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Christlikeness Is Something To Long For, Not Be Delivered From (via Randy Alcorn)

Randy Alcorn is supporting his wife, Nanci, through her season of cancer.
God is supporting them both.
He writes about the experience of God using the very situations that nobody wants as the circumstances in which faith and Christlikeness grows:

If asked, “Do you want to be closer to Jesus, and more like him?” we all know what we should say. Yet, if God answered all our prayers for relief from suffering, he would be delivering us from the very thing we say we want. Christlikeness is something to long for, not be delivered from. It’s not easy to pray, “Please do whatever it takes to make me more like Jesus.” But when he does whatever it takes, we should trust him.

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The Hardest Battle In Ministry (via Jeff Robinson)

This is the battle every Christian fights, and it’s the hardest battle in ministry: the battle against yourself.
From Jeff Robinson:

The ministry is a lot like golf. You really are your own worst enemy. You have to battle you all the time. It comes down to realizing that you are weak. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10, You are weak, but he is strong. In our weakness, his strength is made perfect.
Jesus said it best in John 15:5. Apart from me, you can do nothing. You must rely on him. That’s part of winning the war within is God making you a humble, godly man who does look like the person Paul describes in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Regarding the war within, I think it’s time for battle.

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Why Church Should Be Nothing Like Cross-Fit (via Connor Gwin at Mockingbird)

I’ve been dabbling a little bit in personal fitness for a while now, so I’ve got lots of respect for those who exercise.
This article by
Connor Gwin on Mockingbird
interacts with popular thought about why gyms and exercise fill a space in some modern lives that used to be filled by church.
It wants to tease out that the thought that people can find more personally meaningful “content and wisdom and community” in gyms is because the church has been conditioning them to expect the wrong thing.
There are texts in the New Testament that utilise athletic metaphors, but they are not based so much in self-improvement as they are in increased resting in the finished work of Christ in order to grow more like him.
From the article:

What troubles me is that we so easily make the jump from church to gym.
This argument of the Vox article starts from the assumption that religion and religious institutions are “providers of content and wisdom and community.”
From the outside, this is an easy assumption to make. Those of us within the church can fall into this trap too easily as well. The church is not just a provider of content and community. Ritual is not “this really helpful way of making people think of something greater.” The church and the rituals contained therein are forms of participation in reality as opposed to the delusion of my own sinful understanding.
The church does not exist to “make people better” like CrossFit. The church exists first and foremost for the worship of Christ and the proclamation of his Gospel. This sole focus serves to remind people who they are and to proclaim the Good News that we cannot make ourselves better but there is One who makes us whole.
The church is not a provider of spiritual wisdom, but foolishness. It does not exist for improvement or even growth. Saying that CrossFit is the logical home for those who no longer darken the doors of the church is an indictment of the church more than anything.
It shouldn’t be an easy walk from the pew to the weight bench, but it is made easy by a Christianity that looks more like a spiritual fitness program than a Gospel balm.
Any mention of “nones” and someone will mention the “dones,” those who are burned out and tired of giving their all to the church. For the “dones,” the prospect of endless burpees sounds better than one more sermon about the next political issue they need to care about or the next moral ladder they need to climb.
What is happening in the church when the Workout of the Day sounds like better news than the Gospel?
Jesus is not a personal trainer or a guru espousing wisdom. Jesus is Lord, and he calls to each of us, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Read the whole post at Mockingbird.


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Trials Of Various Kinds (via Scott Hubbard at Desiring God)

Scott Hubbard writes a short article about how God prepares us to face major trials by taking his people through multiple smaller trials of more mundane significance. How we teach ourselves to react with the smaller will be how we react to the larger seasons of adversity.

The little trials you meet today are not mere letdowns or annoyances. They are invitations from your Father to become more like Jesus. They are the exercises your faith needs, given in just the right size and quantity. They are God’s way of fitting you for glory.

Read the whole post at Desiring God.


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If It Stops Stinking, It’s Too Late (via Michael Milton)

Michael Milton relates an episode from his past life experience of receiving a safety warning while working on an oil field and draws a parallel application to spiritual health:

[The warning from his foreman]
“When you smell rotten-eggs at the well site, boys, you are smelling a poisonous, corrosive, flammable gas that is hydrogen sulfide. This hydrogen sulfide will kill you in no time flat … If you get to the point where you do not smell hydrogen sulfide and its noxious rotten-egg aroma, it’s already too late. So, listen and live: You smell it. You get out of there. ‘Cuz if you stop smelling it, we will have to go in and haul your ugly carcass out of there feet-first. And that will just mess up my day. Don’t be that guy!”

[Milton’s spiritual application]
…sin is like the rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide. Whenever you smell it, you have to get out—and I mean NOW. If you linger after you have detected the odor of the poisonous gas of sin, you will quickly get to the point where you don’t smell it. That is a point of no return. Let us say it like this,
If sin becomes tolerable, judgment becomes inevitable.
And by the time you stop sensing that rotten-egg smell, it will be too late. You will be trapped by sin. You’ll be snared by the devil. Somebody just may have to go into the scene of the incident and pull you out feet-first.

Read the whole post here.


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Faith In The Son Of God Is Not About Fast Changes (via Joel Littlefield)

The transition from outside the kingdom into the kingdom happens all at once.
The transition of the character of the lives that have gone from completely outside to completely inside takes longer.
We shouldn’t be discouraged.
As Joel Littlefield writes Things That Matter Rarely Happen Fast.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Compared to the tree that it produces, it’s among the smallest of seeds. Being a Christian in this Kingdom will mean that what is being produced in us by Jesus, though it be small and comparatively insignificant right now, will one day have influence that spreads like the branches of a large tree. Seeds are planted and may not sprout for days. Yet with time and patience, fruit comes.
Faith in the Son of God is not about fast changes. It’s about truth hidden in our hearts that is doing something now, and will one day spring forth as great trees producing more fruit than we can imagine.

Read the rest of the post here.


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We Can’t Have It All Now – Avoiding Functional Prosperity Theology (via Daniel Darling)

Januarys being what they are pastors can find themselves looking at ourselves and others wondering if disciples of Jesus have made any progress during the previous twelve months.
That can be a very, very depressing activity if we don’t hold on to the fact that, unlike justification, that sanctification is a progressive work that is never complete in this life.
The notion (expectation) that while we don’t expect the people to whom we minister to be perfect, we’d just like them to be significantly problem free or significantly less problematic than last year (i.e. perfect, or becoming perfect) through our ministry is really a form of prosperity gospel.
Progress is progress. It may not even be measurable in a year.

Daniel Darling writes:

If you were to ask most Christians, you’d find many consider the prosperity gospel to be an unbiblical teaching offered by religious hucksters. But there’s a subtle way in which a similar message creeps into our theologically sound churches—a back-door heresy perhaps more damaging than the promise of a bigger house or fatter bank account.
It is the prosperity gospel of instant life change. I often heard a version of this during testimony time in the otherwise fundamentalist church where I grew up. Some former alcoholic would stand up and say something like, “I was hungover on Saturday, and by Monday I had taken my last drink.”
I have to admit testimonies like this still move me emotionally. I’m stirred because I really do believe in the power of the gospel to regenerate a person’s life. Christ is in the business of changing us, but we too often communicate a message that sanctification happens instantaneously for everyone who truly believes.
The problem is, this is not only untrue for most of the people in our churches, but it’s also not a promise Jesus made. Instead, Jesus said we’d have to take up our cross of suffering and yield to the Spirit’s work of sanctification on a daily basis. Paul, who was certainly no hedonist, admitted his own death struggle with sin (Rom. 7:7-25). And what about the writer of Hebrews, who compares the Christian life to a marathon, a daily putting off of the “sin which so easily entangles us” ( 12:1)?
The gospel is the power to radically alter lives. Some of this change may be apparent immediately after conversion. But more often, it occurs over time. The greatest life change is the result of a hard, slow slog of sanctification—the work of the Spirit through the Word and other means of grace, such as the church, sacraments, and prayer. We should celebrate change, but we should also prepare ourselves—and those we disciple—for a lifetime of struggle against sin. What’s more, we must embed in hearts the theology of an already-but-not-yet eschatological view. What this means is, even as we experience Christ’s renewing and sanctifying power in the present, we understand that most things won’t be made new until He returns to consummate His kingdom. John expressed the idea this way: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be . . . when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Even our “best life now” as a Christian in a fallen world is light-years away from the perfected self we’ll see in glory.
At first glance, this seems hopeless because, in this life, we’ll never fully experience the change we want to see. And yet this expectation of future glory is powerfully hopeful because it releases us from an impossible standard and keeps us from offering the false promise of a flawless life. Instead, we can fix our gaze on Jesus, who is working to craft us into the people we will eventually be by His grace.
Imagine how this perspective might revolutionize discipleship. No longer would people be “projects” for us to reshape if only they’d follow our Bible-based growth plan. Instead, we’d see people as they are—entangled in the knotty effects of the fall, even as they cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow into Christ’s likeness. Knowing that in due time this all will be reversed, we’d have greater patience for the process. We might encourage one another with this hope: Christ is renewing us daily, and a time is coming when the process will be complete. That is our ultimate deliverance.
So, for instance, the alcoholic won’t be offered a temptation-free life but, rather, a “way of escape” each day from the sin that so easily besets. The pornography-addicted teen won’t be told just to “get saved and your troubles will go away,” but will instead hear it’s possible to “repent and rest on Jesus, and you’ll find in Him the strength to fight for sanctification.” And rather than trying to have a new kid by Friday, parents will begin praying regularly for the Spirit to renew and regenerate their child.
We must reject the quick-fix gospel that makes promises in our fallen world which are possible only in a perfected one. What the Bible offers is not a five-step method or a plan for life change, but the good news of God’s salvation. For that reason, we can live in the present, trusting that God is forming us—slowly, methodically, permanently—into His new kingdom people.

source.