Daily Archives: January 4, 2019

4 JANUARY 365 Days with Calvin

Creation Groaning

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Genesis 3:17

suggested further reading: Romans 8:18–25

In response to Adam’s sin, God announces that the earth will be cursed. Since Scripture tells us the blessing of the earth refers to the fertility which God infuses into the earth by his secret power, so the curse is the opposite privation, in which God withdraws his favor from the earth. Thus the condition of the world varies with respect to men, according to whether God is angry with them or shows them his favor. We may add that punishment is exacted, not from the earth itself, but from man alone. For the earth does not bear fruit for itself but to supply food to us. The Lord, however, determined that his anger should, like a deluge, overflow all parts of the earth, so that wherever man might look, the atrocity of his sin should meet his eyes.

Before the fall, the world was a fair and delightful mirror of God’s favor and paternal indulgence toward man. Now, all the elements show us that we are cursed. And although (as David says) the earth is still full of the mercy of God (Ps. 33:5), yet we now see signs of his dreadful alienation from us. If we are unmoved by those signs, we betray our blindness and insensibility. Lest sadness and horror should overwhelm us, though, the Lord also sprinkles everywhere the tokens of his goodness. Moreover, though the blessing of God is never seen as pure and transparent as it first appeared to man in his innocence, yet, if what remains behind be considered in itself, David truly and properly exclaims, “The earth is full of the mercy of God.”

for meditation: The disturbing savagery of the natural world around us is the result of our sin. The suffering and pain in animals is the consequence of our transgression. Should that not move us to mourn our sin and its consequences for all of creation?[1]

[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 22). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

The “Stock Market Crash Of 2018” Is Rapidly Transforming Into “The Financial Crisis Of 2019” | Zero Hedge

Authored by Michael Snyder via The Economic Collapse blog,

Stock markets are crashing all over the world, we are seeing extremely violent “flash crashes” in the forex marketplace, economic conditions are slowing down all over the globe, and fear is causing many investors to become extremely trigger happy.  The stock market crash of 2018 wiped out approximately 12 trillion dollars in global stock market wealth, but things were supposed to calm down once we got into 2019. 

But clearly that is not happening.  After Apple announced that their sales during the first quarter are going to be much, much lower than previously anticipated, Apple’s stock price started shooting down like a rocket and by the end of the session on Wednesday the company had lost 75 billion dollars in market capitalization.  Meanwhile, “flash crashes” caused some of the most violent swings that we have ever seen in the foreign exchange markets…

It took seven minutes for the yen to surge through levels that have held through almost a decade.

In those wild minutes from about 9:30 a.m. Sydney, the yen jumped almost 8 percent against the Australian dollar to its strongest since 2009, and surged 10 percent versus the Turkish lira. The Japanese currency rose at least 1 percent versus all its Group-of-10 peers, bursting through the 72 per Aussie level that has held through a trade war, a stock rout, Italy’s budget dispute and Federal Reserve rate hikes.

This is the kind of chaos that we only see during a financial crisis.

Investors are also being rattled by the fact that China just experienced its first factory activity contraction in over two years

The People’s Bank of China said on Wednesday evening it had relaxed its conditions on targeted reserve requirement cuts to benefit more small firms.

The move came after China reported its first factory activity contraction in over two years in December. A long-term Chinese slowdown would cause global havoc.

But of course the biggest news of the day was what happened to Apple.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 660 points on Wednesday, and the huge hit that Apple took was the biggest reason for that decline.

Including the 75 billion dollars that was just wiped out, the value of Apple has now fallen by 452 billion dollars since October 3rd…

In only three months, Apple has lost $452 billion in market capitalization, including tens of billions on Thursday as the tech giant’s stock sank further.

Apple shares have fallen by 39.1 percent since Oct. 3, when the stock hit a 52-week high of $233.47 a share. With its market cap down to about $674 billion, those losses are larger than individual value of 496 members of the S&P 500 — including Facebook and J.P. Morgan.

Ironically, the truth is that Apple is actually one of the strongest companies on Wall Street financially.  It is just that the company was priced well beyond perfection, and so any hint of bad news was likely to cause a decline of this magnitude.

The amount of paper wealth that stock market investors have just lost is absolutely staggering.  To put this in the proper perspective, here are some more facts about the money that Apple investors have lost that come from CNBC

At this point U.S. financial markets are hypersensitive to any piece of bad news, and the fact that Apple sales are way down in China is definitely bad news.

One analyst said that this was “Apple’s darkest day in the iPhone era” and he expressed his opinion that “the magnitude of the miss with China demand …was jaw-dropping.”

Of course Apple is far from alone.  Economic activity is slowing down substantially all over the planet, and on Wednesday we learned that U.S. factory activity just declined by the most since the last recession

Beyond Apple, investors were also rattled by the biggest one-month decline in US factory activity since the Great Recession. The closely-watched ISM manufacturing index tumbled to a two-year low, providing further evidence of slowing growth and pain from the US-China trade war.

In addition, both of Bloomberg’s economic surprise indexes have “turned negative for the first time since Trump was elected”.

The hits just keep on coming, and it is becoming quite clear that this is going to be a very tough year.

As this crisis continues to escalate, keep an eye on our big financial institutions.  Italy’s tenth largest bank just imploded, and it is likely that we will see more financial dominoes start to topple as the losses mount.

Over the past decade, there have been other times when Wall Street has been rattled, but those episodes only lasted for a few weeks at the most.

It has now been three months, and this new crisis shows no signs of abating any time soon.

What that means is that we are in a heap of trouble.  Because once this giant financial avalanche fully gets going, it is going to be impossible to stop.

For the moment, I think that this current wave of panic selling is subsiding and that Friday will be better for investors.  Of course the markets are so jittery at this point that a single piece of bad news could instantly send them tumbling once again.  But barring any bad news, hopefully things will be calmer on Friday.

There will be good days and there will be bad days in 2019.

There will be ups and there will be downs.

But it has become exceedingly clear that the downturn that so many have been anticipating has finally arrived, and the financial crisis of 2019 looks like it is going to be a doozy.

Hacker group releases ‘9/11 Papers’, says future leaks will ‘burn down’ US deep state — RT USA News

The Dark Overlord hacker group has released decryption keys for 650 documents it says are related to 9/11. Unless a ransom is paid, it threatened with more leaks that will have devastating consequences for the US ‘deep state’.

The document dump is just a fraction of the 18,000 secret documents related to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks believed to have been stolen from insurers, law firms, and government agencies.

The Dark Overlord initially threatened to release the 10GB of data unless the hacked firms paid an unspecified bitcoin ransom. However, on Wednesday, the group announced a “tiered compensation plan” in which the public could make bitcoin payments to unlock the troves of documents.

A day later, the Dark Overlord said that it had received more than $12,000 in bitcoin – enough to unlock “layer 1” and several “checkpoints,” comprised of 650 documents in total.

There are four more layers that remain encrypted and, according to the group, “each layer contains more secrets, more damaging materials… and generally just more truth.”

The hackers are asking for $2 million in bitcoin for the public release of its “megaleak,” which it has dubbed “the 9/11 Papers.”

The group has also offered to sell the documents to terrorist groups, foreign governments, and media outlets. When RT approached the hackers for comment, they proposed providing the channel exclusive access to the potentially explosive papers – for a price, of course.

“They were willing to sell those documents to me. So it’s all about money for them,” RT America correspondent Michelle Greenstein said.

By design, the “layer 1” documents – if authentic – do not appear to contain any explosive revelations. The publications focus mostly on testimonies from airport security and details concerning insurance pay-outs to parties affected by the 9/11 attacks. However, the data dump suggests that the group is not bluffing.

“Let this serve as more definitive proof that what we’re saying is true, and that we’re doing exactly as we promised you. Continue to keep the bitcoins flowing, and we’ll continue to keep the truth flowing,” they wrote in a message that included the decryption keys.

The documents – which were immediately scrubbed from Reddit, Pastebin and Twitter – are available for download on Steemit at the time of writing.

Shortly after releasing the decryption keys, the group posted an ultimatum addressed to “the nation-state of the United States of America and the greater deep-state.”

“To all the other parties involved (airlines, litigation firms, investigation firms, FBI, TSA, FAA, banks, security companies and more), we’re going to burn you down unless you begin to ‘play ball,'” the message reads.

Apparently angered by the fact that the ransom has not yet been met, the message warned: “We’re peeling these layers back like an onion. No one can save you except for us. Pay the f*** up.”

Although the group insists that it is financially motivated and not interested in “hacktivism,” they nonetheless expressed hope that continued crowd-funding would secure the full release of the 18,000 documents.

“We can’t allow the mainstream media to silence the truth any longer. We must ensure they’re propaganda is crushed by the truths we’re dealing today,” the hackers wrote after providing the decryption keys for “layer 1.”

The Dark Overlord claim to have hacked documents from not only major global insurers like Lloyds of London and Hiscox, but also Silverstein Properties, which owned the World Trade Center complex, and various government agencies.

The “megaleak” purportedly includes secret documents that were meant to be destroyed but were instead retained by legal firms, allegedly revealing “the truth about one of the most recognizable incidents in recent history.”

The group emerged in 2016 and has been responsible for numerous extortion schemes involving hacked data. The Dark Overlord infamously leaked an entire season of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black last year after a ransom was not met.

— Read on www.rt.com/usa/448058-dark-overlord-leaks-11-september/

Does Christology Matter? — Ligonier Ministries Blog

“We all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us one and the same Son, the self-same perfect in Godhead, the self-same perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man … acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably … the properties of each nature being preserved.”

So wrote the church fathers in the Definition of Chalcedon in AD 451. But even if they spoke “unanimously,” their doctrine of Christ sounds so complex. Does it really matter?

Given the sacrifices they made to describe Christ rightly, one can imagine that if these Christians were present at a group Bible study on Philippians 2:5-11, they might well say to us, “From what we have heard, it never mattered more.”

Imagine the discussion on “Though he was in the form of God … emptied himself” (Phil. 2:6-7, RSV). Says one: “It means Jesus became a man for a time and then went back to being God afterwards.” “No,” says another, “He only emptied himself of His divine attributes and then He took them up again.” “Surely,” says another (not pausing to reflect on the miracles of Moses, Elijah, or the Apostles), “He mixed humanity with His deity—isn’t that how He was able to do miracles?”

Does it really matter if those views are wrong, indeed heretical, so long as we know that Jesus saves and we witness to others about Him? After all, the important thing is that we preach the gospel.

But that is precisely the point—Jesus Christ Himself is the gospel. Like loose threads in a tapestry—pull on any of these views, and the entire gospel will unravel. If the Christ we trust and preach is not qualified to save us, we have a false Christ.

Reflect for a moment on the descriptions of Christ above. If at any point He ceased to be all that He is as God, the cosmos would disintegrate—for He is the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). If He were a mixture of deity and humanity, then He would not be truly or fully human, and therefore would no longer be one of us and able to act as our representative and substitute. He could neither save sinners nor succor saints. This is why Hebrews emphasizes that Christ possesses a humanity identical to ours, apart from sin. No mixing or confusing here.

Most of us are sticklers for clearly describing anything we love, be it science, computing, sports, business, or family life. Should we be indifferent to how we think and speak about our Savior and Lord?

This is why the church fathers, and later the Westminster divines, stressed that God’s Son ever remained “of one substance, and equal with the Father” and yet, in the incarnation, took “upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and infirmities thereof, yet without sin… . So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion” (WCF 8.2).

What makes this statement so impressive is that it safeguards the mystery of the incarnation while carefully describing its reality. The Son’s two natures are not united to each other, but they are united in His one person. So in everything He did, He acted appropriately in terms of His deity or His humanity, one divine person exercising the powers of each nature in its own proper sphere.

This, then, underscores the value of the church’s creeds. They were written by men who had thought more deeply and often suffered more grievously than we do. They spoke out of a deep love for Christ and His people, concerned for a lost world. Their testimony helps us in three ways:

  1. It protects us by setting boundaries for our thinking.
  2. It instructs us by helping us see biblical truth expressed in its briefest form.
  3. It unites us, so that everywhere in the world, Christians can share the same clear confession of who Christ is and what He has done.

Does it really matter? In light of the sacrifices our forefathers made in order to articulate the grandeur of the person of our Savior and what Christ had to be in order to save us, you bet it matters.

Related: The Ligonier Statement on Christology.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

Does Christology Matter? — Ligonier Ministries Blog

Mary Poppins Returns: Echoes of the Gospel? — The Cripplegate

Rebooting a classic is never easy. Just read the critics of the new Star Wars series, and you’ll see what I mean. It is always difficult to retain the flavor of a classic while also reshaping it for a modern audience. But, after seeing Mary Poppins Returns with my family, I was surprised by how Disney was able to capture the “magic” of the original, with a new cast, new music, and new plot, some 54 years later.

Even with an incredible star-studded cast, filled with icons such as Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Angela Lansbury, and Dick Van Dyke, as well as Oscar-worthy performances by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Whishaw, it seemed nearly impossible for anyone to fill Julie Andrew’s shoes.

Yet, as Emily Blunt tells us as the “new” Mary Poppins, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” Blunt captures the regal looks, facial expressions, voice, and mannerisms of Andrews in a remarkable fashion. But, the strength of this visual masterpiece is not the impeccable acting, whimsical music, nor the outstanding cinematography and CGI. It is the echo of the gospel, woven throughout the movie.

Call it common grace, call it the longing of all human hearts made in the image of God, call it the vestiges of our Judeo-Christian culture, or any combination of the above – Mary Poppins Returns has so many (unwitting?) allusions to Scripture, an entire book could be written on it. Despite Hollywood’s often antagonistic stance toward God’s Word and the gospel, certain truths just can’t be suppressed.

It goes without saying that Jesus is not a 20th century nanny with peculiar powers, a passion for Edwardian etiquette, and a penchant for tidying up toiletries. Yet Mary Poppins Returns begins with a scene reminiscent of a renaissance painting portraying the return of Christ, gloriously coming down to earth from beyond the clouds.

The Reality of a Return

Mary Poppins’ return is messianic (with a lower case “m”!). The Banks family is broken and battered. Through sin and death, their world, like ours, is torn and tattered. But the children know that their best hope comes from a savior who will descend to earth, fix what is broken, right wrongs, and help others to see the world as it should be seen. No, there is no resurrection of the dead or a reversal of the curse, but the return of Mary Poppins ushers in time of blessing and peace that only a savior from the heavens could bring. The opening music tells us:

Have a pot of tea, mend your broken cup

There’s a different point of view awaiting you

If you would just look up…

Listen, soon the slump will disappear, it won’t be long

Sooner than you think you’ll hear some bright new song

So, hold on tight to those you love and maybe soon from up above

you’ll be blessed so keep on looking high

while you’re underneath the lovely London sky

The first Mary Poppins movie ends with her ascension, and the second takes off when she returns to right the wrongs that have cropped up in her absence. As God is a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5), Mary Poppins is a mother to the motherless. Her return helps Michael Bank’s children who lost their mother the previous year.

Much of Mary Poppins Returns (MPR) could fall under the category of Christ’s first or second coming, since the same Messiah brings various blessings in His first and second appearance. But, there is something about Mary’s ascension (in the original movie) and her return in MPRthat seems to mirror the biblical account in striking ways (granted, she ascends again at the end of MPR, but that is only to pave the way for another return in a possible sequel).

The Firmness of Faith

A strong theme throughout the movie is the firmness of faith. Beyond logic, there is faith. The imagination can lead us to faith, such as how entering an enchanted sea through the gateway of a bathtub helps the children believe in Mary Poppins. Faith can lead us to the miraculous and faith leads us to some places, people, and things that are more important than what we see.

The children often can’t believe what Mary Poppins proposes. But she says with a grin, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” Did not Jesus say something similar? “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). In context, Jesus was speaking about how it is impossible for people to save themselves, but through faith in God and His gift of salvation in Christ, “all things are possible with God,” namely salvation. But in Matt. 17:20, Jesus speaks not about salvation, but about casting out demons or accomplishing great feats through faith (the size of a mustard seed) in Him (cf. John 14:12).

More importantly, did not Jesus embody Poppins’ statement? We thought it would be impossible for someone to give sight to the blind, to walk on water, and to rise from the dead – but Jesus did the impossible. Do we believe? The children and their father struggle throughout the movie to have faith (the father doubts that what happened during his childhood with Mary Poppins even happened – it may have just been something he dreamed up). Like her own existence in the movie, Jesus’ incarnation and presence as the God-man causes us to contemplate whether anything is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and whether we have faith.

Mary Poppins Returns teaches repeatedly that there is more to life than what can be seen and there are more possibilities than can be imagined. Even the impossible is possible, when you believe. Sure, this can be watered down into a “Believe in yourself,” or “Follow your heart and dreams” Disney platitude, but the movie stays quite far from this except in one brief statement. The focus is on having faith and knowing that miracles are possible. MPRseems to be saying that the things which are unseen are just as “firm” or real as the things which are seen.

One person in the movie complains that Mary Poppins does something akin to miracles but never explains anything. Why? Because she evokes faith. Now, again, is this a full-blown biblical theology of faith in Jesus Christ and His Word, and the aspects of saving faith such as notitia, assensus, and fiducia (knowledge, assent/agreement, and trust)? No. But, just as Narnia doesn’t give a full exposition of faith or every attribute of Christ, enough is in MPR to pique curiosity, to whet the appetite, to possibly plant a seed that Christians can water.

The Assurance of the Afterlife

For instance, in a poignant scene between Mary Poppins and the children who lament the recent loss of their mother, Mary sings a touching song, echoing a Psalm to encourage the children. It seems to give an assurance of the afterlife and does so in touching, poetic ways (I encourage you to listen to the song).

Do you ever lie awake at night

Just between the dark and the morning light?

Searching for the things you used to know

Looking for the place where the lost things go?

Do you ever dream or reminisce

Wondering where to find what you truly miss?

Well maybe all those things that you love so

Are waiting in the place where the lost things go…

Nothing’s really left or lost without a trace

Nothing’s gone forever, only out of place

Spring is like that now, far beneath the snow

Hiding in the place, where the lost things go

So, when you need her touch and loving gaze

Gone but not forgotten is the perfect phrase

Smiling from a star that she makes glow

Trust she’s always there watching as you grow

Find her in the place where the lost things go

The point of the song is not to indoctrinate us into the belief that people who have died know all that is happening on earth because they turn into stars. The point seems to be that beyond the mother continuing on in the children’s looks, mannerisms, or memories (as a future discussion and reprise of the song states), nothing is truly gone forever, only out of place. If nothing is gone forever, there must be a reunion someday. “Well maybe all those things that you love so are waiting in the place where the lost things go…”

Mary Poppins begins this scene by saying to the children, “You can’t lose what you’ve never lost.” That will preach! In fact, earlier, Mr. Banks sang a song to and about his deceased wife. He asks, “Where did you go?” It’s clearly not teaching us to pray to the dead, but provoking questions about sorrow, mourning, death, and the afterlife. Because Jesus lives, we will live too (2 Cor. 4:14). If Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14), those who have died in the Lord are not lost; they are just unseen now, as He is (but He will return).

As Paul wrote,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:3-4).

I can hear the sermons now that will tie in the lyrics from “The Place Where Lost Things Go” when preaching on that glorious reunion which 1 Thessalonians 4 goes on to speak about. I can envision people quoting lines from this scene and song at a funeral.

Is it perfect Christian theology? No. But, does it connect with the longings of our hearts to live forever and see our loved ones again? Yes. In fact, the movie ends with the characters floating in the sky, and Angela Lansbury singing a song entitled, “Nowhere to Go but Up” (a hint about heaven?). And, the final sequence shows Mary Poppins ascending back into heaven, with various church steeples and crosses prominently displayed.

Obviously, there is no discussion on the assurance of an afterlife based on the finished work of Christ on the cross, His resurrection, the immortality of the soul, our resurrection, final judgment, and the promise of a new creation. But, there are echoes that can be tied to the gospel for those who seek to help people understand how longings in culture are connected to ultimate realities. If we want to grow in contextualization while preaching the gospel, listen to some of the songs from MPR and you’ll find ways to connect with the culture.

The Light of Life

When the movie was over, my wife turned to me and said, “There were some obvious allusions to biblical themes.” And then she proceeded to point to the lyrics to a song in the movie about light:

So when troubles are incessant

Simply be more incandescent

For your light comes with a lifetime guarantee [do I hear an echo of the assurance of salvation?]

As you trip a little light fantastic

There is a double-meaning here, as “tripping the light fantastic” refers to dancing in British slang. But the entire song and imagery is about lighting lamps throughout London, following the light, letting the light guide you, and then letting our light shine.

A leerie’s job’s to light the way

To tame the night and make it day

We mimic the moon, yes that’s our aim

For we’re the keepers of the flame

And if you’re deep inside a tunnel

When there is no end in sight

Well just carry on until the dawn

It’s darkest right before the light

I know it’s a stretch to say this alludes to the cry of the Reformation, “After darkness, light” (post tenebras lux), yet there is much in this song and scene that reminds me of Christ as the light of the world (John 1:1-9, 8:12), as salvation being compared to moving from darkness to light (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:6; 1 Pet. 2:9), and Christians letting their light shine (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15-16), reflecting the light of the Son, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. A part of the above scene looked like a candle-lighting service on Christmas Eve while singing “Silent Night.” The song begins with these spoken words, “If I lose my way, I look for a little light to guide me.”

The Kids of the Kingdom

Themes of the imagination, faith, the afterlife, and light all seemed to have echoes of the gospel in it from my perspective. But, there was another theme that was so obviously Christian, and it was woven throughout the entire movie. It is that only through childlike faith or a childlike perspective, can we live life as it was intended (a similar theme is explored in Disney’s Christopher Robin, along with a great analogy for “sabbath” rest).

Mary Poppins warns the children not to think that they are too old to use their imagination when they doubt that they can do what Mary Poppins suggests. She says sarcastically,

I suspect and I’m never incorrect

that you’re far too old to give in to imagination

Aging versus a childlike disposition is a motif that is repeated in various places. The lesson seems to be, “Don’t forget what you were like when you were a child.” One website stated that the message of the movie is like the message of the original: “Grownups forget how to be children; don’t forget what it’s like to be a child.” There are discussions and nods to this quite often throughout the film.

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15). And He said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Don’t forget what it’s like to be a child. A powerful scene at the end of the movie is about turning back time. In some ways this is like reversing the curse, going “back in time” to fix a problem. But it also seems to hint at going back to a time of childlike faith and innocence.

In the aforementioned song “Nowhere to Go but Up,” one line states,

Choose the secret we know before life makes us grow. There’s nowhere to go but up.

It’s during this song that Michael has an epiphany and realizes that what happened to him as a child with Mary Poppins was not merely in his mind as he previously thought, but it was “all true.” “Every impossible thing we imagined with Mary Poppins – it all happened.”  Growing up causes us to forget or reject the “secret” we knew as a child – the reality of the supernatural and having an optimistic faith about the future (because God’s promises are true and He is faithful).

There are truths and aspects of trust we embrace easily as a child that can be lost as we grow older. We become skeptical, cynical, and the hurts of life make us callous to childlike faith, wonder, and love. Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt. 19:14; cf. Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21)

There are many other allusions to the gospel and biblical truths in Mary Poppins Returns, not least of which is the fact that with the coming of this savior from heaven (as with Christ in His first coming) light emerges, miracles are performed, realms are opened, broken hearts are restored, a family is healed, faith is kindled, “childlikeness” is sparked, love grows, a thief and a liar is judged, and hope awakens.

Mary Poppins Returns is a delightful movie, and one which stirs emotionally while also provoking intellectual and spiritual questions. But, I’ll close with a line from another great song in the movie, hoping it spurs people on to go and “watch” the greatest story of all:

A cover is not the book so open it up and take a look!

Mary Poppins Returns: Echoes of the Gospel? — The Cripplegate

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Rekindling Your Love for Christ” — Grace to You Blog

Imagine the ideal church. Imagine a congregation so firmly rooted in the truth that they were commended by the Lord Himself—specifically for their discernment, doctrinal fidelity, intolerance for false teaching, and willingness to endure persecution. If such a church existed today, most of us would likely travel long distances to belong to such an exemplary body of believers.

Such a church did exist in first-century Turkey. The church in Ephesus had rich apostolic credentials; it had been founded by Paul, and nurtured by John. But in spite of those tremendous privileges, and the commendable outward expressions of faithfulness, they still managed to invite a threat of judgment from the Lord in Revelation 2:1-7.

In his book Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, John MacArthur describes the potentially fatal flaw that plagued the church at Ephesus.

Verse 4 spells out the Ephesians’s spiritual failure and the cause for Christ’s rebuke: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” The burning hearts they once had for Christ in the days after they were delivered from the kingdom of darkness had flickered and faded over time. Four decades had passed between the early days of the church under Paul and John’s vision on Patmos. The passion of that first generation had cooled, and the second generation simply followed the pattern handed down to them. Their collective devotion to Christ was being replaced by dutiful coldness. While they maintained all the right external behaviors and held to doctrinal orthodoxy, their service to the Lord was no longer prompted by their original fiery love for Him. It was tending toward rote behavior—mechanical piety. [1] John MacArthur, Christ’s Call to Reform the Church(Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018), 64.

On New Year’s Day in 2005, John MacArthur set aside his verse-by-verse study of Luke’s gospel to deliver a special message to his congregation—a warning that should never be too far from every believer’s mind: Don’t let your love for Christ grow cold.

John’s sermon “Rekindling Your Love for Christ” examines Christ’s words of commendation and condemnation to the church at Ephesus. But it’s not just a look at the spiritual faults of an ancient church—it’s a helpful reminder to faithfully take spiritual inventory of our own hearts.

This is the compelling reality for the Christian. It’s a very simple thing to understand what it is to be a Christian. It is to love Jesus Christ, it is to love Him singularly, and it is to love Him selflessly. It is to love Him to the degree that you’re willing to deny yourself and abandon everything you have—family, friends, or fortune. To love Him so that you desire to obey Him, to honor Him, to serve Him, and to proclaim Him.

And that really is the question. The question is a heart question. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength? It was He who said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

I can’t think of a more profitable way to start a new year than with a thorough, penetrating self-examination of the affections of your heart. And like Christ’s letter to the Ephesian church, John’s message provides encouragement if you find your love for Christ in need of rekindling.

Click here to listen to “Rekindling Your Love for Christ.”

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Rekindling Your Love for Christ” — Grace to You Blog

4 January (1857) 365 Days with Spurgeon

A mighty Savior

“Mighty to save.” Isaiah 63:1

suggested further reading: Hebrews 7:23–28

Remember the case of John Newton, the great and mighty preacher of St. Mary, Woolnoth,—an instance of the power of God to change the heart, as well as to give peace when the heart is changed. Ah! dear hearers, I often think within myself, “This is the greatest proof of the Saviour’s power.” Let another doctrine be preached: will it do the same? If it will, why not let every man gather a crowd round him and preach it? Will it really do it? If it will, then the blood of men’s souls must rest upon the man who does not boldly proclaim it. If he believes his gospel does save souls, how does he account for it that he stands in his pulpit from the first of January till the last of December, and never hears of a harlot made honest, nor of a drunkard reclaimed? Why? For this reason, that it is a poor dilution of Christianity. It is something like it, but it is not the bold, broad Christianity of the Bible; it is not the full gospel of the blessed God, for that has power to save. But if they do believe that theirs is the gospel, let them come out to preach it, and let them strive with all their might to win souls from sin, which is rife enough, God knows. We say again, that we have proof positive in cases even here before us, that Christ is mighty to save even the worst of men—to turn them from follies in which they have too long indulged, and we believe that the same gospel preached elsewhere would produce the same results. The best proof you can ever have of God’s being mighty to save, dear hearers, is that he saved you.

for meditation: Does the church today lack the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:29) because the church is ashamed of the fullness of the gospel, which is God’s power to save all who believe (Romans 1:16)?

sermon no. 111[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H., & Crosby, T. P. (1998). 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (p. 11). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

January 4, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Salvation Is by Love

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (2:4)

Salvation is from sin and by love. God’s mercy is plousios, rich, overabounding, without measure, unlimited. The problem with reconciliation is not on the Lord’s side. The two words but God show where the initiative was in providing the power of salvation. His great desire is to be rejoined with the creatures He made in His own image and for His own glory. The rebellion and rejection is on man’s side. Because He was rich in mercy toward us and had great love for us, He provided a way for us to return to Him. In Romans 11:32 the apostle Paul focuses on this same issue in saying, “God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.” His purpose in so doing is given in verse 36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (emphasis added).

Salvation for God’s glory is by the motivation and power of God’s great love. God is intrinsically kind, merciful, and loving. And in His love He reaches out to vile, sinful, rebellious, depraved, destitute, and condemned human beings and offers them salvation and all the eternal blessings it brings. Man’s rebellion is therefore not only against God’s lordship and law but against His love.

If a person were driving down the street and carelessly ran down and killed a child, he probably would be arrested, tried, fined, and imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter. But after he paid the fine and served the sentence he would be free and guiltless before the law in regard to that crime. But paying his penalty before the law would do nothing to restore the life of the child or alleviate the grief of the parents. The offense against them was on an immeasurably deeper level. The only way a relationship between the parents and the man who killed their child could be established or restored would be for the parents to offer forgiveness. No matter how much the man might want to do so, he could not produce reconciliation from his side. Only the one offended can offer forgiveness, and only forgiveness can bring reconciliation.

Though greatly offended and sinned against (as depicted in the parable of Matt. 18:23–35), because of God’s rich … mercy and His great love He offered forgiveness and reconciliation to us as He does to every repentant sinner. Though in their sin and rebellion all men participated in the wickedness of Jesus’ crucifixion, God’s mercy and love provide a way for them to participate in the righteousness of His crucifixion. “I know what you are and what you have done,” He says; “but because of My great love for you, your penalty has been paid, My law’s judgment against you has been satisfied, through the work of My Son on your behalf. For His sake I offer you forgiveness. To come to Me you need only to come to Him.” Not only did He love enough to forgive but also enough to die for the very ones who had offended Him. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Compassionate love for those who do not deserve it makes salvation possible.

Salvation Is into Life

even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (2:5)

Above all else, a dead person needs to be made alive. That is what salvation gives—spiritual life. To encourage believers who doubt the power of Christ in their lives, Paul reminds them that if God was powerful and loving enough to give them spiritual life together with Christ, He is certainly able to sustain that life. The power that raised us out of sin and death and made us alive (aorist tense) together with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:1–7) is the same power that continues to energize every part of our Christian living (Rom. 6:11–13). The we may emphasize the linking of the Jew with the Gentile “you” in verse 1. Both are in sin and may receive mercy to be made alive in Christ.

When we became Christians we were no longer alienated from the life of God. We became spiritually alive through union with the death and resurrection of Christ and thereby for the first time became sensitive to God. Paul calls it walking in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). For the first time we could understand spiritual truth and desire spiritual things. Because we now have God’s nature, we now can seek godly things, “the things above” rather than “the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). That is what results from being alive together with Christ. “We shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8) says the apostle, and our new life is indistinguishable from His life lived in us (Gal. 2:20). In Christ we cannot help but be pleasing to God.[1]

But God

Ephesians 2:4–5

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

It is customary in preparing English translations of the New Testament to rearrange the Greek phrases. This is appropriate, because English syntax is different from Greek syntax and the rearrangements present better for the English mind what the Greek is saying. Still, I wish the translators of the New International Version had not rearranged the phrases of Ephesians 2:4. For in the Greek text this classical statement of the gospel begins with the two words “but God,” and that dramatic beginning is weakened when the words “because of his great love for us” are interposed.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly says in his commentary, “These two words, in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel.” They tell what God has done, how God has intervened in what otherwise was an utterly hopeless situation. Before God’s intervention we were as Ephesians 2:1–3 describes us: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

This is a deplorable, desperate, heinous condition. “But God!” The intervention of those words and what they represent make all the difference.

I want to ask four questions as I seek to expound these words: (1) Who is this God? (2) What has he done? (3) Why has he done it? and (4) What must I then do?

Who is This God?

It is important that we begin by discussing the nature of the God about whom Paul writes, for there are different ideas of God and not all ideas of who he is fill the bill. Many people think of God as a benevolent but nevertheless basically weak being. He would like to help us (and does somewhat), but he cannot do much. He is limited by evil and controlled by circumstances. Others think of God as powerful, but as distant and austere. He could help, but he does not care. People have thousands of conflicting and inadequate ideas about God. But the God about whom Paul is writing is not the God of this type of human imagining. He is the God of the Bible, the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God Paul has already presented gloriously in the first chapter.

What do we know about this God? We know a number of things.

  1. God is sovereign. The most important thing that can be said about the God of the Bible is that God is sovereign. In fact if God is not sovereign, God is not God. Sovereignty means rule, so to say that God is sovereign is to say that God rules his creation. He made it, and he is in control of it. Nothing occurs without his permission. Nothing ever rises up to surprise him. What God has ordained from the beginning comes to pass. Because he knows this, Paul can speak as he does in the first chapter. For here he is not merely talking about what God has done in the past. That might be established merely by observation. He is also talking about the future, showing that God is at work to exalt Jesus as head of all things and subject everything to him. Paul speaks positively and certainly about the future because God is in control of it just as he has controlled the past. The future is certain because the all-powerful, sovereign God determines it.
  2. God is holy. Nothing is more apparent in Paul’s opening description of God’s great plan of salvation, unfolding over the ages, than that God is a moral God. He is not indifferent to issues of right and wrong, justice and injustice, righteousness and sin. On the contrary, it is because of his opposition to everything sinful that his great plan of salvation was devised and is being executed. Sin will be punished; righteousness will be exalted in his universe.
  3. God is full of wrath against sin. This point flows from God’s holiness. It is the outworking of his holiness against all that is opposed to it. This is why our condition is so frightful. Paul describes us as being “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). That is bad, of course. But it would not be frightful apart from God’s wrath against those transgressions. Apart from wrath we might simply conclude that this is just the way things are. God is God; we are people. He is holy; we are not holy. Let God go his way, and we will go ours. Ah, but it does not work like that. God does not simply take his own path. This is his universe. He is the holy God, and our sin has introduced a foul blemish into it. He is opposed to sin and is determined to stamp it out.

This is the God of the Bible and of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God about whom Paul is writing. This God is what we need, though we do not know it in our sinful state. Instead of coming to him to find new life and righteousness, we run from him to wickedness and spiritual death.

What Has God Done?

But God! It is wonderful to discover that although we run from God, preferring wickedness and death to righteousness and life, God has not run from us. Instead, he has come to us, and has done for us precisely what needed to be done. In a word, he has saved us. He has rescued us from the desperate, deplorable condition described at the beginning of the chapter.

When we were discussing the state of men and women before God intervenes to save them, I pointed out that our position as sinners (apart from God) is hopeless for three reasons. First, we are “dead in [our] transgressions and sins.” This means that we are no more able to help ourselves spiritually than a corpse is able to improve its condition. Even when the gospel is preached we are no more able to respond to it than a corpse can respond to a command to get up—unless God speaks the command. Dead means hopeless. When a person dies, the struggle is over. Second, we are enslaved by sin. This spiritual death is a strange thing. Although we are dead in sin so far as our ability to respond to God is concerned, we are nevertheless alive enough to be quite active in the practice of wickedness. In fact, we are enslaved to wicked practices. We are enslaved to sin. Third, we are under God’s just sentence for our transgressions so that, as Paul says, we are “by nature objects of wrath” (v. 3).

But God! Here is where the beauty and wonder of the Christian gospel comes in. We were hopelessly lost in wickedness. But God has intervened to save us, and he has saved us by intervening sovereignly and righteously in each of these areas.

Notice how this works out. We were dead in sins, but God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (v. 5). As I suggested at the close of the last chapter, our experience as Christians is like that of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. We were dead to any godly influence. But God can awaken the dead, and that is what he has done for us. Like Lazarus, we have heard the Lord calling us to “come out” (John 11:43); his voice brought forth life in us, and we have responded, emerging wonderfully from our spiritual tomb. Now life is no longer as it was. Life is itself new, and in addition we have a new Master and a new standard of righteous living to pursue.

Again, not only were we dead in our sins; we were also enslaved by them. Even though we might have desired to do better, we could not. Instead our struggles to escape only drew us down, plunging us deeper and deeper into sin’s quicksand. But God! God has not only called us back to life; he has also, Paul writes, “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (v. 6). There are no slaves in heaven. So if we have been raised up with Christ and been made to sit in the heavenly realms in him, it is as free men and women. Sin’s shackles have been broken, and we are freed to act righteously and serve God effectively in this world.

Third, God has dealt with the wrath question. In our sins we are indeed “objects of wrath” (v. 3). But since Jesus has suffered in our place for our sin and we have been delivered from it, we are no longer under wrath. Instead we are objects of “the incomparable riches of [God’s] grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).

John R. W. Stott puts it like this: “These two monosyllables [‘but God’] set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were the objects of his wrath, but God out of the great love with which he loved us had mercy upon us. We were dead, and dead men do not rise, but God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonour and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand, in a position of honour and power. Thus God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin.”

The words “but God” show what God has done. Besides, they draw our thoughts to God and encourage us to trust him in all things.

Am I ignorant of God? Indeed, I am. “ ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9–10).

Am I tempted to sin? Indeed, I am. “Temptation … is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13, kjv).

Am I foolish, weak, ignoble? Yes, that too. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:27–29).

Have I been the victim of other people’s sin and ill will? Probably, or at least I will be sooner or later. Still I will be able to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Gen. 50:20).

May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—“but God”—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.

Why Did God Do It?

The third question I want to ask is: Why? Why did God do all that Paul and these other passages tell us he has done? There is only one answer: grace. He has done this because it has pleased him to do it. I say “one answer.” Yet, strictly speaking, Paul expresses the thought not with one but with four words.

  1. Love (v. 4). God has done this, Paul says, “because of his great love for us.” C. S. Lewis described this love by saying, “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creations in order that he may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing—or should we say ‘seeing’? there are no tenses in God—the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. … Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
  2. Mercy (v. 4). Mercy is related to love; it flows from it. But mercy has the sense of favor being shown to those who deserve the precise opposite. If nothing but a proper code of rewards and retribution were followed, sinners would receive God’s wrath. That they do not is because God is merciful. Instead of condemning them, as he had every right to do, he reached out and saved them through the death of Jesus Christ.
  3. Grace (v. 5). This is the word that seems chiefly to have been on Paul’s mind, for he repeats it in an almost identical sentence in the latter half of this same paragraph. Verse 5 says, “It is by grace you have been saved.” Verses 8 and 9 say similarly, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Grace means that there is no cause in us why God should have acted as he did. We think the opposite. We think God owes us something. Even after we become Christians we often find ourselves thinking in these terms. “Certainly God owes everyone at least a chance,” we say. Or when God fails to do something we think he should do, we say, “It just isn’t fair.” So long as we think that way we do not understand grace. Grace is God’s favor to the utterly undeserving.
  4. Kindness (v. 7). Compared to the others this word seems a bit weak, but it is not. It flows from the character of God, who is not weak. Kindness means much in our daily living as believers. In the course of our lives we often sin grievously and foolishly. But God does not strike us down when we do. He does not turn on us. Instead he is astonishingly kind. He protects us from the worst of sin’s consequences, and he speaks softly to draw us back onto the path of obedience and virtue.

Why has God acted thus? Paul’s answer is that God is love, mercy, grace, and kindness. God acts this way because that is what he is. We can only marvel that he is love, mercy, grace, and kindness in addition to being sovereign, holy, and full of wrath against sin. We praise him for it.

What Must I Do?

We are saved by God’s grace alone, but once we are saved, we inevitably want to serve the one who has been so loving to us. Are you still unsaved? If so, let this utterly unmerited love of God in Jesus Christ move and woo you. In Romans we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Are you already a believer? If so, let this great love of God move you to the heights of consecration and activity. The hymn writer said,

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

This is what John Calvin had in mind as he drew to the close of his exposition of these verses. He summarized wisely, “Now let us cast ourselves down before the majesty of our good God with acknowledgment of our faults, praying him to make us so to feel them that it makes us not only confess three or four of them, but also go back even to our birth and acknowledge that there is nothing but sin in us, and that there is no way for us to be reconciled to our God, but by the blood, death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“And therefore as often as we feel any regrets to turn aside from the grace of God, and to cite us before his judgment seat, let us have no other refuge than the sacrifice by which our Lord Jesus Christ has made atonement between God and us. And whenever we are weak, let us desire him to remedy it by his Holy Spirit, which is the means that he has ordained to make us partakers of all his gracious gifts. And let us so continue in the same that we may be an example to others and labour to draw them with us to the faith and unity of the doctrine, and by our life and good conversation show that we have not in vain gone to so good a school as that of the Son of God.”[2]

His Merciful Love: His Motive (2:4–5)

Paul first describes God’s reason for saving his people even though they are originally dead and are by nature objects of his wrath. Why does God make us spiritually alive? Paul answers, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive …” (Eph. 2:4–5). This love is not toward the innocent. God expresses his love to those who were disobedient, who by nature followed the ways of the world and of Satan. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

John Van Tholen was a Christian Reformed Church pastor in Rochester, New York, who was diagnosed with a very dangerous cancer. Invoking the truths of God’s sovereign mercy from Paul’s letters, Pastor Van Tholen reflected on what this struggle with cancer meant in the process of making him more aware of the glory of God’s provision:

Paul writes that “while we were still weak Christ died for the ungodly.” He wants us to marvel at the Christ of the Gospel, who comes to us in our weakness and need. Making sure we get the point, Paul uses the word (“still”) twice … in a repetitious and ungrammatical piling up of his meaning. “Still while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.…”

I’m physically weak, but that is not my main weakness.…

While we were still weak … still sinners, still enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. I find it unfathomable that God’s love propelled him to reach into our world with such scandalous grace, such a way out, such hope.

No doubt God has done it, because there is no hope to be found anywhere else.

This beautiful truth of God’s unconditional love is the heart of the gospel that becomes most dear to us when by God’s grace we see our own weakness so clearly that we know that there is nothing in us that warrants God’s love. Time and again I have heard words of consternation from those whose sin is so plain to them that they believe God should not love them; the high school student whose dating life has become promiscuous; the churchman whose marriage is falling apart due to his own hardness; the seminarian who, despite his aspirations and location, is still caught in a cyclic web of addiction and guilt; the young mother who doubts that she can treat her children better than her mother treated her. Over and over, in these situations, I have heard desperate souls saying, “Because of what I have done, because of who I am, God should not love me.” And these words are true. On the basis of justice alone, a holy God should not love the sinful. Yet, having dispensed his justice in the judgment of his Son, our God not only delights to extend us his mercy, but by his power he enables us to respond to his love.[3]

4. But God, who is rich in mercy. Now follows the second member of the sentence, the substance of which is, that God had delivered the Ephesians from the destruction to which they were formerly liable; but the words which he employs are different. God, who is rich in mercy, hath quickened you together with Christ. The meaning is, that there is no other life than that which is breathed into us by Christ: so that we begin to live only when we are ingrafted into him, and enjoy the same life with himself. This enables us to see what the apostle formerly meant by death, for that death and this resurrection are brought into contrast. To be made partakers of the life of the Son of God,—to be quickened by one Spirit, is an inestimable privilege.

On this ground he praises the mercy of God, meaning by its riches, that it had been poured out in a singularly large and abundant manner. The whole of our salvation is here ascribed to the mercy of God. But he presently adds, for his great love wherewith he loved us. This is a still more express declaration, that all was owing to undeserved goodness; for he declares that God was moved by this single consideration. “Herein,” says John, “is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.—We love him because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:10, 19.)

5. Even when we were dead in sin. These words have the same emphasis as similar expressions in another Epistle. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.—But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6, 8.) Whether the words, by grace ye are saved, have been inserted by another hand, I know not; but, as they are perfectly agreeable to the context, I am quite willing to receive them as written by Paul. They shew us that he always feels as if he had not sufficiently proclaimed the riches of Divine grace, and accordingly expresses, by a variety of terms, the same truth, that everything connected with our salvation ought to be ascribed to God as its author. And certainly he who duly weighs the ingratitude of men will not complain that this parenthesis is superfluous.[4]

4 Swiftly Paul adds the good news: “But” (de) God has acted to remedy human hopelessness, for God is rich in mercy. “Mercy” (eleos, GK 1799), also translated as “compassion” or “pity,” occurs seventy-eight times in the NT, twenty-six of those in Paul’s letters. In the LXX it dominantly translated the Hebrew ḥesed (GK 2876)—God’s covenantal faithfulness to his undeserving people. In the Gospels the sick appeal to Jesus for mercy—that he show kindness by healing (e.g., Mk 10:47–48 par.). This unmerited, compassionate commitment motivates God’s rescue effort for his disobedient, wayward creatures (cf. Tit 3:5). God has decided to have mercy on all people, Jews and Gentiles (cf. Ro 11:32). In the next verses here, Paul characterizes this divine motivation as “grace” (vv. 5, 7–8).

God’s “great love” forms the second basis for his rescue of humanity. Paul commonly situates God’s actions for his people in his great love (Ro 5:5, 8; 8:39; Eph 5:2, 25). In 1:4 we saw that love was the motivation for God’s pretemporal determination to adopt his people. Here we find a kind of Semitic redundancy, where Paul uses the verb and noun together: “on account of the great love [with] which he loved us” (Paul uses both the noun agapē, GK 27, and the verb agapaō, GK 26). Not elegant in a literal translation, but the point emerges forcefully.

5 Now we discover what God’s mercy and love motivated him to do: he raised to life with Christ us who were dead in transgressions (cf. v. 1). Paul does not assert that all the dead ones will live—only “us.” In 1:20 Paul rehearsed God’s great power in bringing Jesus back to physical life. Jesus had been physically dead, and God raised him from among the dead and installed him on his heavenly throne at God’s right hand. Now we learn here that much more was riding on Jesus’ resurrection than simply the restoration of his own physical life. We who were spiritually dead were “made alive with” Christ, a composite verb prefixed with the preposition “with” (syn), which occurs only here and at Colossians 2:13 and later Christian writings dependent on these verses. In other words, those “with Christ” were raised with Christ (this redundancy being Paul’s). To relieve the redundancy, some aver that the verb might indicate “with each other,” anticipating vv. 11–22 (so Barth, 1:222). “In Christ” we were raised to a life together with other believers. Though attractive, this is unlikely: the parallel to Colossians 2:13, the essential meaning of the verb, and the pervasive concept of corporate solidarity probably point only to union “with Christ.” We participated in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and it means we too live now. Though our physical resurrection awaits the end of the age, again Paul has brought eschatology into the present. What will happen physically has already happened spiritually, since we are “in Christ.” Formerly “dead,” we now live. Formerly dominated by the power center of the world system, we now live through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:13, 18–19).

In a brief parenthesis (repeated in v. 8) that switches back to second person “you,” Paul appends a third motivation for God’s action and then describes the event with an extremely loaded term. “Grace,” along with mercy and love, moved God to “save.” The dative case chariti (GK 5921) points to cause; grace is the basis and reason God saved. Paul pinpointed God’s grace in 1:2, 6–7, already identifying it as the motivation behind God’s decision to grant redemption and to forgive sins. This connecting of salvation and grace reflects a rare combination for Paul (see 2 Ti 1:9; Tit 2:11).

Because of God’s grace, “you have been saved” (here Paul uses the verbal form sōzō, GK 5392, the cognate of the noun for salvation he used in 1:13). Though the salvation word group can convey the physical sense of “rescue,” “deliver,” or “preserve,” the theological meaning most interests readers of Paul, who uses it to convey the grand sense of God’s rescue of his people from their sinful condition. Jesus received his very name—which means “Yahweh saves”—“because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Paul’s apostolic mission was to use all available means to “save some” (1 Co 9:22), because “God was pleased … to save those who believe” (1 Co 1:21). Paul assured his readers in Ephesians 1:13 that, because they believed the good news of salvation, God rescued them—he saved them. The good news shouts out that God saves through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead those dead in sin. Here and in v. 8 Paul employs the perfect tense of “save,” the most heavily marked Greek tense (and rarely used for “save” elsewhere and never by Paul; see Mk 5:34 par.; 10:52 par.; Lk 7:50). In so doing, he emphasizes the ongoing consequences in the present of God’s action to save. Not only did God save them, but believers enjoy the ongoing results of that salvation. They live in a saved condition.[5]

2:4–5 / From the perversity of humanity as disobedient sinners deserving God’s wrath, the apostle turns, in sharp contrast, to the mercy and love of God. God’s mercy proceeds from his love and is his way of reaching out to those totally undeserving. We were, he claims, dead in transgressions. However, the good news of the gospel is that God has acted decisively in Christ to correct that situation. And finally, in 2:5, one finds the verb that has kept the reader in suspense since the beginning of 2:1: Those who were spiritually dead (2:1) have become the recipients of God’s mercy and love in that he made us alive with Christ.

This action of God is the first of three experiences that the believer has in union with Christ. Literally, it reads that God’s love and mercy have “made us alive together with Christ” (synezōopoiēsen), stressing the intimate union believers have with the Lord. All three verbs—“brought us to life,” “raised us up,” and “to rule with him”—are compound verbs prefixed with the Greek preposition syn, which means “together with.” These terms express that the believer shares these experiences with Christ and thus with everyone else in the body of Christ. Believers who “die” or are “buried” with Christ (Rom. 6:4, 6, 8; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:10; Col. 2:12), also are made alive (Eph. 2:5), raised (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12) and enthroned (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1).

There is no significant theological distinction between being “made alive” and “raised” with Christ. Both terms vividly contrast with the state of spiritual death that was mentioned earlier. In the Greek text (cf. rsv, niv) the phrase it is by grace you have been saved appears as a parenthesis and receives no further explanation until 2:8. Grace is God’s unmerited favor to humanity, and reference to it here is a sharp reminder that the change from death to life is due entirely to God’s initiative and not human action. Saved, apparently, is equivalent to being brought to life with Christ. It appears in the perfect passive form as you have been saved (sesōsmenoi)—the tense in Greek that describes a present state that has resulted from a past action. Salvation, therefore, is an accomplished fact (fait accompli), and its effects are continuous upon the believer.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 58–59). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 51–56). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

[3] Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 81–83). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 224–225). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[6] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 179–180). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

January 4 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Genesis 4; Matthew 4; Ezra 4; Acts 4


in this broken world, there will always be people who try, in one way or another, to discourage and defeat the people of God. Add such people to the discouragements and failures that surface from within, and circumstances can appear desperately bleak and foreboding.

In Ezra 4, the enemies of the returned exiles try three distinct approaches, all of them aimed at defeating this small community of God’s people.

The first is to make common cause with them. It sounds so good: “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here” (4:2). Unwary people might have been taken in. There is always a place for genuine unity, of course, but unbridled ecumenism inevitably results in redefining the Gospel in terms of the lowest possible denominator. One of the best ways to divert a committee is to pack it with your own supporters. Pretending support, you take something over and deploy its energies in some innocuous direction, like a cancerous growth that usurps the body’s energies for its own aggrandizement. The strategy does not work in this case, because the leaders of God’s people, far from congratulating themselves that help has arrived, refuse to be taken in. They turn down the offer. This precipitates a different strategy from the opponents, one that unmasks their true colors.

The second approach is “to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (4:4). Some of their plan is disclosed in the book of Ezra; even more of it surfaces in Nehemiah. So committed are these opponents to the failure of God’s people that they even hire “counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans” (4:5). Rumors, threats, shortages of supply, energy-sapping diversions—all are concocted by strategists-for-hire, clever people who think of themselves as wise, influential, and powerful, but who have no spiritual or moral perception of the situation at all.

The third attack is directly political. In a carefully crafted letter filled with half-truths, these opponents of God’s people manage to convince King Xerxes to shut down the building project. The ban remains in force for decades. What begins as a seemingly insurmountable political barrier settles down into a way of life, the Jews themselves accepting the status quo until the powerful preaching of Haggai and Zechariah (5:1) shake them out of their lethargy.

How have these three instruments of discouragement been deployed in the twentieth century?[1]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Evangelical groups hop on LGBTQ bandwagon – WND

The recent action by the boards of two organizations that have been nationally visible as representing conservative evangelicals is “The Great Evangelical Sellout” for a number of critical reasons, not the least of which is wrongfully capitulating to one of the most deceptive straw men of modern cultural and politics. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) are supporting the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in federal civil rights protections, a patent rejection of biblical truths, moral law and sound constitutional principles.

As reported by World magazine, “(CCCU and NAE) have formally endorsed principles that would add sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) to federal nondiscrimination law.” The U.S. Pastor Council, a growing inter-racial, inter-denominational network of local Pastor Councils that was founded and grew from the flagship Houston Area Pastor Council (the team that led the defeat of lesbian former Mayor Annise Parker’s pro-LGBTQ “Equal Rights Ordinance” in 2015) is calling out the NAE and CCCU for this indefensible act of yielding moral truth for perceived temporary protections.

Many will remember the infamous 2014 “sermon subpoena” incident in which five pastors who were not parties to the lawsuit against the city of Houston for wrongfully invalidating referendum signatures were subpoenaed for 17 categories of sermon and church related information, an act that shocked the world. The subpoenas were embedded in the effort to defeat on a city level what the CCCU and NAE are supporting now at a national level – criminalizing Christianity outside the church building and eventually within it.

Those subpoenas revealed just how interested the LGBTQ radicals are in protecting “religious freedom,” and as one of those subpoenaed, I can witness this fact.

One of the primary reasons the voters of Houston rejected the open-ended addition of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in non-discrimination protections by a 61 to 39 percentage margin is that we exposed the absence of evidence.

After repeated public requests to provide any proof of actual, documented discrimination that rises to the level of massive new laws with police powers to punish citizens, pastors, employers and others for exercising both religious faith and simple common sense, the mayor and the Human Rights Campaign came up with nothing but anecdotes.

This was and is in the truest sense a solution looking for a problem, but a dangerous solution that is at its core a hostile rejection of God’s created order of male, female, marriage, church, moral law and civil law. The LGBTQIAP+ agenda is inseparable with Darwinian evolution and perverted Kinsey sexual amoralism. In their view, there is no God, and we are animals who are unstoppably driven by our hormones. They are therefore absolutely intolerant of the premise of any moral absolutes and now even any physical, biological or scientific absolutes.

The radical LGBTQIAP+ (for a definition of this latest acronym see www.lgbtqhouston.org) radicals have literally hijacked the virtue and justice of the civil rights movement that was at its very core a cause to restore culture and government policies based on God’s laws of creation and justice. The Achilles heel in the CCCU, NAE and Human Rights Campaign’s effort is extending 14th Amendment “equal protection” to behavior and state of mind.

In fact, following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of the civil Rrghts movement’s greatest champions and first black American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, supported very clear legal guidelines as to who should be granted remedy for equal protection. He and the subsequent courts determine whether a claimant qualifies as a “Suspect Class,” commonly defined as whether members of the complainant group:

  1. Have an inherent trait;
  2. have a trait that is highly visible;
  3. as a class, have been disadvantaged historically (e.g., jobs, education); and
  4. are part of a group that has historically lacked effective representation in the political process.

(Racial and ethnic classifications are the two suspect classifications most often given strict scrutiny.)

With the first criteria being “inherent trait,” the entire LGBTQIAP+ train comes off the tracks. Inherent trait is defined as: Existing in something else, so as to be inseparable from it.

In a nutshell, the LGBTQIAP+ movement, defined universally by non-inherent and constantly evolving sexual lifestyles and mental gymnastics, fails the first test and each test thereafter.

While we agree with the CCCU/NEA statement that, “No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination…,” it simply opens up a terrible Pandora’s box to equate in the law race, religion and (biological) sex to sexual behavior and mental instability. “Fairness for All” will become “Special Rights for a Few,” which will continue to result in civil and criminal punishment of a legitimate “Suspect Class” that actually does qualify – Christians who still actually believe and follow the authority of the entire canon of Holy Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

We therefore declare to all U.S. congressmen and women, all U.S. senators and to President Donald Trump that the CCCU and NAE do not speak for thousands of pastors and millions of our congregants across America, and we urge you to reject the ill-conceived Fairness for All Act as well as its LGBTQ-sponsored cousin, the Equality Act.
— Read on www.wnd.com/2019/01/evangelical-groups-hop-on-lgbtq-bandwagon/

What It Looks Like to Take God at His Word — Unlocking the Bible

“Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth” (1 Kings 17:13-14) 

The words quoted above are from the prophet Elijah. In the previous verses, the Lord told Elijah to go hide in the desert. Elijah knew to take God at his word and obeyed. And here he was, just having arrived in Zarephath. He saw a woman in desperate poverty, gathering sticks on the dump outside the city. Elijah asks her for a drink, and as the woman turns to go and get the water, Elijah says “And bring me some bread” (17:11). 

Great Sacrifice 

Put yourself in her shoes. There she was, at the dump outside the city gathering sticks to make a fire. On this fire, she planned to bake some bread, with the full expectation that this would be her last meal. Then we have these astonishing words from Elijah who asks for bread, and also tells her not to fear.  

Elijah was a prophet. That means he spoke the Word of God. What the prophet says, God says. So the word of the Lord comes to this woman through Elijah, calling her to make a great sacrifice. To take God at his word would mean making a great sacrifice

Great Promise 

Notice God, through Elijah, also gives her a great promise:  

“For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” (17:14) 

Someone might say, “Well, this sounds a bit like the health and wealth gospel to me.” Not a bit of it. God never promised wealth to the woman. The promise was not “Make me a cake and I’ll give you a bread factory.” The promise was “Bake me a cake, and the jar of flour will not be empty. The jug of oil will not run dry.” 

God will provide what you need when you need it; not an overflowing jar and an overflowing jug. You can take him at his word, and you can trust him as you walk with him in faith and obedience. 

Elijah As a Type of Christ

So, Elijah makes an astonishing ask and gives an amazing promise. Elijah is a type of Christ here. He pictures what Christ would do when he came. He asks for a great sacrifice, and he offers the promise of great joy.  

Similarly, Christ comes to us as people in great need. We are all facing death. All of us are on our way there, as much as this woman was, though for some of us it is further away. 

Elijah directly points us to Jesus Christ. He comes into our situation of great need and calls for a great sacrifice, promising greater joy. 

Christ calls for great sacrifice 

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) 

You may say, “I guess that is for the seriously committed—people like Peter, James, and John.” No, the Bible says, “Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them.” Christ’s call to a life of sacrifice is the headline; He never hides it in the small print. 

Christ promises greater joy  

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

Consider how the widow at Zarepath’s decion to take God at his word worked out: She hears Elijah’s call to sacrifice, and she hears this great promise of God’s provision. The challenge is simple: Does she believe in the promise of God?  

She looks at the jar and the jug, and she listens to the promise of God. Then she must decide which one to trust. 

“She went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days” (1 Kings 17:15). What a tragedy if this woman had said to Elijah, “I’d love to help, but I just can’t do it.” 

This woman wagered all on the promise of God. She takes God at his word, acts on his command, and blessing flows into her life in unexpected ways. 

We face the same choice. Christ calls us to great sacrifice, and he promises even greater joy. Will you believe and listen to the promise of God? 

What Looks Like to Take God at His Word

“If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-25).

What does that mean? Taking up your cross means that you consider yourself dead already. 

This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian: You died. Your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). If you count yourself dead already, all that you have has already been released. All that you once owned is now in the hands of God. It has already passed from you. 

If you count yourself dead already, you will no longer ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” A Christian is a person who has already given that up—I died. The Christian asks a new question: “What does Christ want to do with this life? What is the best I can do for my God?”

That is a totally different question and it leads to a radically different life. 

[This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Why God Asks for Sacrifice,” in his series, The Suprising Influence of a Godly Life]

What It Looks Like to Take God at His Word — Unlocking the Bible

Body Image and a Better Understanding of Beauty — For The Church Recently Added Resources

Regardless of age, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status, women around the world and throughout time have faced (and still do) incessant attacks on their souls through lies propagated by the Enemy about beauty and value.

From the deception of Eve by the serpent in Genesis 3, to the isolation and suffering experienced by the bleeding woman in Mark 5, to the worried distraction of Martha in Luke 10, Scripture shows us that there are schemes of Satan aimed at pulling our hearts, bodies, and minds away from the Lord and from each other.

The Enemy does this through distracting from and distorting God’s Word—from God’s declaration of Who He is and who He created us to be. By twisting our attention away from Christ, the One who is most beautiful and valuable, and who bestows those attributes onto us who bear His image, Satan accomplishes his goal of getting us to sin.

One of the main avenues through which the mind is consumed with selfish desire and led away from Christ is regarding body image. Though I have struggled with having a healthy body image for most of my life, sophomore year of college was one of the times where my desire to be “beautiful” almost destroyed me.

That year, I distinctly remember having my eyes on myself more than on Jesus. After countless protein shakes, skipped meals, missed social gatherings, and intense workouts six days a week, it still wasn’t enough. I did not look as becoming as the women in the media. I did not even look as good as the women on my campus. Even as a follower of Christ who knew all of the “right answers” about how I should view my body in light of God’s love, my 19-year-old self stared down the figure in the mirror with disdain and self-loathing. I had embraced the waves of lies that were daily crashing against my soul.

This struggle is not unique to me. And, though I speak specifically to women now primarily out of experience, the struggle of seeking lesser things is a human struggle. When our hearts believe the lie that there is something more beautiful and more valuable than Jesus Christ, our lives will reflect our rejection of that truth. Romans 1 speaks to this reality throughout the entire chapter, but especially in verses 21-23a (ESV):

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images…

Christian: whether your struggle is with insecurity, lust, pride, or some other futile pursuit, actively pray and fight against the unrighteousness spoken of in this text.

The omniscient God of the universe chose to give His people definitions of beauty and value through His Word. God is beautiful (Psalm 27:4). God promises that His people “shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord” (Isaiah 62:3a). Through Paul’s letter to Timothy, we know that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). We cannot say that our Heavenly Father has failed to provide guidance for what we should find valuable. Nor can we bemoan that he has failed to give instruction for how to actually behold beauty or even become beautiful. Believer, behold and be transformed by the glory of God! There is nothing more precious or lovely than this.

You have two options: either listen to the lies of satan woven through your culture or listen to the truth found in the Scriptures. In order to help you embrace a more healthy perspective on your body, here are a few more thoughts to cling to when you find yourself struggling:

1. We are to honor God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

2. We are to give thanks to God for everything—including our bodies (Ephesians 5:20).

3. To the best of our ability, we are to use our bodies to make known our Maker (Isaiah 52:7).

4. We are to remember that we are part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).

I wish I chose to fight with these truths when I stood in front of that mirror a few years ago. I lost so much time and energy to things of so little worth! And what was left in the wake of my pursuit of being thin? A worn body, anemic relationships, and an insipid spiritual state. God wants more for us than this self-centered approach to life. Ask Him to keep you from sulking in thoughts of unsatisfied self-pity.* Ask Him to help you “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV). Though it may take time, you will find that by the power of the Holy Spirit this practice will help you in a much deeper and lasting way than any self-esteem book or trip to the gym ever could.

Rather than losing our lives to the fleeting siren song of self-glorification sung by culture, may we be women (and men) who seek and faithfully follow the clear beacon of truth about our identity in Christ, unto eternal glorification of our Most Beautiful Savior.

*For women who develop eating disorders, these thoughts and patterns of behavior surpass lifestyle choice and develop into an illness requiring medical attention. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Researchers are finding that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.”[1] Even women who love Christ deeply can develop this illness. If you are one of the many womanbeing impacted by an eating disorder, I encourage you (with love in Christ and without any condemnation) to seek professional treatment.

Body Image and a Better Understanding of Beauty — For The Church Recently Added Resources

Four Steps to Good Habits (and breaking bad ones) — HeadHeartHand Blog

Find it hard to start good habits? Find it even harder to stop bad habits? Yeh, me too. So we just need to try harder don’t we? But what does that actually mean? What do we actually do? What steps should we take?

The core of James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, is a four-step analysis of how habits are formed (and broken). It’s an extremely important cycle to understand not only for our own sanctification, but also if we are involved in counseling people away from bad habits and towards good habits.

Step 1: Cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward and therefore leads to a craving. (47-8)

Step 2: Craving. Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. (48)

Step 3: Response. This is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. 48-9

Step 4: Reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy our craving and (2) they teach us…which actions are worth remembering in the future. Hence a habit is created.

 In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits. (50-51)

Having analyzed the four steps of habit creation, Clear then suggests four laws of habit creation and four laws for breaking bad habits.

How to create a good habit

  • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
  • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
  • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
  • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.

So, if you want to start a good habit at the beginning of 2019 ask yourself: How can I make it obvious? How can I make it attractive? How can I make it easy? How can I make it satisfying? (54). Ask the same questions if you are counseling someone towards better habits with food, money, technology, etc.

How to Break a Bad Habit

  • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
  • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
  • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
  • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying. (54)

As above with good habits, ask yourself regarding bad habits: How can I make it invisible? How can I make it unattractive? How can I make it difficult? and How can I make it unsatisfying?

Anyone with a sound biblical worldview can find many ways to “Christianize” each of these steps and can find many biblical and spiritual resources to enhance each step of good habit formation and to effectively break bad habits. Christians should therefore be far better at breaking bad habits and starting good ones than non-Christians.

Too often, we simply tell ourselves or others, “Just try harder.” But neither we nor they know where to start or what to do. What Clear does is identify the specific areas in which to focus our attention and therefore the specific questions to ask and the specific work required. In the following chapters, each of these steps is examined in more detail. We’ll follow Clear’s structure in further blog posts, suggesting ways that Christians can learn from him and improve upon him.

Four Steps to Good Habits (and breaking bad ones) — HeadHeartHand Blog

01/04/19 Whose Name Matters? — ChuckLawless.com

READING: Genesis 6-8, Matthew 3-4:11

Think about the way many of us live our lives. We go to school to learn, and we hope to graduate . . . so we can go to college . . . so we can get good jobs. In many cases, we want to get good jobs so we can make more money so we can have more stuff. Some of us also – whether we admit it or not – are achievers who want to be known for what we accomplish.

This battle with pride is an ongoing one. It’s also not a new one.

The people who built the Tower of Babel sought to build a structure to the heavens, and they sought to build something else: their name and their reputation. Indeed, their words were, “Let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). Apparently, they saw little need for God and instead were living for themselves. I hope we would never say, “We don’t need God,” but I fear we sometimes live the same way when our focus is on self.

Being a disciple of Jesus, though, is not about self. It’s about following Him, doing whatever He demands, going wherever He says go, paying whatever cost our faith may cost us. It is, like the first disciples, immediately leaving all behind if that’s what God demands. It’s wanting Jesus to be glorified above everything else.

Which picture better describes your life today – living so you make a name for yourself, or living so only the name of Jesus is remembered?

Prayer: “Father, change my heart when I live for my name. Let Your name be honored through my life today.”

Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 12-15, Matthew 5:13-37

01/04/19 Whose Name Matters? — ChuckLawless.com

January 4 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Genesis 4; Matthew 4; Ezra 4; Acts 4


it took only one generation for the human race to produce its first murderer (Gen. 4). Two reflections:

(1) In the Bible, there are many motives behind murder. Jehu killed for political advantage (2 Kings 9–10); David killed to cover up his adultery (2 Sam. 11); Joab murdered out of revenge, and out of the fear of having his privileged position usurped (2 Sam. 3); some of the men of Gibeah in Benjamin killed out of unbridled lust (Judg. 19). It would be easy to enlarge the list. On the occasion of the first murder, the motive was sibling rivalry out of control. Cain could not bear to think that his brother Abel’s offering was acceptable to God, while his own was not. Instead of seeking God so as to improve his own sacrifice, he killed the man he saw as his rival.

What is common to all these motives is the assumption entertained by the murderer that he or she is at the center of the universe. Even God must approve what I do; if not, since I cannot kill God, I will kill those whom God approves. Instead of the glorious situation that obtained before the Fall, when in the minds of God’s image-bearers, God himself was at the center, and loved and cherished as our good and wise Maker and Ruler, now each individual wants to be the center of the universe, as if saying, “Even God must serve me. If he does not, perhaps it is time to invent new gods.…”

Among the shocking elements in the murder of Cain is the stark fact that Cain’s nose is out of joint because he does not have God’s approval. The fatal sibling rivalry lies in this instance in the domain of religion. No matter: once I insist on being number one, I must be number one in every domain. Sad to tell, if the constraints of culture and fear of the penal system restrain me from outright murder, they are unlikely to restrain me from the kind of hate that the Lord Jesus insists is of the same moral order as murder (Matt. 5:21–26). So while the motives for murder are superficially many, at heart they become one: I wish to be god. And that is the supreme idolatry.

(2) In the Bible, the innocent are sometimes murdered. In this account, Abel is the righteous brother, yet he is the one who is murdered. From this fact we must reflect on two things. First, the Bible is utterly realistic about the horrible cruelty and unfairness of sin. Second, already by way of anticipation, we quietly recognize that if ultimate redress and justice are possible, God must intervene—and the books can only finally be squared after death.[1]

[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Beth Moore Declares Faith Doesn’t Come By Hearing the Words of God — Pulpit & Pen

[Reformation Charlotte] The well-known lady preacher and popular bible-study author, Beth Moore, makes an astonishing declaration–that spending time in God’s Word is not the same thing as spending time with God.

I say “astonishing” acerbically, chiefly because Beth Moore, who spends most of her free time admonishing innocent men to get on their knees to apologize on behalf of other men for mistreating women while holding hands with Marxists, is actually quite known for bellowing out ludicrous assertions about the Scriptures and her (lack of) knowledge about them.

Most recently, she declares in a tweet:

Well, in her world, spending time with God consists of fanciful dreams of being lifted up in the air while being told by God that He’s going to unite all sectors of Christendom, or strange moments of meeting a woman at a random bus stop just to give her a handful of cash because, you know, God told her to go there and stuff.

Of course spending time in Scripture is the same thing as spending time with God. You cannot know God any other way. It’s how he speaks to us (Hebrews 1:1). Yes, you can spend time with Him in prayer as well, and you can spend time with Him in worship. But what she’s saying is essentially the same thing as saying that listening to your parents speak to you is not the same thing as spending time with them. The Scriptures are God’s full and complete revelation to us. It informs all matters of our faith in Him, including our prayer and worship.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”Joshua 1:8-9

To continue reading, click here.

[Editors’ Note: I might also add – in regards to “spending time in the Bible doesn’t mean growing in faith” – the words Paul to the Romans in the tenth chapter of his epistle, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”]

Beth Moore Declares Faith Doesn’t Come By Hearing the Words of God — Pulpit & Pen

God’s Word, an Instrument of Death — The Aquila Report

The sword comes up plenty in our Bibles. I stumbled across it when reading Romans 8 recently. Paul exclaims “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Rom 8:35) Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! But what do our Bible authors want us to understand when they use the sword word? I think we need to define what sword means, starting with a word search across our Bibles.


“The pen is mightier than the sword”. Rubbish, absolute rubbish.

Now before all the mighty keyboard warriors start launching an assault at me to prove their point, let me explain.

Have you ever realized a word means something quite different to what you thought? For example, I thought grizzly was just another way of saying grumpy, but in fact it first meant grey-haired. Culture and word usage changed, altering the word’s original intent. It happens all the time in English, given the evolving and adaptable language it is.

I think this has happened with ‘sword’.

The sword comes up plenty in our Bibles. I stumbled across it when reading Romans 8 recently. Paul exclaims:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Rom 8:35)

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! But what do our Bible authors want us to understand when they use the sword word? I think we need to define what sword means, starting with a word search across our Bibles.

From our search we discover many, many references to the sword. The majority of passages help us see that the sword is used as the ancient killing instrument (e.g. Gen 34:26Num 14:3Judg 3:21-22Acts 12:216:27Heb 11:37). (You could argue it’s also defensive, but that defence is just the threat of death.)When I think of a sword, I think of a kid’s toy, but it is actually the past’s version of our gun: the feared weapon for much of history.

But how does this fit with the pen-sword battle?

Well, it is during our word search of sword that we stumble across Ephesians 6 and Hebrews 4, and it is here that I want to strike a blow in our pen-sword battle. With the contextual backdrop of the sword being the killing instrument, we see these passages with a new light:

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Eph 6:16-18)
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:11-13)

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God’s Word, an Instrument of Death — The Aquila Report

PRECIPICES OF AN ECONOMIC CRISIS: Economists Drops Bombshell And Claims Democrats Are Ushering In A Recession That Will Devastate The US Economy — These Christian Times

Economists are in a state of dismay over what to expect from the economy in the coming year. With 2018, and especially the last month, marked with nothing but volatility the consensus is just more volatility and uncertainty. For more on this, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, Peter Schiff joins Rick Sanchez to discuss.

via PRECIPICES OF AN ECONOMIC CRISIS: Economists Drops Bombshell And Claims Democrats Are Ushering In A Recession That Will Devastate The US Economy — These Christian Times

Hell: What Sort of Place? – Place for Truth

It’s become somewhat fashionable to say that hell is a state of mind rather than a physical location. Far more people in modern America will proclaim their belief in heaven than admit hell exists. Even so, they must both exist in relation to one another, and scripture assures us they both do. Hell is terrible beyond words precisely because it is not heaven.

So what kind of place is hell?

A very specific place

The Bible uses several different words to refer to the eternal destination of the wicked. The Old Testament refers most often to Sheol, the underworld or abode of the dead. It is a place of judgment for the wicked, but the righteous are saved from it. (Ezekiel 32:27, Psalm 30:3) This concept was alive and well in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, yet in his story of the rich man and Lazarus, he clearly differentiated between two different places: Abraham’s bosom and Hades. (Luke 16:19-21) Hades was the Greek term for the underworld that was adopted by the Jewish translators of the Septuagint.

The word “hell” is most closely associated with the Hebrew term Gehenna, which was subsequently brought into Greek. The name is derived from the Valley of Hinnom just outside Jerusalem, where refuse (including the dead bodies of those thought to be cursed) was continually burned. The word Gehenna therefore evokes images of death and continual destruction by fire, in addition to the symbolism of being cast outside the gates of the holy city.

The book of Revelation speaks of a “lake of fire” into which not only the souls of damned humans, but also the devil will be thrown at the end of the age. (Revelation 20:10, 14-15) My own personal sense is that this place of everlasting punishment is not one and the same with the place to which those who die separated from Christ are immediately sent in the here and now, but there is room for debate on this point. I rest my case partly on the fact that Hades itself is said to be thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14) I believe the word “Sheol” is also not the best description of hell proper, as it refers more to the state of being dead than a specific punishment for the wicked.
— Read on www.placefortruth.org/blog/hell-what-sort-place

Former US President and Southern Baptist: “I Believe Jesus Would Approve of Gay Marriage” – Reformation Charlotte

The former US President and founder of the Habitat for Humanity charity wasrecently interviewed on HuffPo Live and was asked about gay marriage. He emphatically stated that while churches should not be forced to perform the ceremonies “if they don’t want to,” that sodomite couples should, however, be able to go down to the courthouse and get married.

Pressed further, the Southern Baptist was asked, “would Jesus approve of gay marriage?”

I believe he would. I believe Jesus would. I don’t have any verse in Scripture…I believe that Jesus would approve of gay marriage…But that’s just my own personal belief. I believe that Jesus would encourage any sort of love affair if it was honest and sincere and was not damaging to anyone else, and I don’t see that gay marriage damages anyone else.

He further stated that he believes Jesus is okay with abortion in the case of rape or incest.