Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gifts Come In Unexpected Packages

Isn't that usually the way it is with the Father of lights up above from whom every good and perfect gift comes (James 1:17)?

But how often do we recognize this to be the case? God, in His grace, opened my eyes to recognize a sweet gift from Him in an unexpected package that I received last night (or rather, early this morning).

I left Morgan Hill (the city where I live) to come to my mom's house in Antioch last night later than I should have. It was around 10:30pm. And sure enough, I began to feel sleepy on the road only about half way to my mom's house. About 20 miles away from my mom's house, I was abruptly roused out of my drowsiness when I began to hear a sound from my car that I was certain it shouldn't be making. So immediately I pulled over to try to see what the problem was. My first thought was to check my tires. Front left? Fine. Back left? Fine. Back right? Fine. Front right? Flat.

I had stopped at a strange location (I wasn't in a traffic lane but to the right of me was a freeway entrance so I had cars on both sides of me) so I got back in my car to move my car forward to where I would be completely off the road and as I did I could smell what seemed to be burning rubber. Not good. I knew I couldn't move any further in my car.

So here I am just after 12am on Christmas day with a flat tire about 20 miles from my house and no clue what to do. I could call home to have someone pick me up but then what would I do with my car, especially since it was Christmas day? Looking up the road, I noticed what seemed to be the bright lights of a gas station. So for some reason, it entered into my mind to walk to the gas station to see if I might be able to find someone there to help me. A tow truck perhaps? I didn't think it was a good idea to drive my car there considering what I was hearing and smelling from it so, seeing that the nearest road sign said that the next exit was only half a mile away, I decided I would walk to the gas station.

That walk was more unpleasant than I ever thought it would be. With cars zooming past me on my left, not only was there a slight rain but there was a strong, chilling wind coming from my right. The wind combined with the rain made it feel like it was alot colder than it really was. It was dark, rainy, and cold and I had no clue what would transpire over the next couple of hours. How long would I be out here? What would happen to my car if I left it out here? This wasn't helpful so I began to call Scripture to mind...

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want...Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me...

Then I began to recite Romans 8, which I have been trying to memorize over the past month, which begins with: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...

No condemnation. That's a sweet truth to hear when it's dark, rainy, and cold and you find yourself in undesirable circumstances.

I only have about half the chapter memorized so I came to an end with: For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us...

And it was as if God was asking me right then: Do you really believe that?

Yes, Lord, I believe you. I have been reading for the second time (and not the last, Lord willing) Future Grace by John Piper so I began to pray: I put my faith in your future grace, Father. Please give me grace. I am completely dependent on your grace and I trust You to help me. Thank You that You are my God, that You are ruling over all and that You are for me.

I began to wonder how cold it must have been for those shepherds who were traveling to see the newborn baby Jesus on that first Christmas morning. No matter how cold it was, their reward was still greater.

When I got to the gas station, there wasn't really anyone there. So I walked around for a couple of minutes, checked to see if there was an air machine, and then began the walk back to my car. The chill really began to pick up on the way back and I felt so cold that for a few seconds I didn't know if I would make it back to my car. I'm not kidding. Then I remembered this promise God gave to the psalmist: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15). And I began to pray: I bank on that promise, Father. I know that Your Son came so that this specific promise among many others would be Yes to me because of His life, death, and resurrection. So I call upon You. Please come and deliver me so that I may glorify You!

What if I went back to my car and found the tire just fine and no longer flat? Did I believe God could do that? Yes Lord, I believe You can. So I prayed for that to be the case. And then I found myself wavering back and forth: for a few moments I would feel confidently certain that the tire would be fine once I got back to my car and then I would see in my mind that flat tire. Oh Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! While this battle was going on in my mind and heart, I noticed a car that had pulled over onto the shoulder as I was walking back to my car. Then it started to move towards me (I was walking along the same path I came) with its hazard lights on. As it passed by me, I noticed that this car also had a flat tire.

But as my car was coming into sight, all I could think about was that tire. As I came closer and closer, my eyes were locked on my front right tire. Would it be the same as when I left it? When I finally got back to my car, my heart sank as I saw that the tire was completely flat. All I could do was climb into my car and thank God that I was no longer in the cold. Just being in the car was truly a blessing.

I decided that my best bet would be to drive my car as slowly as I could up to the gas station. It had occurred to me that this was probably what the other car did. I thought to myself that if they could make it, I probably could. But I wasn't going to move if I again smelled that burning rubber. So, turning on my hazard lights, I began to drive no faster than five miles an hour. No strange sounds or smells. Good news.

It only took me a couple of minutes (I should have just done this in the first place. It was a whole lot faster than walking) to get back to the gas station. I pulled in to the spot right next to the air machine. Looking at my tire, I realized that putting air into it would have accomplished nothing because it was almost completely displaced from the rim. What was I going to do now?

When I had pulled into that spot in the gas station, I noticed that the car with a flat tire that I had seen driving towards me when I was walking was also at the gas station (as I had suspected). After I had checked my tire, I noticed that they now had a spare tire in the place of the flat one and were pulling out of the gas station. As they were getting ready to drive past me, they rolled down the passenger window and inside was a Hispanic man and what I assume to be his wife in the passenger seat and children in the back.

You need help? The woman asked me.

My tire is flat and I don't know what to do.

You have extra? The man asked me (referring to the tire).

I wasn't sure so I went to open my trunk to see if there was a spare there. And, sure enough, I discovered for the first time (I probably should have known this) that there was a spare tire in my trunk. So I told him that I did have an extra.

They parked their car and the man pulled out of his car a jack and wrench of sorts. Within 10 minutes, he had replaced my tire.

We had talked for a few of those minutes and I learned that he was on a visit from Washington to see family in the area. When he got up from the ground, I asked him his name and told him mine. I asked Jaime if I could give him something for his help. He smiled at me and refused. All I remember him saying was something like, "It's for Christmas. Merry Christmas." I asked him if he believed in Jesus Christ, if he was a Christian. I'm not sure if he understood me because at first he said something like, "It's different." But then he told me that, yes, he did. I didn't know what else to say so I thanked Jaime again and told him, "God bless you." I got back into my car and felt so thankful for Jaime and his family that just before they had pulled out I got out of my car with a plate of sweet goodies I had received for Christmas and I asked them if I could give it to them. Jaime took it from me and said: thank you Chris. As I got back into my car, I waved at them one last time as they drove off.

Looking back, I wish I had told Jaime about how I had prayed to God and that he and his family were the answer to my prayer. As a side note, whenever I have encounters with people with an opportunity to share the gospel, I am always reflecting afterward on how I could have directed the conversation so as to have given a more effective witness for Christ. But I'm pretty sure that this interaction wasn't so that God could give something to them through me. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it was so that God could give something to me through them.

As I watched them drive off, for some reason the direction they went was a direction that was away from and not back towards the highway. Were they lost? Or were they simply going back from the way they came? Only God knows.

I drove home from the gas station last night at 1:30am in complete silence. I was driving so slow that it felt like the whole world was passing me by. But my reason for going so slow didn't have to do with my tire. I was in awe of the grace of God. Here I was not just back in my car and out of the cold. I was driving. I had called upon God in my day of trouble. He had delivered me. How was I to glorify Him?

When I was walking to my car, I had an idea in my mind of what God's deliverance would look like. And it was at that very time that Jaime and his family had driven by me with their flat tire. The answer to my prayer was right before my eyes in the very moment that I was praying! I just didn't know it. And you know what? This answer to my prayer is no less miraculous than the one I had envisioned.

It "just so happened" that I was only a half mile away from a gas station when I pulled over with a flat tire? It "just so happened" that I would get the idea to walk to the gas station and then see Jaime and his family as I walked back? It "just so happened" that it was only lightly raining and so that the rubber was no longer burning yet I didn't get completely drenched? It "just so happened" that Jaime and his family were just leaving the gas station as I got there? It "just so happened" that I had a spare tire in my trunk and Jaime had the exact tools that were needed to replace it? No way in the world. Yahweh was ruling and reigning over every detail, every thought, and every movement last night as He always is. When we consider the wonder of God's providence in governing all things at all times down to the smallest detail to fulfill His every purpose, is this not just as miraculous--if not more so--than a single miraculous event such as a flat tire magically becoming fixed? My answer to that question is that I'm glad God does it His way and not mine.

I've thanked the Lord many times upon arriving at my mom's house for bringing me home safely. But it has never felt the way it did last night. As I got into my warm bed last night, all I could think about was how cold it was when I was walking. When I got home, everyone was sound asleep. Who would have come to pick me up? I couldn't get out of my mind that the only reason I was lying there rather than sitting in my car or standing outside was because God had kept His promise. Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.

I went to bed asking God why He let me get a flat tire. As I woke up this morning, I think I know the answer why. It was His Christmas gift to me (just on time to start Christmas day at 12am!). What do I mean by that?

The greatest gift in the world that God has given us is His Son. Jesus Christ was born into the world 2,000 years ago. And that's what we celebrate every December 25. But Christmas can easily get saddled with tradition and familiarity. And in the midst of Christmas, whether we realize it or not, we have lost God's Son. Yes, even us Christians. So this morning I found myself wondering what it would have felt like to wake up on this Christmas morning if the events of last night had not taken place. Yes, I would have been thinking that today is about Jesus like every Christian should. But good thoughts aren't mainly what God wants to give us.

This Christmas morning, I have felt the preciousness of knowing that the Shepherd is with me even as I walk in dark, cold, rainy valleys (Psalm 23:4).

This Christmas morning, I have enjoyed the comfort of knowing that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) when my circumstances seem fitting for one who should be condemned.

This Christmas morning, I have drawn confidently to the throne of grace to find grace for a well-timed help because I have a Great High Priest who has passed before me into the heavens (Hebrews 4:14-16).

This Christmas morning, I have been heard by the Father because I have made requests to Him in Jesus' name (John 16:23).

This Christmas morning, I have cashed in on promises that God has made to me because I know that all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, do you see what God was giving me when He gave me a flat tire? I think I now do. He was giving me Jesus. And, in so doing, He was giving me a truly merry Christmas because I couldn't have asked for a sweeter gift!

May your Christmas truly be merry!

So from the bottom of my heart, I thank You again Father for the Christmas gift of Your Son coming to me on this occasion in the package of a flat tire. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where Was The Son Of God ... ?

... on that first Christmas night two thousand years ago?

... on that first Easter morning roughly 33 years later?

The essence of Christianity (and no less its wonder) is in the answer to those questions: The manger wasn't empty two thousand years ago. And today, the tomb is.

No, I know this isn't original. But that doesn't make it any less worth saying and celebrating.

Merry Christmas!

And, no, I'm not six days early (or four months early for that matter because Jesus is risen indeed!). We celebrate Christmas only because of Easter. And Easter is only possible because of Christmas.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thankful For Sanctifying Crosses (And Dead Saints)

Oh! sanctified adversity carries the richest pearl in its mouth; it makes sin odious to us, and the return of the Saviour's presence doubly sweet! By it we are made meet for the Master's use. Shall we not kiss the rod which scares away our sins, and whips our corruptions to death? God separates thee by afflictions from thy idols, that they may not be as fuel to inflame thy corruptions, or as thieves to steal thy heart from Him. If thou hast been taught of God to distrust thine own heart, to be vile in thine own eyes, and to take no idolatrous delight in creature comforts, thou hast received ten thousand better answer to thy prayers than if thou hadst been lifted up by joyful frames, or hadst obtained thy fond wish in every prayer. The lowly graces of the Spirit thrive best under crosses.

-Daniel Rowland, as quoted in Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales by Eifion Evans, p.150

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankful For My Pastor

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17
There is much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and every day. So as a way of honoring my pastor in his labors of preaching and teaching (and to try to win him free registration for the Desiring God Pastors Conference this February), here are a few reasons why I am thankful for him (in no particular order):

1) His preaching is marked by urgency. "I preached as never sure to preach again; as a dying man to dying men." These were the words of the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter. He understood the weight of preaching and that eternity hung in the balance every time he took the pulpit to address the people before him, saved and unsaved. I get this sense from my pastor every time he stands in the pulpit. There is a way in which he is a different man inside the pulpit than he is outside of it. Resting on him is a greater measure of authority, gravity, seriousness, and urgency that blow away any trivializing of the things of God. And you begin to feel that eternal life and death really do hang in the balance.

2) He brings us into the presence of God. I can't recall one time he has attempted to preach the Word of God without first bringing the entire congregation before the throne of grace in order that both we and he might find help in our time of need. And our greatest need is to be brought into God's presence. His pulpit prayers are the kind that push aside preoccupations with ourselves and our problems and make us to be preoccupied with God and what He's done for us in Jesus Christ. They give me a greater sense of God and His nearness in preparing me to be addressed by God.

3) His blood is "Bibline." Charles Spurgeon said this about the Puritan John Bunyan: "Prick him anywhere and he bleeds the Bible." I feel this way about my pastor. He is saturated with the word of God. His prayers are filled with biblical truth. His speech overflows with the truth of God's Word. His sermons are laden with biblical references (both Old Testament and New) that support whatever biblical text he is expositing on that particular Sunday, many of which I would bet he didn't even write into his sermon manuscript. You can see by his life that he feeds on the Word of God and only feeds us that which he himself has eaten.

4) He's faithful. It's easy to belittle the meaning of this word. In the Old Testament, God's faithfulness is spoken of interchangeably with His steadfast love. The Hebrew term is hesed. Because of God's hesed, we know that no matter how much we mess up today, He will still be there as our God tomorrow. He's not going anywhere. My pastor has led this same flock in Morgan Hill for over two decades. Our average Sunday attendance hasn't always been what it now is. Even though we last year moved to three services per weekend in order to accommodate for a growing congregation, I've heard my pastor speak of how there were times when he would preach to a sanctuary of many empty seats. Yet in the face of temptation to change his ministry philosophy in order to attract more people or even to leave the church just like many of the staff did when he first took over, he has stayed. He hasn't gone anywhere. And he has resolved to preach the Word of God and trust Jesus to do what He said He would. And Jesus has indeed built this church. I have heard that the average stay of a pastor in any one church today is less than five years before moving on to the next place that God has called him to. If this is true, then faithfulness--or steadfastness--is more difficult to find than we might imagine.

5) He is driven by a passion to rescue the perishing. Though he preaches to several hundred people every Sunday, my pastor knows very well that many who sit before him are under the wrath of God even though many of them may not themselves realize it. He acknowledges this in every prayer before his sermons when he asks God to open the eyes of the blind and raise the dead to life. Through his sermons he pleads with non-believers to be reconciled to God through Christ. And he does the work of an evangelist outside of the pulpit by, as only one example, making Peet's Coffee a second church office so that he can build relationships with the workers and regulars there so as to share the gospel with them. In doing such things, he makes it hard for us who do believe to settle into a mentality that is indifferent to the plight of the people we are daily rubbing shoulders with who are outside of Christ. A pastor, because of the nature of his calling, usually is unable to do as much evangelism as the rest of his congregation. But I would bet that, as much labor as he already does with his flock, my pastor does more evangelism than most of us. He challenges and inspires me by his example.

These are only five reasons (of many more I could give you) why I am thankful for my pastor, Mike Burchfield. I hope that as a result he gets to go to the Desiring God Pastors Conference for free. But even if this post doesn't accomplish that, I couldn't think of a better way to have spent this time. I love you brother.

What about you? Why are you thankful for your pastor?
And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Jeremiah 3:15
Thank You, Father, for the man that You have set over this part of Your flock, who we will indeed boast in for Your glory when we stand before Your throne on that great and glorious Day. May it come quickly. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sweet And Tender Care From Heaven

He spread his blanket on the sand,
kneeled and arranged his bowls and tools:
hook, mallet, clamp, chisel, rasp, razor.

His smile glinted in the rongeur’s claws,
and upside down in the curette’s spoon.
Light shone out of the needle’s eye.

“Hoosh,” he said and began plucking hairs,
paring calluses, shearing wool, shaving
to the follicles, cutting to the quick.

He sorted these, trimming skin with skin,
hair with hair, into rows of clay bowls,
and set a large basin to catch each sour drip

as he sliced the hide and used both fists
to yank back the whole stubbled, gray pelt,
as wet and red on its underside as afterbirth.

He piled this heavily away, draping it
in clean linen, and turned to the meat and bone
heaving under sheer, tight membrane.

Sawteeth chewed into femur, rib and shoulder.
Pliers twisted and wrenched away tendons
until everything softened, canted, and collapsed—

yet not one sliver dies. Each ribbon and shard
bawls for the horror and hurt of their missing,
wishing for the old braying wholeness.

Pain bloodies evening and morning,
stabbing day after day from even the first cuts,
like the slow light of far stars.

Eyeballs and heart float alone in the last bowl,
dark and defenseless, quavering when he leans down
and they recognize in his eyes how little is left.

“Easy now, Camel,” he says and lifts me
in his fingertips, one quivering strand at a time,
through the eye of the needle.

-Luke 18.25, by Karsten Piper (son of John Piper)

For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
Luke 18:25
If we're not rich in possessions, we're rich in pride. So how else could God get sinners like me and you into heaven?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Our Hearts Post-Election

Exactly two weeks ago just prior to the U.S. election, I posted a video that talked about John Piper's heart in the 2008 election (or at least that's what the YouTube video is called).

Just a couple of minutes ago, I read the following blog post by my brother in the Lord, Thabiti Anyabwile, who pastors a church out in the Grand Cayman Islands.

Regardless of who we voted for and what our initial response was to the result of the election, the question we must now ask ourselves as believers is: Where are our hearts post election? May Thabiti's heart post-election be our hearts post-election for Jesus' sake.

This Changes Everything, Doesn't It?

Amen, brother. Amen.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Listening For The Whispers

And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he became king, lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king's table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king according to his daily need, until the day of his death as long as he lived.
Jeremiah 52:31-34
This morning I finished the book of Jeremiah. These are the last verses of the last chapter. An interesting way to end the book, especially considering how the last couple of chapters (long ones at that) spoke of the judgment that God intended to bring on Babylon and other nations. But before God brings this exceedingly terrible judgment on Babylon (chapter 51), He plans to use them to bring judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah. Babylon will be His tool to bring about His judgment on His people but then He will bring a full end to Babylon in judging them. But these last few verses of Jeremiah provide us with foreshadowing that shows us the difference between Babylon and Judah. While God plans to bring a full end to Babylon in the judgment He brings on them, He does not plan to bring a full end to the people of Israel in the judgment He brings on them. The mercy shown to King Jehoiachin in these verses points us to the mercy God shows to His covenant people Israel.

King Jehoiachin was one of the many evil kings to reign in Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:9, 2 Chronicles 36:9). This would seem to be one of the reasons that the Lord allows him to be carried off in exile to Babylon along with the rest of the Israelites (2 Chronicles 36:10).

And then all of a sudden here at the end of Jeremiah (as well as the end of 2 Kings) we're told that Jehoiachin receives pardon. He is released from imprisonment. But not only that. He is exalted above the other kings who are in Babylon. He's given royal treatment. The king speaks kindly to him. The king allows him to dine at the king's table. The king gives him daily allowance for whatever he needs. Every day until the day he drops. Consider this. It makes no sense. Why?

Perhaps one reason is to point us to the outrage of the gospel. And the Savior who is the reason for it.

In the case of Jehoiachin, we aren't told what happens to cause the king to show him favor but the same isn't true of those of us in Christ who, like Jehoiachin, are shown outrageous grace.

Speaking to His disicples, Jesus tells them plainly that they are evil (Luke 11:13). Evil means evil. I'm no better than Jehoiachin or any of the other Israelites who were sent into exile in Babylon. My idolatry simply looks different and isn't so outwardly manifest. Similarly to Jehoiachin, I am under imprisonment. I am imprisoned under the law that I cannot keep, sin, Satan, and the curse of death (Galatians 3:22, 23).

But then something happened to change that.

And just like Jehoiachin, my fortunes are instantaneously changed. Not only am I lifted from my prison cell but I'm granted royal treatment. I put off my prison garments and am now clothed with the righteousness of Another (Isaiah 61:10). The King speaks kindly to me through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) as often as I will listen. I am now seated in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Ephesians 2:6, 1:20,21). I have more than my daily bread to eat every day and await the great feast that this King will one day prepare for His people (Isaiah 25:6). I have more than my daily allowance as the King now provides me with more than I could ever need (Philippians 4:19) until the day I drop (and even more then).

What happened to make this possible?
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45
Jesus gave His life as a ransom to purchase me from the prison I was in so that I could receive pardon and be made an heir of the King (Galatians 4:7). Do you hear the whispers of Jesus in these last few verses of Jeremiah? King Jehoiachin represents the tree of God's covenant people Israel that Gentiles like me have been grafted into (Romans 11:17-19).

So what ultimately is the difference between the Babylonians and the Israelites? Jesus pays a ransom for one and not for the other. God pours the fullness of His judgment out on Jesus on the cross so that He could give the true Israelites royal treatment instead of making a full end of us like He does to Babylon. This is the reason behind all outrageous grace.

I love hearing these whispers of the Savior. They are there all over the Old Testament. Are you listening for them?
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Man Who Truly Fears The LORD

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
Luke 6:26
A dear brother from my church recently wrote the following poem. I was tremendously blessed by it so I am posting it here with his permission.
The Man Who Truly Fears the LORD
Is the Man Whose Eye is Set
On Approval from the LORD Alone
And All Other Approval Forgets

Approval from GOD Alone Does He Court
And Not From Any Person
Regarding Neither the Sinners’ Report
Nor That from Religious Persons

Saturday, November 08, 2008

10 Indictments

Warning: This is 2 hours long. That being said, it's probably worth watching more than once.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

God's Love And Our Circumstances

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
John 11:1-6
A couple of months ago while reading a book by Jerry Bridges called Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, I came across the following quote:
We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances (p.160).
This is one of those one liners that five years after you have read a book you remember even though you've forgotten everything else. It's the kind of line that can change your life if burned into your heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.

What does it look like to see God's love through our circumstances? And what does it look like to instead see our circumstances through God's love as we should? What is the difference between the two? And why does it matter?

From these verses in John, the translation of one word determines, I believe, whether we see Jesus's love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus through their circumstances or whether we see their circumstances through Jesus's love for them.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are facing agonizing circumstances. Lazarus is sick and on the verge of death. So they send messengers to tell Jesus about these circumstances so that Jesus can change them, right? In verse 5, John tells us of Jesus' love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. And then verse 6 shows us the connection between God the Son's love for them and their circumstances.

If you are reading in the NIV, verses 5 and 6 are as follows (emphasis added):
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
If you are reading in the ESV, verses 5 and 6 are as follows (emphasis added):
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
In the NIV's rendering, I can't help but see Jesus's love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus through the lens of their circumstances. And if I put myself in the shoes of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, my heart is saying: Even though God loves me, these are my circumstances. Which takes higher precedence in my heart: God's love or my circumstances?

In the ESV's rendering, I can't help but see the circumstances of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus through the lens of Jesus's love for them. And now when I put myself in the shoes of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, my heart says: Because God loves me, these are my circumstances. Which takes higher precedence in my heart in this case: God's love or my circumstances?

What's the difference between the two? Does it even matter? Is there anything at stake here?

What do you think?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Glad To Be A Pilgrim!

From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
A much needed reminder with election week looming:

They're Looking Down Only For A Little While

It was revealed to them [prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1:12
The Greek word translated into English as “to look” means to stoop down, to bend beside, or to lean over. The angels so desperately want to stoop down from heaven, to bend or lean over the wall that separates the heavens and the earth. Why? So that they can see the work of the gospel which they have never and will never come into contact with in their own lives. I imagine that they are up there looking at the gospel transform our lives when we first get saved and then in our lives everyday thereafter and they are thinking to themselves and perhaps even asking each other, “What must that be like?”
I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Luke 15:10
Whenever a sinner repents of his or her sins, trusts Christ as Savior, and begins to follow Him as Lord, Jesus tells us that there is joy before the angels of God. The angels of God are filled with rejoicing. Why? Because they are seeing the gospel at work as God is glorified in the salvation of His people.

The psalmist says that God has made humans a little bit lower than the heavenly beings (Psalm 8:5), referring to the angels. Even though it may seem that angels are higher in status than humans because they are now in heaven in the physical presence of God and we are struggling here on earth with our sin away from the physical presence of God, that’s not the way it will always be.

The writer to the Hebrews helps us understand what the psalmist really meant when he wrote Psalm 8.
Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,

"What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet."

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death...
Hebrews 2:5-9
What does it mean that Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels? It means that He became a man. But once He rose from the dead, He was crowned with glory and honor and seated at the right hand of His Father so that He is no longer lower than the angels. And one day when we are resurrected, we too will be crowned with glory and honor and seated at Jesus’ right hand (Revelation 3:21) so that we will no longer be lower than the angels.

The angels' song:
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
Revelation 5:12
Our song:
Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
Revelation 7:10

For Your blood has washed away my sin, Jesus thank You. The Father's wrath completely satisfied, Jesus thank You. Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table, Jesus thank You.
Notice the difference?

Thank You, Father, for this song You have given us to sing that the angels will never sing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How To Raise The Dead

We can't. And yet this is exactly what we are sent to do.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Evangelism Afterthoughts

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
John 4:31-38

Late this past Friday night, I drove home from San Jose to my apartment in Morgan Hill tired and frustrated. Getting less than 5 hours of sleep the night before is probably part of the reason why. But the bigger reason why I was tired and frustrated is because I had just spent the whole night hanging out with a friend of mine who completely rejects Jesus. I’ve known this guy longer than anyone else I know who isn’t a family member. He’s like a brother to me and ever since I started following Jesus in college, I have wanted him to follow Jesus also. So we’ve had lots of conversations about Jesus. And about Buddhism, because that’s his religion. We sat at dinner for over an hour talking about Jesus and I could have sworn it was like he didn’t hear the words that were coming out of my mouth. I tried to patiently listen to him and then engage with him about how Buddhism and Christianity are radically different, but he always concludes that they are more similar than they are different. So by the end I was tired because engaging like that takes emotional and mental energy. And frustrated because I feel like it was a waste of time that could have been spent in a more enjoyable or productive way.

This is often the way that I feel after I talk to people about Jesus. Just the week before I spent pretty much the entire bus ride from San Jose back to Morgan Hill talking to a woman I’ve gotten to know on the bus who describes herself as a non-practicing Jew. When she told me that she was going to the synagogue the next day, I was intrigued because she had told me she was non-practicing. So she explained to me that it was the one time in the year that she goes to the synagogue: to observe Yom Kippur, which for Jews is the day of atonement. In the Old Testament, God created this as a day to conduct rituals that would symbolically remove the sins of the people and cleanse them so that they would be right with God. I asked her what if she could have her sins removed and cleansed once for all so that she didn’t have to keep doing it year after year. At that point she got really defensive, claimed it was impossible, and then laughed as she walked off the bus. I was frustrated and disappointed as I drove home thinking about what I should have done differently.

Do you ever feel that way after you talk to people about Jesus? Tired? Frustrated? Disappointed? Discouraged? Feel like you failed? Or am I the only one? What thoughts are going through your mind after you have just done the work of an evangelist? Well, have you ever asked yourself what thoughts should be going through your mind after you have just done the work of an evangelist?

That was the introduction to the message I preached to the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter at San Jose State University last Wednesday night. You can read the entire message here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Folly Of Temptation

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
1 John 3:3
Last night, my roommate and I were discussing how we should go about fighting temptation to sin. He made mention to me of a book that he is reading about sin being a wisdom/foolishness issue. In the book, an illustration was used (I can't remember specifically) about temptation always looking attractive but having this bitterness and pain always associated that we cannot see. And the author explained that he goes about fighting temptation by reminding himself that it's always unwise to go where danger is certain.

Now I agree with this. And maybe I'm just wired differently than others, but I have never had great effectiveness in fighting temptation to sin that way. When it comes down to it, my heart often will usually bypass my mind. And thinking about what's wise becomes irrelevant when I feel so strongly about what I want in the moment of temptation. This caused me to go back to find this excerpt from a book I read about a year ago in which I highlighted almost the entire section (does this defeat the point of using a highlighter?). It's from a book called Hope, a meditation on 1 John 3:3, written by a Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs:
PARTICULAR 3. The greatness of their hopes fills their hearts with so much comfort and satisfaction, their souls are so satisfied with the good that they hope for, that they account they have enough and need not look to any other thing for comfort and contentment. They have enough in their own hearts; their hope fills their souls with joy unspeakable and glorious. What is the reason why carnal hearts seek up and down for comfort in this and the other lust? It is because they do not have enough in God. But the saints have the spring of consolation within through these hopes; these hopes fill them with so much comfort that the temptation that would draw them to sin has no power to prevail against them; for where lies the power of a temptation to sin but in that it offers some contentment that the heart did not have before? And therefore people who are discontent are subject to temptation. You do not know how liable you make yourselves to temptations when you are discontent and lack comfort within. When the devil sees such a one, he says, "Here is an object fit for me; he lacks comfort. Now I will go and present some comfort to him, for he is vexed and troubled. And I may draw him to such and such an evil way."

No people are more in danger of temptations than melancholy and discontented persons, for the strength of a temptation lies in offering some contentment that we lack. Now if the heart is filled with comfort, and spiritual and heavenly things, so that I find my soul fully satisfied and quieted, I can say, "Return unto your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with me. Whatsoever I lack in the creature, I have the light of the face of God; and I know I have enough laid up in God, Christ, heaven, the covenant, and the promises."

Now the devil sees that there is little hope of prevailing with such a soul to draw it to sin. He thinks with himself, "How can I offer contentment to them? Their hearts are satisfied with better contentment than I can offer to them!" The reason a temptation prevails is because the devil thinks that he has better comforts and contentment than you have in your own hearts; but the devil, the world, and the flesh (put them all together) cannot offer better and sweeter comforts than this hope in the hearts of the saints fills them with. Hence it is that the greatness of the hopes of the saints helps to purge and keep the heart from sin, because they fill the heart with so much joy and comfort.

If a man should have his body filled with sweet wines, if you should come now to offer him a small beer, do you think you could prevail with him to drink it? The saints have the rich wine of heavenly consolation, and they fill themselves through the hopes that they have in those great things of the gospel. They fill their hearts with the rich wine of the consolation of the Spirit of God, and that which the devil, the world, or the flesh offer is but a little sapless stuff, dead beer, after they are so filled with other comforts.

-Jeremiah Burroughs, Hope, p.62-64
This is the most effective way I have ever been able to fight the temptation to sin in my life. The folly of temptation for me isn't so much the folly of walking into certain danger (though that is always very much the case), but rather the folly of trading an infinitely greater experience of pleasure and joy (in God)--even if I must wait for it--for the short-lived pleasure and joy offered by the sin that tempts me. I don't know why, but by God's grace the latter is much harder for my heart to bypass than the first.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Seeing Sin For What It Really Is In Us

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Mark 7:14-23
Here is part of the second message I gave at the high school retreat I spoke at a couple of weekends ago. I spoke on Mark 7:1-23 and the title of my message was "Seeing Sin For What It Really Is In Us." I don't think I've ever been more affected by a message that I have preached than I was affected by this one as I continue to work out the implications of it today. When I really get this, I will say with the apostle Paul that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15), and mean it.

So how do we see sin for what it really is? From verses 14 and 15, we should understand that sin doesn’t have to do with anything on the outside of our bodies. Sin is not something external.

Jesus says very clearly, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him…” He’s talking about food because the Pharisees were making a big deal about the disciples eating food that would be touched by unwashed hands. But when he says nothing, He means nothing. Things outside of us aren’t the source of our sin. Wearing certain kinds of clothes or certain kinds of jewelry isn’t sin in itself. Listening to certain kinds of music isn’t sin in itself. What I mean when I say that is that there is no kind of music that you are sinning if you listen to it and not sinning by not listening to it. There is no clothing or jewelry that you are sinning if you wear it and not sinning by not wearing it. Why? Because if this could be the case, then it would be something outside of you defiling you. But Jesus says that nothing outside of a person even if it goes into him can defile him.

So we know that sin doesn’t have to do with breaking the traditions or convictions of men that go beyond the Bible. Sin doesn’t have to do with something external. So what does sin really have to do with?

If you don’t understand yet, that’s OK. Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand either. At this point in verse 17, Mark tells us that they asked Jesus about the parable. They wanted to know what He meant.

Jesus then tells them why something that a person eats can’t make him unclean: because it goes through his stomach and out of his body. It doesn’t go into his heart. What’s the implication? Sin is what is in our hearts. The sin in you is what other people can never see and will never see. They will see some evidences of it. But they will never see it for what it really is. What this means is that we can only see sin for what it really is in ourselves. So how do we see sin for what it really is? We look inside ourselves. That’s the only place we’re going to truly be able to see it. Sin is completely internal.

And that’s why I said that the idea of judging others in our hearts leads to what Jesus teaches sin is really about. Sin isn’t most fundamentally about what we do. Sin is most fundamentally about what we think and feel.


So often we have trouble loving others because when we see them we find them hard to love. But here’s the crazy thing about that. Sin is in the heart. We can’t see their hearts. But if we have the eyes to see, we can see most of the ugliness in our own hearts. If we really saw how ugly our hearts were, then I don’t think there is anyone we could look at who wouldn’t be more beautiful and more lovable than what we see in ourselves.

You can get the entire sermon manuscript here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Blood Covers More Than We Often Think

But the blood of Christ can do greater things than our questioning hearts can conceive. Its virtue extends farther than either unbelief or self-righteousness will credit. It has the property of covering, not merely our sins before coming, however great these may be, but the defects of our act of coming. Our High Priest bears "the iniquity of our holy things." ... To separate that act of ours in coming, from the sins for the cleansing of which we come, so as to make it a thing by itself, on the right forth-putting of which the availableness of the blood depends, is to say that there is one class of sins to which the efficacy of the blood cannot extend.

Quoted in Christ Is All: The Piety Of Horatius Bonar (p.213, emphasis added)
Let's face it. None of us can come the right way. That's why there is no right way to come. Just come. I love the gospel. What a perfect way to prepare for the Lord's Day!

The Key To Loving Jesus

"Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven--for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little."
Luke 7:44-47 (emphasis added)
Two weekends ago, I had the undeserved privilege of being God's messenger as the speaker at the high school retreat for the home school co-op that is run by my church (where I teach Systematic Theology to juniors and seniors every Friday morning). I gave two messages that were directly related to each other. Below is the conclusion from the first message I gave on Luke 7:36-50 called "The Key To Loving Jesus."

How do we grow in our love for Jesus? We grow in our love for Jesus as we grow in seeing that our sin is greater than we could ever imagine. If our understanding of how great our debt is grows, then our understanding of how great our forgiveness is grows. You see, our brains are finite. So when I say that each of our debts before God is infinite, you hear what I’m saying but you can’t process how big that is. You must continually grow in your understanding of how great the debt is day by day. And as you grow in understanding how great that debt is, you will grow in your love for Jesus.

Think about it this way. Even when we are in heaven, we will never know God fully because He is infinite and we are finite and it will always be that way. So we will be growing in our knowledge of Him each day because there will always be more and more to learn. In the same way we will never fully know in this life how great our sin debt is because it is infinite and we are finite. So we must grow in our understanding of it through our entire lives if we will grow in treasuring our forgiveness and treasuring Jesus.

I didn’t become a Christian very long ago. It was about six years ago. But I became a Christian by becoming aware of my sin debt before God. And I’ll tell you this. From my perspective six years ago, I was only a 50 denarii debtor. Yes, I needed forgiveness. But the sins I recognized were obvious. I needed to stop stealing music. I needed to stop making an idol of worldly success (grades). I needed to stop feeding the lust in my heart. Among other things. By God’s grace He has freed me from the power of those particular sins in my life. But you know what, I now feel like a 5,000 denarii debtor. You probably couldn’t tell by looking at me from the outside because I usually can’t. The sins I recognize aren’t as obvious. And they are more deeply ingrained in my heart. I am often too fearful of people to share the gospel with them. I care too much about what people think after I teach rather than if I was faithful to God and His Word. I compare myself to other teachers of God’s word to see if I am better than them or worse than them in my ability to teach. I secretly judge people in my heart who don’t seem to pursue God as much as I think they should. I give God advice about the way I want things to be in my life. Among other things. And these sins feel harder to be freed from than my former ones. I might look better on the outside, but I feel worse on the inside. But forgiveness is more precious to me now than it was 5 years ago. And Jesus is more precious to me now than He was 5 years ago. But I still don’t know how great my sin debt. I still need to grow in my love for Jesus. And I will do this as I continue to grow in my understanding of how great my sin debt still is.

You can get the entire sermon manuscript here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

For My Sisters In Christ

True Woman Manifesto

May God enable you to more deeply cherish and embrace the glorious, high calling of biblical womanhood--married or single--for the glory of Christ. And may He raise up many more like you.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


I just received Lecrae's new album Rebel in the mail yesterday. I already posted the first song with its lyrics a couple of days ago. I've only listened to the first five songs on it and let me just say that if I could post them all I would. But this will be the last one. If you want to hear the rest, my recommendation is for you to purchase a copy of this CD (also available on ITunes). The truth in Lecrae's lyrics is heart-penetrating and passion-inspiring. If for no other reason, the purchase is worth supporting the labors of Lecrae and his fellow laborers in their missionary efforts to bring the uncompromising, crystal-clear message of the gospel into the inner-city hip hop culture through the gifts God has given them. May God use them mightily in bringing reformation. There's no doubt He already is.

Don't Waste Your Life by Lecrae feat. Dwayne Tryumf
Don't wanna waste my life

Verse 1:
I know a lot of people out there scared they gone die
couple of em thinking they'll be livin in the sky
but while Im here livin man I gotta ask why, what am here fo I gotta figure out
waste my life
no I gotta make it count
if Christ is real then what am I gone do about
all of the things in Luke 12:15 down to 21
you really oughta go and check it out
Paul said if Christ aint resurrect then we wasted our lives
well that implies that our life's built around Jesus being alive
everyday I'm living tryin show the world why
Christ is more than everything you'll ever try
better than pretty women and sinning and living to get a minute of any women and men that you admire
aint no lie
We created for Him
outta the dust he made us for Him
Elects us and he saves us for Him
Jesus comes and raises for Him
Magnify the Father why bother with something lesser
he made us so we could bless Him and to the world we confess him
resurrects him
so I know I got life
matter fact better man I know I got Christ
if you don't' see His ways in my days and nights
you can hit my brakes you can stop my lights
man I lost my rights
I lost my life
forget the money cars and toss that ice
the cost is Christ
and they could never offer me anything on the planet that'll cost that price.

Verse 2:
(Dwayne Tryumph)
Armed and dangerous
So the devil jus can't handle us
Christian youth them a stand wid us
Livin' n driven
given a vision
fullfillin the commission he handed us
London to Los Angeles
Da rap evangelist
Ma daddy wouldn't abandon us
"I gotta back pack fulla tracts plus I keep a Johnny Mac"
So are you ready to jam with us
So lets go, gimme the word an lets go
Persecution lets go
Tribulation lets go
Across the nation lets go
Procrastination bes go
Hung on the cross in the cold
Died for da young and the old
Can't say you never know
Heaven knows
How many souls are going to hell or to heaven so we gotta go in and get em

Verse 3:
Yeah do it for Christ if you trying to figure what to do with your life
if you making money hope you doing it right because the money is Gods you better steward it right
stay focused if you aint got no ride
your life aint wrapped up in what you drive
the clothes you wear the job you work
the color your skin naw we Christian first
people living life for a job
make a lil money start living for a car
get em a house a wife kids and a dog
when they retire they living high on the hog
but guess what they didn't ever really live at all
to live is Christ yeah that's Paul I recall
to die is gain so for Christ we give it all
he's the treasure you'll find in the mall
Your money your singleness marriage talent and time
they were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine
that's why it's Christ in my rhymes
That's why it's Christ all the time
my whole world is built around him He's the life in my lines
I refused to waste my life
he's too true ta chase that ice
heres my gifts and time cause I'm constantly trying to be used to praise the Christ
If he's truly raised to life
then this news should change your life
and by his grace you can put your faith in place that rules your days and nights.

He's fast isn't he? You can find the lyrics to all the songs at the Reach Records website.

The Best Illustration Of Election I've Ever Heard

Words fail me. Thank You, Father.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I Wanna Be A Rebel

Rebel Intro by Lecrae (from his latest album)

I'm in rebellion

Verse 1:
Jesus was a rebel, a renegade, outlaw
A sanctified troublemaker but He never sinned, naw
and He lived His life by a different set of Rules
the culture ain't approve
so you know they had they had to bruise em
that's the way they do
man, they swear they so gangsta but everyones the same
everybody do the same stuff
tattoo, piercing
smokin' up and drinking
money and sex plus them extravagant weekends
if that's the high life
I'll puff puff pass that
you leave evaporated like you missing a gas cap
I guess I'm passed that
cause I am in rebellion
I'd rather have a dollar in my pocket than a mill-ion
I'm scared to worship money, and my wants over Elyon
I'll remain a rebel while the rest of them just carry on
this is what I live fo
this the hill I'm buried on
if Jesus is the truth
that means one of us is VERY wrong
think about it

Verse 2:
No glory in me
all glory to the King on the throne (Jesus)
you either love Him or leave Him alone but you cant do both
yeah, you probably heard that once in song
I pray you hear 10 mo fo ya gone
yeah listen up, holmes
The stage is my corner and my crowd is the streets
That's why I rap the bread of life cause they dyin' to eat
I'm a rebel you know the kind that die in the street
Cause you refuse to conform, won't eat the kings meat
look, if Christ rebelled by shunning the cultured
He eatin' with sinners
givin Pharasies ulcers
He never got married, was broke and plus homeless
yeah that's the God I roll wit
ya boy gotta wife and no I neva cheated
I'm prayin for humility whenever I get heated
forget about the drugs
rebel against pornography
this ain't how it oughta be, homie
this is how it's gotta be
A rebel

And here is an interview with Lecrae. It's long but really insightful as Lecrae and Mark Driscoll help me understand what it means to be a rebel missionary who brings Jesus to people without all the "clothing" that makes Him no longer visible. I've been thinking lately that perhaps our problem so often in witnessing (in my church context) is that we "dress Jesus up" instead of just bringing Him as He is. A good indicator of this is my answer to the question of what I think a non-believer's life ought to look like after being saved. Yes, internals changes are usually manifested externally but are the changes that I most foresee and hope for merely external ones? Clothes they wear? The type of people they hang out with? The type of music they listen to? If so, I'm probably "dressing Jesus up." There's a line I can't get out of my head from this interview. As Lecrae describes how he got saved, he talks about the people who reached out to him. As he interacted with these people, he would over and over in his mind think to himself, "They can't possibly be Christians." Why, I ask? I think it's because the people who had formerly shaped his understanding of Christianity had "dressed Jesus up" and the Christians he was now encountering brought Jesus as He is "with no extra clothing." The irony is that unless we get "dressed up" in the "clothing" of those to whom we are bringing the gospel (becoming missionaries), we will be "dressing Jesus up" because they will see how we are "dressed differently than them" instead of seeing Jesus in us for who He is. May the Lord make us people who non-believers encounter and think to themselves, "They can't possibly be Christians" because all they see is people who love Jesus and love them with the pure gospel of grace without works.

HT: Mark Driscoll

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Believe In The Holy Spirit

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:2

The following is from the message I gave to our church's high school students on Genesis 1:2 this morning.

We could read this verse and practically skip over the second half without thinking of the importance of it. It’s easy for us to treat God as the main thing (In the beginning, God…). It’s easy for us to treat Jesus as the main thing (In the beginning was the Word…). But it’s so easy for us to treat the Holy Spirit as secondary (And the Spirit of God…). His sentence begins in a way that would make us treat Him like an addition to something else that is more important.

But think about the significance of Moses telling us that the Holy Spirit was moving over the earth at this time. Even while the earth was without form, the Holy Spirit was moving over it. Even while the earth was empty, the Holy Spirit was moving over it. Even while the earth was in darkness, the Holy Spirit was moving over it. The Holy Spirit was moving over the creation before God said that anything was good.

What is the significance of this? Well the very next thing that happens after we read about the Spirit moving over the face of the waters is that God says, “Let there be light.” God creates! It is the movement of the Holy Spirit that leads to the creative action of God.

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Why? Because God was getting ready to do something! We should read that verse with anticipation and excitement. The Spirit’s moving. God is gonna do something! God is gonna do something! God is gonna do something!

God doesn’t create apart from the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t work apart from the Holy Spirit.

To be born again, you must be born through the Holy Spirit’s movement in your life.
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
John 3:7, 8

To pray the right way, you must pray in the Holy Spirit.
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
Ephesians 6:18

Pray in the Holy Spirit;
Jude 20

To understand the Bible, the Holy Spirit must move in your mind and heart.
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:13, 14

To walk in obedience, we must have the Holy Spirit in us.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Ezekiel 36:27

To kill the sin in our lives, we can only do so by the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13

To have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is only possible if the Holy Spirit is living in us.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22,23

To sing to the Lord from our hearts, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.
Ephesians 5:18, 19

To trust the promises of God, we must have the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
2 Corinthians 1:22

If you are a believer, hopefully you are doing these things almost every day. But do you acknowledge on a daily basis that you can only do them for one reason: because of the Spirit of God that is living in you? The Spirit of God is hovering over our souls as He was hovering over the waters. What might our lives be like if we were aware of the Holy Spirit’s movement within us on a moment by moment basis?

Charles Spurgeon was a popular preacher in England in the 1800’s. He preached in a huge building that seated thousands of people. Whenever he preached, he would have to walk up a long flight of stairs because the pulpit was high up where everyone in the building could see him. And you know what he did as he walked up the stairs each time before he preached? With each step he took, he would say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Each step. He reminded himself that the Spirit was moving and this caused him to be filled with anticipation week after week that God was going to do something, that God was going to save people each time he got up to preach. And God saved thousands of people through Spurgeon’s ministry.

What should be so encouraging about Genesis 1:2 is that the Spirit is moving at a time when there is nothing but emptiness, darkness, and formlessness. He hasn’t stopped moving in those times. He’s moving and as He moves God is getting ready to say “Let there be light.” So often we find ourselves stuck in points where we wonder where God is. We question whether He is working and if He is doing anything good in the midst of our life experiences. If you are His, then no matter how empty you feel, no matter how dark it is, no matter how formless life seems, the Spirit is moving in you and around you. And that means that God is getting ready to say, “Let there be light.” You should do it throughout everyday but especially when you have a bad day, remind yourself of the Holy Spirit. Say, like Charles Spurgeon did, “I believe in the Holy Spirit” with each step that you take.

You can get the entire sermon manuscript here.

I believe in You Holy Spirit. I love You Holy Spirit.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Rapper Of Sovereign Grace

My crew is still repping the King at San Jose State University:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Urgent Need Of The Church

What is the most urgent need in the church of the Western world today? Many different responses are given to that question....

Some in the church say that what we need is purity in sexual and reproductive matters...

Others locate the most urgent problem of the church less in personal morality than in larger policy issues connected with reproduction...

Others say the church's most urgent need is a combination of integrity and generosity in the financial arena...

Well, then, someone might say, what we need in this hour of spiritual declension is evangelism and church planting...

Perhaps what we most urgently need, then is disciplined, biblical thinking. We need more Bible colleges and seminaries, more theologians, more lay training, more expository preaching. How else are we going to train a whole generation of Christians to think God's thoughts after him, other than by teaching them to think through Scripture, to learn the Scriptures well?...

Time fails to list other ugent needs that various groups espouse. Some groups point to the desperate need for real, vital corporate worship; others focus on trends in the nation and therefore the need to become involved in politics and policies.

Clearly all of these things are important. I would not want anything I have said to be taken as disparagement of evangelism and worship, a diminishing of the importance of purity and integrity, a carelessness about disciplined Bible study. But there is a sense in which these urgent needs are merely symptomatic of a far more serious lack. The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.

When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs--and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfillment. God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfills our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us. We are not captured by his holiness and his love; his thoughts and words capture too little of our imagination, too little of our discourse, too few of our priorities.

In the biblical view of things, a deeper knowledge of God brings with it massive improvement in the other areas mentioned: purity, integrity, evangelistic effectiveness, better study of Scripture, improved private and corporate worship, and much more. But if we seek these things without passionately desiring a deeper knowledge of God, we are selfishly running after God's blessings without running after him. We are even worse than the man who wants his wife's services--someone to come home to, someone to cook and clean, someone to sleep with--without ever making the effort to really know and love his wife and discover what she wants and needs; we are worse than such a man, I say, because God is more than any wife, more than the best of wives: he is perfect in his love, he has made us for himself, and we are answerable to him.

A Call To Spiritual Reformation: Priorities From Paul And His Prayers, D.A. Carson, p.11-16
Amen, Don. Amen. This past summer I was blown away when I realized how Paul prays for the church in Ephesus. Paul knows that in the Ephesian church people struggle with lying, anger, stealing, improper speech, strained relationships, unforgiveness, sexual immorality, covetousness, drunkenness, and more. Just read chapters 4 and 5. But how does he pray for this church? Does he pray for the power of lust to be broken in their lives, for them to have restored relationships, or for idols to be destroyed? As good as these things are, no. And it dawned on me. If he prayed in these ways, he'd be fighting the wrong battle. The presence of these things aren't ultimately what their problem is. Their problem is owing to a lack of something. So this is how Paul prays:
I do not cease to remember you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know...
Ephesians 1:17,18
Paul really only prays for one thing in verses 17-23. Everything after verse 17 is an expansion of what that one thing is: that God may grant the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.

That was their greatest need. If this prayer would be answered, all the other issues would disappear. And 2,000 years removed, times haven't changed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

From A Fellow Christian Hedonist

My puritan friend Richard Baxter:
XXIII. 1. A Christian indeed daily delights himself in God, and finds more solid content and pleasure in his commands and promises, than in all this world ; his duties are sweet to him, and his hopes are sweeter. Religion is not a tiresome task to him, the yoke of Christ is easy to him, his burden light, and his commandments are not grievous. That which others take as physic, for mere necessity, against their wills he goes to as a feast, with appetite and delight; he prays because he loves to pray; and he thinks and speaks of holy things, because he loves to do it. Hence it is that he is so much in holy duty, and so unwearied, because he loves it and takes pleasure in it. As voluptuous persons are oft and long at their sports, or merry company all because they love them, and take pleasure in them: so are such Christians oft and long in holy exercises, because their hearts are set upon them as their recreation, and the way and means of their felicity. If it be a delight to a studious man to read those books which most clearly open the most abstruse mysteries of the sciences, or to converse with the most wise and learned men: and if it be a delight to men to converse with their dearest friends, or to hear from them and read their letters, no marvel if it be a delight to a Christian indeed, to read the gospel mysteries of love, and to find there the promises of everlasting happiness, and to see in the face of Christ the clearest image of the eternal deity; and foresee the joys which he shall have forever. He sticks not in superficial formality, but breaking the shell, doth feed upon the kernel. It is not bare external duty which he is taken up with, nor any mere creature that is his content; but it is God in creatures and ordinances that he seeks and lives upon ; and therefore it is that religion is so pleasant to him. He would not change his heavenly delights, which he finds in the exercise of faith, hope, and love to God, for all the carnal pleasures of this world ; he had rather be a door-keeper in the house of God, than dwell in the tents or palaces of wickedness. A day in God’s court is better to him than a thousand in the court of the greatest prince on earth. He is not a stranger to the joy in the Holy Ghost, in which the kingdom of God in part consists. ‘In the multitude of his thoughts within him, the comforts of God delight his soul. – His meditation of God is sweet, and he is glad in the Lord.’ The freest and sweetest of his thoughts and words run out upon God and the matters of salvation. The word of God is sweeter to him than honey, and better than thousands of gold and silver. And because his delight is in the law of the Lord, therefore he meditates in it day and night, he sees great reason for all those commands, ‘rejoice evermore, let the righteous be glad, let them rejoice before God, yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy all that are upright in heart.’ He is sorry for the poor unhappy world, that have no better things than meat, drink, clothes, house, land, money, lust, play, and domineering over others, to rejoice in; and heartily he wishes that they had but a taste of the saint’s delights, that it might make them abandon their luscious, unclean, unwholesome pleasures. One look to Christ, one promise of the gospel, one serious thought of the life which he must live with God for ever, doth afford his soul more solid comfort than all the kingdoms on earth can afford. Though he live not continually in these high delights, yet peace with God, peace of conscience, and some delight in God, and godliness, is the ordinary temperature of his soul, and higher degrees are given him in season for his cordials and his feasts.

The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Baker (714-715)

HT: kerux noemata

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Beware Of Trying To Turn The Light On When God Has Turned It Off

Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.
Isaiah 50:10, 11 (emphasis added)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Are We Hearing From Him? - Part 1

I should probably start by saying that I don't really have time to be blogging right now. In case you didn't notice, it's been a while since my last post. But the title of this post has at least two meanings in my mind and both of them have a sense of urgency associated with them, which is why I figured this shouldn't wait.

So what do I mean when I say, "Are We Hearing From Him?" First off, the Him is referring to God. And, for the sake of this post, I am taking for granted that one of the ways God speaks is by the events that are happening every day all around us if we would have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

When the Pharisees came to Jesus asking him for a sign from heaven, He said this:
"When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.
Matthew 16:2,3
The Pharisees 't didn't have their eyes and ears open to the signs of the times in their day and what God was saying to them in Jesus. They weren't hearing from Him. So the question for us is: do we have our eyes and ears open to the signs of the times in the events that are happening around us today? Are we hearing from God through them?

This past weekend, John Piper began his expositional preaching series through the book of John. He has no idea how long it will last as he preaches verse by verse through this account of the gospel.

A few days before that, he wrote an article about preaching that is tethered to the Word of God compared to preaching that is not.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, recently released a book called, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World. Tim Challies today wrote an excellent review of it here. I have not read this book, but would love to do so soon (though I don't think that will happen).

I just got done teaching my systematic theology class about bibliology, the doctrine that talks about the origins of the Bible and the characteristics of the Bible. We talked specifically about four characteristics of the Bible: it's authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency.

So I'm asking myself: am I hearing from God through these providences? What are the signs of our times? Al Mohler's new books says that He is not silent. But God being silent and our hearing from Him are two completely different things.

Lord willing, in the next couple of weeks I will write some reflections based on the hearing from God that I have written about in this post giving a couple of reasons from the Bible why I think that what the Church needs most in order to hear from God is an unflinching commitment to the expository preaching of the Bible (the other aspect of hearing I was referring to at the beginning of this post) by pastors in the pulpit from Sunday to Sunday.