that you are forgiven.  Saving faith means tasting this forgiveness as part of the way God is and experiencing it (and him!) as precious and magnificent… Saving faith cherishes being forgiven by God.

As bitterness rears its ugly taste in our soul, we can successfully banish it with the assurance that God’s justice will be satisfied and cherishing the even sweeter taste of God’s own forgiveness and love for us.

The Inner Acts of the Soul of Faith

Note: The following is article #20 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.

We all want God’s grace, His unmerited favor and blessing, in our lives.  But do we qualify?  Are we good enough?  What does the Bible say about who God gives grace to?  In chapters 19 and 20 of Future Grace John Piper looks closer at conditional grace in the Bible, the promises of grace that have specific conditions attached to them.  He lists eleven:

  1. Loving God & His Son– Ephesians 6:24 says, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ”  See also John 14:21, Matthew 10:37, 2 Timothy 4:8, Psalm 119:132, Exodus 20:5-6, Isaiah 64:4, 1 Corinthians 2:9-10, James 1:12, James 2:5
  2. Humility— James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5
  3. Drawing Near to God– James 4:8, 2 Chronicles 30:9
  4. Crying out to God– Psalm 86:3, Isaiah 30:19
  5. Fearing God– “Fearing God is not a negative experience for those who love God.  It is the kind of deeply satisfying trembling, and sweet humility and submission that rises in the presence of the absolute power and holiness of God”  See Nehemiah 1:11, Isaiah 11:3, Psalm 130:4, Exodus 20:20, Psalm 110:10, Psalm 145:19, Psalm 103:11, Psalm 33:18, Psalm 31:19, and many others)
  6. Delighting in God– Psalm 37:4, Nehemiah 1:11
  7. Hoping in God– Psalm 32:22, Psalm 31:24, Psalm 33:18
  8. Taking Refuge in God– Psalm 57:1, Psalm 16:1, Psalm 31:19, Psalm 34:22, Psalm 37:39, 2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 2:12, Nahum 1:7
  9. Waiting for God– Psalm 25:3, Psalm 37:9, Psalm 147:11, Lamentations 3:25
  10. Trusting in God– Psalm 32:10, Isaiah 7:9, Psalm 22:4, Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 84:12
  11. Keeping God’s covenant with us, which is really a way of summarizing all of these, see Psalm 25:10.  “Even though we sin every day in various ways, there is a profound difference between sinners who keep God’s covenant (loving Him, drawing near, crying out, fearing Him, etc.) and sinners who don’t”

So, does this mean that grace is dependent on works, that only super-holy people get help from God?  Not if you take a closer look at what all of these conditions really are:

What all these conditions have in common is that they are inner spiritual acts of the soul toward God.  They describe the heart that receives grace… these are not meritorious performances of the heart that call attention to our worth…they are acts of turning away from self and our emptiness to all that God is for us… loving God and delighting in God and drawing near to God mean looking to God as beautiful and worthy and precious… In fact, as you meditate on these ten conditions they begin to look less and less like separate and distinct requirements, and more and more like different ways of describing the heart of faith.

From there Dr. Piper moves on to other verses such as John 5:28-29, Matthew 6:14-15, and Hebrews 12:14 which are conditonal promises based on loving others.  Faith and love are linked over and over again as parallel acts of the heart of faith, such as in 1 John 3:23, Ephesians 1:15, Philemon 5, Colossians 1:4, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Timothy 1:14, and 2 Timothy 1:13.

So how and why are faith and love conditions of grace?  Piper notes that faith produces all that God requires, and does it through love.  Love is the goal and faith is the source, and faith is given to us by God.

He concludes:

The world is desperate for a faith that combines two things: awe-struck apprehension of unshakable divine Truth, and utterly practical, round-the-clock power to make a liberating difference in life.  That is what I want too.  Which is why I am a Christian… there is a power that comes from prizing God which leaves no nook and cranny of life untouched.