The Gospel for Real Life

Sanctification

The Next Step: Disciple a Few

What does discipleship look like?

Here’s the guidance David Platt has for us in his book Radical:

I am concerned about a general vagueness that has existed in contemporary Christianity regarding the next step. We have seen that God blesses us so that his glory might be made known in all nations. But an all-important questions remains. How do we make God’s glory known in all nations? If God has given us his grace so that we might take his gospel to the ends of the earth, then how do we do that? Do we walk out into the streets and just start proclaiming the glory of God somehow? Should we all go to other nations? If we go, what do we do when we get there? What does all this look like in our day-to-day lives?

Jesus has much to teach us here. If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations. We would get the biggest names to draw the biggest crowds to the biggest events. We would start megachurches and host megaconferences. We would do . . . well, we would do what we are doing today.

But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, he wandered through the streets and byways of Israel looking for a few men. Don’t misunderstand me — Jesus was anything but casual about his mission. He was initiating a revolution, but his revolution would not revolve around the masses or the multitudes. Instead it would revolve around a few men. It would not revolving around garnering a certain position. Instead it would revolve around choosing a few people. He would intentionally shun titles, labels, plaudits, and popularity in his plan to turn the course of history upside down. All he wanted was a few men who would think as he did, love as he did, see as he did, teach as he did, and serve as he did. All he needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.”

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, [Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010], 87-88)

Quoted from the following blog: The Next Step: Disciple a Few.


Jesus Satisfies People’s Hunger

Have you ever really wanted something to eat so bad, you could almost taste it? Maybe you’ve gone out to a restaurant and you order a steak or a burger or a salad that you’ve been craving all day. Finally, the food arrives. You eat it. You’re satisfied. Your meal was a success!

Have you ever had a similar situation with trials? Think about it. You placed your order in with God.  You ask for relief and satisfaction.  You just want them to be over. The hunger pains for God (and relief) are getting stronger, and yet God doesn’t seem to be coming to you. You may be learning some from His Word, but for some reason God is making you wait.

Mark 8 brings some particularly helpful insights for the hungry soul.

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” (Mark 8:1-3)

A couple of truths jumped out to me. The first of which is this: Jesus cares about people.  This shouldn’t come as a shock, but many times I can get a thought that Jesus just wants me to buck up, try harder, and work for God’s approval. Obviously I often feel weak when these thoughts control me. So, in the margin of my Bible, I wrote, “Jesus cares when you’re exasperated.” The reason I wrote it that way is because Jesus was concerned not only that the people hadn’t eaten food, but he was concerned at the consequences of not eating. In other words, if those people didn’t eat on that day, they would faint. Their physical bodies would “give up.”

The second truth I saw was that Jesus could have fed the people on the first or second day. He could have fed them all of the days. But, He didn’t feed them until the third day.

The third truth I saw was that Jesus gave more than enough food to satisfy each person. “And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.”

Listen carefully here. If you have trusted in Jesus, you are one of God’s children (Rom. 8:17).  Therefore, if you find yourself in a dry season, know that God knows what you can bear. You may be in the first day and your hunger for God is known through growling. You may be in the third day and you are getting worried about the spiritual journey ahead. You may not be growling for food, but you feel weak and you know if you take too many more steps, you’ll faint. Be confident about this: Jesus cares. He cares that you’re exasperated. He doesn’t want you to faint on your walk with Him. He knows how many “days” you can bear. While you might feel hungry now, there’s going to be a time when he feeds you to the full and you will be satisfied with more than enough food. Then, one day in Heaven, you will say, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

Believers, keep looking to the Savior who truly cares for you and entrust yourself to the faithful Creator (1 Pet. 4:19)!  If you have never trusted in the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah, my encouragement is basically the same.  Stop leaning on your own ways to save you and entrust yourself to God and His salvation plan (1 Pet. 4:19, Jas. 1:7-10).

For all who have been saved by God, His promise stands:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5 b).


Christ in Psalms – 6*

Whether you’ve gone through extremely dark seasons of depression or you’ve never thought about the shady side of the street, this passage can help each of us understand more of God’s mysterious ways in the lives of believers.  This passage of Scripture can help us to heed the words of Spurgeon (a man who dealt with depression very deeply at times), “Reader, never ridicule the nervous and hypochondriacal, their pain is real; though much of the [malady] lies in their imagination [thought-processes] it is not imaginary.”

There was a man who lived in the 1700’s named William Cowper.  He wrote many hymns: “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” and “God Moves In A Mysterious Way” are just two.  Cowper was plagued with depression most of his life, and John Newton was a great friend of his – constantly coming alongside of him to encourage him in Christ.  At one point in time, Cowper wrote the following:  “Loaded as my life is with despair, I have no such comfort as would result from a supposed probability of better things to come, were it once ended … You will tell me that this cold gloom will be succeeded by a cheerful spring, and endeavour to encourage me to hope for a spiritual change resembling it – but it will be lost labour.”  Some of you have felt that way before.  Some of you might think that now – wondering if God will ever bring you spiritual vibrancy again.

Whether you are a John Newton personality or you tend to be more like Cowper, Psalm 6 can teach us much as we see how God works in individuals.  And, as has been the goal throughout this study, we find ultimate hope as we are pointed to the Messiah!

Verses 1-3 deal with the psalmist’s plea for mercy on the basis of his own self.  In verse 2, he declares that he is weak, and therefore in need of mercy.  The phrases “in your anger” and “in your wrath” (v. 1) are emphasized in the Hebrew.  The point is not that David thinks God shouldn’t discipline him.  The point is that David seems to think that God has gone too far and he is experiencing God’s wrath.  David seems to think that he may lose the salvation he was so confident he had (see Ps. 5:7).  His depression is causing him to lose sight of reality.

What I find so amazing in all of this is that while he feels as though God’s wrath may be towards him, he cannot stop praying.  This is very important in all believers.  Even though they feel slain by God, they continue to follow after Him and seek Him through prayer.  A believer’s faith is like a hot ember in their soul that cannot be put out completely.

In David’s initial plea for mercy, he asks on the basis of his weakness.  The word “weak” in verse 2 metaphorically refers to strong things becoming weak.  Think about the Titanic becoming weak, although it was built as an “unsinkable ship.”  Think about the walls of Jericho.  Think about people as they experience physical trauma like a stroke.  David places himself in this category.  He was very strong, but he has become weak in the midst of despair, and he cries out, “How long, O LORD?”

In verses 4 and 5, David makes a plea for God’s mercy on the basis of God’s mercy.  This is vital for a believer to do in the midst of depression.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book on depression and he said one of the biggest problems he sees in the lives of believers is that they spend far too much time listening to themselves instead of preaching to themselves (read more here ).  In this psalm, David focuses his attention, for a moment, off of himself as a reason for attaining mercy, and he calls on the faithfulness of God.  He calls God to return to him.  It is as if David feels like God has turned away from him, and he is pleading for God’s face to shine on him once again.  In Psalm 5:7, David says God’s mercy is his security and hope in all abundance, and he is right.  In the Hebrew, the word mercy has a lavish meaning.  As one children’s book says, the LORD’s mercy is His “never stopping, never giving up, unfailing, always and forever love.”  So, the logic follows that if God’s love is unfailing, then how could God leave David?  God made a promise, and God must be true to His own character (see also Jas. 1:18).

David then says, in verse 5, that there will be no public worship of God (i.e. – “remembrance”) in death and no gratitude in Sheol.  I believe that a man who is depressed and believes he is under the wrath of God also seriously thinks he is going to experience Hell.  In verse 5, David is pleading with God, basically saying, “You saved me so that I would worship and declare You to others.  Keep your promise.”

In verses 6-7, David describes a little bit of the background to the current situation he finds himself in.  He is groaning, crying wherever he goes and his eyes are tired from the oppression he is feeling.  Verse 7 indicates that his despair has arisen either because of enemies or it is being sustained because of his enemies.  Either way, in many scenarios, depression has a spiritual and physical explanation.  For the believer, we also have to remember that our enemies are not only past, present or future circumstances, but they are also demonic forces (Eph. 6:12).  These enemies can cause extreme weight to our soul so that we are groaning – not even having words to speak because the pain is so deep.

In verses 8-10, David immediately turns the corner.  I do not think that circumstances have changed, but I think David has been strengthened by God to preach truth to Himself.  David’s looked at his situation.  He’s recalled God’s faithfulness and in boldness he commands his enemies to depart.  This is kingly speech that is much like Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:23.  In Christ, believers can have that same humble boldness against our enemies through prayer.  David uses the dynamic use of “three” in this psalm.  To say something three times is a symbol of perfection and completion.  So, David reiterates that the Lord has heard and will receive his prayer.  In God’s timing, an answer will come that will result in David’s rescue.  He does not know when, but he knows that it will come.  As a result, his enemies ought to flee.  God is for him, no one else can be against him (Rom. 8:31).  John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress and a man who struggled with depression for at least 8 years of his life says this, “Say to your soul, ‘This is not the place nor the time for despair. As long as my eyes can find a promise in the Bible, as long as I have life and breath, I will wait for mercy, I will fight against doubt and despair.’”

Now, does this psalm point us to the Messiah?  You may study this psalm finding a great source of encouragement that a man after God’s own heart struggled so deeply; however, do you realize that Jesus, and the pain He experienced, can minister to your soul in far greater ways than David and his pain?

Do you see Jesus weeping over Jerusalem?  Do you see the Savior when He was hungry and tempted in the wilderness by Satan himself?  Do you see Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane?

We humans sometimes tend to prefer to lighten the intensity of Jesus’ pain in the garden by saying, “Well, He’s God.  Of course He knew He was going to be ok.”  Our response to that thought ought to be, “He was fully human.”  The Bible said that He was experiencing such trauma of soul that he bled out of the sweat glands on His face.

When I hear David saying, “Rebuke me not in your wrath,”  I hear Jesus saying, “Lord, let this cup pass from me.”  Yet Jesus was not going to experience being back at the right hand of the Father until He experienced the punishment for the sins of myriads of people.  Then Jesus experienced the Father forsaking Him: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”  He literally experienced the horrors of Sheol on the cross.  With that, He breathed His last.  And, the Bible says that Jesus died.

How could Jesus have died?  How can there be any remembrance of God in death – especially the death of the Messiah?  How can there be any thankfulness given to God in the grave?  These questions are legitimate, and they’re answered by Jesus’ resurrection just a few days later.  He rose from the dead in order to give victory!  And, for those who are despairing and despondent, the Word says that He ever lives to make intercession for us.  Hebrews 7:24-25 says, “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”  Jesus is the perfect High Priest and He is risen and lives to make intercession for you so that you would endure even in the midst of despair.  And, if You are God’s child, He hears your prayers, too.  We know this because as Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  His discipline does not seem pleasant at the time (Heb. 12:11).  It is painful.  Some receive that pain much more than others.  If that is you.  I desire to encourage you in the sovereign greatness of God, the all-sacrificing love of Jesus and the eternal power of the Holy Spirit to trust in God.  He will sustain You.  God’s grace is sufficient.  Entrust yourself to Him and embrace whatever trials He allows.  Remember that His wrath is never towards His children.  He has heard your cries, and someday you will be with the Father in Heaven for all eternity and you will agree with the Apostle Paul’s statement, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Seeing God face-to-face and being encompassed by His glory in Heaven will overshadow your years of pain and despair.

So, whether you are a hurting, despairing Christian or a hurting, despairing unbeliever – turn to the Savior.  Repent of trusting in yourself and things around you and trust in the loving Messiah who came to rescue you.  He will give needed strength to endure.  He does this because Jesus laid aside peace with God on the cross.  Jesus laid aside the strength of being the Sovereign Lord by coming to this earth.  He laid aside hope while He was enduring the wrath of God in your place.

Turn to the Lord.  Your enemies will flee, and you will find that He has always been turned towards you.

*Depression affects people physically and spiritually.  This overview of Psalm 6 primarily addressed depression from a spiritual standpoint.  If you are experiencing or know someone who is experiencing depression, I would also recommend that you consider medicine as a viable option.  Medicine can be a good, common grace of God to help some people in the midst of dark times. Read more about Christianity and depression from an author and professor, David Murray, in this book, “Christians Get Depressed, Too.”</em>


Gospel-Centered Love in Marriage

Russell Moore has written a piece talking about the recent statement that Pat Robertson said regarding a spouse with alheizmers.  I do not want to focus so much on what Robertson said as much as what Moore writes regarding marriage.  What Moore presents is an encouraging and challenging focus on the gospel and how it shapes our view of true love in marriage.

It’s easy to teach couples to put the “spark” back in their marriages, to put the “sizzle” back in their sex lives. You can still worship the self and want all that. But that’s not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

You can read the entire article at Christianity Today’s website.


Depression & The Christian

This Sunday night I’m speaking on Psalm 6 and the topic of depression.  This psalm can serve as a balm, encouragement and exhortation to anyone in the throws of great sadness, depression and despair.  In preparation for this Sunday – or if you would like more materials on depression, I would encourage you with the following.

1.  Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint.  This is a biography of William Cowper, a great poet and hymn-writer who was also a friend of John Newton (the writer of “Amazing Grace”).  William Cowper dealt with depression all of his life, and this biography can help us to see God’s grace in the midst of such difficulty.

2.  Come Weary Saints CD.  This album, produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries, is geared towards helping believers focus on God’s goodness in the midst of suffering and sadness.


3.  Pilgrim’s Progress.  John Bunyan wrote this book hundreds of years ago, writing of the journey that a Christian has on his way to Heaven.  John Bunyan, one who dealt with depression for at least 8 years, writes of despair in this book.

4.  Christians Get Depressed Too.  This is a short book dealing with the complexities of depression in the Christian life.


Jesus Learned Obedience

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:7-9, ESV)

This passage, at face value, can seem to be full of confusion. I mean, how can the perfect Son learn obedience? What kind of encouragement are in these words? What does this teach us about Jesus?

Well, think of it this way. Think of learning how to read or write or do math problems. A teacher can tell you how to work the problems, and if you learn from her correctly, you will do exactly what she says. In a similar way, Jesus was taught by his earthly parents and the Father Himself. I every situation, Jesus was learning what obedience looked like, and He perfectly obeyed. He also used what He learned so that He could withstand the greatest trial – His death.

Think on this with amazement. God the Son submitted to being a human and learning obedience! Can we even fathom the depths of His love in doing this? The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that he was made perfect. That means that Jesus, through all His life, proved Himself as the Preeminent One to be worshipped and adored.

From all of these facts, we must see the beauty of Jesus. He was a man who had pains. He had to learn obedience, and through all of this, He reverenced God. Because of these realities, Jesus can truly “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15). He knows where each of us are at today. He knows what you’re struggling with. He also confidently opens His arms up to you so you also can run and find refuge, hope and strength to obey!

Jesus learning obedience, His suffering and His perfection relates to your real life right now. Look to Him and submit your soul to the One who truly cares for you.

“Dear Lord, You endured suffering by simply becoming a human being. But, in order to experience the fullest extent of obedience, you desired to come to this earth and suffer for the sins of men! Now we can come to Your presence boldly with praise. Let us find rest and comfort in Jesus, the perfect source of eternal salvation. Amen.”


It Is Not Death To Die

Over the past couple months, I’ve been hit with the reality of death because of the sudden nature of it in a couple of friend’s lives (read another post here). I’ve cried and my heart has ached for those who are left in the trenches of this earth while a family member has been taken away.

Questions like: “Why?!” or “God, couldn’t You have done things another way?” have come to my mind.  I realize that death is a part of the fall, and it causes me to ponder.  I also want to follow through on the challenge from James 1:3 to ensure that joy, in all of its fullness, is coming along side of me – even in the darker moments of life.

There are a few things that I am learning: a) death is an obvious picture of the reality and consequences of humanity’s fall into sin and b) the hope we can have in the Savior even in the face of death.  Here are a few ways in which I see a picture of humanity’s fall into sin in the face of death.

  1. It takes over – without warning.  The fall into death through sin was the same.  We know that there was process into buying into the lie of Satan, but when sin was actually committed – experiencing the taste of spiritual death – Adam and Eve were taken by surprise by the extent of what “death” meant.
  2. It takes away potential joy.  If you have lost someone you love, you realize that you now no longer have moments with them to look forward to.  The same with sin.  Sin cost humanity real, deep and abiding joy.
  3. It is painful.  Many times, death is a painful process for the person who died.  Some are graced with simply falling asleep.  Others experience much pain.  With sin, it was (and still is) a painful death.
  4. It has the power to be destructive in other’s lives.  The death of a loved one is a trial, and like all trials, we can be tempted to give up and give in (Jas. 1:12-18).  Unfortunately, families have broken because of loved one who have died.  With sin, it has a destructive nature,  working to cause people to give up and die in their relationship with God – as happened with Adam.
  5. It can produce fear and anxiety.  This relates to the previous point.  When someone dies, we can become fearful in a myriad of ways – thinking someone else will die, thinking we cannot make it through, thinking God cannot be trusted.  As a result, we do not seek to get involved in people’s lives, but instead we hide, in our fig leaves, from God and from each other.
All of these parallels can help remind us that sin is serious, and death is unforgiving, but there is hope that the Christian has even in the midst of death.  Don’t miss this inexpressible joy that is promised in the next few sentences.  Jesus conquered death – the consequence of humanity’s fall into sin through Adam.  “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. . . . When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting'” (1 Cor. 15:20-22, 54-55).  The reality is that Jesus conquered death.  Even though we still experience physical dying in this fallen world, Jesus is making all things new so that we will be resurrected like Him with imperishable bodies.  It is Jesus who has taken away the sting.  Although we sorrow, we sorrow not as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13).  We can cast our anxieties at God’s throne because He really does care for us (1 Pet. 5:7).  It is because of Jesus that we are offered joy in Him in the midst of painful tragedy of the loss of a loved one (Jas. 1:2).  It is Jesus who grants eternal life to those who trust in Him so that people can say, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).  In the end, believers, while still experiencing sadness because of the reality of the fall, can also experience great hope because of the reality of Jesus’ death, resurrection and second coming!

Therefore, in humility, sadness and confident hope, believers can say, like the hymn below, “It is not death to die.  Jesus has conquered the grave!”

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

(Chorus) O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI) Original words by Henri Malan (1787–1864). Translated by George Bethune (1847). Music, chorus, and alternate words by Bob Kauflin