Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Benefits of preaching the gospel to yourself

I have encouraged the saints of Covenant Community Church frequently in recent years to rehearse -- or preach to themselves -- the gospel of Jesus. I have learned that from others, and I have found it beneficial to my own life.

William Farley has written a new book on why Christians should adopt this practice and how they can do it. (By the way, one of Farley's previous books is an excellent one on parenting titled Gospel-powered Parenting.) Super-blogger Tim Challies posted yesterday on Farley's new book, Hidden in the Gospel, and excerpted Farley's seven benefits of preaching the gospel to yourself. I commend them to you:
1. Those who preach the gospel to themselves are regularly and repetitively exposed to the glory of God.

2. Those who preach the gospel to themselves grow in humility.

3. Those who preach the gospel to themselves are most likely to gain deliverance from that three-headed monster of guilt, inferiority, and low self-image.

4. Those who preach the gospel to themselves accelerate their sanctification.

5. Those who preach the gospel to themselves are increasingly “abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6).

6. Those who preach the gospel to themselves are increasingly hopeful.

7. Those who preach the gospel to themselves are repeatedly led to worship.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The power of lines and verses in hymns

John Piper has often said, “Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences.”

Something similar may be said of Christian hymns, something like: Hymns don’t affect us as much as verses or lines do.

Now, I would say my adage regarding hymns does not work as well as Piper’s on books. After all, books are much longer than hymns. The contrast between the impact of a sentence or a paragraph against an entire book is much greater than that of a verse or line against a hymn.

Yet, I thought of the power of verses and lines in hymns after I read Tim Challies’ recent blog post on the 10 greatest hymns of all time. You can read the post here. It is an excellent list. Several of the hymns would be on a top 10 list I would compile.

In this post, however, I want to call attention to some verses, or portions of verses, from hymns that particularly stand out for their beauty and power. These hymns would likely be in my top 10 list of favorite hymns, but it is not these hymns in their entirety that have earned places of recognition here. Instead, it is the verses or lines quoted from these hymns that have affected me and brought me to quote them.

I will begin with lyrics that have caused me to request these first two hymns be sung at my memorial service.

1. Before the Throne of God Above
This hymn’s lyrics, written in 1863 by Charitie Lees Bancroft, form a powerful testimony to the all-sufficient work of Jesus for His people. The second verse, which is my favorite, reminds me not to focus on my inadequacy but on the perfect adequacy of Christ:
When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me, to look on Him and pardon me.
These words in the last line – “God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me” – may be unsurpassed among hymns in explaining briefly the substitutionary work of Jesus.

2. In Christ Alone
This modern hymn by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, published in 2001, is one of the most-sung hymns in English-speaking churches and, The Gospel Coalition’s Collin Hansen reports, “has become an anthem for underground churches throughout the world.” It is difficult for me to choose a favorite from the last three verses of this poignant hymn about our union with Christ. For today anyway, my favorite is verse four:
No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
3. Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
Our church sings this 1804 hymn by Thomas Kelly during our Good Friday service each year. It is a sobering reflection on the suffering of our Savior. Verse two’s reference to “the stroke that Justice gave” is a vivid declaration of a holy God’s punishment of sin:
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning, foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him, none would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that Justice gave.
4. And Can It Be?
Charles Wesley may be my favorite hymn writer. Of all his great hymns, none may surpass this one he wrote shortly after his conversion in 1738. The first verse profoundly expresses the amazement all of us, as Christians, should have that God the Son would die in our place:
And can it be that I should gain an int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
5. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Yes, another Charles Wesley hymn. And yes, a Christmas carol. Some of the best theology in Christian hymnody is found in songs about the incarnation of Christ. In the last half of the third verse of this 1739 hymn, Wesley describes a purpose of God the Son in entering the world as a baby boy:
Mild He lays His glory by, born that men no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
What are your favorite verses or lines from hymns?

* -- Photo source

Friday, September 12, 2014

The gospel and modesty (Part 2)

As Christians, we don’t take our signals from the world. This is certainly true when it comes to modesty. While this virtue has a cultural context, ours is an immodest culture. There was a day when American culture maintained a common understanding of basic modesty. That day no longer exists.

The church needs to give careful attention to this issue. How we dress, act and speak – whether modestly or immodestly – reflects on our testimony as followers of Christ and on the name of our righteous Lord.

Here are some questions I hope will prove helpful for our consideration as Christians:

-- What is our goal in our dress, language and actions? Is it the glory of God?

-- Whom do we dress to please? Is God our primary audience? Do we seek to catch the eyes of the opposite sex? Do we seek to impress friends of the same sex?

-- Do we try to bring attention to ourselves by our dress, actions and speech?

-- Is our goal to serve others in this area? Are you, as a lady, sensitive to your brothers in Christ? Are you, as a man, sensitive to your sisters in Christ?

-- Are we permitting other believers to hold us accountable regarding modesty? Are you, as a young lady, seeking your father’s wisdom? Are you, as a young man, requesting your mother’s insight? Are you, as a husband or wife, asking for your spouse’s counsel? Are you, as a single adult, soliciting advice from a fellow Christian?

-- Do we extend grace to others who may not meet the same standards we hold? Or do we nurse critical spirits toward those who fall short in our eyes? Do we take pride in how we dress or act in contrast to others?

-- Do we live with the constant recognition we are clothed with the righteousness of
Christ and our acceptance by God is based solely on Jesus and His work? Do we see personal modesty as an outworking of God’s grace in our lives rather than an effort to gain His favor?

May we pray for one another and encourage one another as we seek to dress, act and speak in ways that demonstrate we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The gospel and modesty (Part 1)

News broke in the last few days a hacker had managed to access and make public photos reportedly from the cellphones of more than a hundred celebrities – some of them in the nude. The reports came on the heels of a sermon I preached last Sunday on modesty, my latest in a series on gender and sexuality.

In that sermon, I mentioned modesty has become even more of an issue for Christians in the age of social media. We need to be careful not only about how we dress, act and speak in public appearances but in what we wear, how we pose and what messages we post on Facebook and other online venues. The believability of our testimony and the name of Christ are on the line in those settings. We need to think about our Savior and His gospel when we take part in social media.

Here are some points I made during Sunday’s sermon, which focused on Titus 2:11-14:

-- We should think about modesty in a gospel-centered way, not a rule-centered one. In their book Modest: Men and Women Clothed in the Gospel, Tim Challies and R.W. Glenn write, “Modesty apart from the gospel becomes a self-made religion that can give some appearance of being the genuine article but that is in the end of no value (none!) in our battle with the sinful and inordinate desires of our hearts. If we reduce modesty to certain rules of dress, we are completely separating the concept of modesty from the person and work of Jesus Christ.” (Their book was a great help to me in compiling some of these points.)

-- Modesty can vary by situation and culture. What is modest at the pool would not likely be modest in corporate worship. What is modest in corporate worship in America would not be modest in public in Saudi Arabia.

-- Modesty is not just an issue for females. Males can violate modesty by their dress, behavior and words.

-- While Titus 2:11-14 applies to all of life for a follower of Christ, I believe it can be applied in these ways regarding modesty: (1) The grace of God enables and instructs us to embrace modesty. (2) The return of Christ motivates us to embrace modesty. (3) The substitution of Christ sets us apart to embrace modesty.

-- Modesty, based on this passage in Titus, is to be not only gospel-focused but (1) Christ-focused, (2) heart-focused, and (3) service-focused.

-- Pride, ignorance and/or insensitivity can fuel immodesty.

-- Two questions for Christians when considering this issue: (1) Whom do you dress for? (2) Whom have you invited to advise you and hold you accountable in this area?