“Fear Not”

God tells us “Fear not.” This is the most common commandment in the entire Bible, appearing roughly 150 times, because this is the most common problem for the Christian. Who are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? That fear will paralyze you. It will cause you not to live courageously and boldly. Jesus knows that there are reasons for you to be afraid. And yet he says, “Fear not.”

Nearly every time the Bible commands us to “fear not”, it also tells us why. Not because we will see things turn around soon, or even ever. Not because it’s going to be easy. And not because we will be vindicated in this life. Instead, when we are told, “Fear not,” in some fashion God is telling us, “I am with you.” Jesus, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, lives in us, works through us, goes with us, and will never leave us or forsake us, because he promised to be with us always, until the end of the age, as we limp toward home.

The Jesus who goes with you is a God who has experienced tribulation, poverty, slander, suffering, and death. He is always present to comfort you because he has walked the road that you are on and is waiting with nail-scarred hands to embrace you at its end. Since he has walked that road for you, his invitation to walk it with him is a great honor.

-Mark Driscoll, A Call to Resurgence

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Luther’s Hymn

In devil’s dungeon chained I lay

The pangs of death swept o’er me.

My sin devoured me night and day

In which my mother bore me.

My anguish ever grew more rife,

I took no pleasure in my life

And sin had made me crazy.

 

Then was the Father troubled sore

To see me ever languish.

The Everlasting Pity swore

To save me from my anguish.

He turned to me his father heart

And chose himself a bitter part,

His Dearest did it cost him.

 

Thus spoke the Son, “Hold thou to me,

From now on thou wilt make it.

I have my very life for thee

And for thee I will stake it.

For I am thine and thou art mine,

And where I am our lives entwine,

The Old Fiend cannot shake it.

Missing God’s Call

I have this feeling that we’re missing God in our normal everyday lives. Our temptation is to look for the spectacular, and so we miss the ordinary, where God usually speaks. If you grew up in the church, you might still long for that ecstatic retreat experience. I remember God speaking to me in a dramatic way out in the mountains of Tennessee. But that’s not the way God ordinarily calls out to us. Think about the first disciples. Jesus called them while they were fishing. He met them in their work.

In part, we miss God because we’re bored. If you have school-age kids, you’re glad the summer is over. You’re glad they’re back in school. They might wish it was still summer, but most of the time they’re bored anyway. No homework, no extra-curriculars, they’re unburdened by responsibility. And so they lose out on direction and purpose.

When your kid tells you “I’m bored,” it’s never shorthand for “Help me become productive.” They’re saying “Entertain me!” Some of our prayers come out like this. We pick empty entertainment over engaging God because God’s response to join him on mission sounds a lot like burden and responsibility. And we don’t really want to hear that word.

Jesus didn’t free his disciples from work, he opened them up to a new kind of work.

But sometimes we miss God’s presence because we’re so hurried. Meyer Friedman uses the phrase hurry sickness. It is this “continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more activities in less and less time.” Now there are seasons of survival. And Friedman does say that there are real circumstances that force us into this mode. But he also says that some of those expectations are imaginary. Do you know why you’re pressing your capabilities beyond their natural limits?

Jesus called, but the disciples had to look up from their nets.
God doesn’t need your ability, he’s after your availability.

(originally posted by Darrin Patrick here: http://bit.ly/1lSEJXl)

A Glimpse Into the Gospel of Grace

“The question the gospel of grace puts to us is simply this: Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that your weakness could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Are you afraid that your inadequacies could separate you from the love of Christ? They can’t.

Are you afraid that your inner poverty could separate you from the love of Christ? It can’t.

Difficult marriage, loneliness, anxiety over the children’s future? They can’t.

Negative self-image? It can’t.

Economic hardship, racial hatred, street crime? They can’t.

Rejection by loved ones or the suffering of loved ones? They can’t.

Persecution by authorities, going to jail? They can’t.

Nuclear war? It can’t.

Mistakes, fears, uncertainties? They can’t.

The gospel of grace calls out, ‘Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord!’

You must be convinced of this, trust it, and never forget to remember. Everything else will pass away, but the love of Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Faith will become vision, hope will become possession, but the love of Jesus Christ that is stronger than death endures forever.

In the end, it is the one thing you can hang onto.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel; pp.87-88)

The Beauty of an Open Mind

There is a wondrous open-mindedness about children and an insatiable desire to learn from life. An open attitude is like an open door–a welcoming disposition toward the fellow travelers who knock on our door during the middle of the day, the middle of the week, or the middle of a lifetime. Some are dirtballs, grungy, disheveled, and bedraggled. The sophisticated adult within me shudders and is reluctant to offer them hospitality. They may be carrying precious gifts under their shabby rags, but I still prefer clean shaven Christians who are neatly attired, properly pedigreed, and who affirm my vision, echo my thoughts, stroke me, and make me feel good. Yet my inner child protests, “I want new friends, not old mirrors.”

When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.

“Unless you become as little children…” [Matthew 18:3]

I fear for the lawyer whose only life is corporate tax, the doctor whose whole existence is someone else’s prostate, the business executive whose single responsibility is to his stockholders, the athlete who puts all his eggs in an 18-inch basket, the theologian who thinks the world can be saved by theology… A closed mind kills marriages and human relations; it deadens feelings and sensitivities; it makes for a church that lives in a thousand and one tunnels, with no communication and no exit.

(Walter Burghardt, Grace on Crutches: Homilies for Fellow Travelers; p. 144)

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either/or–either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both/and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. Of course, the open mind does not accept everything indiscriminately–Marxism and capitalism, Christianity and atheism, love and lust, Moët Chandon and vinegar. It does not absorb all propositions equally like a sponge, nor is it as soft. But the open mind realizes that reality, truth, and Jesus Christ are incredibly open-ended.

~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (pp.65-66)

The Greatest Gift

Of all the customs surrounding Christmas, it occurs to me the most singular, the most distinctive, is the custom of giving one another gifts. You realize how unique that is. There are other special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, Father’s Days, Mother’s Days, and so on, in which somebody is given gifts. You bring your gifts to somebody, but the real question is … How many holidays do we have in which all of us give gifts to all of us? The answer is only one, and it’s right that we do it at Christmas because it highlights, it makes real, the central event, in some ways, the central truth of Christmas.

 

Jesus Christ came at Christmas, but he didn’t just come. He was given. ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given …’ Jesus didn’t just come. He was a gift. That’s the central event of Christmas, and all the gift giving, in a sense, makes that real. Jesus was given. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son …’ Jesus did not just come. He was a gift.

 

There’s one place in which Paul is so overwhelmed by the thought of it that he breaks into praise, and he says, ‘Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,’ an unspeakable gift, an inexpressible gift. It’s beyond description. It’s beyond comprehension. Whenever Paul thinks about it, even for a while, his imagination and his heart explode.

– Tim Keller (from the sermon “His Name Shall Be Called” — December 23, 1990)

The Gospel Must Argue With You

The gospel, if it is really believed, removes neediness – the need to be constantly respected, appreciated, and well regarded; the need to have everything in your life go well; the need to have power over others. All of these great, deep needs continue to control you only because the concept of the glorious God delighting in you with all His being is just that – a concept and nothing more. Our hearts don’t believe it, so they operate in default mode. Paul is saying that if you want to really change, you must let the gospel teach you – that is to train, discipline, coach you – over a period of time. You must let the gospel argue with you. You must let the gospel sink down deeply into your heart, until it changes your motivation and views and attitudes.

~ Tim Keller