Doubling Down on Decay

‘You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?’
— James 4:4

In a most insightful blog in The Masculinist, author Aaron Renn takes up the issue of the American evangelical church and why we lack powerful impact in our culture. He writes of positive world Christianity, neutral world Christianity, and negative world Christianity. In the positive world of American Christianity, prior to 1994, the church was seen in a relatively positive light. To be a Christian then was to enhance one’s career or standing in the community. Christians were largely respected. To join an evangelical church or prominently to display a Bible on one’s desk was good for business.

The approach of church ministry then was to address the issues of the day in the church and world in a direct , sometimes highly combatative manner. It was during these years that the seeker sensitive approach to ministry (think Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church) was embraced by so many, largely because there was a basic friendliness by the world toward Christianity.

Some of the major players in the days of the positive view of the church were Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Both men spoke directly, boldly, and passionately about the moral and political issues of their day. When Colorado Senator, Gary Hart, running for the Democratic nomination for President in 1988, was reported by the Miami Herald of cavorting with a young woman named Donna Rice on a yacht, the outcry was so great that Hart was forced to drop out of the race.

From 1994 to 2014, however, the American evangelical church was viewed in a neutral light. To be a Christian was more of a neutral attribute. It may not help your career but it certainly wouldn’t hurt it either. The neutral world of Christianity gave rise to urban church types, what we might call hipsters. They said that they were apolitical but most leaned left in their political viewpoint. These pastors and churches sought to avoid highlighting any social or political issue which would bring Christianity into conflict with the world Consequently most of these pastors had no trouble championing opposition to racism and bigotry or sex trafficking, but were reluctant to speak on the horrors of abortion. Renn observes that Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, perfectly fits this description.

From 2014 to the present, however, a new view of the church has arisen. We now find ourselves in a negative view of Christianity. Being a Christian today, especially in larger, more hip cities, is usually a huge social negative. Try expressing your opposition to same sex unions in the board room and see where that takes you. While being a Christian in the positive church era was an enhancement of one’s career; and while being a Christian in a neutral view of the church may not help someone, it certainly would not hurt him either; we now have the negative view of the church where people openly and violently reject Biblical views on marriage, child rearing, business, law, economics, and politics.

To summarize — if the positive church world celebrated traditional norms on marriage, family, church, and government; and the neutral church tolerated these Biblical norms; now the negative church world repudiates them. We have moved from celebration to toleration to repudiation. And those church leaders who were loved by the neutral view of Christianity are now facing repudiation by those who embrace the negative view of Christianity. Tim Keller, for example, was recently uninvited from giving lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary because he embraces traditional marriage between one man and one woman.

Well, with these things in mind, what shall we do to reach our western world where so many are violently, militantly opposed to Christianity? It seems that so many are like sharks in the water which smell blood. They are in a feeding frenzy.

To retreat, as though we are in exile, is not the answer. Our model is always Jesus and the apostles. Though living and proclaiming the truth in the days of both meant that those loving righteousness were in a severe minority, Jesus and Paul never retreated. They constantly moved forward preaching the kingdom of God. It does not mean exchanging evangelism and discipleship for political action on the right. To engage in political process is our right and political ction on the right. To engage in the political process is our right and duty and we ought to follow Biblical norms when doing so, but these efforts must never supersede preaching the gospel of grace to all, regardless of their political, moral, or spiritual positions on anything. But it also does not mean accommodation with the left on issues like economics, government, same sex unions, abortion, or transgenderism. The more ‘progressive’ pastors continue to act like they still live in the neutral world of Christianity, then the more they will move to the left, eventually falling into theological apostasy.

Well then, what is the answer? We must double down on decay. We must be bold, intentional, fearless, considering friendship with the world as hostility towards God. We are not to sccumb to the harlotry of desiring the praise of men. Paul gloried in the cross of Christ. The world was crucified to him. He willingly embraced his stature before men — a slave, a spectacle, a fool, the scum of the earth and the dregs of all things. Give up the debilitating Siren song — the smile of man toward what we say or do.

More than ever, we must pray, living out the practical implications of Calvinism — that no one understands, no one seeks for God, none are righteous; and unless God by His sheer mercy and grace moves on people to convict them and regenerate them, then there is no hope at all of societal change orimpact. We need open air preaching more than ever. Open air preachers need to double down. We need more, not less of them. We need people moving out of their comfort zones, from behind the battle lines of our churches and coffee shops, and take to the streets where lost people live, work, play, and die. We need real men who are steadfast, immovable, who are always aboutnding in the work of the Lord. We need evangelists and preachers of every kind who are willing to be fools for Jesus’ sake, who are willing to suffer ridicule, rejection, and accusation in order to reach out to those who are hopelessly lost without Jesus, who are living without God in this world , and who, unless God intervenes in sheer mercy, have only the prospect of a fathomless, shoreless, graceless eternity in the lake of fire, which is the second death.

– Al Baker

All is Mercy

It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

Let us make crystal clear at the beginning of the year that all we will get from God this year, as believers in Jesus, is mercy. Whatever pleasures or pains come our way will all be mercy.

This is why Christ came into the world: “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:9). We were born again “according to his great mercy” (1 Peter 1:3). We pray daily “that we may receive mercy” (Hebrews 4:16); and we are now “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). If any Christian proves trustworthy, it is “by the Lord’s mercy [he] is trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).

In Luke 17:5–6, the apostles plead with the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In other words, the issue in our Christian life and ministry is not the strength or quantity of our faith, because that is not what uproots trees. God does. Therefore, the smallest faith that truly connects us with Christ will engage enough of his power for all you need.
But what about the times that you successfully obey the Lord? Does your obedience move you out of the category of supplicant of mercy? Jesus gives the answer in the following verses of Luke 17:7–10.

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Therefore, I conclude, the fullest obedience and the smallest faith obtain the same thing from God: mercy. A mere mustard seed of faith taps into the mercy of God’s tree-moving power. And flawless obedience leaves us utterly dependent on mercy.
The point is this: Whatever the timing or form of God’s mercy, we never rise above the status of beneficiaries of mercy. We are always utterly dependent on what we do not deserve.

Therefore let us humble ourselves and rejoice and “glorify God for his mercy!”
– John Piper

Short Prayers

Prayer does not have to be eloquent; in fact, the Bible seems to teach the opposite, both in precept and in example. Psalm 17 is a wonderful example of short, ejaculatory prayers, where the Psalmist simply asks God to act with brief descriptive phrases.

God does not need our information to fill Him in on any emergency situation; He does not need our commentary to enlighten Him, our counsel to direct Him, or our wisdom to help Him. Let’s just be laying hold of Him for His help in time of need. Useless words or an over-abundant amount of words often cloud the simplify and reality of prayer. We have all probably felt the tension of some people praying with such detail, that one gets the feeling that 90% of the prayer is giving God information, educating Him about the details that He apparently doesn’t have.

Why do that? “Lord, Thou knowest.” That is all that is truly needed. Get down to business–cut to the chase. The Psalmist does this, when he gets down to asking what he desires for the Lord to actually do. How much of our praying is informing God needlessly and how much is actually asking Him to move and work? Hear the Psalmist–

“Give ear” (vs. 1) Just hear me, Lord; give me your attention. God is not hard of hearing or inattentive, but rather expressing this in prayer is actually the Psalmist’s help in focusing on the reality that God is hearing. It often quickens faith to consciously express, “Lord, hear me now; give ear, O Lord; I desire you to hear and answer.”

“Keep me” (vs. 8) An all-encompassing prayer; what all would this imply or include? The Psalmist doesn’t even know; it covers much and its application is far-reaching. But God knows how to apply such a prayer in whatever way is truly needed. “Keep me, Lord.”

“Hide me” (vs. 8) Hide me from what? From whatever I need to be hid from; God knows what that is; from sin, from evil men, from the way of the enemy, from traps, from what ails me spiritually, from what is not good for me. Hide me safe in that shelter of rest, hide me under the shadow of Thy wings. Hiding is the act of shielding and protecting. God is a great hiding place.

“Arise, O Lord” (vs. 13) Lord, it seems it is time for You to act. Arise, move, speak, work, intervene, and save. When God arises, anything can happen–an act of judgment or an act of deliverance and salvation. But when He arises, things always happen. He knows what He will do when He responds to the cries of one of HIs children–“Arise!”

“Deliver” (vs. 13) Deliver my life, deliver her, deliver him, deliver them, deliver our church from the enemy’s working; O, God, deliver us! What all must happen for deliverance to come? How can it happen and what will it take? It doesn’t matter; that is not for us to know. What is for us to know that we can and should call out for deliverance. Only God is the true Deliverer. David often called God his deliverer. David’s God is our God.

When will we actually believe that God knows our hearts, knows the situation, knows what needs to be done, and doesn’t need us to school him about everything? He knows, He loves, He is hearing us, He knows exactly how, when, and where to apply our praying in its answer. Our knowledge is not ultimately important at all for the answer to come. Our asking is what is important.

Short prayers are marvelous, often the most powerful prayers. Use them today in whatever way comes to mind; It is a glorious reality to realize that we don’t have to know all it would mean for God to give ear or keep or hide us, or to arise and deliver; let’s stop informing God with an over-abundance of details, and increase our humble importunity in pleading with Him through simplicity and faith. He hears when we call, even when it is short and sweet praying; in fact, especially when it is short and sweet praying.

– Mack Tomlinson

What is the Bible?

This book contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.

Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy.

It contains light to direct you, food to strengthen you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter.

Here heaven is opened, and the gates of hell closed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.

Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of life. It will be opened at the judgment, and is established forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

Toys are broken, machines are broken, buildings are broken, contracts are broken, but the Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). It is more sure than the sun in the sky (Matt. 24:35). It makes me want to shout it from the housetops!

Equipped and Empowered

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21)

Christ shed the blood of the eternal covenant. By this successful redemption, he obtained the blessing of his own resurrection from the dead. That is even clearer in Greek than it is in English, and here it’s clear enough: “God . . . brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus . . . by the blood of the eternal covenant.” This Jesus — raised by the blood of the covenant — is now our living Lord and Shepherd.
And because of all that, God does two things:

he equips us with everything good that we may do his will, and
he works in us that which is pleasing in his sight.

The “eternal covenant,” secured by the blood of Christ, is the new covenant. And the new covenant promise is this: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Therefore, the blood of this covenant not only secures God’s equipping us to do his will, but also secures God working in us to make that equipping successful.
The will of God is not just written on stone or paper as a means of grace. It is worked in us. And the effect is: We feel and think and act in ways more pleasing to God.

We are still commanded to use the equipment he gives: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” But more importantly we are told why: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13).
If we are able to please God — if we do his good pleasure — it is because the blood-bought grace of God has moved from mere equipping to omnipotent transforming.

– John Piper

Daily Thoughts: Wisdom from John Newton

How unspeakably wonderful is it to know that all our concerns are held in the hands that bled for us!

Our sea may sometimes be stormy, but we have an infallible Pilot, and thus we shall infallibly gain our port.

Our work is great, our time is short, and the consequences of our labors are infinite.

My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart and to heal the broken heart.

I am persuaded that love and humility are the highest attainments in the school of Christ, and the brightest evidences that He is indeed our Master.

A deep sense of indwelling sin is essential to humble living.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines—as well as upon works!

I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon. (his last words)

This is faith– a renouncing of everything we call our own and relying wholly upon the blood, righteousness, and intercession of Jesus.

We can easily manage if we will only take for each day the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of tomorrow before we are required to bear it.

God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms.

If we seem to get no good by attempting to draw near to Him, we may be sure we will get none by keeping away from Him.

Whoever is truly humbled will not be easily angry, nor harsh or critical of others. He will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing that if there is a difference, it is grace alone which has made it! He knows that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart. And under all trials and afflictions, he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved.

Once you love Christ, you will study to please Him.

It is a great thing to die; and, when flesh and a heart fail, to have God as the strength of our hearts, and our portion forever. I know whom I have believed, and he is able to keep that which I have committed against that great day. Hence forth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me that day.

Afflictions quicken us to prayer. It is a pity it should be so; but experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship. But troubles rouse our spirits, and constrain us to call upon the Lord in good earnest when we feel a need of that help which we only can have from his almighty arm. Afflictions are useful, and in a degree necessary, to keep alive in us a conviction of the vanity and unsatisfying nature of the present world, and all its enjoyments; to remind us that this world is not our rest, and to call our thoughts upwards where our true treasure is, and where our heart ought to be. When things go on much to our , our ease and comfort, our hearts are too prone to say, “It is good to be here!”

You have liberty to cast all your cares upon him who cares for you. By one hour’s intimate access to the throne of grace, where the Lord causes his glory to pass before the soul that seeks him, you may acquire more true spiritual knowledge and comfort than by a day or a week’s converse with the best of men, or the most studious reading of many books.

– John Newton

How to View Calamity

“The waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me. . . . This God — his way is perfect.” (2 Samuel 22:5, 31)

After the loss of his ten children owing to a natural disaster (Job 1:19), Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). At the end of the book, the inspired writer confirms Job’s understanding of what happened. He says Job’s brothers and sisters “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11).

This has several crucial implications for us — lessons for us here at the dawn of a new year — as we think about calamities in the world and in our lives — like the massive disaster that occurred December 26, 2004, in the Indian Ocean — one of the deadliest natural disasters on record with 1.7 million people made homeless, half a million injured, and over 230,000 killed.
Lesson #1. Satan is not ultimate; God is.

Satan had a hand in Job’s misery, but not the decisive hand. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). But Job and the writer of this book treat God as the decisive cause. When Satan afflicts Job with sores, Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10), and the writer calls these satanic sores “the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). So, Satan is real. Satan brings misery. But Satan is not ultimate or decisive. He is on a leash. He goes no farther than God decisively permits.

Lesson #2. Even if Satan caused that tsunami in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas, 2004, he is not the decisive cause of over 200,000 deaths; God is.

God claims power over tsunamis in Job 38:8 and 11 when he asks Job rhetorically, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Psalm 89:8–9 says, “O Lord . . . you rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” And Jesus himself has the same control today as he once did over the deadly threats of waves: “He . . . rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24). In other words, even if Satan caused the earthquake, God could have stopped the waves. But he didn’t.

Lesson #3. Destructive calamities in this world mingle judgment and mercy.

God’s purposes are not simple. Job was a godly man and his miseries were not God’s punishment (Job 1:1, 8). Their design was purifying, not punishment (Job 42:6). James 5:11 says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

But we do not know the spiritual condition of Job’s children who died. Job was certainly concerned about them (Job 1:5). God may have taken their life in judgment. We don’t know.

If that is true, then the same calamity proved in the end to be mercy for Job and judgment on his children. This double purpose is true of all calamities. They mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. Suffering, and even death, can be both judgment and mercy at the same time.

The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Another example is the curse and miseries that have come on this earth because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Those who never believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as merciful, though painful — a preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis. But this subjection to futility is “in hope.”

Lesson #4. The heart that Christ gives to his people feels compassion for those who suffer, no matter what their faith is.
When the Bible says, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), it does not add, “unless God caused the weeping.” Job’s comforters would have done better to weep with Job than talk so much. That does not change when we discover that Job’s suffering was ultimately from God. No, it is right to weep with those who suffer. Pain is pain, no matter who causes it. We are all sinners. Empathy flows not from the causes of pain, but from the company of pain. And we are all in it together.

Lesson #5. Finally, Christ calls us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it.
That is the meaning of mercy — undeserved help. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). This is how Christ treated us (Romans 5:10), dying for us when we were his enemies. By that power, and with that example, we do the same.

– John Piper

Two Reasons for Jesus Coming

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.(1 John 3:7–8)

When 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” what are “the works of the devil” that he has in mind? The answer is clear from the context.

First, 1 John 3:5 is a clear parallel: “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins.” The phrase he appeared to occurs in verse 5 and verse 8. So most likely the “works of the devil” that Jesus came to destroy are sins. The first part of verse 8 makes this virtually certain: “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
The issue in this context is sinning, not sickness or broken cars or messed up schedules. Jesus came into the world to enable us to stop sinning.

We see this even more clearly if we put this truth alongside the truth of 1 John 2:1: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” This is one of the great purposes of Christmas — one of the great purposes of the incarnation (1 John 3:8).
But there is another purpose which John adds in 1 John 2:1–2, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
But now look what this means: It means that Jesus appeared in the world for two reasons. He came that we might not go on sinning — that is, he came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); and he came so that there would be a propitiation for our sins, if we do sin. He came to be a substitutionary sacrifice that takes away the wrath of God for our sins.

The upshot of this second purpose is not to defeat the first purpose. Forgiveness is not for the purpose of permitting sin. The aim of the death of Christ for our sins is not that we relax our battle against sin. The upshot of these two purposes of Christmas, rather, is that the payment once made for all our sins is the freedom and power that enables us to fight sin not as legalists, earning our salvation, and not as fearful of losing our salvation, but as victors who throw ourselves into the battle against sin with confidence and joy, even if it costs us our lives.

– John Piper

God’s Indescribable Gift

If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10–11)

How do we practically receive reconciliation and exult in God? We do it through Jesus Christ. Which means, at least, that we make the portrait of Jesus in the Bible — that is, the work and the words of Jesus portrayed in the New Testament — we make that portrait the essential content of our exultation over God. Exulting in God without the content of Christ does not honor Christ. And where Christ is not honored, God is not honored.

In 2 Corinthians 4:4–6, Paul describes conversion in two ways. In verse 4, he says it is seeing “the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” And in verse 6, he says it is seeing “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In either case you see the point. We have Christ, the image of God, and we have God in the face of Christ.

To exult in God, we exult in what we see and know of God in the portrait of Jesus Christ. And this comes to its fullest experience when the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, as Romans 5:5 says. And that sweet, Spirit-given experience of the love of God is mediated to us as we ponder the historical reality of verse 6, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

So here’s the Christmas point. Not only did God purchase our reconciliation through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10), and not only did God enable us to receive that reconciliation through the Lord Jesus Christ, but even now we exult in God himself, by the Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:11).

Jesus purchased our reconciliation. Jesus enabled us to receive reconciliation and open the gift. And Jesus himself shines forth as himself the indescribable gift — God in the flesh — and stirs up all our exultation in God.
Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the reconciliation that he purchased. Exult in him. Experience him as your pleasure. Know him as your treasure.

– John Piper