The Ultimate Hindrance to Our Church’s Mission

I came across this challenging quote in my study of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John’s Gospel. What do you think of John Milne’s comment on John 17:21 and 23?

“The biggest barriers to effective evangelism according to the prayer of Jesus are not so much outdated methods, or inadequate presentations of the gospel, as realities like gossip, insensitivity, negative criticism, jealousy, backbiting, an unforgiving spirit, a root of bitterness, failure to appreciate others, self-preoccupation, greed, selfishness and every other form of lovelessness.”

Why not use the above to assess your own life and the quality of your relationships with others in the body of Christ?

A Prayer of Confession for Good Friday

Merciful Father, we meet each other today at the foot of the cross.
We wait with each other as those who inflict wounds on one another:
Have mercy on us.

As those who spurn Your love for other loves:
Be merciful to us.

As those who put our trust in power and prestige:
Be merciful to us.

As those who pursue only our own personal interests:
Be merciful to us.

As those who put others on trial:
Be merciful to us.

As those who refuse to forgive:
Be merciful to us.

As those who are afraid of the world’s frown and displeasure:
Be merciful to us. Amen.

Proclaiming the Gospel to Ourselves in Corporate Worship

One of our main purposes of gathering corporately for worship is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We aspire to do this throughout our whole worship service by cultivating in all who gather three things:

  • A dawning realization of the greatness of your God,
  • A growing awareness of your own sinfulness
  • But also a fresh and continual discovery of the pardoning grace of God revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ (This last phrase is adapted from Jack Miller and his book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church.)

This is why we regularly confess our sins corporately and personally to the Lord. After our time of personal confession, we hear one of our pastors speak to us God’s assurance of pardon from the Scriptures. How can we be so bold to assure people of God’s forgiveness? God’s Word contains countless promises where He assures His people of His forgiveness.

One of the high moments of our worship service occurs when we hear right after the assurance of pardon: “…if your faith is in Jesus Christ this morning, then I assure you, based on the sure promise of the Word, that your sins are forgiven….”

Oh what a blessing to know that you are completely forgiven, totally accepted and profoundly loved by our Lord! Why not reflect on the wonderful and assuring promise of the prophet Micah: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity… who delights in mercy… You will subdue our iniquities; and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19)?

Prayer of Confession – Re. Physical Beauty

Beautiful Savior,
You died to make me beautiful.
For I was marred and made beastly by sin.
Late it was that I loved you,
beauty so ancient and so new, late I loved you!
I vacillate between a monkish contempt of physical beauty
and a worldly addiction to physical beauty.
Forgive me where I have not made a covenant with my eyes
and I gaze lustfully at others.
Forgive me O LORD!
Pardon me for comparing myself to others
that leads to me feeling insecure, ashamed, and envious.
Have mercy upon me O LORD!
Rescue me from viewing my body with disdain
For You knit me together and fashioned my body,
which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Liberate me from the lies of the Evil One, O LORD!
Free me to know in my soul
that precious sense that I am beautiful
in the eyes of the ultimate loving beholder.
Grant me a renewed sense of Your delight, acceptance, and favor
through Jesus Christ our LORD. AMEN.

When The Time Comes to Divide the Family Estate


Matthew Henry

“When Providence has removed your parents by death,
the best methods ought to be taken,
not only for preventing quarrels among the children
(which often happens over the dividing of the estate),
but for the preserving of love
so that unity may continue even when that center of unity is taken away.”
– Matthew Henry, Presbyterian pastor and commentator extraordinaire

The only way for believing families to heed this pastoral counsel is by resolving to trust in God’s sovereign hand. How easy it is to fall prey to a greedy, grasping tendency we all have when we are left to ourselves. An alternate path is to rest and trust in God’s sovereignty – He is the blessed controller of all things and, if He is in control, we don’t have to be. If we have a life-giving relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, do we really need more of this material world and all of its stuff?

In Genesis 50, Joseph reminds himself of God’s sovereignty as he reflects on the evil done to him by his brothers. The center of their family has been taken away. Their father Jacob has died and all of his sons and their families, except Joseph, are in peril due to a great famine in the land. It would be tempting for Joseph to exact revenge at this time. However, he does the opposite.

Read this short account and marvel at the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in Joseph’s life. The same can happen for you:

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

The Majesty of a Forgiving Father

Psalm 130:4 sets forth one of the greatest discoveries that we can ever make:
“With you (the LORD) there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”
According to John Stott, this verse “contains a beautiful balance
because its first part brings assurance to the despairing,
while its second part sounds a warning to the presumptuous.”

How easy it is to abuse God’s grace when we lose sight
of what it cost our Lord to rescue us.
Instead, knowing how forgiven we are
should move us to to fear and stand in awe of the Lord
so that we live more and more in a way that honors and exalts Him.

The Cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love.
Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong.
Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example,
if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was.
Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us?
There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it.
There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it.
Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.

– Timothy Keller, The Reason for God

The majesty of God’s forgiveness is lost entirely
when we lose what has to be forgiven.
What has to be forgiven is not just what we do but who we are,
not just our sinning but our sinfulness,
not just our choices
but what we have chosen in place of God. . . .
When we miss the biblical teaching,
we also miss the nature of God’s grace
in all its height and depth.
In biblical faith it is God’s grace through Christ
that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”

– David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant

The voice that spells forgiveness will say:
‘You may go: you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves.’
But the verdict which means acceptance [justification] will say:
‘You may come; you who are welcome to all my love and my presence.’

– Sir Marcus Loane, quoted by John Stott, The Message of Romans

Grace, she takes the blame. She covers the shame, removes the stain.
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things!

– Bono

What a mercy that our Heavenly Father does not leave His wandering child
to the hardening tendency and effect of his backslidings;
but, sooner or later, His Spirit, by the word,
or through some afflictive discipline of love,
recalls the wanderer to His feet, with the confession and the prayer-
“O Lord, pardon my iniquity; for it is great.”
“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.”

– Octavius Winslow

And now, when the question returns with personal force,
“Should God mark my iniquities, how can I stand?”
Let faith, resting upon the divine word, answer,
“Jesus is my Substitute: Jesus stood in my place: Jesus bore my sins:
Jesus did all, suffered all, and paid all in my stead, and here I rest.”

– John Owen

The forgiveness of God that delivers from the depths of despair,
guilt, and anxiety is not an end in itself
but it makes it possible for us to fulfill the chief goal of our lives:
To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

– Patrick Miller

Don’t fool and fancy yourself that you must pay your own debt of sin.
George Bernard Shaw  once wrote:
“Forgiveness is a beggar’s refuge… we must pay our debts.”
It is true: The debt of sin must be paid
and that forgiveness is indeed a beggar’s refuge.
However, we will sing King Jesus’ praise throughout eternity
because has paid the debt of sin of beggars like us.

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership

At least once a year, I read the booklet by Henri Nouwen entitled In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. He uses two key passages to unpack the nature of Christian leadership: Matthew 4:1-11 and John 21:15-21.

In this book he discusses three temptations which all leaders face.

Temptation 1: The Temptation to be relevant (to turn stones into bread) —more properly put—the temptation to be liked for our competencies.  Jesus’ temptation was to turn stones into bread to prove something—we are tempted to put our competencies on display for others to see and be admired.  How often we all are tempted to do or say things in order to be liked.

The gospel cure for this idol of people pleasing  is to be rooted in the Love of Christ so that you experience the security of His love when the temptation comes to live for the approval of others.  How important it is for us to spend time with our Savior—not because we need to teach a class or prepare to preach a sermon but for no other reason than we NEED HIM!

The Discipline/Gospel Practice Needed:
The antidote to counter this temptation is: Contemplative Prayer.
The purpose here is to keep us from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God’s heart. (pp.28-29).

Here’s a challenging nugget from Chapter One:

Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time.  Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice, and guidance.  Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen again and again to the voice of love and to find there the wisdom and courage to address whatever issue presents itself to them.  Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in our opinion about a given subject.  But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative (pp.31-32).

Temptation 2: The Temptation to be Spectacular—Jesus was invited to throw himself from the temple and let the angels come and rescue you.  In the same way, we too are tempted to be GREAT! We can rely exclusively on the arm of flesh – our gifts, abilities, know-how, etc. But God in his mercy places us into a community. It’s a community where conflict, disappointment occur, but we must deliberately open our hearts and lives to others— to allow our fellow ministers, fellow leaders, and friends to help us so that we don’t isolate ourselves thinking that we must do it alone.

Don’t be surprised when you experience this two-fold blessing: Where two or more are gathered, the living Christ is there with His empowering, comforting presence… but where two or more are gathered, conflict soon happens. What is the antidote to this need of ours to be great and feel important?

The Discipline/Gospel Practice Needed: The antidote to counter this temptation is confession and forgiveness. This is the currency of the gospel in our relationships.  This discipline keeps our ministries and lives communal and mutual.

People desperately need this modeled—for many have never seen someone truly apologize and forgive from the heart.

Nouwen: “I have found over and over again how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone.”

Thirdly, and lastly—the temptation to be Powerful and the need to resist our urge for control! The devil offered Jesus the keys of the kingdom if only he would bow down and worship him.  Why is this temptation to be powerful so irresistible? Nouwen posits that power offers an easy substitute for doing the hard work of truly loving others.  We find it easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people.  Jesus asks us, “Do you love me”  and we respond, “Can we sit at your right hand?”  The challenge for Christian leaders is to love the people that the Lord brings across our ministry path and to allow them to know and love you as you work together to make much of Christ and His kingdom.

The Discipline/Gospel Practice: The antidote to counter this temptation to power is theological reflection. This will allow us to begin to understand where we are being led (John 21).