Spotlight: July 2017

Through this ongoing series, we want to share theological resources that have helped us grow in knowledge and understanding of the Lord, and appreciation for our shared Christian faith through the wider body of Christ.  Whether blog posts, music, books, podcasts, visual art, etc., we hope that you can discover new sources of edification and encouragement. 

spotlight-july

What If I Keep on Sinning?

In this pastoral interview, Bryan Chapell, author of Christ-Centered Preaching, speaks on the topic of grace and continued sin. He teaches that we need not fear Gods love going away; He acts not contractually, but covenantally. As we know that, we live in response to Gods grace—not so as to earn Gods grace. And when we do sin, we grieve the fact that our sin grieves the Holy Spirit. Repenting from that sin does not mean trusting our own resolve, but trusting God who gives us help in relationship with Him.”

Spurgeon’s The Treasure of David

“Are you familiar with The Treasury of David, Spurgeon’s 7-volume commentary on the book of Psalms, complete with exposition, explanatory notes, quotes, and lists of additional resources? Enjoy! One quote I appreciated this week from Spurgeon’s commentary was on Psalm 119:22. Have you experienced any pressure of your reputation being questioned among those you know because you believe and live the truth? The theme of the Psalmist being afflicted with the scorn of others because he trusts God runs through the Psalms. Spurgeon writes,‘The best way to deal with slander is to pray about it: God will either remove it, or remove the sting from it. Our own attempts at clearing ourselves are usually failures; we are like the boy who wished to remove the blot from his copy, and by his bungling made it ten times worse. When we suffer from a libel it is better to pray about it than go to law over it, or even to demand an apology from the inventor. O ye who are reproached, take your matters before the highest court, and leave them with the Judge of all the earth.’”

Family Seeds Worship

“After we discovered that our daughter likes to sing and also most easily memorizes words in song form, we searched for videos that put Bible verses to music. These videos, which move through verses word for word, are one resources we use. Our two-year-old enjoys watching them with us. We enjoy listening to her sing Scripture back to us throughout the day.”

- Lianna

Do you have a resource that you would like to see featured in the Spotlight series? Share your ideas with us. We hope that the specific resources or links provided in each Spotlight post are helpful, encouraging and edifying for you. Our editorial team reviews the content of each referenced resource, and we encourage you to be discerning (Acts 17:11) as you engage with our content and content elsewhere.

Theological Correspondence Across the Globe, Summer 2017 {Letter #6}

Over the course of this summer, two of our writers, Lianna and Amy, will be exchanging letters to each otherfrom their personal desks straight to the blog. If you have any ideas of what youd enjoy seeing them write about, feel free to send us a note. Read back through all of the letters here.

theological correspondence across the globe

7.9.17
USA

Amy,

Two letters from you have been sitting unanswered. And I am now, at last, reclining in the richness of striving to honor God, refining the biblical theology I believe, alongside of another God-loving and -fearing woman. What joy!

I seem to remember that you mentioned a warm fire—send it over? My summer here feels brisk, and I could use it. I previously thought that air conditioning holds a less chilling quality of cold than when winter’s single digits are biting in from the outside. It probably does, but today I am not as certain; I’m sitting on the coolest level of our townhouse—the ground level of three slender floors stacked on top of each other. On the top level, my toddler is napping, happily for us both, in comfort. But even after somewhat successful airflow balancing measures involving our vents, I’m a cube.

A couple of mornings recently I have taken twin sunrise bike rides to a neighborhood lake, sat at the pier, peered over a patch of world just before all the heat comes. But enough is already swelling the air to revive me for the day.

During both rides, my mind has been busy almost the entire trip with thought-residue from the previous days, and hopes of being much better with this life—like with knowing God in Scripture, filling the “already read” side of my reading list, the ever-growing skill of engaging a two-year-old mind and heart, with the deepening of friendships, with prayer and Scripture memory, with coursework and studying aims. These are included in my mental state every day: What can I learn from yesterday that I could have done with more purity, wisdom, diligence, love, or truth? What can I learn or use today, considering all that’s been given to me? Then a duck flew by, and I heard a noise I could not quite place in that outside, unregulated space.

And I think of the ways my life is set to me, like the temperature in my toddler’s room. My home is set to me—not to mention my phone, my web, and much more. How much of “pressing on” and “striving for what’s ahead” involves pushing beyond that pervasive temptation to self-absorption?

In the many moments when—in various ways—the temperature is not set to me, I have a prime and joyous opportunity to be cleansed of any wasteful residue and wash all of my wishes over with the gleamingly believing words of, yes as you wrote, “Thy will be done.” And with “Thy will is mine too,” alongside “Thy great grace I have joyously received,” through which, “in Thy love I freely give away.” My two morning questions sit beneath Him.

How much of true striving is clinging to the truth that the world lies--He is Lord, not me? When all is made right in terms of His Lordship, no corner of the world will be unregulated, and all will be set and geared toward Him in perfection. “To deny His Lordship is the fundamental sin of the soul—the seat of our thoughts, our emotions, our will, our self-consciousness. […] It is in our souls that we determine who or what will have the mastery in our lives,” wrote David J. Hesselgrave and Ronald P. Hesselgrave in What in the World Has Gotten into the Church?

We are intended for Him to be our Lord, and as we previously hinted at in past letters, His Lordship is directly correspondent to our view of God’s Word. We’re made up of the stuff we believe, so I see simple profundity in the statement from Peter Lillback, “When you read the Scriptures, you are reading the very essence of your being…the Word of God is the DNA of your spiritual life.” Our being and DNA are already right there for us to take up—to study and to know, to study and assume as the informers of our circumstances. 

Perfectly searching myself for an inward, subjective sense of God—if that were to be possible—likely reaches an anti-climactic end: “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:96). As I understand it, if I ask—Am I praying correctly?—the answer cannot rest on feeling God as if that is the success, but upon a set belief in the Word of God. The primary question, then, cannot be—What level am I reaching of experience in intimacy of God?—but instead—Do I believe His Word? (And in order to believe it, I must know it.)

It’s not the belief, but what true belief beholds I am getting at. We often speak in Christian circles about preaching to ourselves—at some point, preaching to ourselves is not enough and we must undertake to believe the message and set ourselves on that good word. In believing, we take up in our souls which of the warring streams in our minds we hold to be true. We trust it and assume it as ours.

Then, it’s as if believing creates the prayer. A believing prayer isn’t one that musters enough sense of belief. But it has looked to the One, and His Word, who is utmost to be believed, truth compelling a change that can be stayed because truth stays. Even in “I believe, help my unbelief,” I understand tones of from the father crying out to his Lord, “I believe enough to know that You are the only One I can submit to, seek, and trust to in order to give You more of what you do deserve as Lord, my whole trust.” 

Now speaking in a general sense of notions that wind around, what more predictive words than these written in 1981 by Hesselgrave and Hesselgrave in the same book mentioned above, “Must we not rethink a one-sided, feelings-oriented, experience-based Christianity that downgrades doctrine and neglects the Bible?” How seemingly subtly I have previously placed the fulcrum of my Christian life upon my experience of God rather than upon the truthfulness of His Word. 

The Word abides with me forever through the guarantee of the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Jn. 16:13) and increasingly too in this life through my choices (Col. 3:16; Ps. 119:11). Now, how gracious that a rightfully singeing, refining fire toward self also warms me with peaceful confidence—morning, evening, and in-between—that He is my Lord and I am made right and well in relation to Him! Glory be to our God.

And all of His warmth be with you. 
Lianna

P.S. I have failed to tell you until now even in private correspondence, but yes, the diamond was indeed recovered and my ring finger appears married once again. Phew. 

Perspective on Suffering from God, the Betrayed

prayer-theological-correspondence-letter-5

be-tray, verb
- to expose to danger by treacherously giving information to an enemy
- to fail or desert especially in time of need
- to lead astray

Jesus’ Betrayal and Peace

Jesus was betrayed by Judas, exposing Jesus to His enemies and ultimately to death on a cross. Yet, this betrayal also revealed astoundingly peace-filled moments in the last hours of Jesus’ life. Here are some:

  1. Jesus had intimate knowledge of His betrayer—He knew Judas would betray Him (Matthew 26:21) and He knew the very moment when Judas would betray Him (Matthew 26:46)—and Jesus didn’t prevent it.
  2. Jesus’ disciple Peter used a sword to slice off an ear of a servant of the high priest who was among those intending to arrest Jesus—but Jesus healed the ear and told Peter to sheath his sword.
  3. Jesus testified to the Father’s willingness to receive an appeal of protection from Jesus—to send 12 legions of angels (Matthew 26:53)—but Jesus never asked the Father for them.

Jesus didn't pursue prevention of His arrest, protection from the crucifixion, or retribution against those who came to take Him to death—when He had opportunity for all three. Jesus, while facing what He knew would be an excruciating death to bear the punishment and wrath of God for the sins of all who believe for all time, was at perfect peace.

Yet, perhaps one of the most instructive details in the accounts of Jesus’ being betrayed is one easiest to miss. Jesus references the Scriptures—stating that everything happening to Him was in accordance with what was written. Jesus knew He was in the process of fulfilling prophecy as the long-awaited Messiah (Acts 3:18).

When predicting Judas’ act of betrayal, He said 

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him…”
Matthew 26:24, emphasis added

Right after instructing Peter to sheath his sword, He said

“Do you think I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Matthew 26:53-54, emphasis added

I could not help but think of Jesus’ words earlier in His ministry, spoken when He was being tempted by the devil. Jesus said

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Matthew 4:4

Jesus didn’t ask for what He was truly due, as the Son of God. His plan was for the Father’s will to be done (John 14:31), and to have the joy set before Him—while despising the shame of the cross—of saving many for the glory of God (Hebrews 12:2, Ephesians 1:6). His plan was to see the Scriptures fulfilled—that was the peace-filled perspective He spoke of when being betrayed. Jesus perfectly exemplified living on the basis of the word of God.

Are You Tempted to Feel Betrayed by God?

Are you tempted to feel betrayed by God due to the suffering in your life? Like Jesus, when being betrayed to death by Judas, we can look to the Scriptures. What do they say? Like Jesus, can we too have poignant perspective and peace from the Scriptures, perspective that directs our hearts toward God? And if so, what exactly does this mean?

The Gospel of John records in detail the words that Jesus speaks to His disciples prior to being betrayed. So we know exactly what is on Jesus’ agenda to share with His disciples in His last hours before crucifixion. His words give us an outline for understanding our present suffering.

  •  Jesus speaks to us as friends, telling us future plans for the world.

To begin, Jesus doesn’t want us to feel abandoned. While we certainly cannot know the full mind of the Lord (Rom. 11:34), Jesus calls us close like the nearest of friends and gives us significant understanding about His plans for this world.

“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.”
Jn. 15:15

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, His ordered plans are further detailed for us:

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

  • He does not leave us alone, but gives us the Helper.

Presently, the risen Christ is at the right hand of the Father while He awaits returning with praiseworthy patience (considering the manifold evil in this world and hardships His people are enduring!). He is waiting to return so that those who do not yet believe in Him have opportunity for repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). But He says that while we believers wait for His coming, we are not alone—we receive the Helper (John 14:16), the Holy Spirit.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth”
Jn .16:13a

  • He says we will have tribulation in a fallen world, but assures us that He has overcome.

Prior to being betrayed, Jesus speaks about the tribulation that we will have because of this fallen world. He speaks of the persecution that believers will experience because they no longer follow the ways of the world (John 15:18). Yet, He promises that He has overcome the system of the world, meaning He will, with certainty, complete His plans.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jn. 16:33

  • He encourages us that we’re here still for a purpose. 

Jesus next implies that instead of taking believers to heaven the moment we place our faith in Him, we stay with purpose in this world for the remainder of our God-appointed lives. Yet, while we live here, we have the assurance that we can no longer belong to the evil one and that the truth of Scripture is our tremendously peace-giving defense system in this world. Here, Jesus is praying to the Father:

“I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Jn. 17:15-18

Patience with God’s Gracious Plan

Jesus did not mislead us about the state of this world. He spoke that this world would not be right until He returns; He told us that He would not immediately take us who believe out of it. He has purpose left for us here. Not the author of sin or the reason death is here, He is the reason we can expect with joy that the enemies of sin and death will be defeated.

Jesus has overcome the system of this world, and He has a plan.

He arose, and ascended to the right hand of God. He will return for His people, and finally, He will put everything, every enemy, in right order underneath His reign—the last enemy being death, which will be destroyed. The human race first sinned in Adam while in the garden (Gen. 3), there betraying God through unbelief in God’s unimprovable goodness in his life. But the perfect Christ offers resurrection and ultimate peace—having the authority and power and willingness to forgive every sin and betrayal for those who come in true faith to Him.

Jesus said that He would be patient to return so that the full number might believe in Him (Rom. 11:25). He is working His salvation in this world, raising people out of their sin to follow Him. And only God knows when the moment this work that keeps Him presently in heaven will be done. Faith in the gospel implies having faith in Jesus’ timing—for God intends to, and will, give His gospel to all those He calls.

Doesn’t all that He has told us as friends give us tremendously helpful perspective that leads to unfaltering peace as we believe it through the help of the Holy Spirit? King Jesus—the same Jesus with indescribable peace facing His betrayal and with compassionate words of provision and instruction before being taken away to death—is ascended to the right hand of the Father. And we can trust in the plan written for us in the Scriptures, that the Savior will return. And there is joy today to be found in enduring for the joy that is ahead.

Perspective for Your Suffering Through the Account of Judas’ Betrayal of Jesus

To increase perspective the honors God and peace that rests in Him while suffering, remember:

  • the knowledge that Jesus has let you in on plans for the world as a friend
  • the gift you, believer, have received in the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who guides you into steadying truth
  • the belief that He is coming again, in His perfect timing, and has purpose for you being here
  • the astounding example of Jesus enduring His betrayal with peace because of God’s plan
  • the grace of knowing that Jesus will give His gospel to the full number, and because of His patience thus far, believer, this has included you
  • the belief that when the time has come, our pain will be over—and not a second later than Jesus says
  • the remembrance that perfect Jesus allowed Himself to be betrayed to a shameful death, bearing the wrath of God for our sins, for the joy ahead
  • the provision that we have, as those who know God’s ultimate plan for this world, to endure our pain and suffering with joy while knowing that our full joy is certainly ahead because of Jesus

[Post credit: Hope Mommies]


Theological Correspondence Across the Globe, Summer 2017 {Letter #5}

 

Over the course of this summer, two of our writers, Lianna and Amy, will be exchanging letters to each otherfrom their personal desks straight to the blog. If you have any ideas of what youd enjoy seeing them write about, feel free to send us a note. Read back through all of the letters here.

6.26.17
South Africa

prayer-theological-correspondence-letter-5

Dear Lianna,

Well here I am, safely back over the threshold of the little homely house that I have always called home. (Thank you for your prayers!) What a year this has been! For the moment, I’m grateful just to be in the proximity of so many loving embraces again. Grace upon grace.

The weather here is marked as "mostly cloudy", which is colder than it sounds, as we settle in for the winter solstice days—perfect weather for "blobbing" as my mom calls it (which in winter denotes a cosy sort of hibernating from the world in the snuggly corner of the couch or duvet, with a cup of tea and no special plans to go out). Also, our town has been without power for almost 48 hours now. I’m sending this to you with questionable laptop battery and the hotspot Wi-Fi of my cousin’s phone. Good book weather!

Back home, now, I’ve been luxuriating in the magnificent reunion with my books. I’ve undertaken to reread Tim Keller’s book on prayer. It is very seldom that I tell people that a book will change their life. I have read enough to be very opinionated about books that could or perhaps should change your life, but rarely would I venture such a definitive statement—except about two. In fact, I’m convinced that if anyone reads only one other book besides the Bible in your life, it should be this one: Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

Lately, "praying about it" has become the watchword I live by. I think it was Martin Luther who once said one day that he had so very much to accomplish that day that he would spend the first three hours in prayer.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found praying quite difficult. The still, quiet wrestling of praying, asking, submitting, worshipping—all of this can fill me with a sense of duty that approaches actual dread. I felt guilty in the way Keller describes when he says that if prayer is “an extension of the greatness and the glory of God in our lives”, then failing to pray “is a failure to treat God as God […], a sin against his glory” (26).

But, he reminds us, (and this is what makes me so enthusiastic) praying is worth every effort. It was such an encouragement to me! So I had to share it.

He says it so well here:

“Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.

We must learn to pray. We have to” (18).

That’s part of the reason I’ve so appreciated Keller’s being upfront, emphasising the need to get through duty to delight. We move “beyond abstract knowledge to heart-changing engagement” (192). Prayer was always such an uphill battle for me. Yet just a quick glance at some of the chapter titles – “Desiring Prayer,” “The Necessity of Prayer,” “As Conversation: Meditating on His Word,” “Intimacy: Finding His Grace,” “Struggle: Asking His Help,” “Practice: Daily Prayer”—and I knew that despite all my efforts and failures to actually finish a book of theological non-fiction, that I needed this one as much as I needed to breathe. It was like pressing on a wound, like finally accepting a need for help after a long struggle of “I’m fine. Really.”

And what a powerful difference it made! Just as I reread through the pages exactly a year after I first began them, I am reminded of a struggle I was praying through at the time, and the necessity of praying “Thy will be done” after I had boldly approached the throne of grace with my plea, “Lord, this is what I want, but Your will be done.” That prayer re-oriented my desires. I wrestled with my prayer, and prayed for it diligently, but even when my desire was not granted, the life-giving lessons I learned were trust in God’s faithfulness enough to accept His will, whatever my desires might otherwise have been. And when I received His “no,” I was able to let it drop without any residual bitterness or heartache.

I no longer fretted over my worries in prayer, but brought them to the Lord, and left them there. If you’re anything like me, unguided meditation becomes a “solitary exploration of your own subjectivity” (12). It was not for nothing that Jesus had to teach His disciples how to pray. We need to learn, acknowledging our dependence on Him, fleeing all phoniness and ruthlessly facing up to our flaws and insufficiencies, allowing His awesome grace to flood into our lives and enable us, in “restful trust and confident hope” (136), in “persistent yet nonhysterical prayers” (137), to leave all our needs and desires in His hands.

Isn’t it astonishing how real, good prayer is sound theology? In prayer, I am reminded of what God has done, what He is doing in my life, and I am humbled. I also begin to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness as the specificity of my prayers teaches me to take note of how God is working in response to my prayers. I had become too accustomed to even take heed of the grace He sends, whatever His response may be. But in looking for answers, I almost begin to see them everywhere, for so involved is God in my life.

Granted, it can still be hard to maintain. Like exercise. A few days without and I have to rebuild the resolve and habit from scratch. When I read this book the first time, I thought my prayers would be forever re-orientated, but it is still something I need to cultivate, as I do with fitness.

For instance, I never thought of myself as the sort who would ever spend money on sports clothes when old clothes will do just fine, thank you very much. But Lianna, the experience of running is so much better with leggings that don’t chafe. Game-changer! I know this probably sounds obvious, but it wasn’t for me. Just like running, prayer wasn’t natural, but once I had access to the knowledge and experiences of the many other learned believers Keller’s book draws on, I found very practical help which makes a daily habit of prayer that much more easy, satisfying, profound and focused—all of which I’d struggled against previously.

So if you need some summer reading Lianna, I reckon this one should be high on the list. There was a powerful and glowing sensation of having been enriched and glimpsing an attitude of the heart as it was supposed to be: fulfilled, at rest, both hungry for and satisfied in God. I kept promising my copy to all my friends, but I took so long finishing it because I kept having to put it aside in order to read my Bible as it suggested, or because I waited to finish my chapter because I was too excited to begin praying immediately.

Enjoy your summery weather, as I bump my chair closer to the fire.

Sending scents of winter’s delight in the form of wood smoke and book pages,

Love,
Amy

“Prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come” (73).