Tag: church

Tolle Lege: Strangely Bright

If you don’t already have your hands on this book, it’s time. When I’ve already started reading it for Crossway and am looking at a 5 star review after only a few chapters, AND THEN the Sheologians Book Club chooses it to read and discuss and that hour becomes one of the highlights of my week AND THEN the highly respected ladies leading my church’s womens ministry decide to hand it out to all the women– THEN it’s definitely time to just tell everyone to read this book. And by everyone, I mean EVERYONE, not just women. Just because there happens to be a recipe for a legendary Pumpkin Crunch Cake tucked in the back in no way feminizes the book’s masculine voice.

Strangely Bright by Joe Rigney (the newly appointed President of Bethlehem College and Seminary) couldn’t be more timely. In 7 intensely poignant but delightfully breezy chapters, Rigney asks and answers the question, “Can you love God and enjoy the world?” Long time readers of this blog know one of my main purposes is to encourage first my children and then others to see how God has made Himself known through the world He has made, the Word He has breathed and the workers He has appointed. Rigney goes a step further and reminds us that indeed ALL of the good and enjoyable gifts God has lavished upon His creatures are a means of revelation into His kind and benevolent nature.

While this message is surely timeless in nature, think of what it means for us specifically in 2020. This year we have by various “authorities” and in varying degrees been told to give up God’s good gifts of work (2 Thes. 3:10), of enjoying and indeed rising in the presence of our elders (1 Tim. 5:16, Lev. 19:32), going out and bringing our food from afar (Prov. 31:14), of breaking bread together (Acts 2:246), of showing hospitality (Rom. 12:13), of assembling together in His Name (Heb. 10:25), of encouraging one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5;19), of extending the hand of fellowship and greeting one another with a kiss (Gal. 2:9, 2 Cor. 13:12), of sharing the cheerful countenance that comes from a glad heart (Prov. 15:13), of proclaiming truth in the public square (Prov. 1:20), of weeping and rejoicing with those who weep and rejoice (Rom. 12:15). The list of these, God’s good gifts, goes on and on. But friends, these are not just suggested indulgences in the life of the believer. They are COMMANDED for our enjoyment.

Is there ever a time when God removes these good gifts from the life of the believer? Yes. It’s called suffering and Rigney addresses this in chapter 6 “When the Things of Earth are Lost.”

Is there ever a time when the believer should voluntarily give up one or more of God’s good gifts? Yes. It’s called self-denial and Rigney addresses this in chapter 5 “Denying Ourselves and Sharing Our Riches.”

Is there ever a time when the Government, worldly influencers and other Christians can command you to give up God’s good gifts? That’s the 2020 question, is it not? Alas, Rigney has no chapter to answer that one specifically. But I believe taken as a whole “Strangely Bright” does in fact address this very thing.

I for one, couldn’t read this book and come to the conclusion that the forced closure of businesses, the isolation and neglect of our elderly, the loss of neighborly interaction in the public market place, the forsaking of fellowship and the breaking of bread, the silencing of our public worship, and prayer and preaching of the Word, the withdrawing of hand shakes and hugs, the masking of our smiles, the censoring of opposing view points, the canceling of weddings, the prohibition of funerals, etc…were in any way Biblical responses to our current problems. If anything, it is Satan himself who is rejoicing over our lack of enjoyment of God’s good gifts.

Has it not been so since the garden? Had our benevolent Creator filled the earth with abundance and variety and perfect goodness and then commanded His creatures to eat freely and enjoy His bounty? There was only one restriction and that too was a good and loving and protective gift. But oh, what music to the serpent’s ears to hear Eve add the prohibition which God had NOT given, “and neither shall you touch it.” With what delight did he witness Eve’s seemingly good intentions to be healthy and wise and take what looked good to the eyes rob her of every pure pleasure on earth? Was he not gleefully observing the now infected pair cease from their God-given labors, isolated from fellowship with their only True Companion, hiding behind leafy masks to cover their shame?

Next week is Thanksgiving. Dear Christian, do not be fooled into thinking that the healthy, wise, good looking thing to do is to refuse God’s bountiful provision, close the door to others made in His image, and silence your joyful public declaration of Thanksgiving to the One who has given us EVERY GOOD THING. Let us love God AND enjoy His gifts. And let us do that as the Giver intended, together.

I’ve had to do one too many “Shred It” reviews for Crossway. Mainly their stuff has been ranking a bland “Shelve It” of late. But “Strangely Bright” has earned a solid “Share It” in my book and I hope it will in yours too.

Why Our Marriages Need the Gospel

You know it’s going to be a good day when the first messages your phone dings with is a group text from your two neighbor friends who are already deep into their Bible reading for #samepagesummer.  While I’d been dilly-dallying with muffins and coffee they were asking questions about John 13 and I was seriously late to the real feast. But the conversation that ensued really got me thinking why the gospel is so key to understanding passages like John 13, why our marriages need the gospel, and why things like the Bible Reading Challenge are so important today.

I’ve heard lots of sermons on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  People pushing the “servant-leadership” narrative love to use foot washing as an example of showing real humility to people they see as beneath them. I’ve even been to weddings that included a foot-washing ceremony to symbolize how husbands and wives ought to serve each other. This is all fine and good. But friends, our marriages are starving for substance not symbolism and no amount of servant leadership methodology will suffice to put an ounce of humility in a self-righteous heart. And yet Christ tells His disciples in verse 14, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

What precipitated this stunning display of humility?  Look back at verse 3. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist.” So Jesus, having in mind all of His Divine Authority, His exalted seat at the right hand of the Father which He had vacated, and the glorious truth that He would soon occupy His rightful place once more, knowing all this, the Creator took on the form of a servant, stooped, and washed His creatures’ feet. And then He told them to do the same.

I’ve read lists. I’ve read books. I’ve heard messages detailing the practical ways this is to be done within the home, within the church, within the community, across racial/social/economic/language/cultural barriers.  And almost every time I see one of those lists it’s still dripping wet from the hands who made it made it. Hands that are doing nothing more than trying to wash themselves clean. Hands that unlike Jesus’s, have not been given all things into them by the Father. Hands with not an ounce of Divine authority to make even the outside of a cup clean, let alone the inside. Hands who when they hold out their righteous acts of service to spouse and community are only full of filthy rags. These hands are very familiar to me because they have been my own.

Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This friends is the gospel that cleanses. The gospel that transforms marriages and communities. The gospel that enables prideful, arrogant, self-absorbed men and women to serve the one-anothers and the least-of-these. How does it do that? Philippians 2:1-11 gives us some insight and it does so in a way that the reader can’t help but hear echos of John 13. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant.” If Christ has washed you, has by His perfect atoning sacrifice on the cross made you clean, then you are as Philippians 2:1 says, now in participation with the Holy Spirit, which works in the believer both to will and to do.

When Jesus stoops to wash the disciples feet, He does so with His own Divine Authority over all things in mind. He does so with His own exalted position at the right hand of the Father in mind. And when Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves,” he then goes on to describe the person of Christ, who has all authority in heaven and on earth, who didn’t have to achieve equality with God by performing any works because He already was God to begin with. Too often when we set out to do the foot washing in our homes and communities, we do so with the mindset that we are being like Christ. And that we are the ones stooping to those beneath us. And that even though we are in some position of privilege or authority, we are going to show how humble we consider ourselves by performing these lowly tasks that really belong to the station of the person or set of people we have been placed above. Instead of looking to Christ and letting that very act change us as surely and miraculously as it saves us, we look to ourselves and see how well we resemble the exalted one we seek to emulate.

Friends, our marriages, our churches and our communities need the gospel everyday because therein we see Christ. We cannot have the mind of Christ among us unless we are actually thinking His thoughts after Him. And the only way to know His thoughts is through the pages of Scripture where the Holy Spirit so clearly reveals them to our hearts! Isn’t it glorious that when Paul says in Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands,” he doesn’t follow it up with qualifiers or practical exceptions to the rule so we know exactly what that should look like? No! He follows it up with the example of Christ! And 3 verses later Paul says, “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” he doesn’t continue by giving a list of practical ways this is to be accomplished in the home. No! Instead he goes straight to the mindset, or reason Christ gave Himself up. “So that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”

Paul is saying, “Husbands, wives, look to Christ! Look how your marriage is a reflection of the beautiful union of Christ and His bride, the church! Look what He did to redeem that bride! Look how it was all done to present her holy and blameless and without spot to Himself!” Look at the means He uses to wash her! He uses the word! The gospel doesn’t just save, it sanctifies! Have we forgotten that the same power that healed the serpent-stricken Israelites when they were commanded simply to LOOK is still at work, not just to save but to change? Why do we think a list of practical how-tos will have more of an impact on our marriages than the God-breathed, Spirit-empowered, Christ-exalting Word of God? Why do we think empty apologies, the applause of lawlessness and social-media campaigns are going to heal our broken country more than the Gospel!  We must look to Christ to be saved and we must look to Christ to be sanctified!

This is where the Bible Reading Challenge comes in. On June 1 thousands of people around the world opened their Bibles to John 1 and began a three month journey through the New Testament, the revelation of God concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. Something miraculous happens when the people of God start reading His Word. They change. They stop looking at themselves as little Christ figures stooping down to serve others and see themselves as they really are without Him. Nothing more than little Judas’s, lifting up our heal against the God of the universe. But Christ stoops, and He takes that filthy, rebellious heal, and He washes it with His own blood. And He gives us His Spirit within us and His transforming Word and sends us out to others with the gospel so that they too can become clean.

If you are overwhelmed by what you are seeing out in the world, if you are overwhelmed by what you are experiencing within the walls of your own home, the best thing you can do this summer is take your eyes off your circumstances and look to Christ.  We’ll be looking there with you. We’re all on the same page.      same page summer plan

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The Last Devo

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).”

Well friends, we’ve come to the end.  Nearly 200 star studded passages later, we’ve reached the end of the Bible, the end of the school year and thus, the end of this blog.  I’m sure there’s a handful of verses about the sun or moon or stars that we missed but in general I hope we all have a better understanding for just how clearly the heavens are declaring the glory of God and how not just the firmament, but every element of creation plays a part in the great redemptive drama writ and wrought by our Creator and King. 

From the epic beginnings of Genesis to the last Amen of Revelation these cosmic beacons gloriously fulfill their divinely appointed purpose to separate day and night, to be signs, to mark time and seasons and to give light on the earth.  Jesus Himself warned us in Luke 21:25-28 that there will be a time when the signs in the heavens will bring terror on earth.  But those who look for and long for His coming needn’t be filled with the same “fear and foreboding” when they see these things take place.  No, Jesus tells us to instead, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

The book of Revelation describes many of those foreboding heavenly signs but opens with this amazing image of Jesus standing in the middle of the churches and holding the angels of those churches as stars in His hand.  He’s in our midst and holds our  destinies in His hand!  No matter the circumstances befalling the world around us we can stand up straight and say with confidence, “Our redemption draws near.”  The Redeemer Himself says, in the last chapter of Revelation, 

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each on for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, beginning and the end… I Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.  I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

Did you catch that part about the churches?  Revelation doesn’t just open with Jesus standing in the midst of the churches, it ends with Jesus stating that the testimony John was given was specifically FOR the churches!  Oh how I need that testimony when I’m feeling discouraged about the messiness of church life.  Tonight, especially, as I’ve heard the pain of what brothers and sisters are experiencing in their churches, and seen the tears, and witnessed the bitter ramification of corporate wounds, and worried over the wayward path of The Bride, tonight I needed that testimony of John.  I needed to see Christ standing in her midst (Revelation 1:20).  I needed to feel the thunderous roar of the great multitude crying out,

“Hallelujah!  For the lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready;  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure (Revelation 19:6-8).”

I needed to hear “the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” And I needed to straighten up and say with them, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:17-20).”

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.  Amen.”