Good Works In The Christian Life (Reading Notes)

Worship is the glorifying of God, the making much of him, the magnifying of him so that he increases in coordination with our decrease.

Jesus tells his disciples that their good works should be lights shined on God (Matt. 5:16), meant to illuminate him for the benefit of those in the darkness, showing them the way out. The only way our good works will work this way – to repeat, the only way – is if our good works are acts of worship. This means our good works must be our response to the finished good work of Christ. If our good works are viewed as currency to exchange for the good work of Christ, they will be seen by the lost not as illuminating God’s goodness but illuminating ours.

Good works as worship are acts of thankfulness and joy. Good works as merit are acts of leverage and bribery. They do not magnify the God of free grace but make him appear like a loan officer. And God is not accepting applications for service; he is redeeming captives who then gratefully serve him of their own free(d) will. We invite the Spirit’s filling with our good works as we “sow to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8), but we do not earn him with them. (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)


How Should We Pray?

prayerHave you every wondered how you should pray. I mean we know we need to pray but how should we pray? I think Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 gives us a great example to consider:

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Jesus uttered this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion. The stakes could not have been higher. In fact, Luke tells us that Jesus was sweating drops of blood as he prayed this prayer. The cross loomed large in his mind. He would soon bear the weight of sin. But, his prayer was simple.

1. He acknowledged that his Heavenly Father was all powerful.

2. He requested that the cup be removed.

3. He submitted to his Father’s will.

Eugene Peterson summed it up this way in the Message: “Papa, Father, you can – can’t you? – get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want – what do you want?”

Jesus prayed in intimate relationship with his Heavenly Father. He acknowledged the Father’s power to do “all things.” The thing, in this moment, he requested was that the cup of suffering would be taken away. Yet, he finished his prayer asking his Father to fulfill his plan. William Lane, in his commentary on Mark, wrote that Jesus demonstrated “obedient surrender and unconditional faith” in this prayer.

Are we willing to pray like this?

Do we really believe that God can do all things? Will we lay out our requests before him believing he wants to hear from us? Are we willing to submit to his plan?

The focus of prayer is not to get something we want from God. Prayer is primarily about spiritual formation. We pray in faith believing God can do all things. We pray transparently knowing God wants to hear our cares and concerns. We pray submitting to what God wants. Praying like this forms us and makes us useful in the hands of a good and sovereign Heavenly Father.


The Gospel Is The Key (Reading Notes)

“The gospel must be central to our Christian lives; it is not the ABC’s of spiritual growth, but the A to Z. The problem prior to gospel wakefulness is that we do not see how the gospel can sustain such energies, such longevity. We see it as an entry fee, an insurance certificate. But the gospel is daily bread. It is robust and resilient enough to sustain not just for all of life, but for all eternity. The gospel is the antidote for the human predicament, for all of humanity itself.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)


From The Garden Of Eden To The Garden of Gethsemane (Reading Notes)

“While Jesus did not hesitate to speak openly of his betrayal, the reference to the betrayal and death of the Son of Man served to direct attention to the utter seriousness of the offense. Jesus’ apparent defenseless and humiliation in Gethsemane veiled his true dignity. Only after the resurrection did the significance of the transaction concluded there become clear. Just as rebellion in a garden brought Death’s reign over man (Gen. 3:1-19), submission in Gethsemane reversed that pattern of rebellion and sets in motion a sequence of events which defeated Death itself (Heb. 5:7-10).” (William Lane, The Gospel of Mark in The New International Commentary of the New Testament)


Get The Junk Out Of Your Life!

Room-full-of-clutter

I am beyond ready for this cold wintery weather to move out and spring to arrive! I’m ready to see the flowers bloom and spend time outside enjoying God’s beautiful creation as it comes alive again. Spring is my favorite time of year.

But, there is one thing about spring that I hate… spring-cleaning! That sigh you just let out tells me you hate it as much as I do. Isn’t it amazing how much junk can accumulate in our closets and garages from one year to the next. I will be perfectly honest, I think my junk has babies right around Christmas every year!

Our closets and garages are not the only things that accumulate junk. Often our lives become overloaded as well. We may be doing good things but there is no way possible to continue doing all that we are doing without burning out. Spring offers us a great opportunity to take inventory in our own lives and do some cleaning.

As we head into spring I want to encourage you to do these three things:

  1. Ask God to show you what needs to be “cleaned out” in your life. What priorities have gotten out of line over the last year? What can you let go of that will help you and your family grow closer to the Lord?
  1. Ask God to give you the strength to say “no.” It is not enough to clean things out if you put other things back in their place. Are you willing to say no to good things so that you can say yes to God’s best?
  1. Ask God to help you be content. I often find it hard to be content unless I am busy. I think is one of the greatest struggles in the American church today. Will you be still long enough to hear from the Lord? Will you be content just sitting in his presence?

I don’t know about you but I know that I need to do some spring-cleaning, both at my home and in my heart. Will you join me?


Dealing With Discouragement In Ministry

If you have been in ministry for very long you have dealt with discouragement. The reasons are numerous: someone recently left the church, you were slandered, the sermon didn’t go like you though it would, attendance was down, etc. What do we do when we are smack dab in the middle of discouragement? How do we cope? I have found that reminding myself of these four truths helps in these moments:

1. You are who the gospel says you are. We must remember that we are children of God before we are pastors. We are recipients of amazing grace before we are dispensers of that grace to our people. So, who are we according to the gospel? We are perfectly righteous because of Christ’s righteousness. We are loved. We have worth because of what God says about us, not what the world says about us. Our value is not based on the size of our church; it is based on Christ’s value.

I find it easy to remind my people who they are in Christ but I struggle to listen to and apply gospel truth in my own life. Paul Tripp said, “No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do.” What do you tell yourself? Pastor, do you remind yourself who you are in Christ?

2. You are not alone. I tend to think that I am the only pastor who struggles with discouragement but Scripture quickly reminds me that this is not the case. After Elijah had called fire down from heaven and destroyed the prophets of Baal (a ministry high no doubt) we see him utter these words the next day: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Did you catch that? Elijah was so discouraged that he asked God to kill him.

One of my ministry heroes, Charles Spurgeon, often struggled with depression. He wrote: “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Often we think those who God used mightily never struggled. We are under the illusion that they had it all together and never faced discouragement. The opposite is the case. It is so helpful to remember that we are not alone as we face these things!

3. You are under attack. Spiritual warfare is real and pastors are on the front line of the battle. Satan is no dummy. Here is his logic: “If I can knock of the shepherd the sheep will scatter.” He employs a number of strategies to accomplish this mission of sidelining pastors. We see pastor’s fall for any number of reasons: addiction to pornography, affairs, financial improprieties, pride, etc. I think one of the slickest ways Satan attacks pastors is to encourage them to make their ministry an idol. Many of us, if we boil it all down, worship our ministry more than we worship Jesus. It has become our idol.

There is only one thing to do when you are under attack… prepare for the battle. Paul wrote: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:11-18). Are you preparing for the battle daily?

4. You are called to faithfulness. Paul knew this and reminded the church in Corinth of this reality: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor” (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

Maybe this will lift a burden – God does not hold you accountable for whether or not the church grows. He holds pastors accountable for our labor, our faithfulness to preach the Word and minister to the people. The words we should long to hear from the Lord are these: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23).Be faithful and leave the results up to him!


Hope For The In-Between

My heart broke as news came out about the 21 Coptic Christians murdered by ISIS in Egypt. This poem was written soon afterwards. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

I continue to watch the story unfold,
A front row seat of loss untold.
Cries of pain shatter hopes and dreams,
The innocent are dashed so it seems.

The blood of the saints is spilled on the ground,
“Evil wins” is cry of the crowd.
Despair creeps in, all is lost it appears,
Yet, I’m comforted by hope that draws near.

Hope secured on a bloody cross,
Victory assured in spite of the cost.
The promise of all creation redeemed,
I cling to hope for the in-between.

The Savior’s words ring out, ring true,
We are but pilgrims, strangers passing through.
Struggle and toil in this world is our lot,
The Spirit groans when our strength is naught.

We long for a shout and the trumpet sound,
When the heavens split and peace reigns down.
All is made right, the righteous sing,
As every knee bows before the risen King.

Hope secured on a bloody cross,
Victory assured in spite of the cost.
The promise of all creation redeemed,
I cling to hope for the in-between.


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