Tuesday, March 4, 2014

All Around the Web - March 4, 2014

Albert Mohler - Caesar, Coercion, and the Christian Conscience: A Dangerous Confusion
Several states are now considering legislation that would provide explicit protections to citizens whose consciences will not allow an endorsement of same-sex marriage. The bills vary by state, as do the prospects for legislative passage, but the key issues remain constant. Millions of American citizens are facing a direct collision between their moral convictions and the demands of their government.

The cases are now piling up. A wedding photographer in New Mexico, cake bakers in Colorado and Oregon, and a florist in Washington State have all found themselves in this predicament. Each now faces the coercive power of the state. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that they must participate in providing services for same-sex weddings or go out of business.

The bills now being considered in several states are attempts to protect these citizens from government coercion. They take the form of remedial legislation — bills intended to fix a problem. And the problem is all too real, and so is the controversy over these bills.

Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage are relentless in their insistence that these bills would violate the civil rights of same-sex couples. They brilliantly employed arguments from the civil rights in their push for same-sex marriage, and they now employ similar arguments in their opposition to bills that would protect the consciences of those opposed to same-sex marriage. They claim that the rights of gays and lesbians and others in the LGBT community are equivalent to the rights rightly demanded by African Americans in the civil rights movement. Thus far, they have been stunningly successful in persuading courts to accept their argument.

Canon and Culture - How Now Shall We Bake?
After last week’s column, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt have doubled down with a new article chastising conservative Christians, and more particularly, Christians who own businesses, for being biblically selective—even hurtful and un-Christlike—about what weddings their businesses will or will not provide service to.

For both authors, an evangelical cake baker is guilty of hypocrisy for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony if the same baker would also provide a cake for a ceremony of a man and woman who have been improperly divorced or unequally yoked. Yet, one difference persists from the beginning. In the cases that Powers and Merritt mention, I don’t know of any court case seeking punitive damages or state coercion for Christians refusing to do weddings for unequally yoked Christians. They can call us hypocrites according to their interpretation (which isn’t accurate), but I’m not aware of accusations of hypocrisy being liable or deserving of state coercion.

Both wedding photographers and cake bakers are easy targets, I’ll admit. Their plight seems harmless after all. We’re talking about snapping pictures and mixing flour. Our concerns over religious liberty seem minimal to the concerns of Christians who are being slaughtered, quite literally, overseas. But there are significant and symbolic issues at stake involving bakers, florists, and photographers—issues that America and its laws must work out as the sexual revolution marches on amidst a country populated by conservative Christians.

A lot of the confusion in this debate is encapsulated in the Powers-Merritt article. There are nuances and larger principles at stake here that I think both are overlooking.

Pastor's Today - Ordination and the Laying on of Hands
Benefits for the Church
Why is the formal ordaining of deacons beneficial to the church? Besides the biblical example, there are several reasons why ordination ceremonies have been a helpful method for the church in the setting apart of servant leaders.
  1. It is for the deacons themselves. It is a holy moment indeed when one realizes he has been singled out and entrusted with the care of God’s precious people. This laying on of hands by other ordained men of God is a benchmark moment in the life of a believer when he is affirmed in the presence of his fellow church members and before God. When temptation to be less than an example for the faithful comes, he will remember that many people are counting on him and encouraging him. This is similar to the public affirmation given at a wedding ceremony to a young couple.
  2. Ordination is significant in the life of the congregation. The people are reminded that there are examples of servanthood and leadership among them, and they have somewhere to turn in times of need. Sometimes, especially in a large congregation, deacons may also seem easier to approach than the pastor. The ordination ceremony puts a face to the help available through God’s people. It’s also helpful to God’s people to have godly role models to challenge and motivate them to good deeds.
  3. Beyond the local church and the individual, the ordination of deacons gives a unique opportunity for churches of similar perspectives to come together to celebrate God’s gifts to His Church. Once a man is ordained, he is ordained — set apart for kingdom purposes. While local churches differ in how they handle the transfer of a deacon from one body to another, very few would call for a re-ordination if a deacon were to change churches later. Ordination offers not only an opportunity for multiple congregations to come together for celebration but to inspect, encourage, and collaborate for the sake of the kingdom. 

The Gospel Coalition - 10 Connections Between Jesus and the Kingdom of God
1. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom. With the coming of Christ, the kingdom begins not in the coronation of a mighty king but in the birth of a crying baby. Yet as Jesus' ministry begins in Mark, he announces, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). What Israel had long awaited, Christ had now inaugurated.

2. Jesus is the kingdom. Where the king is, there is the kingdom. This is precisely why Jesus says to the Pharisees, "The kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:21). As Graeme Goldsworthy teaches, Jesus embodies the kingdom motif of God's people in God's place under God's rule. Jesus is both the faithful ruler and the righteous citizen of the kingdom.

3. Jesus purposes the kingdom. Jesus reveals that his purpose is to proclaim the kingdom. Jesus described his mission saying that he "must preach the good news of the kingdom of God" (Luke 4:43).

4. Jesus declares the kingdom. Through his words, Jesus explains the kingdom and invites people to enter into it. Luke summarizes Jesus' ministry as "proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:1). The declaration of the kingdom often came through the parables of Jesus that illustrated what it was and how it worked.

5. Jesus demonstrates the kingdom. Through his works, Jesus shows the power of the kingdom and his authority over the prince of darkness. As Jesus explains, "If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Luke 11:20). Jesus not only declares the kingdom in his words but also demonstrates the kingdom in his works.

6. Jesus deploys the kingdom. Jesus sends his followers out as ambassadors of the kingdom to herald its arrival. This deployment happens in Luke 10 as Jesus sends out the 72, instructing them to say, "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:9). In the great commission, king Jesus issues his discipleship battle plan to the church because he possesses "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Matt 28:18). Jesus sends his soldiers to the front lines to engage the kingdom of darkness.

7. Jesus transforms the kingdom. Israel's messianic hopes focused on the coming of a military conqueror who would rescue them from their geo-political enemies. That is why they sought to make Jesus king (John 6:15). But Jesus reorients their vision by declaring, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Jesus transforms the kingdom, showing it is holistic in its nature, redemptive in its mission, and cosmic in its scope.

8. Jesus purchases the kingdom. Through his victorious death and resurrection, Jesus redeems the kingdom. As he satisfies the wrath of God poured out for those who rebel against his rule, Jesus defeats Satan, sin, and death (Col 2:14-15). He overcomes the world, the flesh, and the Devil by destroying the power of the kingdom of darkness. By purchasing a kingdom people at the cross, Jesus proves himself to be the rightful ruler of the restored kingdom.

9. Jesus concludes with the kingdom. In his final words to his people, Jesus concludes his earthly ministry by clarifying the kingdom. Just before his ascension, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Even at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus resolved confusion about the kingdom. So the kingdom was key to the start of Jesus' earthly ministry and its culmination.

10. Jesus returns the kingdom. In the second coming of Christ, Jesus returns as a triumphant warrior king. As he returns to achieve final victory, the name scribed on his body is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:16). At last, he places all his enemies under his feet as he launches a new creation kingdom that fully reflects his righteous reign. He consummates the conquest that began with his birth.

Chuck Lawless - 10 Questions for Leaders to Ask Each Week
Listed here are ten questions to help you evaluate your life and leadership at the end of each week. Plan now to consider these questions on Friday or Saturday of this week.
  1. Have I decreased, and Jesus increased during this past week? By looking at your schedule, activities, conversations, thoughts, and priorities, whose kingdom have you sought to build this week– God’s or yours? Are you more conformed to the image of Jesus this week?
  2. What do I know about God and His Word I didn’t know last week? If you’ve learned nothing new, it’s possible that: you haven’t sought God through study this week; you’ve studied, but it’s been routine and non-transforming; you’ve been a Christian so long you don’t think much about any needed growth; and/or, you’ve stopped growing. None of these possibilities should mark a godly leader.
  3. Would someone want to pray like I’ve prayed this week? Jesus’ disciples watched and listened as Jesus spent intimate time with His Father — and they in turn wanted to pray like He did. They longed to experience what He experienced in prayer. Knowing your prayer life this past week, would you be pleased for someone to model his/her prayer life after yours?
  4. Would my family say they are my priority based on this week’s activities? You can’t answer this question, of course, on your own–but you can take the risk to ask it. How would your spouse answer this question? your children? How much of your undivided attention did they get this week? What or who would they say is most important to you?
  5. With whom did I attempt to share the gospel this week? Some evangelistic attempts do not result in your proclaiming the whole message, but we are never given permission to do less than share the Word with others. Did you at least make legitimate attempts to do so this week? With whom? Are you praying for those persons?
  6. Who will walk more with Christ next week because he/she learned from me this week? This question hits at your disciple making work this week. If no one learned from you in an intentional mentoring relationship, I doubt it’s because no one wanted to walk with you. More often it’s because we haven’t prioritized mentoring like Jesus did.
  7. Did I hide anything this past week (and, more pointedly, am I hiding anything now)? The devil works in our secrets. He delights in our darkness, even when our outward Christian walk appears to be solid. Godly leaders, on the other hand, know that nothing less than honest confession and heartbroken repentance bring our sin under the light of God’s forgiveness.
  8. If I were to step out of my leadership role today, would the work continue well without me? You may be new in your role, but even new leaders must quickly seek to improve their organizations. If the work you lead would be seriously stymied by your departure, you may not be leading the organization well. In fact, you may be committing idolatry of the self if you are the center of the work.
  9. What would my immediate reports say about my leadership this week? It’s likely they see you most closely. They hear your words, watch your reactions, and examine your life. They know when you say one thing and do another. They recognize when you lead reactively rather than proactively. Your reports can probably tell you whether you’ve been a good leader this week.
  10. What are my plans for leading better next week? An evaluation without an intentional plan for improvement is an exercise in futility. What will you do differently next week? What steps will you take to improve? Who will hold you accountable to these plans?

The Daily Beast - The Strange Saga of ‘Jesus Calling,’ The Evangelical Bestseller You’ve Never Heard Of
A ten-year-old devotional written in the voice of God suddenly became a commercial juggernaut. Now, its publisher is trying to reconcile its New Age origins with evangelical orthodoxy.

The seventh-best selling book in America last year was a 10-year-old Christian devotional written by a woman who claims to have written down the words of God. Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence sold more copies in 2013 than the much more buzzed-about titles Lean In, the latest Stephen King book, and 50 Shades of Grey, according to Nielsen BookScan. Overall, more than 10 million copies in 26 languages have been sold since the book’s inauspicious debut in 2004.

Jesus Calling is a devotional, a mainstay genre in Christian publishing and in the daily lives of many Christians. Best-selling devotionals like Our Daily Bread, My Utmost for His Highest, and The Purpose-Driven Life consist of short sections that are meant to be read each day for encouragement and contemplation. Christians who value the idea of nurturing a personal relationship with Jesus—or of the idea of spending time each day in quiet contemplation—often use devotionals as a tool to accompany prayer and Bible-reading.

The first trailer was awful. This one is much better.

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