Psalm 67 describes the right sort of motivation for praying for God’s blessing.*

Nearly every week, I close our services at The Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley with a biblical benediction that is thousands of years old: “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD turn His face toward you and give you peace.”

I am sure many of you have received that same benediction. What a wonderful thing to think that God would make His face shine upon us. It seems like almost too much to expect. Is it okay to ask God to be with us and guide us in such an intimate way? How we can we legitimately ask God for such a wonderful blessing?

Psalm 67 answers the question. The Psalm begins with this same benediction asking that God would be gracious and bless us and make His face shine upon us. But, then the Psalm continues, “That your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

According to the Psalmist, the legitimate reason for asking God to bless is that we might tell the whole world that God is great. The proper motivation for praying for the smile of God on our lives should be that we might proclaim Christ to all nations.

Many of us would agree that God has made His face shine upon you. If that is the case, then make let’s make sure we are doing all we can to make the name of Christ known throughout the whole earth. What can we do to tell people about the greatness of the Triune God across the street and around the world?

Now — for all of you, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.”

*Revised from an earlier version.

People often question how God could hold someone morally responsible who did not have access to the Bible. You may have heard the objections, “How can someone be judged according to a standard he or she didn’t hear or read?” 

The Apostle Paul explained in Romans that all people have an internal standard of righteousness that renders them responsible.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. Romans 2:14-15

In short, all people created in God’s standard have an internal standard of righteousness that renders them responsible before God.

Honest people admit that they fall short of what they know they ought to do.

Keller shares a Francis Schaeffer illustration that explains the concept.

Romans 2 says the Gentiles — the pagans who don’t know the law of God and don’t know the Bible — still have in the conscience a certain knowledge of how they should live, and God holds them responsible for what the conscience tells them. [Francis Schaeffer] used to tell the following story to prove this point.

Imagine you have an invisible recorder around your neck that, for all of your life, records every time you say to somebody else, “You ought.” It only turns on when you tell somebody else how to live. In other words, it only records your own moral standards as you seek to impose them on other people. It records nothing except that you believe is right or wrong. And what if God, on judgment day, stands in front of people and says, “You never heard about Jesus Christ and you never read the Bible, but I’m a fair-minded God. Let me show you what I’m going to use to judge you.” Then he takes that invisible recorder from around your neck and says, “I’m going to judge you by your own moral stands.” And God plays the recording. 

There’s not a person on the face of the earth who will be able to pass that test. I’ve used that illustration for years now and nobody ever wants to challenge it. Nobody ever says, “I live according to my standards!” (Quoted from Tim Keller’s sermon, “Life and Prosperity, Death and Destruction,” in Coming Home: Essays on the New Heaven and New Earth 

Our secular age argues that freedom is found in doing whatever we please. G.K. Chesterton illustrates why freedom is not found in the absence of restrictions.

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were broken down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased. G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, 153). 

We might update Chesterton’s 20th century illustration to the current place we find ourselves in the West. Now — apart from any walls around civilization — people have decided to play with no regard for the naked peril of the precipice. And so, we see so many plunging over the side and into the precipice.

Click through the below link to read Trevin Wax’s interaction with a major Lifeway survey that identifies common traits of children who flourish as Christian adults. 

A central part of our passion at The Red Brick Church is that our young people will follow Christ all of their lives. We tell our young people, “We want to see you on the other side!” We are planning on meeting at the 5th Tree on the right side of the river. As a part of our goal of seeing children continue for Christ, we emphasize seven points we pray they will never forget.

Given our emphases on seeing our children follow Christ, Lifeway’s recent survey  that seeks to identify common traits of children who continue for Christ is of great interest. With reference to that survey, Trevin Wax writes: 

Parents, don’t take the biblical proverb “train up a child” and treat it like a promise, assuming that if you do everything right in your parenting, your children will turn out right. Proverbs are general truths, not specific promises. Besides, when we consider the overall context of the Bible, we see how counterproductive it is to try to train our kids to trust in God if what we model for them is that we trust in our training.

But even though we place our hope for our children in God, not in our training, we recognize how this proverb teaches us to take our training of children seriously—both where we guide them andalso  how we shepherd their hearts. And part of that shepherding and guidance includes the effect of a family’s culture.

new LifeWay Research study surveyed 2,000 Protestant and non-denominational churchgoers who attend church at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30. The goal of the project was to discover what parenting practices were common in the families where young adults remained in the faith. What affected their moral and spiritual development? What factors stood out?

You might expect that . . . 

Read the rest here

See also:

Reflections Regarding Youth Ministry

The Gospel of John includes seven emphatic statements about the identity of Christ. Meditating on them gives a detailed picture of Christ. It would be a great devotional activity to prayerfully ponder the beauty of these pictures.  

Seven times in the gospel of John Jesus describes himself with the emphatic statement “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) followed by a concrete predicate word-picture. In his excellent commentary on the Gospel of John, Mickey Klink summarizes the importance of these statements. 

[The occurrence of the formal “I am” statements] develops further the revelation of the identity of God by means of the Son. These seven “I am” statements, therefore, are emphatic descriptions of the person and ministry of Jesus and cumulatively form a detailed picture of Jesus Christ.

John employs a number of other “I am” statements that are without a predicate (e.g. John 8:58). These informal “I am” statements also communicate the self-revelation of God not in a manner that is to be equated with the seven formal “I am” statements. While all the “I am” statements locate Jesus in the divine identity of God, the informal statements do not identify Jesus as a particular individual (i.e. “the light of the world”) but serve to give insight to the particular qualifications of Jesus. When informal “I am” statements are used the narrative context of the statement directs the reader to the particular qualification in view.” E. Klink (332, emphasis his).

Predicate Context
“the bread of life” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:35
“light of the world” Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
“the gate” So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. John 10:7

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9

“the good shepherd” 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me . . .

“the resurrection and the life” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live John 11:25
“the way and the truth and the life” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6
“the true vine”  I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 15:5

 

Leading our Emotions I – Depression

Chris —  December 14, 2017

Depression is such an awful battle. Be assured, in Christ, you can experience mega-joy. — Last week I preached the first sermon in our new series, Leading Our Emotions Through the Holidays. You can listen or read the below summary.

How do we battle depression and sadness during the holidays? We need a series on leading our emotions during the holidays. The season amplifies our emotions. To be sure, most experience more joy at Christmas. But we can also battle depression, fear, wistfulness, and grief. For example, given elevated expectations for the holidays, family disappointments can hurt much worse.

We should avoid being simplictistic about leading our emotions. The relationship between the physical body, spirituality, and the emotions is complex. Without question, illnesses and other physical conditions affect our emotions. At no point in this series, is the goal to dispense medical advice nor is it to downplay the need to see a physician. One of the first strategies those struggling with their emotions should employ is to see a medical doctor. We must also seek to eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. Having stressed the importance of the medical, our spiritual lives and our relationship with God also affect our emotional state. The objective of this series is to outline spiritual strategies for leading our emotions in Christ-centered – Spirit-enabled ways.

Last week we began our series on emotions by first reviewing an overall framework for understanding our emotions.

  1. Our loving heavenly-Father gives us the good gift of emotions. As image-bearers, our emotions allow us to experience life in ways that are consistent with the circumstances of life. Who would not want to know joy at the birth of a child? Or to weep at the loss of a loved one?
  2. The fallen-ness of our world – our own transgressions — but also the situations into which we are born — twists or distorts our emotions. Emotional struggles – such as fear or anxiety — take place when God’s good gifts of emotions are distorted into something God never morally intended. And when such a twisting of our emotions takes place, God’s beautiful gifts of affective experiences morph into cruel tyrants.Last week, I illustrated this point with a consideration of “anger.” God gives humans the gift of righteous anger so that as his special representatives (image bearers) they can be righteously and zealously indignant. For example, anger is a gift God gives to mothers in the face of what threatens her children. However, sadly, we must acknowledge that parental anger can be distorted and misdirected into all sorts of abuse including child-abuse.
  3. Emotions are redeemable. As we believe in Christ, and grow in Him, we are liberated from the bondage of sin and in Christ enjoy the freedom to lead our emotions in the way God intended. Said another way, in leading our emotions, we begin with the gospel and from there grow by grace to be more like Jesus (sanctification).
  4. Jesus modeled how we should lead our emotions. If we desire a more concrete example of how to lead our emotions in a fallen world, we should meditate on Jesus. The more we prayerfully meditate on his beauty, the more we will become like him in all ways, including how we lead our emotions (2 Cor 3:17-18).

We should not expect all our emotional struggles to immediately end. Jesus said that we need to come to him and learn from him, for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). We might compare the journey of leading our emotions to getting in shape physically. On a given day we may learn principles for taking care of ourselves —- less sugar, more exercise, etc. But if we are to see any results, we must adopt a new rythym of life —- likewise, if we are to lead our emotions we must walk with Christ in the warp and woof of life: be in church with other believers, worship Christ every day, pray, rinse our minds with the Word.

We then considered the area of depression or sadness of the soul. (1) Being sad is a gift from God. It is a way that our affections are consistent with the reality of a fallen world. There are times when grief is entirely appropriate. (2) Depression on one level or another is a common experience. That given the brokenness of relationships, our physical struggles, the short days, this is a time of year when our struggle can be particularly intense. (3) Thankfully, we see so much in the Bible about how to deal with our struggles. (4) Indeed, with Jesus we see that he faced the greatest sadness ever known.

We then expanded our meditation on Jesus with eight observations about how Jesus led his sadness (Matt 26:36-46): (1) Accept that we battle sadness in world. (2) Know that the situation of sadness is complicated. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (3) Seek the help of the community of the redeemed. V. 38: remain here, and watch with me. (4) Pray. 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed – (5) Understand that everyone else will (family included) will let us down at points. Do not allow the shortcomings of others to lead your emotions during the holidays. 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? (6) Submit to the will of the Father. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (7) Get moving. Brush your teeth! Staying in bed will not help you lead your emotions.  45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (8) Anticipate mega-joy (Heb 12:1-3).

*          *                *                *                *

“The essence of this matter is to understand that this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control. The devil takes hold of self and use it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why art thou cast down? Why art thou disquieted within me?’ Stop being so! ‘Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance,’ He, ‘who is the health of my countenance and my God.’” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[2]

*          *                *                *                *

“And it must be remembered that in all places where God is mentioned, we are to understand God in the promised Messiah, typified out so many ways unto us. And to put the more vigour into such places in the reading of them, we in this latter age of the church must think of God shining upon us in the face of Christ, and our Father in him.” Richard Sibbes, 1635

[1] Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Pyschology Proposal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 301.
[2] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 21.

A Gift Idea for a Leader in Your Life

Chris —  November 10, 2017

Give this Proverbs journal (Pass It On: A Proverbs Journal for the Next Generation) as a gift and ask for it back when the recipient is through. You will both be blessed: eternally

The book of Proverbs is a gift that God has given to help us find our way through the maze of life. In a complicated world, we all need wisdom. As Tim Keller has written, Proverbs is a mini-guide for life. For examples of how Proverbs can be applied, see the links at the end of this post. 

Proverbs is designed to be a teaching tool for parents and leaders. The idea is not that we simply read Proverbs once and are done. Rather, we roll Proverbs around in our minds for decades — and then discuss it with those we influence.

We all desperately need to meditate on wisdom with wise people. We need to hear wise people comment on Proverbs in ways that are personal to us.

Some may counter, “Well, I’m not sure where to get started in studying Proverbs.”

I have a recommendation this gift-giving season!

Champ Thornton has written a new book that introduces the book of Proverbs and then guides readers through a series of questions that become a journal. From the official blurb:

In Pass It On, readers are guided through the book of Proverbs and given the opportunity to write a personalized wisdom journal with their own thoughts and stories, creating a legacy of faith for the next generation and those they love. The perfect gift book to pass down through the generations.

Here’s the gift idea:

  • Give this book to your dad and ask him to use it for months or years to come. Encourage him to jot down his thoughts and share his take. I’ve already started jotting notes in my copy . . . the question is: will anyone be able to read my writing? 
  • Or give this book to your husband to complete for your children.
  • Or give it to yourself and start making notes for those you know and love.

See also:

Reads Proverbs 43% of the time — the Rest of Your Life

Dig for Wisdom Like Its 1849 (Prov 2:4-5)

What Questions Did You Ask Yourself Today Based on Proverbs 12?

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom (Prov 9:10)

Why Grooms Should Make the Wedding Dresses (Prov 24:3)

Be Thankful for Your Wife on the 31st  (Prov 31)

Derek Kidner on Understanding the Genre of Proverbs

We Know You Don’t See Your Blind Spot. Duh. It’s a Blind Spot. (Prov 17:10)

Even in Laughter the Heart May Ache (Prov 14:13)

A Chapter of Proverbs Today the 29th (Fear of Man Will Prove to Be a Snare) (Prov 29:25)

On Not Grabbing the Dog’s Ears (Prov 26:17)

The Sluggard is No Freak

If Your Boss is Atilla the Hun (Prov 27:18) 

The Meaning of Proverbs 17:6 – On the Beauty of Grandchildren

Two Classic Pillars of True Old Testament Religion (per Derek Kidner) (Prov 2:5)

Feeling Overwhelmed and Undermotivated? (Prov 6:6-10)

Where There is No Fear the People Perish: One of the Most Misapplied Verses in the Bible (Prov 29:18)

Who Are You? Don’t Be Too Sure You Know! (Prov 16:2)

Tim Keller on Proverbs

Before You Make this Loan, “Ask How God is God’s Credit?”  (Proverbs 19:17)

Dream Big and Be Excited to See God Direct Your Paths in Unexpected Ways (Prov 3:5-6)

A Guide to Proverbs Within Proverbs (Prov 3:3-12)

Why the Circle Doesn’t Always Remain Unbroken (Prov 16:28)

Leaders Know How to Pick Up a Crumb and Carry It Into the Next Room (Proverbs 30:25) 

Don’t Let Failure Give Way to Failure (Prov 24:16)

Sharpen Your Wisdom Saw Today (Read Proverbs 18)

Frame On Why We are Sometimes Contentiously Foolish (Prov 20:3)

There are Two Ways to Deal With a Lion

The Fear of Man Lays a Snare (Prov 29:25) 

A Time to Use the SW Word (Prov 10:19)

Ever Fall on Your Face Like Kurt Warner? (Prov 16:18)

Mark Twain: A Lie Can’t Get Half Way Round the World Before the Truth Even Gets Its Boots On (Prov 26:20)

Gossip Affects Your Spiritual Waistline (Prov 18:8)

Facing Some Orcs in An Adventure You Didn’t Ask For? Persevere (Prov 24:16)

If All Your Friends are Named Beevis, Guess What Your Name Is (Prov 13:20)

Set the Bar for Spiritual Disciplines Low 

Teaching Our Children to Work 

If you’re unpacking forgiveness — and we all are in a broken world — then I highly recommend Colin Smith’s sermon, “When God Can’t Forgive.”

Colin Smith: When God Can’t Forgive Part 1

Colin Smith: When God Can’t Forgive Part 2 

Consider:

  • His explanation of the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation. 
  • How much repentance is needed for forgiveness to begin.
  • The Calvin quote on repentance and the Christian life. 

See also:

The Forgiveness Quiz – This will get you started thinking about forgiveness.

Didn’t Jesus Forgive Unconditionally on the Cross? – One of the first questions that comes up when we talk about the truth that Christians should not always forgive.

Others on Unconditional Forgiveness – This is a collection of quotes from others who interact with the subject of conditional forgiveness.

5 Problems With Unconditional Forgiveness – Numerous problems arise when we encourage cheap grace. Here are 5 examples

Should I confront an offender or just get over it? – What should be confronted? What should be let go? This post will help you work through the question of when to confront.

How can I stop thinking about it? – The “mental gerbil wheel” is one of the most difficult aspects of deep offenses.

How can I forgive myself? – This is another forgiveness question people often raise.

Chris Brauns Review of Totally Forgiving God by R.T. Kendall – Is it okay for Christians to forgive God. Some authors argue there are times it is appropriate. In this review for The Gospel Coalition I interact with R.T. Kendall’s book.

Christians in the Land of Lincoln (and elsewhere!) will be interested in Dr. Albert Mohler’s 10/5/17 podcast that summarizes what has Archbishop of Chicago calling out Governor Rauner of Illinois. 

I would encourage our church family to listen to Dr. Mohler in an ongoing way. He provides clear, Christian analysis of current events and equips believers to understand the framework of a Christian worldview.  

If you have questions about the relationship between God’s sovereignty and our sharing of the gospel, I highly recommend J.I.Packer’s classic, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

Below I have outlined J.I. Packer’s summary of the gospel message. Keep in mind, this is abridged. But it offers a basic outline of the Christian message. For more, read Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God It’s only 126 pages long.

I. The gospel is a message about God. It tells us who He is, what His character is, what His Standards are, and what He requires of us, His creatures . . .

II. The gospel is a message about sin. It tells us how we have fallen short of God’s standard; how we have become guilty, filthy, and helpless in sin, and now stand under the wrath of God. . . Not till we have learned our need to get right with God, and our inability to do so by any effort of our own, can we come to know the Christ who saves from sin.

a. Conviction of sin is essentially an awareness of a wrong relationship with God: not just with one’s neighbour . . .

b. Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sins: a sense of guilt for particular wrongs done in the sight of God . . .

c. Conviction of sin always includes conviction of sinfulness: a sense of one’s complete corruption and perversity in God’s sight, and one’s consequent need of what Ezekiel called a ‘new heart’ . . .

III. The gospel is a message about Christ – Christ the Son of God incarnate; Christ the Lamb of God, dying for sin; Christ the risen Lord; Christ the perfect Saviour.

a. We must not present the Person of Christ apart from His saving work.

b. We must not present the saving work of Christ apart from His Person.

IV. The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance.

a. The demand is for faith as well as repentance.

b. The demand is for repentance as well as faith.

See also:

What Do Christians Mean When They Reference the Gospel or Good News

A Football Illustration: Ron Brown Shares the Gospel