Drawing Near

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

Author Archive

Monday

20

April 2020

0

COMMENTS

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

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

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

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

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”

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

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”

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

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

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Leadership

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

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

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…)

Friday

21

February 2020

2

COMMENTS

Condemnation? Never!

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Family

3905In the last couple of posts I have taken opportunity to address my FBCG family with some reflections on our recent Life Action Summit. This event in the life of our church will no doubt be an important marker in our journey as a Body. My focus in these short deposits has been to identify the battle we face with our flesh and with the strategies of the evil one. These posts are offered as pastoral reminders of the importance of pressing on in obedience in the Christian life, and especially in specific areas that have come to us in the recent Summit.  How often Jesus spoke in simple terms on our need to follow Him,  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)

In this final post-Summit article, I want to focus on the issue of guilt and how that can hamstring faithfulness to Christ. When we face setbacks and challenges in our lives, we can harbor guilt as our struggles remind us of failures that drag stubbornly.   We don’t even meet our own expectations, let alone God’s.  In this recent season of refreshing, the struggle with sin in our lives can bring guilt and condemnation.  These struggles can breed a hopelessness which is a fiery missile from the evil one to derail us off mission.

For such evil strategies, when Satan seems to put his slimy boot on our throats, we find hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Romans 8, Paul begins this “Mount Everest” text with lifegiving hope for believers battling with guilt, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). This promise should be employed by every believer as a “grace ambulance” when we battle the issues of heart and life.  With simple confession, and the grace Christ supplies, we are called to begin again.

The work of an unknown poet captures this truth well. The scene is an elementary classroom, and it is called, “Beginning Anew”: (more…)

Friday

14

February 2020

0

COMMENTS

Doing a 180° on Clear Paths of Obedience

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

th-8As time takes us further from our Life Action Summit, I am using my blog to offer pastoral encouragement to my FBCG family. Since the beginning of the year, I have had a simple thought that I have expressed to our church family in our gatherings, “The Lord first…”  May Christ be first in our thoughts, first in our commitments, first in our devotion, finances, plans, dreams, goals, and first in our hearts.  I long for us to savor His promises as we run the race that ends at His feet.

Jonathan Goforth, who lived a courageous life for Christ in China in the early 1900’s, once wrote, “There never has been a revival except where there has been Christian men and women thoroughly believing in and wholeheartedly pleading the promises of God.” In the last month we have sought the Lord together and have committed to biblical obedience that carry God’s promised blessing.

Paul’s words to the Philippians gives guidance as we pursue obedience to our Savior, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (4:12,13)

To be clear, Paul is calling believers to work out our salvation, not work for our salvation. These verses provide insight into the journey of sanctification in the believer’s life. A process in which we cooperate with God to grow in Christ.  We are to appropriate the means of grace God has given for us to mature: Scripture, prayer, worship, church membership, service, giving, obedience, etc. As we live out our faith in Christ alone, there is great encouragement that He is at work in us, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (v.13)

However, we should not think that we will be unopposed in our pursuit of God’s glory.  We contend with the triumvirate of this world’s system, our rebel flesh, and the devil. To the third foe, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “…we are not ignorant of his (Satan’s) schemes.” Paul knew well the devastating effects of Satan’s lies upon a believer’s life. He was familiar with how the devil’s methods wreaked havoc in the church rendering her weak and pathetic. (more…)

Friday

7

February 2020

0

COMMENTS

Reflections on Recent Life Action Summit @ FBCG

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

Times-of-refreshing_825_460_80_c1 Times of Refreshing

Twenty years ago this month we hosted our first Life Action Summit under the leadership of Steve Canfield. As I reflect back on my tenure at First Baptist Church Gonzales, LA (FBCG), the Summit of 2000 was one of the most significant moments in the life of our church. That encounter with the Lord was a vital time for us as a congregation. It was a time in which God dealt with us in many ways. It was a season of repentance and obedience in our walk with Christ which prepared us for challenges and growth in the coming years.

The Elders, in anticipation of this anniversary, led the church in hosting another Summit which we have just completed (January 19-February 2, 2020).  Steve Canfield and the team returned for what was an incredible fifteen days together.  On the road to heaven there are some people who make deposits into our lives in which we owe them unpayable debts. This is by God’s design, of course, as none of us in the family of God were created to do it alone. Life Action has provided such ministry to my pastoral work and to the spiritual life of FBCG.

Over the last few months in preparation for the Summit, I spent time reading in church history about special visitations of God’s presence that brought transformation to millions and monumental change to entire nations. Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge have written a helpful work to that end, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan, 2010).   I was gripped by one particular sentence that became my prayer as we approached the Summit this past month, “During genuine revival, the Holy Spirit contends and convicts, but he does not manipulate as he grants Christians a new experience of God’s presence and power.” (more…)

Friday

12

July 2019

1

COMMENTS

A Mid-Summer Reminder:  This World is Not a Playground, It Will Always Be a Battleground

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional

armor_of_god1Summer is often a time for rest and disengagement from the demands of school and work. It is also a good time to be reminded not to fall asleep in our walk with Christ.  The words of A.W. Tozer of a previous generation come to mind as he warned that “the world is not a playground, but a battleground.”Tozer was speaking in spiritual terms and was describing the makeup of this world in which we live.

Brian Borgman and Rob Ventura write with urgency on the present spiritual conflict in their work, Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective:

“If we were on a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan and forgot we were in war, we would be dead in no time. Awareness and vigilance are critical for survival. It is sad that we, as followers of Jesus, so easily forget that we are in a war—an invisible war, but a real one nonetheless.”

This kind of language is not a call for paranoia, but a renewed emphasis on the New Testament warning  to remain alert to spiritual danger.  The Apostle Paul perhaps more than any biblical writer speaks to this need in the Christian life.

As he closed the book of Ephesians, Paul provided a closing exhortation “to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might,”and then he commanded believers “to put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil.” (6:10,11) We ignore this warning to our peril. (more…)