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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

This week: eroding continents, design in trees, grace in the gospel, and more on the twin reduction issue.

Continents Should Have Eroded Long Ago (by Brian Thomas, ICR)

A new study indicates that the earth’s overall erosion rate, although slow, would have leveled the continents at least 70 times over if they are as old as the evolutionary claim maintains!

13-Year-Old Makes Solar Breakthrough Based on the Fibonacci Sequence (by Molly Cotter)

“The tree design takes up less room than flat-panel arrays and works in spots that don’t have a full southern view. It collects more sunlight in winter. Shade and bad weather like snow don’t hurt it because the panels are not flat. It even looks nicer because it looks like a tree. A design like this may work better in urban areas where space and direct sunlight can be hard to find.”

Tim Keller Striking the Note of Grace, Grace, Grace (by David Zahl)

Non-Christians will always automatically hear gospel presentations as appeals to become moral and religious, unless in your preaching you use the good news of grace to deconstruct legalism. Only if you show them there’s a difference–that what they really rejected wasn’t real Christianity at all–will they even begin to consider Christianity.

Half-Aborted: Why do "reductions" of twin pregnancies trouble pro-choicers? (By William Saletan, Slate)

Reduction destroys this distinction. It combines, in a single pregnancy, a wanted and an unwanted fetus. In the case of identical twins, even their genomes are indistinguishable. You can’t pretend that one is precious and the other is just tissue. You’re killing the same creature to which you’re dedicating your life.

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This past week I read 1 Corinthians over the course of about 3 days and God showed me one discussion I’d never seen there before: hard work versus grace. It was encouraging and helpful for me as I’ve been wrestling with my own personal habits and disciplines that I need to be renewed in and step up in. I found 5 lessons in how grace and hard work go together.

#1: Hard work is not a means of status or standing (Ch. 1-4, 12-14).

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31 ESV)

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11 ESV)

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:22-25 ESV)

#2: We work hard but, by His grace, God gives the fruit (Ch. 3)

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. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV)

#3: Hard work is not the primary source of fighting sin and resisting temptation, grace is (Ch. 10)

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:9-13 ESV)

#4: Love is what we should strive to work hardest at (Ch. 13)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

#5: We work hard in light of eternity (our future grace!) (Ch. 15)

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?”
    The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:54-58 ESV)

#6: Christ’s work, not ours, is of first importance (Ch. 15)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV)

1 Corinthians is a very helpful book of the Bible that I think I’ve neglected in the past. The Corinthians were struggling with status symbols, striving for a standing with each other, worried about who was following who, boasting in themselves and their leaders, working hard at their reputation and establishing their own justification. Paul very gently reproves this heart and encourages them in striving to be Christ-centered, not man-centered. He never tells them to stop striving or to stop working – but to work hard in the right motivation (in light of His grace) and right direction (loving and building up others).

Personally, I need to step it up in certain disciplines (like exercise and prayer) not so I will look good and feel more justified but to know God better and increase in my capacity to love and bless others. I want to be freed from my own selfishness and I need to work hard. But God will bring the growth as I persevere and trust Him. He has good plans and it may be that I need to wrestle with my sin for awhile in order to draw closer to Him and grow in humility. What I fear is either justifying myself through discipline or not persevering. God in 1 Corinthians reveals the antidote to both: the grace of God.

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We’ve had a garden for 2 summers now. It’s been a privilege and a blessing, I know not everyone has the space or yard to do it. But I’ve been surprised at what a blessing building a garden truly has been. One of my favorite things to do is walk through it either when getting home from work or when our kids are in bed. I get to see growth each day, see where plants are struggling, and see foreshadowing of the fruit to come. There’s a part I can’t even explain, but it’s been encouraging in my relationship with Jesus.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

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Refreshment

There’s one word that I could use to describe my time (and my wife would agree) in our garden: refreshing. Maybe it’s the piece of wild nature vs. the boring and tame grass lawn. Maybe it’s the patience that is grown in you as you wait and watch. Maybe it’s the promise of reward in the fruit to come.

We’re growing carrots, 2 kinds of lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, 4 kinds of pumpkins, squash, cucumber, and cantaloupe. I’m not a big vegetable eater (I should be) but I love everything we grow. There’s a big difference between what comes out of your own garden versus store-bought. Don’t hear me as one of those extreme organic foodies, though I can appreciate the conviction, my family has to be budget conscious and we’re not opposed to Wal-Mart (though we do not prefer their produce which can be pretty putrid).

I love watching my kids eat fresh lettuce and green beans straight out of the garden to their mouths. They love helping with, and being in our garden as well. I love seeing their amazement at the growth and just the smallest signs of fruit.

Reinforcement

Do you understand photosynthesis? Especially the whole making-trees-and-leaves-and-fruit-out-of-thin-air part? Go blow on that bush. You can’t see it, but the bush will turn your breath into raspberry juice. We could improve on the name. Photosynthesis. I’ve suggested Green Magyk, but no one listens to me. – N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

My kids’ perspective has been teaching me to wonder more as well. Having a garden reinforces just how amazing God is and how ridiculous the concept of evolution is. Seriously, how can something start as this:

and grow to this (and not be done yet):

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Don’t give me Occam’s Razor or some argument about photosynthesis and random mutation. Please. Build a garden and watch it grow and try to not be amazed by it all.

Gardening reinforces that God does the growth but also that He can just as soon end it.

Resilience

A couple of weeks we had a crazy hail storm that lasted for about 5 minutes with golf-ball sized hail. Thankfully, we had just set up tarps to cover our plants only a few days earlier! However, the hail was intense and there were two plants that did not get adequately covered – a pumpkin plant and a cherry tomato that already had a few growing on it. The pumpkin plant in particular had only 2 leaves (out of 20-30) remaining undamaged. It was practically flattened! I wish I had a picture to show you just how crushed it was. My wife and I thought that there was no way the pumpkin plant would survive.

Today it is fully recovered, has plenty of buds, and you could not even tell unless you looked closely that it was hurt. That’s amazing. The cherry tomato plant is struggling on one side but is still growing despite now getting mugged by slugs (beer to the rescue)! Seeing the resilience of a few plants is convicting and encouraging.

There’s hail, tornadoes, frost, heat waves, bugs, darkness and death, but that’s never the full picture of this world that God has made. There is beauty, resilience, yummy fruit, massive thriving pumpkins, grace after the hail, reward from hard work, and it all whispers His name. I’m thinking that’s where the refreshment of my garden ultimately comes from.

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Most people in the pew are simply not acquainted with the doctrine of justification. Often, it is not a part of the diet of preaching and church life, much less a dominant theme in the Christian subculture. With either stern rigor or happy tips for better living, “fundamentalists” and “progressives” alike smother the gospel in moralism, through constant exhortations to personal transformation that keep the sheep looking to themselves rather than looking outside of themselves to Christ… – Michael Horton, “Does Justification Still Matter?”

“First Things First” by Tullian Tchividjian is an immensely helpful article when it comes to the significance of our understanding of our justification. The article springs out of a friendly discussion between Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung about the importance of justification in relation to making an effort to grow in godliness. DeYoung argues that justification is critical but that we still need to “make every effort” and work hard to grow spiritually. Tchividjian agrees that hard work is necessary but argues that understanding our justification is a key “effort” that needs to happen if we want to grow:

What is indisputable is the fact that unbelief is the force that gives birth to all of our bad behavior and every moral failure. It is the root. “The sin underneath all sins”, said Martin Luther, “is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands.” Therefore, since justification is where the guillotine for unbelief and self-salvation is located–declaring that we are already righteous for Christ’s sake–we dare not assume it, brush over it, or move past it. It must never become the backdrop. It must remain front and center–getting the most attention.

Justification: We Don’t Get It

Justification is much too often assumed and not enjoyed. I’ve seen this in my own life. I think I have always understood my forgiveness (though certainly not the depth of it!) in Christ but justification not half as well. I think I really started thinking about it more after I sat through a message by Tim Keller 2 years ago. Most of the time I think we act like convicted felons recently released from prison. Our slate has been wiped clean but now we better find a job and make a new life. We may have been exonerated but there’s always that mark on us. We better earn our way from this point forward.

Justification: We’d Rather Earn It

We may never say that out loud but we live that way. Our flesh, especially in a “Meritocracy” like America, is prone to be works and guilt driven rather than walking in grace and in our justification. We have more control that way. It’s more focused on us. It’s less messy. It feels safer. I’d much rather say, “Look at all that I’m doing for God! I am a beast in the kingdom!” than, “I am nothing but for the grace of God and I have everything through that grace, completely undeserved.” We accepted the gospel and turned to Christ but now we want rules and simple obedience. However, it doesn’t work.

The greatest danger facing the church is not that we take the commands of God lightly. To be sure, that is a bonafide danger but it’s a surface danger. The deep, under the surface danger (which produces the surface danger) is that we take the announcement of God in the gospel too lightly. The only people who take the commands of God lightly are those who take the gospel lightly–who don’t revel in and rejoice over what J. Gresham Machen called the “triumphant indicative.” Beholding necessarily leads to becoming. Or to put it another way, this wonderful and neglected view of justification by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone that I am championing does not deny the impulse toward holiness. Rather it produces it!

Justification: The Power to Rest is the Power to Grow

Later, Tchividjian goes on about the law versus the gospel…

The law now serves us by showing us how to love God and others and when we fail to keep it, the gospel brings comfort by reminding us that God’s infinite approval doesn’t depend on our keeping of the law but on Christ’s keeping of the law on our behalf. And guess what? This makes me want to obey him more, not less! As Spurgeon wrote, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.”

Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So again, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.

Don’t read those thoughts lightly. Motivation by works and by rules is motivation by fear and guilt. As a parent, I think about the limits of that motivation. Fear and guilt only go so far and I’d rather not have it that way. I’m convicted by how much I default to threats and the use of discipline but I don’t want it that way. I want my kids to be motivated to obey my wife and I out of a trust and love for us (and for God), understanding how much we care for them. I want my kids to believe that we have good for them and will provide it at the best time possible.

Fear gets us only to do just enough not to face wrath. Love empowers us to creativity and the second mile. This is what God desires in us. If God desired us to be primarily stirred up by fear of his wrath, Jesus would not have come to us as a humble, poor carpenter who consistently called attention not to his miracles but to his coming death and ransom for sin. He certainly would not be the one who told us that he plans to show us the extent of his kindness towards us for all of eternity.

When we start establishing our own justification, instead of trusting in our already completed justification in Christ, we dissolve into fear and away from love and grace. We also make it about ourselves and not God. At that point, what exactly are we growing in and why? Is life about our own perfection or knowing Jesus?

It’s very important to remember that the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. When the Christian faith becomes defined by who we are and what we do and not by who Christ is and what he did for us, we miss the gospel–and we, ironically, become more disobedient.

As Tim Keller has said, “The Bible is not fundamentally about us. It’s fundamentally about Jesus. The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to consistently and constantly show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome.”

Read the whole discussion:

Make Every Effort (by Kevin DeYoung)

Work Hard! But in Which Direction? (by Tullian Tchividjian)

Gospel-Driven Effort (by Kevin DeYoung)

First Things First (by Tullian Tchividjian)

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This week: Jonathan Edwards’ first resolution, the grace-loving antinomian, redemptive embarrassment, and some thoughts on family worship.

Jonathan Edwards’ First Resolution (by Matt Perman/What’s Best Next)

First, he sees no ultimate conflict between his good and God’s glory. God’s glory is most important, but his good is found in pursuing God’s glory. There is no ultimate conflict between his joy and the magnification of God’s excellence.

An Open Letter To Mr. Grace-Loving Antinomian (by Tullian Tchividjian)

There seems to be a fear out there that the preaching of radical grace produces serial killers. Or, to put it in more theological terms, too much emphasis on the indicatives of the gospel leads to antinomianism (a lawless version of Christianity that believes the directives and commands of God don’t matter). My problem with this fear is that I’ve never actually met anyone who has been truly gripped by God’s amazing grace in the gospel who then doesn’t care about obeying him

Redemptive/Historical Embarrassment (by Doug Wilson/Blog & Mablog)

They know further that the only reason they are keeping quiet is that they would be ashamed to be identified with a position that has had so much opprobrium heaped on it. And believe me, the lordship of Jesus over everything will always have opprobrium heaped on it. Who wants to be a nutter? Keep it respectable, champ. Keep your head down. Read those books, certainly. Enjoy them in your study, friend. No harm in that,  but don’t go to extremes. Keep your head down.

How I Lead My Children in Personal Devotions (by Tim Challies)

I find that the kids are quite eager to do devotions, but also very quick to lose the habit if I do not help them maintain it. It was not until I stepped up my leadership that they began to do it with regularity.

Second Thoughts on Family Worship (by Jerry Owen/Credenda Agenda)

We simply are not required to have a set, formal, liturgical time of worship as families. I’m glad some people do this and benefit from it, and as far as they do, I’m for it, but no one should feel it is something they ought to do. This is not the same thing as saying parents shouldn’t read the Bible, pray and talk about God with their children. Of course they should. And it’s helpful if this is regular, methodical, and often. But some of the healthiest Christian families I know never had “family worship” formally conducted.

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For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

These are very familiar words to us in the body of Christ. We use them relatively often. But how do we typically use them? We speak these words of God when wrestling with the problem of suffering. My thoughts are not your thoughts in this context equates to: “This is really difficult but I am going to trust God because His wisdom and His thoughts are higher than mine.” This is the truth! This is encouraging! This is how I would use these words as well thinking about hard circumstances that I do not understand or God’s timing in many situations. However, when I read this the other day, the context revealed a different intention for these words that I had never previously connected with and it was very encouraging to my soul. Let’s read the whole thing in context:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found;

call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake his way,

and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

(Isaiah 55:6-9 ESV)

Wow. Do you see it? What does God mean in saying “My thoughts are not your thoughts?” One reading of this in context still leads to a similar reading as above: that our ways are sinful and need to be repented of, that God’s ways are not our ways, He is holy. I think this is correct. But I think there is more to it and it keys on the statement “he will abundantly pardon.” Put that phrase in the context of “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” God’s grace is significantly greater than we can imagine! We have a God who not merely pardons or has compassion on us, but abundantly pardons! He is not the harsh demanding father we make Him out to be! He does not think about us the way we do about ourselves. What does God say at the beginning of Isaiah 55 but “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” Come to Him! He has stores of grace that we cannot fathom. We question the Father’s love for us. We question our worthiness of His love. We subject ourselves to the slavery of trying to establish our own righteousness or living for the approval of others or being very afraid to fail. We wallow in our sin and act like prison convicts just released – forgiven but having to make it on our own.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV)

God says to us, “I abundantly pardon! I know you cling to your works and sinful identity but my thoughts are not your thoughts! My love is a love that surpasses knowledge! I am for you! I love you with a perfect zealous love that I demonstrated in the brutal sacrifice of my own son on the cross! My glorious grace goes deeper than you can imagine. My ways are not your ways! I love you, I have compassion on you, and I abundantly pardon. Come to me and thirst no more!” Believe it. Put your trust in our God! He is not like us. He does not think like us. He does not get frustrated like us. He loves you unwaveringly.

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I saw this posted today on the Desiring God blog and was so encouraged by what Paul Tripp had to say, I felt I needed to call special attention to it.

If you’re confused about what God’s agenda is in your life, or if it doesn’t always seem like his promises are being fulfilled, then this strange little prayer from Psalm 51 is helpful and clarifying. In his psalm of repentance after his sin against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah, David writes this provocative little prayer, “Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” What in the world is he talking about and how in the world can it give perspective and hope to you and me?

Let me begin to answer with a personal confession. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I have a low tolerance for difficulty. I confess that I am a project-oriented person. I tend to have a specific agenda for each day. I awake knowing exactly what I want to accomplish and what a successful day will look like. I don’t want to have to deal with interruptions or obstacles. I want the people, circumstances and locations to willingly submit to my sovereignty and participate in my plan. All of this means that it’s counterintuitive for me to view difficulty as something beneficial. I have little time or tolerance for “broken bones.”

But I have a problem. My Redeemer is the redeemer of broken bones. Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Paul, what in the world are you talking about?” Well, here it is. “Broken bones” is a physical word picture for the pain of redemption.

I don’t like being uncomfortable and I certainly don’t view difficulty as a fantastic thing most of the time, seeing it as a benefit!

We very rapidly forget or ignore the powerfully addicting dangers of sin and think we can step over God’s boundaries without personal and moral cost. We think we are stronger than we really are and wiser than we actually prove to be. We assess that we have character, discipline and strength that we don’t really have. So God, in the beauty of his redeeming love, will “break our bones.” He will bring us through difficulty, suffering, want, sadness, loss and grief in order to ensure that we are living in pursuit of the one thing that each of us desperately needs—him.

God will not let us be satisfied with anything else but Him and because He is our loving, perfect, caring Father, He will shepherd us towards the right satisfaction, that is, in Him.

God hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t turned his back on you. He isn’t punishing you in anger. He surely isn’t withholding the grace that he has promised from you. No, you’re receiving grace, but it’s grace that is willing to break bones in order to capture and transform your heart. This grace is unrelenting. This grace has no intention of giving up. This grace will not be satisfied with the status quo. This grace does not get discouraged. It will never compromise. It will never become bitter or cynical. This is loving, patient, perseverant, powerful grace.

God does not forget us. He does not fall asleep and just let our lives turn to wreckage. He is always at work. He is always after your heart. His grace does not give up! Read the rest here.


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