An Outrageous Love!

When we are truly in love with Jesus, there are no feelings within that can compare to the depth of love we hold for our Savior, Lord, and God. A genuine love for God requires every ounce of our being; there is no room for another. Nor is there a love like that between The Groom and His bride, between The Deliverer and the delivered, or between The Redeemer and His redeemed. A true love for Him consumes us. It compels us to “love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mk 12.30).

Those who have never opened their hearts to receive this perfect love cannot fathom its depths. In fact, they think us foolish for demonstrating our devotion with lives surrendered to bringing Him glory regardless of the cost. They cannot comprehend the simplicity of thought that denies one’s self the temporal desires of this life in order to pursue the immeasurable, limitless, infinite pleasures which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2.9).

However, those who have tasted the fruit of this sweet love gladly abandon their former worldly passions. They are no longer enticed by such bitter fruit, but are constantly satisfied and filled with a pure, unmerited, sacrificial love. A love with no pain, separation, or ending. They have gladly abandoned everything this world has to offer and counted it as loss that they might give themselves wholly to their one true love—JESUS!

It is curious that there are those who view such a love relationship with our God as foolish or strange. In his post “Oh, to Know Jesus!” Jon Bloom describes this relationship in simple terms that all can understand.

Bloom writes,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).

One thing is for sure: Christianity is not for stoics. The Bible is the most wild, romantic book ever written. The New Testament is no cool, reasoned analysis of Jesus’s system of thought. It is a passionate book written by people who were ravished by Jesus, who felt and said ardent things like Philippians 3:8.

You know what the world calls statements like Paul’s? Religious extremism. Fanaticism. You “count everything as loss”? Sounds dangerous. Have you thought about seeing a therapist?

But the world is full of such talk when it comes to romantic love. We expect lovers’ language to be obsessive and imbalanced. Listen to the way the poet John Keats speaks to his beloved Fanny Brawne:

You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more — the pain would be too great — My Love is selfish — I cannot breathe without you.

Keats’s overwhelming passion gave him a profound insight (in the same letter):

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion — I have shuddered at it — I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion.
 Love is my religion and I could die for that. I could die for you.

Paul is no fundamentalist extremist driven by fear or anger to force his creed on others. He’s a man in love. Keats idolized Fanny. Paul worshiped his Lord.

Christians are people in love with Jesus. He’s not our worldview; he’s our Bridegroom. We pour over the Word and pray to commune with our Beloved. Theology is only worth studying to help us know him! Preaching, teaching and evangelism is not our vocation or obligation but a longing that others know him too. “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Our love for Him is an outrageous love in the eyes of the world. It is a love that demands all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is not possible to express this love with mere words. No, it must be demonstrated through the works of genuine faith. It is a life designed to bring glory, honor, praise, and worship to our beloved. This love may cost us our goals, dreams, desires, or even our very life. Nevertheless, we gladly relinquish these ephemeral flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow, in exchange for eternal love which has been poured out for us upon Calvary. It was there that Jesus’ love paid the dowry to remove any and all obstacles which would prevent us from being betrothed unto Him.

In a relationship that demands so much, one might ask, “What is in it for you?” Our Beloved gives us everything we need for life and breath and meaning. In Him we have light in the darkest of nights, warmth on the coldest of days, hope in midst of hopelessness, strength when we are too weak to stand, vision for eyes shrouded in darkness, love for the unlovely, forgiveness for the most egregious of sinners, rest for the weary, food for the hungry, and oh so much more. He is our Redeemer, our Sacrifice, our Propitiation, our Hope, our Light, and our Love, the God of all creation, and our personal Lord and Savior. Is it any wonder that we “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord, for whom [we] have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that [we] may gain Christ” (Philippians 3.8).

The True Measure of Greatness

Dear Jesus of Nazareth,

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel it our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and particularly Simon the Zealot have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale. Thaddaeus is definitely sensitive, but he wants to make everyone happy.

On of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

Greatness starts with a heart hopelessly in love with God. That is the true measure of greatness!

Source: “The Apostle” by Gene A. Getz, pg 3-4

Dearest

George Beatty of Cleveland, Ohio, had a wonderful jewelry store, remarkable for its window displays. Over the years, Mr. Beatty had bought a stock of small precious stones that he kept in pint cups. He had a cup of small rubies, a cup of topazes, and a cup of diamonds—all sparkling brilliance. Some of them were small stones and chips that were worth very little. Early in the morning, before the customers came, he made pictures by placing the stones on black velvet squares; a magnificent peacock with its tail spread out was on one. He put these portraits in stone in the window, and many people stopped to look.

A wealthy customer wrote Mr. Beatty that his dearest granddaughter was going to have a birthday; he wanted something distinctive of real beauty. Five times in the letter, the customer spoke of the granddaughter as “dearest.” The old man looked at me and said, “I prayed and asked the Lord to give me an idea. I noticed how many times ‘dearest’ appeared, so I underlined it. When I sent my customer the sketch and told him what I proposed to do, he was greatly pleased and thought my idea was wonderful.”

Mr. Beatty sent him a ring with baguettes so beautifully cut that the light scintillated from them. Across the top of the ring, the first stone was a diamond; the next, an emerald, then an amethyst, a ruby, a second emerald, a sapphire, and then a topaz. I looked at it and asked, “Buy why do you have two emeralds?” He smiled and said, “Because there are two e’s in ‘dearest.’ If you take the initials of those stones, it spells the word ‘dearest.'”

Before the Lord God Almighty created the sun, the moon and the stars, He chose us, and—as it were—He put us in a ring to be worn as a signet upon His hand. Spelled out in the heart of God, we are his dearest.

Source: “Timeless Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching” by Donald Grey Barnhouse.

Is it Biblical to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?

Trevin Wax gets to the heart of this issue in his post “Is it Biblical to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?

Trevin writes:

The Southern Baptist blogosphere has erupted in conversation on whether it’s proper to use phrases like “asking Jesus into your heart,” “accepting Christ,” or methods like the “sinner’s prayer” when sharing the gospel. Like many online conversations, this one has tended to generate more heat than light, and I get the feeling that good folks on both sides of this issue may be talking past one another.

This discussion over methods and terms has been bubbling under the surface for a good while now. A younger generation of pastors look out at the state of evangelicalism and are rightly concerned that many people with cultural Christianity in their background cling to assurance they are saved despite an overwhelming lack of evidence of genuine conversion. It’s no surprise that some pastors are blaming the methods and terms that became prevalent in the previous generation. That’s why we hear a pastor like David Platt consider a phrase like “asking Jesus into your heart” to be “dangerous” and “damning.”

The response to this critique has been to trot out the biblical and historical precedent for using such terminology. That’s not hard. The idea of “receiving Christ” is all over the New Testament. It is certainly a part of the good news that we are not only in Christ, but that Christ is in us. Pastor Steve Gaines’ rebuttal to David Platt, for example, focused on the biblical preponderance of such language and how it offers a full-orbed view of what takes place when a sinner places faith in Jesus Christ.

A Global Perspective

The first time I questioned the legitimacy of expressions like “ask Jesus into your heart” was when I was a student in Romania. Several Romanian pastors challenged the use of such terminology. They considered it to be another example of the American tendency to water down the nature of true repentance, and they recommended the use of such phrases only if fully explained. They saw these expressions as distinctively “American” and worried that they did not give sufficient weight to the idea of surrendering one’s life to King Jesus in repentance and faith.

Though some in the Southern Baptist Convention want to make this a debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, a broader perspective shows that this is part of an ongoing conversation between Christians in the U.S. and Christians in other parts of the world. The pastors I knew who had concerns with this language were not Calvinistic at all. Still, they were afraid of creating false converts and offering them false assurance. It ought to at least give us pause that many Christians in other parts of the world are uncomfortable with this terminology.

The Real Issue is False Assurance

At the end of the day, the conversation about “the sinner’s prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart” is not really about the legitimacy of such methods or the biblical justification for using expressions like “having a personal relationship with Christ” or “receiving Jesus.” I believe that properly understood and explained, any of these methods and terms can be used, to good effect. And I bet David Platt would have no problem at all with the careful way that Steve Gaines explains what it means to “receive Jesus.”

The real issue comes down to finding our assurance in these methods and phrases. False assurance is when a pastor says, either explicitly or implicitly, “as long as you walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or asked Jesus into your heart at some point in time, you’re safe.” It’s the kind of false assurance that doesn’t take into account a Christian’s fruitfulness (as Jesus commanded us to) and tries to convince tares they are wheat. The debate is not really about the usefulness of a sinner’s prayer, but the grounding of one’s assurance in a particular moment in time where one felt remorse for sin, regardless if true repentance was present or later evidenced.

Growing up in independent Baptist circles, I recall how much emphasis was placed on the moment of conversion. Revival speakers would come into town and scare us as teenagers, telling us, “If you don’t remember the when, the where, the how, and the who of when you got saved, you’re probably not. So come down and get it settled today!” Multiple baptisms were good for the evangelist’s PR and dozens of teens getting re-baptized made the church feel good (“Look what God is doing in our young people!”).

Despite the hype, I never got re-baptized. I couldn’t articulate all the reasons why this was wrong, but I knew something wasn’t right. It felt like the shenanigans of these revival speakers put way too much emphasis on a moment in time and not on a life of fruitful faith.

True Conversion

This conversation about our methods and terminology in evangelism is an important one. I just hope that people who share a lot of the same concerns will understand the common ground they have and not impute mistakes to one another.

To my young pastor friends, we are often more apt to express concern about the precision of evangelistic language than we are to celebrate the passion of evangelistic outreach. Let’s not impute the excesses of revivalism to everyone who uses terms that are familiar within that stream of evangelicalism.

To my older pastor friends, please don’t assume that those who critique shallow evangelism are necessarily criticizing you or your ministry. And don’t think that young guys are gun-shy when it comes to evangelism, afraid to call people to personal faith and repentance, or have a problem with a moment of conversion.

Again, the issue is one of false assurance. No pastor wants to stand before God and find he offered false assurance to someone who showed no signs of genuine repentance and faith. We all ought to tremble at the thought.

Meanwhile, is it biblical to ask Jesus into your heart? Absolutely. We ought to say more than this when we evangelize, and our main focus ought to be on the biblical terminology of repentance and faith, but surely it is proper to speak of receiving Jesus.

Let’s just make sure we explain our terms and phrases so that the nature of true repentance and saving faith is communicated clearly, boldly, and graciously. I hope that’s something all of us can agree on.

Programs Won’t Change a Life

This is a great article by Michael Warden on “Why Programs Don’t Produce Lasting Change.”

Warden writes:

“If I…do not have love, I gain nothing.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:3

The leadership culture of the Church in the West is enamored with programs. We love to package the things we’ve learned ~ be they strategies, techniques, processes, or curricula ~ and scale them to multiply our impact and to help more people.

The motive is noble. And if we were merely in the knowledge-sharing business, then creating a program or curriculum to increase our impact would make perfect sense.

But we’re not in the knowledge business. At least, not primarily.

We’re in the transformation business.
We’re in the business of changing lives.

In this business of transforming lives, things like strategies, techniques, processes, curricula ~ they all have their place. For anyone experiencing authentic life transformation, there are definitely skills that need to be learned, new ways of being and doing that better serve the new person they have now become.

But programs don’t change people. They don’t produce that transformation. They can’t. They can’t because they lack the one and only thing in the universe that can authentically transform a person into who they were meant to be.

Love.

Yes. Love.

See, here is the secret to inspiring deep, authentic, personal transformation in another human soul:

It does not come through giving them knowledge or skill sets or even training them in disciplined practices (though these things are all very good). It comes through love and the courage born of love.

Love is the transforming agent of the universe. Love is the “Deeper Magic” that C.S. Lewis pointed to in The Chronicles of Narnia, the magic that changes not merely behavior, but the core identity of a man or woman (Romans 5: 6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19). With enough love brought to bear, anything is possible.

But without love unleashed, without love applied, nothing really changes. Not really. Not in the deep places where our most honest thoughts lie.

The work of transformation, of changing lives, is life-on-life. Heart on heart. It always has been. There’s no getting around it. It’s slower than we’d like it to be. AND it’s the way God designed His Kingdom to advance.

So it all works out like this: A brilliant curriculum or a masterful strategy placed in the hands of a leader who does not know how to love will produce little change and may even do harm. But in the hands of a soul who is willing to love and loves well, even the [worst] curriculum can’t prevent true life change from spreading through them.

Many leaders I know (including me) have spent so much time developing programs and discussing strategies and so little time investing in hearts so they become great lovers of others…life, on life, on life.

How To Measure a Pastor

How do you measure the success of a pastor? Should a pastor be measured by buildings, budgets, or backsides? Should his pedigree or accomplishments be the yardstick for his worth? How do you determine if a pastor is successful?

You can find the answer to these questions in Paul Tripp’s post “The Recipe for a Successful Pastor.” Pastors may accomplish great measurable feats; however, if they do not proceed from a heart of brokenness, love, and the pursuit of holiness then they are nothing more than worldly accomplishments.

Tripp writes:

I am convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. Sure, most candidate profiles expect a “vibrant walk with the Lord,” but these words are often weakened by a process that asks few questions in this area and makes grand assumptions. We’re really interested in knowledge (right theology), skill (good preacher), ministry philosophy (will build the church), and experience (isn’t cutting his pastoral teeth in this new place of ministry). I have heard church leaders, in moments of pastoral crisis, say many times, “We didn’t know the man we hired.”

What does knowing the man entail? It means knowing the true condition of his heart—as far as such is possible. What does he really love, and what does he despise? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? What are the deep desires that fuel and shape the way he does ministry? What anxieties have the potential to derail or paralyze him? How accurate is his view of himself? How open is he to confrontation, critique, and encouragement? How committed is he to his own sanctification?

How open is he about his own temptations, weaknesses, and failures? How ready is he to listen to and defer to the wisdom of others? Is pastoral ministry a community project to him? Does he have a tender, nurturing heart? Is he warm and hospitable, a shepherd and champion to those who are suffering? What character qualities would his wife and children use to describe him? Does he sit under his own preaching? Is his heart broken and his conscience regularly grieved as he looks at himself in the mirror of the Word? How robust, consistent, joyful, and vibrant is his devotional life?

Does his ministry to others flow out of the vibrancy of his devotional communion with the Lord? Does he hold himself to high standards, or does he settle for mediocrity? Is he sensitive to the experience and needs of those who minister alongside him? Does he embody the love and grace of the Redeemer? Does he overlook minor offenses? Is he ready and willing to forgive? Is he critical and judgmental? How does the public pastor differ from the private husband and dad? Does he take care of his physical self? Does he numb himself with too much social media or television? How would he fill in this blank: “If only I had ________”? How successful has he been in pastoring the congregation that is his family?

True Condition of the Pastor’s Heart

A pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.

Pastors often struggle to find living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It is as if Jesus has left the building. There is all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but it seems divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ. All this activity, knowledge, and skill seems to be fueled by something else. Ministry becomes shockingly impersonal. Then it’s about theological content, exegetical rightness, ecclesiastical commitments, and institutional advancement. It’s about preparing for the next sermon, getting the next meeting agenda straight, and filling the requisite leadership openings. It’s about budgets, strategic plans, and ministry partnerships.

None of these things is wrong in itself. Many of them are essential. But they must never be ends in themselves. They must never be the engine that propels the vehicle. They must all express something deeper in the pastor’s heart.

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of, and in love with his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed by, humbled by, assured by, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant-leader. His meditation on Christ, his presence, his promises, and his provisions must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry work.

Protection Against All Other Loves

Only love for Christ can defend the heart of the pastor against all other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry. Only worship of Christ has the power to protect him from all the seductive idols of ministry that will whisper in his ear. Only the glory of the risen Christ will guard him against the self-glory that tempts all and destroys the ministry of so many.

Only Christ can turn an arrogant, “bring on the world” seminary graduate into a patient, humble giver of grace. Only deep gratitude for a suffering Savior can make a man willing to suffer in ministry. Only in brokenness before your own sin can you give grace to fellow rebels among whom God has called you to minister. Only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ will you find freedom from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry.

We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions. Maturity is about relationship to God that results in wise and humble living. Maturity of love for Christ expresses itself in love for other.

Thankfulness for the grace of Christ expresses itself in grace to others. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Christ enables you to be patient and forgiving of others. Your daily experience of the rescue of the gospel gives you a passion for people experiencing the same rescue. This is the soil in which true ministry success grows.

The Hope of Parents for Their Children

As a parent my greatest desire is to see my son grow up loving, honoring, and serving the Lord. We read the Bible and pray together almost every night. We take him to church a couple of times a week. We try to explain to him that the way we treat others is a direct reflection of our relationship with God. We want him to understand the difference between cultural morality and living out the Christian life. We want to teach him that his life is to be lived as a demonstration of his love for God.

We are prayerfully seeking God’s wisdom to raise our son up in the ways of the Lord; however, there is no guarantee he will obey or continue in these teachings. As a pastor I have seen too many parents broken because of the choices of their children. They were godly parents and yet somewhere along the way their children departed from the godly path.

Because of this, parents often ask me about Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” They feel like they held up their end by raising the child the right way,  but now that same son or daughter wants nothing to do with God, Jesus, or the church. These parents just want to know what they did wrong or if there is anything they can do to fix the situation.

This morning I found a few insightful thoughts on D.A. Carson’s blog in regard to this verse. Dr. Carson writes: “The proverb ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it’ (Prov. 22:6) is so well known that it cries out for comment. Recall that a proverb is neither case law nor unqualified promise (review meditation for March 23). When children go wrong, very often the careful observer can spot familial reasons that have contributed to the rebellion. But this is not always the case. Sometimes young people from evidently wonderful families kick the traces. Some return years later; some never do. Good families may produce prodigal sons. This proverb must not be treated as if it were a promise that fails periodically. Rather, it is a proverb: it tells how God has structured reality, and what we should do to conform to it. This is the principle of how families work; it includes no footnotes and mentions no exceptions.”

As parents we are going to make mistakes in raising our children. However, if we strive to honor God in the raising of our kids, if we set the Word, the commands, and ways of God before them, and if we try to be a living example of all we teach then we can rest knowing that we did our best. There comes a time when our kids must choose which path they will take. Yes it is heartbreaking when they make terrible choices, but as their parents we will still have opportunities to use our authority to influence them in the right direction. But in the end they must choose which path of life to follow.

Regardless of the age of our kids, there are few ways we can continue to train them up in the ways of the Lord. First, pray for them. Pray for their wisdom, holiness, and even conviction of sin. We can also lovingly and gently offer advice. If they are receptive, sit down with them and share your concerns. And finally, love them. My past is littered with mistakes the I believe greatly disappointed my parents; however, I always knew they loved me. It was their reflecting the unconditional love of God that helped lead me to repentance and a godly Christ-like life.

So parents do your part in putting children on the right course. Then entrust them into the hands of God knowing that He will never give up on drawing them to Himself.