Sunday, June 29, 2014

Complacency and Urgency - Part II

The scripture referenced in this sermon is Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well.

Audio: 4m:39s

We have an opportunity to talk about something that runs to the heart of the gospel. We have a woman here who exhibits complacency. Jesus gives this powerful word about the Father and spirit and truth and worship, and how this is what God is really after, and she says, "ya ya ... one day when the messiah comes it'll all get straightened out, but in the mean time..."

And of course when you're complacent the preacher has an opportunity. And this is what is striking about Jesus' response to her. He's not a very good preacher. Because after all, when you complacent christians are truly complacent, the job of the preacher is to create urgency in you, right? Shape you up, motivate you, and put the lash on your so-called free will so that you'll get busy.

Well this woman is tailor made for such a preacher. She's theologically confused. She's a real sinner. (Five husbands and the one you're living with now is just kind of a live in). So there's real work to be done here to motivate the complacent sinner, and get him busy working on themselves. Isn't that what you often hear? You're supposed to get up there, preacher, and motivate me to believe, right? Tell me what to do.

Jesus doesn't do that. What kind of a preacher is that? No, Jesus doesn't do that because Jesus is not going to be drawn in to the complacency-urgency conspiracy. Jesus is not interested in putting the lash on her to shape her up. And the key to this is in His response to her when she says, "All that - the messiah's going to clear up when He comes." And Jesus said, "He's here. I am He." -- Your time is up. There's nothing to be done. Nothing CAN be done now. I am the one.

We are people who are caught in the complacency-urgency paradigm, constantly wringing our hands over what has not yet happened, anxious over what has happened, anticipating the fullness and the wholeness and the success that may yet come.  Jesus is interested in immediacy. Now, is the hour. I am He. The one who is speaking to you.

The christian church paradigm of complacency that must be urged to action is not gospel language. If anything it is simply law language. Your will does not need a whip put on it to perform. Your will is bound to a certain set of performance standards which are going to take you to the grave. So somebody else's will has to do some work here. And that's precisely what Jesus does in the text.  We're though talking about our good intentions. We're through talking about what sinners we are. We're through examining, and we're through trying to improve. We're through with all of that.  I am here, now, with the living water, and when you drink of it you will never thirst again, for you will find your rest in Me.

You see the gospel speaks, not to the free will that must be put upon and motivated to act. It speaks to the bound will who can do nothing else but act in the complacency-urgency paradigm. The gospel speaks to the bound will. We don't need motivation. We need resurrection. We are dead in sin. And all of our works and deeds, as good as many of them may be, ultimately lead us only to one place...

The grass withers. The flower fades. It is the word of God that abides.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Complacency and Urgency - Part 1

Each of these distillations, each 3 minutes or less, are from the same sermon.  Before each, a question is asked for your discernment.

(If you're having trouble connecting the content with the title of this post, part II will offer more clarity.)

Question #1:
How do we gain a heart opened to the Gospel?

Is it a cognitive exercise? A convincing? A cost-benefit analysis?
Or is it a work of God?

Audio: 1m:8s

Lydia is the first believer in Europe, and she comes to Christ. God opens her heart to the gospel.  A miracle takes place.  Now we need to stop right there to unpack that miracle.  What does it mean that the Lord opened her heart?  First of all, it implies that no one has the power to believe the gospel.

That's one of our big problems in evangelism today in America, we've turned it into a mere cognitive exercise, a mere transferal of information.  And when people believe, they're simply mentally assenting, many times, to that information.  There's not a real work of God in their heart.

You see this language that the Lord opened her heart tells us that our hearts need to be opened.  We can't open our own hearts.  We can't make the gospel make sense to us.  We can't convict ourselves of sin.  We can't become convinced that we deserve the wrath of God.  We can't believe that.  God has to move in.

Question #2:
How does a fatigued heart in ministry regain zeal and a right perspective?

Is it a cognitive exercise? A convincing? A cost-benefit analysis?
Or is it a work of God?

Audio: 3m:3s

I'm wondering about something.  I'm wondering how you're feeling today.  May I tell you how I'm feeling?  I'm feeling tired.  It's been a long year.  It's been a good year, but it's been a long year.  I think the ministry is tiring, and I'm sure that you can identify with that.

So what should we do?  Well, you know maybe we're just working too hard, personally and as a church.  Maybe the ministry is just wearing us down.  Or maybe, just maybe, (and I'll speak for myself), maybe I've lost my way a bit.  I've lost sight of the glory for which I labor.

I think it behooves us to consider that maybe our fatigue (assuming you identify with me) is largely due to that ... losing sight of the glory of what we're doing.  In other words I'm suggesting that our fatigue is mostly driven by a confused perspective.

I think this passage this morning will help us.  Not only to see that blurred perspective, but therefore to be renewed in our zeal, to minister this blessed gospel, to actually be looking forward to the start of the new ministry year.  I think it will help us to do that.

The gospel work that we're doing is tiring.  And we can become withdrawn, and disengaged.  We can even become negative in our attitudes if we're not careful.  But I think this text helps us.  It reminds us that there is a reward, not just the reward we'll receive in heaven ... there's a reward right here.  There's the fruit of our labor right here.  There's the opportunity to witness new life.  There's the opportunity to witness people being saved from hell, from sin and death.

And I think that opportunity, when we experience it, tells us, instinctively, like a parent who finally launches his child into the world.  It tells us that all the hard work has been worth it.  It takes just one conversion to renew our zeal, to remind us that it's all worth it.  And it's worth it for us to labor till we drop.

When we get our perspective renewed like that, I can look enthusiastically to a new ministry year ... not groan about it.  Brothers and sisters, as you look to the new year, let us give ourselves fully to our savior, and to the glorious work of His kingdom.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The key word of faith: ENTIRELY

We can put it this way–the man who has faith is the man who is no longer looking at himself and no longer looking to himself. He no longer looks at anything he once was. He does not look at what he is now. He does not even look at what he hopes to be as the result of his own efforts. He looks entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work, and rests on that alone. He stops saying, 'Ah yes, I used to commit terrible sins but now I have done this and that.' If he goes on saying that, he has not got faith. Faith speaks in an entirely different manner and makes a man say, 'Yes I have sinned grievously, I have lived a life of sin, yet I know that I am a child of God because I am not resting on any righteousness of my own; my righteousness is in Jesus Christ and God has put that to my account.' 

--D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, June 6, 2014

Prayer: Rule #1 - Account yourself 'desolate'

Proba wrote Saint Augustine because she was afraid she wasn't praying as she should. Augustine responded with several rules for prayer:

The first rule is completely counter-intuitive. Augustine wrote that before anyone can turn to the question of what to pray and how to pray it, he or she must first be a particular kind of person:

"You must account yourself 'desolate' in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be."

He argues that no matter how great your earthly circumstances, they cannot bring us the peace, happiness, and consolation found in Christ. The scales must fall from our eyes. If we don't see that truth, all our prayers will go wrong.

He quotes Proverbs 30 as an example: "Give me neither poverty nor riches: Feed me with food appropriate for me lest I be full and deny you ... or lest I be poor, and steal and take the name of my God in vain." Ask yourself this question. Are you seeking God in prayer in order to get adequate financial resources—or are you seeking the kind and amount of resources you need to adequately know and serve God? Those are two different sets of motivations.

In both cases the external action is a prayer—"Oh, Lord, give me a job so I won't be poor"—but the internal reasons of the heart are completely different. If, as Augustine counseled, you first became a person "desolate without God regardless of external circumstances" and then began to pray, your prayer will be like Proverbs 30. But if you just jump into prayer before the gospel re-orders your heart's loves, then your prayer will be more like this: "Make me as wealthy as possible."

- Tim Keller, from a blog post:  here

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Look totally away from yourself

I read a blog post on a popular christian site the other day.  It had the following opinion:

"How can a holy God have a kingdom full of unholy prostitutes? There are two ways: either God overlooks sin or God transforms sinners."

On the surface, this is a innocent attempt to focus on the nature of God's mercy toward us, which accomplishes our salvation without compromising His holiness.

And yet, it's also an opportunity for discernment.  Please take less than five minutes to listen to why this statement should raise some grave concerns, and yet also listen as the preached word also points us to "the subtle wonders of the Good News":


Audio: 4m:23s

This text is about how to be justified.  There's a way to do it, and a way not to do it ...

"He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt."

Now here's what you must not do, Bethlehem.  If you should care about anything this morning, it should be, 'Oh God, don't let me do that'.  Now, to not do that, you got to know what that is.  And there's a lot of people who don't understand what's being condemned here.

Because everything hangs on this.  Your life hangs on this.  Your eternity hangs on whether you trust in yourself that you are righteous.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus ... 'I thank you.  You're the one who did this.  You're the one who helped me be moral.  You're the one who helped me be devout.  You've given me this inclination.  And I thank you for working in me this moral, religious, righteousness.  It is from you.

[[ We believe it takes God all the way to get us saved.  We give all the credit to God.  He subdues John Piper's will, and makes me willing to believe.  And if I try to resist Him, He knocks down my resistance, and keeps me for Himself.  Praise God, that's the only reason I wake up a Christian in the morning, is because God is on my side, working to keep me believing. ]] ... This man, may be that way.

The problem here, is not whether this man believes he produced his righteousness, or God produced his righteousness.  He says God produced it.  This man's problem is very simple.  He trusts in God produced righteousness as what will commend him for justification.  That's clear.  He may believe entirely in the sovereignty of God, for all we know.  He may say, "Not I, but the grace of God in me has worked this righteousness."

His mistake, was not in taking credit for his righteousness.  His mistake, was that once God had given it to him, he trusted in IT as what would be the basis of his justification.

[By contrast...] What did the publican do right? ... "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.' "  What did he do?  What this man did right was ... he totally looked away from himself, and anything in him, ANYTHING in him, ANYTHING in him ... Totally, totally, totally, totally away from himself, to God's mercy which is now in Christ, our righteousness.

Faith is not looked to here.  Faith is the looking away.  You don't look to your faith as the ground of your righteousness.  Faith is the not looking at faith.  If you're looking at your faith you're not believing.  Faith is looking away.  Faith is a glorious gift of self-forgetfulness, and seeing the one righteousness that will count in the court of heaven ... and saying mercy, mercy, may I have it as a sinner ... and you will have it.

You're going to say, "Jesus, no matter what you work in me, I'm looking to You.  I'm looking to You and not what you work in me as the ground of my acceptance with your Father."  And oh what a sweet peace will come into your life.  God wants you to enjoy the assurance of your salvation.

-- John Piper
From his Sermon, Aug. 6, 2006
"This Man Went Down to His House Justified"

I should not wish to have free choice

For my own part, I frankly confess that even if it were possible, I should not wish to have free choice given to me, or to have anything left in my own hands by which I might strive toward salvation...

But now, since God has taken my salvation out of my hands into his,  making it depend on his choice and not mine, and has promised to save me, not by my own work or exertion but by his grace and mercy, I am assured and certain both that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and also that he is too great and powerful for any demons or any adversities to be able to break him or to snatch me from him...

So it comes about that, if not all, some and indeed many are saved, whereas by the power of free choice none at all would be saved, but all would perish together. Moreover, we are also certain and sure that we please God, not by the merit of our own working, but by the favor of his mercy promised to us, and that if we do less than we should or do it badly, he does not hold this against us, but in a fatherly way pardons and corrects us.

-- Martin Luther
(Luther’s Works, vol. 33, pgs. 288-289.