Change is possible!

By Jeremy Oddy

Consider reading over the quote below for encouragement.  Read each line carefully and slowly and meditate over each principle as your heart becomes full of the love of Christ in what he has done for you, doing in you, and will do for you.  And know this, he is doing the same thing in your spouse, friend, child, and anyone else who is in Christ.

Paul Tripp writes:

Change is possible because the King has come!  In all of this, God’s ultimate goal is his own glory. Christ came to restore people to the purpose they were made for: to live every aspect of their lives in worshipful, obedient submission to him.  He accomplishes this by breathing life into dead hearts so that we grasp our need for him.  He lives sinlessly, keeping the law on our behalf.  He lays down his life as a penalty for sin, so that we can be fully forgiven.  He adopts us into his family, giving us all the rights and privileges of his children.  He daily conforms us to his own image.  He enables us by his grace to do what is right.  His Spirit lives inside us, convicting of sin, illuminining truth, and giving us the power to obey.  He places us in the body of Christ where we can learn and grow.  He rules over every event for his glory and our good.  He makes us the objects of his eternal, redemptive love. The Bible calls this change redemption.  We are not only changed, we are restored to God.  This is what makes all other change possible (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand, 6-7).

Praise God!  We are a blessed people indeed!  So, we know that this is all true.  However, we can sometimes forget or not believe one or a few of these truths in our own lives.  Talk to a friend or your spouse about some of these truths that you tend to forget or not believe at times.  Ask God for help, because all of our hope is based on a Person, not on our (or someone else’s) performance or a principle.

Men, Leadership & Responsibility

Author: Jeff Wall 

My dad left our family when I was one. Like many men, his identity was wrapped up in his work, and I think his voluntary slavery to alcohol medicated his fear of failure.  He lived in a van down by the river. Over the years I tried to visit occasionally, but stomaching the filth and squalor he chose to live in made the visits infrequent and brief.

I wanted so much to know him and I didn’t. I wanted so much for him to be released from his bondage and experience a life of freedom and health. I yearned for a meaningful conversation with him and it started when on the phone I told him I loved him.

Yearning for more spiritual dialogue with him on a visit, I clumsily blurted out “I forgive you, Dad”. He gave me a quizzical look and asked “For what?”  “For leaving your family,” I replied. In true Adam-like fashion he wanted me to know my mother was to blame.

It seems that all of us fall into that same pattern to varying degrees.  We tend to place blame rather than take responsibility, myself included.

Quoting John Maxwell, my friend often says, “everything rises and falls on leadership” and “leadership takes responsibility.”  If leadership is truly about influence and not just position, then all of us are leaders because we all have influence.  But ineffective leaders make a habit of blaming others while effective leaders are ones who take responsibility.

Men who take responsibility for their families inspire me.  It’s no small thing to accept the responsibility to lead a family spiritually, love your wife like Jesus loved the church, provide, protect, nurture and much, much more that the Bible calls us to.  I believe when we begin to understand the weight of all that responsibility, we will be driven to desperate humility and dependence on our Father in heaven.  Without his help it’s impossible.

Jesus, my hero, accepted responsibility.  He took on himself all of the blame we rightly deserved.   And when the weight of that responsibility became unbearable, it drove Jesus to the Father to plead for help. His flesh fought him but through his dependence on the Father he endured and traded his righteousness for our sin. It’s only because he took responsibility for our failings that empowered by his strength working through us we can lead by taking up responsibility for others.

Our Father in heaven is a good father. He gives grace to the humble and doesn’t give us a stone when we ask him for bread. May we as men accept the responsibility of leadership and may the weight of that burden cause us to cry out to the Father for help.

The Gift Of Self-Forgetfulness

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“Many pulpits across the land consistently preach the Christian and not the Christ.” Todd Wilken

As I said in Ed Stetzer’s interview of me a couple weeks ago, the way many of us think about sanctification is, well…not very sanctified. In fact, it’s terribly narcissistic. We spend too much time thinking about how we’re doing, if we’re growing, whether we’re doing it right or not. We spend too much time pondering our spiritual failures and brooding over our spiritual successes. Somewhere along the way we’ve come to believe that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian.

Reflecting this common assumption, someone who was frustrated with something I had written said to me not long ago, “Don’t you know that the focus of the New Testament is the personal holiness of the Christian?” What? Seriously? I heard Mr. Miyagi’s voice in my head, “Breathe in, breathe out; breathe in, breathe out.” The truth is, we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves, and we justify this spiritualized navel-gazing by reasoning that this is what God wants us to be doing.

I’ve said this before but let me say it again: there is nothing in the gospel or about the gospel that encourages me to focus on me. Nothing! It’s never honoring to God when we take our eyes off of Christ “the author and finisher of our faith” and center our eyes on ourselves. Never! In fact, the whole point of the gospel is to get us out of ourselves and to “fix our eyes on Christ” (Hebrews 12:2). The truest measure of Christian growth, therefore, is when we stop spiritually rationalizing the reasons why we’re taking our eyes off of Jesus to focus on ourselves.

The biggest difference between the practical effect of sin and the practical effect of the gospel is that sin turns us inward and the gospel turns us outward. Martin Luther picked up on this problem in the Reformation, arguing that sin actually bends or curves us in on ourselves (homo incurvatus in se). Any version of “the gospel”, therefore, that encourages you to think about yourself is detrimental to your faith-whether it’s your failures or your successes; your good works or your bad works; your strengths or your weaknesses; your obedience or your disobedience.

Ironically, what I’ve discovered is that the more I focus on my need to get better the worse I actually get–I become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my performance over Christ’s performance for me actually hinders my growth because it makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective–the exactopposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about yourself. “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30) properly describes the painful sanctification process. “Decreasing” is impossible for the one who keeps thinking about himself. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis reminded us that we’ll know a truly humble man when we meet him because “He will not be thinking about humility: he will not, in fact, be thinking about himself at all.” When we spend more time thinking about ourselves and how we’re doing then we do about Jesus and what he’s done, we shrink. As J.C. Kromsigt said, “The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth.”

But what about those passages which seem to encourage us to “examine ourselves”? Isn’t there a proper time and place for self-evaluation?

Yes.

In fact, this is what the law of God (not the gospel of God) does. The law forces us to look inside ourselves so we can clearly see that what we need most has happened outside ourselves. This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 13:5 when he says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” In other words, the goal of self-examination is not to discover my worthiness, strength, or sufficiency. The goal is to discover my unworthiness and Christ’s worthiness; my weakness and Christ’s strength; my deficiency and Christ’s sufficiency. Confidence in my transformation is not the source of my assurance and growth. Confidence in Christ’s substitution is. As Matt Richard has rightly noted, “Looking to self for assurance shifts the foundation from Jesus to us.” Christian growth is defined in the Bible as movement in the exact opposite direction (how do we keep missing this obvious point ??). By his Spirit, Christ’s continuing subjective work inside me consists of him driving me back constantly to his completed objective work outside me (John 15:26). “True faith”, said Sinclair Ferguson, “gets a man out of himself and into Christ.”

Oswald Bayer makes the great point that, far from being a “deadening of self”,  forgetting yourself leads to life and freedom:

Those who are born anew are no longer entangled with themselves. They are solidly freed from this entanglement, from the self-reflection that always seeks what belongs to itself. This is not a deadening of self. It does not flee from thought and responsibility. No, it is the gift of self-forgetfulness. The passive righteousness of faith tells us: You do not concern yourself at all! In that God does what is decisive in us, we may live outside ourselves and solely in him. Thus, we are hidden from ourselves, and removed from the judgment of others or the judgment of ourselves about ourselves as a final judgment. “Who am I?” Such self-reflection never finds peace in itself.

Contrary to what we have typically heard (and been enslaved by), Christian growth is not becoming stronger and stronger, more and more competent. Christian growth and progress is marked by a growing realization of just how weak and incompetent we are and how strong and competent Jesus continues to be for us. Spiritual maturity is not marked by our growing, independent fitness. Rather, it’s marked by our growing dependence on Christ’s fitness for us. Remember, the Apostle Paul (who was more spiritually mature and “sanctified” than all of us put together) referred to himself as the “least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8) and the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15)at the end of his life. For Paul, spiritual growth is realizing how utterly dependent we are on Christ’s cross and mercy. It’s not arriving at some point where we need Jesus less because we’re getting better and better. It was, paradoxically, Paul’s ability to freely admit his lack of sanctification which demonstrated just how sanctified he was.

This is the point: When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better, that is what it means to get better. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve!

Thankfully, the focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The gospel frees us from ourselves. It announces that this whole thing is about Jesus and dependent on Jesus. The good news is the announcement of his victory for us, not our “victorious Christian life.” The gospel declares that God’s final word over Christian’s has already been spoken: “Paid in full.” Therefore, Christians can now live in a posture of perpetual confidence “that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

I love the story of the old pastor who, on his deathbed, told his wife that he was certain he was going to heaven because he couldn’t remember one truly good work he had ever done.

He got it.

Blessed self-forgetfulness!

Lord Over All – Defined

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Here is the definition from this past Sunday’s message on God‘s Sovereignty as apart of our “How Great Thou Art” series on the attributes of God

SOVEREIGNTY

Sovereignty is the supreme authority of God, his absolute right to rule over creation. He is not subject to any power or law outside of himself.

God has planned, has a purpose for, and is in complete control of every aspect of His creation, both good and bad, including our individual lives. He does this in such a way that He never authors or approves of sin or relieves man of his responsibility by violating his will. He does all for His glory and all He does in relation to those whom He chooses and loves is for their good.

How Do We Grow In Discipleship?

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To grow as a disciple of Jesus is to experience Jesus. God has graciously and supernaturally given us an inspired holy Scripture that leads us into life-giving and life-changing encounters with Jesus. To follow Jesus means finding life in him and through his words. But how does that happen? Here are four ways.

BY THE WORD OF GOD RENEWING OUR MINDS

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1–2

The Bible presents a God-centered world in which his glory is the highest good and worth living for. This is a major realignment from the predominant individualistic outlook in culture that says, “It’s all about me.” Seeing the stories of transformation of people who are now living for God’s glory instead of their own is inspiring. Catching a glimpse of God’s glory is life-altering.

BY GIVING US DIRECTION

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”Psalm 119:11

When Jesus is tempted (Luke 4), it was his prior exposure and time in the Bible that served him well. Embedding God’s word in our hearts is not so much a memory project as it is a project of encountering truth. We grow when our exposure to God’s word helps us to identify the subtle lies that lure us away from God and his glory.

BY RESTORING OUR SOUL

“But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” Psalm 103:17–18

Every message in our culture invites us to recharge with “me time.” The Scriptures suggest that recharging is in rehearsing God’s great work of forgiveness, calling us his children, and inviting us into his kingdom work.

BY INFORMING OUR PRAYERS

Jesus gives us many examples of how the Old Testament shaped his thinking and prayer life. We see that he took his understanding of what it meant for him to be our shepherd from Psalm 23. We see Christ’s prayer on the cross influenced by Psalm 22 as he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We even see that Christ’s model of discipleship was influenced by his view of the word of God. In his prayer for his disciples in John 17, he says that he has sanctified them through God’s word.

WHAT DOES GROWTH LOOK LIKE?

We grow as disciples as we learn to turn the expressions of our heart to God. So when you read the Bible, look for:

  • Sins to confess
  • Promises to claim
  • Examples to follow or avoid
  • Commands to obey
  • Statements of significance
  • Responses of awe, which is worship
  • Lives lived in community, which support righteousness and life change in each other
  • Your life used as a billboard to declare God’s invitation to life and to join him on mission.

This is what it looks like to be a growing disciple.

Make God Look Great. Create.

by STEPHEN ALTROGGE
I’m excited to announce that my new e-bookCreate: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuffis officially available for only $2.99!

Repeat after me: I am creative.

It’s not just the painters and poets who are creative, everyone is creative! God has wired creativity into our DNA. Being creative is one of the ways we reflect the image of God, and God expects that all of us will use our creative gifts to glorify him. All of us have a divinely inspired drive to create and organize and bring beauty out of chaos.

But creativity is hard work. It takes work to create a poem or garden or car engine or piece of furniture or blog post. It requires killing our laziness and working faithfully over extended periods of time. It requires a willingness to receive criticism with humility. It requires sweat and elbow grease. It requires diligence and faithfulness. It’s easier to not make anything at all. To be a consumer. To suffocate the creative gifts that God has given us.

That’s why I wrote this little book. It’s meant to be a divine kick in the pants, of sorts. It’s meant to inspire you and motivate you to use your creative gifts for the glory of God. To help you stop making excuses and start using your gifts.

You have creative gifts. You are a gifted musician or mechanic or teacher or dancer or woodworker or organizer or landscaper or quilter or preacher, and God wants you to use your gifts for his glory. He doesn’t want you to waste them or hoard them. He wants you to use them to benefit those around you and to bring him honor. He wants you to steward your gifts, not waste them.

Your church needs your creative gifts. Your family needs your creative gifts. Your friends needs your creative gifts. You have gifts that no one else has. We need your gifts. Stop making excuses, and start making stuff.

You can get the book on Amazon, or if you don’t have a Kindleyou can get it in PDF format.

Now, can I ask you a big favor? If you find this book to be helpful could you do two things?

  • Share about the book on Facebook or Twitter?

Here are some of the nice things people have said about the book:

This piece on creativity is a gem. Conversational, practical, and biblical. As Christians we have the Creator as our Father, and so we should be the ones with the most creativity. Sadly today Christianity is reduced to corny songs and cheesy t-shirts. However, in this short e-book I was greatly encouraged deep in my soul to step out in faith and be creative knowing my Father already loves me and approves of me in Jesus. Stephen winsomely shows how we aren’t just supposed to be creative, but its actually what we were created for!

– Jefferson Bethke, poet, author of “Why I Love Jesus, But Hate Religion”

Create, by my friend Stephen Altrogge, will inspire you to do just that. It’s biblical, gospel-driven, practical, insightful, funny, and only 43 pages. Whether you think you’re an artist or not, Stephen will inspire you to do what you do better for God’s glory.

– Bob Kauflin, author of Worship Matters, director of worship for Sovereign Grace Ministries

Out of nothing God created matter, out of the unformed matter he formed the world, and then he stood back and enjoyed it all. It was Augustine who suggested musicians do the same thing by embracing unformed silence and order it into tones and notes and symmetry and beauty. And as Stephen so skillfully shows us in this book, this applies to musicians and composers and equally to bankers and bakers, painters and poets, homemakers and handymen. In the ordering of our small portion of the world we image the Creator. I was made to create. You were made to create. And if you’re not sure what that means for you, or if you’re just not convinced it’s true, read this short book to be persuaded and inspired and (maybe most importantly) disciplined for a life of making stuff.

– Tony Reinke, creator of the book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Stephen Altrogge is a creative guy, and this is a short, easily digestible, Biblical book that will encourage you to be creative and won’t cut into your time to be creative. It’s also full of practical scriptural wisdom on taking criticism and the value of working hard.

– Ted Kluck, award-winning author of several books, including Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories and Dallas and the Spitfire

This book is short enough for you to read in an hour, although you may want to take it a few pages at a time, marinating in its wisdom. You’ll not only learn how Stephen finds the time to create art in multiple formats, but you’ll learn from other skilled creatives as well. In Create, you’ll learn how to get started and overcome your fears, how to accept and learn from criticism, how to form habits that will strengthen your creativity, and how to persevere. This will be one of those books that I turn to again and again, when I feel like I’ve gotten stuck on a sandbar.

– Bobby Gilles, songwriter, author, Sojourn Church Director of Communications

Creativity is scary. It’s hard work and it’s time consuming. But it’s oh-so-worth it, and in this fantastic little book Stephen Altrogge reminds us why. He points us to the power and significance of God’s creative image in us and with wit and wisdom pushes us to be creators. He encourages the fearful and prods the lazy with grace and humor. Altrogge draws in those who have yet to express the creativity they recognize hidden inside and he launches forth those who already are seeking to honor Christ with their creative endeavors. I will revisit this book often for the encouragement and inspiration it holds.

– Barnabas Piper, Blogger and columnist for WorldMag.com

Admit it. You saw the title of this book and said, “Oh, I’m not creative…” Stop it. Creativity isn’t limited to fancy wordplay, pretty pictures, or clever major/minor key switches. Creativity isn’t something for a special class of people—it’s for stay-at-home moms, baristas and accountants, too. In Create, Stephen Altrogge offers us practical guidance and encouragement in getting over the fears, excuses and setbacks that prevent us from setting ourselves to the task of being creative to the glory of God. Read this book, get motivated and stop making excuses (although accountants, don’t get too creative—I hear the IRS frowns upon such things).

– Aaron Armstrong, author of Awaiting a Savior and Contend, blogger at bloggingtheologically.com