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Gently Led

Written by Dawn Rutan

I’ve been enjoying Alistair Begg’s recent series on the Fruit of the Spirit on Truth for Life, and appreciated his reminder that we cannot manufacture real fruit on our own. It is not the fruit of self-effort, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us and with us and through us. The sermon on gentleness in particular caught my attention as he talked about the gentleness of God and its manifestation in the life of Christ. As I searched later, I came up with a few relevant verses:

  • “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” (Matthew 11:29).
  • “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench” (Matt. 12:20a and Isaiah 42:3).
  • “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 20:11).

One of the opportune times to exercise gentleness is in response to sin: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1a). As I was thinking about that, it occurred to me that sometimes it’s easier to respond to others with gentleness than it is to be gentle with ourselves when we fail. Charles Simeon wrote,

“I have continually had such a sense of my sinfulness as would sink me into utter despair, if I had not an assured view of the sufficiency and willingness of Christ to save me to the uttermost. And at the same time I had such a sense of my acceptance through Christ as would overset my little bark, if I had no ballast at the bottom sufficient to sink a vessel of no ordinary size” (as quoted by John Piper in The Roots of Endurance, 107).

I can’t speak for him, but I find it far easier to remember my sinfulness than God’s forgiveness. I’ve come to think of shame as a “guilt ghost.” It is a spectre that lingers long after the offense is forgiven. It has no real power, but it deludes me into thinking more about my sin than my Savior. So I often need a reminder of the gentleness that God shows to His children. His desire is to draw us close, carry us, provide sustenance and rest, teach us, and lead us. Yet we keep wriggling away and trying to prove our worth rather than trusting Him.

I like the way David Phelps phrased it in his song “Gentle Savior

Why can’t I walk away from my regrets,
And why is forgiveness so hard to accept?
My past surrounds me like a house I can’t afford,
But You say, “Come with Me, don’t live there anymore”

May God gently draw our eyes back to Him each day so that we may be assured of His love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Jesus indeed is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep and who continues to care for each one.

“Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life” (Isaiah 43:4).

 

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

Thoughts about Camp Ministry

Church is a lantern; camp is a flashlight. God shines the light of his glory through local church ministry continuously (2 Corinthians 4:6). He shines through camp ministry in focused, concentrated beams. Campers cannot get all the photons of church ministry at camp, but what they do get is powerful because of its intensity.

Beams of Evangelism

The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). At camp the gospel is proclaimed in a 360 degree blitz, flowing from the overall theme through the preaching, teaching, and music, reverberating in devotions and conversations. It is presented verbally, visually, and kinetically to people in their natural childish and adolescent openness to it. That’s why so many Christians trace their salvation to camp experiences.

Beams of Discipleship

Jesus commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Camp culture is uniquely conducive for connecting children and teens with mature believers who are close to their age. Of course, discipleship can occur between two Christians with a large age gap, but there seems to be something special about meeting a mature believer close to your own age. Maybe it has to do with relatability. Maybe it shows the young person that Christian maturity is attainable at a young age, and not only in adulthood. Whatever the reason, there is power in young Christians discipling younger Christians.

For example, a high school camper and a 19-year-old counselor connected at camp three years ago. After camp, they corresponded for about six months in a long-distance discipleship relationship, and then slowly lost touch. Last week, the high school camper (now 19 himself) experienced a tragedy in his family. One of the first people he reached out to for support was his old counselor. Their discipleship relationship, established at camp, has an endless shelf-life.

Beams of Teaching

God’s word lives and acts, surgically exposing and healing our souls (Hebrews 4:12-13). At camp, it is taught constantly. All other input valves are turned off, and the Scripture valve is completely opened. There is no internet and cell phones are prohibited. The Bible is taught in interactive and dynamic ways every day. It is like a juice cleanse for the soul.

But it isn’t just about the input. The receptivity is enhanced as well. I can remember being a camper and preferring to stay in our teepee listening to our counselor read Proverbs rather than go outside and take part in the spontaneous pillow fight that had erupted. Several years ago, I created a huge collage of posters over the course of the week with the scriptures we were studying. At the end of the week, I rolled them up and gave them to the campers. Every time I see those campers they tell me they still have their scripture posters hanging on their bedroom walls. Something about the camp atmosphere opens up the pores.

Beams of Worship

If we’ll draw near to God, he’ll draw near to us (James 4:8). At camp, the lack of digital distractions, the quality of community, and the intensity of worship gives campers an opportunity for repentance and closeness with God. Camp often becomes a “mountain top” experience, a distant echo of what Peter, James, and John found on the mount of transfiguration. Maybe this is one reason so many ministers trace their callings back to early camp experiences (including me).

Beams of Fellowship

All of this creates an unparalleled shared experience. Yes, campers develop long-lasting friendships. But more importantly, they develop life-long fellowship. They connect forever with fellow Christians. I met a guy 16 years ago at camp. Now we’re both pastors. We see each other probably once a year at best. When we do, we pick up right where we left off. We’re not old friends. We’re co-disciples with a shared faith history, and our relationship was initially forged at camp.

Discussion Starters

  1. Does anyone in the group have a testimony of how God has blessed them through camp ministry?
  2. Jesus told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Camp ministry is one way that our churches work together toward this end. What does it mean to make disciples? (What scriptures come to mind that might help us understand our task?)
  3. How are you, as an individual, working to make disciples?
  4. What are some opportunities or ideas for how you could be more faithful (and, Lord willing, fruitful) at making disciples?
  5. Is there any way you feel like you need to grow, be trained, or be equipped for making disciples?
  6. What are some opportunities or ideas for your House to House group to make disciples?
  7. What are some opportunities or ideas for our church?
  8. What are some opportunities or ideas that might involve multiple churches?
  9. Pray together.

4 Encouragements for Christian Ministers | 2 Corinthians 4

Here are four encouragements for Christian ministers from a passage that has meant a lot to me lately:

Remember the mercy.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. (2 Corinthians 4:1)

We did not earn the privilege of ministering in Jesus’ name to people. It is not like a promotion at word or a goal we save up for. We deserve damnation, but have been given salvation and ministry instead. Ministering in light of this helps us keep heart in our service. It reminds us that ministry is a gift, not an obligation. It keeps us humble and grateful, and helps us endure the hard times.

When comedian Jerry Seinfeld first met Jimmy Fallon on the set of Saturday Night Live, we noticed how enthusiastic he was. Someone who knew Fallon well said, “He’s just happy to be here.” Fallon grew up watching SNL and never dreamed he would get the chance to work on the show. This is the attitude of Christian ministers who remember the mercy behind their ministry. We’re just happy to be here.

State the truth of Jesus Christ.

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

There is no need to complicate ministry with tactics outside of this simple action: openly stating the truth of Jesus Christ. No amount of cunning could accomplish what is required to save someone. We cannot heal the spiritual blindness that keep unbelievers from seeing “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’” who “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Embrace your nature.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)

We are like clay jars, and God made us this way on purpose. He pours the gleaming treasure of his mercy and glory into us in order to display his surpassing power. We’re not meant to look glorious, we’re meant to display his glory. We are the frame, not the painting. There is great freedom here from the pressure to be awesome, or to look awesome. Our role is simply to point others to the awesome One.

Transfer your weight.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Often when leaving our house I cannot quite get my children fully in the van. They’ll be distracted by this and that, and then get lost in telling me something as they stand with one foot in the van and one foot in the carport. I have to continually tell them to get in the van as they meander about. Christian ministers are this way. God continually tells us to get our attention on the eternal rather than the temporary, the unseen rather than the seen. We stand with one foot here and one foot there, and he uses affliction to remind us to “get in the van.” The troubles we encounter in ministry serve to help us transfer our weight into eternity.

Discussion Starters

  1. All Christians are ministers. What is your post? What is your specific assignment as a Christian minister right now? What people are you called to serve right now? Have each person in the group share.
  2. Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. What stands out to you? How does this relate to your specific ministry?
  3. Have you ever been tempted to “lose heart” in your ministry? Share with the group.
  4. Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. What stands out to you? How does this relate to your specific ministry?
  5. Have you experienced any of the things Paul lists in verses 8 and 9? Share with the group.
  6. Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. What stands out to you? How does this relate to your specific ministry?
  7. What are “the things that are seen” and “the things that are unseen”?
  8. What is your biggest takeaway from this chapter? How will you respond to it?

Not Done Yet

Written by Dawn Rutan

I’ve been listening to Christmas music recently. (Doesn’t everyone do that at Easter?) I was reminded again the “Joy to the World” was not written as a Christmas song. It really refers much more to the Second Coming of Christ when He comes in victory than of His incarnation in humility. It’s curious how we have one set of songs for Christmas, another set for Easter, and others for the Second Coming, and very few that span the gap. (“In Christ Alone” does that better than most.) We spend weeks or months preparing for Christmas celebrations complete with pageants, carols, and presents. Preparations for Easter are usually a little shorter. And many Christians have given no thought at all to His Second Coming despite the fact that it could happen today.

Jesus came in relative obscurity. A few shepherds and wise men were the only witnesses to His early life. His death was public—in the midst of the Passover crowd in Jerusalem. His resurrection, though initially revealed to just a few, was eventually witnessed by more than 500 (1 Cor. 15:6). However, the Second Coming of Jesus will be seen by all. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16 ESV).

Most of the modern world references (if unknowingly) the birth of Christ every day when we write today’s date. But the birth of Christ has very little meaning apart from His death and resurrection. “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). That would more appropriately be the turning point in history. However, even the resurrection has limited meaning apart from the Second Coming. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead in order to take us out of this world, but so that when He comes again we can be part of His new heavens and new earth. “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:24).

As we celebrate this Easter, let us not forget the bigger picture of all God has done and will do through the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing…”

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

Mark 12:1-12 | Jesus is the Cornerstone

Rejecting the Beloved Son

As tensions with the Jewish religious authorities mounted, Jesus “began to speak to them in parables.” A parable is a simple story with a profound point. In this parable, a man carefully develops a vineyard and then leases it to tenants. When the man sends servants to collect his share of the fruit, the tenants horribly mistreat them. In one last attempt, the man sends “a beloved son,” whom they kill. Now the owner will destroy the tenants and give his vineyard to others.

What is this simple story’s profound point? God would destroy the his people’s caretakers and give his people to others. Because they knew their scriptures, the Jewish religious authorities would have immediately understood the vineyard to represent God’s people, Israel. Isaiah 5 opens with a description of God developing Israel as a vineyard using almost identical language.

As the caretakers of God’s people, they are like the parabolic tenants. Jesus knew they were rejecting him, God’s beloved Son (Mark 1:11; 10:33-34). In rejecting him, they were rejecting the Cornerstone of Psalm 118. They were rejecting the foundation and standard for everything that God is building.

Building a People

What is God building? A people.

From Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-10 we learn that God is:

  • Granting strangers and aliens citizenship with the saints and membership in the household of God.
  • Building this household on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the Cornerstone.
  • Joining together the whole structure in Christ Jesus so that it grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
  • Building his people together in Christ into a dwelling place for himself by the Spirit.
  • Placing his people into his spiritual house building project like living stones.
  • Choosing as his living stones a new race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.
  • Bringing these stones out of darkness into his marvelous light.
  • Making those who were not a people into his people.
  • Giving mercy to those who had not received mercy.

From these same passages we learn why God is building up his people in this way:

  • So that they will be a holy priesthood.
  • So that they will offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
  • So that they may proclaim his excellencies.

The Jewish religious authorities could not have understood all that God was up to through Jesus, but they suspected enough to be threatened. They had rejected God’s servants, they were rejecting God’s Son, and they were in the process of being destroyed.

Had they received the Beloved Son, they too could have been chosen for the Structure God is building. They could have been brought out of the darkness into God’s marvelous light, and placed alongside the other living stones. They could have joined the ranks of the holy priesthood, began offering spiritual sacrifices, and proclaiming God’s excellencies. But they sought to destroy him, thus proving themselves to be just like the horrid tenants of Jesus’ parable.

Submitting to God’s Building Plan

Now the searching gaze of God’s word turns from the Jewish religious leaders to you and me. Will we, like the wicked tenants, reject the Beloved Son and Cornerstone? “Surely not!” you think; but so many do.

Modern American church folks often reject Jesus by accepting him as another brick in their own building projects, along with a good night’s sleep, some exercise, and eating their vegetables. To accept Jesus as anything other than the colossal Cornerstone of God’s glorious building project is to reject him.

The question is not Is Jesus your cornerstone? Attempting to make Jesus your cornerstone is asking him to submit to your building efforts. The question is Do you submit to Jesus as the Cornerstone? Coming to him as God’s chosen and precious living Cornerstone means submitting to God’s building efforts. It means having your entire self plucked up out of darkness and placed alongside the other chosen ones in God’s spiritual house. Rather than bringing God into your tiny endeavors in tiny doses, it means allowing your entire being to be brought into God’s grand construction project. Your marriage, your work, your hopes, your fears, your body, your soul–all in submission, like a single brick in God’s hand.

Based on all this from God’s word, come to Jesus, the Beloved Son, the Cornerstone, and be placed in God’s holy, eternal, glorious building plan.

Discussion Starters

  1. Before discussing this week’s passages, catch up with one another and pray together for God’s help in understanding, receiving, and responding rightly to his word.
  2. Read Mark 12:1-12 together. Parables typically have one profound point with which the speaker intends to strike his hearers (as opposed to several points up to the subjective reactions of different hearers). Ask each participant to state the one profound point from this parable (verses 1-9) in their own words.
  3. How does verse 10 further clarify Jesus’ point?
  4. What does this mean for us today, far removed from the immediate circumstances of Mark 12?
  5. Read Ephesians 2:11-22. There’s a lot here. Have each person share what stands out to them after this cursory reading.
  6. Focusing in on verse 20 and the surrounding verses, what is God doing on and in Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone? Be specific, using the words in the text.
  7. Now try to put these ideas in your own words. Tease out in as concrete of terms as you can what exactly God is doing through Christ as the Cornerstone.
  8. Finally, read 1 Peter 2:4-10 together. Go through the same process you did with Ephesians 2 (questions 5-7) with this passage.
  9. How does what you’ve seen in God’s word together effect your understanding of what God is up to in the world through Jesus?
  10. How does it effect your perception of yourself? The church?
  11. Are there any specific steps of response the Spirit is prompting you to take?
  12. Pray together.

 

Deflated

Written by Dawn Rutan

Last Sunday’s sermon included Mark 11:25 (ESV), “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses,” along with the question, who do you need to forgive? I confess that my first thought was “myself.” As I thought about it further, I realized that my problem was not unforgiveness but wounded pride. Guilt and shame feel a lot alike. One difference is that shame is not necessarily tied to any actual sin. Many of the things that plague me are not sins but mistakes or errors in judgment—giving an answer that is based on incomplete knowledge of the facts; not anticipating the impatience of angry drivers on busy roads; or misjudging someone’s intentions. In my imaginary world, I would always have perfect knowledge and therefore would always do what is best and would please everyone all the time. Even as I write that, I realize that God’s perfect knowledge and perfect actions still don’t please everyone, and I am far from being God.

In the midst of my ponderings, I read the following in Lysa TerKeurst’s book Uninvited:

“Anything that infuses us with humility is good. Even if it feels a bit like humiliation in the moment, the workings of humility within are a gift. The tweaking of us by God in the quiet is the saving of us in public. The only difference between humility and humiliation is that one chose to bow low while the other tripped and fell there. Either way, the sweetest grace lifted my face, and I saw that on the other side of the stripping of pride are some of the best gifts God gives us.

“The Bible reminds us that on the other side of humility we find wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). We will be lifted up by God Himself in due time (1 Peter 5:6). ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6 NLT). Humility isn’t a place of weakness but rather a position that will come with honor (Proverbs 18:12). And humility is an absolute requirement for those who ask God to heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14)” (pp. 108-110).

Humility is one of those things that is mentioned often in Scripture but rarely discussed in the church. It’s not really something we are interested in pursuing, perhaps because we think of it as the opposite of pride. Tim Keller, in his helpful little book on 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, rightly criticizes the modern self-esteem theory.

“The person with the superiority complex is overinflated and in danger of being deflated; the person with an inferiority complex is deflated already… Deflated or in imminent danger of being deflated—it is all the same thing. And it makes the ego fragile… Trying to boost our self-esteem by trying to live up to our own standards or someone else’s is a trap. It is not an answer… [The] essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself.”

The answer according to the Apostle Paul is that God’s opinion is the only one that matters. “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4b). And as Keller puts it,

“Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance? … In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says, ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’ … ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ … You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because He loves me and He accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good.”

I will be the first to admit that this is far easier said than done when the ego starts getting even slightly inflated. The Apostle John wrote, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17). I’m striving to learn to welcome the little (or big) humiliations that remind me that I am weak but that I serve a strong God. It is indeed a gift of God to remember that He is in control and I’m not. And I need constant reminders that my identity is not determined by my competence at work, having all the right answers at the right times, pleasing everyone, or even my ability to resist some temptation. My identity is determined solely by my relationship with my Father in heaven, and His love for me is unchanging. Therefore I can say with Paul, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor. 4:3).

“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).

“But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:6,10; see also 1 Peter 5:5-6).

 

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

Who Can Satisfy?

Written by Dawn Rutan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the disappointments Jesus encountered with His friends and family while on earth:

  • “He said to [His parents], ‘Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49 ESV).
  • “And when His family heard it, they went out to seize Him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of His mind.’ …And He answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers? …Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, He is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:21, 33-35).
  • “For not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5).
  • “And He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’” (Matthew 8:26).
  • “And Jesus answered, ‘O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?’” (Matthew 17:17).
  • “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).
  • “He rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).
  • “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).
  • “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times” (Luke 22:61).

These few quotes have really reminded me that Jesus was indeed “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He identified fully with our human experiences, not just by being tempted or being weak and weary, but in being alone, misunderstood, betrayed, and rejected.

Sometimes reading through the Gospel accounts we may get the idea that Jesus and the disciples were a fun-loving group of guys who always got along and never had any conflict (well, except for that little “arguing who’s the best” thing). I’m sure Jesus did enjoy being with them for the most part, though He also liked to get away to pray on a regular basis. But there are no relationships free from conflict and disappointment, and the closer the relationship, the more likely there will be troubled times.

When loneliness and relational disappointments strike, I take comfort in knowing that Jesus not only knows, but He’s experienced all that and more. I’m also reminded that Jesus came as “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23) and before He left earth He promised, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And even beyond that, He is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). It doesn’t get any more intimate than that, and nobody on earth can satisfy my soul as He can. He is the only One who can truthfully claim to be the Bread of Life and the Living Water.

“Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (Psalm 107:8-9).

[As a side note, one of my favorite songs is “Who Can Satisfy My Soul” by Dennis Jernigan. Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc0_9kKZq0c ]

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

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