You Can Look Down or Come Down

John 19:2-5 – “the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’”

Ours is a world in which everyone is trying to go up. In business, everyone is trying to climb the corporate ladder to get a bigger office and bigger income through a better job. In politics, everyone is positioning themselves for greater prominence, power, and poll numbers. There is no bestselling book on how to have less, be less, and suffer more.

In Heaven, worshipped as a King by angels as He sat on a throne, Jesus had it all. He was literally at the top of every ladder. Then, Jesus did the unthinkable – He came down that ladder to the earth to be born to peasant parents and laid in an animal’s feeding trough as His first crib. For roughly 90 percent of His life, Jesus lived in obscurity, working in a small town as a carpenter with His dad. His ministry lasted a short three years and resulted in religious and political leaders forming an unholy alliance to murder Him. In mockery, Jesus was publicly beaten, then forced to wear a crown of thorns before being flogged so that His body was ravaged beyond recognition.

Why?

Jesus is humble. Satan is proud, and Jesus is humble. Satan was the first being to try and go up and usurp God as the one sitting on the throne. When Satan was cast down to the earth, he brought pride with him. When Jesus came to earth, He brought humility with Him and established the Kingdom virtue which is the opposite of the way the world works. This explains why on the list of things God hates, pride comes first, Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him” and first on the list is “haughty eyes”. Haughty eyes are proud and look down on people who are beneath you. Jesus looked down upon the earth with humble eyes and came down to love and serve others by placing Himself beneath them.

What prideful area of your life needs the most urgent attention

 

By Mark Driscoll

Read the Bible as a Story

The Bible isn’t an encyclopedia.

That frustrates some of you. Wouldn’t it be easier if the Word of God had alphabetized tabs so we could search for a topic, find our verse, and be on our way?

But the Bible is intentionally written as a story – a theologically annotated narrative with God’s notes. From cover to cover, this grand story details the wondrous works of God and then applies it to our everyday life. You simply cannot understand yourself, your world, and the meaning and purpose of your existence unless you view them from the vantage point of the reality, character, and plan of God.

So the next time you’re tempted to use the Scriptures as an encyclopedia, read it as a story instead. Here are five elements to look for when you do:

1. Identity: It’s only by reading this story that you will learn that you were made by God and for God, that everything you are and everything you have comes from him, and that you were made to live for something vastly bigger than yourself.

2. Understanding: You will never know all that you need to know in order to live as you were designed to live by human experience, research, and analysis. This is why God immediately spoke with Adam and Eve after he created them. In the same way, God speaks to us in his Word so that we can know and understand, and in knowing and understanding, live as we were created to live.

3. Comfort: The world in which you live can be very confusing, distressing, and painful. But the biblical story comforts us with another reality – that our world is not out of control. Rather, our world is under the careful personal control of One who is the ultimate definition of everything that is good, true, wise, and loving. We can rest, not because we understand what’s happening, but because we know the One who rules it all.

4. Salvation: This is the ultimate reason for the Word of God. Without it, we wouldn’t know that our biggest problem exists inside us and is called sin. The biblical story chronicles the great things God has done and is doing to rescue, forgive, and deliver us from our sin. The epicenter event of the narrative is the Cross of Jesus Christ, delivering to us the one thing that we desperately need but cannot achieve on our own – new life.

5. Hope: The biblical story, because it is a story, has a final chapter. One day, the sickness, sadness, and sin of this broken world will end. We will be like God and with God forever. The Author of this Book has guaranteed the end of the story by raising Jesus from the dead. No matter what happens, we have hope, because we know the final page has already been penned.

The old hymn says, “I love to tell the story of unseen things above; of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.”

How much do you love this story?

We Will Rule All Things

 “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”(Revelation 3:21)

What does Jesus mean when he says this to the church in Laodicea?

Sit with Jesus on his throne? Really?

This is a promise to everyone who conquers, that is, who presses on in faith to the end (1 John 5:4), in spite of every threatening pain and luring, sinful pleasure. So if you are a true believer in Jesus, you will sit on the throne of the Son of God who sits on the throne of God the Father.

I take “throne of God” to signify the right and authority to rule the universe. That’s where Jesus sits. “He must reign,” Paul said, “until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:25). So when Jesus says, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne,” he promises us a share in the rule of all things.

Is this what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 1:22–23? “He put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

We, the church, are “the fullness of him who fills all.” What does that mean? I take it to mean that the universe will be filled with the glory of the Lord (Numbers 14:21). And one dimension of that glory will be the complete and unopposed extension of his rule everywhere.

Therefore, Ephesians 1:23 would mean: Jesus fills the universe with his own glorious rule through us. Sharing in his rule, we are the fullness of his rule. We rule on his behalf, by his power, under his authority. In that sense, we sit with him on his throne.

None of us feels this as we should. It is too much — too good, too amazing. That’s why Paul prays for God’s help that “the eyes of your hearts [would be] enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18).

Without omnipotent help now, we cannot feel the wonder of what we are destined to become. But if we are granted to feel it, as it really is, all our emotional reactions to this world will change. The strange and radical commands of the New Testament will not be as strange as they once seemed.

By John Piper

Should We Only Pray for God the Father or Can We Pray to Jesus and The Holy Spirit?

Jesus’ longest prayer is in John 17. There, Jesus prays to God as “Father”, which is his common pattern. Every time I preach about it, many people have the same question, “Should we pray to God the Father or can we pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit?”

That is a common question. As a general rule, most of our praying should be to God the Father. Jesus taught us saying in Matthew 6:9, “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven”. Jesus modeled praying to God as Father repeatedly as some 165 times in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), He refers to God as Father which is His favorite name for God.

Sometimes, it is fine to pray to Jesus. There is an occasion when an early church leader named Stephen prayed to Jesus as he was dying. We read in Acts 7:59 that Stephen saw Jesus in heaven and “he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’”.

Christian prayer is most often Trinitarian. Practically, this means we pray by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, to God the Father. Praying by the Spirit is clearly taught in the Bible. Ephesians 6:18 says we should be, “praying at all times in the Spirit”. Jude 1:20 says we should be, “praying in the Holy Spirit”. Praying through Jesus Christ is what He meant teaching us to pray, “in my name” (John 14:13-14).

There are times, however, when it is sensible to pray to Jesus or the Spirit. For example, if you are reading the Bible and reminded that Jesus died in your place for your sins on the cross, it is a good thing to stop and thank Him for doing that work on your behalf. Or, if you love someone who is far from God and not paying any attention to the bad decisions that are harming their life and relationship with God, you can pray to the Spirit to convict them of their sin as that is one of His ministries (John 16:8).

Which member of the Trinity do you feel most familiar with? How can you get to know the others?

By Mark Driscoll

Gain What You Cannot Lose

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Here are two great incentives from Jesus to become a World Christian and to dedicate yourself to the cause of Frontier Missions. As a goer or a sender.

  1. Every impossibility with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). The conversion of hardened sinners will be the work of God and will accord with his sovereign plan. We need not fear or fret over our weakness. The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give the victory.
  2. Christ promises to work for us, and to be for us so much that, when our missionary life is over, we will not be able to say we’ve sacrificed anything (Mark 10:29–30).

When we follow his missionary prescription, we discover that even the painful side effects work to improve our condition. Our spiritual health, our joy, improves a hundredfold. And when we die, we do not die. We gain eternal life.

I do not appeal to you to screw up your courage and sacrifice for Christ. I appeal to you to renounce all you have, to obtain life that satisfies your deepest longings. I appeal to you to count all things as rubbish for the surpassing value of standing in the service of the King of kings. I appeal to you to take off your store-bought rags and put on the garments of God’s ambassadors.

I promise you persecutions and privations — but remember the joy! “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

On January 8, 1956, five Waorani Indians of Ecuador killed Jim Elliot and his four missionary companions as they were trying to bring the gospel to the Waorani tribe of sixty people.

Four young wives lost husbands and nine children lost their fathers. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that the world called it a nightmare of tragedy. Then she added, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’”

By John Piper

How is Your Spiritual Diet?

Malachi 2:1-2: “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.”

When each of our five children were little, my wife Grace was amazing to watch. For her entire life, she had studied health and nutrition. Once the kids showed up, she knew exactly what to feed them and what not to feed them. As I asked her to inform my ignorance, she explained that the children’s digestive system meant that their little body could not process all foods. Many would make them sick or even cause them to develop lifelong allergies if they were introduced into their diet too early.

I had no idea and had I been the one feeding the kids, it would not have gone well. The old adage “you are what you eat” is apparently quite true. And what is true of your body is also true of your soul. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus said that we should feed our soul the word of God and that God’s “word” was soul “bread”. Practically, when I teach the Bible at church, I am to feed the souls of our church family with the same care that Grace feeds the bodies of our family at home.

In Malachi, God, through the prophet, keeps rebuking the Old Testament pastors (called priests) publicly. These are the leaders who are also supposed to be the feeders. But they are not listening to God and feeding the people healthy doctrine. God is passionate about seeing His children well fed so they can be healthy rather than sick. This is a bit like the conversation Jesus had with Peter when He told him “feed my sheep”.

Like the priests, there are many people who God expects to feed the souls of others – pastors, ministry leaders, moms, dads, teachers, coaches, spouses, counselors, authors, friends, etc. To feed someone is a great honor, and great responsibility. This is why James 3:1 says, “…we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Who feeds your soul? Whose soul do you feed? What are you eating? What are you feeding others?

In Titus 2:1, the Bible tells us to “teach what accords with sound doctrine”. That word for “sound” is sometimes translated “healthy”? Why? Because when rightly taught, the Word of God makes the soul of a person healthy so that they become increasingly healthy from the inside out.

Is there anything you are learning or consuming in the form of content (videos, books, blogs, social media, television, movies, podcasts, etc.) that is not healthy and is making your soul unhealthy?

By Mark Driscoll

The First Proclamation of the Gospel

Throughout the Old Testament, we read prophecies of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. His coming is first foretold in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

It’s the first time the Good News is mentioned in the Bible. Right after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God immediately revealed His plan to send a Redeemer, His Son, to offer salvation to a sinful world.

Can you see the promise of Jesus in this passage? The phrase “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman [symbolizing all of humanity]” describes the coming, longlasting struggle between good and evil. “You shall bruise his heel ” refers to Satan’s attempts to defeat Christ, the woman’s offspring. “He shall bruise your head” foretells Christ’s victory over Satan when He defeated death.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, by Charles Wesley, is one of my favorite Christmas carols. In the original version, Wesley refers to that passage of Scripture:

Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home; Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed, Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Since the beginning of time, Satan has been out to steal, kill, and destroy us. He desires for you to follow his evil, destructive, and deadly path. He repeatedly attempted to defeat Christ during His 33 years on earth, and I am sure Satan thought he had the final victory when Christ took His last breath. But when Jesus rose from the grave, He conquered death and defeated Satan. Remember, Jesus came to give life to you and me:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it  bundantly.”—John 10:10

Whether you are dreading this Christmas season or excitedly anticipating all it brings, keep in mind that Christ stands in victory. Don’t let Satan rob you of the joy of the season.

Christmas is the time when we remember that God’s Son was born—born to live so that He could die for you. What a precious thing to celebrate! What are you doing to take time to appreciate and focus on the gift of Christ this Christmas season?

By Cissie Graham Lynch

For God’s Little People

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  Luke 2:1–5

 

Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5:2 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living not in Bethlehem but in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two unheard-of, insignificant, little people to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town? A decree for the entire world in order to move two people seventy miles!

Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is about big political and economic and social movements and outstanding people with global significance and lots of power and prestige?

If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake, but for the sake of God’s little people — the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to fulfill his word and bless his children.

Do not think, because you experience adversity in your little world of experience, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity or our fame but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” And he is always turning it for his saving and sanctifying and eternal purposes among his people.

He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors and chiefs of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ — and then enter his eternal glory.

By John Piper

God the Father Says, “I Have Loved You”

 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?”

– Malachi 1:2a

Sometimes, life is incredibly disappointing, discouraging, and deflating. As believers, we read about the power of God over and over in the Bible. But, we often don’t see it show up in our lives. We also read of heaven and how wonderful everything will be when God is done with history. But in the meantime, life can feel like we are carsick kids stuck in the back of a crowded car on a long road trip to Disneyland – it will be great once we get there but it’s an awful ride in the meantime.

In the book of Malachi, God’s children (young and old) were struggling. Perhaps you can relate to them? Financially, they were in a crisis as their economy had collapsed and no relief was in sight. Politically, their little nation was getting kicked around by other nations and armies. Morally, it became the norm for people to stop obeying God and do pretty much whatever they wanted. Spiritually, folks were still dropping in on church now and then, but they just went through the motions giving little money, energy, or passion to the Lord. To make matters worse, the spiritual leaders had developed some newfangled popular teaching that God had failed. Yes, they added to God’s attributes a new one – failure! People are largely the product of the teaching they receive, and once the people were convinced that God had basically sinned against them by failing them, most everyone who was hurting starting blaming God.

Eventually, there were trendy slogans that people had against God not unlike trending social media hashtags in our day. These included the following:

“How have you loved us?” (1:2)
“How have we despised your name?” (1:6)
“How have we polluted you?” (1:7)
“‘What a weariness this is.” (1:13)
““How have we wearied him?” (2:17)
“Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord and he delights in them.” (2:17)
“Where is the God of justice?” (2:17)
“How shall we return?” (3:7)
“How have we robbed you?” (3:8)
“How have we spoken against you?” (3:13)
“It is vain to serve God.” (3:14)
“Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.” (3:15)

How does this list of grievances against God strike you? Is there anything on the list that is something you have thought or maybe even said? Is there any complaint you might have against God? If so, the good news in Malachi is that God knows what you’re thinking, hears what you’re saying, and wants to meet with you to work things out for the sake of a healthy, loving relationship with Him.

Is there any complaint, grievance, or “problem” you have with God that you need to bring to Him in prayer and Bible study this week to sort out?

By Mark Driscoll

Are You Sure You Want to Pray This?

I don’t think you could pray more dangerous words than these three: “Thy Kingdom Come.”

If we truly understood what we were saying, we would probably pause before inviting such upheaval through our door. This often overused and underestimated petition can only be answered by turning our lives upside down and inside out.

Let’s be honest. We don’t always greet God’s kingdom with delight. We want certain things in life, and we not only want them, but we know how, when, and where we want them.

I want my wife to be a joyful and committed supporter of my dreams. My children are now grown, but I still want them (and their spouses and their children) to appreciate the fact that they have been blessed with me!

I want my schedule to be unobstructed and predictable. I want my peers and neighbors to hold me in high esteem. I want the ministry initiatives I direct to be well received and successful.

I want the pleasures and entertainment I prefer to be available on-demand. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want to live without.

Have you ever stopped and listened to yourself? Does the soundtrack to your life sometimes sound like this? “I want, I want, I want…” It’s humbling and embarrassing to admit, but a lot of the time, we just want our kingdom to come and our will to be done.

When there’s no larger kingdom to capture my allegiance, my life sadly becomes about what I want and how I can use other people as a vehicle to get what I want.

The simple prayer that Christ teaches us with “Thy Kingdom Come” is the antidote to a selfish and self-destructive life. Since sin starts with the heart, I’ll only live within the moral boundaries God has set when my heart desires God’s will more than it desires my own.

“Thy Kingdom Come” – these three simple words are words of surrender, words of protection, and words of freedom.

  1. Pray Willingly.“Lord, I surrender to doing everything I do, saying everything I say, and choosing everything I choose for the sake of your kingdom and not mine.”
  2. Pray Humbly.“Father, I am still tempted to think that I know better than you, so once again please protect me from my own foolishness.”
  3. Pray Eagerly.“God, help me to love you above all else and my neighbor as myself, so I can experience the freedom that results when you break my bondage from me.”

And pray thankfully.

Only God’s transforming grace can produce this kind of prayer in your heart, and because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that grace is freely and generously available! That’s what it means to pray “Thy Kingdom Come.”

By Paul Tripp