Responding Biblically to Power-Players

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“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20, ESV

Before we can respond Biblically to power-players in the church, we must be able to recognize power-play for what it is, and we must be able to resist the temptations of reacting to it in an unbiblical manner. In one sense, recognition and resistance is passive response. However, responding Biblically to sin in the church requires more than discerning recognition and passive resistance, it also calls for loving confrontation.

Not every situation in the church is going to warrant confrontation, and in some circumstances, we are not able to confront the problem as directly as we would like. However, when we can, we will do well to help a brother or sister in the Lord turn away from behavior that harms the church and grieves the Holy Spirit. The following are four steps to responding Biblically to power-play in the church.

  1. Take responsibility personally and corporately to deal with sin. The Word admonishes us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1 ESV). Of course, we must mind our own ‘p’s and ‘q’s first, but then we must be willing to make efforts to restore a brother or sister caught in sin. This takes prayerful confession of personal sin, humble vulnerability, and genuine love for the person that we are confronting.
  2. Reason frankly with your brother. Leviticus 19:17 says, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.” This verse goes right along with the New Testament admonitions for conflict resolution among believers (See Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 17:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:15). I choose the Leviticus reference for this point because it emphasizes the truth that reasoning frankly with an offending party is a means to preventing bitterness from taking root in our hearts. We really do need to reason with our brothers and sisters when we are attempting to deal with issues of sin. We need to have concrete examples of sin patterns that the Scripture clearly identifies as sin, and then we must be willing to explain our concerns in a logical, sensible CALM manner. The New Testament teaches that ‘reasoning frankly’ with a brother should first be attempted privately and always in a spirit of meekness.
  3. Allow time for the seed of frank reasoning to germinate in the soul of your brother or sister. If after a reasonable amount of time, you see no change of behavior or attitude, the command of Christ requires that we attempt to confront the professing brother or sister again. The second confrontation should be handled as the first, except we are to take another believer with us (See Matthew 18:15-20). This step, of course, will require that we speak to another believer in the congregation about what we are seeing. In and of itself, it is not gossip or slander to talk about this sort of situation with another believer, but we should be careful that we do not use the necessity to share the details of the circumstance with another believer as an opportunity to sin.
  4. If still, the power-broker is unrepentant then we have no choice but to bring the offense to the church. The way in which we do this will differ from church to church. However, it will likely require bringing the situation to the attention of the leadership of the church and following their lead in the specifics of dealing with the situation from this point forward. Lord willing, all of this will ultimately result in the repentance of the erring brother and the return of harmony to the fellowship (Matthew 18:15-20).

It may be that the power-play is an issue within the leadership of the church. That is tacky and complicated. This is not a situation with which I am, personally, unfamiliar. If this is your situation, I want to encourage you – you are not without recourse. There is yet a higher court to which you can appeal. When Abraham appealed to the Lord on behalf of his nephew Lot, he asked, “…Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25 ESV). The obvious answer to his rhetorical question is, “Yes! He certainly will, in His own time and in His way.” Until then, we wait. We wait prayerfully, hopefully, humbly, and with wisdom (Luke 18:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:13; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 5:10).

I close this post series with a quote from the 1689 London Baptist Confession. This passage was of great consolation to me when over a three-year period my family was tried in the fires of dealing with power-play in church leadership structures. At the height of our difficulty, my husband and I were counseled by our denominational pastor to read Psalm 55, 56, and 57 together each night. For several months we prayerfully read those Psalms, and they were of great comfort to our souls. But it was this quote from the 1689 that God used most to keep us committed to our church family, despite the very real temptation to throw in the towel and give up on the organized church.

“No church members, upon any offence taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence at any of their fellow members, but are to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church.” (1689 LBC, Chapter 26, Article 13)

This is the last article in a four post series.

Intro to Power-Play in the Church

Part 1: Recognizing the Satanic Strategies of Power-Play

Part 2: Resisting Power-Play in the Church

Part 3: Responding Biblically to Power-Players

Resisting Power-Play in the Church

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“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

As we saw in the last post, power-play in the church is a satanic scheme intended to bring division among God’s people. Paul says that we are not ignorant of Satan’s designs at work through sin, hurt and unforgiveness in the church (2 Corinthians 2:11). And, James exhorts us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8 ESV). We can resist the devil through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, dependence on the Word of God, and in the strength of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Ephesians 6:10-18; Revelation 12:11). But, what does resisting power-play in the church look like in practical terms?

As we attempt to resist the work of the enemy in our churches, we must first learn to be self-suspicious. We discipline ourselves by asking the hard questions, and then prayerfully answering them. Questions such as: ‘Am I bothered by this behavior because I think that this church or ministry is my kingdom-come?’ ‘Am I too easily offended by this person?’ ‘Is my evaluation of this situation rooted in my pettiness, jealousy, self-centeredness, or my desire for control?’ “Am I making a mountain out of a mole-hill?’ ‘Do I have the good of others and the glory of God in mind as I contemplate this circumstance?’ After honestly answering these questions, we stop meditating on the pettiness of power-brokers in our churches, and we intentionally meditate on our sovereign Lord and His control over all things. We remind ourselves that He is working in all circumstances to the end that He is glorified, and we are sanctified. (Romans 8:28)

Then we must resist all thoughts of taking counter-control measures. We also resist responding in kind to the people that have sinned against us. That is, we resist reacting with proud hostility and foolish carnality. We renounce manipulative behaviors and the tactics of self-pity, resentment, bitterness, outbursts of anger, gossip, or slander. We remind ourselves that both the church and vengeance belong to the Lord (Romans 12:17-21; Ephesians 5:23-30). We intentionally choose to be more gracious than we think we should be with people who have hurt us. We maintain a spirit of forgiveness, and a desire to see power-players repent of their foolishness. We choose to love our neighbors and respond to the sins of others in the fear of God. This is hard to do because each denial of the impulses of our flesh is an act of self-mortification. Self-mortification is painful. It often feels humiliating and frustrating. However, by waiting on God in prayerful humility, we will see that God is faithful. He will deliver us at the perfect time, and in such a way that we will thank God for the trial that He has brought into our lives. We will see how God uses these types of painful situations to perfect us in holiness, purify our service, and increase our love for the true church.

At the same time, we must resist apathetic indifference to power-play in the church. We do this by not joining the clique or selling our souls to ‘be in the know’. We seek our commendation from the Lord, not from man. We immediately reprove divisive slander and gossip when exposed to it. We do not turn a blind eye to disappearing sheep. And, we refuse to crumble under the shame, humiliation, manipulation and other shunning tactics of power-players. Overall, we are cautious of developing an ‘if I can’t beat them – I might as well join them’ mentality. This temptation is great. But, the Lord would not have us bow before false Gods, or yield to false teachers for even a moment (Galatians 2:5). Submitting to people that are usurping the authority of Christ is usurping the authority of Christ. There is only one head of the church. There is only one Lord, and it is to Him that each of us will give an account. We must aim to be like Paul, who said, “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10 ESV).

Most importantly, we resist the temptation to break covenant with our church family. If we are married women, the decision to stay or leave our church family does not ultimately fall to us. This truth, however, does not change the reality that God has given us the ability to influence our husbands and families for good or for ill. Therefore, so far as we can in the strength of Christ, we maintain a disposition of faith, love, and fidelity to our church families. We resist the urges to obsess, complain, nag, badger, pout, or use any other method in the effort of manipulating our husbands or embittering our children against the church. We also guard our hearts against the desire to break faith with our churches. We must be sober-minded and self-controlled, knowing that our “…adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV). We must resist him by believing the promise of God that “…after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (1 Peter 5:10 ESV).

“How do good men become a part of the regime? They don’t believe in resistance.”         -Josh Garrels, The Resistance

Upcoming Post in this series:

Responding Biblically to Power-Players

More from this post series:

Intro to Power-Play in the Church

Part 1: Recognizing the Satanic Strategies of Power-Play  

Part 2: Resisting Power-Play in the Church

Part 3: Responding Biblically to Power-Players

Recognizing the Satanic Strategies of Power-Play

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“…Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Acts 8:18-24

Power-play in the church has demonic origins. Satan hates the church and is always seeking to destroy her. He has many strategies in this effort. The evil-one uses slander and deception to foster bitterness and unforgiveness among God’s people, thus bringing about division in the church (John 8:44, 10:10; 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, 11:3-4,14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). Ephesians 6:12 teaches us that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Satan uses human beings in his warfare against God and the church, for he is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). He works through people and circumstances in his attempts to destroy the church (See 2 Corinthians 11: 12-15; 2 Timothy 3: 1-9; 2 Peter 2:1-3,12-16). The epistles of the New Testament are full of the apostolic response to people that were used by Satan to disrupt the church. Most of them were seeking to take positions of authority that God had not entrusted to them. From these accounts, we can begin to discern the satanic strategies of power-play in the church.

1. The Clique This strategy was being used in Galatia, when Peter “…drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:11-16). Cliques in the church are a useful tool in the hands of the enemy. Power-Brokers often demand allegiance to their understanding and interpretation of doctrines, for no-one gets into the club who is unwilling to play by the power-broker’s rules.

2. Unnecessary Secrets I am not referring to private ‘church leadership’ issues that really are no-one’s business. This strategy is characterized by an attitude that is communicating demeaning secrecy and a presumptuous unilateral decision making. Power-Brokers love to be in the know, be the decision-makers and the dispensers of secrets. It seems that everyone that is not in their clique is on a need to know only basis. Unnecessary secrets and unilateral decision making on behalf of the church (or a ministry) is ill-advised and often fosters division within the church. The Lord did not ‘keep secrets’ from His disciples. In John 15:15 the Lord is recorded as saying, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

3. Commendation Experts Power-mongers tend to think that they are the ones that give commendation and approval to themselves and fellow-sheep. They are typically very competitive people. If you pray for forty minutes, they have prayed for forty-five minutes. If you have read three books on being a good wife, they have read five. They also seem to have a perspective that communicates that their approval is the last word on the Lord’s approval. But, the apostle Paul said, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” And, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18 ESV).

4. Disappearing Sheep Mark it down: if you see a pattern of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whom you know to be mature in the Lord, ‘disappearing’ from the flock (with no real explanation from them or anyone else as to why), there is a problem. Most likely, they have been given the left-foot-of-fellowship by someone in the leadership. This is power-play in the church in its most blatant form. Ultimately, every power-broker is working with the presumption that ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ The apostle John wrote that someone in the early church refused, “…to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 10 ESV).

5. Undermining Trusted Leaders Power-brokers undermine trusted leaders through slander and raising doubts in the minds of the church membership. The apostle Paul and the apostle John dealt with this repeatedly. Come to think of it; this was Satan’s first known strategy… “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1). John wrote that someone was talking wicked nonsense against him and the other apostles (3 John 10 ESV). And, Paul wrote that “…such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 ESV). Wow. That’s scary.

6. Shunning Power-brokers know how to punish with the silent treatment and ostracization. Shame and isolation are very effective tools in power-play. Power-players exclude and humiliate to produce the obedience and respect that they feel they deserve. Paul saw this tactic being used in the Galatian church and said, “They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17 ESV).

7. Lack of Submission Power-People expect others to be subordinate to their wills but are not very submissive people themselves. They do not submit to budgets (time or money), or other external authoritative structures – such as church constitutions, by-laws, and doctrinal statements. They are characterized by an urgency of the moment mentality, excusing their unwillingness to wait upon God in prayer as a matter of necessity. This was King Saul’s sin, and it cost him the kingdom (See 1 Samuel 15). Waiting on God in prayer and seeking the input of others are both essential expressions of a submitted person. John said about one power-hungry man that he was dealing with, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9 ESV).

8. Emotional Manipulation It is not unusual to see a power-broker become demonstrably angry. If power-players are angry, they quickly become red-faced, raise their voices, and will even resort to tears to get their wills accomplished. This sort of behavior is particularly shocking since leaders in the church are supposed to set an example in godliness, holiness, and self-control. In Corinth, this manipulation may have even escalated to physical abuse! Paul wrote, “For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!” (2 Corinthians 11:20-21 ESV).

9. Electioneering People serving Christ pour their lives out for the glory of God in the good of others. On the other hand, people running for office promote themselves, slander others, put themselves forward, capitalize on the victories of other people, and have a general demeanor of ambitious pursuit. Power-players in the church act more like politicians than servants. But, James says, “…if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:13-16 ESV).

10. Twisting Scripture Power-brokers prefer unilateral decision-making. The next best thing to that is setting up a system in which they know that they already have a majority vote on a church board for anything they want to do. Power-brokers specialize in the off-the-record conversation. They do not think that it is wrong to threaten some form of church discipline for non-conformists, and they feel no shame in twisting Scriptures to accomplish their wills. Anyone that disagrees with them or their methods can easily be accused of causing division and refusing to submit to their fellow brethren out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). Peter spoke of the abuse of Scripture in this way, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).

Intro: Power-Play in the Church

Part 1: Recognizing the Satanic Strategies of Power-Play

Part 2: Resisting Power-Play in the Church

Part 3: Responding Biblically to Power-Players

 

Power-Play in the Church

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“But I am among you as the one who serves.” -Our Lord Jesus, as recorded in Luke 22:27

Power-brokers, power-mongers, and power-players run our world. To some degree or another, most of us have come to accept that power-play is just part of living life in a fallen and corrupted world. We anticipate finding power-brokers in politics, business, and educational systems. Many of our industry leaders and elected officials are characterized by avarice, corruption, and the love of power. We know that fallen people crave the esteem and privilege that position and prestige afford them. And, we also know that too many are willing to sell their voice, their bodies or even their souls to experience just a few moments of the exhilarating rush that accompanies the realization that they are the ones to which everyone else is beholden. We realize that for fallen humanity power is like an aphrodisiac that climaxes in the control of circumstances and other people, an elixir that creates the irresistible illusions of preeminence and self-autonomy.

As Christians, we may reluctantly come to terms with the reality that the leadership structures of this fallen and fleeting world are overrun with the corruption of power hungry people. But may we never develop an indifference or come to terms with the problem of power-play in the church – which is to be both a pillar and a defense of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16). We must learn to recognize the satanic strategies of power-play, resist the urges to succumb to its temptations, and then respond Biblically to the power-brokers in our churches.

Lest we naively think that power-play in the church is not a problem, we should consider the record of the New Testament. Jesus dealt with it in nearly every interaction that he had with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, as well as, in his interaction with Herod and Pilate. Paul dealt with power-players, power-mongers, and power-brokers regularly– both in his interaction with the unsaved and in the church (e.g., Acts 13:45, 14:19, 22-25, 24:27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 2 Corinthians 11: 20-21; Galatians 1:6-10, 2:4-15; 6:11-13). Peter was a pawn in Herod’s power-play (Acts 12:1-3), almost succumbed to the pressure put on him by the power-brokers in Galatia (Galatians 2:11-14), and yet, he delivers one of the most stinging condemnations of power-mongering in the New Testament (2 Peter 2). John gave instructions to a pastor under his direction on dealing with a power-broker that had joined the church, apparently, one that had some level of authority in the early church (3 John 9-10). Time and space do not allow for us to survey, even briefly, the record of power politics in the established church over the last 1,900 years – it is far too vast. It will suffice to say that there would never have been a Reformation had there not first been a corruption of ecclesiastical power.

However, the Lord calls His church to humble-minded servant leadership. We are not to seek to be served or to seek preeminence. But, instead, the Lord has called us and equipped us to serve others and to pour out our lives for the good of others. For on the night that our Lord was betrayed, he said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27 ESV)

Links to the Power-Play in the Church Post Series:

Part 1: Recognizing the Satanic Strategies of Power-Play

Part 2: Resisting Power-Play in the Church

Part 3: Responding Biblically to Power-Players

Hadassah’s Words

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“I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, nor only the aged who understand what is right.”        
Job 32:6-9   
We all must bear the cross in our lives, as our Lord carried His for us. Perhaps we are not always given the choice as to which one we are willing to bear; but God, in His great mercy, knows what will bring about the greatest transformative work in our hearts, and I think that is what He is after. I would never have chosen my cross. I could not choose it. But I thank God with all my heart for using heartbreak and loss to teach me just how kind, loving, and gracious He is to all who reach out to Him from the darkest, lowest places.

My daughter, Hadassah, died when she was 18 years old. In her short life, the Lord took her on a high adventure that was fraught with peril and uncertainty; but as He promises, He swooped down at just the right time to rescue a dear heart who cried out to Him for mercy. His love, indeed, never fails.

And an incredible surprise awaited us on the other side of our daughter’s death. A gift of infinite comfort and grace. A hidden jewel that had been in the making for years. A month or two before Hadassah died she told me that she had felt compelled to write all her life. But no one had ever seen the treasure that she called her journals. They were carefully guarded so that no one would see them until the appointed hour. At first we thought that perhaps they were intended for us alone, her family, as a gift to aid us in our grief. But the more we read, the more we were sure that this hidden legacy was an offering of love from Hadassah to the One who said, “I’ve got you, my dear. I could never let a little one like you fall. And I will show you just how much I love you by what I will allow you to do for my kingdom and for my glory.”

That is when Hadassah’s Words were born. She tells her story, the story of a God who seeks to save that which was lost, who restores all that a dreaded enemy meant to steal, and who fights the final battle until the victory is won. Here are Hadassah’s Words. Here is the triumph that is found in God alone.

Hadassah’s Words

Forgiveness Empowering Grace

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We all know that we MUST forgive those that have hurt us.

The Lord requires that we forgive our enemies; that we forgive the people that have injured us (Matthew 6:14; Colossians 3:13). We must forgive as we are forgiven. That is what we, Christians, believe; that is what we, Christians, pray (Luke 11:4). If we know Christ, and have experienced His forgiveness – we can and we must forgive those that have hurt us.  We can forgive anybody and everybody that has hurt us because of what Christ did on the cross. For the cross is the promise of God that every wrong will be made right; either through the shed blood of His Son Jesus on the cross, or through an eternity of anguish in hell. If we know Christ and have the power of His indwelling presence we can forgive those that have hurt us, no matter what they have done to us, because Christ gives us the ability to do so. This is because forgiveness is an act of grace accomplished by the powerful working of the Spirit of God in our souls. In one sense, it is the most natural thing in the world for a Christian to forgive, for the very One who forgave us is the holy One who indwells us and empowers us to forgive others.

God is perfectly wise, perfectly good, perfectly just and absolutely sovereign. God is even sovereign over the sins that are committed against us and all that results from those sins.  This truth is what enabled Joseph to say to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20a). It is a comforting truth that when evil is intended against us – God intends it for our good. And, it helps us to forgive when we can see that God has sovereign power over all the painful providences of our lives and that He ordains them to the end that He may do us good.

But, what good can come to us from the evil actions of others?

Well, there are many good things that can result from the sins that are committed against us. Although, here I only want to focus on one of those ‘good things’ – the good thing of receiving more of God’s grace. God uses evils committed against us to cause us to seek and receive His grace. Just as the great enemy of our souls intends that all the evil committed against us will cause us to turn away from God in disbelief, God intends the evils committed against us to cause us to recognize our great need for God and His amazing grace. In this way, evils committed against us become a means of grace to us. That is, evil becomes our servant that carries us to God and bids us ask Him that the manifold expressions of His grace would be given to us – His comforting grace, His healing grace, His ‘forgiveness empowering grace.’ 

Since, God’s great purpose in the creation of the universe is to magnify the glory of His grace in the ages to come through us, every opportunity to experience God’s grace is an opportunity glorify God (Ephesians 1:4-7, 2: 5-7). We magnify His grace more fully by drinking of it more deeply. In this way, anything that causes us to realize our need of God’s grace is a very good thing. When we can begin to see the sins that others have committed against us as an opportunity of experiencing more of God’s grace, we are all-the-more empowered to forgive the evil-doers of those sins. This is so, if for no other reason than those same sins become for us a means of receiving God’s grace. So, let’s forgive those that have hurt us, let’s drink deeply of the grace that is ours in Christ our Lord, and let’s magnify the glory of the grace of our great God.

Praying the Gospel

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I once heard a message given by Jerry Bridges on the importance of preaching the gospel to one’s self. I had never really thought much about the idea before hearing his message. He talked about the importance of keeping in the front of our minds the truth that we are accepted by God solely on the basis of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. He said that by preaching the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis we are safe-guarded from the folly of thinking that our standing with God is based on our own efforts, performance, or righteousness. His admonition has stuck with me. Preaching the gospel to myself has become the primary means of overcoming the soul-paralyzing influences of pride, false-guilt, self-condemnation, and disappointment in my walk with the Lord.

And, in no place is this more true in my life than in my place of prayer. Even as I begin my prayer time with confessing my sins to the Lord, I also begin my prayer time by preaching the gospel to myself. As I pray and seek God for forgiveness for my wrong doings, my wrong thinking, my ignorance, my frailty, my brokenness; I acknowledge my utter and desperate dependence upon Christ for receiving any mercy from God. As I make confession to God in this way, I remind myself that I am saved by grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ alone. When time permits, I do this with an ancient text that my husband introduced to me several years ago called “Anselm’s Tract for the Dying(posted below). By beginning my prayer time by preaching the gospel to myself, I am reminded not only of the great chasm that would exist between me and God if it were not for the forgiveness and redemption that I have been given in Christ, but I am also reminded that my hope of being heard by God in prayer is based entirely on grace alone.

Meditating on the gospel puts me into the right frame of mind for prayer. Whether I use Anselm’s Tract for the Dying or not, I always try to start my prayer times with the recognition that the mercy and grace of God is not only the only hope that I have of being saved, but it is also the only hope that I have of being heard and answered by God when I pray. A humble mind and a contrite heart is the result of preaching the gospel to myself, and a humble mind and a contrite heart are essential to being heard by God. I thank God for the admonition of Jerry Bridges to preach the gospel to myself, and I also thank God for this ancient text that has helped me pray the gospel to myself.

Anselm’s Tract for the Dying

“Question. Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus died for thee? Answer. I believe it.

Qu. Dost thou thank him for his passion and death?

Ans. I do thank him.

Qu. Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved except by his death?

Ans. I believe it.

And then Anselm addresses the dying man: “Come then, while life remaineth in thee; in his death alone place thy whole trust; in naught else place any trust; to his death commit thyself wholly; with this alone cover thyself wholly; and if the Lord thy God will to judge thee, say, ‘Lord, between thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; no otherwise can I contend with thee.’ And if he shall say that thou art a sinner, say thou: ‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and thee.’ If he say that thou hast deserved condemnation, say: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and thee, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’ If he say that he is wroth with thee, say: ‘Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thy wrath and me.’ And when thou hast completed this, say again: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and me.’”

See Anselm, Opera (Migne), 1:686, 687.

 

Video

John Piper on the Ultimate Essence of Evil

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This is the sermon John Piper preached at Passion 2017. Sunday a friend told me to check it out. She said that her and her husband listened to it last week and that it left them dumbfounded – that it changed their whole perspective on sin and the essence of evil. So I heeded her sisterly admonishment to ‘check it out’ and started to listen to it while cooking dinner earlier tonight. After listening to the first twenty minutes of this message, I wanted my kids to hear it. So I hooked-up the movie projector and we listened to (watched) John Piper preach on the ultimate essence of evil.

The reason that I wanted my kids to hear this sermon is my desire that they understand that preferring anything else more than they prefer God is the ultimate essence of evil and the root of all sin. I wanted to remind them that the Christian life is not about a check-list of dos and don’ts, which is an easy thing to forget when raised in a Christian home. I wanted my kids to hear again that the Christian life is about seeing “…the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6), rejoicing over all that God is for us in Christ (Romans 5:11),  “…being transformed into the same image from one degree to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18), and that pleasing God in righteous living and obedience results from a faith-filled love for God (Hebrews 11:6). Or, to put it another way,  I wanted my kids to remember that loving God, wanting God, desiring God above all other things is at the heart of glorifying God, magnifying Christ, and serving Him in this world. I wanted them to lay-hold of the reality that Christ is everything, and that everything other than Christ is nothing without Him.

God has been very kind to give this generation preachers like John Piper. I am so glad that I took my friend’s advice and was able to share this sermon with my kids. It blessed us all. So if you have 45 minutes and you need to be reminded of some of these truths too – check it out.

What’s Old is New Again

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What’s Old is New Again

I have always loved the freshness of this time of year. Opening a brand new appointment calendar. Flipping through the stuck together pages of days-to-come thrills me. It’s a clean slate open for endless dreaming, new ideas, and things that have not yet been.

However, this new year brings circumstances that I wish could have been thrown out with last year’s trash. I wake up in this first month of 2017 and my mother is still battling Alzheimer’s and well, it’s complicated and difficult to know what this never been traveled before terrain should look like, much less feel like. Am I doing this right, God? I often hear myself asking. She’s alone now; a single mom who independently ran her life and remarried at 57 losing her second husband five short years later.

Layer this family situation with my one sibling, a brother who is a year older than me (53) and struggling with mental health issues. It’s been a 15 year struggle. He’s managed to lose everything, wrecking every relationship in his life, which when speaking about ours, is a difficult and complicated loss. This is the one single piece of reality that still stuns me enough to feel like it’s not yet real. But wait I’m awake. It’s real.

So I sit with the anticipation of fresh newness all around me and circumstances that don’t reconcile with anything remotely close to fresh and new.

I have a confession to make, though and it’s completely counterintuitive. You would expect me to say that I’m one hot mess. I can’t stop worrying, feeling sorry for myself (fill in the blank of ways that would seem natural to react). It’s the opposite though. I actually caught myself smiling to myself earlier today. This is the mystery of Christ. His nearness. His peace changes things, it changes everything. Not around me, but inside me where it matters most.

He’s got this. No really, HE’S GOT THIS! He’s the God of our victories and the God of our disappointments. Especially our disappointments.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

OK breathe. And say it again. Now close your eyes. And surrender.

Whatever you may be facing today … don’t fret it. God is here. Those three little words are life altering. He is here. With us. Emmanuel. It’s his first and most important promise. Think about how precious this Jesus – front-and-center with every breath – really is.

Shift the prayer from, “God please make everything in my life workable,” to “God I trust you and love you in the midst of my chaos.”

And then wait on the Lord who will ring in this New Year bigger and brighter than anything you have seen before. Because with surrender comes peace and with faith comes joy. And with love comes a worldwide of new possibilities.

Happy 2017!

Happy New Year and All Glory Be To Christ

One bittersweet memory from my childhood was of celebrating the turn of a new year at my Nana’s house. At the stroke of mid-night, big and small alike would stand in a circle, hold hands, and sing the first verse and chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Last year, my kids introduced me to this song- All Glory Be To Christ –which is set to the tune of the Scottish melody traditionally used to sing Auld Lang Syne. I loved it, and decided that come New Year 2016, if I was still blogging- it was going on BIW. Many thanks to King’s Kaleidoscope, for transforming this beautiful folk tune (which is so full of bittersweet memories for me) into a God-glorifying worship experience (which is all sweetness for me). I have included the first stanza and chorus of the traditional Auld Lang Syne and the lyrics to All Glory Be To Christ below. Happy New Year.

Auld Lang Syne

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.”

Chorus

“On old long syne my Jo, On old long syne, That thou canst never once reflect, On old long syne.

All Glory Be To Christ

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

[Chorus]
All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

[Verse 2]
His will be done, His kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread
Praise Him, the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

[Chorus]
All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

[Verse 3]
When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall e’er his people be
All glory be to Christ!

[Chorus]
All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing
All glory be to Christ!