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?