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Work Out What Christ Has Won: The Christian Life as Gift and Duty 19.6.2024 03:00

The everyday Christian life is both a gift and a duty. By God’s own indwelling power, we work out what Christ has won.

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Does Providence Eliminate My Will? 19.6.2024 03:00

Does Providence Eliminate My Will?

What’s the relationship between God’s providence and the human will? In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper turns to Philippians 2:12–13 to show how God’s sovereignty enables our willing.

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My Body Is Not My Own: How God Redeems What Sin Seized 18.6.2024 03:00

My Body Is Not My Own

Oh, the paradox of this human body. How wonderful — and how terrible.

For those with eyes to see, our Creator’s brilliance will be on unusual display next month at the Summer Olympics as the world’s fastest, strongest, and best-conditioned bodies compete for the gold. For some, it will be the apex of their human glory. For others will come massive letdown, even humiliation.

The rest of us also know our bodies as instruments of both glory and humiliation. Apart from athletic achievement, many of us live in the glories of sight and taste, of bodily movement, of balance and coordination, of acquiring and honing new skills. Our bodily abilities may not be Olympic, but they can be stunning in their diversity and precision, especially when compared to the far more limited and focused abilities of animals — and in view of the sorrow of disability.

At the same time, however, how familiar we are with bodily weakness, shame, and humiliation.

God Made Brother Ass

When C.S. Lewis quotes Saint Francis on the human body, he too speaks of glory and humiliation:

Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those . . . who called it the prison or the “tomb” of the soul, [those] to whom it was a “sack of dung,” food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are [others], to whom the body is glorious. But thirdly we have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body “Brother Ass.”

Lewis then comments, “All three may be . . . defensible; but give me St. Francis for my money.” He continues,

Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now a stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. (Four Loves, 93)

Long before Lewis, the apostle Paul also spoke of our present “body of humiliation” (sōma tēs tapeinōseōs) as well as our coming “body of glory” (Philippians 3:21). What Scripture teaches about the human body is not simple but textured. The Creator’s design is magnificent, even in this present age with its layers of sin and the curse. We can only imagine how able and beautiful were those first two bodies God made, before they fell into sin. We do not reside in Eden. Nor have we Christians yet reached our final homeland in the Zion that is to come.

Story of the Body

For those in Christ, we view our bodies in layers — layers of a redemptive history. Our bodies are not only fearfully and wonderfully complex but vitally en-storied. Understanding our past (as human), our future (in Christ), and our present (in the Spirit) is critical for duly appreciating, chastening, and making the most of our bodies in this life. So let’s rehearse the story.

1. Sin has seized our bodies.

After remembering that God designed and made our bodies, and that “the body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13), the next truth to recall is that we, and our bodies with us, are fallen.

Sin wracks our bodies, not only in the effects of the curse into which we’re born, but also in our own culpable desiring and doing of evil. The bodies God gave us to image him as we move about his created world have become bodies of sin and death (Romans 6:6; 7:24; 8:10). No longer the original unfallen creations, nor yet the coming imperishable bodies, they are now “mortal bodies” (Romans 6:12; 8:11), dishonored in our sin (Romans 1:24). We will be judged for what we do in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10) — and apart from God’s redemptive provision, we will be thrown, soul and body, into hell (Matthew 5:29, 30; 10:28).

2. God himself took a body.

That redemptive provision, stunning in so many ways, begins with the incarnation, when God himself took a human body in the person of his eternal Son — and not only took on the full flesh and blood of our human bodies but also gave up his human body to death on a cross to cover our sin and rescue us (Philippians 2:8).

If you come to the Christian Scriptures with questions about your own body, one of the first surprises will be how much the New Testament talks about the physical body of Jesus Christ (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:24, 27, 29). His human body is the turning point in the story of our bodies. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). And Hebrews 10, so memorably, puts Psalm 40 on the lips of Jesus, when he came into the world as man: “A body have you prepared for me. . . . Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:5–7; Psalm 40:6–8). Hebrews 10:10 then comments, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Because sin, its curse, and death have infected us in both soul and body, the divine Son assumed both human soul and body, and gave his body up in sacrificial death to rescue us, soul and body, who are joined to him by faith.

3. God himself dwells in our bodies.

Next, and perhaps the part of the body’s story most often overlooked, is that God himself not only became human in Christ but also now dwells in his people by his Holy Spirit. When 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God,” the emphasis is not on how impressive our bodies are. Rather, the focus is the spectacular reality that God himself, in his Holy Spirit, has taken up residence, as it were, “within you” — that you have the Spirit. This is almost too good to be true. It is news to receive with the kind of pulsating joy that comes “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Paul makes it plainest in Romans 8:9–11. If you are in Christ,

the Spirit of God dwells in you. . . . [And] if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

In case you missed it, if you are in Christ, “Christ is in you” — his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, “dwells in you” (as Paul says three times). You not only have indwelling sin, but now you also have the indwelling Spirit. Our human bodies have become temples, dwelling places for God, whom we have in the person of his Spirit.

4. We glorify God now in our bodies.

Now, because of Christ’s work outside of us, in his human body — and because of his Spirit’s work in our own souls and bodies — we live to the glory of God. So 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 says to us in Christ: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Our bodies of humiliation already, though not yet fully, have become instruments for God’s glory. And they are being redeemed both as we (positively) magnify God in our affections and actions of love for him and neighbor, and as we (negatively) “by the Spirit . . . put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).

So, we pray like Paul that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Given the depth and pervasive effects of sin in our bodies, we might think we need to get out of these bodies in order to glorify God, but because of Christ’s body, and the dwelling of his Spirit in our bodies, we can now honor Christ and glorify God in our bodies. So, in Christ, we realize how our bodies are “for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13).

Whereas we once presented our bodies to sin, we now present them to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We do not sacrifice our bodies for Christ in the way he sacrificed his body for us — that is, redemptively. He died (and rose again) to rescue us. We live for him (which could lead to dying) as those rescued by him. His sacrificial death is the cause; our sacrificial living is the effect. And to that end, we discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27), refuse to let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12), and so pray and act that our bodies “be kept blameless” till the day of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

5. We await a spectacular bodily upgrade.

Our future, forever, will be embodied — beyond our best imagining. At that coming day of Christ, he “will transform our lowly body [literally, “the body of our humiliation”] to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

Here we live, as Jesus did, in a state of humiliation. Even as we experience some of the original glories of our human bodies, they are short-lived. Soon enough, we age, or suffer tragedies and losses, and we realize more and more what a state of humiliation this life is for our bodies. And if Christ does not return first, we soon endure the humiliation of death.

But for those in Christ, the dishonor of death will give way to the glory of resurrection. Our natural bodies will be sown, in death, like seeds that will spring up and blossom, through Christ’s resurrection power, into bodies of glory like his risen body.

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44)

Note: this will be a spiritual body. Not merely a spirit, like a ghost, but a spiritual body fit for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the rock-solid world of the new heavens and new earth.

Praise the Man of Heaven

If you are in Christ, your resurrection body will be spectacular. No more aches and pains. No more colds and COVID. No more sprains, contusions, and broken bones. No more heart attacks and strokes and cancer. No more devastating physical and mental disabilities.

Soon enough, you will shine like the sun in your perfected, strong, imperishable, glorified human body. And the best part of it all isn’t what your body will be like, but whom our imperishable bodies and souls will help us to know and enjoy and be near and praise: “the man of heaven.”

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Jesus Christ]. (1 Corinthians 15:49)

Our focus in the new heavens and new earth won’t be our bodies. Our perfected bodies will get the many distractions of our previous humiliations out of the way. They will enhance and support our making much of our King. But the focus in glory will be the one that we as Christians eagerly await right now — the man of heaven.

Don’t Devour One Another: Galatians 5:13–15, Part 5 18.6.2024 03:00

If love does not characterize our communities, we will bite and devour one another. Instead of caring for others, we will seek to consume them.

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The Emotional Roller Coaster of Bible Reading 17.6.2024 03:00

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Bible Reading

Bible reading can bring comfort, but Bible reading can also bring fear. How can we rightly embrace both the comfort of God’s promises and the fear of his warnings?

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We Pastor Better Together: Vital Paths Toward a Healthy Team 17.6.2024 03:00

We Pastor Better Together

Of all the amazing feats of the Holy Spirit in the apostolic age, surely one of them is the fact that the team who led the early church was comprised of once-confused, “uneducated, common men” (Mark 8:14–21; Acts 4:13). What might we learn from them as we seek to build healthy leadership teams in our churches?

Paying careful attention to their example and instruction gives us a few vital paths toward healthy pastoral teams.

Clarify Expectations and Roles

First, the apostles were clear on their expectations as a team. Jesus instructed them that they were to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). They understood that they were not to prioritize serving tables, but instead should devote themselves to preaching and praying and shepherding (Acts 6:2–4; 1 Peter 5:1–4).

As to the different roles on the team, we don’t find much help, which is itself instructive. But we do see in numerous places that God equips leaders to be more effective in specific areas (1 Corinthians 12:4–11; Ephesians 4:11). Therefore, clearly defining the expectations of each leader and the part he plays is helpful (and can be crucial). We might add to this the need to clarify timelines. In an age of high mobility, people may desire to transition from one role to the next more quickly than we expect. I know a pastor who surprised his co-laborer a year into a church plant, sharing that he expected to plant yet another church the following year.

In terms of goals, some pastors orient toward numbers. Others aim at public teaching without private shepherding. I know of another who wanted to preach more and didn’t expect to be involved in administration. Still another thought he and his colleague would be co-planter-pastors when the other thought he would serve as senior pastor.

Get prayerfully honest and clear about what is expected of each other and for how long. Overcommunication is better than under-communication.

Ensure Doctrinal Agreement

The apostles preached a specific gospel (Acts 2:14–41). Paul warns the Ephesian elders of the need to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock” because of false teachers coming in (Acts 20:28–30). The well-known statement of anathema is thrown upon any who teach a different gospel (Galatians 1:9). “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12), Paul says, and so must each member of the pastoral team.

You can maintain unity on doctrine and practice by asking good questions up front and implementing clarifying documents. What statement of faith will you use as a church? Will you use an elder affirmation of faith? If so, what will be included and what will not? If not, you’ll still need to have ongoing ethical and doctrinal conversations for the purposes of clarity and unity.

As to philosophy of ministry, how will you handle church membership? How will you sing? Will you preach consecutive expositional sermons, topical sermons, or something else? Will you be elder-led or elder-ruled? How will you practice baptism? How will you approach restorative church discipline, children’s ministry, youth ministry, and community groups? How will each of you be paid?

You won’t agree on every fine point of philosophy, but you should enjoy enough philosophical agreement that you can continue moving forward. Share books, podcasts, and articles like this one, and talk about them together. Don’t assume each elder is in the same place he was three years ago.

At our church, we use an elder affirmation of faith that is tighter than our membership statement of faith since the work of eldership has serious implications (James 3:1). We also ask questions for incoming elders related to the philosophical ministry of the church. Lastly, each elder on our team regularly fills out a yes-no questionnaire to affirm that his doctrinal commitments haven’t changed. Rather than assuming agreement, keep humbly pursuing clarity while enjoying the unity you have.

Pursue Humility

The apostles received a hard and profound lesson when they were caught discussing who was the greatest: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). One of the best ways to embrace that principle is to remember more counsel from the chief Shepherd: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

The apostles also pursued humility by remembering they were men under authority. We can see this conviction in their being of one accord through prayer (Acts 1:14). Also, remember Peter quickly telling Cornelius to get up when the latter bowed before him: “Stand up; I too am a man” (Acts 10:25–26).

Even when it may have been tempting not to share their authority, they seem eager to replace the apostate Judas with Justus or Matthias, given particular requirements of unity (Acts 1:21–23). Likewise, they are glad to give Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship” (Galatians 2.9).

Paul’s counsel in Philippians 2:1–4, where he calls the church to have the same love and be of one mind, sums up the spirit of the apostles. If we ask, “How can we have that unity in our teams?” Paul answers, “Humility — counting others more significant than yourselves.”

It’s easy to see another elder’s problem and complain about it. But it’s far more difficult to see the plank that is in your own eye. Also, the temptation to appear the greatest is strong and stubborn. Therefore, if you are going to experience leadership unity and effective ministry, labor (individually and collectively) to pursue humility and learn to appreciate each other’s gifts and idiosyncrasies.

Daily ask the Lord to reveal your sin. Daily die to it. Daily ask the Lord to help you see the goodness and grace of your fellow leaders. Confess areas of pride and covetousness to one another, and forgive as you have been forgiven. Pursue humility, and enjoy a team that has the same mind, the same love, and the same eternal joy.

Develop a Culture of Encouragement

Another way to strengthen your leadership team is to honor and encourage each other. Scripture commands this encouragement in numerous places (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:25). Paul says we should make a kind of holy competition to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

We see this practice exemplified in how the apostles talk about Paul and Barnabas in the letter to the Gentiles in Acts 15:25–26. They openly call them “our beloved Barnabas and Paul.” They then honor them by telling the churches how they risked their lives for Christ. Imagine how it must have encouraged those men to have the apostles and elders speak so affectionately and openly. May we do the same in our teams.

I planted a church with another brother, and we agreed that he would preach less and serve more in other areas. I was aware that this would make me appear more important than him. But I knew better. Without this brother, not only would our church sink, but my family and I would sink. Therefore, I went out of my way to encourage him in the presence of the congregation. I would speak of his powerful sermons. I would call attention to the hidden work he was doing. He does the same for me. Almost fifteen years later, this culture has only increased. We begin elders’ meetings by regularly sharing ways we have been helped and encouraged by one another. Every members’ meeting begins this way as well.

A culture of competition dies amid a culture of encouragement. Make it normal to call attention to each other’s graces.

Keep Christ Central

The apostles cared about evangelism (Acts 4:20), they cared about the health of the church (Acts 2:42–47), they cared about the physical needs of those around them (Acts 6:1–6), and they cared about doctrine (Acts 15:8–11), but they never lost sight of their central purpose: treasuring Christ together.

Peter’s final words in his second letter call us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul calls the message that unites us “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). John understands that Jesus saves us “so that we may know him” (1 John 5:20).

Our tribalistic times have not left the church untouched. Some groups center on missions and evangelism. Others center on the health of the church or social concerns. All very good! However, if Christ is not central in your leadership team, you will fall apart. You know that already, but it is easy to forget.

The glory of Christ is the sun, and our leadership teams orbit around him. As long as we not only believe that truth, but regularly champion it as well, our teams will experience a joy that is full (John 15:11).

God Rules Babylon 17.6.2024 03:00

God Rules Babylon

What do we learn about God’s providence from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar? In this episode of Light + Truth, John Piper opens Daniel 4 to reveal the depth of God’s rule over all rulers.

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The Strong Legacy of a Weak Father 16.6.2024 03:00

The Strong Legacy of a Weak Father

Father’s Day is a wonderful common-grace gift, an explicit reminder to fulfill a gracious obligation God has placed on us: “honor your father” (Exodus 20:12).

But for some fathers, this day is a painful reminder of ways they haven’t been able to fulfill all a typical father’s responsibilities, often due to circumstantial or physical weaknesses largely or wholly outside of their control. Which means that, for some, Father’s Day can seem to highlight more shame than honor.

I imagine Father’s Day might have had that effect on my own father. You see, Dad suffered from a humiliating affliction, a mental illness that took a significant emotional, relational, and sometimes economic toll on our family. His affliction was, in certain ways, our affliction — a fact of which he was all too painfully (and no doubt shamefully) aware.

But Dad was an honorable man — more than he probably knew. And I’d like to share why, both as a way to honor my father’s memory and as a way to encourage fathers who battle shame over ways their weaknesses have limited their fathering capacities. Because our weaknesses, if we steward them as faithfully before God as we’re able, can reveal greater, more spiritually significant strengths than those our afflictions steal from us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Background of My Boyhood

My most vivid early memory of my father is seeing him running over the crest of a hill to rescue me.

One spring day when I was three years old, my good mother sent me out in a jacket to play in the backyard. When I came back in, she noticed I was lacking my jacket, so she sent me back out to retrieve it. I, however, being three, quickly forgot about the jacket when I saw the path, one that wound off through an adjacent meadow leading to . . . where? Some wonderful Land of Oz? It seemed like a good idea to find out. So, off I merrily went.

All I recall of the journey was that the meadow path shortly gave way to grassy hills, and the Oz I discovered was just some strange houses bordering a busy, loud highway. Just when I realized that there’s no place like home, I also had the frightening realization that I had no idea how to get back there. I was lost and alone and little. All I could think to do was to sit down and cry.

I don’t know how long I was gone, but it was long enough for my mother to search in vain for me, begin to panic, and call my father at work — and for him to come home and join the search (which by that time also included a policeman).

My cries had turned to despairing chest heaves when I looked up and saw the beatific form of my father cresting a hill, running toward me. Daddy! In my (emotionally enhanced) memory, there’s a golden glow around him. The man who loved me most, the man I loved most in the world, had left everything to find me and bring me home — the best place in the world. I was flooded with joy inexpressible.

That memory captures my father as I knew and viewed him as a child. He seemed larger than life. His presence (even when absent) permeated the atmosphere of my world and filled it with a unique brightness.

The background of my boyhood,
The apple of my eye,
The meaning of my manhood,
The sun in my young sky,
The shelter in your sovereignty I felt with you close by:
You were my young world.

Meaning of My Manhood

To most, Dad wouldn’t have appeared extraordinary. He wasn’t a prominent leader, didn’t have a socially prestigious job, and wasn’t physically imposing. But when I was young, he wasn’t ordinary to me. To me, Dad was the paragon of manhood.

I remember how he stood straight and exuded an unpretentious confidence when he walked. I remember his big, strong, calloused hands. He wasn’t an excessive talker, but when he spoke, he looked people in the eye and treated them with dignity, honesty, and good humor — laughing easily. And when he gave his counsel, it was measured and wise.

He taught me what it meant to work hard through instruction and example. Throughout my childhood, Dad got up at 2:00 in the morning to drive downtown to the Emrich Baking Company, load his truck, and deliver baked goods to scores of restaurants and hospitals. A couple of times, I rode his route with him. Few things are as wonderful as the smell of a bakery in the early morning and spending the day with a father you deeply love and admire.

Dad taught me how to skate, throw a baseball and football, and play golf. I can still see his graceful swing and how the ball would sail off the tee, landing way down the fairway. If at all possible, he attended my hockey, baseball, and football games and even coached some of my teams. He taught me to compete hard and show my opponents respect.

But of all the ways he shaped me, two were most formative. The earliest one was how dearly Dad loved my mother. When he was well, I never heard him utter an unkind word to or about her. And he would by no means tolerate us kids showing her disrespect.

Then, when I was about nine years old, Dad experienced a spiritual renewal. His faith in Jesus became noticeably more vibrant. He studied his Bible more earnestly, prayed more openly, and became more engaged in the life of our church. It’s hard to overstate the profound and lasting impact this had on me.

The resolution in your walk,
The strength in your hand,
The easy laughter in your talk,
The poise in your stand,
The power of your presence my respect would command:
You filled my young world.

Devastating Weakness

However, there was a shadow that followed Dad throughout his adulthood. There were these strange, brief, episodic seasons when, for inexplicable reasons, this normally even-keeled, loving, kind, honest, patient, hard-working man suddenly began speaking and acting completely out of character. For a short time, he became a different person. These episodes were then followed by a bout of stubborn depression. Dad was left as confused and disturbed by these episodes as everyone else was.

Until age fourteen, I was blissfully unaware of this shadow, since its last emergence occurred when I was too young to remember. But in 1979, when Dad was 47, the mysterious malady struck again with devastating effect. Suddenly, he began to descend into madness. He stopped sleeping. He made bizarre declarations about God, the universe, and people he loved. He hallucinated, turned suspicious, and, for the first time in my memory, said harsh things to my mother.

Dad had to be hospitalized, and his illness was finally diagnosed: manic depression (later renamed bipolar disorder). He was placed on numerous medications, which mercifully helped stabilize his moods, but which also dampened aspects of his gregarious personality.

Dad was never quite the same again. His illness and its treatments significantly limited his capacities to concentrate and engage socially as he had before. He had to push himself to participate in the activities he had previously enjoyed so much — and that we had enjoyed with him. He found it hard to trust his own mind, and having been humiliated in front of his family, friends, church community, and coworkers, he found it difficult to take initiative in the ways he had before.

Strong Legacy of a Weak Father

But Dad’s weakness caused different strengths to manifest in him, ones that I now view (as an adult and a father myself) as even more honorable than the ones I perceived as a child.

I watched Dad persevere in suffering. Only those who have experienced severe depression understand the indescribable darkness he battled. My own experiences of depression (low grade compared to his) have increased my respect for him greatly. He battled valiantly. I know at times he fought the temptation to end it all. But he didn’t surrender. Out of love for God, his wife, and his family, he endured.

I watched Dad resist self-pity. I never heard him complain. When I would ask him how he was doing, he was humbly honest about difficulties he faced, but never in a way that telegraphed self-pity or solicited mine.

I watched Dad model faithfulness. He did not reject or express bitterness toward God because of his affliction. When his health permitted, he faithfully continued to worship at his local church. And I have priceless memories of Dad expressing his longings for heaven, when he would at last be whole and free to enjoy all that God prepared for those who love him.

And I saw in Dad — and Mom — deeper dimensions of what it means to love. Among the most beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed is the steadfast covenant love Dad and Mom extended to each other over the three decades following that devastating episode in 1979. Both suffered due to Dad’s illness, each in different ways. Life and marriage did not turn out as they envisioned when they married in 1954. But they stayed together, for better and worse, in sickness and in health, and determined to love each other, which at times called for steely resolve, desperate prayers, and deep faith in Jesus.

Mom in particular lived out a beautiful sacrificial love for Dad, tenderly caring for him for the rest of his life. And Dad loved her for it. Few had the privilege to see what a wonder this was. I was privileged beyond measure.

I Remember

Life is hard. Brains can be just as defective as hearts, hands, legs, and livers. Dad, like many fathers, suffered in ways beyond his illness. He suffered the indignity of losing the capacity to be the kind of husband, father, and grandfather he wanted to be.

But his formative impact on me by no means ended when the worst of his affliction struck. His example of perseverance, faithfulness, and love are just a few of the ways he continued to shape my character and prepare me to face my own bewildering afflictions.

Though the days of childhood have now long since passed by,
I still see you clearly in my memory’s eye,
And I remember, Dad,
I remember . . .

The constant love I felt from you,
The disciplining grace,
The ear I told my dreaming to,
The pleasant, patient face,
The faith that did not die despite the dark of your disgrace:
You shaped my young world.

In June 2010, one last disease brought Dad’s earthly sojourn to an end. Now he knows fully what he knew only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). Now he is whole and free to enjoy all that God prepared for him. The lyrics I’ve woven throughout are from the song I wrote and sang for his funeral. I wish I would have written and sung them to him before he died.

But I do remember. I remember how he ran over that hill to rescue his frightened, lost little boy. I remember how profoundly he filled and shaped my young world. But even more profoundly, I remember the strengths that manifested in him because of his weaknesses. His influence didn’t die when he no longer was able to be what he was when I was young. And it didn’t die when he did. I am still learning from him. My admiration and respect for him has only increased as I’ve aged.

To fathers who have suffered in ways that seem to have robbed them of being the kind of father they desperately wish they could be, and who perhaps experience Father’s Day as a painful (or shameful) reminder, I say this: Don’t underestimate the powerful influence a debilitated father can have on his children. Remember, even in the worst of times, that God’s grace will be sufficient for you — in ways you may not yet see and perhaps may not live to see. Steward your weaknesses as faithfully as you’re able. For there are dimensions of God’s power that manifest most clearly to fallen people, like me, through your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

How Does Love Fulfill the Law? Galatians 5:13–15, Part 4 16.6.2024 03:00

Paul says that the law is fulfilled in the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But how does such love fulfill the whole law?

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The Undistracted Soldier: Six Marks of Christian Manhood 15.6.2024 03:00

The Undistracted Soldier

Since Christ saved me, I have been fascinated by war. I learn about conflicts I can see to feel the gravity of that cosmic war I can’t. Although few know it, the unseen conflict is no less vicious or valorous, gory or heroic, real or requiring than wars of men, but much more. I try to enter the psychology of the soldier to better know how to conduct myself in spiritual battle.

Paul does the same as he calls Timothy forward: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3–4).

Paul’s words have convicted me of my comfortable, lax, civilian Christianity. Does a civilian-soldier exist? I wondered. Maybe as a minuteman of sorts — one who lives his civilian life but can be ready in a minute for conflict when necessary. “Entangled in civilian pursuits and occasionally experiencing service” — that seems too apt a description.

So, it is helpful for me to witness a man in the Old Testament who illustrates Paul’s disentangled soldier: Uriah. At this point, David has impregnated Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and so David calls Uriah home from war to sleep with Bathsheba in hopes of covering over the adultery.

Uriah’s single-mindedness is heroically tragic. Yet we need to drink from his spirit. Observe, then, six marks of this soldier slain for refusing to play civilian.

The Soldier’s Speech

The first mark that distinguished the soldier was his speech.

When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. (2 Samuel 11:7)

One way to discriminate the lieutenant from the layman is by the topics of conversation they draw out of others. We all have conversational centers of gravity, don’t we? Most of us know our Mr. ESPN, Mr. and Mrs. Netflix Series, Ms. News and Politics, Neighbor Gossip, and Mrs. Grumble About Her Kids. No matter how far away the current conversation appears to you, they rarely fail to cross land and sea to bring you to their default subject. Out of hearts, mouths speak.

For the active soldier, his center is war. He may go along with some small talk, but his heart is not to talk small. How could it be? Men are dying, his brothers fighting, the enemy planning, arrows flying — what has he to do with the latest entertainments? David knows he speaks with a man of war and cannot detain him with empty pleasantries or lesser topics. How is the commander, how is the army, how is the war prospering?

Men of God, what is your heart’s topic of conversation? When people speak to you, do they know your center of gravity is Christ crucified, the human soul, Scripture, eternal life, and the world to come?

The Soldier’s Silence

If Uriah is first distinguished by his speech, he is next distinguished by his actions in silence.

Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. (2 Samuel 11:8–9)

David requests that Uriah go home and refresh himself, get comfortable, stay a while, eat, rest, and enjoy the lawful pleasures of home. To help him relax, he sends servants with “a present” — perhaps some food, some wine, and a few chocolate-covered strawberries.

Remember, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Yet here is the one who enlisted him (or who ranks above the one who enlisted him) telling him to take off his armor and take it easy. Does his troubled conscience quarrel with his king or seek to impress him with how committed he is? No. He quietly goes outside the palace doors and, when he thinks himself outside of eyesight, lies down among the servants. His actions speak volumes of his valor where his words speak none.

Men of God, does your left hand know what your right hand does with its sword? Do you sound a trumpet before or after you serve Christ? Are you the soldier or the civilian when you think no one else is watching?

The Soldier of Speculation

The third mark of our soldier is the chatter that surrounds him.

When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” (2 Samuel 11:10)

True soldiers of the cross must be the subject of civilian rumors and speculations. Despite their best efforts to carry out their master’s business with little attention for themselves, their single-mindedness and self-denial eventually expose them as warring men. “Good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:25). And when they do, the bees must buzz about that strange fellow who does or doesn’t do such and such, one so different from themselves.

Even David, Israel’s great champion (now reduced to Israel’s great citizen) is puzzled by this man so like himself before his fall. If David went out with Joab and Uriah (as he should have) instead of strolling rooftops, helping Satan tempt him to a mighty fall, he might have admired Uriah. Instead, he is left to wonder, Why will this stag avoid the trap? Has he not traveled from far away? David couldn’t resist the journey across the street for Uriah’s wife; he staggers that Uriah should come all this way and not go to her.

Men of God, do others whisper about you or seem confused by your pursuit of Christ (even in the church)? Or are you so entangled that no one notices any difference?

The Soldier’s Self-Denial

Fourth, we find Uriah’s crest: resolved self-denial. Uriah explains to David why he won’t go home:

The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing. (2 Samuel 11:11)

Why does he avoid going home? Why does he deny himself lawful pleasures? Judah and Israel and God himself dwell in tents; his captain and his band of brothers camp in open fields. Should they eat spears and arrows while he eats meat? Should they be drunk on adrenaline while he grows intoxicated in his wife’s love? “As you live, and as your soul lives,” he will not do this thing. Get him drunk to entrap him; he will still prefer your door to his own while duty calls (2 Samuel 11:12–13).

Men of God, have you intentionally laid aside any civilian pursuits because you were sympathetic with your brothers and ambitious for greater usefulness?

The Soldier’s Surety

Fifth, Uriah, the soldier of Israel, knew how to remain faithful under command. In one of the sickest motions of David’s mind, we read,

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” (2 Samuel 11:14–15)

When the man clings to his resolve, David moves to plan B. In the morning, he writes the assassination letter and sends it by the hand of Uriah. David is so confident in Uriah’s honor, so trusting of his sense of duty, that he sends his own death warrant with him, knowing he will not open it. Here is a dark moment indeed for the one after the Lord’s heart.

Would-be soldiers today can struggle with authority, with chains of command. Baristas take orders; we take suggestions. The modern spirit is very civilian, but the soldier’s aim is to please the one who enlisted him. What C.S. Lewis spoke has come to pass:

When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget, but as an ideal, we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. . . . The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other — the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow — is a prosaic barbarian. (Essay Collection & Other Short Stories, 667)

Men of God, do you acknowledge men above you and gladly submit? Could they trust you with your own death warrant? Have you learned to follow, knowing that someday you may be called to lead?

The Soldier’s Scars

Sixth, soldiers bear the marks of active duty on their bodies (or in their graves).

As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. (2 Samuel 11:16–17)

Uriah never made it back to his front door. David “killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:9). Joab pressed Uriah closer to the walls of the city where archers stood to kill. Strategically un-strategic. To pacify David’s anger at losing other men in the scheme, he explains, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (2 Samuel 11:18–21) — wink. David responds, “Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another” (2 Samuel 11:25) — wink, wink.

Uriah knows the peril of his mission. Chosen suffering separates soldiers from civilians: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Uriah, the good soldier of a treacherous king and now corrupted commander, charges forth against a wall with valiant men below and raining arrows above. He could have been home with his wife, but instead he died on the field with a dagger in his back. Praise God our own commander knows no such ruthlessness or faithlessness.

Men of God, do we hope to offer to the Lord a civilian life that costs us nothing?

The Soldier’s Salvation

Paul goes on to explain to Timothy what makes such a service worth it. First, forgoing civilian pursuits in service for Christ really does “please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Second, Paul writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David.” Paul sees before faithful soldiers a “salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8–10). The active soldier for Christ is always the gainer, never the loser.

Uriah died fighting under God’s banner for God’s people; Paul suffers under God’s banner for the sake of Christ’s people. He chooses to suffer as a combatant (and exhorts Timothy to the same) because God’s mission shall not fail. He does not count his life dear to himself because Jesus Christ, the offspring of David, instead of putting his soldiers to death as they fight his wars, has decided the war by dying and rising from the grave to save them. He does not steal his bride by another’s blood; he purchases her with his own.

So, men of God, do we see the glorious end of the soldier’s service? Paul lived a life that needed the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be true. Do we?

 

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