Sunday, July 27, 2008

Learning From Nehemiah How To Pray

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, "O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments..."
Nehemiah 1:5, 6 (emphasis added)
As Nehemiah began praying to God after learning of the destruction in Jerusalem, where did he find the words to begin praying? The Bible.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments...
Deuteronomy 7:9 (emphasis added)
What are we to learn from this? One of the main ways that we grow in the depth and vitality of our communion with God through prayer is to grow in our meditation on and memorization of the Word of God so that it becomes the very content of our prayers, the fuel for our fire as the Spirit burns in us to God. One more reason we can never have enough Bible.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Call To Worship

An excerpt from the announcement James Montgomery Boice--senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church at the time--made to his congregation just before giving the call to worship about his being diagnosed with cancer. The Lord called him home eight weeks later:
God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what Romans 12, verses1 and 2, says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God’s will is. And then it says, “His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Is that good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it’s good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Truly Boasting In Christ Alone

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom,
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection…

As I sang these words from the last verse of the song “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” with outstretched arms this past Sunday in church, I began to meditate on them in a way that I have never done so before. I carried that meditation through most of the rest of Sunday and into this week.

You and You alone are my only boast Lord Jesus!

That was what I wanted to scream from the bottom of my heart. But I began to think to myself that it is easy to speak of boasting in Jesus Christ. It is easy to sing this song and lift my arms up in worship as though this somehow signifies that my boasting is singularly in Jesus. But what does it really mean for me to boast in Jesus Christ?

The words from this song were the song of the Apostle Paul’s heart:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:14

So my question is this: how did this work out for Paul in practice? How did Paul learn to truly boast in the Lord Jesus and not just speak of boasting in the Lord Jesus? I think he tells us at least part of the answer when he elsewhere writes this:

So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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 12:7-10

These verses, to me, are quite simply stunning. I have been thinking about them continually over the past couple of weeks because, from a human perspective, I cannot for the life of me grasp how Paul makes the transition from what his desire is before the therefore to what it is after.

Here is a guy who is praying for deliverance: “Please Lord, remove the thorn! Please Lord, remove the thorn! Please Lord, remove the thorn!”

God doesn’t remove the thorn. But He speaks: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

And what is the result?

Instead of the thorn being Paul’s grounds for seeking deliverance, the thorn indirectly becomes Paul’s grounds for boasting.

Imagine this. Nothing changes in Paul’s circumstances. Yet he stops praying for deliverance and begins to boast. Not only does he begin to boast, but he boasts gladly!

What happened? Nothing short of a work of divine grace in Paul’s heart. But what did that work of divine grace accomplish?

I think it opened the eyes of Paul’s heart to see that the statement that he makes in Galatians could only be true of him with the presence of the thorn in his flesh, or something like it. Apart from it, he could only speak of boasting in the cross of Jesus Christ rather than to truly boast in it. The thorn becomes, if you will, like a cross that he must carry. Because without this cross, he is left to boast only in the very things of which he says: “Far be it from me to boast in them.”

We are able to truly boast in Christ’s power rather than just speak of boasting in it only when we feel “utterly burdened beyond our strength” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

We are able to truly boast in Christ’s righteousness rather than just speak of boasting in it only when, feeling the weight of our sin, we decry our wretchedness because we know that nothing good dwells in our flesh (Romans 7:18, 24).

We are able to truly boast in Christ’s wisdom rather than just speak of boasting in it only when we begin to understand, as Paul did, what it means to be the slave of Another (Romans 1:1), wholly subjected to His will and dismissing every inclination to have our own.

None of us want to be weak. All of us want to be good. None of us want to be denied our will. So when we feel weak, when we catch glimpses of how evil we are, when we don’t get what we want, it doesn’t feel good.

When I find myself in this state of discomfort as has been the case more than usual over the past couple of weeks, my inclination is always to ask God to take away whatever is causing the discomfort. But God is teaching me that for Him to do so would make me a hypocrite when I sing of boasting in Christ alone because it would take away perhaps the most precious occasion to boast in Him, ironically replacing it with the gift of deliverance from pain.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom,
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection…

I don’t want you to only sing of boasting in my Son, child. I want you to truly know what it is to boast in Him.

Thank You, Father. Thank You. Please help me to stop begrudging the truest occasions that You give me to boast in Christ alone and instead grant me by the power of the Holy Spirit to gladly rejoice in Your wholly perfect and gracious Providence. To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ, Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So This Is What It's Like To Be A Pastor's Wife?

Reading this story about Charles Spurgeon--who has been like a dear friend by my side these past couple of weeks as I work through his autobiography--and his beloved "wifey" (who is the one telling the story) brought a smile to my heart:
One Saturday evening, my dear husband was deeply perplexed by the difficulties presented by a text on which he desired to preach the next morning. It was in Psalm 110:3: "Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: Thou has the dew of Thy youth;" and, with his usual painstaking preparation, he consulted all the Commentaries he then possessed, seeking light from the Holy Spirit upon their words and his own thoughts, but, as it seemed, in vain. I was as much distressed as he was, but I could not help him in such an emergency. At least, I thought I could not; but the Lord had a great favour in store for me, and used me to deliver His servant out of his serious embarrassment. He sat up very late, and was utterly worn out and dispirited, for all his efforts to get at the heart of the text were unavailing. I advised him to retire to rest, and soothed him by suggesting that, if he would try to sleep then, he would probably in the morning feel quite refreshed, and able to study to better purpose. "If I go to sleep now, wifey, will you wake me very early, so that I may have plenty of time to prepare?" With my loving assurance that I would watch the time for him, and call him soon enough, he was satisfied, and, like a trusting, tired child, he laid his head upon the pillow, and slept soundly and sweetly at once.

By-and-by, a wonderful thing happened. During the first dawning hours of the Sabbath, I heard him talking in his sleep, and roused myself to listen attentively. Soon, I realized that he was going over the subject of the verse which had been so obscure to him, and was giving a clear and distinct exposition of its meaning, with much force and freshness. I set myself, with almost trembling joy, to understand and follow all that he was saying, for I knew that, if I could but seize and remember the salient points of the discourse, he would have no difficulty in developing and enlarging upon them. Never preacher had a more eager and anxious hearer! What if I should let the precious words slip? I had no means at hand of "taking notes", so, like Nehemiah, "I prayed to the God of Heaven," and asked that I might receive and retain the thoughts which He had given to His servant in his sleep, and which were so singularly entrusted to my keeping. As I lay, repeating over and over again the chief points I wished to remember, my happiness was very great in anticipation of his surprise and delight on awaking, but I had kept vigil so long, cherishing my joy, that I must have been overcome with slumber just when the usual time for rising came, for he awoke with a frightened start, and seeing the tell-tale clock, said, "Oh, wifey, you said you would wake me very early, and now see the time! Oh, why did you let me sleep? What shall I do? What shall I do?" "Listen, beloved," I answered; and I told him all I had heard. "Why! That's just what I wanted," he exclaimed; "that is the true explanation of the whole verse! And you say I preached it in my sleep?" "It is wonderful," he repeated again and again, and we both praised the Lord for so remarkable a manifestation of His power and love (Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon, p.419-420).
Just a couple of remarks:

1) I love the way Spurgeon endearingly refers to his bride as "wifey."
2) Only Charles Spurgeon can preach in his sleep!

What a team of husband and wife! Can we doubt that just as God calls a man to the ministry of preaching, so does He call his wife to that ministry?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Never Enough Bible

To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Philippians 3:1
Safe words from 19th century bishop J.C. Ryle on our need for ever-increasing Bible saturation:
You live in a world where your soul is in constant danger. Enemies are round you on every side. Your own heart is deceitful. Bad examples are numerous. Satan is always laboring to lead you astray. Above all false doctrine and false teachers of every kind abound. This is your great danger.

To be safe you must be well armed. You must provide yourself with the weapons which God has given you for your help. You must store your mind with Holy Scripture. This is to be well armed.

Arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible. . . . Neglect your Bible and nothing that I know of can prevent you from error if a plausible advocate of false teaching shall happen to meet you. Make it a rule to believe nothing except it can be proved from Scripture. The Bible alone is infallible. . . . Do you really use your Bible as much as you ought?

There are many today, who believe the Bible, yet read it very little. Does your conscience tell you that you are one of these persons?

If so, you are the man that is likely to get little help from the Bible in time of need. Trial is a sifting experience. . . . Your store of Bible consolations may one day run very low.

If so, you are the man that is unlikely to become established in the truth. I shall not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, etc. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. He can quote Scripture readily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to fight a good fight with him. . . . Your sword is held loosely in your hand.

If so, you are the man that is likely to make mistakes in life. I shall not wonder if I am told that you have problems in your marriage, problems with your children, problems about the conduct of your family and about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, shoals and sandbanks. You are not sufficiently familiar either with lighthouses or charts.

If so, you are the man who is likely to be carried away by some false teacher for a time. It will not surprise me if I hear that one of these clever eloquent men who can make a convincing presentation is leading you into error. You are in need of ballast (truth); no wonder if you are tossed to and fro like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable situations. I want you to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you today. Do not merely read your Bible a little—but read it a great deal. . . . Remember your many enemies. Be armed!
Read the whole sermon here.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:1, 2
HT: Between Two Worlds

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Bible, Christ, His Hunger, and Mine

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
Deuteronomy 8:2-3
During the Christmas vacation of my senior year in college (almost 4 years ago!), I read my first John Piper book: A Hunger For God. Almost four years later, I've read twenty of them. Little did I know at that time the impact that this man by the grace of God would have on my life, becoming to me a spiritual father from a distance. There was a period of time when I would go spend whole days at Borders or Barnes & Noble: just me, Piper, and God. At least a handful of those twenty books were read in their entirety at one of these bookstores.

There was one chapter in A Hunger For God that took my breath away and still to me is probably one of the greatest chapters of any book I have ever read apart from the Bible. It is the second chapter, entitled "Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone." In it, Piper unfolds the portion of Scripture where Jesus, after His baptism, is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. And He does so with a particular emphasis on how Jesus' temptation in the wilderness relates to the Israelites journey through the wilderness.

I think it would be safe to say that this chapter encapsulates why John Piper -- as a writer, a preacher, a man who loves God -- has, humanly speaking, had such an impact on me. The way John digs into the Bible in order to understand why God writes what He writes and not using the Bible to say what John wants to say has awakened in me a hunger to know the mind of God that has inspired all of the Scriptures. The ways John relates the Old Testament to the New Testament (yes, in that order) has set me on a crusade to read my Bible with eyes to see how it is all about one thing, or rather one Person--namely, Jesus Christ. Which leads to this reason why John has had such an impact on me. The way John exalts Jesus Christ as supreme in all the Scriptures and in everything that exists has ignited my heart to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all in things for the joy of all peoples through that all-glorious Christ. The entire Bible, not just the New Testament, is about the supremacy of Christ. All these things, John so compellingly displays in this chapter.

I had never hungered for the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant, all-sufficient Word of God before reading (or hearing) John unfold the Scriptures. I had never seen Jesus Christ as preeminent in all the Scriptures until seeing John exalt Him in portions of Scripture such as Deuteronomy where I didn't think He was. And I had never seen the glory of this crucified and risen Christ, let alone savor and delight in Him as the supreme Treasure of my life until John taught me that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.
There are too many similarities between what is happening to Jesus here in the wilderness and what happened to the people of Israel to think it is a mere coincidence. God is teaching us something here. The Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness. What does this mean?

It means that Old Testament shadows are being replaced with New Testament reality. It means that something greater than Moses and the wilderness and the Law and Joshua and the Promised Land is at stake here. It means that the time of fulfillment is at hand. The promise to Moses is coming true. "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him" (Deuteronomy 18:15). It means that God is now, with the incarnation of his Son, preparing to deliver his people -- the new Israel -- from the Egyptian bondage of sin into the Promised Land of forgiveness and righteousness and eternal life. To do this he has sent a new Moses, or in this case, a new Joshua (Jesus reenacts both roles, and the name "Jesus" is identical to "Joshua" in New Testament Greek). This new Joshua stands as the head and representative of the whole new people that Jesus will gather from Jews and Gentiles. On their behalf Jesus will now be led by the Spirit into the wilderness. He will stay forty days to represent forty years. He will be tested as Israel was tested. And he will hunger as Israel hungered. And if he triumphs, he and all his people go safely into the Promised Land of forgiveness and eternal life (A Hunger For God, John Piper, p.56-57).
And we know that where Israel failed miserably, Jesus succeeded triumphantly. Read the entire chapter here to learn from Piper how He did so.

Heavenly Father, there is no man, apart from Your Son, that I owe a greater debt to than John Piper. And of course, You are all in all, the One I am ever going deeper into debt to. Thank You for brining him into my life when You did. Thank You for opening my mind to understand and my heart to burn with the truth from Your Word that he teaches. Thank You that the first book I read by him accomplished its purpose by leaving me with an insatiable hunger for You. And above all, thank You for sending Your Son to hunger and thirst and ultimately die so that my hunger and thirst for You would even be possible. Yet that hunger and thirst is still not what it ought to be. But I thank You that You are the One who sustains it and I pray that You would let it increase with each day that passes. And may that paradoxically happen by my continually feeding on the words from Your mouth, all of which reveal to me the incomparable beauty of Your Son. In His precious name, Amen.

Simply Amazing

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth...
Acts 17:26
Fraternal twins you probably didn't expect

I continue to stand amazed at the wonders of our God and His wondrous works.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139:13, 14
HT: Pure Church

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yes, I Want To Be A Preacher!

Why? Because, as great and at times seemingly unbearable the burden of preaching is, its bounty is still greater. Listen to the man who knew this probably better than all others:
Those who count preaching and its needful preparations to be slight matters, have never occupied a pulpit continuously month after month, or they would know better. Chief of all is the responsibility which the preaching of the Word involves: I do not wish to feel this less heavily, rather would I feel it more, but it enters largely into the account of a minister's life-work, and tells upon him more than any other part of his mission. Let those preach lightly who dare do so; to me, it is "the burden of the Lord" -- joyfully carried as grace is given; but, still, a burden which at times crushes my whole manhood into the dust of humiliation, and occasionally, when ill-health unites with mental strain, into depression and anguish of heart.

However, let no man mistake me. I would sooner have my work to do than any other under the sun. Preaching Jesus Christ is sweet work, joyful work, Heavenly work. [George] Whitefield used to call his pulpit his throne, and those who know the bliss of forgetting everything beside the glorious, all-absorbing topic of Christ crucified, will bear witness that the term was aptly used. It is a bath in the waters of Paradise to preach with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven. Scarcely is it possible for a man, this side of the grave, to be nearer Heaven than is a preacher when his Master's presence bears him right away from every care and thought, save the one business in hand, and that the greatest that ever occupied a creature's mind and heart. No tongue can tell the amount of happiness which I have enjoyed in delivering these sermons, and so, gentle reader, forgive me if I have wearied you with this grateful record, for I could not refrain from inviting others to aid me in praising my gracious Master. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy Name" (Charles Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume 1, p. 403-404).

No, Spurgeon, you have not wearied me in the least. In fact, you have done the opposite. I have tasted that bliss of self-forgetfulness and nearness to Heaven that you and Whitefield knew so well. Thank you for aiding me in praising my gracious Master. And so I say:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy Name!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So You Want To Be A Preacher, Chris?

God makes preachers in the crucible. Never forget that. God makes a minister of the gospel by breaking his heart. Isn't that one thing that Jesus meant when He beckoned us to take up our cross and follow Him? (Ligon Duncan in Dear Timothy: Letters On Pastoral Ministry, p.208).

This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord's richer benison. So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master's use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while His servant keepeth the sheep, and waits in solitary awe. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn. The mariners go down to the depths, but the next wave makes them mount towards the heavens; and their soul is melted before the Lord bringeth them to their desired haven (C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume 1, p. 264).

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength, and we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8, 9

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Monday, July 14, 2008

If They Truly Knew

No one is good except God alone.
Luke 18:19
Research findings of the Barna group reveal that 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. 83%! Was that same 83% asked to define what they believe Christianity to be? If so, I wonder what they said. If not, I wonder what they would have said.

With each day that passes, I increasingly wonder how many people truly know what Christianity is. And the more that I think about it, the more I am convinced that most people just simply don't know what it is. The sad truth is that I grew up in the church, got saved when I was a sophomore in college, but I don't think I truly knew what Christianity was until after I had graduated from college. If someone had told me what it truly was when I was younger, would I not have believed then?

On Friday, a co-worker asked me if I wanted to come to lunch with a group of others who were going out. Being the introvert that I am, I hesitated before agreeing to go along, and then whispered a prayer to the Lord that He would give me an opportunity to witness for Christ over lunch.

We walked over to a new Indian buffet in town, got our food, and sat down to eat, each beginning on his or her own after filling a plate with delicious food. I sat down after a few of my co-workers had started eating and bowed my head for a short prayer (which I don't usually do with my non-believer co-workers), asking the Lord again to give me an opportunity to speak about Christ.

Very soon after, one of my co-workers said something to another co-worker about how I'm very religious. Now, I know that this is the way people today talk about spiritual things but I hate being called religious. The most religious people are the prideful ones who judge others and it was these that Jesus condemned. So I quickly took this opportunity to explain that this was the reason why I didn't think of myself as being religious.

Co-worker: What are you then?

Me: I believe the truth. Jesus Christ says He's the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And the truth is that I am a great sinner who needs a great Savior.

One of my co-workers, a Catholic, then went on to pronounce himself guilty of committing every single one of the "seven deadly sins." I'm slothful. I lust. I'm vain. And he just kept going.

Me: So why are you Catholic? What does it do for you?

Co-worker: It sets guidelines for us to know how to be good people.

Me: But didn't you just tell me that you are filled with all this evil?

Co-worker: Well as long as I'm nice to people and don't do anything too bad then that's good enough.

And therein lies the problem with almost everyone at work or wherever I go that I have attempted to talk to about God and Christ. They think that they just have to be good enough. And as long as that is the case, Christ is utterly irrelevant. All it takes is one thing, as the rich young ruler learned, to make Christ utterly irrelevant compared to the other things life holds out.

At this point, I simply asked: Can I tell you what I understand Christianity to be from the Bible?

They said yes. And so I proceeded in about 90 seconds to unfold the gospel. God has told us what it means to be good in His Word. None of us are able to live up to His standard. None of us is good. Because of that, we are guilty. All of us. But there is One who was good, Jesus Christ. And He lived a life that was perfectly good, doing what none of us could do. Then He died on a cross so that those who trust in Him as Lord would receive the reward of eternal life that He alone deserves for being good and He would take the punishment that we deserve for our inability to be good.

Co-worker: But wouldn't Jesus have had to suffer an eternity in hell for that to work?

Me: Yes, the suffering Jesus experienced on the cross was equivalent to an eternity in hell.

For a minute or two, as I had the great privilege of sharing the gospel with three of my co-workers (and any others who could have been listening in), it was a holy moment. But then (and I can't even remember how) someone moved us off topic and that was the end of that. It's amazing how quickly someone can go from talking about the most glorious realities in the universe to those things which, in comparison, are infinitely trivial.

I am convinced that the Christianity I told my co-workers about is not the Christianity they thought they knew about, even for one who grew up hearing about Jesus every day in school.

How many more is this true of?

More than we know.

Which is why I think that the 2009 Desiring God Pastors Conference entitled Commending Christ: The Pastor, the Church, and the Perishing is the one that, Lord willing, I will choose to go to out of all others in 2009. I can't think of another topic I need more help and encouragement in than that of clear, biblical, relentless, uncompromising gospel-telling. Would you like to join me?

I praise the Lord for answering my prayer and giving me an opportunity to share the gospel with more than one person at once. I don't think that has ever happened before in a work setting. Perhaps I should make it a habit of more regularly bowing to pray for my food instead of just silently doing so because I don't want to make my co-workers feel awkward when in reality it's me who feels awkward.

If they truly knew what Christianity was, would they believe? Yes. But let us remember that no matter how clearly we communicate the gospel, divine illumination is required from the Holy Spirit for anyone to truly know what Christianity is.

And let us make sure we tell them about a Christianity that the Holy Spirit would be pleased to open their stopped ears, minds, and hearts to. It's not a religion that shows us how to be good. It's the truth that reveals to us that even though none of us is good, there is One who was, in our place.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Thank You, Father, that You have made us to know the truth through Your Holy Spirit, that You have made us to know Your Son. And still there is so much of Him that we don't know. None of us fully understands what Christianity is. None of us fully understands the fullness of the implications of Your gospel. I pray that You would make us a people who give ourselves to daily unfold the infinite depths of the glorious gospel of our blessed God! And I pray that You would take my five loaves and two fish, which You provided, and multiply it in the souls of the co-workers You enabled me to set it before. Water the seed. Give the growth. And bring them to salvation in Christ, that Your Son may have a few more to praise Him for His infinite worth. In His precious name, Amen.

God's Hidden Designs

John Piper writes about God's hidden designs in our pain:
The problem is, we would have to be God to grasp all that God is doing in our problems. In fact, pushing too hard for more detailed explanations from God is a kind of demand that we be God.
Greatly encouraging, especially as God has been teaching me exactly this lesson over the past couple of weeks.

Read the whole article here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

When We Don't Know What To Do

Let us learn from Jehoshaphat and David and do what we really should be doing at all times:
For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
2 Chronicles 20:12

My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
Psalm 25:15
Should we be surprised that these two men have this in common?
The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David.
2 Chronicles 17:3
Father, please help me to keep my eyes on Jesus. Forbid that I would turn to look at the wind as Peter did and thus began to sink. Thank You that with Christ things are never what they seem. Oh, we of little faith! In His precious name, Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

How To Remain With God

The LORD is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:2
Why is the second sentence of this verse connected with but rather than and? Of course a person who seeks God will find Him. And a person who forsakes God will be forsaken by Him. But I would think that the person who seeks God is one who doesn't have Him while the person who forsakes God is one who does have Him. Therefore, I would naturally see these two conditionals applying to two different persons who find themselves in different stations.

But the Spirit of God is addressing one man, Asa. There are only two options for Asa: he can either seek God or he can forsake God. The but seems to imply this black and white contrast.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the second sentence of this verse is an unfolding of the first. The first sentence tells Asa the benefits of remaining with the LORD. The second sentence tells him how to remain with the LORD so that he might have those benefits.

Remaining with God is never passive. Those of us who are with the LORD are those of us who are actively seeking Him. And those of us who aren't with the LORD are those of us who are actively forsaking Him.

Therefore, we can and should always answer the question "Am I with God? Am I remaining? Am I abiding?" by asking and answering the question "Am I actively seeking after God?"

The most active seekers of God, then, aren't those who don't know God but those who do.
The LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father...
2 Chronicles 17:3, 4 (emphasis added)

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Psalm 42:1,2
And I thank You, Father, that working underneath any power I have to seek You is Your own power in keeping me.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tender and Tough Mercies For Each Day

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:34

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23
Jesus' words in Matthew imply that just as God ordains new mercies for each day, He ordains new troubles for each day. I am learning that those troubles are part of the mercies that Jeremiah speaks of, mercies of a different sort than those I want. They are tough mercies rather than tender ones, but mercies still, as this verse from an old hymn so greatly expresses:
He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
-Day by Day, Karolina W. Sandell-Berg
Father, thank You for Your peculiar love. Enable me to embrace with greater joy the strange and wonderful love of a sovereign God. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Discipline Of The Lord

Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.
2 Kings 25:24

But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, 'You shall not serve the king of Babylon.' For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 27:8-11
What am I to do when God commands me to come under the painful yoke of His discipline? I must fight and pray with all that I have against the sinful inclinations of my heart that tell me not to serve the king of Babylon but instead to go to Egypt where it will be easier and more comfortable. Why? Because that pain and discomfort is by His Fatherly design. And if I give in to the overpowering fleshly impulses to escape it now, the pain will only be worse later.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8

And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him.
Jeremiah 30:8

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.' It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 11:5-12
Abba, Father, please grant me grace to remain in the land rather than flee to a false refuge in Egypt. Make my roots go down deep rather than dry up and wither as You train me by Your discipline, I pray. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Two Men, Two Sermons, One Message

From a letter written by Randy Alcorn to C.J. Mahaney and John Piper concerning their messages that concluded the recent Resolved conference:
I have never seen, orchestrated or unorchestrated (in this case orchestrated by the Holy Spirit), one single seamless message spoken by two men with nearly an hour between the end of one and the beginning of the other. I stood that night on sacred ground, as did you.
Read the entire letter here.

Yes, we did stand on sacred ground that night. Thank you, Randy, for putting into words what my heart so profoundly felt yet couldn't describe.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Fixed Ears and Eyes of God

Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayer of this place.
2 Chronicles 6:40
After finishing the construction of the temple, Solomon dedicates it to the Lord through prayer. As we listen to his prayer in chapter 6 of 2 Chronicles, we can hear throughout what he seems to believe is the main purpose of this temple.
...that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

If your people Israel...pray and plead with you in this house...

...if they pray toward this place...

...whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own sorrow and stretching out his hands toward this house...

when [a foreigner] comes and prays toward this house...

If your people...pray to you toward this city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name...

...if they...pray toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name...

In building the temple, Solomon knows that if heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God, how much less this house that he has built (v.18)! So his purpose in building the temple isn't so that God would actually dwell there, but rather that the temple would serve as the place where God would be pleased to meet with His people, to see them and hear their prayers. The temple serves as the place where God has fixed his eyes and his ears so that if His people desire to be seen and heard by Him, this is where they are to come.

So it clearly was in Solomon's day. But what about in ours?
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
John 14:13, 14

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
John 15:7

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.
John 16:23

For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 1:20
God's eyes and ears are still fixed. But they are no longer looking at and listening to what's happening in a temple. They are not even looking at or listening to a people. They are looking at and listening to one beloved Son and His infinitely worthy name. Jesus Christ serves as the place where God has fixed His eyes and His ears so that if His people desire to be seen and heard by Him, this is where they are to come. This is where we must abide.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matthew 12:6
Father, thank You that shadows are only that, shadows. Thank You even more for the substance that is Your Son, that our worship is not found on any mountain but as we draw near to Him in spirit and in truth. Thank You that You always hear us through Him. Help me to believe that more often than I do. And, even more importantly, help me to abide in Him so that I would ever be found in the place where Your eyes and ears are fixed in the same way that Anna never departed from the temple where Your eyes and ears were once fixed. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Pondering The Depths Of My Depravity

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Proverbs 6:16-19 (emphasis added)
The reason these verses strike me and, in particular, the first thing in this list of what God hates is because I have been soaking in Psalm 131 for over a month now:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time fort hand forevermore.
Psalm 131 (emphasis added)
Encountering Proverbs 6:17 after having been meditating on Psalm 131 for some time now feels like a head-on collision with a freight train that confirms a growing awareness of the outrage of the deceptive rebellion that lives in my heart, a rebellion that has quietly lived there for a long time without ever being noticed. Let me tell you what I mean.

When David says "my heart is not lifted up" and "my eyes are not raised too high" and "I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me," I understand him to be saying the same thing in each of those three phrases. One reason I believe this is because after saying these three things he then sets off a contrast that describes what he has done instead, seemingly instead of these three things.

Consider another reason why I see these phrases to be related. What does it mean for me to "occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me"? For me, it means wanting to understand why things are the way they are. It means wanting to have a say in the way I think my life should be even though I am not the author of it. It means wanting to discern God's hidden design in the unexpected and undesirable contours of my life. As I think about each of these inclinations of my heart, it's clear to me that in each of these postures "my eyes are raised too high" because "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God's] ways higher than [my] ways and [God's] thoughts than [my] thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9). And since they involve my heart, it means that "my heart is lifted up."

David doesn't make this seem like such a big deal in Psalm 131. But then I must ask what Solomon means when he speaks of "haughty eyes" in Proverbs 6:17? One way to understand this is that he is speaking of those who look at other people with a prideful spirit, those whose eyes are haughty in that they look down on others. This is probably the case.

But could Solomon's use of "haughty eyes" also be speaking of one whose "eyes are raised too high" in the sense that David speaks of in Psalm 131? Eyes that aren't necessarily raised towards other people but eyes that are raised towards God in the sense that they are raised to a place that only God's eyes should be?

If this is true, then this means that to have "eyes that are raised too high" or "to occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me" or "to have my heart lifted up" is a bigger deal than I realize. Why? This category of actions/postures is the first item on the list of specific things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16)!

Why would God hate this kind of "haughty eyes"? Because it is a deeply ingrained, subtle form of pride that leads me to contend with Him for the throne in my life. It disguises itself as innocent "Why Lord?"'s when in reality it is the anxious complaining of an unweaned child that has no peace (Psalm 131:2). This heart knows what it wants and it will not be content until it gets it.

Is that really me? Yes, that's the true and ugly me who is powerless to change myself.

All I can do is cast myself on mercy and pray the way the Scottish minister Robert Murray M'Cheyne was led to pray when he wrote from meditating on Psalm 131:
It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plan as regards myself; well assured as I am that the place where the Saviour sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me.

Lord, forgive me. Change me. This leopard can't change his spots. I feel more desperate for your grace now than ever.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Great Commission Progress

How's this for some perspective?

The question is unmistakable, especially for those like me who are young in age and have no life commitments or attachments: How shall we then live?
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God...
2 Peter 3:11, 12 (emphasis added)

He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Revelation 22:20

Our Lord come!
1 Corinthians 16:22