Temporary and Lasting Pleasure

I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

Ecclesiastes 2: 1-3

The Teacher turns to pleasure as he begins his search for lasting satisfaction. “I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved to be meaningless (or vapour). ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?’ I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.’”

What he does, in his attempt to find something lasting, is turn to the party atmosphere. It’s the sort of hedonistic attitude that believes that having a good time, all the time, will provide us with a lasting sense of meaning. But he discovers that it doesn’t last. It doesn’t work.

Advertising often tries to convince us that, by buying a particular product, we can improve our lifestyle. Going along with it is a form of escapism. Sports, entertainment and TV, all potentially good in themselves, often seem to be more about shutting our ears to the things we don’t want to hear about – like God, or death. In the same way, drinking and partying can numb us to reality, even if only for a short time. As the saying goes, drinking leaves you as empty as the bottle afterwards. And it’s true, isn’t it? Countless celebrities and other famous people seemingly have everything, and yet they still have a void to fill. They turn to drink, to drugs and to fame to fill it, but all they do is ruin their lives.

As David Hubbard says bluntly, “[Pleasure’s] advertising agency is better than its manufacturing department … one drink, one sexual fling, one contest won, one project accomplished, one wild party – none of these, nor all of them put together, can be enough to bring satisfaction.”

Living for pleasure, whether through drink, drugs, gambling, sex, money, fame, adulation, or success inevitably leads to an addictive need for more and more to feel satisfied. But it never does satisfy! When these things become idols to us, or when they are pursued without regard for God, they bring disappointment and emptiness.

And it is important to realise that this is not only a warning to the godless. Christians are not automatically immune from making an idol out of pleasure. Some Christians are addicted to drink, drugs and pornography. Some waste hours of their lives following television series after television series. Christians – including pastors – were numbered amongst those exposed as potential adulterers by the Ashley Maddison website leak. Sadly, we have grown very comfortable in the West with its culture of prosperity and indulgence.

Christians seek pleasure as much as anyone else, but the difference is that we should know where genuine lasting pleasure is to be found – in Christ alone. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of our struggle as Christians. Will we live for fleeting pleasure now, in this world, or will we live for eternal pleasure later, in the world to come?

Assurance, Justification & Sanctification

How do you know that you are really a Christian?

The trouble with Christians is that they tend to look at themselves too much. The trouble with looking at yourself too much is that you will eventually freak out.

Why? The longer you look at yourself, and I mean truly look at yourself, you will be forced to acknowledge the truth…that you are still a sinner. Not just someone who commits a few sins here and there, not just someone who has a few dark secrets, but a sinner. That is, someone who is very seriously infected with a bias toward evil.

There are only so many excuses you can make before you reach the inevitable conclusion. You’re a fraud. Christians should not think these thoughts, feel these emotions or act in this way. You cannot possibly be a real Christian. Can you?

Don’t Confuse Justification with Sanctification

The problem here is that we look to ourselves for assurance rather than to Christ. When we do this we confuse two categories: justification (our status before God) and sanctification (change in the way we live).

The German Reformer, Martin Luther, wasn’t kidding around when he spoke of Christians being “at the same time both righteous and sinners”. Neither was Paul confused when he described his own experience in Romans 7.

So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The normal Christian is both righteous and sinful, wretched and delivered. How can that be possible? It is possible as long as we don’t confuse justification and sanctification. In terms of our justification, that is our status before God, we are righteous and we are delivered. On the other hand, in terms of our sanctification, the way we live our lives, we are sinful and wretched. We are changing, but we are always affected by our sinful nature.

If we look to the righteousness of our lives for assurance of our salvation we will be unsettled because our lives do not paint a very clear picture of the reality. Our justification does not depend on our sanctification. Rather than look at our ungodly selves, we need to look to Him who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).

 

My favourite resources for family worship.

Family worship and discipleship is something that I have been thinking about a lot recently.

As my children grow up, they are becoming more and more aware that following Jesus is really important to mum and dad. They are also are becoming more and more aware that most of their friends (and their parents) don’t follow Jesus and believe the same things that mum and dad do. This has led to some very interesting conversations after school and around the dinner table. These conversations, however, are mostly few and far between and I am constantly aware that I need to be far more deliberate in the way I prepare my children to live as exiles and strangers in a fallen world.

Trial and error has been the name of the game. Ultimately the only way to find out what works best for your household is to try different things and stick at them long enough to develop a routine.

Liz and I have tried quite a few different resources over the years and some have stood out very clearly above the others. Here are my top five resources for family worship and discipleship.

CHILDREN’S BIBLES

The-Beginners-Bible-for-Toddlers1. The Beginners Bible For Toddlers

This has been by far the best option for our children when they were younger and remains a favourite to this day. It has been a pleasant surprise at every turn, showing great skill and insight in simplifying bible passages whilst also remaining faithful. The chapters are a perfect length for holding the attention of little minds.

2. The Big Picture Story Bible275-545-2

This is suitable for older toddlers and features great artwork. It is based on the biblical theology of Graeme Goldsworthy and is great for teaching your children about how the Bible fits together. It’s more than a Bible overview. It’s an exposition of the Bible’s overarching storyline. I recommend it for adults and children alike as an introduction to biblical theology.

61U4WWGzkcL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_3. The Jesus Storybook Bible

This is a little more in-depth than the others and the sections are slightly longer so it didn’t really work for us until our oldest children were 4-5 years old. Now they really love it. It is also fantastic for showing how the Old Testament characters point to Jesus.

OTHER BOOKS

4. Everything a Child Should Know About God9781909611627

We call this the “Breakfast Bible” in our house. Well we used to. It’s not a Bible so that nickname was slightly misleading and we have momentarily misplaced it. It got the nickname because we left it on our table in the kitchen where we have breakfast so that we could look at it over a bowl of Honey-Nut Crunch. It doesn’t take long and the kid’s love it which made it the perfect resource for our chaotic morning routine.

MUSIC

00007495915. Colin Buchanan

My son, who was about 4 at the time watched the “God Rocks” dvd for about 8 hours straight in the car on our journey from London to the south of France. This trend continued through the holiday and the return journey. I’m not kidding. Even now, years later, he is downstairs listening to the new easter album “Boss of the Cross” and singing along. It’s just awesome.

If there are other resource that you think should be on this list then I would love to hear about it.

 

There But for the Grace of God Go I

It is a common phrase, and I am sure you have heard it many times over: There but for the grace of God go I. You may hear it especially frequently when a scandal erupts. We look at the person whose life or family or ministry has imploded and say softly, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It is a phrase of humility, isn’t it? It is a phrase acknowledging that only God’s grace keeps me from experiencing the deepest, ugliest scandal. God has extended his favor to me and I am the joyful beneficiary of this sin-defeating grace. But I don’t much like the phrase. I will grant that there is a sense in which it describes the truth. There is a sense in which I am completely dependent upon the grace of God so that if God does not continually extend his gospel grace to me, I will go completely off the rails. It is all of God’s grace. But the sanctifying grace that God gives is not a standing-still kind of grace. It is not expressed only through a sovereign and monergistic act of God. There is a kind of surrender in the saying that negates or neglects the simple fact that I am called to battle sin. I am not to passively rely upon the grace of God, as if that grace alone, without any action on my part, will protect me from all sin. God does not confer scandal-busting grace each morning that I just sit back and receive, hoping it is enough to defeat the day’s sin. Rather, he calls upon me to receive his grace and to be obedient to his Word. He gives the grace to obey. This is not a grace I receive passively, but a grace I act on and act out. The phrase admits a level of defeat, as if the subject of this scandal was doing everything right and then, in a moment, God removed his grace, and left the man crashing to the ground. But that’s never the way these things work. Look closely at any scandal and you will see a long relaxing of standards, a long pattern of declining holiness and increasing sinfulness. The scandalous man had stopped obeying God. In some part of his life he had stopped caring about obeying God. I don’t want to model my life after a “There but for the grace of God go I” kind of person. I want to model my life after a man who battles hard against every appearance and manifestation of sin. I want to model my life after a man who receives and revels in the grace of God and then exerts every effort in actively, tenaciously putting sin to death. I want to model my life after the kind of man who can humbly say, “That sin is unthinkable to me.” I know that the root of that sin, whatever the sin, is somewhere within me. I know that without God’s grace I could not only fall into it, but dive headlong. And yet I am not intimidated by the sin because I am fleeing from it, I am putting the very first traces of it to death, I am acting on God’s grace as he so kindly extends it. I am calling out for his help and joining him in this battle, in this war. There but for the grace of God go I? Yes and no. There I would go if God did not extend his gospel mercy. There I may go if I do not take hold of his holiness-motivating, sin-battling grace. Image credit: Shutterstock

Source: There But for the Grace of God Go I

God’s Not Really That Holy, I’m Not Really That Bad

The following blog post was written by Tim Challies…

How do you know that you really get the gospel, that you really understand and believe it? Or perhaps better said, how do you know that the gospel has really gotten you, that it has taken hold of you and begun to permanently transform you? I found myself pondering this question last week and was soon thinking about people I have known who once professed faith, but who eventually grew cold, grew distant, and fell away. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you, too, have known people like this. Over time it became clear that their faith had been a mirage. They had deceived the people around them, but they had first deceived themselves. And any time I see these people fall away I am left asking, What would have marked them as true believers? How could I have known that they really got the gospel? How could they have known that they really got the gospel? Maybe it would have been this: You know that you really get the gospel when it is God’s grace rather than God’s wrath that amazes you. I often hear people express their amazement and even their disgust at the very notion of a wrathful God. But when I hear true believers, I hear them express amazement at the reality of a gracious God. It is grace, not wrath, that baffles them. “Why? Why me? Why would God extend such grace to me?” This is, I think, why John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” has remained such a popular and powerful hymn. Newton’s cry was “amazing grace.” Wrath did not surprise or offend him. He knew of his wretchedness, his own deep depravity. He was already convicted that he was fully deserving of God’s justice. So it was grace that shocked him. It was grace that seemed so out-of-place. If there was any offense to the gospel it was that God would take the sin of a very bad man like John Newton and place it on the perfect man Jesus Christ. You know that you really get it when the shocking thing about the gospel is not that God extends wrath to sinners, but that he extends grace. And here’s why: The basic human condition is to believe that God isn’t really all that holy and that I’m not really that bad. God is lenient toward sin, and, as it happens, I am not really all that deeply sinful anyway. So we are a good match, God and I. It takes no faith to believe that. It takes no great change of mind and heart. But the gospel unmasks that kind of delusion. The gospel helps us see things as they really are. The gospel says that God really is far holier than I dared even imagine and that I am far more sinful than I ever could have guessed. And, right there—with the right assessment of both God and me—right there the gospel blazes forth. Right there the gospel gives hope. (Once again I’m indebted to Michael Kruger’s lectures on Romans)

Source: God’s Not Really That Holy, I’m Not Really That Bad