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Grace’s Humbling Necessity

In his new book Grace Transforming, Phil Ryken writes:

“We begin at the beginning, with our desperate need for grace. From the moment we came into the world as helpless babies, right up until this exact second, we are utterly and completely dependent on the grace of God for everything we have, including life itself. What is more, if we have any hope of life after death—eternal life—it is only because of God’s free and undeserved grace for us in Jesus Christ.

Until we understand this, it is impossible for us to have the relationship with God that we truly need. But when we do understand this—when we understand our absolute need for Jesus—then his grace changes everything.

Past Experience, Present Need

Our need for grace may seem obvious at the beginning of the Christian life, when we first put our trust in Jesus. Then we know that if there is anything we contribute to our salvation, it is only the sin that necessitates a Savior. According to the good news of our salvation, Jesus died and rose again so that in him we would receive forgiveness for our sins and enter into everlasting fellowship with the true and living God. We are not saved by anything that we have done, therefore, but only by what Jesus has done. It is all by his grace, not by our works.

Yet grace is not something we leave behind once we decide to follow Jesus. Grace is our present need as well as our past experience. The gospel is not just the way into the Christian life; it is also the way on in the Christian life. We continually need to remember that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:9).

In my first chapel address as president of Wheaton College I said something that took some people by surprise, maybe because it’s something that many Christians forget. I said that I don’t know of a college anywhere in the world that needs the gospel more than Wheaton does.

In saying this, I did not mean to imply that there aren’t a lot of Christians at Wheaton. In fact, every student, every professor, and every staff member on campus makes a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising to find unbelievers on campus: in most Christian communities there are at least some people who do not yet have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is not what I meant, however, when I said that Wheaton College needs the gospel. I meant that the gospel is for Christians every bit as much as it is for non-Christians. We never outgrow our need for God’s life-changing grace—the gospel of the cross and the empty tomb.”


What others are saying about this book:

“Hebrews 13:9 says, ‘It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.’ As a church planter, I needed the truths in this book to strengthen my weary, performance driven, approval hungry, externally oriented, and self-righteous heart. My pharisaical heart was exposed, and I found myself praying, ‘God, be mercy-seated to me, the sinner.’”
-David Choi, Lead Planter, Church of the Beloved, Chicago, Illinois; International Speaker

“To grasp the fullness of God’s grace is to come humbly to Christ in empty-handed spiritual poverty. That alone may be the greatest challenge for any Christian! And it’s why I so appreciate Dr. Philip Ryken’s extraordinary insights in his new book, Grace Transforming. He points us to Jesus Christ in all his saving power, reminding us that without the Savior we are nothing and have nothing. If you are seeking a fresh look at your Lord and your own desperate need of him, this is the book for you!”
-Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder and CEO, Joni and Friends International Disability Center


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October 30, 2012 | Posted in: Faith,Pride and Humility,Sanctification/Growth | Author: Lindsay Tully @ 7:00 am | 0 Comments »

Do Not be Paralyzed by Your Weaknesses

In honor of Reformation Day this week, here’s a practical post about “gutsy guilt” in Martin Luther.

By John Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy

Oh, how many times we are tempted to lick our wounded pride and shrink from some good work because of the wounds of criticism—especially when the criticism is true! A sense of being weak and flawed can paralyze the will and take away all passion for a worthy cause. Comparison with others can be a crippling occupation. When it comes to heroes, there is an easy downward slip from the desire for imitation to the discouragement of intimidation to the deadness of resignation. But the mark of humility and faith and maturity is to stand against the paralyzing effect of famous saints. The triumphs they achieved over their own flagrant sins and flaws should teach us not to be daunted by our own.

God never yet used a flawless man, save one. Nor will he ever, until Jesus comes again.

In the case of our weaknesses, we must learn with the apostle, and the swans who sang his Song after him, that the grace of Christ is sufficient, and that his strength is made perfect in weakness. We must learn from the Scripture and from the history of weak victors to say, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The suffering of weak saints can make them sink with defeat or make them strong. From Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, we can learn to say, “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, KJV).

In the case of our flaws and our sins, we must learn gutsy guilt. This is what we see, especially in Luther. The doctrine of justification by faith alone did not make him indifferent to practical godliness, but it did make him bold in grace when he stumbled. And well it should, as Micah 7:8-9 declares: “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is a light for me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, and I will see His righteousness.”

Even when we have “sinned against him”—even when we “bear the indignation of the LORD”—we say to the accusing and gloating adversary, “Do not rejoice over me. . . . Though I fall I will rise.” The Lord himself, who frowns in chastisement, will be my irresistible advocate and he will triumph in court for me. He will plead my case. He will be my light. The cloud will pass. And I will stand in righteousness, not my own, and do the work he has given me to do. Oh, let us learn the secret of gutsy guilt from the steadfastness of sinful saints who were not paralyzed by their imperfections. God has a great work for everyone to do. Do it with all your might—yes, and even with all your flaws and all your sins. And in the obedience of this faith, magnify the glory of his grace, and do not grow weary in doing good.

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Freedom for the Perfectionist (Hayley DiMarco)


The Pride of Perfectionism

Perfectionists often believe that their neurosis affects only themselves, that their problem is such a part of who they are that it cannot be changed. But this is not true. Perfectionism plagues more than the obsessed one; it also harms those around her. The problem with perfectionism is that it comes from a heart that believes that it deserves—no, must be—perfect. Perfectionists base who they are on how well they do things. In other words, they serve their pride and their sense of self through their efforts. This is pride and has no meekness in it. The meek or gentle spirit is content with even imperfect things. She puts no demands on herself that don’t come directly from God, and she accepts his grace in those moments when she fails. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

The Perfectionist has no Time for Grace

The perfectionist has no time for grace, and in the path of perfectionism lies battered relationships that experience the prideful wrath of the moments when perfection fails. Gentleness carries with it a sober understanding of who we are, broken and frail, fallen and unrighteous. (more…)

Is Success a Friend or Foe? (by Dave Kraft)

Worldly success is not the same as biblical significance

Years ago I read a book, The Paradox of Success, which dealt with the dark side of success. Earlier in July (2012), I spoke at a Mars Hill Church boot camp for men on leaving a legacy. In that talk I alluded to the fact that there is a vast difference between success and significance. Worldly success is not the same as biblical significance. A person could be incredibly successful and have very little kingdom significance. On the other hand, a person could be very significant in God’s eyes, but not very successful in the world’s eyes. Jesus is the quintessential example of this.

I know it borders on over simplification, but success is much about getting and significance is much about giving. Paul quotes Jesus in saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), but I wonder how many Christians and Christian leaders really believe that. So much of our western culture is hell-bent on getting and we are being swept along in its wake.

Having stuff, nice stuff and lots of it, being high on the org chart and very high, having a big salary, very big, and reaching your ministry goals and exceeding others expectations of you is still how many Christians understand success. We greatly admire and respect those who have, in our opinion, arrived. Do you think this is what describes true biblical success? Kingdom significance?

Maybe, just maybe, we need to revisit our working definition of success to see how much of what we believe is truly biblical and not merely cultural, with a few verses added for “seasoning” here and there.

There is a dark side to a misguided view of success

There is a dark side to a misguided view of success: Greed, manipulation, pride, ego, using people for our own ends, being served rather than serving, an insatiable appetite for more and more. John D Rockefeller was asked how much money does it take to make a man happy, and he responded, “Just a little bit more.” How much success does it take to make a leader happy? Just a little bit more. “Just as death and destruction are never satisfied, so human desire is never satisfied.” Proverbs 27:20 (NLT)

When it comes to success in leadership and in God’s church, we need to be careful of selfish ambition (James 3:14) as opposed to godly ambition which Paul encourages (1 Timothy 3:1) by commending a man aspiring to the office of overseer. It boils down to what’s in my heart and what is motivating me.

Recently I read Mark 10:42, 43 in The Message where Jesus says to his disciples:

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you.” Underlining is mine.

As I thought and prayed about this, I journaled about how quickly not only power but success, fruit, admiration, respect, adulation can go to my head as a leader. It can all be categorized under the heading of pride, which is the biggest pitfall and land mine that I, and all other leaders, face. Recent leadership history is littered with the results of unbridled lust for success and acclaim. It’s not going to be that way with you!

There is something in my broken, fallen and sinful nature that wants (desperately wants) to be successful, well thought of, respected, fruitful. But, at the same time, there is something inside of me that is desperately afraid of the dark side of success, fearful of what success will do to me—go to my head, lead me to use people, abuse people, manipulate people, step on people, compare with people so I can be yet more successful in my own eyes. I lead scared!

This topic, this problem, this paradox of success has been the theme of many movies and books and is as old as time itself. How to be truly significant for the Kingdom and make a lasting contribution for the glory of God, but not fall into letting what God gives me by way of kingdom significance go to my head. It’s not going to be that way with you. To which I say  “Amen Jesus. Please don’t let anything you allow me to have or to achieve go to my head and become all about me instead of all about you, all about my kingdom and not all about your kingdom.”

Originally posted here. Learn more about Kraft’s new book, Mistakes Leaders Make.

Dave Kraft served with the Navigators for thirty-eight years before becoming a pastor at Mars Hill Church in 2005. Currently Kraft is one of the pastors at Mars Hill Orange County where he coaches the next generation of leaders. He is also a life and leadership coach with Ministry Coaching International (MCI). Kraft’s first book, Leaders Who Last, was published in 2010. He and his Wife Susan have been married for 43 years and have four adult children and seven grandchildren.

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September 12, 2012 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Leadership,Life & Doctrine,Pride and Humility,Sanctification,The Christian Life,Work & Vocation | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:02 am | 0 Comments »

When Ministry Becomes a Mistress (by Dave Kraft)

Ministry idolatry is becoming increasingly widespread, reaching epidemic proportions. It is showcased at network and denominational gatherings, where the focus and conversation is often not about Jesus, but about us and what we are accomplishing and achieving. Leaders discuss the latest poster children for ministry success and their methods so we can all emulate them, buy their books, and attend their “how we did it” seminars and conferences.

“Idolatry creep” sneaks up on you because you can easily and quickly justify it by saying that everything you do is for the Lord, believing your motives are pure. We recognize this in businessmen who work obscene hours while insisting they do it all to benefit the family, when in reality it’s all about them.

Leaders must guard against ministry becoming a mistress. A mistress is someone who takes the place that only your wife should occupy. Ministry must never take the place of Jesus himself in your heart and in your values. As 1 John 5:21 says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The New Living Translation says, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” Our hearts are idol factories, and ministry, for many leaders, is the king of idols.

Why Do You Want to Lead?

We can start to rely on ministry instead of Jesus to meet deep needs in our own lives. I am convinced that many people move into leadership roles because of people needing them or because being in control satisfies something missing in their own sense of value or worth. I remember John Maxwell once saying, “If you need people you can lead people.” One leader told me that the motivation for “his call” to ministry was the opportunity to resolve the problem of his own insecurities and feel better about himself. The devil is out to snare Christian leaders, rendering them “ineffective or unfruitful” (2 Pet.1:8), and if he can’t achieve his purposes through obvious sin, he will achieve it by taking something that is admirable and good and turning it on its ear to cause us to stumble.

The apostle Peter, in his insightful chapter to leaders, says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Our enemy can devour us through ministry by letting the ministry itself replace Jesus in our affections. Unfortunately, we are often quicker to recognize this happening in others than in our own lives.

What Now?

There is no “four easy steps to deal with ministry idolatry.” But I do want to share some things I am learning about dealing with each of the mistakes leaders make. Let me state again that I have made all these mistakes myself, and I have seen people in ministries, organizations, groups, and churches that I have been associated with make them.

So, how have I dealt with ministry idolatry?

  • For me the first step is realizing that this is a problem for me. I deeply desire to want to confess and repent when this sin comes to my attention, as opposed to making excuses and rationalizing. It should grieve my soul that I am allowing something to take the place of Jesus in my heart and affections. Like King David, I want to pray, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). My primary sin here is against God!
  • Most every day I make the issue of ministry idolatry a matter of prayer, asking for the power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit to occupy center stage in my life. For me, I find that ministry idolatry is an attitude, a mindset, as opposed to an action. It begins with the way I look at things, the way I think.
  • Colossians 3:4 is helpful to me: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.” Jesus is my life—not ministry, success, converts, disciples, developing leaders, being respected by my peers, etc. I need to keep being reminded of this truth. Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” For me to live is Christ, not someone else or something else. I have several passages of Scripture memorized (in addition to those just mentioned) on ministry idolatry, including 1 John 5:21 and Revelation 2:4.

When the Lord makes it clear that I am starting to drift, I want to immediately own it, repent, confess, and ask for his help in agreeing with him that he is central. I want to be especially sensitive to others in my family or on the teams I am a part of when they bring this sin to my attention. One of my life values is to immediately respond to God’s revealed truth, whether that truth comes directly to me through Scripture or through the rebuke of a family or team member. Pity the Christian leader with no friends or coworkers who care enough to confront him, especially in the area of ministry idolatry.

Content adapted from Dave Kraft’s forthcoming book Mistakes Leaders Make

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September 10, 2012 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Leadership,Idolatry,Leadership,Life & Doctrine,Ministry,Pride and Humility | Author: Crossway Author @ 8:01 am | (5) Comments »