Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Favorite Books

Over the last few years, I've had the opportunity to read a number of good books, some worthy of a quick scan, and many others that I wouldn't recommend. I've also read some that have been very influential that I will go back to and re-read, study, and use for future ministry and growth. These are few and far between, but here is a sample of that group.

Desiring God, John Piper- "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." This book might just change the way you see your relationship with God. He does all things for his own glory, but this will only increase your joy in Him.

Holiness, J.C. Ryle (I read the first edition in J.I. Packer's Faithfulness and Holiness. I think the 1st ed. is shorter than the others. Packer himself is a fine author (Knowing God)). Amazingly enough, this was written in the late 1800's in England, but it could have been addressed to today's culture and would have been just as poignant. Straight-forward and powerful about the Christian's maturity and growth.

On the Mortification of Sin in Believers, John Owen. Even older than Ryle's from the 17th century, Owen's classic is the best work on sin that I have read. Originally addressed to teenage boys, it might prove difficult to read today because of the slight difference in English, but updated versions can be purchased from Crossway. Here is a free PDF- http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library/owen_mortification.pdf

Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper. Over the past few months I've read several books on missions, but this is far and away the best. "Missions exists because worship doesn't." (By the way, I would recommend anything by Piper).

Disciplined by Grace, Jerry Bridges. I stumbled on this without any expectations a couple of years ago and the opening chapter grabbed my attention. God does not accept you because of your performance. What a wonderful truth, and even though you might think you live with this understanding and application, Bridges demonstrates how easy it is to slip into this train of thought. How wonderful grace is!

In Christ,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Acceptance by Performance?

I can remember when my wife and I had our first baby, and even though there was no prior history with this new child, and she had done nothing right or wrong, I loved her deeply. The delight was just there without reservation. When it was time to have another baby, we wondered if we could have the same affection for the next one as much as the first. It seemed impossible, but our hearts expanded and we loved again. Naturally, as time went on and the first two grew, they had fears of losing some portion of their parents' affection when they were told another would be coming home soon (and another, and another), but we assured them that God's graciously provides in abundance. Now, love exists almost inexplicably, and while I might be disappointed at how they act from time to time, it continues by the grace of God. However, I'm afraid that I often give them the wrong impression- that my acceptance and favor is based on their performance. If they believed that to be the case, it would be natural for them to modify their behavior to gain the desired response.

Children do this, but so do teens who want acceptance from a clique or friend, as do those looking to impress a crush. Any desired relationship can be characterized this way, and unfortunately, Christians can see their acceptance from God in the same manner. If my imperfect love for my children can last through their failures, what does that imply about God's perfect love? He is a Heavenly Father for all those in Christ Jesus, and what we have as earthly fathers and mothers is only a blemished part of what he possesses in full. His love is unfailing and unfading and the Lord has made this clear by giving his Son for us. The believer's acceptance and good standing with God are not based on his own performance, but on the work of another- the perfect man, Christ Jesus. The Gospel of Christ is for sinners, and even though I am a new man in Him, sin remains. So, as a sinner, I still need the Gospel. When I fail, it is always my first inclination to rationalize my sin because I get concerned about my acceptance with God. By trying to make my failures look better, both to me and to him, in some way I believe God responds to my weak reasoning by saying, "Oh! I thought your true motivation was impure! I'm glad you cleared that up for me Lonnie." Then my conscience is assuaged and I can move on, having successfully protected my reputation with the Lord. This is a false Gospel. Our guilt is not quelled by justifying our behavior, but looking to the blood of Christ that justifies us before God. Only when we trust in the blood can our consciences be cleansed (Heb. 9:14, 10:22), bringing us peace and freeing us from bondage. What liberating news the Gospel is for those who trust in Christ! God no longer acts as your judge (He judged Christ in your place), but views you as your Father. Therefore, to grow you as you need, he disciplines you as his child, and as such, his motivation is always love. He works for your good all of the time. He is always for you. Your Father is not an angry ogre in the sky looking to strike you at every turn. You need not worry about his acceptance or doubt his love. Look to Christ- your salvation. A quote from Jerry Bridges' book, Disciplined by Grace will summarize this well:

"If God's blessings were dependent on our performance, they would be meager indeed. Even our best works are shot through with sin- with varying degrees of impure motives and lots of imperfect performance...It is because we do not realize the utter depravity of the principle of sin that remains in us and stains everything we do, that we entertain any notion of earning God's blessing through our obedience. And it is because we do not fully grasp the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins that we despair of God's blessing when we have failed to live up to even our own desires to live a life that is pleasing to God...When we pray to God for his blessing, He does not examine our performance to see if we are worthy. Rather, He looks to see if we are trusting in the merit of His Son as our only hope for securing His blessing."

This is one of the most liberating truths we can know. It frees us to live as people who are motivated by grace to live disciplined, godly lives (Titus 2:11-12). Guilt might motivate for a while, but it never lasts. I can furl my brow at my children and they'll respond the way I want for a while, but their desire will fade. Discipline without desire is absolute drudgery, and I want them to be motivated by love rather than by fear of my disappointment. My children need to understand this because of the eternal implications of the Gospel, but as a steward of this treasure, I have an obligation to model for them the love of my Father- a love that is not given based on their performance. It is a love that exists simply because they are my children. They will understand, in part, what God is like when I give them grace when they don't deserve it and when my discipline is motivated by love for their overall well-being rather than by my anger or my dissatisfaction with their failure. I hope they know I love them like that. I need to tell them, but I have to show them.