Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: October 2017

The Five Solas

At its heart, the Protestant Reformation was a recovery of direct access to Scripture… and then was that Scripture setting the world ablaze! For many hundreds of years, God’s gospel was obscured by the teaching and practices of the church based in Rome. For a good century, earlier saints attempted to reform this church—John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, James Resby, Pavel Kravar. All of them suffered in attempting to call the church back to fidelity to the Gospel.

 Luther’s generation was God’s time for a massive new work. The Protestant Reformation was born. As Christians looked back, it was clear that this movement centered on 5 truths – the Five Solas of the Reformation.

 This House Church Study is going to focus on those 5, and then turn to one of the great fruits of that next hundred years, the Catechisms. (Michael Horton adds the subtitles to the Five Solas). If you can’t look up every verse, that’s OK.

Sola Scriptura – Our Only Foundation

  • Read 2 Timothy 3:15-17 & Hebrews 4:12. What do we learn about God’s Word here?
  • Read Jeremiah 23:21-22. There are two types of people speaking in God’s Name. Who are they? Why do you think it’s so important for bible teachers to listen to God?
  • How do you think Christians mistakenly build their foundation other than on God’s Word? What types of things are substituted for our most basic authority in life?

Solus Christus – Our Only Mediator

  • Read 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:6, Hebrews 9:12-15a, 7:25. What do these teach us about the absolute exclusivity of Christ in our Salvation?
  • Many of our Catholic friends pray to the saints for protection. We Protestants rightly demure. But many of my Protestant friends put much focus on “guardian angels” for their protection. Do you think this is wise?

Sola Gratia – Our Only Method

  • Read Eph 2:1, 4-6. What is the basic story of salvation? (where were we, what happened, where are we now?)
  • As if to reinforce the point beyond all reasonable doubt, Read Eph 2:8-9. How many different ways are there by which to be seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus?
  • What are examples of “works” that we think earn us some standing before God?
  • If God hadn’t come to us in Christ, could we ever have come to him? (1 John 4:19 adds the ‘cherry on top’ to this gracious truth!)

Sola Fides – Our Only Means

  • Read Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-10, John 1:12. Why is it so hard to count on faith?
  • Why do so many people shrink back from entrusting themselves & their lives to Christ and his work?

Soli Deo Gloria – Our Only Ambition

Rom 11:36 – For from Him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

  • What hope can you take from this exclamation?

 

Catechisms & Confessions

The 16th and 17th centuries saw the development of a number of important catechisms and Confessions of Faith. The reason is simple: Having left the Roman Catholic Church (with its well-laid out doctrines), the Protestants had to flesh out what they believe and how to pass it along to the next generations. A Confession of Faith is a “statement of doctrine/belief”, and a Catechism is a training course for discipleship.

Even to this day, many churches and families use Catechisms as a way to help folks grasp their faith. Two of the most famous catechisms are the Heidleberg (1563) and the Westminster Shorter (1640s).

Compare the first question of each. What is the focus of the respective authors? Even without knowing the rest of the questions/answers, how do these set the tone for each catechism?

How might these (and others) be helpful in discipling us today?

WSC Question 1

Q: What is the chief end of man? 

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

[Glorify God: 1 Corinthians 10:31. Romans 11:36. Enjoy Him: Psalm 73:24-26. John 17:22, 24.]

Heidelberg Question 1

Q: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

A: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

[Rom 14:7-8, 1 Pet 1:18-19, 1 John 2:2, Heb 2:14, Mt 10:29-31, Rom 8:14, 16, 28]

How can we get more prayers answered?

Someone told me the other day, “I’ve learned a lot from you about how to pray.” I was taken aback (because who thinks their prayer life is up to par!!). But, I was also grateful that some of the things I’ve learned from mentors and friends are being channelled through me.

All of us want to be effective in what we do. No one wants to coast or waste time. With our prayer-lives, I think many of us are in this cycle of feeling like “we need to do better,” while at the same time being uncertain of how to grow. Everyone can spend more time in it… but is that the only answer?

What are some ways to grow in effective praying right now and today?  In other words, how can we see more of our prayers answered?

Here are three quick things that I’ve learned from others:

Pray Scripture

God will never break his Word. He just won’t. He will always fulfill it, always complete it, always bring it to pass. The promises of God, the warnings of God, the instructions of God… these are things that will be accomplished. Pray them.

  • Pray the Psalms – These are amazing both for praise/worship and for hurts/deep need. Twenty years ago, when a friend was dying of a long cancer struggle, a buddy and I prayed Psalm 94:18-19 for her many many times: “When I said, ‘my foot is slipping’, your love, O Lord supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” We also prayed for healing of cancer, but we watched God’s love and consolation sustain her in her battle.
  • Pray Paul’s prayers – At the start of most of his letters is a prayer for the growth of the recipients. How you’ll bless family, friends, and local church to pray that for them. “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work…” (Col 1:9-10). If God brought these requests to pass in the life of your friends and family, it would be victory!
  • Pray Revelation’s songs – Line for line, there is more worship in Revelation than any other book outside of the Psalms and Isaiah! Work through them, and grow in your adoration of God.  “Hallelujah for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. let su rejoice and exult and give him glory…” (Rev 19:6)

God will always fulfill his Word. He’ll never turn his back on it. The more you pray it, the more you will see him answering those prayers.

Pray with Single Focus

If a friend comes to you to ask for help, but then can’t decide what they are asking, can you help them?  Or, If a friend comes to you to ask for help, but you see through their request to the “reverse psychology” they are using to get you to do what they want, do you automatically help them?

We often pray without a single focus. Either we don’t really know what to ask for, or we ask for things that will help us get something else.  “Lord, please grow our church,” prays the leaders… all the while because they long to be successful and stroke their ego.  “Lord, please grant my child acceptance at X university,” pray the parents… because their identity is tied to their kids’ accomplishments.

James challenges us – “you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:3). God is very willing to help, but be straight up with him! Ask him for what you really want. Don’t hide what you really want behind a veneer request that sounds more godly. If you want a better job because you are sick of the way this crummy manager treats you, ask him for it; don’t couch it all sorts of “and Lord, then I can be better rested to serve you at church, and paid more to give more…” Just be straight up.

BUT.  BUT.  BUT… weigh your straight-up requests before you ask them of God. Here’s the litmus test for your prayers: are they prayers Jesus would pray? When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we are saying, “Lord, to the best of my ability, I think this is what Jesus would say if he were on his knees right now.” His agenda. His purposes. His kingdom. Remember “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).  If Jesus would pray it, and if it’s in line with the Kingdom purposes of God… then pray it out and pray it confidently.

Prayers for healing? YES – pray them. Prayers for provision of needs? YES. Prayers for friends to come to Christ? YES. Prayers for relief from testing/trials/wounds? YES. Ask and ask boldly. Which brings us to the third way to see prayers answered:

Pray Boldly

If you are praying with a single focus, then pray with courage and clarity. Ask God for the things you are convinced of. Ask directly, not indirectly. Actively, not passively. Esteeming his ability, not hoping to squeak one by.

“And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Jesus then tells the parable of the persistent widow – who finally gets justice from the unjust judge even though she–as a widow–has no real legal standing before the court. Jesus says, God is not unjust, and you are not right-less widows (v7).

Pray without giving up. Pray with tenacity, perseverance, boldness, clarity, courage, conviction. Pray in the night, in the morning, through the day, with a friend, in a group, all alone, out loud, writing in your journal, on your knees, while driving or walking or running… or while doing mindless tasks at work. And, for Pete’s sake, ask using active verbs, not passive ones: “Lord, please heal my sister.” Not: “Lord, please let the disease be treated by this medicine.”

Just pray and pray boldly.

We must reverence the Lord. No doubt. But we don’t reverence him by pussy-footing around what we really want. We reverence him by saying, “Lord, here’s this huge problem, and I think you are the only one who can solve it. Would you? Please?”

 

These are some of the things I’ve discovered over the years. What about you? Leave a comment about thoughts or ideas you use. We’d love to learn them!

How Awesome is Heaven?

My friend and trusted colleague, Haywood Smith, went to be with the Lord this week. Kinston mourns a faithful & Christ-exalting pastor. Westminster UMC will miss him deeply. The Lord Jesus will carry us near his heart! (Isa 40:11)  A couple of years ago, I wrote the following, prompted by a friend’s email about what heaven is like. Here it is.

 

My friend emailed me recently:

“Talked with my doctor the other day, and he wanted to understand about our concept of heaven.  I know you have thought lots about this.  Please give me your thoughts……not religious talk…..just really how you think about what it is like for your Dad.  How will you know him?  Does he know what you are doing?  Can he feel sensory pleasure in heaven?”

His doctor is from another faith, and they were talking.  My dad died 33 years ago, and I have thought lots about the experience of heaven.  My son died 7 years ago in the womb, and I’ve thought even more about it. Here’s what I wrote back:

Hey Brother,

The one word I have for heaven is this: INVIGORATING.  It just has to be if God is there and if we’re free from sin! The greatest experiences on this earth are truly wonderful: the gorgeous sunsets, the joy of snowboarding, laughing deeply, hugging your son, making tender love to your wife, a T-bone steak, seeing a new believer step out to honor Christ… there are so many amazing experiences. And, this is a world coming apart and getting worse, and I am a man who is filled with selfishness and anger and pride and greed and lust and stupidity. Imagine being in a world where I’m not shot through with sin, and the world itself is not decaying and falling apart.

Heaven cannot be boring. Cannot be banal. Cannot be dull or monotonous. Because God is there, and he is not boring or banal. He is the most life-giving and life-loving presence there is.

When Jesus told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), he surely indicated there was sensory knowledge in the afterlife: both in heaven and in hell. As well as a remembrance of people on earth (Rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to tell his brothers about the afterlife…). Of course it’s a parable, but it feels like he’s constructing a parable out of principles that are in place. I don’t think I’m in left field to consider that my dad has met my son, Joshua (who died at 20 weeks). Or that Jesus has introduced your dad to my dad… imagine! Why? Because God loves to make relational connections.  I think “holy imagination”—the connecting of dots in Scripture’s laconic record on heaven’s actual experiences—permits us to ponder that my dad knows a good deal about Kinston through your dad and Paige Patty and Robert Singleton.  I wouldn’t split a church over this, but I also don’t think I’m falling into a silly sentimental wishful thinking.

Of course, where the dead are today is not the end.  When Jesus returns to earth, resurrects all people, and renews the heavens and the earth, we will start a whole new story. As NT Wright says, “there’s life after life-after-death.”

As CS Lewis writes in the Last Battle, this entire life (we’ll discover) has not been the whole story, it’s only been the prologue! Amazing to consider what it will be like to hike the Himalayas or dive in the Marianas trench or make new symphony music, poetry or novels, create new desserts, and just plain laugh in the company of friends in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

No, if redemption means anything, it means that EVERYTHING in the final state is exponentially greater than ANYTHING in this fallen state. Think about this: What’s the deepest relationship in this world? Husband and wife… who become one in flesh and spirit. But, Jesus says that in the next age there will be no marriage. This deepest of relationships will be “denied” us in the eternal state. A step backwards? Obviously not. That means that the depth, joy and intimacy of marriage even pales in comparison to what our relationships will be.

Invigorating. Fulfilling. Ultimate. Epic. Amazing. Joy-filled. Awe-full. Holy. Finally, we will know what it means to be fully human… and we will fall on our face in worship of the One who bought us and brought us to be with him. And (I think this is right) He will be the lifter of our heads, and will say to us: “Well done… enter into your rest!”

Love you man! I’m smiling now. Jason

Seven Questions if you Wrestle with your Thought Life

Everyone struggles with what goes on inside their head. Whether you’ve walked with Christ for 50 years or 50 minutes, we still struggle of thinking like Christ. “Set your minds on things above” (Col 3:2) will always tussle with “I do what I do not want to do” (Rom 7:20)

The journey of this life is one of pursuing Jesus, fleeing temptation, standing firm against the devil, and taking remaining sin seriously all at the same time.

Sin starts in the mind. James says that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

Our thought-life is the start of sin—what we choose to dwell on is what will lead us. We can’t choose what thoughts come into our head, but we can choose which of them stay there. Bitterness. Lust. Selfish Ambition. Worry. Envy. Unforgiveness. Greed. Pride & Conceit. Anger. All of these sins start in the mind.

None of us wants to continue in worry, bitterness, lust, etc. But why are there days when lust wins? Why does worry sometimes take over? Why can’t I be done with these and think godly thoughts all the time?!?!

Let me offer seven questions if your thought-life is just not holy.

1) What’s your first thought of the day?

When the alarm goes off, what’s your first thought? Of God, his grace, his commitment to you and power to accomplish it? Or, is your first thought of the things you have to do, the stress you are under, the concerns you have, etc., etc. Those thoughts are not sin in and of themselves. But instead of letting them have primacy, grab a 3*5 card (as you turn off the alarm), with a promise from Scripture on it? For example, Eph 2:10 or Psalm 138:8. If thought-life is the start of sin, what’s the start of your daily thought-life? Start with praise and promises.

2) What’s your plan for disciplining your thought-life?

To train for a marathon, grab a 16-week plan that gradually increases your stamina and ability to run 26.2 miles straight. What’s your 4 month plan for changing your thought patterns? Lay it out. Work the plan. “Exercise and eat right” in your mind. What redemptive words and truths are you feeding your mind on to build mind-muscle? What Scripture passage are you dwelling in today? What verse are you memorizing this week? What bible study are you moving through? What Worship Music or Hymns are filling your mind? Do you have friends that you can talk about growing in Christ with? What’s your plan? Without a plan, the fat, flabby and disoriented thought-life will never change.

3) What “fighter verses” do you have?

Grab a few “daggers” to jab at the enemy when he comes in close with temptation. He can’t stand up to God’s word. Leverage that. Quote and repeat and speak verses that you’ve tucked away in your mind. My favorite are the “Five Assurances” from the Navigators’ ministry. Click here to get all five of them.

Additionally, these two verses are worth memorizing to give you confidence.

  • 2 Cor 10:5 – “…we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ…” is a great promise that we CAN change our thought-life.
  • Eph 6:16 – “…take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one…” shows that the evil one can’t stand up to the faith we have in Christ.

4) How wired are you?

It seems to me that 80% (or more?) of our social media is at best “not helpful,” and at worst corrosive, to a holy thought-life. Not that 80% of the content is Satanic, but after a while, seeing all your friends’ Instagram pictures of their Mediterranean vacation breeds envy or discontentment; or going from one article to the next to the next on Facebook just loses you in random thinking. Not to mention the harmful stuff that is out there… and accessible with a click or two. A holy thought-life might be more attainable with parameters on your time in the virtual world: Not before ___ AM, and power down at ___ PM; no tech at certain times with your friends, kids, spouse (e.g., family supper). Give your mind space to breathe.

5) What friends do you have on the journey?

My friend says, “what’s conceived in the dark, and kept in the dark has a hold on you until you bring it to light.” Bring a friend into your desire for a holy thought-life and your struggle in it. Don’t bear this burden alone. Let Christ minister to you through his body. Agree in prayer together (Mt 18:19) & set goals for holiness (see #2).

6) Do you know your low points?

When do you most often dwell on the unholy thoughts? When you are tired? Lonely? After work? Are you filled more with self-pity at certain points in the week or month? (like Friday night when “everybody else” has plans). Are you more likely to indulge lust if you are alone and awake after midnight? Know your low points, and then guard them: get a friend to call you, put a “fighter verse” near your TV, etc. Keep track of your patterns, and when you sense you are thinking least godly thoughts… and then address those specific moments.

7) Do you know that God is for you and His Spirit is in you?

  • Romans 8:31-32 – “Since God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 – “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”

These verses give us the confidence on two levels: first of all, God WANTS us to have a holy thought-life; he’s rooting for us to grow. Second, he’s given us the power to do it by living inside of us. The more I ask the Spirit to lead my thoughts, the more he will.

 

Seven questions if your thought life is just not holy. You’re not alone, but you are also not doomed. Where do you need to start? Leave a comment or a tip that has helped you.

Weeping in Vegas with Hope

Another Murderous rampage. It boggles my mind. As one witness at the concert in Las Vegas said, “it was a kill box.” (Wall Street Journal, 10.3.17)

What to say in a blog post?

Well, to start with, the world is broken, and there is real evil. This is undeniable. A funny thing happened since 2001: Nobody argues against the existence of sin anymore. When hijackers self-consciously fly planes into buildings, the illusion that “environment or education” causes society’s troubles vanishes. There is sin in the world. There is evil, darkness and horror. It’s not everywhere, by any stretch. But it’s out there, lurking, creeping, overpowering at times.

The world is broken and evil is real.

People are broken too. There’s no other way to say it. Stephen Paddock was messed up. Was it for all of his life? Did he harbor a deep grievance? Was there a vengeful pathology? Were there wounds that cannot be named? Right now, let me say respectfully: who cares! It does not matter what caused Paddock to act like this. The fact that he did shouts to us that people are broken.

Not just brokenness, but evil lurks in our hearts and characters too. We don’t have to be a mass murderer to know it. In the quiet moments, we harbor a vengeful grudge, or let fly a rage-filled tirade.  As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.”

The world is broken; so are people. The world is evil; so are people.

Are things hopeless?

Yes. If you hope for Utopia. A world without sorrow or death… that’s a hopeless cause. A world with no pain or suffering… we just won’t be able to marshall enough resources to bring this to pass.  I’m not saying there’s no good anywhere; there is. And I love it. Kindness of strangers. Goodness in folks’ actions. Genuine love and concern for the plight of others. But on a macro level, on a once-and-for-all level, on a “I guarantee that nothing bad will happen to you baby”, this world is hopeless.

We all know this in our hearts. And it’s disheartening.

Here’s my question, then. If the world is hopeless, why are we so filled with hope?

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” we read from someone who knows. Everyone still has children, counting on something in us that says the next generation will see some great advances. Orphan Annie’s song resonates: “The Sun’ll come out tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.”

Why?

In this broken, evil world (filled with broken, evil people) we see where hope comes from: it’s the footsteps of the One who walked into it. In a corner of the world some 2,000 years ago, there was One who sat with broken people under an evil political system. There was One who loved evil people with broken hearts. We meet One who said “come to me with your weariness and burdens, and you’ll find rest with me… hope, peace, joy, love with me.”

Some 2,000 years ago, there was One who was brutally, thoroughly, utterly broken as they nailed him to a Roman Cross. It was hanging by those nails, scorned by all around, in agonizing pain that he became–for us and our sin–he became evil-incarnate.

“God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21). Martin Luther called this the “Happy Exchange” – Christ offers to us his righteousness if we will give to him our sin. We can carry our sin, guilt, shame, evil and brokenness… or we can give it to him. As long as we carry it, we are sinful, shameful, guilty and evil. But, if we give it to him–Lord, please forgive my sins!–then he gives to us his righteousness… his wholeness, beauty, right-ness before God, adoption in God’s family, and joyous future.

This is where hope comes from. In our broken, evil world, hope spring eternal from the Cross – that place of worst evil and greatest brokenness.

As we grieve for the people in las Vegas (and everywhere), let us grieve as those wiht hope – knowing Christ’s only answer to evil was to endure its worst! And, to come out on the other side, the Victor!

Does God Initiate or Respond?

Think of the first two books of the bible – Genesis and Exodus. How do we see God?

In a few words, Genesis is all about the God who initiates. Think about it: he starts the whole universe in chapter 1. He initiates all the astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology in that one chapter of Scripture. Then, he initiates life in his image—by creating humanity. And thus he initiates family, relationships, society.

In the face of the Fall into sin, he initiates a rescue plan – promised in 3:15 and begun by choosing Abraham and his seed in ch12. Indeed, by sovereignly choosing Abraham, God proves again that he is the initiating God.

From there, he chooses Isaac (not Ishmael), Jacob (not Easu). He even initiates a rescue plan for Jacob’s family in the coming famine… by having Joseph down in Egypt as Prime Minister.

Genesis is the story of Initiating God.

What about Exodus? It’s the story of God delivering his people who are groaning under the weight of slavery. He redeems them with an outstretched arm, charters them in covenant (Ex 19-24), and dwells with them in the Tabernacle. It’s the story of him forgiving them at the Golden Calf.

Exodus is the story of the Responding God. He responds in compassion to the groaning of his people. “And God heard the groaning of his people, And God remembered his Covenant, and God saw the sons of Israel, and God knew.” (Ex 2:25)

We see the responsiveness of God to the plight of his people. But we also see his responsiveness in connection to his covenant promises: he will uphold them, fulfill them, be true to them. Exodus displays his utter commitment to his purposes.

So in Exodus we discover the Responding God on two levels: to the plight of those in bondage, and to his Word given beforehand.

Genesis and Exodus. The Initiating God and the Responding God. What hope does this give us? In both books, and in both angles of God’s character, we come face to face with one fact: everything rests on him. Creation. Election. Redemption. Deliverance. Covenant. It’s all his. As the old hymn says, “His grace has planned it all, ‘tis mine but to believe, and recognize his work of love, and Christ receive.”

If this is the pattern in the first two books of Scripture, have you seen this pattern in your life? Times when God initiates new things for you, with you, through you? Times when God responds to your groaning… and (though mysterious to you at first) brings deliverance and help (just like he promised he would)? Pause to give thanks to this initiating and responding God!

Thanks be to God!

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