grace

Adoption: The Apex of God’s Grace

Do you need good news today?

One of the fruits of the gospel besides justification and sanctification is adoption. TheFather son New Testament says that as soon as a person repents of sin and puts his or her faith in Christ, he or she is adopted into the family of God. It can truly be said that adoption is a higher blessing than even justification and sanctification. Theologian John Murray wrote, “Adoption is the apex of redemptive grace and privilege.” Because of adoption, God is no longer just your Creator, Lawgiver, and Judge. To one who trusts in Jesus, he is your Father.

What is adoption? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it this way: “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God.”

Here’s a list of ten practical benefits of adoption (there are more!):

  1. Adoption means God wanted you to be in his family. He chose you to be his child before you were even born (Eph 1.5).
  2. It means God will never let you go. He is protecting you and providing for you all the time, even when you don’t see it. Furthermore, he will be sure to get you home (Jn 10.28-29).
  3. It means you have continual access to God and can call him by the most intimate of terms: “Abba! Father!” (Eph 2.18, Rom 8.15).
  4. It means God has made you brand new. You are a new creation (2 Cor 5.17).
  5. It means God’s attitude toward you is always one of love, even when you fail (Col 2.13-14).
  6. It means that Jesus is your elder brother (Heb 2.11).
  7. It means you will be disciplined in love when you go astray (Heb 12.5-11).
  8. It means you are a member of the household of faith (the church), along with all others who trust in Christ (Eph 2.19).
  9. It means you have a glorious inheritance awaiting you (1 Peter 1.3-5).
  10. It means you have a great incentive to aspire after godliness and share Christ’s love with others (Mt 5.16).

Church leader, think often of your adoption. Let it bring you security, assurance, and joy.

My God is reconciled;
His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child;
I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

Choose the reproach of Christ

I find great comfort in Hebrews 11:26. Speaking of Moses the author says, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the rewardtreasure-chest.”

When you suffer for the sake of the body of Christ (and isn’t that what pastoral ministry often means?), you experience the same kind of reproach (i.e., scorn, contempt) experienced by Jesus. You are filling up in your flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col. 1:24). And this is of greater worth than all the treasures of Egypt. Why? Because “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

Suffering unites you to Jesus like nothing else, allowing you to experience his strength in your weakness, his grace in your weariness, his love in your rejection, his Spirit in your emptiness. His steadfast love is better than life (Psa 63:3). At his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psa 16:11).

Charles Wesley beautifully described the treasures found in Christ in his hymn, Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose:

Jesus, my all in all Thou art,
My rest in toil, my ease in pain,
The healing of my broken heart,
In war my peace, in loss my gain,
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown,
In shame my glory and my crown.

In want my plentiful supply,
In weakness my almighty power,
In bonds my perfect liberty,
My light in Satan’s darkest hour,
In grief my joy unspeakable,
My life in death, my Heaven in hell.

Jesus is like the treasure hidden in a field that is worth more than a man might give up in order to possess (Matt. 13:44).

The thing is, to experience the reproach of Christ we have to make the same choice Moses made. He chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25). He chose a superior pleasure over an inferior one. Isn’t that the fight of faith we are called on to wage every day as we lead God’s people?

Today’s Words for the Weary

“You are a pardoned sinner, not under the law but under grace–freely, fully saved from the guilt of all your sins. There is none to condemn, God having justified you. He sees you in his Son, washed you in his blood, clothed you in his righteousness, and he embraces him and you, the head and the members, with the same affection.”

  • William Romaine (1714-1795), an Anglican priest, scholar, and author of the trilogy The Life, the Walk, and the Triumph of Faith

How do you handle failure?

I’ve come across a new book that looks like a great read. It’s called Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure, by J. R. Briggs. According to Scot McKnight the book deals with “four basic areas downloadof failure for pastors:

1. Mighty fall: sexual, moral failures

2. Tragic event: cancer, shocking terminations, betrayals

3. Slow leak: wearing down of the soul. Constant drips of discouragement

4. Burned out: crisis to crisis wears a pastor down. The system overheats and it burns out.”

Add to these things the other pressures faced by ministers of the gospel (expectations of success and church growth, the allure of celebrity, the constant need to produce rich Bible messages, staff demands,
etc.), and you have a real recipe for debilitating guilt and shame.

Looks like a must read.

Scott’s Story

(The following story comes from Scott Sauls, Senior Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you, Scott. Read more by Scott on his blog.)

Scott-Sauls-Head-Shot-150x150I am one of those ministers who has endured a handful of seasons of anxiety and depression. Most of the time, thankfully, the affliction has been more low-grade than intense. On one occasion, though, it pretty much flattened me physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. I call this particular season my “living nightmare.”

That season, as well as others, occurred while serving in ministry.

How bad was the living nightmare? I could not fall asleep for two weeks straight. Even sleeping pills could not calm the adrenaline and knock me out, which only made things worse. At night I was terrified of the quiet, knowing I was in for another all-night battle with insomnia that I was likely to lose. The sunrise also terrified me, an unwelcome reminder that another day of impossible struggle was ahead of me. I lost nearly thirty-five pounds in two months. I could not concentrate in conversations with people. I found no comfort in God’s promises from Scripture. I was unable to pray anything but “Help” and “Please end this.”

Why would I tell you this part of my story? Because I believe—no, I am certain—that anxiety and depression hits ministers disproportionately. And a minister who suffers with this affliction, especially in isolation, is a person at risk. When I was in seminary, two pastors committed suicide because they could not imagine going on another day having to face their anxiety and depression. Both suffered with the affliction in silence. One wrote in his suicide note that if a minister tells anyone about his depression, he will lose his ministry, because nobody wants to be pastored by a damaged person.

Or do they?

For those of us in ministry who have suffered (or are suffering) from this affliction, I think we need to do everything we can to discover and embrace an applied theology of weakness. Even the Apostle Paul said that it is in weakness that we discover the glory, power, and grace of God. This is how God works. He is upside-down to our sensibilities. Better said, we are upside-down to his.

Anne Lamott recently said that it’s okay to realize that you are very crazy and very damaged because all of the best people are. Suffering has a way of shaping us as people and as ministers. It has a way of equipping us to lead in ways that are helpful and not harmful. A healer who himself has not been wounded is very limited in his ability to heal.

The “very crazy, very damaged” people in Scripture seem to be the ones through whom God did the greatest things. Hannah experienced bitterness of soul over infertility and a broken domestic situation. Elijah felt so beaten down by ministry that he asked God to take his life. David repeatedly asked his own soul why it was so downcast. Even Jesus, the perfectly divine human, expressed that his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death. Each of these biblical saints, in her/his own way, was empowered by God to change the world—not in spite of the affliction but because of it and through it.

Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, experienced depression for many years of his ministry. William Cowper, the great hymn writer, had debilitating, paralyzing anxiety for most of his adult life. C. S. Lewis lost his wife to a violent form of cancer. Joni Eareckson Tada became paralyzed from the neck down when she was a teenager. All of these and others were God’s chosen instruments for bringing truth, grace, and hope into the world. The best therapists and counselors have themselves been in therapy and counseling. It’s how God works.

So if anxiety and/or depression is your affliction, I am sharing this part of my story to remind you that there is no shame in having this or any other affliction. In fact, our afflictions may be the key to our fruitfulness as ministers. “Damaged” does not mean “ineffective.” It does not mean “done.”

Anxiety and depression can also, ironically, be a conduit of hope—an opportunity for the foolishness of God to be put on display in our lives. Recently a member in our church (where I have been senior pastor for two years now) told me that he thinks I am a great preacher…and he is entirely unimpressed by this. He told me that the moment he decided to trust me, the moment he decided that I was his pastor, was when I shared openly with the church that I have struggled with anxiety and depression and that I have seen counselors for many years.

As ministers, in the end we may discover that our afflictions had greater impact in people’s lives than our preaching or our vision.

Anxiety and depression are also invitations into Sabbath rest. When you are laid flat and there’s nothing you can do except beg for help, Jesus tends to meet you in that place. It is there that Jesus reminds us that Matthew 11 is for ministers too. He invites weary and heavy laden ministers to come to him and find rest, to learn from him, to experience his humility and gentleness of heart…that we, too, might find rest for our souls. For an anxious, depressed person, there is nothing quite like an easy yoke and a light burden under which to process our pain.

Many times when I have encountered this affliction, it has been through or because of something related to ministry. Usually anxiety and depression have come upon me because I have lost my way temporarily—leaving the easy yoke of Jesus and looking to ministry for self-validation, to make a name for myself, to gain applause and acclaim and respect from the crowds. This is a dead end street, but in moments and seasons of weakness my heart has gone there.

Anxiety and depression have been God’s way of reminding me that I don’t have to be awesome. He has not called me to be awesome, or impressive, or a celebrity pastor, or anything of the sort. He has first and foremost called me to be loved, and to be receptive to that love. He has called me to remember that because of Jesus, I already have a name, I will be remembered even after I am long gone, because he is my God and I am his person. He is my Father and I am his son.

Kierkegaard said that the thorn in his foot enabled him to spring higher than anyone with sound feet. The Apostle Paul said something very similar about the thorn in his flesh. The thorn kept him from becoming cocky. It kept him humble. It kept him fit for God and fit for the people whom God had called him to love and serve. There is glory in weakness. There is a power that is made perfect in that place.

Though I would not wish anxiety or depression on anyone, I am strangely thankful for the unique way that this affliction has led me, time and again, back into the rest of God.

“All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him…”

 

Watch Out for the Yeast!

Title: “Watch Outyeast for the Yeast!”

Scripture text: Mark 8:14-21

Main point: Sin, left in the heart without repentance, grows bigger and hurts more people.

Preparation: In your “Bag of Wonders” hide a dinner yeast roll, some unleavened bread, and a package of baker’s yeast.

Opening question: Have you ever heard of yeast? (interact with the children’s answers)

Message: Yeast is something your mom or dad or grandmother or the baker in the grocery store uses to bake bread. And the Bible talks about yeast a good bit too. Let me show you what yeast does. (Pull the yeast roll and unleavened bread out of your Bag of Wonders.) Both of these are types of bread. But they are different, aren’t they? What’s the difference between them? (Children will say one is flat and one is big and puffy.) Do you know why this roll is big and puffy? It’s because of this. This is yeast. (Show the package of yeast.) Yeast is actually a fungus. It’s little microorganisms that cause bread dough to rise. When someone wants to bake bread, she mixes a little bit of yeast in with the flour, water, sugar, and salt. Then she takes the dough and puts it in a warm oven for a while. Slowly but surely, the yeast causes air bubbles to form inside the dough. The dough gets bigger and bigger and bigger. That’s what made this dinner roll so big and light and yummy. But this flat piece of bread did not have any yeast in it. So it stayed real flat.

The Bible talks about yeast. Usually when God talks about yeast in the Bible, it’s because he wants us to think about sin. Now just so you know, yeast is not bad. Yeast makes bread taste good. But in the Bible, yeast is often a symbol for sin. That’s because when you let sin stay in the heart, without confessing it to God or other people, it gets bigger and causes greater and greater damage. In Mark 8:14-21, Jesus told his disciples, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees!” He didn’t mean to watch out for the kind of yeast your mom uses to bake bread! He was talking about sins like hypocrisy and false teaching and lying and things like that. When you tell a lie, for example, it often leads to other lies. The more lies you tell, the more likely it is that you or someone else is going to get hurt.

Let me tell you a story about a little boy I’ll call Timothy. His dad took him fishing one Saturday, and Timothy caught a fish. It was a little fish about 6 inches long, but Timothy was proud of himself. On Monday when he wen
t to school, he told one of his friends he caught a fish that was a foot long. Later, he told another friend he caught a barracuda three feet long. Later that week, he told another friend he caught a shark! Still later he told someone he caught a whale! When his father found out what Timothy was telling people, he said, “Timothy, have you been lying? What’s this I hear about you catching a whale?!” Timothy was very sad. He realized he should have confessed his first lie, because his fish story got bigger and bigger as time went on.

Sin is like yeast. It makes problems grow and grow. Watch out for the yeast! Confess your sin as soon as you’re aware of it. Turn away from sin and repent. You know why it’s OK to tell God and other people about your sin? Because Jesus’ love is a lot bigger than your sin! Jesus died on the cross not only for the sins you’ve committed in the past, but the sins you’ll commit today, tomorrow, and in the future. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”