Sunday Worship Service 5 pm

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How Not to Commit Idolatry in Giving Thanks ...

Jonathan Edwards on True Thanksgiving

Jonathan Edwards has a word for our time that could hardly be more pointed if he were living today. It has to do with the foundation of gratitude.

True gratitude or thankfulness to God for His kindness to us, arises from a foundation laid before, of love to God for what He is in Himself; whereas a natural gratitude has no such antecedent foundation. 
The gracious stirrings of grateful affection to God, for kindness received, always are from a stock of love already in the heart, established in the first place on other grounds, viz. God's own excellency.

In other words, gratitude that is pleasing to God is not first a delight in the benefits God gives (though that is part of it). 
True gratitude must be rooted in something else that comes first, namely, a delight in the beauty and excellency of God's character. 
If this is not the foundation of our gratitude, then it is not above what the "natural man," apart from the Spirit and the new nature in Christ, experiences. 
In that case "gratitude" to God is no more pleasing to God than all the other emotions which unbelievers have without delighting in Him.

You would not be honored if I thanked you often for your gifts to me, but had no deep and spontaneous regard for you as a person. You would feel insulted, no matter how much I thanked you for your gifts. 

If your character and personality do not attract me or give me joy in being around you, then you will just feel used, like a tool or a machine to produce the things I really love.

So it is with God. If we are not captured by His personality and character, then all our declarations of thanksgiving are like the gratitude of a wife to a husband for the money she gets from Him to use in her affair with another man. 
This is exactly the picture in James 4:3-4. James criticizes the motives of prayer that treats God like a cuckold: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?" 
Why does he call these praying people "adulteresses"? Because, even though praying, they are forsaking their husband (God) and going after a paramour (the world). And to make matters worse, they are asking their husband (in prayer) to fund the adultery.

Amazingly, this same flawed spiritual dynamic is sometimes true when people thank God for sending Christ to die for them. 
Perhaps you have heard people say how thankful we should be for the death of Christ because it shows how much value God puts upon us. What is the foundation of this gratitude?

Jonathan Edwards calls it the gratitude of hypocrites. Why? Because, they first rejoice, and are elevated with the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, He seems in a sort, lovely to them. . . . 
They are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ make of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God.

It is a shocking thing to learn that one of today's most common descriptions of how to respond to the cross may well be a description of natural self-love with no spiritual value.
We do well to listen to Jonathan Edwards. Does he not simply spell out for us the Biblical truth that we should do all things - including giving thanks - to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? 
And God is not glorified if the foundation of our gratitude is the worth of the gift and not the excellency of the Giver. 
If gratitude is not rooted in the beauty of God before the gift, it is probably disguised idolatry. 
May God grant us a heart to delight in Him for who He is so that all our gratitude for His gifts will be the echo of our joy in the excellency of the Giver!

Excerpted from John Piper, A Godward Life (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 1997), 213-214.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eagerly Awaiting, Part 1

“Why eagerly await the return of Christ? What will be so good about it?"

Published by: Sam Crabtree

I recently asked all the staff for their help. I asked them to send me at least one answer to the questions, “Why eagerly await the return of Christ? What will be so good about it? What difference(s) will it make? What will improve at that time?”
Over the next few days we’ll post a few dozen of their replies here.

Jon Nowlin: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Amanda Knoke: We will see our Very Best Friend face to face.

Matthew Schildroth: Freedom from my sin nature.

Bud Burk: It’s His face, Sam—we will see God’s face, and for the first time in our lives we will behold pure power, wisdom, goodness, peace, love, truth, righteousness, and beauty. We will wait with eagerness because by God’s grace we have become Psalm 27:4 people: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
Or, as the song says, I will glory in my Redeemer, who waits for me at gates of gold. And when He calls me, it will be paradise; His face forever to behold. His face forever to behold.

Krista Coronado: No more pain!

Amy Katterson: Oh, what a day that will be … Sin finished. Heart free to love Jesus fully. No more good-byes.

Ben Collins: We as broken image-bearers will be transformed through seeing the full-fledged glory of the exact Image-bearer (1 John 3:2, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3), and our senses will—by God's incredible grace—be revamped/rewired to handle and synthesize the Glory-Lumens of our Savior, and in this synthesizing, our hearts will likewise be revamped to desire perfectly and ultimately forevermore. Hope in that day when your desires feel impaired today, knowing it is not forever.

Cody Sandidge: Why eagerly await the return to Christ? Christ is the only reason I live. If the resurrection (and I would add, the Second Coming) is a fabrication, we Christians are to be pitied above all others. I await his return because I want to be with my Savior. There is nothing dull or unimpressive about Christ ... everything about him causes me to eagerly await his return.
What will be so good about it? Christ will give me true freedom. What I want to do will be in accordance with his will.
What difference(s) will it make? I won't sin anymore; I will only pursue Christ and I will only desire holiness.
What will improve at that time? Everything.

Pastor Sam Crabtree is Bethlehem Baptist Church's Executive Pastor and Lead Pastor for Life Training (Minneapolis, Minnesota).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sports in the Age to Come

My 17-year old daughter has been into dancing Hip-Hop for several years now, and just started on Free Running and Breakdance a few weeks ago. Now this article exactly expresses what I have been musing about my daughter´s ardent battle between agility and gravity:

by David Mathis | October 20, 2012

Will there be touchdowns in the new creation? Grand-slam homeruns? Three-pointers at the buzzer? When heaven comes down to earth (Revelation 21:1–2), we shouldn’t expect anything less.

Or, to really bring it down out of the clouds, here’s one way a pastor might go about recruiting for the church’s men’s retreat: Make a brief but winsome case for sports and recreation in the age to come.

In October of 1991, John Piper wrote this to rally the men of Bethlehem Baptist to a retreat that would include its fair share of athletic competition:
One reason I think there will be sports in the age to come is that there are crippled and paralyzed men in this age who never knew the joy of agility and physical freedom. It would be like God to make this up to them. Not because he owes anybody anything, but because he is so good. When God restores the fortunes of his people what will we do with all our time?

Zechariah 8:5 says, “The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” I cannot imagine that those of us who love to run and kick and throw and dodge and jump and bat and hit and whack will be told that we cannot join the children. In fact, we are commanded to be like children in order to get into the kingdom. Shall we get there and be told to grow up? (“For Men Only: Playing, Planning, and Paradise”)

We do well to expect that the new heavens and new earth will not disappoint in holding out to us the kind of multifaceted joys we experience now through sport and athletics and play. And in the age to come, our appropriation of sports will finally be gloriously dialed in to its perfectly Jesus-exalting place, free from our sinful tendencies to either make sports an idol or downplay their goodness as God’s gifts.

Enjoy the games — as a foretaste of heaven.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Happens When We Pray?


Do we really know what's going on when we pray? 

When we bow our heads at the dinner table? When we whisper quietly during our morning commute? Or when, like dragging our feet along a well-worn path, we ask again for God to do what he hasn't yet? 

Do we know what's happening?

The Bible tells us in Revelation 8:1–5.

Here's the picture: The seventh seal — the last page in the scroll of history — has been opened. And there is silence. Seven angels stand before God and each are given seven trumpets. Then another angel approaches the altar carrying a bowl (or censor). This angel is given incense to offer before the throne, with the prayers of the saints

Imagine, then, on this altar are piles of prayers. Centuries of prayers. Your prayers and mine. They are as fire, burning, their smoke rising up from the altar before God. Then the angel takes his bowl to this blazing altar and he rakes in all these flames. Then, holding this bowl of fire — this bowl of our prayers — he steps over and hurls it onto the earth.

John Piper concludes,

What God wants us to believe about our God-exalting prayers is that none of them are lost. None are wasted or pointless. They are stored up on the altar of God until the proper time when God pours them out on the earth to accomplish his great purposes of judgment and redemption. (The Prayers of the Saints and the End of the World, January 9, 1994)

Until this point in the Book of Revelation, Piper explains, the apostle John has shown us the awesome sovereignty of God that controls history. 

But now he shows us something different: our role in it all. That is, we have prayed and the Lord has heard us.

The utterly astonishing thing about this text is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments. 

It pictures the prayers of the saints accumulating on the altar before the throne of God until the appointed time when they are taken up like fire from the altar and thrown upon the earth to bring about the consummation of God's kingdom.

In other words, what we have in this text is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, "Thy kingdom come . . . Thy kingdom come!" 

Not one of these prayers, prayed in faith, has been ignored. Not one is lost or forgotten. Not one has been ineffectual or pointless. They have all been gathering on the altar before the throne of God. . . . Not one God-exalting prayer has ever been in vain.

Pray it again, then, that which you've asked. Seek it more, then, that for which you've longed. Expect that God hears, then, because no believing prayer is in vain. Ever.

For another sermon from John Piper on the cosmic magnitude of our prayers, see "Prayer and the Victory of God" (January 1, 2006).

by Jonathan Parnell | October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jesus Understands Loneliness


“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Sometimes we feel alone in the world. 
Jesus understands this feeling. 
In a very human sense, he was alone.  

Imagine what living in this world was like for Jesus. He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). That might sound like a pleasant problem to deal with. 

I don’t think so. I think it was tormenting. Peter described sinful Lot’s experience in Sodom as being tormented day after day by the “lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8). How much worse was it for sinless Jesus living in a world of sin?

Imagine what his childhood was like. He would have been odd, sticking out morally like a sore thumb, never quite fitting in with any group, even his own family.

Even his loving parents wouldn’t have fully understood him. Nor would they have been able to protect him from others’ stinging remarks and maybe cruel mocking over his unsullied strangeness.

I wonder how much came from his siblings? His brothers and sisters (Matthew 13:55–56) would have grown increasingly self-conscious around him, aware of their own sinful, self-obsessed motives and behavior, while noting that Jesus didn’t seem to exhibit any himself. What resentments accrued? All was not harmonious because Jesus’s own brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5), possibly until after his resurrection (Acts 1:14).

Jesus was a sinless person living with sinful parents, sinful siblings, sinful extended relatives and sinful neighbors. No one on earth could identify with him. No human being could put an arm around him as he sat in tears and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” His sorrow and grief (Isaiah 53:3) began way before Gethsemane.

But Jesus’s loneliness reached its apex the moment he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) on the cross and was “forsaken” by his Father (Matthew 27:46). First he was estranged by sinlessness and then from being sin. Jesus knew supreme rejection and loneliness.

Which makes him perfectly suited to understand yours. He is a high priest who can sympathize with this weakness (Hebrews 4:15).

But Jesus doesn’t just understand your loneliness; he’s destroying it. Because he died on your behalf, you are no longer truly a stranger or alien, but you are a fellow citizen with the saints and a member of God’s family (Ephesians 2:19). Because Jesus was alienated from God and man, you will enjoy the full family fellowship of God and all of his redeemed saints forever.

Child of God, your loneliness is passing away. The day is nearing when you will know as you have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And the fading loneliness you still feel Jesus understands.

So “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that [you] may receive mercy and find grace to help” with every lonely need (Hebrews 4:16).  

by Jon Bloom | October 12, 2012