The 1984 film “Amadeus” won eight Oscars for chronicling (albeit with much flare for fiction and literal license) the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life and his genius for music. The film also dealt with Mozart’s fellow composer Antonio Salieri’s obsessive and ultimately deadly jealously of him. As Salieri becomes increasingly obsessed with Mozart, he stops composing music and focuses on destroying Mozart. At the end of the movie, Salieri sends Mozart into a delusional depression by overworking him and randomly appearing dressed in his father’s funeral mask. Tired and sick, Mozart eventually dies.
Years after Mozart’s death, Salieri is still haunted and obsessed with him. An old, lonely, and brooding man, he attempts suicide by cutting himself while yelling the Mozart’s name. While the ambulance cart is dragging a bleeding Salieri to a doctor, they pass a formal ball where Mozart’s music plays loudly. Fixated as he was, Antonio Salieri could never escape his obsession, even in death.
When we think of obsession, we tend to picture subjects like poor Antonio Salieri. Obsession brings to mind a dark, brooding, joyless soul trapped into preoccupation with something or someone. Obsession usually ends in futility and anger.
However, this is not the kind of obsession at the center of Biblical servanthood. It should instead be characterized by a joyful pursuit of excellence, because at its root, Christian service should have an obsession with the Gospel. The cross of Christ took our punishment and placed it on Christ so that we may have eternal life in heaven. This truth should not only produce immeasurable joy but inflame a pursuit of excellence as well! The joy we experience in being forgiven and adopted by God will manifest itself in a desire to give our best to God, and an obsession to magnify His glory by serving Him.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100
This Psalm recounts how just crossing the entrance of God’s house should cause us to leap for joy and praise God for his greatness. As we enter into His presence, our hearts are stirred to song and praise. Why do these things should happen? Because we serve a God whose love and grace has been extended to us for eternity. The gladness when serving the psalmist describes does not seem to be optional but rather a natural reaction to God’s character and goodness. Hebrews 12:28 explains that “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
As we reflect on these passages, it becomes clear that our worship, whether it is serving, singing, or meditation, is both birthed and motivated by finding absolute joy in the Gospel of Christ. C.J Mahaney writes, “Joy is a command. You may be working hard and serving the Lord faithfully, but if you aren’t serving with gladness, you aren’t serving Him appropriately or representing Him accurately.”[i]
Our joyful gratitude is not based on a temporary salvation, but an everlasting one. As the recipients of the eternal Grace of God, we much to be thankful for! Jesus’ death and resurrection did not save us for a period of time but from time itself. We do not have to be saved or cleansed over and over again, left to wonder if God will remain faithful through each trial. In John 10:28, the apostle John recounts Jesus’ words “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He did not compromise for just a taste of his righteousness imputed to us, nor did he settle for cleansing some of our sin. Jesus paid it all.
We have the final eternal conclusion of our salvation in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-15, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Not a single one of us could have died for the sins of man. Nowhere, as God is explaining our reason for faith and joy, is my name mentioned. It doesn’t say that because Nate set up the books and cleaned the foyer every Sunday, we can have joy and hope!
Someone recently asked me, “Do we serve to find joy or do we serve because there is joy?” The answer is both! We have this joy that is motivated by grace because of the Gospel. Yet we also find joy in God by participating in his plan to benefit others. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There is inherent and limitless joy as we enter into the presence of the eternal, all-powerful, yet gracious King who has allowed undeserving people like you and me in.
As we serve God with a joyful obsession, we glorify Him more than if it was some dry, meaningless ritual. In his book A Quest for More, Paul Tripp writes, “Our joy was meant to wed to his glory.”[ii] In fact, God seems to desire service with gladness and detest dry “let’s just get it over with” serving. It is clear from Scripture, that not only does God desire joy in our serving, but God also inspires joy for our serving. Deuteronomy 28:47-48 suggests that Israel, while it did obey God’s Command to serve, still provoked God to anger. They served like it was a chore rather than an act of joyful worship.
As we understand how God loved us first through the Cross of Christ, serving becomes joyful and natural. Hall of Fame baseball player Reggie Jackson once commented that, “A baseball swing is a very finely tuned instrument. It is repetition, and more repetition, then a little more after that.” Like swinging a bat, our joyful desire to serve God is a finely tuned instrument that needs to be developed and exercised. Reflecting on God’s grace in our own lives, how he justified us and continues to sanctify us, builds our joy for God.
In the Gospel, we find eternal and immense joy, not a brooding dark fear and oppression. Salieri was consumed by jealously and hatred, but as Christians we should be inspired by joy and grace found in Christ. Martin Luther writes, “Thus from faith flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a cheerful, willing, free spirit, disposed to serve our neighbor voluntarily, without taking any account of gratitude or ingratitude, praise or blame, gain or loss.”[iii]As we reflect on God’s work in us, our joy for Him will increase and overflow through service.
[i]CJ Mahaney, Christ Our Mediator pg 93
[ii] Paul David Tripp, A Quest for More, pg 90
[iii] Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty
“Where have all the good men gone?” – It’s a question we ask so much it’s become a cliche. The lack of mature men to step into leadership roles in their families, churches, and communities has long been a concern in evangelical Christian circles. And, if Kay S. Hymowitz’s piece in the Wall Street Journal is any indication, the secular world at large is starting to catch on.
In her article, Hymowitz opines that modern society has created a third stage through which guys must pass through on their way to manhood: pre-adulthood (the first two being boyhood and adolescence – another topic for another day).
In her book I Don’t Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters and Other Guys I’ve Dated (which I don’t recommend for a number of reasons, but Hymowitz quotes in her article – I include the quote here because I think it’s helpful), Julie Klausner describes males who are in this stage as “guys” – too old to be a boy, too immature to be a man.
Here’s how Klausner describes the typical American guy:
“Guys talk about ‘Star Wars’ like it’s not a movie made for people half their age; a guy’s idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends…. They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home.”
Hymowitz goes on to (and I think, correctly) identify popular culture as the driving force behind the normalization of “pre-adulthood”:
For most of us, the cultural habitat of pre-adulthood no longer seems noteworthy. After all, popular culture has been crowded with pre-adults for almost two decades. Hollywood started the affair in the early 1990s with movies like “Singles,” “Reality Bites,” “Single White Female” and “Swingers.” Television soon deepened the relationship, giving us the agreeable company of Monica, Joey, Rachel and Ross; Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer; Carrie, Miranda, et al.
I give you the secular perspective to make a point: Even the unsaved world now acknowledges that real men are all but extinct as a species. They’re tired and fed-up with weak, self-gratifying “guys” – and rightly so. But while it’s apparent to everybody that we have a problem, the secular world can’t offer a workable solution.
Hymowitz goes on to (incorrectly) identify what happened to American manhood as being essentially an economic and sociological problem: Pre-adults are career-focused, with the career being not only a means of earning a living, but an identity by which you are known. In essence, what you do is the same as who you are. For most young men (and pre-adults in general), the career has replaced the family as a means of identity and fulfillment.
And that, of course, is what it does and has always boiled down to – from where do we get our identity, and from what do we derive our fulfillment? But Hymowitz is wrong – it’s not just an economic and sociological problem. It’s a heart issue.
As we have already said, the problem isn’t a new one, and fortunately for us, the Word of God has some solutions.
Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men. They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. (Psa 12:1-2)
Here, David is essentially bemoaning the same problem: there are no good men left. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, we are reminded that the problems we face today are really the same problems that mankind has faced since our First Father made the choice not to be the spiritual leader and protector of his family. That’s significant, because sometimes Christians like to engage in a sort of reverse Chronological Snobbery that supposes that things were better “back in the day” (and sometimes, for some things they were). But in reality, things could be pretty horrible back in the day too. It’s in our genes as men to be spineless weasels. It’s one of the reasons we need Jesus.
Secondly, it’s important because the Word of God never gives us a problem without giving us a solution. And David does, in verses 6-7:
The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. (Psa 12:6-7)
So the solution is the Word of God. The Word of God is where our focus should be. It’s what should give us our purpose for living. David reiterates this elsewhere in Psalm 119:
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. (Psa 119:9-11)
And then finally, David cuts at the heart of the problem, in the final verse of Psalm 12:
The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted. (Psa 12:8)
So when we exalt vile men – and vile ideas of manhood – in pop culture and public venues, wickedness will abound. This is because society places a premium on conformity. When we glorify such “manly” qualities as insensitivity, over-sensitivity, laziness, workaholism, crudeness, cowardice, anger, and bullying, we should expect a culture of manhood that embraces these attitudes. And I think the opposite is true: if we exalt godly manhood in the cultures of our homes, we will by and large raise godly men.
Finally, here are a few questions that we all need to ask ourselves, whether we are striving to grow more Christlike ourselves, or are seeking to raise the godly men of future generations:
- What’s the “value system” currently in place in your home? Is a high value put on godly character and loving the Lord, or is success determined based on a career, financial goals, athletic excellence, etc.? The set of values that drive your home life will be the set of values that become important to your children as they grow into adults.
- Who gets more input into your home life? Pop culture, or the Word of God? Your web browser or your Bible? Your Facebook/Twitter feed, or your Bible app?
- What kind of role models get exalted in your home? This can be anyone from the star of a sitcom to a godly grandparent. Remember, you get what you ask for, and you ask for what you exalt.
The raging controversy during the 1970s and 1980s was the inerrancy of Scripture. Theologians from the early church fathers to scholars today have affirmed that all Scripture is inspired and true, including the history, geography, dates, names and every single word. Men such as Carl F.H. Henry, James M. Boice, J.I. Packer, John MacArthur (Sr. and Jr.), Francis Schaeffer, Paige Patterson, Robert D. Preus, and W.A. Criswell gathered together during October 1978 to finalize the Chicago statement on inerrancy. Can I Trust the Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul is the commentary of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.
The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy starts with five short sentences on Scripture’s divine origin, verbal, plenary inspiration and full and unmitigated inerrancy. The statement continues by offering nineteen articles of affirmation and denials explicitly laying out what the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy is saying (Affirmations) and what it is not saying (denials) about the doctrine of Scripture. In Can I Trust the Bible? Dr. R.C. Sproul elaborates on and defends not only the Chicago statement on inerrancy but provides historical context on why the issues of the authority, revelation, inspiration, inerrancy and truthfulness of Scripture matter and then concludes with explaining how a proper understanding of the Word of God is important to individual believers and the health of the local and corporate church.
Can I Trust the Bible is a very helpful, but short book about a very important document the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. This is a great book for the new believer or the more seasoned ministry leader to learn more about the debates surrounding the doctrine of Scripture. Whether you are new to the debates surrounding the Bible or whether you are well read on the debates surrounding inerrancy, Can I Trust the Bible will help you to think through the doctrine of Scripture’s authority, inspiration, inerrancy and sufficiency. I recommend you read this book to be equipped on an issue fundamental to biblical Christianity.
Title: Can I Trust the Bible? (Crucial Questions Series) (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul
Publisher: Reformation Trust 2009
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the Reformation Trust. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and a brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
Reading this passage got me thinking: What’s one of the easiest ways to discredit the truth?
With a false witness.
Paul, Silas and Luke are in Philippi, where they were to do ministry. Meanwhile, this slave girl with a “spirit of divination” shows up (read: she’s a demon possessed fortune-teller), and starts following them and shouting that “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
The thing that’s interesting is she’s telling the truth.
They are servants of the Most High God, and they are there to proclaim to the Philippians the way of salvation.
She does this solely to hinder their work.
This girl, a slave, has made her owners rich with her fortune-telling. No doubt she’d have something of a reputation for being accurate. So by following them and telling the truth about who they are, she could very easily be assumed to be part of Paul’s team.
Sneaky, isn’t it?
But I have to wonder if it’s still happening today. Here are a couple of examples:
Recently I watched a video of a well-known pastor whose theology is extremely suspect. In this video, he was talking about Job, and God’s response to Job’s demands for answers. And he was, as far as I can recall, actually correct. He got the point of the passage (and communicated it properly). This is a guy who, based on his writing, believes that humanity has authority over Scripture, that we need to believe in ourselves and that social justice is the gospel, among numerous other issues.
But he still got it right.
Another time, I watched a clip of a holy-roller type televangelist, one with a sharp suit and a lot of bling. This guy, at a conference, calls out an “evangelist” as a false teacher, one whose stories of kicking people in the stomach to heal them and falsely saying that Jesus would come make a guest appearance at his circus (only to say “I meant spiritually” when Jesus didn’t show up physically) and adultery are renowned.
The funny thing was, the holy roller was exactly right in everything he said, biblically. Every word.
This guy, who has falsely claimed to heal men and women, told lies, distorted the truth, got it right.
So what’s the deal?
Either these guys, who are really, really messed up in their theology in many areas, are still legit brothers. Or…
I’m not trying to turn this into a paranoid “discernment” ministry website blog post that goes shooting people if they pronounce a word incorrectly or if a pastor makes a minor error. Lord knows, there’s enough of those already. And I’m also not claiming to know what only God knows for certain with the two examples above. But this passage gave me pause.
I wonder if this is part of what Paul was talking about when he told the Ephesian elders that wolves would rise from among even their own number just a few chapters later. That not only would these wolves rise up to devour the flock, but they would be a hindrance to the work of the true church in this way: That as a false witness, who gets so much wrong, but occasionally gets it right, they have the best opportunity to discredit the truth.
I’m not saying we need to start doubting the salvation of those around us or our own for that matter (if you’re a believer, that is. If not, “Hi!”). Frankly, such things are dishonoring to Christ. But we should always pause to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to bring to light anything that’s conflicting in our actions and beliefs.
Do we have a pattern of behavior that serves no purpose but to hinder the gospel?
Do we continue to run unabated into dangerous theological ground, refusing to heed correction from pastor, friends and (ultimately) Scripture?
Or, do we seek repentance for our incorrect doctrine and our sinful patterns that are a stumbling block on the way to the stumbling block of Christ?
Do we ultimately, as our deepest desire, want to see Jesus made great?
Some things to think about.
(Originally posted on Blogging Theologically)
Nehemiah 8:9-12 falls within a section beginning at Nehemiah 8:1 and ending in Nehemiah 10:39. This section of the book is about the reading of the Law and Covenant renewal. In this section, the Book of the Law is read, the Feast of Booths is kept and a great act of covenant renewal is performed. For the first time in Nehemiah, Ezra enters the narrative. This section shows the unity of his and Nehemiah’s projects. With the walls securely in place, the centrality of the Mosaic Law is once again made prominent, since it is not security alone that is essential to the life of the community, not even the temple, but trust in God and obedience to God’s Word as revealed through Moses.
Nehemiah 8:9-12 is where the people are called to be joyful. Though sorrow for sin was a positive response, joy at renewed relationship with God was the teaching’s ultimate purpose. In verse 9, Nehemiah and Ezra together decide that this holy day (Lev 23:24) should be one of joy, though the reading has led many to sense the need to repent of their sins. They wept as they heard the words of the Law because when they heard and understood God’s law, they understood their violations of it. These were not tears of joy, but penitent sorrow which came forth as they were grieved by conviction over the distressing manifestations of sin in transgressing the Lord’s commands and the consequent punishments they had suffered in their captivity.
In verse 10 it says the joy of the Lord is your strength. As the people rejoiced in God and delighted in his presence, he would show himself strong to help them and defend them. Joy was a key because God had saved Israel, in both the remote and the recent past, and this story of salvation would have been told again in the reading of the book of the Law. In verse 12 it says eat, drink and send portions. These are important themes of worship in Deuteronomy, where worship was associated with God’s rich gifts and the privilege of sharing them (Deut. 12:12; 14:23, 26, 27-29). The event called for a day of holy worship to prepare them for the hard days ahead (Neh. 12:43) so they were encouraged to rejoice. The words they had heard did remind them that God punishes sin, but also that God blesses obedience. That was the reason to celebrate. They had not been utterly destroyed as a nation in spite of their sin and were, by God’s grace, on the brink of a new beginning. That called for a celebration. God’s Word is a doubled edged sword. The Word of God pierces into the innermost thoughts and motivations of our hearts, but it does so to bring us to repentance. Not only does the Word convict us but it also reproves us, corrects us, and encourages us.
The people who heard the Word through Ezra wept because they recognized their need for God. Central to worship of God is the hearing and responding to His Word. When the Word is preached to you, do sit attentively with your Bible open and with ears to hear what the Lord has to say through His appointed servant? Ezra does not stop the people from being sorrowful rather he calls them to joy in the Lord. He says, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength”. He does not just leave them with the Law but rather comforts them and assures them. As believers we have been called to the ministry of reconciliation. This means bringing the bad news of God’s judgment upon sin but we must never stop at proclaiming bad news. The bad news of the Gospel it has been said makes the good news of the Gospel that much more glorious. The good news of the Gospel is that God forgives sinners and calls them to Himself so that He can save them. The Lord wants people to find a superior joy in knowing Himself. Ezra stresses that the joy of the Lord is your strength. He says this into a context where the people of Israel have experienced great difficulty and in the future (Neh. 12:43) will continue to experience difficulty. Nehemiah 8:10 teaches that believers must know the joy of the Lord as their strength.
J.C. Ryle said that, “Growth in grace is one way to be happy in our religion. God has wisely linked together our comfort and our increase in holiness.” As believers grow in grace they will grow in joy. The Truth of Christianity is not dull and mundane but is joyful. Christianity is joyful because of Christ. Christ forgives people of their sin. He gives them a new heart, a new identity and a new name. Christ calls believers to live out their new identity in Christ. Christ is sanctifying a people for His own name. Christ is the One who offers joy. Often times as Christians, we forget that the joy of the Lord is our strength. We forget to rely on the God, and when that happens our Christianity becomes joyless rather than joyful.
People all around us everyday are watching to see if our Christianity is different. Our Christianity ought to be different because every day the joy of the Lord is our strength. Every day the mercies of the Lord are new. Every day we have a chance to grab hold of and rely on through enabling work of the Spirit, the joy of the Lord. The people of God ought to be a joyful people. We ought to be joyful because our sins have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God! We ought to be a joyful people even in the midst of hard times because Jesus has risen again from the grave to give us new life! We ought to be a joyful people because King Jesus stands at the Right hand of the Father interceding for His own. Are you joyful today my brother or sister in Christ? In what areas are you lacking joy?
It was once said of a famous preacher from Scotland that before he would preach he would run up and down the list of his former sins. He did this because it helped to remind him of all that God has done in his life. Many of you today need to run down a list of your former or present sins and return to the Lord. Many of you need to return to your first love in Jesus Christ. You need do so because you know your Christianity is joyless rather than joyful. Christianity is not a duty filled religion- it is a joy-filled relationship with God. God has saved you from your own sin and rebellion. He did this to display His name and fame in and through your life, for His glory. Are you going to live a duty-filled Christianity or a joy-filled Christianity? The Lord invites you to be joyful, but first you need to see your need for Him by recognizing your sin, which will enable you to see all that He has done for you- is for you to have joy in Him.