How God’s Anger Shows His Love

How do we understand the wrath of God, as revealed in Scripture? This sermon excerpt by Pastor Ray Ortlund is an extremely helpful explanation of Romans 3, and how the anger and love of God are inseparable.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” (Romans 3:23-25)

God’s wrath? Wait a minute. Is God a fuming, frustrated person? Does he have a temper? Is her subject to mood swings? Is biblical propitiation like the pagan concept of throwing a virgin into the volcano to placate the pineapple god? And what if God changes back to anger? After all, we keep on sinning – in the same old ways, too.

The first thing to say is that the wrath of God is a part of the gospel. It’s the part we tend to ignore. Yet we don’t mind our own anger. There is a lot of anger in us, a lot of righteous indignation. Listen to talk radio. In our culture it’s acceptable to vent our moral fervor at one another. We watch it on cable TV news every night. It’s our entertainment. But the thought of God being angry – well, who does he think he is?

Great question. Who is God? He’s the most balanced personality imaginable. He is normal. His wrath is not an irrational outburst. God’s wrath is worthy of God. It is is morally appropriate, carefully considered, justly intense reaction to our evil demeaning his worth and destroying our own capacity to enjoy him. God cares about that. He is not a passive observer. He’s involved emotionally.

The Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It never says, “God is anger.” But it couldn’t say that God is love without his anger, because God’s anger shows how serious his love is…

God presented Christ Jesus as a propitiation by his blood (see Rom. 3:24-35). Do you see the beauty in that? In human religions, it’s the worshiper who placates the offended deity with rituals and sacrifices and bribes. But in the gospel, it’s God himself who provides the offering…

What the sacrifice of millions of lambs in the Old Testament could never accomplish, God has done through Christ. He did it out in the open for everyone to see, because God desires your conscience to be set free. The full fury of the wrath of God was unleashed onto a willing substitute at the cross. This is what God put forward so clearly.

Taken from Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009). Content adapted from “The Most Important Word in the Universe,” sermon by Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.

Three Ways to Encourage Earnest Prayer Requests in Your Small Group

This weekend, I had the honor of guest writing over at Nivine Richie’s women’s ministry website, Unfolding His Word. Nivine is quickly becoming a dear friend in ministry, and her teaching is richly Bible-centered. Check out her writings and her book!

We sat around the warm fireplace, journals open, pens ready, and eyes eagerly awaiting the wise words of our women’s ministry director.

A group of small group leaders from our church had gathered for a night of reflection, learning, and sharing. The first semester of small group had flown by, and now was the time to consider how it had gone: Did the women seem to be growing in their faith? Was there an increasing eagerness to read the Word? Were the women committing to the life of the church?

Our director proceeded to touch on the subject of prayer. What was the temperature of prayer in the groups? When we, as leaders, asked for prayer requests, was getting responses from our women like pulling teeth? Or were the women eager to share their hearts with one another?

Many of us agreed that prompting prayer requests was closer to pulling teeth – because “Aunt Martha prayers” were abundant in many of our groups.

Aunt Martha prayers. You know them. These are the prayer requests that tend to evade any subject of personal privacy, including both struggles and joys, focusing instead on “my sick Aunt Martha. Please pray for her health.”

Now, a brief side-note before I continue: Asking for prayer on behalf of other people is absolutely a wonderful thing. In fact, it often reveals a sympathetic heart who is thinking of other people’s needs before their own. There is great power in praying for the people God has placed in our circles of influence, and we so we should, with great faith that God hears us.

By “Aunt Martha prayers,” however, I am referring to prayer requests that stay the same week after week; that do not focus primarily on the concerns of the heart; and that are not directly related to a person’s own unique relationship with Christ.

Can you think of times that “Aunt Martha prayers” have infiltrated your own small group?

What is a small group leader to do?

From my own experience in leading a young women’s group, I’ve learned three helpful ways to encourage women to make requests that involve more personal, vulnerable, and sometimes even sensitive subjects:

Set the example

Something amazing happens when a leader speaks in earnest: a level of trust is established that then encourages the listening individuals to follow suit. The author of Hebrews writes, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (13:7). Leaders hold great influence and, when used appropriately, they can leverage this influence to help their people grow in the pursuit of their devotion to Christ.

If we as leaders go before our women, offering up our needs, struggles, praises, and even our failures, we will be an encouragement for them to do the same.

Reframe the request

One tactic that has worked well for our small group involves reframing “Aunt Martha prayers” in an effort to understand the heart behind the request. For example, if a woman requests prayer for “her friend who needs a job,” we might ask, “How can you specifically be a support to your friend this week, and how can we pray for you in that area?”

Again, we never want to communicate that her prayer request is wrong or unimportant; there is certainly a place in our small groups to lift up other people to the Lord. But we do want to encourage each woman to search her own heart, and reframing the original request is one way to accomplish this.

Engage with Scripture

The Word of God is sanctifying truth (John 17:17), so we can trust that praying through Scripture will bear fruit and align us with God’s perfect and pleasing will. Encourage your women to choose a verse or passage of the Bible that illustrates:

  • A way in which they would like to grow in Christlikeness
  • A promise that they need to remember
  • An attribute of God’s person that they want to know more deeply
  • A precept that they want to apply to an area of struggle, pain, or temptation

You can have them write down the passage and share it with one other person, becoming that woman’s prayer partner for the week. Or you can share your requests aloud with the whole group, and spend time praying the selected words of Scripture over each woman.

Whatever way you choose to encourage your women into deeper, more earnest sharing in prayer, rest assured that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who wills and works in every believer (Ephesians 3:14-19). Trust that Christ’s work will be completed in your flock, pray for your women often and without ceasing, and continue to be an example worth imitating.

[Post Credit: Unfolding His Word]

Becoming a Woman of Discernment

During a quick five-minute break between afternoon tasks, I decided to read a short excerpt from a devotional book, one I had enjoyed reading for daily reflection a few years prior. As I read the day’s content, I began to feel less and less comfortable with the spiritual language used. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way. This nagging sense of unease had not been present in years before—so why now? As I thought more pointedly about the content, I realized that the book’s thoughts and encouragements had little basis in Scripture and in the gospel message. They revolved more around one person’s perception of the truth and in personal revelation and feelings.

In today’s world, half-truths and false messages are not limited to the books we read. They run rampant on the Internet, on Christian radio and, unfortunately, in the pulpit of our churches. Beyond blatantly non-Christian, non-Biblical worldviews are cunning messages proclaiming a false version of Christianity, the gospel and the Bible.

Edward T. Welch puts it this way: “We live in a time when there is a resurgence of God-talk and spiritual language, but conversations rarely get to the thing of “first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…”’¹ This is where it gets tricky for believers, and where the rubber hits the road. How do we as Christians discern whether or not the whole truth is being taught in the messages presented to us? How do we protect ourselves against being deceived by false versions of the truth?

One thing is clear: We need to take seriously the call to become women of Biblical, gospel-centered discernment. We need to be trained to test the truth of each message we hear—or the result will be our spiritual deception and the distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This article will attempt to answer two important questions: Why is our growth in spiritual discernment important? And how can we cultivate discernment in our Christian walk?

Why is our growth in spiritual discernment important?

My heart breaks when I consider the thousands of Christians who have been, and will be, led astray by false teaching and false gospels. The reality is, however, that warnings about these very problems were given long ago, as seen in these New Testament passages:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people…these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified in the faith” (2 Timothy 3:1,4,8-9).

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

“Certain persons, by swerving from [a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith], have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:5-7).

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world…therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (1 John 4:1).

Scripture makes it absolutely clear that the times are indeed coming, and have already come, when false teachers will appear on the scene and lead many well-intentioned people astray. Without a consistent, Spirit-led growth in Biblical and gospel-centered discernment, any Christian is susceptible to confusion, deceit, and blindness.

Our growth in Biblical, gospel-centered discernment is important because the name of Jesus Christ is at stake. Without cultivating this discernment, our hearts will be led astray to believe unsound, corrupt teaching that glorifies man and promotes worldly pleasure and gain. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh…We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” There is a greater war at hand, a spiritual battle for souls, and the enemy is on the front lines, ready to deceive all who are unprepared in the truth.

But isn’t this judging? You might be asking this question, and it is a valid one at that. It is true that only God is able to judge the heart because of His perfect righteousness (Psalm 9:8), and we are not to partake in such judgment (James 4:12). However, there is a major difference between judgment of souls and judgment of truth. Christians should take seriously the ability to discern between truth and error—the gospel is at stake! False representations of truth are not to be taken lightly. Consider Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Paul encourages the church to discern when a different gospel is preached, while surrendering the ultimate judgment of false teachers to the Lord, who alone can judge the soul.

How can we cultivate Biblical, gospel-centered discernment?

Stay submitted to Christ. Loving obedience and humble surrender before the Lord are actions that put our lives in right perspective before Him. Neglecting time at His feet will only result in following a wayward, self-focused heart that often forgets the lordship of Christ. Our lives are not our own; we were bought with the blood of Christ. A person is far less likely to fall prey to deceit and false messages if they are choosing on a daily basis to submit to Christ, our Ruler and Firm Foundation. His loving grace is enough to guide us into all truth.

Stay in Scripture. Proverbs 3:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” The very Word of God tell us the inerrant truth and acts as our guide. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Scripture makes us wiser than our enemies and guards our paths so we stay pure and do not wander. The Word of God discerns the “thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) and is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) for the eternal battle we fight. Jesus prayed for believers, that the Father would guard them from the evil one and sanctify them in the truth (John 17:17). Our part is to choose growth in the Word every single day. As with counterfeit money, Christians wisely discern counterfeit messages because we thoroughly know the original.

Stay in prayer. We are encouraged in Proverbs 3 to “call out for insight and raise [our] voice for understanding.” Prayer is part of our submission to Christ, as we realize our need for communing with the Father of all truth. My pastor once explained the importance of gaining wisdom through prayer like grocery shopping: If we shop on an empty stomach, we are more likely to make poor decisions that suit our immediate needs. But the person who fills up on a hearty meal before shopping makes wiser decisions and can discern options more clearly. When we stay in prayer and seek wisdom and discernment, we are then more likely to look at false messages with a clearer understanding of Biblical, gospel-centered truth.

Stay in the Church. The Church is Christ’s bride and His instrument for spreading His glory to the world. The Church is comprised with individual believers who, if all are submitted to Christ, in the Word and in prayer, can teach and admonish one another in all truth (Colossians 3:16). At times, if any certain teaching is rubbing me wrong, I will talk about it with another believer. The Church has a responsibility to point out false teaching within its own walls, to seek wisdom about godly leaders and to declare God’s greatness by its hunger for the truth. If you attend a church that has fallen prey to false teachers or gospels, please seek out church leadership, and begin a conversation. Another wise point of action could also be to explore an alternative body of believers where Christ is glorified as the supreme authority.

Be On Guard

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) Christian woman, may you always be on guard against the deceiver, and all the ways and means he intends to use to derail your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ lead you into all truth, deepening your wisdom and founding you in His love, until you see Him face to face.

¹    Edward T. Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small (New Jersey: Presbyterian Reformed Publishing Company, 1997), 77.

[Post credit: Crosswalk]

The Perfectionist Plague

If you are plagued by perfectionism, then it’s time remember the gospel.

Believe me—I will be joining you in this holy endeavor because I need the reminding, too.

Oh, perfection. I love working hard. The ability to do so is a gift from the Lord. Beyond working hard, I enjoy working precisely. Correctly. Exactly. Clearly. I enjoy working and living in such a way that exudes the excellence of Christ and presses onward past challenges and obstacles. Especially within ministry, working excellently brings me deep joy. And I believe it honors the Lord.

What saps me of joy, however, is my tendency to expect absolute perfection of myself. See, working hard as unto the Lord should be the pursuit of every Christ follower. But, if a person is not careful, working excellently can quickly evolve into working for self-righteous perfection. There is a difference between working by the Lord’s strength in utter dependence on Him, and working through our own independent efforts, which naturally results in self-glorification.

The pursuit of perfection by our own efforts and for our own vain purposes reveals in us a stunning truth: we are plagued by it, and therefore, we need reminders of the gospel of grace.

Six Signs of Perfectionism

It’s time to take a test.

If the following traits are true of you, you might be a perfectionist:

  1. You expect perfection from yourself.
  2. You expect perfection from other people. Common attitudes toward others involve critique, judgment and disappointment.
  3. You beat yourself up for making mistakes or failing.
  4. You are afraid of failure, and the fear keeps you from moving forward.
  5. You are unwilling to let others help you.
  6. You refuse to take correction and hear the messy truth about yourself.

If the majority of the above statements describe you, then it is possible that you have been plagued by the need for perfection in many aspects of life. You are not alone. All of the above have described me, at one point or another.

The truth is that our understanding of the gospel is reflected through how we live on a daily basis, especially in relation to our dependence on Christ. Conversely, not coming to terms with the fullness of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection leaves a disconnection, whereby we attempt to fill in the gaps with our own vain efforts to be good (and do good). It hit me like a ton of bricks that my need for perfection meant that I was missing the full extent of the gospel message, which trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

What’s at the root?

What is at the root of perfectionism? In pondering the desire to be perfect, it seems that at its root lie four sinful tendencies: The need to be in control, the need for approval from man, self-justification (making ourselves “good”) by works, and the sins of unbelief (doubting Christ’s sufficiency and goodness) and idolatry (hungering for worldly gain and pursuits).

I don’t know about you, but if those sins describe the heart of a perfectionist, then I am running—no, sprinting–the other direction. Straight to the gospel, straight to the cross.

A Perfectionist’s Reality Check

My prayer for perfectionists is that we would remind ourselves daily of the good news of Christ. Only in fixing our minds on Jesus through His inerrant Word will we be transformed by truth and made into His likeness. So, what does the gospel say to us?

  1. Jesus is Lord, holy and perfect. He rules our lives.
  2. No one person is good. We were all under the law and slaves to sin (3:10).
  3. God will judge all of mankind (2:6).
  4. Christ died for sinners (5:6).
  5. We are justified by His blood (5:9) when we believe.
  6. Our righteousness is in Christ (5:18).

Read that last point again. Your righteousness is in Christ. My sister, this means that righteousness—your need to be perfect and without failure—has been bestowed upon you by Christ alone! All of our vain efforts to achieve perfection and control circumstances cannot make us good. They are futile.

But the gospel reminds us that the Author and Perfecter of our faith is the One who makes us righteous. In Christ, we are blameless and without fault. We are adopted saints, dearly loved and wholly approved. Grace is lavished on us through the love of Christ, who compels us to love others (yes, even imperfect sinners!) as we have been loved. Our inheritance is in eternity, not in the fleeting pleasures and treasures of worldly success, accolades and titles.

What Now?

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

For my sisters struggling with perfectionism, may you preach the gospel to yourselves on a daily basis. Get in the Scriptures. Journal each and every spiritual blessing that Christ has given to you, for His glory. Worship God for providing the perfect sacrifice in His Son, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

The life you live in the flesh, live by faith in Christ, who is your righteousness! And be plagued by perfectionism no more.

[Post credit: iBelieve]

What Is True Success?

The knots in my stomach became increasingly tighter as the hours passed. Anticipating that evening’s rehearsal, I moved throughout my day attempting to calm the nerves flaring up so wildly within me. I was conducting my very first choir that night and simply could not shake the fear of messing up, looking like a fool and losing future opportunities to serve in that way again.

Apparently, as revealed by my pulsating heartbeat, my delight was bound and determined to be found in how well I performed, and my success dependent on a set of circumstances over which I had very little control. No wonder my nerves were spinning so chaotically within me!

The question that often plagues the human mind is, “Do I measure up?” We long for some sense of security and approval that will bolster our self-esteem and give us ground on which to stand…even if only momentarily. For Christians experiencing this common worry, the problem starts with the question asked; we know that we have already been redeemed and approved in Christ. So why all the longing for confirmation and success, when in Christ we have been bestowed upon all the riches of eternity with God?

I think the question that begs an answer is in what do you find your delight?

“…but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

There are so many substitutes for the Lord through which we try to find our delight. We seek satisfaction from earthly things—comfort, entertainment, physical rest, being loved by others, pursuing our gifts and passions, wealth, body image, etcetera. While all these are good gifts from the hand of the Lord, our true delight yearns to be found, not ultimately in these, but in knowing Christ Jesus.

The Lord is the only unchangeable one upon whom we can rely. True success—godly blessedness—is to follow hard after the Lord because of overwhelming delight in His greatness and gospel!

The opening of the book of Psalms offers believers a wonderful template to pray for true success. Will you pray with me for the godly blessedness of the Lord’s children, in everything we pursue?

“He is like a tree planted…” (v.3) O Lord, plant us in Christ! Make us immoveable in the faith, founded on your unchanging truths and promises. You alone are the Firm Foundation upon which we stand; we shall not be greatly shaken. We desire to be planted in the truth and not easily uprooted by the circumstances of our lives or by cheap worldly substitutes. Open Your Scriptures to us, teach us Your nature, and fill us with insurmountable joy because of the good news of Jesus. May we be planted in the truth.

“…by streams of water” (v.3) Not only planted, Lord our God, but infused and strengthened by streams of living water! In Christ, we shall never thirst again for what You alone can satisfy, a deep longing to know You forever and be restored to You through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

“…yields its fruit in its season” (v.3) Being planted in You and drawing from Your riches, O Lord, help us to bear fruit in Your timing. When we delight in You first and foremost, then we will see the Spirit at work within us, conforming us to Christlikeness. May the soil of our hearts be tilled and ready for a harvest of righteousness. Help us bear fruit by Your Holy Spirit powerfully at work within us. We desire to look more like Your Son today than we did yesterday.

“…he prospers” (v.3) In all that we do, we seek to delight in You, and to delight You. Our gain is Christ! May our great success be found in what is of utmost importance—in aiming to please You. Strengthen us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called in Christ. Give us wisdom in every earthly situation, so we know what most pleases You. Help us to obey You with joy and gratitude, no matter the circumstance.

“…for the Lord knows the way of the righteous” (v.4) God Almighty, You have set apart Your children for a chosen inheritance forever with You in the heavenly realms. Thank You that we know the way to new life in Christ, and it is assured. We approach You with confidence, trusting in Your grace to approve us in Christ and gather us in Your arms, like a shepherd tends to his sheep. And this amazing grace allows us, compels us, to delight in Christ all the more! The glory of Your salvation is beautifully planned and perfect.

Help us to delight in You first and foremost, O Lord. We want to be planted, nourished, bearing much fruit, always knowing You more deeply. We long to find our every success in delighting in You, aiming to please You in all that we do! Help us, Holy Spirit, this day and all our days.

Amen!

[Post credit: iBelieve]