Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

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Friday

22

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Are Happiness and Joy the Same? 

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o-HAPPINESS-IMAGES-HAPPINESS-PHOTOS-facebookA common teaching among Christians for the last 100 years has been that happiness and joy are not the same thing. On the one hand, happiness is fleeting and circumstantial, while joy has its roots in something more substantial. Happiness is a fun, bouncy feeling that comes and goes based upon one’s circumstances. However, joy is an inner quality of delight in God that springs up within the Christian regardless of the adversities or circumstances of life.

But are these distinctions true? Does scriptural evidence support such an understanding?  I have come to believe that the Bible does not support such a separation, and that it adversely affects our communication of the gospel as a message that doesn’t really meet the deepest longings of our heart.

Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness has done much to help me eliminate the competition often presented between joy and happiness.  I would recommend his book as a “must read.” I took six months in 2020 to work through the 450 pages and extensive footnotes. It was worth every effort as Alcorn made his case that joy and happiness are in fact synonyms and used together in Scripture to describe the same experience.  My purpose in this post is to share a few thoughts I hope will help recover what it means to be happy in Christ.  (more…)

Thursday

14

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

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The events of the past year have been a profound wake-up call for the second coming of Jesus Christ. No escapism in that claim, only blessed hope. No bizarre predictions of when Christ will return because they are always wrong. Only settled conviction that the promises of Jesus’ return fill the New Testament with the triumph of the Kingdom of God over all rivals.

The pandemic and political upheaval of 2020 is yet another reminder of the groaning of this creation, and our need for redemption found in Christ alone.  Jesus taught that there would be precursors, or birth pains, prior to his coming. He spoke of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines all serving as the labor pains of this fallen world. (Mark 13:7-18; the Apostle Paul as well, Romans 8:22)

Jesus referred to his second coming over twenty times in the gospel accounts. The New Testament writers mentioned Christ’s return in nearly every book. Jesus offered his most endearing  promises within the context of his return (John 14:1-6).

Thoughts of Christ’s return ushered me to the book of Revelation recently where I was reminded of the future gathering of God’s people called, “The marriage supper of the Lamb.”  The Apostle John describes this glorious event, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,  “Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God  the Almighty reigns.  7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,  for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;  8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:6-8) (more…)

Thursday

7

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Every Year the Year of the Bible-2021

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dusty-bible-1I’m resuming a regular blog schedule this year that will hopefully be a weekly encouragement to press on to the high calling of God in your life.  At the top of that pursuit would be a life committed to a regular intake of Scripture.

For some years now, I have offered a message in which I challenge the FBCG family to consider fresh commitments to bring the word of God into their lives. I have called this message, usually preached on the last Sunday of the year, “Every Year the Year of the Bible.” I just can’t think of a greater commitment than an ongoing pursuit of knowing, savoring, applying, and obeying the message of Scripture.

I am writing as one who loves the Bible!  It has been a major part of my life since the summer of 1985 when I first began to read it.  At that time, I was a halfway through my college studies, and I can remember the burden I felt regarding my sin.  I would not have been able to articulate this burden at the time, only that I knew that my life was not right, with God or others.

On a park bench in my hometown, I began to call out to God for the first time in my twenty years of life. I began to read the Bible, which I previously viewed as a book for someone else in a past generation. However, as I began to read the Scripture and the claims of Jesus Christ, I was captivated by this book.  Slowly conviction formed, and I began to see that the Bible was not an archaic book, but a treasure given from the living God who cared about every detail of my life. I began to see that the Bible revealed God as sovereign and gracious and wise and holy.

On one particular Wednesday night that summer, I attended a Bible study and the pastor was teaching from Matthew 11:28-30 where Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

That evening my heart was “strangely warmed,” to quote John Wesley’s conversation experience, and I was born again.  The summer of 1985 was the beginning of a journey with the Bible that has continued to this day. My experience has fueled my efforts as a pastor to offer strong challenge to the FBCG family in bringing the Scriptures into our daily walk with Christ. (more…)

Thursday

29

October 2020

0

COMMENTS

Be Anxious For Nothing

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Pic-Anxiety and StressThose who produce the YouVersion Bible App have posted in recent years the Bible verse that was most often shared, bookmarked, and highlighted in a given year. Not surprisingly, the most sought out verses had themes dealing with fear and anxiety.

In 2017, the most popular verse with YouVersion was Joshua 1:9 which is set in the context of Joshua leading Israel into the Promised Land.  Moses had died, and the Lord said to Joshua, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  Four times in this chapter, God would say to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous!” (vv. 6,7,9, 18) Why the quad-peat? Because Joshua was fearful, intimidated, and anxious about what was before him. In a gracious display of God’s care for His people, the Lord spoke His word into Joshua’s fear.

In 2018, Isaiah 41:10 won the most popular verse for that year. This verse offers an incredible promise to those who quake under their circumstances. The Lord says to His covenant people who are troubled, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (more…)

Monday

20

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Book Conversation #4: J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Today is the final reading summary on the J-Curve by Paul Miller. I put this work by Miller high on the list of books that I have read that have fed my soul and helped me in my day-to-day walk with Christ.  The J-Curve is a simple visual to describe a fundamental aspect of the Christian life, namely as believers in Jesus Christ, we can expect to follow the pattern of His life. The life of Christ in us is our power and hope.

We covered a major section of the book this past week, which included important application including “The Art of J-Curve Living” (28), and Part 5 which focused on “Forming a J-Curve Community.” I appreciated Millers treatment of I Corinthians in the entire discussion on forming community as believers in Jesus.

In the Afterword, Miller wrote as he sought to comfort and help his daughter Ashley in her battle with cancer: “I reminded Ashley that God works in stories that are just like the story of Jesus. Like Jesus, we go through death and then resurrection. In death, we don’t know how or when a resurrection will occur.”

Miller was not speaking necessarily of physical death, but in the many ways God brings trials and challenges into our lives for the purpose of conforming us into the image of Christ.  Although in the case of Miller’s daughter, Ashley, she did die in her battle with cancer.  This is the ultimate reality of the believer’s resurrection hope.

The Apostle Paul wrote plainly about how believers should regard death and the future. To the Corinthians he declared “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8). To the Philippians, he penned from prison, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

Miller described in the closing paragraph of the book, “Whenever I describe the J-Curve to believers who are going through hard times (most everyone), they almost immediately brighten up. Suddenly, they have hope and meaning, even a hint of glory—they sense their story is part of his larger story. That’s the way the Christian life is meant to feel.”

The J-Curve helped bring a connection between the believer’s future hope in Christ with the daily challenges that make up our lives.  As I process Miller’s careful treatment of Scripture and helpful application, the simplicity of the J-Curve is its genius. This work is a great gift to God’s people in our pursuit to know Him and to follow in the marks of His wounded feet.

Here are a couple of links online that are helpful:

https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-the-j-curve/

https://vimeo.com/287514611 -Enjoyable video with Paul and his daughter Kim sharing about the experience of traveling to Florida described in Chapter 1- “I’ll Never Do This Again.”

Thanks for reading with me!

Rejoice,

 

Pastor Jim Law

Wednesday

8

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Book Conversation #3: J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life by Paul Miller

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Glad to be back for our weekly post on the J-Curve by Paul Miller. Our reading target for this week was chapters 14-23. My effort below will be to list a number of bullet point themes from this large section of reading. I would encourage you to do the same and feel free to post to the blog if you have comments or questions.

In the J-Curve, Paul Miller has given a deliberate effort to connect the believer, through our union with Jesus Christ, into a hope-filled journey as we live by faith in “the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.” (Galatians 2:20)  The chapters this week contain some helpful teaching as we process the various challenges of life. Specifically, as followers of Christ how are we to think and respond when trials and suffering inevitably confront us.

Chapter 14- Miller provides a wonderful illustration about “Kayla” who served in a special needs camp at her own expenses and was brought into a controversy at the camp that was very painful. Miller with great precision links Kayla’s suffering to the descent of Jesus through the incarnation.

Miller writes, the Apostle “Paul’s imagination was so captivated by Jesus’ descent into love that he created a work of art, a poem. His poem tells the story of Jesus, the original J-Curve, and then applies it to our lives.”  Of course, Miller was referring to the familiar passage in Philippians 2:5-11, which he refers to as “The Descent of Love.”

Kayla’s suffering was “relatively mild,” but, I believe Miller’s conclusion is right for many in the church, “it’s in small incidents like this, when we’ve tried to do our best and then everything goes south, that we struggle to live out our faith.  Often, the accumulated slights of low-level suffering operate like a hidden cancer, souring our relationships and suffocating our soul. Knowing the patterns of the love J-Curve is helpful, even liberating.”

This observation is a wake-up call for slumbering saints that somehow we can get through life and escape suffering. Miller notes, “Even small acts of love…increase the possibility of suffering…our control decreases…suffering chooses us.” We are called to follow in the marks of Christ’s wounded feet.  Miller concludes, “One of Scripture’s most basic rules is what happens to Jesus, happens to us.” (more…)

Wednesday

1

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

Book Conversation #2: “J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life”

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Glad to have back for our weekly post on our current read through J-Curve by Paul Miller. This week our reading target was chapters 5-13, which covered a number of rich doctrinal truths and helpful illustrations for the living of the Christian life.

In chapter 1, Miller defined the J-curve as the shape of the normal Christian life as our lives follow Jesus’s. By mirroring Jesus’ life, Miller presents the J-Curve as containing: 1.) some kind of suffering in which evil is weakened or killed; 2.) weaken the flesh and form us into the image of Jesus; and 3.) lead to a real-time, present resurrection.

Chapters 5-13

“In Harvard” was the title of chapter 5. Miller points to our union with Christ which is a common picture of a believer’s relationship with Jesus found in the New Testament. The apostle Paul references this union as a believer being “in Christ,” a term he uses over 170 times.

For Miller, his aspirations of being “In Harvard” was a point of boasting in his achievement, but to be “in Christ” is to follow Paul’s example of boasting in Christ and His righteousness alone. We can substitute many things for “Harvard” in our lives, but at the heart of following Jesus is finding our righteousness in Him and responding to the trials of life by trusting in Christ alone.

Chapter 6 provides a timely example of how suffering comes in many forms for the believer and are brought by God to sanctify us. Miller mentions the trial his daughter Emily faced when she was put on the bench during her field hockey season. This chapter provided much needed correctives on our attitude toward sports and the setbacks that can come in that arena. The application included any idol that we embrace in this world.  What did you think of Miller’s response to the mother who expressed outrage at the coach’s treatment? This mother’s response is common, “’I can’t believe what the coach is doing with Emily and her friend.’ I (Miller) said, ‘I’m actually thankful Emily has this low-level suffering on my watch. Life is much more like sitting on the bench than starring in a game.’”  (more…)

Wednesday

25

March 2020

0

COMMENTS

Book Conversation: “J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life”

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71SZ-b7CKsL._AC_UY436_QL65_ML3_Some years ago, I read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life, which had a tremendous impact upon me. When I saw Miller’s latest book J-Curve released last summer, it has been on my “must read” list.  With the virus crisis upon us, and our interaction being confined to online communication, we thought it would be good to offer a reading club among the FBCG family (and beyond) to help redeem our time in these days.  It is never wrong to give a challenge to read good books, and J-Curve thus far is meeting my expectations.

For the next few weeks, I will offer a brief post providing a summary of the chapters read with questions from the reading material. I am committed to keep the post between 500-800 words because I don’t want you to be reading two books:) I will post on my blog www.jamesblaw.com where you can give comments or questions. My goal is to break up the reading so we finish on Wednesday, April 15th which ends up being a little over one chapter a day from this point forward. So, for the next three weeks the reading schedule will be:

*Chapters 5-13-   Wednesday, April 1

*Chapters 14-23- Wednesday, April 8

*Chapters 24-32- Wednesday, April 15

Miller begins with an account of taking his special needs daughter, Kim, on a speaking engagement with him. There were a number of struggles along the way as they navigated the airport, and once they boarded the plane. Miller found himself through this trying time saying what we all have said at one time or another, “This was a mistake, I will never do this again.”

From this experience, Miller brings to daily life how the death and resurrection of Christ impacts the life of the believer in our responses to trials and challenges of life. Miller references the “J-Curve” as an idea that was “frequently articulated by the apostle Paul, that the normal Christian life repeatedly re-enacts the dying and rising of Jesus. I call it the J-Curve because, like the letter J, Jesus’s life first went down into death, then up into resurrection.  Just like the earthly life of Jesus the J ends higher than it starts. It’s the pattern not only of Jesus’s life, but of our lives—of our everyday moments.”

This provides a fresh perspective on sanctification as God uses trials in our lives, points of irritation, to conform us into the image of Christ. When we feel everything has gone wrong, the J-Curve is to be the shape of the normal Christian life as our lives are to mirror Jesus’s.

By mirroring Jesus’ life, Miller presents the J-Curve as containing:

1. some kind of suffering in which evil is weakened or killed;

2. weaken the flesh and form us into the image of Jesus;

3. lead to a real-time, present resurrection.

Miller went on in these chapters to mention the following, how did these topics challenge you?

*In recounting the trip he took with his daughter Kim, could your relate to his comment, “I was far too concerned with how I looked, In fact, my desire to hide my ‘seeJesus’ box…showed I was ashamed of him.”

*He mentioned the “rising tide of unbelief and lure of secular liberalism” touching almost every Christian home…. “Fifty years ago, we called the occasional child who walked away from the faith a black sheep. Now almost every Christian home has children walking away from the faith.” Do you think that is too pessimistic? What is should our response be?

*Miller mentioned “feelism” as the mode of operation for many in our culture, and even in the church. By “feelism” he was referring to how decisions are made in life by, “How does it make me feel?” Why is that deadly? As followers of Jesus Christ what should be the foundation for decisions? What should guide our moral grid? How should these Scriptures inform a believer’s worldview: Matthew 5:17-20; Luke 6:46?

*Miller writes, “My goal is to draw you, the reader, into the dying and rising of Jesus—to reset your sense of the normal Christian life, freeing you from cynicism and despair. Inhabiting the J-Curve promises to transform your entire vision of how you engage life, freeing you from the world of resentment, touchiness, and just plain old grumpiness, and inviting you into Jesus’s world, a world rich with joy, hope, and love.” Has chapters 1-4 been moving you in this direction?

*What were you thoughts on the story of “Ed” and the “Dixie Cup”? How does this challenge you to love in the relationships of your life?

Look forward to hearing from you. Will post again next Wednesday.

Rejoice,

Pastor Jim Law

Friday

6

March 2020

0

COMMENTS

Onesiphorus: Who Often Refreshed Me

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imageIn last week’s post, I referenced relationships in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Scripture does not hold back from the good and the painful, and Paul’s relationship with Demas was certainly a sorrow. In the final chapter of his final New Testament epistle, Paul mentions Demas with these parting words, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10)

Paul’s ministry was marked by crushing disappointments, as well as great joys and triumphs. There are a number of instances in his letters where he writes about those who stood in the gap on his behalf. Men and women who cared for him when life and ministry were hard.

In Romans 16, Paul references 27 men and women by name along with many others associated with them. His network of friends was vital to sustaining the demands of his ministry.  How can we not be moved by these references in Romans 16 where he spoke of these brothers and sisters with such love: (more…)

Friday

28

February 2020

0

COMMENTS

Demas: Who Loved this Present World

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imageSometimes the Bible contains short expressions that become the subject of volumes of printed pages with each new generation.  I think of the question God asked to Adam and Eve after their disobedience in the Garden of Eden. The first couple were the crown of God’s creation and had experienced unhindered fellowship with God. Now, in paradise lost, they are hiding in the bushes, fearful and ashamed. God asks, “Where are You?” (Genesis 3:9)

In the Gospel of John, John describes the scene at the tomb of Lazarus. In an economy of words, the text reads, “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35) Not only is it the shortest verse in the English Bible, but it pulls from the deepest reservoirs of theology. The tears of Jesus on this occasion were an expression of pain for the devastating effects of sin on the human race, but the episode ends with hope through Christ who is the resurrection and the life.

Another short phrase that has gripped me this week is found in 2 Timothy 4:10 which reads, “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Paul’s take on Demas’ defection was that he loved the offerings of this world more than the demands of following Jesus Christ. When given the opportunity, Demas was gone!

One of the greatest challenges in the Christian life is to live in the world, and at the same time not be of the world.  In John 17, Jesus poured out His heart to the Father as He prayed for Himself (vv. 1-5); for the disciples (vv. 6-19); and for those who would believe (vv. 20-26). In this heart cry to the Father, Jesus said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Demas serves as a warning to the slow fade of apostasy.  If we are not in the steady discipline of renewing our minds through personal worship and engaged Body life, we can get tired of serving, tired of the battle. We can grow weary of temptation and say, “I’ve had enough, and I want to coast in the world.” (more…)