Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what does the lack of absence bring?  What does togetherness bring?  What is the result of spending lots and lots of time together?  Ponder that thought for a moment.

Jesus said, “You have abandoned the love you had at first.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”  Rev. 2:4-5

For the last 6 ½ weeks, I have been in Florida.  The normal reaction to that statement is “you lucky dog”, especially during the winter months.  However, because of the urgency of a new job, I left my family behind for 51 days.  It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.  Does absence make the heart grow fonder?  You better believe it does.  It’s all the small things that I had grown complacent toward that I miss the most.  Does my family permeate my thoughts all day long?  You know it. 

When Jesus chastises the church in Ephesus, He is telling them that they have grown complacent in their love and affection toward Him.  They are still zealous toward for the big picture items, but their relationship with Him is not as it was.  It is so easy to grow complacent in the things of God as well as a love for a spouse, children and family...until the threat of removal shakes you to your very core. 

God is reminding them that the heart, as it is prone to growing fonder in the absence of things, so the heart grows complacent in the abundance of things.  This is not a new problem, but an age old problem, especially for the children of God.  I think back to the time of the Judges when there was a continual cycle of serving God, abandoning God.  When they served Him, God gave them rest from their enemies and blessed their work of their hands.  Typically within 70 years they had totally forgotten WHO gave them rest, WHO was blessing their crops and they had prostituted themselves with the gods of the land.  As a result, God took from them their rest, their prosperity until “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.  They would cry out to God, they would repent, they pray for mercy, rest and blessing.  God would see their humble spirit and grant their petitions.  This cycle happened over and over and over. 

The same is true in our lives.  We take for granted the things in our life until they are gone or the threat of their removal.  For example, it’s the shock of an affair that rocks our world, bringing us back to reality.   It’s the sudden emergency that sends a loved one to the hospital that breaks apart our complacency as we count the minutes we might have with left with the one we adore. 

I could go on, but you get the point.  Many of us will live with regret if we don’t take action now to correct the complacency in our lives toward the ones we love...especially our Lord and Saviour.  Jesus was trying to “wake up” the Ephesian Church in an effort to restore a beautiful love relationship between the groom and His bride.

Application
Repent and remember the love you have abandoned.  Quickly, don’t delay, restore the relationship you once had.  Start with Christ, then to your spouse, then your children, then to others God has brought to mind. 
    Remember.  Complacency is something you will always have to fight against.  Learn to appreciate what you have. 
  • Write a journal and read it over often to remember what being in love is like.  
  • Never stop loving your Lord, never stop romancing your wife, never stop pouring love into your children.  
  • Find something that reminds you of the early days.  Maybe it’s a picture of you shortly after salvation that you can keep in your Bible.  Maybe it’s a picture of you and your wife while you were still dating.  Find of picture of one of your favorite memories with your kids and keep that photo as your computer’s background.  But beware, don’t get used to those photos or they will do you no good.  Remember!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How did he do it?

“For I know that my redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God.”
Job 19:25-26


How does one man, suffer the greatest level that anyone can suffer, and yet still extol the one that allowed the suffering?   Job had graduated from the school of Theology.  We learn so much about suffering, sovereignty, creation, heavenly creatures and spiritual warfare from the book of Job.  Job wasn’t just a nominal follower of God, nor a fair weather Christian.  Job lived out his belief and everyone around him knew it.  Job was constantly seeking to bring more glory to His maker. 
How did Job do it? 
  1. Job didn’t stray from what he believed about God (good sound theology).  He didn’t let his eyes determine his belief.  Clearly, Job was a man that spent much of his days with his eyes closed...in prayer and in worship.  Though he did not understand why God was allowing him to suffer, he did not cast aside his integrity (or faith in God).
  2. Job didn’t break his relationship with God when circumstances didn’t go his way.  Job didn’t deny God or look to other sources of help when the heavens were silent.
    1. What happens when we don't get our way?  We typically break off communication with God.  We stop praying and we stop having a quiet time.  Job understood the deadly consequences of ceasing communication with God.
  3. Job took action (you could call them resolutions) to build safeguards around his life.  He did this so that he would be more pleasing to God, so that he would live a holy lifestyle, so that he would be an example to family, friends and countrymen.  Look at a few of them found in chapter 31:
    1. v. 1: Job made a resolution that he would not lust.  I will not look with desire.  I will not stare.  I will look away when I see a woman who is dressed in a provocative manner.  “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?
    2. v. 4: Job recognizes God never leaves him or forsakes him.  God has determined his days.  “Does not he see my ways and number all my steps?”
    3. vv. 13-14: Job has executed justice and fairness to all, including his employees.  “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, what then shall I do when God rises up?”
    4. vv. 16-23, 31-32: Job shows compassion and mercy to anyone in need.  “If I have withheld anything...from the poor, from the widow, from the hungry, from the fatherless, for those that needed clothing, or harmed the fatherless...then let me be accursed.  I am not guilty of withholding from anyone that was hungry, even the stranger that was traveling by...including housing them.” 
    5. I will only worship God, I will not put my confidence in anyone or anything other than God.
      1. v. 24 Don’t put your confidence in money/wealth.
      2. v. 25 Don’t rejoice in the abundance of your wealth.
      3. v. 26 Don’t worship the sun, moon and stars.
    6. v. 29, 30: Don’t rejoice when those who hate you end up in ruin and don’t ask God to curse that person that hates you.
    7. vv. 33-35: My life inside my house, behind closed doors, is not different than my life in public.
       
    8. vv. 38-40: My business will be done with absolute integrity.  I have not wronged others, let the very ground that grows my crops testify to my integrity.
   

Conclusion (Job 19:25-26)
Job could respond the way he did because he had lived a life wholly and completely given to God’s glory.  It wasn’t about Job’s life, it was about living a life that found favor with his God.  Job had a perspective on our earthly life that few have ever grasped. Job understood that everything in this world was temporary and only what he did for God would last.  That’s why he could lose the most precious things in this world and still say, “I know that my Redeemer lives”.  He wasn’t cursing God, he didn’t change his viewpoint that God isn’t real or God isn’t all-powerful and therefore he couldn’t prevent this tragedy. 

Job knew . . .
a) his God was his redeemer and He was alive,
b) his God would conquer death, sin and tragedy and bring creation back to it’s original glorified state,
c) after the ravages of sin had taken the final toll on his body, he would be with God for all eternity.

“For I know that my redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

Job 19:25-26

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Want to Die . . . when all Hope is Lost.

Have you ever felt like death would be a welcome alternative to living?  That life is so awful that you have lost all desire to continue existing in a world that seems to offer no hope?  Maybe you have said to yourself, “I wish I had never been born?  Don’t despair, you are not alone and there is hope for you.

In my quiet times I am continuing to read Job, a man that holds fast to his integrity.  He rests in his faith alone, but that doesn’t ease the pain of his suffering.  After being bankrupt and losing his children, he is further tested by painful, loathsome sores from head to toe.  Clearly, the hand of God has come down swift and hard on this mortal man.  His days of prosperity and respect are a distant memory as friends come to sit in horror as they gaze upon this broken and downtrodden figure of a once great man.

Immediately after being plagued by these excruciating boils, Job still has a healthy perspective on life.  He says, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10)  But after more than a week of intense suffering with oozing sores that pound his flesh with extreme agony and misery Job is ready to die.  He laments the day of his birth and wishes that he had never been born.  He prefers death  to the extreme torment that he now endures without hope (1:11; 7:6).  In the story of Ruth, Naomi has a similar experience after losing her husband and two sons.  She wants to change her name to “Mara” which means “bitter” because she too has lost all hope.

Loss of hope is devastating and blinding.  One of the dangers of losing hope is the inability to view life accurately.  Job loses hope and therefore wants to die and wishes he had never been born.  He forgets the joy of spending time with his children and the laughter of life.  In the same way, Naomi sees only hardship, pain and turmoil.  Naomi forgets what awaits her back in Israel, several kinsman redeemers. Naomi seems blind to the fact that Ruth, her daughter-in-law, is forgoing all hope of marriage, family and friends for her sake.  In reality, Naomi has many things to give her hope. 

When you are under great suffering, remember the stories of Job and Naomi.  There is always hope in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Remember, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worship of praise, think about these things.” Phil. 4:8

Recommendations:
-When you are feeling blue, begin to count the blessings in your life.  Remember the past blessings and try to find one or two things you can be thankful for in your present circumstances.  (See song below).
-Read the story of Ruth (it takes less than 20 minutes).
-Keep a journal.  When you encounter times of suffering, go back and read about fun times, encouraging family stories and blessings from your heavenly Father.
-Above all, don’t stop having a daily quiet time.  There is no quicker way to lose hope than cutting off your relationship with the One who gives us eternal hope.
-Read When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper.  Free pdf version at www.desiringgod.org.

I remember singing this song in church as a boy.   
Count Your Blessings.

   When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
    When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
    Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
    And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

       Refrain:
        Count your blessings, name them one by one,
        Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
        Count your blessings, name them one by one,
        *Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
        [*And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.]

    Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
    Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
    Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
    And you will keep singing as the days go by.

    When you look at others with their lands and gold,
    Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
    Count your many blessings—wealth can never buy
    Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

    So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
    Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
    Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
    Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Written by Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1897.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gone in Sixty Seconds

I am a number, a growing statistic.  One year ago this month I was laid off work like so many others in North America.  My vocation?  Pastor.  This fact is made even stranger in that I gave up a thriving secular career to follow God’s leading into a vocation ministry.  Things become even more surreal with the knowledge that I raised my own support for the first three years of ministry so I worked for the church for free.  Therefore, on this anniversary month, it seemed like a good day to reflect on the past year. 

Today, the house is strangely and wonderfully quiet.  The morning begins with a hunger to dive into His Word.  I open the Holy Bible to the book of Job . . . His timing is perfect.  It is one of my favorite books of the Bible and yet this morning chapter one seems so fresh, vibrant and new.  In lieu of the last twelve months, chapter one has new meaning, I can relate to Job like never before.

Read Job 1
Job is blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil (1:1, 8; 2:3).  He loves his children and consecrates them in case they have cursed God in their hearts.  He acts as priest for his family offering sacrifices to God. 

Timing is everything
Job receives the news of his demise in a way that is intentionally delivered by Satan to provoke Job to sin.  The first messenger might leave Job wondering but the second one leaves no room for doubt.  The “fire of God from heaven” consumes 7,000 sheep and all the servants (save one).  The third messenger completes the financial bankruptcy of Job and the fourth just adds fuel to a fire of brokenness.  By all appearances, God has turned on Job and made him his enemy.  Everyone will ask, “why?”  Satan doesn’t want to just hurt Job, he wants to devastate him to the point of maximum suffering to tempt Job to curse God. 

Job prepares to worship
I have read verses 20-22 hundreds of times and I never thought about the time required for Job to shave his head.  I always pictured Job falling to his knees and worshiping but never thought about the time it would take to prepare for worship.  They didn’t have modern instruments to shave, because men rarely did.  Secondly, the hair of a Middle-Eastern man is not like a blond hair blue eyed man.  It will require some effort and time to shave his head.  After shaving his head and tearing his clothes he probably goes to the place where he normally worships. 


Prostrate and Praying
Job acknowledges that everything he has/had is a gift from God.  Job is the steward of these gifts but they do not belong to him.  He is grateful for the time the Owner has allowed him to use these gifts but he does not curse God for removing them from his life.

Clinging to those precious gifts of God is one of the hardest temptations in life.  Life is good when we have them, we love God and proclaim His praises.  But when those gifts evaporate, that’s when our faith will be tested.  Are you ready?  Are you holding those gifts too tightly?  Can you honestly pray verse 21 to God?  The book of Job is a wonderful book to prepare you for just such a time.  Start today by reading and meditating on chapter 1.  Spend the rest of the month studying and applying Job to your life.

Quotes:
"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God."

"Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open."

— Corrie Ten Boom   

Resource:
Suffering and the Sovereignty of God,  by John Piper (www.desiringgod.org)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Following Jesus While Rejecting the Bible? Yet Another Tragedy in Mainline Protestantism

Reprinted from www.albertmohler.com.
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/05/11/following-jesus-while-rejecting-the-bible-yet-another-tragedy-in-mainline-protestantism/
May 11, 2011

This is yet another tragedy in the sad history of mainline Protestantism’s race toward total theological disaster.

Yet another denomination has voted to ordain openly homosexual candidates to its ministry. Yesterday, the Presbyterian Church (USA) presbytery of the Twin Cities in Minnesota voted to approve a change to the church’s constitution that will allow the denomination’s 173 presbyteries to ordain persons without regard to sexual orientation.

The Twin Cities presbytery cast the deciding vote in what is now a 33-year effort to remove all restrictions on homosexuals serving in the church’s ordained ministry. It became the 87th presbytery to affirm the action of the church’s 219th assembly last summer authorizing the constitutional change. The action not only concludes over three decades of controversy over the ordination standards; it also reverses actions taken in 1997, 2001, and 2008, when similar efforts failed.

In 1996, the denomination restated its ordination requirements to include “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” That policy had also required that candidates “refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

The new constitutional section will read:

“Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

All references to marriage and chastity are gone, along with the language about refusal to repent of sin. The new language speaks instead of submission to the Lordship of Christ and being guided by Scripture and confessions. In any other context, that language might not seem revolutionary, but in this case, it means the denomination’s surrender to those pushing for the normalization of homosexuality.

Put another way, this church has now decided that “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” is just too restrictive.

Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly, explained the meaning of the change: “Clearly what has changed is that persons in a same-gender relationship can be considered for ordination . . . .  The gist of our ordination standards is that officers submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and ordaining bodies (presbyteries for ministers and sessions for elders and deacons) have the responsibility to examine each candidate individually to ensure that all candidates do so with no blanket judgments.”

Why now? Parsons suggested that the victory by proponents of the ordination of homosexuals has come because of the exodus of larger conservative congregations from the denomination (approximately 100 over the last five years), the fact that many Presbyterians seemed “ready to get past this argument,” the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the larger culture, and the less controversial wording of this revision. He, along with others, expressed some measure of surprise and relief that the decision was made.

He told The New York Times, “We’ve been having this conversation for 33 years, and some people are ready to get to the other side of this decision. . . . Some people are going to celebrate this day because they’ve worked for it for a long time, and some people will mourn this day because they think it’s a totally different understanding of Scripture than they have.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) now joins the Episcopal Church (US), the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in ordaining openly homosexual candidates to the ministry.

Both sides in this controversy understand the meaning of the decision. While this action deals specifically with ordination standards, it is really about the larger issue of homosexuality. Most observers expect that the decision to allow same-sex marriages will follow closely.

But even beyond the specific issue of homosexuality, the church faced two of the most fundamental questions of Christian theology — the authority of the Bible and the Lordship of Christ. In making this change, the church clearly affirms that one may submit to the Lordship of Christ without submitting to the clear teachings of Scripture.

That is a fundamental error that leaves this denomination now in the implausible position of claiming to affirm the Lordship of Christ while subverting the authority of Scripture. The removal of the constitutional language about marriage and chastity, coupled with the removal of the language about repentance from what Scripture identifies as sin, effectively means that candidates and presbyteries may defy Scripture while claiming to follow Christ.

Clearly, this action could not have happened without this denomination having abandoned any required belief in the full authority, inspiration, and truthfulness of the Bible long ago. This most recent decision sets the stage for the total capitulation of this church to the normalization of homosexuality — an act of open defiance against the Scriptures.

In a “churchwide letter” to the denomination, PC(USA) leaders stated:

Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum. Some will rejoice, while others will weep. Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PCUSA an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office. Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture. The feelings on both sides run deep.

Well, the feelings no doubt run deep, but the injury to this church runs far deeper than feelings. This is yet another tragedy in the sad history of mainline Protestantism’s race toward total theological disaster.
---------
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/05/11/following-jesus-while-rejecting-the-bible-yet-another-tragedy-in-mainline-protestantism/
www.albertmohler.com
May 11, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eating Words

There is something really special going on in the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4. As I was reading this passage this week, I couldn’t get past the first temptation, especially Jesus response found in the 4th verse:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Jesus, defending the tempter’s challenge, retorts with the impervious Scriptures found in Deut. 8:3.  However, there is much more going on here than just a simple quote from the Torah.  The two stories seem to be inexorably linked. 
 
Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days.           
Israel was in the wilderness 40 years.
Jesus is hungry.                                            
Israel was hungry.
Jesus is tempted to make bread.                  
Israel was complaining they needed bread. 
Jesus is being tested.                                   
Israel was being tested.

The hunger that Jesus and Israel was experiencing was very real.  Their stomachs were growling, they are growing physically weak from lack of food.  Both Jesus and Israel need physical food to survive.  Israel had the added weight of mothers and fathers hearing their little children cry out for food.  Cries of inconsolable toddlers echo across the camp that translate to nagging wives and agitated fathers.  Discontentment and grumbling is about to erupt. 

The solution is simple, provide bread.  FEED MY CHILDREN and the cries will be silenced, the mothers will calm and fathers will have peace.  Unfortunately, Israel’s shortsightedness would only lead to more outcries and unhappy families if God doesn’t provide a permanent solution to their physical and spiritual needs.  

Jesus has the insurmountable weight of all of mankind, both living, dead and yet to live, resting on the outcome of this temptation.  In both cases, God is called upon to make bread but a something larger is looming.  For Jesus, this becomes a definitive victory against his foe. 

For Israel, and for us, it becomes a resounding life lesson in faith and obedience.  Will we be willing to patiently wait on God’s timing to provide?  Do I have the faith to believe that when God promises to provide, I can take Him at his word?  Am I willing to accept that bread alone will not satisfy.  The children of Israel first began complaining only 3 days after seeing the astounding miracle of the Red Sea.  How long can you last?  Jesus was 40 days in the wilderness without food...at the very edge of maximum time a human body can deprive oneself of food before death ensues. 

Jesus provides us with more than bread, but a life lesson that obedience and dependence on God is better than temporary satisfaction.  He is the bread of Life.  God wanted to bless Israel but He needed to know what was in their heart, whether they would keep His commandments or not (Deut. 8:2).  God wants to know what is in our hearts.  Our call is to trust in God who promises to provide and satisfy, resulting in glory to our God.

“My God shall supply all your needs” (Phil 4:19).
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:25-34).
“God knows what we need even before we ask for it” (Matt. 6:8).
“To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Death and Taxes

They say that two things are sure in this life, death and taxes.  Every year I approach April with fear and trepidation.  Not because I normally owe the government, but because I despise preparing my taxes.  Needless to say, I was quite pleased with myself that I actually completed my taxes in record time this year, 3 weeks before the due date.  It might have something to do with being out of work and really needing the refund...but none the less the deed has been done. 

This morning I was reading about man who was trying to avoid paying his dues.  He was trying to profit on something that he didn't do and literally just stumbled upon.  It's like finding a bag of money in the street, you know it doesn't belong to you, but in an instant it seems ok to pick up because no one is watching.  You try not to think about the desperation of the one that lost it, you try not to think about how you will have to explain to your loved ones how you suddenly came into all this money.  You tell yourself if you tithe on this bag of money it will somehow become holy and justified.  

Such was the story of Achan in Joshua 7.  The booty in Jericho was under a ban but the lure and desire of riches caused Achan to make a deadly mistake.  The gold and silver was to be an offering to the Lord (Joshua 6:19; 7:12).  That mistake cost him his life, it cost his family's life and it cost the lives of 36 fighting men that lost their life in battle.  Finally, it tarnished the reputation and glory of the God of Israel. 

It only takes a second.  In that split second we can make a wrong decision that can cost us everything.  Achan knew that he wasn't supposed to touch the silver and gold but he coveted them (7:21) and sinned against God.  What was Achan thinking?
  • No one is watching, it won't effect anyone else.
    • God is always watching.  There is no place we can hide, no place that we can go to run from the eyes of the Lord.
  • He had good intentions.  Maybe he really needed the money, he had a noble cause.
    • Maybe his kids needed a doctor.  Maybe his taxes were due.  Maybe his tent (home) was leaking and needed a new roof but he couldn't afford it.  His kids were getting sick, his wife was complaining, his mother-in-law kept calling him "good for nothing". 
  • Did God really say not to take any silver or gold?  After all, God let us get all that silver from our Egyptian neighbors, surely he would want us to have this silver and gold.
  • Achan forgot that God was supplying all their needs.  He had already revealed Himself as omnipotent provider and the God that deeply cared for His people.  God would supply their needs and provide His people with a portion of the booty (8:27), but the first part went to Him (as in Jericho). 
How can we ensure that we won't slip in that moment of weakness?  Just do what God told Joshua to do:
"This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."  Joshua 1:8

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where is the harvest? Who is the harvest?

I am looking for a little help from my friends.  I have been camped out in Matthew 8-9 for many days.  This morning I read the very familiar words of Christ, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few". (9:37)

In your opinion, where is the “harvest” today?  Who is the harvest today?  Jesus sent his disciples to a very specific group, if you were called as a laborer, where would you go and to whom? 

Thank you!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Sometimes you just need a good dose of the classics.  I recently listened with great intensity as I heard the classic sermon, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" by Jonathan Edwards, originally given in 1741.  The recording that I listened to was either made in the 50's or made to sound like it was recorded 50 years ago.  The scratchy sounds reminded me of listening to a well loved LP.  The voice of the orator heralded the poignant words of the sermon notes as if Edwards himself had risen from the grave to preach this masterpiece to a much needed audience.  The result of the old-time sound made it easy to believe that I was sitting in church listening to Jonathan Edwards preach this hell-fire and damnation sermon.  It was said when this sermon was first preached, the congregation began clutching the pews in fear that the ground would open up and swallow the wretched sinners.    

The other classic that I have been enjoying is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Instead of reading this again, I purchased the audiobook so I could listen to it.  At work, in my car, going for a walk are all places in which I have been enjoying this classic.  I have to confess, I didn't know that C.S. Lewis was so funny.  The printed matter didn't convey to me the same sense of humor that I am now enjoying.

May I recommend that you immerse yourself in a classic, whether for first time or the 10th time.  They are classics for a reason and have had impactful influence on the greatest theologians and pastors alive today.

You can find the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" many places on the web but here is a great resource for all things classic - Christian Classics Ethereal Library, www.ccel.org.  Here's a direct link to the sermon.  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html 

An audio version is available at Sermonaudio.com.  It's not the one I listened to but it is a free audio version as well as a pdf version of the sermon.  http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=770213541

ENJOY!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where is God in disasters? (part 2)

The last few nights sleep has eluded me.  The mysteries of God can be deeply profound and more than mortal man can comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-11).  However, it doesn’t stop us from trying to make sense of the profundities of life.  Over the next few issues I want to examine God's providence, His sovereignty and the profound impact of His sovereignty on the direction of our lives (i.e. God's will).  Part 1 and 2 will be reprints of an article by John Piper that addresses God's sovereignty in natural disasters.  Parts 3 and following I want to answer some very specific questions that many might be asking in lieu of disasters abroad or in our own lives.

Here's part 2:

Tsunami, Sovereignty, and Mercy
By John Piper
© Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org 


“The waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me. . . This God—his way is perfect” (2 Samuel 22:5, 31).

After the loss of his ten children owing to a “natural disaster” (Job 1:19), Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). At the end of the book, the inspired writer confirms Job’s understanding of what happened. He says Job’s brothers and sisters “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). This has several crucial implications for us as we think about the calamity in the Indian Ocean.

1) Satan is not ultimate, God is.
Satan had a hand in Job’s misery, but not the decisive hand. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job (Job 1:12; 2:10). But Job and the writer of this book treat God as the ultimate and decisive cause. When Satan afflicts Job with sores, Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10), and the writer calls these satanic sores “the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). So Satan is real. Satan brings misery. But Satan is not ultimate or decisive. He is on a leash. He goes no farther than God decisively permits.

2) Even if Satan caused the earthquake in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas, he is not the decisive cause of 100,000+ deaths, God is.
God claims power over tsunamis in Job 38:8 when he asks Job rhetorically, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Psalm 89:8-9 says, “O Lord . . . you rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” And Jesus himself has the same control today as he once did over the deadly threats of waves: “He . . . rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24). In other words, even if Satan caused the earthquake, God could have stopped the waves.

3) Destructive calamities in this world mingle judgment and mercy.
Their purposes are not simple. Job was a godly man and his miseries were not God’s punishment (Job 1:1, 8). Their design was purifying not punishment (Job 42:6). But we do not know the spiritual condition of Job’s children. Job was certainly concerned about them (Job 1:5). God may have taken their life in judgment. If that is true, then the same calamity proved in the end to be mercy for Job and judgment on his children. This is true of all calamities. They mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. Suffering, and even death, can be both judgment and mercy at the same time.

The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Another example is the curse that lies on this fallen earth. Those who do not believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as, merciful, though painful, preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis.

Who suffers from this fallen world of natural disasters? All of us, Christians included: “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). For those who cast themselves on the mercy of Christ these afflictions are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And when death comes, it is a door to paradise. But for those who do not treasure Christ, suffering and death are God’s judgment. “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

For children, who are too young to process mentally the revelation of God in nature or Scripture, death is not the final word of judgment. God’s commitment to display his justice publicly means that he does not finally condemn sinful people who could not physically construe natural or special revelation (Romans 1:20). There is a difference between suppressing revelation that one can mentally comprehend (Romans 1:18), and not having a brain sufficient to comprehend it at all. Therefore, when small children suffer and die, we may not assume they are being punished or judged. No matter how horrible the suffering or death, God can turn it for their greater good.

4) The heart that Christ gives to his people feels compassion for those who suffer, no matter what their faith.
When the Bible says, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), it does not add, “unless God caused the weeping.” Job’s comforters would have done better to weep with Job than talk so much. That does not change when we discover that Job’s suffering was ultimately from God. No, it is right to weep with those who suffer. Pain is pain, no matter who causes it. We are all sinners. Empathy flows not from the causes of pain, but the company of pain. And we are all in it together.

5) Finally, Christ calls us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it.
That is the meaning of mercy—undeserved help. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Therefore, pray earnestly for Scott Purser and his team as they investigate the best way that the Global Diaconate can mercifully respond with the love of Christ to the calamity around the Indian Ocean.

In the merciful hands of Almighty God,

Pastor John



© Desiring God

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Where is God in disasters? (part 1)

The last few nights sleep has eluded me.  The mysteries of God can be deeply profound and more than mortal man can comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-11).  However, it doesn’t stop us from trying to make sense of the profundities of life.  Over the next few issues I want to examine God's providence, His sovereignty and the profound impact of His sovereignty on the direction of our lives (i.e. God's will).  Part 1 and 2 will be reprints of an article by John Piper that addresses God's sovereignty in natural disasters.  Parts 3 and following I want to answer some very specific questions that many might be asking in lieu of disasters abroad or in our own lives.

Here's part 1:


Whence and Why the Earthquake in Turkey?
By John Piper August 18, 1999
© Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org


"Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). When love has wept and worked, it must have some answers. Not all the answers, but some. No earthquakes in the Bible are attributed to Satan. Many are attributed to God.** This is because God is Lord of heaven and earth. "He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him" (Luke 8:25). "He sends forth His command to the earth. . . . He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? . . . He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow" (Psalm 147:15-18). "He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke" (Psalm 104:32). "[He] shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble" (Job 9:6). And if the devils try to intrude on his control, "He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him" (Mark 1:27).

Earthquakes are ultimately from God. Nature does not have a will of its own. And God owes Satan no freedom. What havoc demons wreak, they wreak with God's permission. That's the point of Job 1-2 and Luke 22:31-32. God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose. "He also is wise and will bring disaster" (Isaiah 31:2). "The LORD is good" (Psalm 100:5). Therefore, God had good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedy in Turkey that took thousands of lives on August 16, 1999.

Indeed he had hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?" (Romans 11:33-34). "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Yet there are possible purposes revealed in the Bible that we may pray will come to pass.

   1. The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation (see the footnote) are meant as calls to repentance to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16).
   2. The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as "the beginning of the birth pangs." That is, they are a wake-up call to this oblivious world that God's kingdom will soon be born; so be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
   3. God's unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to his own will and owes us nothing. He has a right to children (2 Samuel 12:15) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner rather than defraud him till it is too late.
   4. The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). Most of the world does not fear the Lord and therefore lacks saving wisdom.
   5. When the earth shakes under your feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? Answer: God.

May the Lord fulfill two other purposes for this painful catastrophe. 1) That Christians repent of worldliness. "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). 2) That Christians, around the world, step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father's judgment.

Praying, giving, trembling, trusting,

Pastor John

    ** 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 13:13; 24:18-20; 29:6; Psalm 60:2; Nahum 1:5-6; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13f; 16:18.

© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred.
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/129_Natural_Disasters/1136_Whence_and_Why_the_Earthquake_in_Turkey/
Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To the Clouds: Faith is Gazing at the Heart of God (part 3)

What motivates you?  You are who you are because...?  Before you read another sentence, take a moment to answer that question (I’ll wait).  Do you have an answer?  I have all the time in the world if you aren’t ready.  Ready?  Great, let’s begin.

When it comes to things that motivate us, our answers are probably as diverse as we are.  However, I suspect that money, family, love and God are high on most lists.  The writer of Hebrews excites our Christian faith as we are reminded of the great Heroes of Faith in chapter 11.  He wants to motivate us to be the next Abraham, Moses and Enoch.  They seem larger than life yet the goal of finishing strong seems to be within our grasp.  Read with me the next two verses that follow that great chapter on faith.   

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder [author] and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” [emphasis NASB]

The Greek word for cloud (νέφος), used only here in this form, refers to a large dense multitude.  Calvin said, “Had they been a few in number, yet they ought to have roused us by their example; but as they were a vast throng, they ought more powerfully to stimulate us.
He says that we are so surrounded by this dense throng, that wherever we turn our eyes many examples of faith immediately meet us.” 

This motivates me!  I want to please God like Enoch, I want to consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the money of Wall Street.  I want to walk by faith like Abraham and remain faithful like Daniel.  The image of running a race on the same track that the greatest runners of all time have raced would be awe-inspiring.  Imagine running a race were the stands are filled with your heroes and they are cheering as you pass by, “you can do it,” “don’t give up,” “keep your eyes on Jesus”.  A better image might be a relay race where Abraham is passing me the baton to run a section of the race, ready to pass it on to the next person.  I am not running to please them, but their inspirational lives provide a great motivator for me to run as they did. 

My ultimate motivator is none other than Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.  Listen to these verses just one more time from The Message, then get motivated for the right reasons.

1Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. 2Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. 3When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item,
that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1-3

Monday, February 28, 2011

FAITH is Gazing at the Heart of God (part 2): Five Practical Steps to Faith

According to Tozer (see part 1 - Faith is Gazing at the Heart of God) faith is gazing upon God.  Faith is directing one’s attention to Jesus, faith is our heart continually hearing “behold the lamb” so that our attention will be drawn to Jesus.

Heb. 12:1-2 begins with “therefore”, pointing back to the great chapter on faith then simply says, "look to Jesus".  Within Hebrews 11 lies person after person that exhibited a life that pleased God by their faith.  Rahab, Enoch, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses and so many more.  All these believed the words that God had spoken to them.  Practically speaking, how do we do that day in and day out?

Here are five very practical steps to exercise those faith muscles:
  1. Read the word daily (faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God - Rom. 10:17)
    The Word of God is just that, God speaking to you.  Just like Moses on the mountaintop speaking to God, the completed canon is God personally speaking to you.  The bible provides instruction for life, for godliness, for maturity until we meet Him face to face.  How can you cling to the promises of God if you don’t read them?  How can God speak with you if you don’t spend time with him every day?  Read the Word daily, even 7 minutes a day is a great start.  Spend 30 seconds in prayer asking for God to reveal Himself in the Word, read for 5 minutes and then pray for 90 seconds that God will apply what you have just read.  Everyone has 7 minutes a day they can give to God.  (The Navigators have a bible reading plan that requires only 5 minutes a day and you can complete the New Testament in a year - http://www.navpress.com/dj/content.aspx?id=138 ).  
 

    2.  Daily keep your focus on Jesus.
 
      Let’s face facts, we have distractions from the second we wake up to the moment we finally drift off to sleep.  In fact, I would venture to say that since the beginning of time, there has never been a time when the average person has more distractions as we do now.  To name just a few: TV, radio, magazine, video games, cell phones, iPods, books, e-books, internet, computers, texting, emails, youtube, etc.  In the last 50 years our world has changed dramatically, even the last 5 years has given us new technology that allows us to entertain ourselves anywhere at anytime.  It is much easier to flip on the TV or surf the web than it is to shut everything off, open a Bible and read.  Here’s a suggestion that I have found useful:

•    Have your quiet time first thing in the morning before you check your blackberry, turn on your computer, read the newspaper, check the morning traffic.  Start your day with God, it is amazing how it will impact your entire day and keep your focus on the Lamb.
•    Put reminders in places where you tend to lose focus.  On your bathroom mirror, on the rear-view mirror of your car, in your cubicle or office at work, on the edge of your computer screen, or on your toolbox.  The reminders should focus your thoughts on Jesus.
     •    Change out these reminders weekly.  Reminders become familiar very quickly to the point you don’t even see them after a week or so.
     •    Consider using a verse from your quiet time as your daily/weekly reminder.
•    Memorize Scripture.  If this has been a tough for you in the past, start slow, but start.  What about a goal of 1 verse per week.  You can work on it every day and by the end of the week you should have it done.  Did you know the average Christian could not quote 50 verses with their reference?  After only 1 year you would have more verses memorized than most.  Imagine after 10 years!  Try writing out the verses on a small card (i.e. business card size), punch a hole in one end and put them on a binder ring.  You can take this with you anywhere (grocery store, treadmill, walking, work, lunch, etc.).  Put the verse on one side and the scripture reference on the other.  You can flip through these verses anywhere and you will soon be a “tree firmly planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, in all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3). 

     3.  Journal

     Keep a record of the things God has done and is doing.  A prayer journal is a great way to start.  It is amazing to see God answering your prayers, confirmation that God is hearing you and responding to your heart felt needs. 

     4.  Find time to be still (Ps. 46:10).

     For most of us, forcing a “time-out” in our busy schedules is not easy.  Our world is equally demanding when we come home from work making it nearly impossible to steal away a few minutes of silence.  God says, “be still and know that I am God”.  I challenge you to make the time daily.  If you are married, give your spouse a short "time-out" and then they can return the favor to you.  Susanna Wesley used to pull her apron over her head as a sign to her family that she was having a time-out with God.

     5. Start and end your day in prayer. 

     Before your feet hit the floor, commit your day to God.  It is amazing the difference this has made in my life.  My days are much more focused on Christ when I start my day in a short prayer of dedication.  When I was in a summer camp with the Navigators, my group leader challenged me to make “His words the last words.”  He challenged me to not talk about things that will distract or worry just before I go to bed.  Rather end my day, my final words, my final thoughts saying (or thinking) His words (again that Scripture memory will come in very handy here).  If you are married, try praying together, then drift off praying for your spouse and family, quoting Scripture or reflecting on your quiet time from earlier in the day.

Friday, February 25, 2011

FAITH is Gazing at the Heart of God (part 1)

Is your work important?  If the CEO of your company called you into his office and said, “If you want to succeed in this business, there is one thing you must do.  It is impossible to succeed here if you don’t do this one thing.”  Obviously, you would do that one thing with gusto.

For the last week I have been reading, listening to and meditating on Hebrews, especially chapters 10-12.  That “one thing” that God says is imperative to please Him is faith, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (11:6).  Every church of every denomination has preached untold sermons on faith. The preachers will say “just believe”, “take God as His word”, “if you have the faith of a mustard seed”, and then they will share the life story of a person that did unbelievable things for God. Most of the time, we walk out thinking to ourselves, there must be something more than this.

Heb.10:38 (quoting Hab. 2:3-4) says “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  Heb. 11 opens up with two righteous men, Abel and Enoch, that pleased God.  Enoch was so pleasing to God that God took him home (heaven) so that he did not experience death.  How did he do that?

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” 11:6

Tozer calls faith, “the gaze of a soul upon a saving God” and “faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.” He continues, “If faith is the gaze of the heart at God, and if this gaze is but the raising of the inward eyes to meet the all-seeing eyes of God, then it follows that it is one of the easiest things possible to do.”(1) [emphasis mine]

The Bible defines faith only as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).  Romans 10:17 says, “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”  Thomas á Kempis said, “I had rather experience faith than know the definition thereof.”  Jesus, in John 3, used the illustration of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to help his hearers understand faith in Him for everlasting life. (Num. 21:4-9; John 3:14-16)

“Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus.  It is lifting the mind to ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29), and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives.” (2)  After finishing the great chapter on faith, we roll right into chapter 12 with a wake up call (vv. 1-2).  It calls us our attention to repentance, shedding all hindrances (entanglements), and running the race as the man/woman that God has called us to be . . . by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

Faith is gazing upon Jesus, forever.  It is directing our sight away from ourselves and onto God where it is intended to be.  To paraphrase Tozer, “when we commit in our heart to gaze upon Christ continually, God takes our intention, makes allowances for the thousands of distractions in this evil world and after a while, it becomes a spiritual reflex requiring no more conscious effort on our part.” (3)

Here’s a few quotes from Tozer that may help to cement this idea:

“Faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves—blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.” (4)

“Pseudo faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails it.” (5)

“The Christian faith engages the profoundest problems the human mind can entertain and solves them completely and simply by pointing to the Lamb of God.” (6)

“We have full confidence in Jesus Christ. He is the origin, source, foundation and resting place for all of our faith. In that kingdom of faith, we are dealing with Him, with God Almighty, the One whose essential nature is holiness, the One who cannot lie.  Our confidence rises as the character of God becomes greater and more trustworthy to our spiritual comprehension. The One with whom we deal is the One who embodies faithfulness and truth—the One who cannot lie.”(7)
  
“Faith never goes contrary to reason—faith simply ignores reason and rises above it.” (8)

  1. Tozer, A.W., The Pursuit of God, pp.87-89.
  2. Ibid., p.84.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p.91.
  5. Tozer, A.W., The Root of Righteousness, p.50.
  6. Tozer, A.W., Of God and Men, p.129.
  7. Tozer, A.W., The Pulpit Set [Vol. 1], Book 3, p.41.
  8. Ibid., p.42.

Monday, January 24, 2011

President Obama said what?

I don't normally comment on political happenings as this blog is really an outpouring of my spiritual journey.  And it's not that I am short of opinions, because if you have read my blogs or come to know me, you will know that my 10.5 (extra wide) finds its place in my mouth more often than I like.  However, on this historic anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I think I must comment...or rather share the insights from Dr. Mohler's blog:   

"This past Saturday, on the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, President Barack Obama issued a statement that is remarkable, even for presidents who support legalized abortion. The President’s statement included not one word that indicated any recognition that abortion is in any case or in any sense a tragedy. There was not even a passing reference to the unborn child. President Obama did not even use the language used disingenuously by President Bill Clinton — the pledge that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

Ever since Barack Obama emerged on the national political scene, he has been promoted and protected by a corps of preachers and religious leaders who have tried their best to explain that he is not so pro-abortion as he seems. Nevertheless, his record is all too clear. In his article, “In His Own Words: A Radical Pro-Abortion President,” Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. asks, “How can any President of the United States fail to address this unspeakable tragedy?”"  Read the details in Dr. Mohler’s blog, which is often updated several times a day.
http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/01/24/in-his-own-words-a-radical-pro-abortion-president
Accessed Jan. 24, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Being unemployed is . . .

The last month has probably been the best time for me...spiritually speaking, which couldn’t possibly happen if I was employed.  We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety.  The “choice” of holding on to what little we had left was made for me.  Augustine said, “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”  I am just now beginning (and I emphasize beginning) to understand Piper’s foremost creed, “God is most glorified when we are satisfied in Him”.  Frederick Faber says, “No one need to be poor, because, if he chooses, he can have Jesus for his own property and possession.”  Tozer writes, “Self can live unrebuked at the very altar...it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible conference than in a tavern.”  He continues, “God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is.  Such worship . . . can never come from a mere doctrinal knowledge of God.  Hearts that are ‘fit to break’ with love for the Godhead are those who have been in the Presence and have looked with opened eye upon the majesty of Deity.”
 
All that to say, God’s prevenient working within me is filling my heart with a yearning to know Him more, with a renewed longing to see others know Him more and to tell others of the grace of God.  My pastor, has started a new series on Moses and I was reminded of some verses in Hebrews 11 that brought me to my knees:
 
“Choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward . . . for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” (vv. 25-27) 
 
The picture of Moses, especially in Exodus 33 is one that I love.  It epitomizes everything that was quoted above. Moses talks to God as two friends talk face to face and yet his prayer (v.13) is to know Him more, so that he may please Him more.  I recognize that this period of job searching is a dangerous time for an out-of-work pastor.  Many pastors leave the ministry, at such a time as this, never to return.  I am thankful that He is drawing me to Himself, opening my eyes to the need and preparing me for the next steps.  I pray, by His grace, that I will be found faithful.

Seeing Him Who is Invisible

Have you ever wished you were born into a family like Bill Gates, Donald Trump or the Queen of England?  Do you often think you have "missed the boat"?  Are you reliving that "golden opportunity" that you let slip away? 

Just flip on the TV and every network will have some reality show that highlights the socialites, the million dollar winners of some Burnett production or the hugely successful realtors.  The reality is, we see the lives of the brightest, the most fortunate, the luckiest and we desire to have even a little of what they have.  We know that if we had one of those big commission checks, or even the $50,000 prize from Wipeout that our current financial struggles would be eased a bit (or a lot). 

Did you know that dream of adoption actually happened?  A baby boy, born into a very average and struggling household, was adopted by a princess of the most influential and prosperous kingdom.  For forty years, he was raised and lived as prince with all the pomp and privileges that being the son of a king would bestow on him.  Simply put, he had everything, he lacked nothing.  He was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. That man was Moses (Exodus 2).

What makes Moses an inspiration and a role model is not his "lucky streak".  It is willingness to give up his power, his position, his influence, his opulent lifestyle, his retirement income, his home, his adopted family, his familiar surroundings, his BMW chariots and his designer clothing.  Hebrews 11 puts it this way,

24"By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible."
  • Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh.
    • He knew his true identity - a child of the Most High God.
  • Moses chose to be mistreated with God’s people RATHER than enjoy immediate gratification from sin (for those pleasures are fleeting).
    • Don't be fooled by the fleeting pleasures of sin. Don't give in to them, keep your eyes focused on the main thing.
  • Moses considered the reproach of Christ to be worth far more than all the treasures of Egypt.
    • He had a true view of the future.
    • He understood who it is that will stand victorious in the end and will rule all of heaven and earth for eternity.
    • He recognized the surpassing treasures of heaven over the fleeting earthly treasures of earth.
    • Moses had a keen grasp of God and God's plan for eternity.  Without even the written Scriptures, he recognized a Saviour in God's Son.  By faith he kept Passover (v.28).
  • Moses did all this BECAUSE he was looking to the future, where his treasure/reward would be waiting for him in heaven.  He understood the treasures in heaven to be more important, more valuable than the temporary rewards/pleasures on this earth.
    • Where is your focus?  Are you able to take your eyes off the fleeting pleasures of this world for the surpassing greatness of the future?  
Moses, in the last 40 years of his life, enters into a relationship like no other.  God talks to Moses as two friends talk, face to face (Exod. 33:11).  Again at this point in his life, you can say he is the luckiest man on the face of the earth.  Of course you know I don't believe in "luck" but the sovereignty and providence of God.  However, Moses is found to be in that envious place of right-relationship with God, enduring the hardships that are before him, for the surpassing greatness of his future eternity with God.  He has found favor in God's sight and yet he is desperate to know God even more so that he will be found even more pleasing to God (33:13).  

Moses is clearly focused on the one thing that is most important to every person that has ever been born.  "But one thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead."(Phil. 3:13) 

Do you see Him who is invisible? (Heb. 11:27)  That's what makes Moses stand out from those of us that struggle with the things we see...the here and now.  Step out and dare to be like Moses, put aside the things that draw your focus, your attention and energies.  Focus on one thing - on Him, who is invisible, and rewards those who diligently follow hard after Him. (Deut. 6:5)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inspired by Ted Williams

Turning on a Friend

I am amazed how quickly and easily we can turn on a friend.  With only a word or sentence from a mere stranger, we can totally change the way we think about a good friend.  Take “Social Networking” for example, a few comments about a friend and almost immediately you have changed the way you think about your friend.

About 10 years ago my wife and I were selling our home.  We had sold a few homes over the years and made a good business relationship with a local realtor.  So naturally, when it came time to sell this home, we called him.  For whatever reason, our home wasn’t moving and our date to move was approaching fast.  We didn’t have the luxury of waiting until it was sold as we had to move to another state.  In the 11th hour, we had a mother and daughter that showed up at our door wanting to view the home.  We gladly ushered them through hoping for that last minute sale.  They said they had contacted our realtor and he wasn’t returning their calls.  In fact, they were quite insistent that our realtor had dropped the ball.   I bought it hook, line and sinker.  I was already frustrated that our home hadn’t sold, we weren’t getting the showings, I didn’t see much advertising and soon I would be carrying a mortgage for a vacant home.  When I confronted him, rather accused him of not doing his job, he quickly revealed the truth.  He was doing his job, he was advertising and that couple had never called him.  As a result, our relationship was strained and never returned to the level of trust it had once been.

I am reminded of my failure this morning because I read that I am not alone.  In the midst of a lush, beautiful, breath-taking garden we see Adam and Eve.  Perfect in creation, perfect in setting and the best of all, perfect in their relationship with their Creator.  Their heart was wholly in tune with the heart of their Creator.  Their desire was to please God, simply put, to worship and obey.  But one serpent, spitting half-truths and lies to Eve was all it took for her to doubt the word of her Creator and inevitably to disobey, breaking the cycle of fellowship and worship.  Their mistakes would forever change their lives and the lives of their children.  That broken relationship, although forgiven, would never be the same as they experienced before that fatal decision.  (Gen. 3)

The pursuit of maintaining that pure relationship with God is not an easy task.  We must follow hard after God.  Being made in His image we have within us the capacity to know God.  But living on this earth we under a barrage of lies and half-truths that want to strip us away from any relationship with our Creator.  Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.  Examine the lives of the holy men and women of the past.  You will feel their tears, you will hear their heart, you will see their longing and pursuit of God.  Exodus 33 continues to be one of my favorite examples of a person seeking hard after God.  Moses, who already has the best relationship with God of any living person on the planet (33:11) is still longing to know God more.  He says, “If I have favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” (33:13).  Do you sense the urgency of his passion to know God more? 

What are you passionate about?  Tozer, in his book The Pursuit of God writes, “If we would find God amid all the religious externals, we must first determine to find Him . . . we must strip down to essentials . . . put away all efforts to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood.  If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.”

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.  I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace.  I am ashamed of my lack of desire.  O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.  Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed.  Begin in mercy and new work of love within me.  Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’  Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”
 
In Jesus’ name,
Amen.
 
[The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer, p.18, 20]

Monday, January 3, 2011

God will not forsake His Saints


1    Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
 be not envious of wrongdoers!

2    For they will soon fade like the grass
 and wither like the green herb.

3    Trust in the Lord, and do good;
 dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4    Delight yourself in the Lord,
 and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5    Commit your way to the Lord;
 trust in him, and he will act.

6    He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
 and your justice as the noonday.

7    Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
 fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
 over the man who carries out evil devices!

Psalm 37:1-7 (ESV)

Today, of all days, these words are a timely reminder that God holds my tomorrow and cares for my today.  Today, the reality of my unemployment is larger than life.  I begin 2011 without a job, currently without prospects and no income.  However, in reflection over the last 6 months, I see God's perfect hand in my life and I have so much to be thankful for.  His plan for my life is unfolding exactly as He desires.

I am reminded of another time when Jesus said "Be still".  Jesus and his disciples were on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and a sudden fierce storm erupted that quickly began sinking the boat.  Jesus is sleeping through the storm and the disciples are panicking.  In the midst of the storm, Jesus says, "Peace! Be still" and immediately the wind ceased and there was great calm. (Mark 4:35-41)

My prayer:
Lord, I hope and pray that you will not have to rebuke me as you did the disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"  May I live out Psalm 37 in my life by trusting in you, doing good, feeding on faithfulness, delighting in you and waiting patiently for you.  Let not the worries of this world distract me from enjoying you and bringing you glory.  I love you and thank you today.