Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rest Your Soul in 'The Simplicity of Purity of Devotion to Christ'

By: Dr. Don Whitney
Don is the Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality and Senior Associate Dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as the Director of The Center for Biblical Spirituality.  Read more about Don here.  The following is an excerpt he provided from his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO.: NavPress, 2003).

In the early morning dim of March 29, 1849, a sympathetic storekeeper in Richmond, Virginia nailed the lid on a crate containing a slave. A two-hundred pound man had folded himself into a wooden box just three feet, one inch long, two feet wide, and two-and-a-half feet deep. Cramped in a suffocating darkness, the slave endured—often upside down—a grueling three hundred and fifty mile shipment via railroad freight car, steamboat, and wagon. Twenty-seven hours later in a Philadelphia abolitionist's office, Henry "Box" Brown emerged from his coffinlike confinement to begin life as a free man. The news of his stunning appearance encouraged the hopes of freedom in countless slaves.
Everyone is born a slave of sin. Jesus Christ said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). We cannot free ourselves from this oppressive master, for no one can live without sinning against God. But the sinless Jesus—not for His own sake, but for others—came from Heaven to deliver His people. Jesus allowed godless men to nail Him to a Roman cross, and three days later rose from the dead so that "we should no longer be slaves of sin" (Romans 6:6). And all those who trust in His work (and not their own) as the way to freedom will find emancipation from sin. "Therefore," declared Jesus, "if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).

I wonder if Henry Brown ever suffered nightmares of being back in his box? I do know that Christians—though freed from the penalty of all sin and declared righteous in God's sight—sometimes feel a spiritual claustrophobia. It's almost as though they've returned to the bondage that enslaved them before they knew Jesus. Sinful choices and activities can cause God's forgiven people to feel this way. But there are other reasons why believers may not be breathing the sweet air of spiritual freedom.

If you feel boxed-in spiritually, perhaps it's because you've experienced what the Apostle Paul feared for the souls of some: "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). Paul's readers had been distracted by the message of "another Jesus" (verse 4). In other words, men had come preaching about Jesus, but spoke of Him differently than the Apostle Paul. Many think that false teachers had told them about Christ in a way that caused them to look less to Jesus and more to their own good deeds and spirituality. As they did so, they were "led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ."

Whenever this happens to a Christian, his spiritual life soon becomes burdensome. He feels "back in the box" of slavery to duties that bring no joy. Instead of refreshing and ravishing his soul with the love of Christ, his spirituality seems complicated, unfulfilling, and feels like just "one more thing to do" in an overbusy life. And so, if you recognize yourself in this bondage, rest your soul afresh in "the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." Look to Him to be the satisfaction of what God requires from you. Rediscover your spiritual practices as means of experiencing and enjoying Christ, and not a mere checklist of requirements to keep.

But other readers who feel boxed-in spiritually, so far as they know their own hearts, have kept their eyes on Christ alone, not only to make them right with God, but also to keep them right with God. And yet the responsibilities of life have become so overwhelming that even the habits of their spirituality only seem to add to the burden and complexity of their weary existence. Spiritually they're as dry and rootless as a tumbleweed. If this is you, it's my prayer that your devotion to Christ will become more simple and pure. And as it does, may you feel the refreshing return of the gentleness and love of Christ in your soul.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gospel on Their Lips

By: Adam McClendon

Acts 11:19–20 says: 19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.

Sometimes, I read over these passages far too quickly and I miss remarkably convicting material.  Recently, I was studying this passage.  As I thought deeply on these two verses, I was simply reminded that these people were not formal missionaries.  No, they were just ordinary believers who were running for their lives.  They had left everything behind in Jerusalem.  They had possibly lost loved ones, possibly their businesses, most definitely their homes.  And, yet, as they are displaced, the text reveals that they are talking about Jesus and spreading his good news.

Remarkable!  These early believers understood that their purpose in life was to spread the good news, and they had bought into that purpose with such conviction that even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances of life, they are living with the gospel on their lips.  That convicts and motivates me.

All too often, I find myself so focused on my circumstances that I miss the reality that God has brought people into my path who need to hear the good news that Jesus loves them, has died and risen for them, and wants to restore them in relationship with God the Father. 

As I thought about the example of these early believers living life with the gospel on their lips, I was reminded of a man I met several years ago.  He worked at a body shop and painted automobiles; although, I did not know that at the time.  We met and began to talk.  In the course of the conversation, it came out that we were both believers in Jesus Christ.  I then asked him what he did at the body shop.  He curiously looked around and then slowly leaned in with a “Shhhh.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’m an evangelist disguised as an auto-painter.” 

What an amazing understanding that all Christians are all called, in the midst of all circumstances, to go forward with the gospel on their lips.

God of all glory, I confess that I all too often forget to talk about Jesus.  It’s not intentional; I just get so caught up in my circumstances that I forget that I’m called for the specific purpose of being a witness of your good news.  Please forgive me and help me to go forward with the gospel on my lips regardless of the circumstances life brings.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fear of the Lord

By: Adam McClendon

Poor Job!  Have you ever read about his life and just thought, “Man, I’m glad I’m not him.”  He had it so tough, and to top it off, he had a wife telling him to curse God and die, and three well intentioned friends inaccurately telling him that he was suffering due to sin in his life. 

In 28:1-11, Job explains that humankind are masters at finding treasures of ore, iron, copper, gold and the like in the earth, but the greatest treasure any person can find is wisdom.  But where can wisdom be obtained (28:12-27)?  In answering the question, Job declares: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (28:28).

Here is what I find puzzling.  “How does a reverential fear of the Lord help bring perspective in the midst of suffering?”  In pondering that question, I think three key things are happening when I focus on a righteous fear of the Lord in the midst of my suffering.

1.    It causes me to acknowledge that he is God and I’m not.

Okay, I agree, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it is also true.  In Job, God is the providential, sovereign Lord over all.  Nothing happens without it passing through his good hands.  Life is not random, it is not coincidental, because God is not random.  He is creator God and has the right to ordain events or allow events as he sees fit.

2.    It realigns the system so that I understand that I report to him, and not the other way around.

I’m the servant.  The servant doesn’t gripe to the master because he doesn’t like the task assigned to him.  A true servant serves the purposes of the master to push forward the master’s will at the expense of the servant’s.

3.    It humbles me to know that there are mysterious purposes beyond my limited perspective.

Just because I don’t understand and can’t see the purpose doesn’t mean that one does not exist.  I may not even experience the goodness of the purpose in my lifetime.  Job may have never known the purpose for which he suffered, yet millions of people have been encouraged by his story of faith and of failure.

In the end, a fear of the Lord brings wisdom.  Why?  Because, as I appropriately gaze at God as the sovereign and just Lord that he is, I find a humbling perspective that life is not just about me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Five Reasons Why Partiality is Unbiblical

By Pastor Brian G. Najapfour
Brian G. Najapfour is Pastor at Dutton United Reformed Church and author.
For a brief bio on Brian see: http://biblicalspirituality.wordpress.com/brief-bio/.

In the first half of the second chapter of James, the author deals with the problem of partiality or favoritism in the church. James says in verse one: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” The Greek word for partiality in this verse means “to make unjust distinctions between people by treating one person better than another.” The key word in this definition is the word “unjust,” because to make distinctions between people by treating one person better than another is not necessarily sinful. For example, I treat my wife better than other women. Is it sinful for me to treat my wife better than other women? Absolutely not! In fact, it is just right that I treat my wife better than other women. Therefore, when we say partiality, we mean an unjust discrimination between people by considering one person better than another.

To illustrate partiality, James writes in verses 2-4:

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine [bright/shinning] clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby [dirty/filthy] clothing also comes in, and if you [ushers] pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

In this passage James is addressing professing Christians who treat some people better than others because of their status in life. Notice that favoritism could be financial in nature. One commentator notes that “in its early days the Church was predominantly poor and humble; and therefore if a rich man was converted, and did come to the Christian fellowship, there must have been a very real temptation to make a fuss of him, and to treat him as a special trophy for Christ.” How sad that even today there are Christians who prefer to fellowship with the wealthy rather than with the poor. Usually, the destitute are forgotten while the rich are favored. Some ministers visit the well-to-do and neglect the poverty-stricken members of their church. They like to visit members who can help them in return. The Bible does not approve this kind of practice.

James provides at least five reasons why partiality is unbiblical:

1.    It is inconsistent with God’s command: “show not partiality” (v. 1). One version puts verse one this way: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (NAS). In other words, do not profess your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and discriminate against the poor. Claiming to be Christian yet not caring for the poor is contradictory to God’s Word.

2.    It is inconsistent with our religion in Christ: “my brothers” (v. 1). Our religion, biblical Christianity, teaches us that as believers in Christ we are all equal in God’s sight. We are brothers and sisters in the Lord. We belong to the same family of God in which partiality does not exist. We are all sinners saved by God’s grace alone. In God’s family, no one can say that he or she is more important than others. I remember attending a conference in British Columbia in 2009. One of the speakers was Jerry Bridges, who was 80 years old at that time. Bridges is known for his classic book—The Pursuit of Holiness. Bridges mentioned something that struck me. He said, “What differs us from others is nothing but the grace of God.”

3.    It is inconsistent with the gospel: “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). In the Bible the gospel and the person of Jesus Christ are sometimes used interchangeably. For example, in Mark 1:14-15 we read, “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” Then when the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?,” Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31). Now this glorious gospel by which sinners can be saved is offered to all kinds of people—rich or poor, Jews or gentiles. God does not confine the gospel to Israel. He offers His Son to all nations. And God will give anyone who receives His Son the right to become His child (John 1:12). 

4.    It is inconsistent with God’s character: “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world” (v. 5). As far as salvation is concerned, God did not choose us on the basis of our status in life. God does not save people according to their economic, physical, racial, or social condition. Talking to his countrymen, Moses writes,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you (Deut. 7:6-8).

If you are a believer, God has chosen you in Christ on the basis of His unconditional love alone. Therefore, do not just pay special attention to the likable people. Show love even to the less fortunate.

5.    It is inconsistent with the royal law: “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 8). Now the professing believers who practice partiality might say to James, “Well, the reason why we treat the rich with special respect is because we love them. In fact, we are just fulfilling the royal law: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In verse eight James responds to their justification of their unchristian practice of favoritism: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture…you are doing well.” In other words, if you truly observe the royal law, then you are pleasing the Lord. But the truth is you are not really keeping the royal law because of your partiality toward the rich. You do not show love to your poor neighbors.