The end goal: Hope

God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8)

Notice that “demonstrates” is present tense and “died” is past tense.

The present tense implies that this demonstrating is an ongoing act that keeps happening in today’s present and tomorrow’s present.

The past tense “died” implies that the death of Christ happened once for all and will not be repeated. “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Why did Paul use the present tense (“God demonstrates”)? I would have expected Paul to say, “God demonstrated (past tense) his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Was not the death of Christ the demonstration of God’s love? And did not that demonstration happen in the past?

I think the clue is given a few verses earlier. Paul has just said that “tribulations work patient endurance, and patient endurance works proven character, and proven character works hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (vv. 3–5).

In other words, the goal of everything God takes us through is hope. He wants us to feel unwaveringly hopeful through all tribulations.

But how can we?

Paul answers in the next line: “Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (v. 5). God’s love “has been poured out in our hearts.” The tense of this verb means that God’s love was poured out in our hearts in the past (at our conversion) and is still present and active.

God did demonstrate his love for us in giving his own Son to die once for all in the past for our sins (v. 8). But he also knows that this past love must be experienced as a present reality (today and tomorrow) if we are to have patience and character and hope.

Therefore he not only demonstrated it on Calvary, he goes on demonstrating it now by the Spirit. He does this by opening the eyes of our hearts to “taste and see” the glory of the cross and the guarantee that it gives that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-love-of-god-past-and-present

Discipling New Believers – what to read first

For new believers with little exposure to the Bible, it can be one overwhelming book. I recently came across this ordered list of suggestions for reading the four gospels. It has much good reasoning.

Start reading the Gospels ONLY… preferably in this order:

(1) Luke, (2) Mark, (3) Matthew, (4) John

Why that order?

Luke, (like that new believer), never met or saw Jesus in the flesh. His account is “closest” to where that new believer’s feet are. Luke is like a “reporter”, repeating the events witnessed by the disciples and (according to a number of scholars), Jesus’ mother, Mary and John (the Apostle) her companion. The Gospel of Luke is descriptive and truthful in the telling of what Jesus did, what He said, and how He taught. Everything is there… the teachings, the parables, the private conversations, the healing, the triumphs and horrors. But there is little “sophisticated theology” or “flights of divine intimacy” in it. Like the Goldilocks/Three Bears story, Luke is a great start because it is neither “too shallow” nor “too deep” for the beginning swimmer.

Mark next. Why? Mark’s Gospel was once described to me as “the travelogue of Jesus”. There is a hurried, breathless quality to it. An excitement to it. “And then we went there, and then He said this, and then He met them, and then this miracle happened….. And then we went there, and then He said this, and then they came, and then He did this…” repeat, repeat, repeat. The divinity of Christ comes to the fore, the authority and Godhead of Christ is made observable… along with a repeated theme of “but Jesus said, ‘don’t tell anybody about Me, yet!’” (which was consistently disobeyed). The water runs a bit faster with this Gospel… skills, balance, breath control, and strength are built swimming in this stream.

Matthew next. Why? Matthew has ever been special to me. No one, but Paul later, deals so well with integrating the New Testament Jesus with the Old Testament Messiah. Matthew, as a tax-collector, was a pariah to his community. “Respectable folk” wouldn’t walk on the same side of the street as he, nor eat where he was eating, nor even sit on a chair he had occupied. And yet, when he wrote his Gospel, he did it in Hebrew! (All the others in Greek). His love for Israel, his dedication to the good news of their Redeemer, their Messiah, the fulfillment of ALL the prophecies, cries out from every page of this Gospel.

Matthew misses no opportunity to integrate the prophets with Jesus’ ministry. I suspect no heart in Israel knew more joy ever, than the day Matthew was called into the Company of the Savior… for I believe he loved Israel, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… with all his heart. The water gets deeper here, the Old Testament, the prophets, the history, begin to weave into the threads of Jesus’ day to day life. The new believer watches the Old Testament light up in its foreshadowing and preparation for the coming of Jesus. Deeper water, yet manageable currents.

And LAST, let us come to the Gospel of John! He was the youngest of the disciples. He had the “least to unlearn” as Jesus taught him. He went everywhere (nearly) with Jesus, and he was one of the “faith choir” Jesus took with Him when a miracle required much faith. John’s experience of Jesus, the intimacy of it, the depth of it, the understanding of it… was unlike anything we can imagine. John puts the reader on notice from the very first line… that they’d best strap in, ’cause it’s gonna be quite a ride… John’s head was far more Greek than Israeli! He flows with concepts of “essence”, “ideal”, “accident”… with the mutability of words as essence and essence as words, like a tadpole in a pond!  I mean, seriously… look at the very FIRST PARAGRAPH!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Scholars are STILL debating how to understand all that, and it’s been two millennia!

John saw directly into the Divine! Jesus got to him young enough that when Jesus said “here’s how you do this… here’s how you SEE… here’s how you PRAY…”, John didn’t have to shake his head, walk away, and say… “Gosh, that’s not what Rabbi Nicodemus said… I wonder which is right?” John just believed Jesus, tried it, and found that it WORKED! Hoorah! John learned meditation and contemplation before he could probably SHAVE! So… the Gospel he wrote, is filled with the insight, the recollections, the perspectives he recalls from his embrace as the “disciple most loved” (i.e. the disciple most capable of experiencing love)… Therefore, his Gospel is the most “ethereal”, the most “contemplative”, the most “mystical”.

Also, as an interesting aside, his “recall” of Jesus’ words… his specificity on key discourses, is often the most detailed. (For a “mystic”, the words spoken by God Himself, are often “graven into” the mind in a way that remains crystal clear for decades. Folks often think it’s a “memory thing”. It’s not… it’s a “prayer thing”.)

Anyway, John’s Gospel is deep water, whirlpools, waterspouts, and a good bit of flying thrown in. Only when a believer has anchored him/herself securely into their relationship with Jesus… will these celestial contemplative sections of John sort themselves out. (Of course, no one comes to “harm” reading in any part of the Gospels! Jesus’ Spirit is so there, all the time, to take them in hand. But they’ll just be “confused” when they’re way over their heads.)

https://churchsetfree.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/discipling-and-new-believers/

The Word must lead us to Love

This is a great quote – from today’s post over at “In my Father’s House” – which reminds us why we read and seek to understand God’s Word. There are so many other things that could motivate us, but here is surely the most important:

Beloved, our understanding of Scripture must lead us to love—to love God more and to love others unconditionally. Otherwise, we will stay in our fear-based paradigm and ultimately use Scripture as a club against one another because of our insecurities. Our diligent study will only lead to biblical idolatry, “having a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”(Rom.10:2), using “the letter that kills”rather than the “Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor.3:6). Our understanding must tenderize our hearts and lead us to show the same grace for others that we would want for ourselves. And this love will never do our neighbor harm, which fulfills all righteousness (Rom.13:10).

The hermeneutics of love – part two – http://wp.me/p3I7Ty-3zy

Four Prayers for Bible Reading | Desiring God

Great article:

When we open our Bibles to read, we’re never alone. The Holy Spirit hovers over and in the words of God, ready to stir our hearts, illumine our minds, and redirect our lives, all for the glory of Christ (John 16:14). The Spirit is the X factor in Bible reading, making an otherwise ordinary routine supernatural — and making it utterly foolish to read and study without praying for our eyes, minds, and hearts.

Prayer is a conversation, but not one we start. God speaks first. His voice sounds in the Scriptures and climactically in the person and work of his Son. Then, wonder of all wonders, he stops, he stoops, he bends his ear to listen to us. Prayer is almost too good to be true. With our eyes on God’s words, he gives us his ear, too.

How then should we pray over our Bibles? Here are four verses you might pray as you open God’s word.

1. Psalm 119:18: Open My Eyes to Wonder

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). We ask God to open our spiritual eyes to show us the glimpses of glory we cannot see by ourselves. Without his help, we are simply “natural” persons with natural eyes. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand [see] them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14–15).

“Seeing they do not” was Jesus’s phrase for those who saw him and his teaching only with natural eyes, without the illumining work of the Spirit (Matthew 13:13). This is why Paul prays for Christians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Ephesians 1:17–18).

Join the psalmist in praying not just for the gift of spiritual sight, but for the gift of seeing wondrous things in God’s word. Wonder is a great antidote for wandering. Those who cultivate awe keep their hearts warm and soft, and resist the temptations to grow cold and fall away.

2. Luke 18:38: Have Mercy on Me

Pray, like the blind man begging roadside, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” For as long as we are in this life, sin encumbers every encounter with God in his word. We fail friends and family daily — and even more, we fail God. So it is fitting to accompany our opening of God’s word with the humble, broken, poor plea of the redeemed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Bible reading is a daily prompt to own our failures, newly repent, and freshly cast ourselves on his grace all over again. Prayer is the path to staying fascinated with his grace and cultivating a spirit of true humility.

3. James 1:22: Make Me a Doer of Your Word

Pray that God, having opened your eyes to wonder and reminded you of the sufficiency of his grace, would produce genuine change in your life. Ask him to allow the seeds from Scripture to bear real, noticeable fruit in tangible acts of sacrificial love for others. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). You need not artificially capture one, specific point of application from every passage, but pray that his word would shape and inform and direct your practical living.

Ask that he would make you more manifestly loving, not less, because of the time invested alone in reading and studying his word.

4. Luke 24:45: Open My Eyes to Jesus

This is another way of praying that God would open our eyes to wonder, just with more specificity. The works of God stand as marvelous mountain ranges in the Bible, but the highest peak, and the most majestic vista, is the person and work of his Son.

As Jesus himself taught after his resurrection, he is the Bible’s closest thing to a skeleton key for unlocking the meaning of every text — every book, every plot twist, the whole story. First, “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27), then he taught his disciples that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). And in doing so, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

The great goal of Bible reading and study is this: knowing and enjoying Jesus. This is a taste now of heaven’s coming delights. “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). This gives direction, focus, and purpose to our study. “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). This forms great yearning and passion in our souls: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Keep both eyes peeled for Jesus. Until we see how the passage at hand relates to Jesus’s person and work, we haven’t yet finished the single most important aspect of our reading.

We are desperate for God’s ongoing help to see, and so we pray.

Related Articles

Three Tips for Better Bible Reading

Resolved: To Read the Bible

How to Read the Bible for Yourself

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He has edited and contributed to several books and is author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

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http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/four-prayers-for-bible-reading

“The dark before the morning” – our suffering and the weight of glory

Dawn_-_swifts_creek“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

JOHN PIPER: “Paul claims in these verses to have found the secret of an experience that virtually everyone in the world wants to have. This is an amazing claim. . . And I am referring to the experience of not losing heart, but being renewed day by day. . . There are suicidal people in the world who want life to be over. But that’s because they have tried and tried, and they don’t think there is such a secret, or at least think it’s not for them. They have lost heart. They don’t think there is anyway to be renewed in hope and strength and joy. It’s too late. If you came here like that tonight, I am praying for you, that God would free you from that lie. The devil is a liar. But I pray that you will know the truth and be set free. Paul has found this secret. He is not a liar. There is a way not to lose heart. There is a way to be renewed day by day.” (Read more and listen to John Piper’s talk THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE SIGHT OF ETERNITY here: http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/do-not-lose-heart)

This is the same claim explored in a beautiful song by Josh Wilson “Before the morning” – that in our sufferings we still have a reason to sing, that joy is coming, the pain we feel is just the “dark before the morning”. Listen/read the lyrics below and be encouraged! Dare to believe!

BEFORE THE MORNING (Josh Wilson & Ben Glover)
Do you wonder why you have to,
Feel the things that hurt you,
If there’s a God who loves you,
Where is He now?

Maybe, there are things you can’t see
And all those things are happening
To bring a better ending
Some day, some how, you’ll see, you’ll see

Would dare you, would you dare, to believe,
That you still have a reason to sing,
’cause the pain you’ve been feeling,
Can’t compare to the joy that’s coming
So hold on, you got to wait for the light

Press on, just fight the good fight
Because the pain you’ve been feeling,
It’s just the dark before the morning

My friend, you know how this all ends
And you know where you’re going,
You just don’t know how you get there
So just say a prayer.
And hold on, cause there’s good who love God,
Life is not a snapshot, it might take a little time,
But you’ll see the bigger picture

Once you feel the weight of glory,
All your pain will fade to memory
Once you feel the weight of glory,
All your pain will fade to memory
Memory, memory, yeah

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

Star-over-Bethlehem“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2) 

John Piper writes: “Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: it is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.”

(http://solidjoys.desiringgod.org/en/devotionals/bethlehem-s-supernatural-star)

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God’s Word leads us in prayer

prayer2Sometimes we can feel like our prayers are going unanswered, or that our feeble efforts to be consistent and persistent in prayer mean God probably doesn’t even want to answer! But God is not like us. He is compassionate and gracious. His grace is new every morning.

“Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:2)

If you need help to get praying again there are plenty of books to read on the topic. There is also journalling, prayer partners and other methods to try. But today I’d like to suggest a few simple points (courtesy of John Piper) to remind you that the greatest help for the practice of prayer is probably God’s Word itself. Consider the following reasons why:

  1. Much of the Bible is prayer (most of the Psalms especially).
  2. The Bible is full of commands and encouragements for us to pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  3. We are told to pray according to the will of God (1 John 5:14 ), and the Bible is the revealed will of God.
  4. The Word of God cannot be truly desired (Psalm 119:36) or spiritually comprehended (Psalm 119:18) or savingly spoken (2 Thessalonians 3:1) without the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we ask for by prayer.
  5. Being saturated with the Word of God produces an effective prayer life: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you , ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).

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