ARTICLES

An Eerie, Unacceptable Silence

Article by Nik Ripken Topic: Persecution
An Eerie, Unacceptable Silence

When I read the Gospels for the first time, the repetition confused me. Why revisit the same story four times? Yet it was in and through that repetition that I fell deeply in love with Jesus.

The Gospels invited me in, encouraging me to ask questions of God, to write myself into his story. They demanded an honesty and openness, with God and myself, unlike any I had experienced.

I even questioned the Creator himself. How could he do it? What kind of Father lets his Son be tortured, humiliated, and crucified? Perhaps what troubled me most was when the Son cried out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And what reply does the Son receive from his Father God? Nothing.

The Acceptable Silence

Bible scholars sometimes explain this “silence from heaven” as the Father’s necessary reaction to the Son who had actually become sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The spotless Lamb of God had become sin for those who betrayed and crucified him. He had become sin for you . . . for me.

This painful silence may also point to the Father’s unspeakable pain at the suffering of his Beloved. In either case, it is a silence I can understand and accept.

There is a second kind of silence, however, that I cannot accept.

The Church the West Doesn’t Know

For more than two decades, my wife and I have embraced a pilgrimage that has brought us face to face with many of the most severely persecuted Christians of our time. This phase of our ministry began in Somalia, on the east coast of central Africa, a nation that has been shredded by an ongoing civil war that began in 1991. Watching the nation devour itself has been bad enough; witnessing the persecution of Somali followers of Jesus has been unbearable.

The statistics still shock me. When we arrived in Somalia in the 1990s, we learned of approximately 150 followers of Jesus from Muslim backgrounds. When we were forced from that country some eight years later, only four believers were left alive.

Four.

My honesty with the God of the Bible haunted me. What does one do when all seems to be crucifixion, and nothing resembles resurrection? In the face of a death rate among Somali believers higher than 97 percent, I could neither say nor pray among the Somali people that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The questions in my heart demanded expression. Is Jesus still trustworthy? Is he still Lord for the really tough places of the world, the modern-day Roman Empires defined by severe persecution? Or is Jesus limited to the dressed-up, building-oriented, literate, theologically intolerant, and denominationally defined Western church?

My wife and I went on to spend many more years among believers in persecution, most of them gathered in house churches, behind the scenes, under the radar. We visited more than 72 countries and sat at the feet of more than 600 followers of Jesus who had lived — who do live — in settings of persecution, whether from communism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or something else.

These modern-day giants of the Christian faith mentored us, taught us, and showed us the power of Jesus. They were men and women, young and old, literate and non-literate, rural and urban. Their names are rarely known outside their immediate communities. They don’t blog or tweet or post on Facebook. But they did teach my wife and me how to follow Jesus and make him known in environments of persecution. And because we begged them to, they showed us, not merely how to survive in seasons of extreme suffering, but how to thrive.

At a time when our world had been defined far too long by crucifixion, they showed us resurrection.

In the former Soviet Union, we interviewed two deacons who had been imprisoned for three years in a Siberian labor camp. They told us that one day some 240 pastors were brought into the camp, men who had refused to deny their faith.

These pastors were given the truly impossible job of plowing the frozen tundra outside the camp, using only sticks and broken tools. Each evening, as punishment for another day of inevitable failure, they were stripped to their underwear and doused with buckets of cold water. Within three months all had died of various diseases, each remaining “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10).

This is not ancient history. This story, and a hundred more like it, have happened within my lifetime. Some are happening right now. Today.

Persecution Is for Losers

Approximately seventy percent of Christians who are practicing their faith live in environments of persecution. In the West, most believers find it shocking — even unbelievable — that followers of Jesus should face real persecution at all, anywhere. In stark contrast, more than 90% of Christians in the West will never share the good news of Jesus with another person. Not. Even. Once.

Somehow the “gospel” we love has become so associated with health, wealth, and happiness that it leaves no room for persecution, at least, not for those whom God truly loves. If we think about persecution at all, we think its absence from our own lives is a sign of our special standing with God. No wonder we pray so little for our persecuted brothers and sisters. No wonder they hardly even cross our minds.

Rarely do sermons inform or inspire us about the suffering church. Seldom is a seminary course meant to prepare its students for suffering and persecution. We pray more for our military than we do for the suffering church. Even though Jesus said that he was sending us out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16), most people in seminary or Bible school are trained for domestic ministry, staying as sheep among the sheep.

All the while, elsewhere on the planet, believing brothers and sisters, living daily in contexts of suffering and persecution, display the unquenchable power of the resurrection. And as a result their children are taken from them. They are beaten. They are imprisoned. They are martyred.

This silence from the West is one I can neither understand nor accept.

Unacceptably Quiet

What does our silence do? It increases the suffering of believers in persecution. It breaks God’s heart. It demonstrates that we have forgotten our eternal family members who live daily with persecution.

What it may mean is that we simply don’t care.

My wife expresses the heart of the matter when she explains, “There is no such thing as a persecuted church and a free church. There is only the church! There is one church — one church that is at the same time free and persecuted.” Hebrews 13:3 beautifully captures our calling in light of this reality: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” — or, as the NIV puts it, “as if you yourselves were suffering.”

No nation and no form of government lasts forever. When persecution comes for us, will we be content to have others pray for us, carrying us, to the same extent that we pray for and carry our suffering brothers and sisters today?

There are times to be silent. But this is not one of them.

This is a time to tell the truth, to remember, to recite the stories.

This is a time to speak of God, to share the gospel, to sing the promises of God.

This is a time to pray, to cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters, to count on the Spirit to intercede for us — and for them — when our words are not enough.

This is the time to be the church — one church, at the same time free and persecuted.

Indeed, there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Truly, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.

This moment — the moment that belongs to us today — this is a time to speak.


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Let the Bible Tell You How to Be a Woman

Article by Kim Cash Tate
Topic: Manhood & Womanhood
Let the Bible Tell You How to Be a Woman

There are biblical womanhood passages we hardly blink at. That older women should impart wisdom to younger women is esteemed. That women ought to love their husbands and children is expected, even if challenging at times. And as much as we may give attention to hair and clothing, we understand that in Christ, the inner person deserves our utmost adornment.

But other passages spark something more. Submission can ignite a lively exchange all by itself. Toss in “worker at home” and roles in the church, and you might be ticking towards an explosion. The casualty, however, is often the word of God. As believers, we have an obligation to treat Scripture — even “troublesome” passages — in a Christ-honoring way.

Treat Scripture with Humility

When we encounter hot-button issues in biblical womanhood, we do so armed with our own experiences and opinions. These issues are central to our identity as women and stir convictions that are deeply entrenched. Almost instinctively, we rise to defend them. But in Christ, we have a higher call, to elevate the Lord and his word above all.

Humility bows to the word of God. Humility recognizes that the world and the god of this world cloud our views. Rather than defending our personal convictions, we are called to inspect them in the light of truth. In humility, we pray to understand the truth — not to fit our sensibilities, but in the way God intended when he revealed it. We ask the Lord to strip us of any convictions that aren’t of him. In the process, we are transformed and our minds renewed, “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

When we humble ourselves, we aren’t clothed in womanhood but in Christ. We aren’t casting a wary eye at Scripture. Rather, we are submitting ourselves to God and esteeming his word as holy. It is especially when we do not understand or agree with Scripture that we ought to bow, knowing that God is good and his ways are higher.

Treat Scripture with Reverential Fear

The word of God is divinely inspired, timeless, and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) — until an issue such as submission comes into view. Once we enter the quagmire, reverence is disassembled. Suddenly, portions of the New Testament are fit only for a particular group and point in time. The apostle Paul is no longer a bondservant of God, but a man gone rogue, speaking from personal opinion. Thus, we are free to put forth opinions of others, including ourselves, to rebut Paul’s questionable bent.

Since the garden the enemy has targeted reverence for the word of God. God’s word is holy and pure. Christ is the Word made flesh. As his followers, we are to esteem his word highly, which is reflected in all that we say and do.

In Titus 2 we often focus on what the older women is to teach the younger (Titus 2:3–5). But we ought not miss the reason given: “that the word of God may not be reviled.” If our conduct brings honor or dishonor to the word, how much more if, for the sake of an issue, we call the authority of the word itself into question.

This side of heaven, there will not be one uniform interpretation of particular passages of Scripture. And certainly, we expect the world to come against anything in the word that is counter-cultural. But as followers of Christ, we do well to take caution as to how we handle such issues. Do we really want to posit that certain passages were a product of the apostle Paul speaking, essentially, in the flesh? Do we want to call into question the truth that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16)?

If we desire to honor the Lord, we don’t take aim and fire at verses of Scripture. We esteem those verses, however “troublesome” we may deem them, as God-breathed and holy. And we pray for the Spirit to lead us in understanding them.

Let’s Be Honest

A long-standing statistic indicates that few professing Christians read their Bibles. Yet, when hot-button issues surface, particularly in the area of biblical womanhood, almost everyone has an opinion. Often it is a visceral reaction, informed more by culture, perhaps even a Christian or denominational culture, than by a study of God’s word.

What if we were honest about our lack of understanding, beginning within ourselves? If we haven’t prayerfully studied an issue, should we rise to vigorously debate it? And if we have studied, was it with an agenda or with an attitude of submission to God?

As believers, our goal should be growth in biblical understanding. In order to grow, we must be honest about what we do not know. We should be willing to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). And always, growth comes with looking to the Spirit.

God inspired those womanhood passages (and others) of Scripture that cause us to bristle. They are profitable and holy. As those who are called to be holy, we are also called to treat every verse with reverence, with the utmost aim that the Lord and his word be glorified.


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The Playschool Tragedy for Twentysomethings

JULY 11, 2016

Article by Marshall Segal Topic: The Unwasted Life
The Playschool Tragedy for Twentysomethings

We all live for something. Some purpose statement hides beneath all our desires and decisions, whether we know it or not. We do everything we do out of love — for something or someone. The question is whether that purpose (or person) is worth all the time, money, and energy we’re spending.

Freedom and independence may be the purpose of choice among twentysomethings today. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay who focuses on young adults writes, “By the new millennium, only about half of twentysomethings were married by age thirty and even fewer had children, making the twenties a time of newfound freedom. . . . The twenties were now disposable years lubricated by disposable income” The Defining Decade).

The twenties have become this new kind of “paradise” in between childhood and real adulthood, when you can party hard, experiment with new things, and spend lots of money without feeling the consequences. We postpone becoming adults, or at least the responsibilities that come with being an adult, in order to enjoy a decade of gratification without boundaries and autonomy without expectations — a second, more sophisticated round of playschool before “real life” begins.

Jay shows that while twentysomethings are living it up, everyone else is wishing they were in their twenties. Teenagers are acting like they are twenty-one, and more mature adults are dressing and getting surgery to look twenty-nine, again. The “freebie years,” as she calls them, seem to be what life is all about, the height and pinnacle of human existence.

The Quarter-Life Crisis

After years of counseling twentysomethings — the new kings and queens of our society — Jay finds most of them aimlessly wandering and wanting. She writes (and she is not a Christian), “The postmillennial midlife crisis is figuring out that while we were busy making sure we didn’t miss out on anything, we were setting ourselves up to miss out on some of the most important things of all” — it’s the new paradise lost.

She watches single men and women in their twenties ride all the rides, satisfying every impulse and craving, and then crash into reality, wishing they had lived for something more fulfilling, safer, and more significant.

In the end, they weren’t really living for freedom. They were using freedom to live for themselves. And the more recklessly and desperately they lived for themselves, the more miserable they made themselves. The purposelessness celebrated on college campuses, and by Hollywood, may make for a great laugh and a good time, but it is an empty and short-lived reason to live. That kind of “freedom” enslaves us to ourselves, robs us of the life it advertises, and undermines the real reason we were made — to know and glorify God by enjoying him as our greatest treasure and ambition.

There’s an intense and exhilarating thrill in the freefall — but the parachute never deploys.

A More Mature Tragedy

Psychologists like Jay observe, and warn against, the devastating trend: You’re going to regret this in your thirties and forties! It’s true, and she offers lots of good advice about making decisions now with our future in mind. Yet her message ultimately just relocates our little paradise to a different decade — one with a more fulfilling, better paying job, a good-looking and productive spouse, two children, financial security, and the freedom to enjoy our more mature hobbies.

We rightly trade away the twentysomething playschool tragedy, but only for a comfortable fortysomething middle-class tragedy. David Platt describes the same disaster when he says, “We live decent lives in decent homes with decent jobs and decent families as decent citizens” (Radical, 105). John Piper offers a similar warning:

If you could just have a good job with a good wife, or husband, and a couple of good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and a quick and easy death, and no hell — if you could have all that (even without God) — you would be satisfied. That is a tragedy in the making. A wasted life. (Don’t Waste Your Life)
We think we’re living the American Dream, but we’re entertaining and cushioning ourselves to death. We’re wasting the one precious life God has given us to live.

Paradise Found

While the world wastes away life — at twenty, or thirty, or seventy-five — we can live a different story about better news and a greater treasure. While everyone else is spending everything they have on something that will not last, we can quietly and confidently invest the little bit we have here into the infinite wealth we will inherit in heaven.

Platt says, “If Jesus is who he said he is, and if his promises are as rewarding as the Bible claims they are, then we may discover that satisfaction in our lives and success in the church are not found in what our culture deems most important but in radical abandonment to Jesus.”

The apostle Paul writes, “You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:2–3). All that looked so peaceful, secure, fun, and comfortable turned to hell in a moment — like being thrown into labor, but you had no idea you were even pregnant. And it never ends. You never escape.

But you don’t have to live for a peace and security that evaporates when you need it most. Paul continues,

Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:6–9)
It may look like we’re missing out for a few years here, but one day the whole world will see that we are the safest, richest, and happiest people who have ever lived, a people living for King Jesus.

Spend your twenties, forties, and eighties searching for more of that stability, freedom, and joy.


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Wanted: A Spouse Willing to Suffer

Wanted: A Spouse Willing to Suffer
Article by MaryLynn Johnson Topics: Suffering, Marriage
Wanted: A Spouse Willing to Suffer

Future husband wanted: A man who is compelled to live out the gospel in marriage through a willingness to embrace suffering.

You’ve probably heard of people creating a list of qualities they search for in a potential spouse. Kind, smart, funny, and attractive are characteristics people often rank at the top of their non-negotiables. But these lists usually miss one of the most important qualities in the life of one who follows God: a willingness to embrace suffering.

This is a radical call. Still, it’s critical if we want to pursue strong, Christ-centered marriages. Over the years, it has become even more important to me as I consider the possibility of being married someday.

Destined to Suffer Alone?

When I was a little girl, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that would significantly affect and limit me physically for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I entered my twenties that I began wondering how my condition might translate into marriage. I knew I wanted to be married eventually, but I hadn’t thought about whether my limitations, coupled with the challenges of living with a chronic illness, would make it impossible to attract a man.

Statistics show that adults not only have a decreased chance of marrying if they have a chronic illness or disability, but that those who do marry are much more likely to divorce. According to Focus on the Family, couples have a 75% chance of divorcing if a spouse is affected by chronic illness. Other sources report that 90% of couples divorce when they have a special needs child.

This speaks loudly on society’s perspective of sickness within marriage and family. It’s a sobering reminder that when it comes to seasons of difficulty, we’re not very good about coming close and sticking around. Instead, we tend to stay away from anything that could be challenging and uncomfortable.

Whenever a spouse or child is diagnosed with an illness, people are quick to declare it as something they “didn’t sign up for.”

So how do I, as a single disabled young woman, continue to look toward marriage when my life is the exact opposite of what everyone desires for their future? Someone would have to be willing to choose this life of dealing with illness and obstacles before he would ever consider marrying me. But the numbers aren’t in my favor. Most people do not willingly walk into, or stay in, circumstances of adversity.

When We Are Weak, We Are Strong

If we ever hope to radically infuse life support into marriages today, we have to transform our views of suffering and change how we respond. We must be challenged to shift our thinking away from evading adversity, and remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, as he recalls pleading with God for relief from the affliction he experienced in prison. Paul reacts to God’s words when he reminded him that Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A deeply intimate picture of Christ’s power is displayed in our lives through weakness and difficulty. God’s call to willingly submit to suffering for the sake of reflecting and sharing the gospel is undeniable. We often interpret this as persecution or martyrdom before writing it off as inapplicable to our daily lives. But the heart behind the message still speaks directly to our everyday afflictions, even if they seem trivial in comparison.

We’re asked to drastically alter our focus to see our trials of many kinds as pure joy while we move towards the mature and complete faith of which James speaks. God never commanded us to avoid or run away from suffering, but to understand the part it plays in the life of a Christ-follower.

Embracing Suffering Where We Are

The concept of encountering difficulties within marriage is not foreign to any couple. But these moments give us the opportunity to recognize that all of our circumstances are working together for good, and that we have been entrusted with the task of mirroring God’s Word through the process.

Sickness or disability does not have to be a part of a marriage to fully understand this poignancy. When we think about Christ’s willingness to endure ultimate suffering to be the gospel, it seems like such a small thing for him to ask us to faithfully live out any type of hardship with our spouse, so that together we could reflect his message of hope.

A man who is willing to suffer, someone worth marrying, will stand out from the crowd in the way his life and heart echoes Christ’s very own words, “Not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42). He’ll withhold nothing from God so that his life and marriage can be used for its primary purpose of bringing God glory, not merely his own happiness. He will be armed with the attitude that present sufferings are incomparable to the glory we will experience later (Romans 8:18).

Perhaps if we better understood the great calling and gift it is to suffer for the sake of sharing and reflecting the gospel, we may be more willing to submit instead of running away — especially as we enter into the covenant of marriage with a guarantee of adversity. May we step forward joyfully to experience the fullness and goodness of Christ through our suffering.

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MaryLynn Johnson (@MaryLynnJohnson) is a writer and blogger with a heart for ministry and using words to encourage others. Keep up with her at Letting Go of Why.


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You Don’t Need Your Perfect Church

Many worship leaders consider themselves artists. Translation: We are typically passionate, idealistic, opinionated, and sensitive.

We have specific ideas about how things should go and can let those preferences affect us deeply when things don’t go the way we hoped they would. While our convictions and zeal can be some of our greatest strengths, they can also set us up for a constant stream of frustration and dissatisfaction with the church.

And the potential for frustration with the church is by no means limited to worship leaders.

No Ideal Church

There is no ideal church. Churches are made up of and led by mere humans, finite and fallen. People are broken. You are broken. And this brokenness can lead to messiness and hurt.

We all want to “arrive” at our ideal church, whether it’s in ministry or as members. The problem is that it doesn’t exist. There may be a honeymoon phase when you arrive at a church, but before long, the conflicts and complications will arise.

Our great hope is not that someday we will arrive in this life at that perfect, ideal church. No, God has something much greater in mind. He wants to use those imperfect people, places, and positions to sanctify you toward the perfect image of his Son.

When We Are Weak

Paul knew how frustrating life and ministry can be. In 2 Corinthians 11, he speaks of all that he is suffering for the name of Jesus and the sake of the gospel, and after writing of all his beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and constant dangers, he says that he has to endure the “daily pressure of his anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

He recognized that it would be easy for him to boast in all the ways that God was using him. By all modern opinions, after all he had endured, he had certainly earned the right to settle into a comfortable position at one of the churches he had planted where he would be well thought of and well provided for.

And yet, he goes on to say that in spite of pleading with his Lord to stop the suffering, Jesus allowed it to continue in order to show the sufficiency of his grace and perfect his power in Paul’s weakness. Paul’s response is not to grumble and complain about it, but rather, he says,

I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon 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)

God at Work in the Madness

God is at work in your imperfect church, in your less-than-ideal situation. He is at work in your frustration and hurt. He is doing the work of making you more like Jesus, who was himself made complete through suffering (Hebrews 5:8–9).

Your imperfect church is God’s way of loving your idolatry out of you. He is showing you the fleeting, false hopes that are powerless to satisfy you. He is showing you all the things you are trusting in that will only let you down. And by his Holy Spirit, he is working to remove in you those things that are destroying your joy.

Are you constantly grumbling and complaining about your church? Look for the evidences of grace for which to thank God in your situation. Then make an honest assessment of how you are contributing to the frustration. Unrealistic expectations? Sinful elitism? Feeling that you have already arrived and don’t need people giving you any advice? Now is always the time to repent and believe the gospel.

Are you always discontent, waiting on the next big thing, dreaming about some ideal church you haven’t yet found? Take time to praise God for what he is doingnow. Then ask yourself why you struggle so much with contentment. Even if you got what you wanted, chances are you likely will still be looking for the next thing. Learn to be satisfied in Christ and then water where you are currently planted.

You’re Not as Good as You Think

Finally, ask yourself where you need to grow. None of us is as good as we think. Take inventory of your gifts. Ask wise council for honest feedback, and try to listen without getting offended. Don’t ask those who are just going to tell you what you want to hear, but those you know will shoot you straight. Sometimes the most thankful and contented people in the world simply lack the skills for certain roles of service. Find out where you can improve and do the hard work required to grow.

Whatever the reason God has you where you are right now, do not despise it. Embrace it as a gift from him. Even if everything seems senseless and you feel like you’re wasting your time, your wise and loving Savior is never clocked out or away on vacation. He is at work in and through you, shaping and sanctifying you until the day he returns. He is at work in your weakness, waiting to display his strength in ways that would never happen if he just gave you the perfect church.


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The Stampede of Secularism will not stop Conversions

A few weeks ago, I was talking with some pastors in England. In spite of the fact that Britain has been outpacing the United States in the usual signs of secularization, one of the pastors said that developments in the last couple years, even in Britain, have had a new effect on people in the church. It seems now to many believers that true Christians hold views so different from the culture that they wonder if anyone can be converted.

I think this is a common feeling. Will deeply secular people, with little or no Christian background, see the moral implications of following Christ as so unimaginable that they treat Christianity as equivalent to the Greek myths of Zeus and Hermes?

Here are three biblical perspectives that make that kind of pessimism unwarranted in the church.

1. God is always at work loosening individual people from the group-think of the prevailing culture of unbelief.

It is a mistake to look at the “culture” and assume that all the unbelieving people are in lockstep with the spirit of the age. In fact, someone’s child just died. Someone just found out he has cancer. Someone just lost his job at 55. Someone just had a terrifying dream about hell. Someone alone in a hotel room just happened to read the story of the prodigal son. Someone has just decided his life of self-indulgence is meaningless. Some young couple has just had a long conversation about the absence of moral standards to pass on to their children. Someone just felt a wave of guilt pass over his soul, and a deep sense that he is accountable to a Creator.

In other words, we make a huge mistake if we forget that people get saved one at a time as unique individuals, not as mere specimens of the “culture.” At any given moment in the secularization of our culture, God is at work in ten thousand ways to prepare particular individuals to hear the gospel.

When you get on a bus, or go to the gym, or stand on the sidelines of your child’s soccer game, the dozen other people there are not in lockstep with a monolithic secular culture. There are a hundred other things going on in their lives, and you never know (until you probe) whether five of these factors are actually making them disillusioned with the very culture you think is enslaving them. Don’t think of people as specimens of culture. Think of them as individual people that Providence may well be leading to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Take heart from the way the New Testament paints both with big brush strokes of cultural darkness, and in fine brush strokes of individual conversions. Paul knew he was entering enemy-held territory every time he went to a new city. “The prince of the power of the air was at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). The “god of this age” was blinding all unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4). It was an “evil age” (Galatians 1:4). And Peter described this world as “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3). None of these broad brush strokes are favorable for fruitful evangelism.

But then there are the fine brush strokes of amazing conversions in this impossibly dark culture:

Zacchaeus — the apostate, thieving, tax-collector — strangely desirous of seeing Jesus (Luke 19:1–8).
Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager (Luke 8:3).
The Ethiopian Eunuch, who just happened to be reading Isaiah 53 when Philip just happened to come by (Acts 8:26–40).
Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman military man pursued by God through Peter’s stunning midday vision (Acts 10).
Saul, who shared in the killing of angelic Stephen, and who breathed out threats and murder against Christians (Acts 9).
Sergius Paulus, an intelligent Roman Proconsul of Cyprus (Acts 13:7–8).
Lydia, a well-to-do business woman (Acts 16:11–15).
An unnamed, demon-possessed slave girl (Acts 16:16–18).
A Roman jailer (Acts 16:25–34).
And, amazingly, people in the very household of Caesar (Philippians 4:22).
God saves individuals. None of them is merely a product of sensual, spiritualistic, or secular culture. God is at work loosening thousands and thousands from the group-think of the secular media or any other pretenders to cultural hegemony.

2. Initial animosity from secular people may be a prelude to their awakening.

In other words, don’t assume that a person’s initial negative response to the truth you speak, and the life you live, is their last word.

The apostle Peter knew that this is not always the case. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). First they speak against your “evil deeds,” and then they glorify God because of those deeds. There is a time lapse. For example, someone may “speak against” your view of homosexual practice, but then finally realize you are not hateful after all, but a servant of the weak.

Again Peter says, “Have a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:16). So, some secular person starts by slandering you as a Christian. This seems evangelistically hopeless. But it’s not. They may, by God’s grace, be put to shame by your “good behavior.”

What makes the difference? The will of God. “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17). “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). The sovereign will of God is not a cause for fatalism, but a crucial source of hope that secular people will turn from slander to shame, and finally to faith. One by one it happened in the first century, and it will happen in ours.

3. It is no harder for God to raise the spiritually dead in Post-Christian America than it was in Puritan America. Dead is dead.

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4–5). Calvinists should be the most aggressive and hopeful evangelists in this “impossible” cultural moment.

We believe that the rich young man was hopelessly enslaved to his money. Only a miracle of sovereign grace could bring him to faith. Jesus said the conversion of this money-saturated secularist was as likely as a camel going through the eye of a needle. His disciples responded, “Then who can be saved?” To this Jesus said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:26–27). Faith is impossible for the spiritually dead. In this generation, and every generation. But not with God.

The difference between the Calvinist view of salvation and other views is that the Calvinist believes God is the decisive cause in the creation of faith. Other views believe God can “influence” or “nudge” or “invite” or “prod” or “spur” the human will toward faith. But one central mark of Calvinism is the belief that God can and does overcome all the resistance in his elect, and create in their hearts the gift of faith. He is not just a cause, but the decisive cause. We are not.

Therefore, it is no harder for God to save people today than it ever has been. Evangelistic despair or cowardice in the face of a deeply secular culture is wholly out of place in the Christian church because . . .

God is always at work loosening individual people from the group-think of the prevailing culture of unbelief.

The initial animosity from secular people may well be a prelude to their awakening.

And it is no harder for God to raise the spiritually dead in Post-Christian America than it was in Puritan America.

John Piper


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God’s Math for Good Mothering

Math is not my forte. As an English major in college I tried to get out of as many math credits as possible. It wasn’t always the concepts that frustrated me; it was the process. All the long complicated steps it took to solve one problem overwhelmed me.

I have one big math problem taking over my life right now; namely, potty training my two-year-old. I just want the problem solved and don’t want to deal with the process. It’s hard to navigate all the failures, setbacks, and change. Yet, potty training is just a taste of the larger process of the Christian life. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says,

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I believe parenthood is one of the good works God has prepared for me to walk in. And yet, not all of my days feel all that good.

I get angry at my oldest son when he disobeys. I’m annoyed when the baby interrupts my morning cup of coffee. I fight to not view my children as inconveniences in my life. In summary, I am not the perfect parent. But I know one who is.

A Better Mother Than Me

God is the only one who models perfect parenthood to us and to our children. God says he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). I love my son, but because of sin in my life, I don’t love him perfectly. Sometimes I might discipline him out of anger.

It is not so with God. His motives are always pure, and his reproof always comes from an overflow of love. His shepherd’s staff is a rod of blessing bent for our highest good. As human parents, we are not always discerning enough to know what the highest good is for our children, but we can rest in the all-knowing God who guides us according to his perfect wisdom.

God Never Gives Up

Not only is God perfect in his discipline, but he’s perfect in patience. I thought I was a patient person until motherhood revealed my true colors. My children know how to push my buttons, but God isn’t fazed by pushed buttons. No matter what sinful attitudes and behaviors we throw at him, he never throws them back, but absorbs them.

He is the God who bore with generation after generation of Israel’s rebellion. They worshiped a golden calf, complained, and over and over didn’t trust their heavenly Father, and yet he carried them into the Promised Land. Unlike me in my mothering, he never gives up and never gives in.

A Message More Important Than Mothering

So, how should parents respond to falling short of God’s perfection?

Paul says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
We cannot boast, so it should bring us to our knees in humility. No amount of parental advice and methods can make us perfect for our children. We must be humble and full of grace, because we are more like our children than we are like our heavenly Father. Parents and children are both wrought with weakness and needy for grace.

We must be humble as we train our children — apologizing when we do wrong, admitting our sin, and asking for their help. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, only a repentant one. We can live out the gospel with our children every day by showing them what it’s like to die to our sin. We can confess and pursue change before them, while being brought to life in the joy of forgiveness. We can model being gladly obedient while resting in the assurance of our already attained perfection through Christ’s death and resurrection. When we choose to humble ourselves before our children, we are living out the gospel they need far more than they need us.

The Mother’s Simple, Yet Difficult Math

If perfection has been attained for us through Christ already, then why does Paul say in the very next verse, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10)?

Now that we have Christ’s perfection protecting us from God’s wrath, we can embrace the process of becoming more like Christ. Our works are now passed on through the nail-pierced hands of Christ to the throne of God. Therefore, we can bring him glory in our homes, not perfectly by any means, but humbly and even powerfully. We can be confident that, though we fail, God will see to it through the Holy Spirit that we walk in good works too.

As parents, our works will never make us good enough for God or our children. Once we believe this truth, we can walk in the fullness of God’s good works for us. He has saved us for these works — the gentle, but firm discipline for disobedience, the willingness to be interrupted and sacrificed for our little ones, the patience and persistence in the face of inconvenience. We must embrace the process of becoming what we already are until we are complete in God’s presence.

Mothers, the biggest math problem in history has already been solved for us, but God is still calling us to the tough job of working out that problem every day.

Elizabeth Wann


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Injury Interrupted my Idolatry

If you struggle to believe God loves you, and God just keeps bringing trials into your life, don’t panic. They’re more related than you realize.

I hobbled on one crutch to grip my cell phone from my back pocket. I was a starter for the New York Knicks and then the Toronto Raptors. And then I got injured, and then injured again, and then injured again. An elbow, a hand, a hip — an unholy trinity that slowly, progressively, and painfully dragged away my ability to play basketball for several seasons. My dream, my deepest desire, my identity were all suddenly in danger. It felt like life had been written in dry-erase marker, and God came and smudged what had been clear before. Once a star basketball player in Madison Square Garden, and now through three years of unplanned, unwanted physical issues, in my house straining just to check my phone.

John Piper’s tweet grabbed my attention: “NFL player Garrett Gilkey blew out his knee last night. He writes about God’s ‘grand and glorious sovereignty.’” Click. Like a rescue worker down in a sunken-in mine, God seized my soul from the death of sin and despair.

What Is God Doing?

I’ve never struggled to believe in God. But I’ve lived a lot of my life as a person who believes in God, but lives as if he doesn’t exist. I already had a “gospel” of my own — the promise that love and wealth are the world’s to give to the popular and gifted. I didn’t need to trust God, because I already trusted another god: the NBA.

Three years ago, Christ slowly started to change all of that. God gave me a gift through multiple season-ending injuries. In the same way that God gifted Garrettjoy through his suffering, God gifted me faith through my suffering.

That’s how God works. He never wastes a drop of pain. If you’re in the midst of suffering — especially if it’s long-term, complex, or confusing — here are three gifts of faith that grow out of suffering in ways that will last (1 Corinthians 3:15).

A True Faith

Through suffering, God molds in us “godly sorrow that brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow is the funeral that God puts on for our idols. God lets us feel the pain of loss so that we can experience the joy of him carrying our burdens (Matthew 11:30).

Suffering is the hook that God uses to bring us back to himself, collapsed and tired from slaving for sin, which Jonathan Edwards calls our “cruel task-master, which oppresses and chastises.” It’s the earthquake that exposes idols and dethrones sin in our hearts. When I was playing for the Knicks, I knew God existed and disapproved of the life I was living (overindulging in alcohol and sexual promiscuity), but I preached a gospel of cheap grace to make myself feel better. With the injuries, God exposed that I was relying on something other than grace painted to look like grace — a cheap grace that was as useful for my suffering as a cardboard cutout of Jesus.

When the injuries came, I started reading Scripture. I had the odd, unsettling thought, “I don’t think I’m really saved.” I read in James, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). My casual Christianity needed to be told, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” (James 2:19).

God dims the light of our life with suffering, so that our hearts embrace a grace that really sustains. Suffering is a time to mourn the loss of that which could never save.

A Better Hope

Like a meticulous watchmaker, God folded true faith into me through the creases of suffering, through all of the injuries, the waiting, and the disappointment. Not all at once, but day after day, over the course of years, God brought new clarity. The joy that God gives in suffering is a game-changer. It changes pain. It drastically transforms the first sixty seconds of your day. It course-corrects the next sixty years of your life.

My three years (and counting) of injuries have given me a chance to see just how much basketball was my gospel. By God’s grace, he’s transforming me into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). My suffering made me ask, “Why would I put all my joy, hope, and future in something that won’t last?” The only thing that lasts in this life is Christ. I started putting all my joy, hope, and life in God’s hands.

A Humble Heart

I call my first season of injuries, “The Wilderness.” Three years ago, I was getting injured on the court. And off the court, my girlfriend became pregnant. By God’s grace, now she’s my wife, but we had only been dating for a few months at the time. At the time, I didn’t know what to do.

God has made life harder for me than I ever would have chosen for myself. And he has made life happier for me than I ever could have chosen for myself as a selfish, short-minded sinner.

Through suffering, God gives us humility. When I first started getting injured, I prayed, “God, leave it up to me, and leave me alone.” Now, I pray, “Thank you, Lord, for doing this and driving me back to you.” Suffering magnifies Christ to me, and in me, and through me. I’m thankful for my injured elbow, hand, and hip, because they make me depend on God in a way that I never would have without them.

The Blessing of Brokenness

Suffering is beautiful because it sets us free. Now, my wife is a believer. We’re raising our son to love Jesus. God’s continuing his work on my heart through the latest hip surgery. My faith is in a God who is sovereign, who is sanctifying me, and who gives me the gift of himself through sufferings and joys in this life.

Suffering has made the gospel real to me. And God will use suffering to make the gospel real to you too. If you’re going through something painful or difficult, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t paying attention or doesn’t care. It means God wants to win you to true faith in him, a better hope in his salvation, and deep humility and joy in his grace.


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So-Called Same-Sex Marriage: Lamenting the New Calamity

Jesus died so that heterosexual and homosexual sinners might be saved. Jesus created sexuality, and has a clear will for how it is to be experienced in holiness and joy.
His will is that a man might leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and that the two become one flesh (Mark 10:6–9). In this union, sexuality finds its God-appointed meaning, whether in personal-physical unification, symbolic representation, sensual jubilation, or fruitful procreation.
For those who have forsaken God’s path of sexual fulfillment, and walked into homosexual intercourse or heterosexual extramarital fornication or adultery, Jesus offers astonishing mercy.
Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)
But today this salvation from sinful sexual acts was not embraced. Instead there was massive institutionalization of sin.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States of America has ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage.
The Bible is not silent about such decisions. Alongside its clearest explanation of the sin of homosexual intercourse (Romans 1:24–27) stands the indictment of the approval and institutionalization of it. Though people know intuitively that homosexual acts (along with gossip, slander, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness) are sin, “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32). “I tell you even with tears, that many glory in their shame” (Philippians 3:18–19).
This is what the highest court in our land did today — knowing these deeds are wrong, “yet approving those who practice them.”
My sense is that we do not realize what a calamity is happening around us. The new thing — new for America, and new for history — is not homosexuality. That brokenness has been here since we were all broken in the fall of man. (And there is a great distinction between the orientation and the act — just like there is a great difference between my orientation to pride and the act of boasting.)
What’s new is not even the celebration and approval of homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior has been exploited, and reveled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia. What’s new is normalization and institutionalization. This is the new calamity.
My main reason for writing is not to mount a political counter-assault. I don’t think that is the calling of the church as such. My reason for writing is to help the church feel the sorrow of these days. And the magnitude of the assault on God and his image in man.
Christians, more clearly than others, can see the tidal wave of pain that is on the way. Sin carries in it its own misery: “Men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:27).
And on top of sin’s self-destructive power comes, eventually, the final wrath of God: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5–6).
Christians know what is coming, not only because we see it in the Bible, but because we have tasted the sorrowful fruit of our own sins. We do not escape the truth that we reap what we sow. Our marriages, our children, our churches, our institutions — they are all troubled because of our sins.
The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We don’t institutionalize them. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness and help. We cry to Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
And in our best moments, we weep for the world, and for our own nation. In the days of Ezekiel, God put a mark of hope “on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 9:4).
This is what I am writing for. Not political action, but love for the name of God and compassion for the city of destruction.
“My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” (Psalm 119:136)

 

by John Piper


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God’s Purpose for the Supreme Court — And Everything Else

Jesus Christ is hard at work (John 5:17) and this is what he’s up to:
I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)
Jesus is working hard to gather the rest of his sheep that he “bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28) and that are “scattered abroad” (John 11:52). This gathering is the main work that is happening in the world. All the great geopolitical events in the world are connected to this mission, though the world doesn’t know it.
But the church on earth, the sheep that are in the fold already, must remember this truth.
It’s what history is all about and it’s why we are still here, participating in this work with him.
It’s why God installs and removes rulers.
It’s why economies surge and crash.
It’s why church planting and missionary doors open and close.
It’s why gospel awakening breaks out in one place and persecution breaks out in another.
And as Jesus’s mission moves steadily toward its fulfillment, he tells us what we are to expect:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9–14)
We can be at peace despite major cultural shifts, moral decline, political upheaval, war, natural disasters, disease, and increasing hostility to the gospel (Romans 8:35) because we know that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37), through him who loved us to the point of his own death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). And we know that all these things “must take place” (Matthew 24:6). All that is happening right now, no matter how concerning and God-belittling and destructive, will not prevent, but in fact will have some role in facilitating, the gospel proclamation throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.
As the official defenders of American justice codify immorality as the law of the land, God wants us to stir up our minds (2 Peter 3:1) — to remember — so that we don’t lose sight of the gospel and the real purpose of history. Remembering what’s really going on is what keeps us from losing heart and hope and retreating into our private escapes and growing cynical. Jesus died to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and he is relentlessly seeking each one he’s determined to save (Luke 19:10) until the full number has come in (Romans 11:25).
So despite the appropriate grief we experience over the new calamity, we can abound in hope (Romans 15:13). Because what’s really going on is that Jesus is bringing in all his sheep, and they will listen to his voice. And then the end will come.

 

By Jon Bloom

 


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