The Weight of Anxiety: Cast it on Him

6278976274_2358efd405_bI was talking to my brother recently, telling him about some difficulties and stresses in my life—nothing life-threateningly intense, but frustrations and hardships nonetheless. After asking some questions and reassuring me, he simply encouraged me to cast those specific cares upon Jesus. He said something like this: “Joe, remember that when you are feeling anxious or burdened, simply cast that upon Jesus. Simply pray, ‘Lord, you know that I’m feeling anxious about this situation. Thank you that you care about me and this situation, and I cast it upon you.’”

After I got off the phone I began to think more about the verses that my brother mentioned. Before I share my thoughts, let’s get the whole text in front of us.1 Peter 5:6–7 says,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

What hit me was that Peter is saying that we are not supposed to bear the anxiety, whatever it is, that we carry. We are supposed to give it up to God. We don’t have the strength to bear the load that our anxiety causes so God says: “Cast it on me, I can bear it on your behalf.”

God doesn’t want us to go it alone. He wants us to rely on Him. God doesn’t want us to anxiously worry about our problems. He wants us to rely on him for all things, big or small.

Our natural tendency is to go it alone. To try harder. To dig in our heels, grit our teeth, and by golly get it done. This tendency is sinful because it presumes that we can work on our own strength. When we work on our own strength, we glorify ourselves, but when we work by the strength that God supplies, we get the help we need and He gets the glory. And this is the way that God has designed the world to run. God wants Christians to be happily reliant on Him so He can help and is thereby glorified in our lives.

So if you are anxious today, cast your burden on Jesus. He cares for you! He wants to bear this burden on your behalf. He will help you if you come to him in faith. We don’t know what that help will look like, but he will help us when morning dawns (Psalm 46:5).

Image: Cole Richards

Seven Promises for the Weak

14781315543_3f5983e591_oDo you feel weak today? Do you feel inadequate for the day’s task? Do you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities? Do you feel unable to face the suffering that is afflicting you?

We can feel weak for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we feel weak because of our finitude—we have real limits and life demands from us more than we can give— and sometimes we feel weak because of our fallenness—our sin causes us to damage ourselves and our relationships.

And to make matters worse, life’s pressures usually don’t just hit in one area. Often they come in waves. Our car breaks down after we find out we have a water leak in our home but right before we have an argument with a friend.

So if you feel weak today, take heart. God promises to help those who are in need and look to him. Here are seven precious promises to call to mind when you feel weak.

  1. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

We have the need, but Jesus has the riches of glory from which he promises to supply all that we need. Paul isn’t saying that God will provide everything we want or think we need; he is saying that he will supply everything that we need. God knows all of our needs and we can trust him to fulfill every one of them—large or small.

  1. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

Paul’s logic goes like this: Because God has removed our greatest obstacle through his Son—our sin—then God will graciously give us all the things we need to make it safely home. Everything. So even when it feels like the world is crashing around you and life is out of control, we can look to the cross and have hope for the future. Look at what God has already done for you in Christ. He is not finished working in your life, and he will not stop bringing you good.

  1. As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! Psalm 40:11

There are two precious promises in this verse. First, God promises he will not restrain his mercy to us. Or put positively, God promises he will lavish his mercy on us. We can look to the future knowing that it is going to be a mercy-soaked future. Second, we can look to the future knowing that God is going to preserve us. This promise fits an essential need each one of us has because we would all perish if left to ourselves.

  1. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

There are a lot of superlatives in this verse. Paul says “all” or “every” four times in this short verse! If you don’t feel up to the task that God has called you to, meditate and pray on this verse. We are not able to do on our own strength any task that God calls us to, so he calls us to look to the one who has all sufficiency to help us in the time of need.

  1. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Do you really believe that God is working all things in your life for your good? This promise is unflinching in its scope. The only place where this promise is limited is when it says that it is only for those who are effectually called by God. This promise covers everything that happens to the Christian. And so for whatever suffering you are facing, it means that God will weave this dark thread in a beautiful tapestry so when you look back at your life you can whole heartedly give thanks to God for that dark season. For many this will likely only happen after we die, but many times God lets us get a glimpse of what he is doing in this life.

  1. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Psalm 46:1-3

Where do you go when trouble comes? Food? TV? Alcohol? There are a lot of places we run to when we are in trouble, but there is only one place to go where we don’t need to fear no matter the trouble. God promises to help. God promises to be our refuge in times of trouble. Only when he is our refuge do we not need to fear.

  1. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29

Remember, Christian, what God is doing through your suffering. When you are weak it is easy to be tempted to despair and lose perspective on life. Remember that God is using the pain and suffering that you are experiencing to shape your thoughts, emotions, and actions to become more and more like Jesus Christ. This is a project that cannot fail.

Image: Andreas Krappweis

The Origins of Neo-Evangelicalism

OckengaHarold Oceknga is a name that is all but forgotten—both in the world at large and in modern Evangelicalism. There is some reason his memory has passed from our collective memory because he was born in 1905 and passed away in 1985. In order to understand modern Evangelicalism—both its more conservative and liberal wing—it is necessary to know how we got here, and Harold Ockenga’s role in our history.

Ockenga helped found organizations such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and the National Association of Evangelicals. Through these efforts, and others, Ockenga became a part of a group of leaders who began a movement known as “Neo-Evangelicalism.”

Fundamentalism and Neo-Evangelicalism

Neo-evangelicalism came out of a movement known as fundamentalism in the 1940s. Before then those who found themselves in either the fundamentalist or evangelical camp were both fundamentalists. These were people who reacted against the 20th century modernist movement that denied the supernatural elements of Christianity.

What separated neo-evangelicalism from fundamentalism was, at least at first, not doctrinal disputes. They were united in the fundamentals of the faith: the virgin birth, the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, and the inerrancy of Scripture. Ockenga, in the 1947 convocation address at Fuller Seminary, attacked the doctrine of separatism (the tendency of fundamentalists to separate fellowship with corrupt denominations) when he said,  “Now there are those who exist in the world simply it seems to attack others, and to derogate others, and to drag them down, and to besmirch them. Our men [the men of Fuller Seminary and likely the neo-evangelicals broadly] will have no time for that kind of negativism” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 65).

Elsewhere in the convocation Ockenga further separates neo-evangelicalism from fundamentalism: “we do not believe and we repudiate the ‘come-out-ism’ movement” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 64). George Marsden comments on this repudiation: “Here was a direct attack on the McIntire camp in its insistence that separatism was basic to fundamentalism” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 64).

The Background for the Divide

But why did Ockenga choose to separate from fundamentalism? Besides truly thinking fundamentalists separated too quickly from those they disagreed with, Ockenga was also feeling pressure from the liberal-leaning PCUSA. Ockenga was a member of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh at the time, and the Presbytery of Los Angeles was threatening his membership because he did not have permission to minister in the bounds of the Presbytery of Los Angeles. This threatened Ockenga’s Presbyterian ordination. And this same situation was also happening at the same time for several of Fuller’s other faculty members.

Perhaps the biggest trouble that Ockenga faced was that the Presbytery of Los Angeles had voted not to allow its members to attend Fuller Seminary because of the hostilities that had arisen between themselves and Fuller. This means, as Marsden puts it, “that Presbyterian students from southern California who attended Fuller would pay the price of losing their presbytery’s support as well as closing out future local prospects” (Reforming Fundamentalism, 64).

With conflict brewing on his left, Ockenga sought to lessen the heat by causing another conflict on his right—with fundamentalism. Hence, according to Marsden, Ockenga’s attack on and separation from fundamentalism in the 1947 convocation address.

A Light on a Hill

Commenting on these events at Fuller Seminary, Marsden sees a pattern that continued at least through Fuller’s early decades, and, very likely, is still happening in evangelicalism today:

A pattern was now set that would continue through Fuller Seminary’s first several decades. The school would aspire to be a force for renewal and broadening of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The seminary was, in a sense, like the original American Puritan experiment, meant to be a light on a hill (this time in the new world of California), a beacon signaling a new stage in world civilization. Yet the ideological hill on which the seminary was situated had long, steep slopes and deep valleys on the other side. One of the valleys was inhabited by strict fundamentalists, the other by Protestant liberals. The seminary faced in two directions at once, but to residents of either valley it appeared somewhat alien (Reforming Fundamentalism, 67).

Evangelicalism Today

Evangelicalism today is made up of a broad coalition of denominations, ministries, and influential leaders. To change Marsden’s light on a hill analogy, the liberal denominations are on the far theological left while fundamentalism still occupies the conservative right, and evangelicals still occupy the middle space in between these poles. Along this spectrum some liberal-leaning evangelicals are closer to the liberal denominations while others are closer to the fundamentalists. Modern flash points are homosexual “marriage,” the inerrancy of Scripture, and the role women in ministry.

A large part of the difficulty in many of these debates is that evangelicalism, unlike Catholicism, does not have an authority structure. Therefore, as Marsden points out, popular opinion rules (Reforming Fundamentalism, 291).

If you want to hear smarter folks than me opine on this subject, check out this podcast over at Mere Orthodoxy.

Mysterious (Covenantal) Math

6838497891_8030888a12_zIs sanctification fundamentally a work of God or something man does? Or is it a combination?

Scholars often go to Philippians 2:12–13 in order to answer this question. Paul writes,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Richard Gaffin keys in on the phrase, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. He argues:

Here is what may be fairly called a synergy, but it is not that of a divine-human partnership, in the sense of a cooperative enterprise with each side making its own contribution. It is not a 50/50 undertaking (nor even 99.44 percent God and 0.56 percent ourselves). Involved here is, as it could be put,  the ‘mysterious math’ of God’s covenant, of the relationship, restored in Christ, between the Creator and his image-bearing creature, whereby 100% + 100% = 100%. Sanctification is 100 percent the work of God and, just for that reason, it is to engage 100 percent of the activity of the believer (By Faith, Not By Sight, 83).

Before you brush Gaffin off as nonsensical, remember: this is not the only place where 100% + 100% = 100%. This is true in marriage when two people become one flesh. Similarly, Christ is one person but has two natures, and light is both a wave and a photon. So Gaffin’s “mysterious math” has close parallels in other covenantal contexts.

Gaffin explains the logic of Philippians 2:12–13.

Here the imperative, sweeping in its scope, comes first: you, the church, are to continue working out your salvation with fear and trembling, fully devoted and engaged. Then, equally sweeping, the indicative follows: God is at work in you, both to will and to work what pleases him” (By Faith, Not By Sight, 83).

The indicative provides the basis for the imperative. God’s work is what enables our work. The order of who is working cannot be reversed. Both are essential, but God’s work enables us to work.

And what an encouraging thought that is!

God hasn’t left us alone and merely commanded us to work out our salvation. He doesn’t say, “Just do it.” He doesn’t say, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” He doesn’t say, “Work out your salvation because you contain in yourself all that you already need to do it.”

No. God knows that if left to ourselves, we would fail miserably.

That is why this “mysterious math” is so precious. He is working in you if you are in Christ. And his working in us is effective. It is what fuels our fight for joy. It is what our putting to death the deeds of the body. And his working is going to be effective in bringing us safely home.

Image: Samantha Stock

When Evil Dug its Own Grave

When you’re in the middle of intense suffering, it’s easy to lose your bearings.

Questions arise reflexively: Is God really in control? How can a good God allow so much pain? Is God good?

The pain that we feel can make it hard to even think straight. We need anchors that keep us tethered to the truth so we do not drift when we encounter suffering.

God Controls All Things, Including Evil

When you are experiencing pain, one might be tempted to let God off the hook by saying he is not in control. The problem is that God doesn’t need or want to be let off that hook. Scripture is clear regarding God’s sovereignty over all things:

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

And Scripture is clear about God’s sovereignty over evil. “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). And Isaiah 45:7 says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

The Christian faith is not a dualistic yin and yang in which God and Satan are fighting it out evenly matched, uncertain who will win. No, Satan is a creature. He does not have power in and of himself, and he and all his works exist under God’s power and purposes. Even though evil may seem random in its irrationality, and feel like it might be out of God’s control, God does not let us take him “off the hook” over who is ultimately in control. God’s sovereignty extends over all things, including evil.

God’s sovereignty over evil does not destroy our moral responsibility for the evil we commit. We are responsible for our actions, and God is sovereign over them. The analogy of God as an author is helpful in explaining how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility relate, as Joe Rigney summarizes, “God is an Author. The World is his story. We are his characters” (“Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil”).

God Is Good in All He Does

So if God is sovereign over evil, does this mean that he is not good? This is a pressing question given the fact that immense human suffering is happening around the world. As we all know, this is not a hypothetical question for most of us, but intensely personal.

Scripture clearly says that God is perfect in all he does: “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). And Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Scripture affirms God’s goodness in the midst of a broken world. At the same time, it doesn’t turn a blind eye to the evilness of evil. It also affirms God’s sovereignty over all things, including evil and God’s goodness in all that he does.

Our Supreme Champion

It’s no wonder that many argue that the problem of evil is a mystery. And rightly so. There is much we do not and cannot know. Paul writes, “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!” (Romans 11:33).

Yet evil does not have the final word. In fact, God has made evil dig its own grave. Henri Blocher explains,

Read the rest here. 

Whose Approval Do You Crave?

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:16)

Perhaps Jesus’s words about prayer and fasting are more relevant than ever. Not that the human heart has changed. Quite the opposite — the heart has been, and always will be, apart from God, “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).

No, the condition of man’s heart hasn’t changed; there are just new ways, with every new app and social medium, for man’s desire for praise to express itself in public. No longer is the reach of our actions simply relegated to the street corner. Instead, in today’s world, the simplest of YouTube videos can make you famous.

Seeking Approval in All the Wrong Places

Seeking approval, and the personal satisfaction that results, is not what Jesus condemns; it is seeking it in the wrong source. John Piper writes,

Even if we do not have a strong sense of merit, we may crave the same result, namely the praise of men. Jesus warns us not to give charity or pray or fast in order to be seen by others. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:5). “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matthew 6:16). Jesus calls them “hypocrites” because in their praying and fasting they want to appear as if they treasure God, but in fact they treasure the praise of men. (What Jesus Demands from the World, 127)

The same misplaced desire for approval is why Jeremiah rebuked Israel: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:12–13).

Craving human praise is a cistern that cannot hold water. That is why Jesus tells his disciples how to pray and fast. Our hearts are so sinful that we can twist the purest of activities — even prayer and fasting — into something that conjures praise from our fellow man.

Find Your Fill in Christ

So how do we kill this desire for human approval? Piper says,

Read the whole article here. 

 

Five Truths About the Death of Jesus

Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than at the cross of Christ. It is grace that the Son of God took on flesh, and grace that he taught us how to live — but it is especially grace that he died on the cross in our place.

Moreover, this climactic grace shown at the cross has a specific shape — it has edges. These edges help us see what exactly happened when Jesus died. And it’s important that we see because seeing leads to worship — you can’t worship what you don’t know.

So in hopes of more clarity — fuel for worship — here are five biblical truths about what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

1. The death of Jesus was for his enemies.

God’s love is different than natural human love. God loves us when we’re utterly unlovable. When Jesus died, he died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for his enemies. Paul gets at how contrary this is to human nature when he writes, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).

2. The death of Jesus purchased a people.

The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation, but a people for his own possession. Hear Jesus’s words: “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:36, 39).

If we say that Christ only purchased the opportunity of salvation for all men we gut biblical words such as redemption of their meaning. John Murray writes: “It is to beggar the conception of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 63).

3. The death of Jesus is on our behalf.

Jesus’s death was substitutionary. That is, he died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. Peter writes, “[Jesus] himself bore our sin in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Read the rest here.