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It’s inevitable. People are going to hurt us. Even those close to you. In fact, perhaps especially those close to you.

With every hurt, there is the potential to wake the bitterness monster. He’s a light sleeper. And he’s more clever than we think. Even a small relationship scuffle is enough to arouse him into action. We mustn’t underestimate him.

Bitterness: hurt incurred from either real or perceived offense, gone unchecked, and allowed to continue by failure to apply biblical principles and thinking to the hurt, resulting in hatred and resentment.

Bitterness is the quick fix for the flesh. Dealing biblically with conflict and hurt becomes too much work. So, like a spiritual pusher, bitterness offers a quick high. But, though it delivers for a moment, it destroys in the long run.

To be sure, real hurt occurs far too often through atrocities such as abuse and criminal acts. In these cases, fighting bitterness can be excruciating. Even and especially so, God extends comforting and transforming grace for the greatest of life’s hurts (cf. Gen. 50:20).

But often, bitterness slips in and sows it seeds in the thousands of smaller moments and battles of normal life. For that reason, we must be on guard. Christian, we have got to resist this one. And repent. It is a killer.

Here are a few ways that I have been helped in my own battles with bitterness:

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In a now famous hall of fame speech Deion Sanders told us exactly what motivated him to become one of the greatest football players of all time. What kept him sprinting when he was exhausted? What got him up at four am every morning when he was tired? What gave him the extra strength to do ten more push-ups when the average person would just give up? The answer? His Mama. He said,

I was ashamed of my Mama. My Mama worked in a hospital. She pushed a cart in a hospital. I was ashamed of my Mama, who sacrificed everything for me to make sure I was best-dressed in school. One of my friends in high school saw her pushing a cart and clowned me because of my Mama. So I made a pledge to myself that I don’t care what it takes, I’m not gonna do anything illegal, but my Mama would never have to work another day of her life.

As motivated as Deion Sanders was, his motivation paled in comparison to the disciples. Peter, John and the rest were arguably the most motivated people in history. They were bold, courageous and literally turning the world upside down.

Peter CrucifixionThen you add John 20:18 and it changes everything. Jesus says,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.

Jesus tells Peter that he will die on a cross. That is the only way to explain that verse. Well, reading his five sermons in Acts (Acts 2:14-39; Acts 3:11-4:4; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-32; Acts 10:34-43) takes a whole new meaning when you include the fact that he knew he could die at any moment. This could be his last sermon.

So what motivated these guys? How can we be as bold as they were?

Well in order to see what motivated them we don’t need to look further than the first eleven verses of the book of Acts. Here are four powerful truths that made the disciples the boldest individuals in history.

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sound slidersOn 27 August 1883, the earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since. It was 10:02 AM on the island of Krakatoa. The erupting volcano was heard nearly 3,500 miles away in Mauritius. That’s like someone in New York hearing a noise coming from London, taking about four hours to cover that distance. A barometer in Batavia, 100 miles away, registered a spike in air pressure from which they calculated the sound at 188 decibels, an unimaginably loud noise, which ruptured the eardrums of sailors 40 miles away. The air pressure spike caused by the eruption was detected in weather stations of 50 cities, every 34 hours, for five days. This means that the sound waves circled the earth four times.

But there is something that generates an impact that reverberates through this world, the spiritual realm, and the Universe: a joyful church.

FROM PSALM 100: THREE WAYS EVERY CHURCH MUST WORSHIP

  1. God’s people are called to worship him… JOYFULLY

Ps 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Every year my wife asks me what I want for my birthday. I’m a sucker for a good pair of athletic, foot-hugging socks. But for some reason socks seem beneath her standard of what a birthday gift should attain. So, inevitably, the day after my birthday I go out and buy myself the coveted accoutrement of good socks.

When God tells us what he desires us to offer him, we might be tempted to improve on the idea. Historically well-intentioned church leaders have concocted ideas of what God should have asked for in church worship services: flowing robes, stiff collars, pointy hats, golden staffs, elaborate rituals, holy water, Jedi-like gestures, tinkling bells, stations of the cross, confessional booths, etc., etc., etc.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. God tells us what he wants. He likes noise. Not just a cacophony of decibels for the sake of it, he wants our noise to be an expression of what is in our heart—a joyful noise, marinated in truth and generated by our spirits (John 4:24) directed toward worshipping him alone for who he is and what he’s done. And he likes it loud.

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“Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown . . .”
– Philippians 4:1 –

Laurel CrownThe way Paul addresses the Philippians in this verse is unparalleled in his writings. It is a piling up of no less than five terms of endearment, and it illustrates the love and affection that can and should exist between believers. Over the past few Fridays, we’ve looked at the first three of those designations and the implications they have for the relationship between fellow believers (see here: brethren, beloved, longed for). Today we come to the final two, which are particularly noteworthy.

His Joy

He calls the Philippians themselves his joy. And that is a striking designation for a number of reasons. First, given Paul’s overwhelming emphasis on joy throughout the letter (there is some reference to joy and rejoicing 16 times in these four short chapters), it’s significant that he would identify his joy as the Philippians themselves. It’s also striking, secondly, because of where Paul is as he expresses that the Philippians are his joy: chained 18 inches away from a Roman soldier under house arrest, waiting to stand trial before the Roman Emperor. Paul’s joy is unshakable, because he does not derive his joy from the pleasantness and ease of his circumstances.

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david harp

The book of Psalms begins with the pillars of God’s authority and the reality of his glory. Psalm 1 tells us that blessing comes from wisdom and worship, while Psalm 2 describes God’s authority while it gives a warning for those who would revolt against him.

Then comes Psalms 3–9. Here the book shifts focus, and begins to tell a story of glory lost and glory realized through the life experiences of David.

Psalm 3 introduces the first title in the book of Psalms: “A Psalm of David when he fled from Abshalom his son” (3:1; cf. 2 Sam 15–19). The psalm highlights many people who surround David (3:2, 3, 7, and 8). At the same time, David calls to Yahweh to awake, save him, strike the chin of his enemies and smash their teeth (3:8). As subsequent psalms detail, David particularly feels the burden shame, lamenting the loss of his glory while many enemies surround him.

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I love watching soccer. Believe it or not it is something that I find enjoyable. And before you mock me let me remind you that billions of people across the world enjoy it as well. I love telling the coach of my favorite team how wrong he was in his decision making. I love sharing my opinion with the referee over his decision-making abilities, or his need to visit the ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Let me tell you it is very difficult for me to remain silent while watching my favorite team play. The only problem with all that is that no one can hear me, well maybe my neighbors can, crazy soccer fanbut those involved in the actual outcome of the game can’t. The coach, the players, the referee all have no idea that there is some guy thousands of miles away yelling at them through the television screen.

This spectator mentality is what we see in many churches. Many people show up thinking that the Church is there in order to serve them. In fact if we are honest everyone naturally thinks this way. We all are born thinking that the world exists for our purposes. Many young pastors like me actually encourage this. They set up churches to look like rock-concerts with a mini, story-filled sermon jammed in the middle that will rarely last longer than 20 minutes. The Bible is set aside and the service seems to be geared to make unbelievers feel welcome and comfortable.

The writer of Hebrews has a different mindset. He is convinced that being part of the Church implies being more than a spectator.  In fact, he encourages all believers to be active participants. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we find a famous passage. A passage we usually rush to when we find someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t attend church. While it certainly is the go-to “don’t skip church” passage, it is so much more. In just two short verses we are given five implied commands that could radically change our Sunday morning.

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Stephen Nichols, President of Reformation Bible College, Interviewed John MacArthur on his 5 minutes in church history podcast, and asked him if he were to be stranded on an island which five books would he bring with him?

Here is the transcript of the interview.

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February 1, 2016

Prepare to Die

by Clint Archer

inigo montoy name tagWe all need to take to heart the well-rehearsed injunction of the iconic swordsman, Iñigo Montoya, to the six-fingered man: “Prepare to die!” One way to apply this sage advice is to craft a nifty epitaph for your tombstone. This prevents eccentric relatives with a penchant for rhyming from composing one of these actual examples:

  • Shakespeare: ‘Blessed be he who leaves these stones and cursed be he who moves my bones.’ It is a travesty that the late Bard lies under any prose other than iambic pentameter.
  • In Silver City cemetery, Nevada: ‘Here lies Butch. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger but slow on the draw.’
  • 1880 Nantucket Massachusetts. ‘Under the sod and under the trees lies the body of Jonathan Pease. He is not here, there’s only the pod, Pease shelled out and went to God.’
  • Boothill Cemetery Tombstone Arizona, ‘Here lies Les Moore, 4 slugs from a 44. No less, no more.’

Another way to prepare to die is to ponder the wisdom of Psalm 49.

  1. THE UNIVERSAL NEED TO PREPARE TO DIE

According to the CIA World Factbook 28 of the 29 countries with life expectancies of 60 or less are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I live. Yikes. There are 40 countries boasting octogenarians as their average (Monaco tops the list at 90!). Life expectancy in the USA is 80 (or by reason of pills and procedures 85). But, sadly, there is no nation on earth known for its immortality. The death rate worldwide still holds steady at 100% (Elijah and Enoch notwithstanding).

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Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.
– Philippians 4:1 –

Phil 1;8Over the last few weeks, I’ve been examining each term of endearment that Paul lists in Philippians 4:1, by which he describes his relationship to the believers in the church of Philippi. By looking at this example, we are enriching our understanding of the true nature of the fellowship which fellow believers enjoy with one another. We’ve seen that we are brothers and sisters—marked by a unique, objective, familial bond as a result of our union with Christ. And we’ve seen that we are not merely to tolerate our brothers and sisters, but to love them.

A third term of endearment that teaches us much about the nature of Christian fellowship is best translated as a longer phrase: those whom I long for.

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January 28, 2016

Tor and the Trinity

by Jesse Johnson

Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins, in yellow, stands next to the Rev. Jesse Jackson as she prepares to speak during a Chicago news conference earlier this month.

It started with a hijab during Advent, and ends with a foundational lesson in the Trinity.

Larycia Hawkins, a professor of Politics and International Relations at Wheaton, decided to wear a hijab to her classes. She explained on Facebook that she did this as part of her “advent worship” in order to demonstrate that she:

“Stand[s] solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

In addition to her strange identification of Christians as “people of the book” (which is an Islamic category), her expression of solidarity with Muslims was poorly timed, to say the least.

For many Middle Eastern Christians, the hijab represents the brutal oppression of women by Muslims. Moreover, in much of Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Libya, this was the first Christmas season in 2000 years without Christians to celebrate it. Islamic terrorists (who require women to wear a hijab by law) have essentially eliminated churches through much of the Middle East. So from the comfort and safety of Illinois, an American Professor publically showed “solidarity” with those who are slaughtering Christians by wearing a symbol of Islamic female suppression.   Continue Reading…