Drawing Near

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

Devotional Archive

Friday

22

January 2021

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COMMENTS

Are Happiness and Joy the Same? 

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Faith & Culture

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

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COMMENTS

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Faith & Culture

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

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COMMENTS

Be Anxious For Nothing

Written by , Posted in Church Life, Devotional, Faith & Culture

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…)

Wednesday

1

April 2020

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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”

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

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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…)

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

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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…)