An Inside Job

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How about kicking off your week by praising God for doing an inside job on you?

“A true saint is altered in the inward frame of his soul. There is planted a spring of better thoughts, desires, and aims than in other men. He labours more for the inward frame of heart than for his outward carriage. What he is ashamed to do, he is also ashamed to think. Whatever he desires, he desires to do it with love in his heart. He labours that all good maybe truly found in the inward man. A hypocrite never cares for this. His care is for the outward parts only. If his outward behavior is acceptable to others, he has his desire.” — Richard Sibbes

Believers desire to serve God from the heart. We aren’t content to worship him outwardly while our hearts are far from him. We do our work wholeheartedly as to the Lord rather than to men. We don’t pray to be seen by others; we pray to him who sees in secret. We’re happy when we get the opportunity to serve or give for God’s eyes only.

We want to love others fervently, sincerely, from the heart.

We’re not happy to go through the motions of godliness. We desire that our only motive be God’s glory. We want to be cheerful givers. We desire to serve the Lord with gladness.  We don’t want human recognition but are content to wait to hear Jesus say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

What joy it brings us when our hearts are squeezed by circumstances and out of our hearts and lips flow praise and thanks to God.

And when we do things to be noticed by men, which happens often, we come running back to the King of our hearts and ask him to cleanse us anew with his blood.

The Flavor of Sovereign Grace

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(I’ll tell you how to win a copy of this book at the end of the post)

Every book has a flavor.

Some books leave you grateful to God for His mercy, or in awe of His majesty. Other books stir your heart to pursue holiness or share the gospel. Some books leave you burdened under a great weight of guilt.

Tullian Tchividjian’s new book, Surprised By Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Sovereign Grace, is richly flavored with God’s sovereign grace.

The book stares long and hard at the book of Jonah, and traces the lines of God’s sovereign grace that run through Jonah’s life.

Jonah was a great prophet, Ninevah was a wicked Assyrian city. God commanded Jonah to call Ninevah to repentance. Jonah wasn’t too excited about preaching to a pagan sin city, and decided to make a break for it.

God should have crushed Jonah for his blatant disobedience. God should have crushed Ninevah for its incredible wickedness. But God is full of surprising, sovereign grace, and he extended that grace to Jonah. It was God’s grace that caused a vicious storm to hunt down Jonah. It was God’s grace that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. It was God’s grace that Jonah cried out for mercy.  It was God’s grace that gave Jonah a second opportunity for obedience, and it was God’s grace that Ninevah, an evil, Gentile city, was given the opportunity to repent.

Grace is for self-righteous sinners like Jonah, and for foul cities like Ninevah. The book of Jonah is thoroughly flavored with grace.

This grace is a picture of the grace every sinner receives in the gospel of Christ.

Jesus is really God’s “great wind”, his “mighty tempest” in response to human running and rebellion. Jesus is the storm. Jesus is God’s gracious intervention for those who are enslaved to themselves. (pg. 52)

Grace is not an opportunity to try harder. It’s an opportunity to marvel at God’s greatness and our weakness.

When we realize that he’s God and we’re not – that he’s massive and we’re minute – that’s all it takes for us to become a part of great and powerful God-things. (pg. 101)

The great strength of this book is that it looks at grace from a fresh perspective. In our Christian ghettos, grace is a word that gets tossed around rather casually. I recommend Surprised by Grace to all those who feel that they’ve become overly familiar with grace. To those who need to be freshly surprised by grace.

You can purchase it on Amazon.

To win this book, leave a comment saying something along the lines of, “I would gladly sell all my possessions if I could own a copy of this book.” I’ll randomly pick a winner.

Look Past The Surface

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If God works all things together for our good, then we must learn to look past the surface to see the hand of God working behind the scenes. It’s called faith.

We will either believe our eyes and our own interpretation of events, or we will believe what God’s Word says about what is happening in our lives.

If we only believe what we see on the surface of our lives, we will conclude God is either cruel or unkind, like someone who sees a doctor cutting into a patient, and concludes that the doctor is cruel. In reality, the doctor is doing a c-section to deliver the woman’s baby – an occasion of incredible joy. So though on the surface it appears the doctor is being cruel, he is actually being kind to the patient.  In fact, if he didn’t do the surgery, he would be cruel to both mother and baby.

Our hearts are continually interpreting life as it happens to us. Mature believers bring biblical interpretations to the surface events of their lives, as Joseph did in Genesis. On the surface, he was a victim of his brothers’ evil intentions. But looking below the surface, he knew that he was the beneficiary of God’s good intentions.

“One property of a humble soul is this; it will quietly bear burdens, and patiently take blows and knocks, and make no noise. A humble soul sees God through all the actions of men. He looks through the secondary causes, and sees the hand of God. He looks through to the supreme cause.” — Thomas Brooks

This is the “good fight of faith” — to daily look past the surface of the events of our lives and interpret them according to Scripture. Even if we don’t understand why certain things are happening to us, with the eyes of faith we can see God’s hand behind them working all things for our good.

This is where Israel failed in the desert. In Deuteronomy 8 God tells Israel that he took them through the desert to humble them, to teach them to rely on his Word, and to teach them that God provides for and disciplines his children. Yet most of the time, Israel interpreted the surface events as “God brought us out here to kill us.” If only they could have looked past the surface with the eyes of faith.

What’s happening on the surface of your life? How will you interpret it? Through the lens of the natural mind? Or through the lens of faith?

photo by sadimfadhley

Spirituality vs. Jesus

Spirituality invites you to explore your inner self. Jesus invites you to explore his glory and forget yourself.

Spirituality invites you to find yourself. Jesus invites you to lose yourself.

Spirituality is a journey that ultimately results in you “saving” yourself. Following Jesus is a journey that begins when you stop trying to save yourself.

Spirituality leads to self-expression which results in self-fulfillment. Jesus calls you to die to yourself and find your fulfillment in him.

Spirituality begins when you resolve to “try harder”. Following Jesus begins when you give up.

Spirituality says you’re worth it. Jesus says that he’s worth it.

Spirituality allows you to take charge of your life. Jesus commands you to acknowledge him as King of your life.

Spiritual gurus dispense “wisdom”.

Jesus saves sinners.

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From Infinite Debt to Unfathomable Wealth

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Imagine an elderly retiree of modest means getting a letter from the Internal Revenue Service reporting that he has underpaid his taxes every year since the age of 18. Thanks to interest and penalties, the unpaid taxes add up to an exorbitant debt he can never repay. Unless some miracle takes place, he’s going to jail!

The man arrives on his court date fully expecting to be found guilty and sentenced for what he owes. Suddenly there’s commotion around the judge’s bench. Something shocking is happening. The judge quiets the court to make an announcement. Someone who loves the man has paid his debt. The judge declares him not guilty.

In his amazement, the man’s knees buckle.

But there’s something else, the judge says. The man’s benefactor also transferred $10 trillion into his bank account.

– Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition

What a great illustration of our justification in Christ. Not only has God forgiven our sins, but he has credited us with the very righteousness of Christ. This means he sees us not only as if we had never sinned, but also as if we had always obeyed and lived Christ’s life of 33 years of flawless obedience.

This is our confidence to come before a holy God – when God looks at us he sees us in Christ, forgiven and clothed with the very righteousness of Christ.  God takes debtors and makes them princes.  He pays our infinite debt and crowns us with unfathomable wealth in Jesus.  Doesn’t this make you want to sing for joy?

photo by Erin Nealy

Stuff Calvinists Like

I’ll come right out and say it: I’m (mostly) reformed. That means I believe in things like unconditional election, total depravity, etc. I believe that those are biblical doctrines.

One of the main complaints I’ve heard against reformed Christians is that they’re arrogant and like to bash people over the head with truth. And to be honest, there’s probably some truth in that. But I don’t want to be an arrogant Calvinist. I have a lot to be humble about, including my little reformed quirks. So to help us stay humble, I’ve compiled a “Stuff Calvinists Like” list.

Calvinists Like…

Using Air Quotes When We Say “Free Will”

If you say the words “free will” without putting air quotes around it, we’ll stop you in your tracks and begin a five point interrogation. To be safe, put air quotes around anything that sounds like “free will”, such as “free willy”.

Making Resolutions

Jonathan Edwards, who is the Calvinist equivalent of Spiderman, made over seventy resolutions. We Calvinists like to make resolutions, post them on our blogs, and then not do them. We mainly just like to say the word “Resolved”. And the word “Institutes”.

Quoting John Piper

We try to maintain a 2:1 Bible to Piper ratio. We quote two Bible verses and then a sentence out of Don’t Waste Your Life. When we see someone collecting sea shells, we say, “What’s he going to do with that shell collection when he gets to heaven?”

Moleskine Journals

Apparently there is something spiritual about Moleskine journals because every Calvinist owns at least four. One for devotional notes, one for sermons notes, one for prayer lists, and one for fantasy football stats. For some reason we also use fountain pens, even though using a fountain pen is like trying to write with an octopus.

Correcting Someone When They Say “Lucky”

Please don’t say the word “lucky” around me. It was providence, not luck. And that breakfast cereal you’re eating? Providence Charms.

Loving On C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is basically the Bono of the reformed world. He was definitely not a Calvinist, but we still go absolutely crazy for the guy. Yes he held some unbiblical doctrines, but you still have to love him. Only a cold-hearted machine would get angry at a guy who wrote about centaurs and fawns.

Showing That We’re Culturally Relevant

People often associate reformed doctrine with stuffy, old, out-of-touch churches. We don’t like that, and do all we can to prove our relevance. So we’ll make references to the show Full House and talk about how much we love Creed (even though they’re probably not Christian, but we’re not sure).

Okay, that’s a start. We reformed people can be pretty ridiculous at times, and have a lot to be humble about. If you’re not reformed, that’s okay. What matters most is the gospel.

What else would you add to the list?

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All I Can Do Is Pray

Have you ever said the phrase, “All I can do is pray,”? I’ve said it. And I think it’s one of the stupidest sentences to ever leave my mouth.

Think about it for a minute. When I say, “All I can do is pray,” this is what I’m really saying:

  • All I can do is ask the omnipotent, almighty God, who holds the universe in His hands to work on my behalf.
  • All I can do is ask for grace from the God who gave up His son for me and adopted me into His family.
  • All I can do is stop trying to run the world and ask God to do something.
  • I can run most of my life on my own, but when it comes to this situation, all I can do is pray.
  • I’ve run out of things that I can do, and now I guess I’ll resort to asking God for his help.
  • For a while I had this situation under control, but now I’ve got to ask God to lend a hand.

What a ridiculous statement. It shows my lack of dependence on God, my lack of faith in His power, my lack of trust in Him, and a serious overestimation of my own competence. Prayer is like my spiritual fire extinguisher, only to be used in times of emergency, when things get really bad.

In reality, prayer should be the first thing I do. Rather than trying to wade my way through a tough circumstance, I should immediately confess my dependence on God.

Prayer shouldn’t be my last resort, it should be my first resort. Not because my prayers are particularly mighty, but because God is on my side, and He is particularly mighty.

Have you ever said, “All I can do is pray,”? When have you made that statement? What does that reveal about you and your faith in God?

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When You Knock It Out Of The Park

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The disciples had just finished their “Kick Out The Devil” tour and were high-fiving each other and sharing victory stories.

“Did you see that guy snarling right in my face? One word, baby, and that demon was gone. Cured ‘im. Now he’s on the worship team.”

They returned to Jesus and couldn’t wait to give him their report.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (LK 10.17-20)

It feels good to knock the ball out of the park, be it in the workplace or the kingdom of God. You take an incredible photograph or cook an amazing meal. You land a large account or haul in an 18″ Palamino Trout. You lead the Care Group of the decade or dispense a life-changing pearl of wisdom to that new believer.  Success is exhilarating.

But Jesus says there’s something even more amazing than success, or spiritual gifts or power –  that our names are written in heaven.

In electing love, God wrote our names in heaven before he created the universe, even then knowing all our sins and failures, then he sent his Son to redeem us and his Spirit to transform us.

Are you a believer?  Your name is written in heaven.  It will never be erased or forgotten, and God will bring you to where your name is inscribed.  Now that is something to rejoice in.

So if you knock the ball out of the park this week, as you’re rounding the bases, rejoice that your name is indelibly engraved in the book of life.

Photo by Camlin Photography

The Skittle Lined Path

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I’m going to let you in on a personal secret. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but it’s true: I don’t like it when life gets hard.

I want my walk with Jesus to be all pleasant, all the time. I would prefer minimal to no suffering, and would like most of my “down and dirty” ministry to take place in Starbucks. If I get a missionary call to the beaches of the Caribbean, I’ll be okay with that. Essentially, I would like my path to Heaven to be lined with Skittles. Actually I would prefer sausage, but that’s for a different post.

This “no pain, no pain” mentality has made the past couple weeks particularly challenging. My newborn daughter, Ella, decided that she would like to be awake from 7 PM to 1 AM. If we lay her down, she turns into the human siren. And she doesn’t stop for a long, long time. Let’s just say that I’ve watched a lot of ESPN Sportscenter recently.

In the midst of these nighttime escapades, I’ve really struggled with discontentment. I crave rest, peace, quiet, and a decent night’s sleep. I feel like I deserve these things, like it’s my God given right as a member of the United States of America. My troubles are so insignificant, but they cause me to be discontent nonetheless.

But last night I read the following, challenging words by the Puritan, Richard Baxter:

What keeps us under trouble is either we do not expect what God has promised [suffering], or we expect what he did not promise [an easy life]. We are grieved at crosses, losses, wrongs of our enemies, unkind dealings of our friends, sickness, or for contempt and scorn in the world. But who encouraged you to expect any better? (Voices From the Past, 138)

Jesus didn’t promise me ease and prosperity. He commanded me to take up my cross and promised that each day would have enough trouble of it’s own. Discontent begins to ferment in my heart when I expect something else.

The reward for following Jesus is infinitely great, but the cost is suffering. That’s what I should expect.

What encourages you in the midst of challenging circumstances?

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+photo by richardefreeman