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Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Gift of Rebuke

How should we receive the rebuke of other believers?  I’m often asked questions about when and how to confront others.  But I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked me about how to receive confrontation well.  That’s regrettable since it seems that the vast majority of us don’t do it well.  We probably need to give at least as much thought and prayer to how we receive confrontation as to how we give it.

Everyone loves to give and receive gifts.  When someone sees me in need and gives a gift to meet that need, it tends to endear that person to me.  I’m touched that they would be so thoughtful and caring.  Typically, I will look for ways to show them my gratitude and to reciprocate in some way.  I’m sure you can relate. 

But consider how differently we receive rebuke.  When someone confronts us to correct or rebuke, what happens in our hearts?  We certainly don’t receive it as a gift.  Many of us are moved instantly to a defensive posture.  Our heart rate increases, we become anxious, our skin flushes – a textbook fight-or-flight response.  We begin, at least internally, to justify ourselves.  Like the scoffer of Proverbs, we stop listening to the person talking to us and we mentally outline our rebuttal (Pro 13:1).  Indeed, we may even go on the offensive, finding reasons why the person in front of us doesn’t understand or doesn’t have the right to say these things.  Perhaps, we even think of ways they have sinned that in some illogical sense make them unqualified to confront us. 

Proverbs is treasure trove of wisdom on this issue.  Consider what Proverbs 9:7 would tell us about our typical response to correction: Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.  If we tend to turn the tables on those who confront us, what are we?  We are wicked scoffers.  

Other proverbs indicate that there are two approaches to the reception of reproof: the way of wisdom and the way of the fool.  Proverbs 12:1 teaches, Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid…

I’m pretty sure the Bible just called most of us stupid.  The wise person who loves knowledge will welcome correction.  But only stupid people hate reproof.  That’s strong language.  But why would the Word say such a thing – that only the stupid hate reproof?  Because reproof shows us where we are wrong and gives us the opportunity to change.  Correction leads to growth, and the wise want growth.

We all have an inborn instinct for self-preservation.  That’s why we don’t throw things at the doctor when he or she gives us a diagnosis.  The doctor is helping us by revealing what’s wrong so that we can recover and be healthier.  To ignore that internal issue will only lead to bigger problems later on.  We’re usually thankful when doctors are able to tell us what is wrong with our bodies. 

We could think of correction or rebuke as a much needed x-ray of our hearts.  It’s for our good.  We’ve been called to be like Christ, and if we love Christ, we’ll want to be like Him.  Therefore, we should desire to know what parts of our lives do not resemble Him so that we can change.  Correction is similar to a diagnosis that says, “hey, something’s wrong and if you ignore it, there’s gonna be big problems ahead.”  If we rightly think of sin as detrimental to our spiritual wellbeing and we desire more than anything to be like Christ, ought we not welcome others pointing out to us those faults that we don’t see in ourselves? 

When we think in those terms, it makes logical sense that we would welcome correction and receive it as a gift.  So why don’t we?  Why do we so often get angry and turn on the person helping us?  Well, here’s another diagnosis that applies to every one of us: when we get angry or defensive in response to rebuke, we can know that we are eaten up with pride.  So in addition to whatever the person in front of us is rebuking, we can add pride to our list of spiritual maladies.  Pride is at the core of our impulse to defend ourselves against correction.

A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool (Pro 17:10).  The more we grow in Christlikeness and the more humble we become, the more we will welcome correction as a gift.  We’ll thank the Lord for it.  We’ll not regard those confronting us with suspicion or question their motives or put them on our “list,” but we’ll have greater affection for them – they’ve helped us become more like the Lord.

I’ve got a long way to go on this.  But I’ve begun to pray for my own heart that the Lord would help me to regard correction as a loving, gracious gift from Him.  And I’ve prayed that He would help me to regard those who correct me – even those who correct me in a spirit of harshness – as tools in His hands doing me good by His sovereign, gracious design.  You’re invited to join me.  Imagine the growth that would take place in us if we all regarded rebuke as a gift.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

He First Loved Us

Today is the Thursday before Good Friday, an appropriate day to think about the events of the night of the Lord’s arrest, when Jesus made a number of startling predictions, all of which came true, and all of which demonstrate the depth of the Lord’s commitment to save sinners.  We can read about these things in Matthew 26.

In 26:21, the Lord foretold that one of the twelve, Judas, would betray Him, would hand Him over to the authorities to be crucified.  He was right.  In 26:31, He predicted to the remaining eleven, “You will all fall away because of me this night…”  That is, Jesus predicted that He would be abandoned by those whom He had chosen and discipled.  He was right.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching and memorable prediction is introduced in 26:33, when Peter responded, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away."

“Lord, I’m different.  I’ll stand by you no matter what.”  Those of us who know what is coming – that Peter will deny the Lord – engage in some Monday Morning Quarterback pity – “poor Peter.  Poor foolish Peter.”  We think that we would be different…which makes us just like Peter.   

Peter thought he would be different than the other disciples who might abandon Jesus.  When we think we would be different than Peter, we are just like Him.  Isn’t that what we think when we read this story?  “If I was one of the disciples, I’d stick beside Jesus.  If I was Peter, I would never deny Him.  I’d stay right there and follow Him all the way to the cross.”

It seldom occurs to us that we abandon Him in various ways now.   We deny Him in various ways now.  We abandon Him for the sake of idols, the world’s pleasure.  We forsake time with Him.  We ignore His Word and fellowship with Him and His church.  We deny Him by the way that we live our lives.  Did you know that that was Paul’s major concern for the professing believers at Crete when he wrote his letter to Titus?  There were people there who claimed to know Christ, but who denied Him by their works (Titus1:16). 

We abandon Him.  We deny Him.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  He demonstrates this to Peter:

Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same.  (26:34-35) 

“And all the disciples said the same.”  Why do you think Matthew included this detail?  Likely, there are many reasons, but perhaps one is that disciples tend to have a higher opinion of their own faithfulness than they should.  All of them swore they wouldn’t abandon Jesus.  And how many of them were right?

Another reason to mention this is that these details remind us that Jesus knew precisely what was going to happen.  He knew precisely how He would be treated even by those closest to Him…yet it did not deter Him in the least.  Jesus is the only hero in the story.  Everyone else fails.  This casts a long gospel shadow. 

Do you love Jesus?  I’m sure we all do in some way and in some measure, but we all undoubtedly fail Him in many ways.  The beautiful thing about this scene is that the disciples’ love for Jesus or lack thereof had absolutely no bearing on whether or not He would proceed with the Father’s plan.  He was going to die for these men without regard for how they had loved Him or failed Him.  The disciples’ betrayal, abandonment, and denial introduced no hint of hesitation on the part of the Savior. 

It was for these very sins that they needed a Savior.  By their poor treatment of Him, their disregard for Him, their dismissal of Him they demonstrated the depth of their desperate need for Him.  And this Savior is the only Savior who would save such band of unfaithful sinners. 

Jesus doesn’t love us because we first loved Him.  We love because He first loved us.  He loved us when we had nothing to offer Him, when we wanted to offer Him nothing.  What a Savior.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Resources for Understanding the Christian and the Law

In the message on Sunday, I mentioned that we wouldn’t be answering every conceivable question regarding Christians and the law.  Again, we did a more substantive series on the law when we studied Matthew 5:17-20.  Those messages can be found here.

I’d like to recommend a few other resources that I’ve found very helpful and easy to read.  The first is a book by Dr. Tom Schreiner, entitled 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law.  With a title like that I’d prefer not to insult you by describing the format.  However, I will give you an idea of the kinds of questions answered. 
·      Does Paul distinguish between the moral, ceremonial, and civil law?
·      Are Christians under the third use of the law?
·      Is perfect obedience to the law mandatory for salvation?
I love this book because it’s thorough, but it’s written in normal English.  It’s also great in that you don’t have to read the whole thing – just find your question and read that answer.  If you found yourself irritated by the brevity of Sunday’s message and the volume of questions left unanswered, this is the book for you.

Another book by Dr. Schreiner dealing specifically with the issue of Paul’s teaching on the law is TheLaw and It’s Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law.  This is a bit more robust and reads somewhat more like a scholarly work.  I would recommend it for theology nerds who are well familiar with the issue, but who want a deeper treatment of Paul specifically, OR for those who have worked through the 40 Questions book and want to keep digging.

A third resource written by Dr. Douglas Moo is “The Law of Christ as The Fulfillment of the Law of Moses.”  It’s great because it’s shorter than a full-length book, but touches on all the major issues.  It’s one article from a larger work entitled, The Law, The Gospel, and the Modern Christian: Five Views.  It isn’t the easiest read, but it’s manageable, it’s online, and it will answer most questions. 

Happy reading!