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In preparing for a sermon I gave on my December trip to Ecuador with Leadership Resources, I had my world rocked by one of the most familiar texts of Scripture: Genesis 1:1-2:3. Even though I had read this passage dozens of times before and could still picture the Sunday school flannel graphs from my childhood, familiarity blinded me to amazing truths Genesis 1 presents.

Familiarity can be a killer in both Bible reading and teaching.

Thankfully, as I dove head first into my prayerful exegesis of this passage, God revealed amazing truth to me, stirring my heart. There’s a lot I can share from this passage, but I will share the one truth that has impacted me the most:

God is the central figure in the creation story.

God created the heavens and the earth by merely opening His mouth. During days one through six of creation, God created the heavens, the earth, made light, the sea and sky, and filled His beautiful creation with plants, animals, lights and luminaries, and the pinnacle of His creation, man, whom He made in His own image. While God’s conclusion for His work days 1-5 was to declare His work “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 25), the conclusion for the day God made man was “very good” (Genesis 1:31, emphasis added).

Unfortunately since the fall of man, we are sinful and corrupt God’s great creation by putting ourselves at the center of the story instead of giving God His proper place.The New Testament reveals that Jesus Christ is the creator of all things. Speaking of Christ, Colossians 1:16 reminds us who is at the center of the story:

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

You were created by Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. Your purpose in life is totally wrapped up in who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you.

Yet, if you’re like me, your life can quickly become wrapped up in your own interests and pursuits instead of our Creator. I liked how, Michael Horton describes this tendency in Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church,

There is a tendency to make God a supporting character in our own life movie rather than to be rewritten as new characters in God’s drama of redemption.

When you think of telling the story of your life, what role does God have? Is He a small, supporting character that can fade into the background and easily be forgotten, or is He the most important person and influence in your life? How would your life’s movie look if Christ wasn’t in it? Drastically different? The same?

Living a Christ-centered life is not easy. The default setting of my heart is to put myself on the throne of my life instead of putting God on the throne, His proper place. This tendency even weaves its way into ministry. I like to think about who I have touched, what I have done for God, or what I will do for God instead of remembering what He has done for me and that my life is all about Him.

And when I forget my purpose in God’s greater story, I lose sight of my purpose on earth. Michael Horton diagnoses this problem and prescribes the remedy:

When we try to fit God into our life movie, the plot is all wrong–and not just wrong, but trivial. When we are pulled out of our own drama and cast as characters in his unfolding plot, we become part of the greatest story ever told. It is through God’s Word of judgment (law) and salvation (gospel) that we are transferred from our own pointless scripts and inserted into the grand narrative that revolves around Jesus Christ.

When we are tempted to care too much about ourselves, our busy schedules, our relationships, and even our suffering, we must remember the gospel. We must remember that God created the world and everything in it for Himself and that our lives find their purpose in Him.

We must cling to the historical facts of the life, death, and resurrection of our Living Savior and know that by God’s grace we play a small role in the greatest story ever told of God reconciling sinful humanity to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ.

Only by remembering our part in God’s Great Story will we enter the rest that we were created for that God modeled on creation’s seventh day. This rest and the peace it provides will fill our hearts with thankfulness and energy to live out our God-given purposes here on earth for His glory.

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Links-To-Make-You-Think-and-Grow

$0.99 for Crazy Busy: A Mercifully Short Book on a Really Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

How to Listen to a Sermon: 15 Practical Tips for Receiving the Word from Leadership Resources

The Doctrine of the Scriptures: Mp3 Audio from the 2015 EFCA Theology Conference featuring D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, John Woodbridge, Kevin Vanhoozer, Dan Doriani, Graham Cole, David Dockery, and more

Five Effects of the Holy Spirit on Christian Leaders by Arthur Kok

Interview with Matt Mitchell: Author of Resisting Gossip

Is Google making the web stupid? Some great thoughts from Seth Godin (and helpful for bloggers)

Ligonier 2015 National Conference Audio and Video  featuring R.C. Sproul, Tim Challies, Kevin DeYoung, Rosaria Butterfield (here’s a great recap of the conference from a friend and fellow blogger Bill Pence)

The Medium is the Message (HT)

What does the World Eat for Breakfast?

Powerful Video of the Brother of Two Men Martyred by ISIS (HT)

Pray to Prepare for Future Persecution

In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes to Timothy with a promise that most Christians don’t want. It’s a promise that you’ll never hear a prosperity preacher name-and-claim. It’s a promise that isn’t posted on Instagram often with happy emoticons praising God. But it’s a promise that is for each one of us:

“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

With recent events of twenty-one Coptic Christians being beheaded for their faith in Egypt, persecution is on the mind of many more Christians–and for good reason.

Secularism and Islam are both on the rise in the United States, and whatever Christian heritage our nation once enjoyed seems to be on it’s way out (if it’s not already gone). The past few years have shown one of the quickest moral shifts in world history regarding sexuality, and several Christians and Christian organizations have been caught in its wake.

Are you ready to be persecuted?

If you don’t know how to answer that question, you may realize the answer when it’s too late. That’s why I’m writing this to help you prayerfully prepare yourself to be persecuted for Christ’s sake, whether you are put down at the water cooler or wind up giving your life.

Yes, persecution is a weighty topic. But if Christians aren’t preparing their heads and hearts for persecution, when the powerful waves of culture and secularism hit, they may find the houses of their lives and faith crashing down. A biblical perspective on persecution and suffering will allow Christians not only to survive hard times, but thrive because they have tasted God’s special grace for the suffering and persecuted.

Make the following list your prayer as you consider your short life here on earth, and commit yourself to follow Christ no matter where he takes you.

1. Pray to stand firm in your faith

Troubling times can shake our faith. Pray that during such times you will lean into the grace of God and look at your situation from God’s perspective. You may feel like arrows are flying at you from all directions. Take up the shield of faith to protect yourself from believing lies and doubting the goodness of God and glory of the gospel. Firmness of faith is what fuels these other attitudes.

2. Pray for joy amid persecution

Jesus described the persecuted with the word “blessed” and commanded the persecuted to “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matthew 5:11-12).  You can’t take joy in persecution or suffering when your true love and focus is on worldly comforts and safety. Joy comes with loving God and treasuring the gospel above everything else. In Christ, we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10) because of what He has done.

3. Pray to trust in the sovereignty of God

God works all things for the good of those who love Him–even persecution (Romans 8:28). When facing opposition from the chief priests and elders in Acts 4, John, Peter, and their friends started their prayer with “Sovereign Lord”, and continued, “do whatever your hand and your plan have predestined to take place” (Acts 4:24, 28). They put their lives and wellbeing in the powerful hands of a Sovereign God–and we can do so as well.

4. Pray for boldness in witness

After acknowledging God’s sovereignty, the disciples’ requested something surprising. They didn’t plead to end the persecution–they prayed to “continue to speak your word with all boldness” (4:29). Their deepest desire was on the spread of the gospel for the saving of souls. May we not sulk or pity ourselves, but rather proclaim Christ in Word and deed so the world will know Jesus lives and reigns.

5. Pray for a love for your persecutors

Christ commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). This models the mercy of Christ. John Stott writes,

“Jesus seems to have prayed for his tormentors actually while the iron spikes were being driven through his hands and feet; … ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for his enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice, or sloth could justify the silencing of ours?”1

6. Pray for the conversion of those who persecute you

Truly loving your enemies means you care about their eternity. Pray that the Lord would use your witness to shame your persecutors (1 Peter 3:16) and cause them to question their own beliefs and come to faith in Christ. Pray that other believers would exclaim what the Judean church exclaimed about the apostle Paul, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23).

7. Pray that you can strengthen the faith of weak brothers and sisters

Your suffering can build others up. Some who claim to be in the faith fade away when times of trial and persecution come (Mark 4:17). Pray that when persecution comes, you will proclaim to them the joy you have in Christ amidst rough times and loss.

8. Pray for help relying on the strength and sufficiency of God

How did the Apostle Paul endure being tormented by a messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12)? He believed Christ’s promise that His grace was sufficient for his situation. Paul’s joyful boast about his weakness and God’s strength show his reliance on the grace and sufficiency of God. May we do likewise.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

9. Pray for sweet communion with Christ

Nothing can compare with the riches of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. Paul believed this so much that he even wanted to suffer so that he could have richer fellowship with Christ (Philippians 3:10). Pray that you would experience deeper intimacy and satisfaction in Christ when you face opposition.

10. Pray for a thankful heart that nothing (not even persecution) can separate you from the love of God

Paul was persecuted horribly, but still knew the his blessed hope in Christ:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 38-39

I pray that when persecution comes, your experience of Christ would be sweeter, your fear of man would be smaller, and that in God’s strength you would dig in your heels to suffer well for the Kingdom of God.

1 John Stott in Message of the Sermon on the Mount page 119. As quoted in D.A. Carson’s Matthew Commentary in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary series.

Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ

How to Find Jesus in the Old TestamentHave you ever been lost in the middle of a city with no clue where you were or which way to go?

That is the experience of many Christians when they read the Old Testament. They open the Bible, begin reading, and soon find themselves in a place that seems totally different from the New Testament world. The seemingly random stories, genealogies, strange laws, and occasional talking donkey make for a sometimes confusing read.

If that’s you—don’t panic! This is a simple guide that will help you understand how Jesus relates to the Old Testament and will act as a road map to steer you in the right direction as you study God’s Word.

Continue reading at LeadershipResources.org:

A Simple Guide for Seeing How the Old Testament Points to Jesus Christ (or read in Spanish at The Gospel Coalition.)

Related Posts from Leadership Resources:

Links-To-Make-You-Think-and-Grow

I will be at The Gospel Coalition National Conference in Orlando, FL this April with Leadership Resources. Visit our booth to hear about how God is using our training in expository preaching to impact the world on nearly every continent for biblical ministry.

Register here. Save $25 when you register with the code “LRI2015“. Hope to see you there!


$0.99 for a limited time! Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You by J.D. Greear

Kevin DeYoung on 50 Shades of Grey: No Grey Area

Two great articles from Dave Jenkins: Three Keys to Godly Friendship and The Grace of God: Knowing and Obeying the Commands of Christ

Unemployment Tied to One in Five Suicides by Joe Carter

5 Things the Church Needs from Charles Spurgeon

10 Suggestions to Handle Conflict In a Healthy Way by Ron Edmondson

300+ Awesome Free Internet Resources You Should Know

What Mr. Know-it-all Doesn’t Know by Erik Raymond

The Girl in the Tuxedo: Two Variations on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by Jean Lloyd

Does Science Argue for or against God? by Eric Metaxas

Pornography is one of the biggest challenges the church faces in this generation. It is vital to understand Scripture’s teaching on it and also be aware of devastating consequences that come from consuming it.

William Struthers shared this helpful chart* in Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain comparing healthy and unhealthy sexuality:

Godly/Healthy Sexuality Pornography/Unhealthy Sexuality
Caring Using
Sharing with someone “Doing to” someone
Honoring Shameful
Authentic Deceitful
Enhances your identity Compromises your identity
Emotional bonding Emotional separateness
Spiritual unity Spiritual separateness
Morally saturated Free of moral convention
Communication is essential Communication is optional
Other-directed Selfish, self-directed
Biblical boundaries Has no limits
Involves all of the person Is visual and genital
Naturally drives us toward intimacy Unnaturally drives us toward compulsions
Naturally drives toward sanctification Unnaturally drives toward depravity
Matures into responsible habits Escalates toward irresponsible risks
Nurtures the spouse Hurts the partner
Is an expression of love Is an expression of usefulness
Humanizes Objectifies
Honors the image/imaging of God in you Dishonors the image/imaging of God in you
Honors the image/imaging of God in spouse Dishonors the image/imaging of God in another
Provides emotional, moral, psychological and relational clarity Produces emotional, moral, psychological and relational confusion

A Few Quotes from Wired for Intimacy

Pornography dishonors the image of God in an individual by treating him or her as a sexual object to be consumed directly or indirectly.

Pornography and our response to it alter our brain in a way that is difficult to undo. Pornography is the consumption of sexual poison that becomes part of the fabric of the mind.

A classic piece of art that is a nude can become a piece of pornography to a warped mind.

It is not the shouting of pornography that gives it so much power over men. It is the whispering of the lie of sexual fulfillment that prey on our human insecurities.

Pornography shapes and rewires us in such a way that we become unable to see women as we should. We no longer direct our sexual drives in appropriate ways. Porn narrows our ability to live a good and holy life.

Pornography has numbed the healthy sexuality of men who are active consumers of it.

Pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings.

One of the greatest victories that a man recovering from an addiction to pornography and compulsive sexual acting out has is when he can look at a beautiful woman and not feel the need to mentally treat her as a sex object. A man with a properly oriented conscience and filled with the Spirit has a healthy view of sexuality. He values the image of God in the women (and men) that he meets and has trained his mind to take these sexual thoughts captive.

So how do men respond to the confusion produced by pornography and unhealthy practices of sexually acting out? Many employ common cognitive defense strategies. Viewing porn can be denied, minimalized, normalized, rationalized, or even celebrated.

Pornography teaches its students to focus on the physiology of sexual sensations and not on the relationships for which those sensations are intended.

Shame only offers the lie of worthlessness, and a sense of worthlessness creates fertile soil for the continued exercising of sexual brokenness.

Bonus Video: Dr. William Struthers on Pornography

Bonus Resource: The Way of Purity Online Course from Setting Captives Free

*Chart found at Kindle location 426