Friday, December 31, 2010

Come, Lord Jesus!

December 25th is done. There is still a tree up (just no presents under it), still lights on the houses, still a Christmas cd in my car player; and I feel, just like every year, a sadness, a bittersweet nostalgia. Why's that? I listen again to a Christmas cd, not the silly one (by Mariah Carey) but the good one, with a choir. Now that all the needless rush and stress is over, I want it back! But today, I realized, not "it"; but him. Not the little baby in the manger but the King, riding on a white horse. I want the King to return.

We've celebrated his first advent, but there's another, second advent we wait for, long for now. Christmas is great. Our attention gets focused on the greatest miracle and gift ever: that God came and dwelt among us in human flesh. That he was right here among us for a little while. And at Christmas it's kind of like we get to act that out a little, even setting out figurines in our houses. We imagine seeing it, that we're there and it's all happening, right under our noses. But then, the day is over, and it all gets packed up and put away, and we are still waiting. I know it's just trees and lights and candles and figurines. But still... don't you feel increased loneliness for him? Doesn't Christmas just make you long to see him with your eyes? Don't you long for him to come again, this time for good?

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-11).

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Do You Meet Needs?

I've been thinking, what are the things God in his Word tells us to do to meet needs, whether in our families, in the church, or in the world? And how good a job are we--am I--doing of paying attention to that?

Here's what the NT has to say about meeting needs in our families:

  1. Wives submit to, love and respect your husbands; be a worker in your home
  2. Children honor and obey your parents, take care of them physically in old age
  3. Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church, live with them in an understanding way
  4. Fathers, bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and don't provoke them to anger
(Won't just these four things keep some of us busy for the rest of our lives?)

Here's a sampling of what the Bible says about meeting needs in the church:

  1. Bear one another's burdens
  2. Share one another's joys and sorrows
  3. Share generously what you have with those in need
  4. Show hospitality
  5. Encourage each other in the Lord
  6. Teach and exhort each other through singing together
  7. Think about ways to stir one another up to love and good works
  8. Forgive each other
  9. Speak the truth in love to each other
  10. Make disciples
(Those all apply in the home as well, by the way.)

And here's a sampling of what the Bible says about meeting needs in the world:

  1. Always be ready to give a humble answer to those who want to know the reason for your hope
  2. Do not be ashamed of Christ and his words before unbelievers
  3. Share the gospel
  4. Be willing to suffer for righteousness' sake so that unbelievers may see your good works and (perhaps in this life) give glory to God
  5. Obey and honor the government authorities
  6. Do not love the world or the things of the world
Our ideas of meeting needs often fall short or are even opposed to what God, in his authoritative word, says we should be doing. I'm convicted!

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How My View of Scripture Was Altered

From a journal entry a while back:

The reality of the all-encompassing sufficiency and authority of the Bible exploded into my view six or so years ago. Before then, I was casting my eyes about for answers in every direction, looking for the help so sorely needed, looking here, there, everywhere, it seemed, but in its pages. I'd been a Christian 30 years.

But at last the Lord gathered me up to himself, heart wildly pounding, eyes searching for him, and he gently turned and held my face steady to the page. And at long last, the words came into focus and I saw him there. Since then has been a continual feast and fellowship with the Lord, by his Spirit, in the pages of his Book.

May your word, Lord, become foremost, central and prominent in the life of your church, and in our estimation.

I will bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. ~ Psalm 138:2 (NASB)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

His Yoke is Easy, His Burden is Light (Even When We Are Distressed)!

Not long ago, it came up in a conversation with a loved one that all this difficulty in relationships and difficult church situations can't be right. All the arrogance we see around us, born of a false view of God and his ways, plus the struggle with our own sinful hearts, causes forlornness. All this just can't be right, was the conversation, because of this: Jesus said, "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

But here's why these words of Jesus don't make it wrong that we are, both of us, distressed and struggling so often. The first reason why is this one: Jesus was talking about the salvation from sin he offers.

He had, in Matthew 11:1-24, just pronounced a ringing indictment on the unbelief and hardheartedness of the Jews in failing to recognize both the forerunner (John the Baptist) and their Messiah. The cities in which he had done most of his miracles were included, because they did not repent (v. 20); if the miracles these cities had witnessed had been seen in Sodom, said the Lord, Sodom would have repented and would still be here today. How favored these cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum had been, yet by their lack of repentance, their damnation was sealed.

The the Lord in vs. 25 begins to speak of God's goodness in revealing himself, not to these lofty cities, but to "infants." "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does any one know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal him."

Having made this great statement of praise dor the Father's freedom and pleasure in sovereignly revealing himself to those whom he would, Jesus then extends his invitation-- not to be refused--to those infants, those little ones, those weary ones (us!): "Come unto me."

The weariness and the heavy burden is the guilt of sin; the rest he offers is the forgiveness and the removal of it. His easy yoke is his commands, which are our delight (Psalm 40:8) and not burdensome; his "burden" for us is joy, the joy of our salvation!

This is not a one-time benefit, but is meant to sustain us throughout all our journey in this pilgrim passage. Who can ever "get over" the wonder of a Savior who has canceled the debt of sin?

The other reason why these words of Jesus don't make it wrong that we are distressed and that we struggle so often is this: it was the way of our Master himself, of his apostles, and of all the faithful and suffering church since then. I'll just close with these words from Scripture:

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence" (Hebrews 5:7).

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

"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?" (Hebrews 12:7).

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" ( 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Every High Priest Must Offer Something

Hebrews 8:3: "For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest to have something to offer."

Hebrews 10:10: "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rehearsals for Judgment

I'm reading through Hosea, using a commentary to help with some of the historical references and allusions. When I read in Chapter 10 verse 8 that the people of Israel would go to judgment calling to the mountains and hills, "Cover us! Fall on us!" I knew the commentary would have something good to say! Because, of course, this cry has been, and is to be repeated elsewhere in history.

But the last word on human arrogance and independence is reserved for the end of the [Hosea] verse: "They shall say to the mountains, Cover us..." - a cry which the New Testament will take up twice; first to predict the still greater horrors awaiting the Jerusalem of AD 70 as the logical outcome of its Good Friday choice, and secondly to portray the terrors of the Last Judgment, with men of every rank and nation "calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb'" (Luke 23:30, Revelation 6:16).

So we are not left to contemplate the downfall of Israel on its own, safely isolated in the eighth century BC. It meets us as a foretaste of still weightier events, as indeed are all the local, limited tragedies of history. Our Lord laid down for us the right and wrong reactions to such happenings when he was asked to comment on a massacre: "And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'"

We can hardly complain that the last act of our human drama has been under-rehearsed!

(From The Message of Hosea by Derek Kidner)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't Run From God in the Mornings

He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day. ~ John Bunyan

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The One Song

I am hard at work on my next installment in the series on "Prayer and Listening to God." For today please enjoy an article written by Jared Wilson on the "one song" of the gospel. How could we ever tire of its words of mercy, grace and redemption?

The Beautiful Monotony of the Gospel

One fear we must put aside in our quest for greater gospel-centrality is that it will not preach week to week. The enemy and our own flesh will test our commitment with the "plausible argument" (Col. 2:4) that the gospel will just sound so one-note. We are tempted to think the repetition will have the unintended effect of boring people or making the gospel appear routine and commonplace.

But the gospel is resilient. It is miraculously versatile. It proves itself every day for those awake to it. Because it is the antidote for all sin of all people, power effectual for every type of person no matter their background or circumstance, it is God's might to save every millisecond and therefore every Sunday.

The gospel is indeed one song. But it is a song with many notes. The news is the same, but some of the words may change and the angles shift. (Use a thesaurus if you have to.) If we are awake to the gospel and seek the wakefulness of others, Christian and non-Christian, the playing of the greatest song at every instance is a lot like the exuberance of childlike wonder in monotonous fun. In Orthodoxy, the great G.K. Chesterton writes:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

When we "get" the gospel for what it really is -- the power to save, the most thrilling news there could be, the declaration that God's Son died for us and then came back to life! to be the risen Lord and supreme King of the universe, not just the entry fee for heaven but the currency for all of life -- we revel in the new creation it unleashes in its wake at every turn. We never get tired of hearing it. It's the new song that never gets old. "Play it again, play it again!" we will cry.

Gospel wakened people have been given the strength enough to exult in the beautiful monotony of the gospel.
The further good news is that those who are dulled in their senses will not be further dulled by the gospel. In fact, only the gospel can deliver them from their dulled state. No amount of fog and lasers will do it.

That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel . . . -- Romans 1:15

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel -- Ephesians 6:19

(Pastor Wilson notes: "This is a slightly edited version of a passage appearing in my book
Gospel Wakefulness coming from Crossway in Fall 2011.")


Friday, December 3, 2010

Consider How Amazing Christ's Conquests!

Over the past few years I've been reading in a book called "The Christian in Complete Armour" by a Puritan pastor in England named William Gurnall. It was published in the 1660's in separate volumes, containing 600 pages in all. The book I have is all the volumes bound together. Not only is it a big book in terms of number of pages, but it's a weighty book in terms of ideas. Spurgeon said of it, "... every line is full of wisdom... John Newton said that if he could read only one book beside the Bible, he would choose 'The Christian in Complete Armour'."

So that's the kind of timeless and helpful book it is. Today I read a couple of paragraphs that talked about the huge wonder of Christ's saving work when certain facts are considered. Here are Gurnall's thoughts from the section of the book, "The Christless Soul is Without Armour" (paraphrased by me):

When we consider how the Christless soul is (a) completely alienated from God and so not sheltered under God's defenses; (b) in a state of darkest spiritual ignorance; (c) impotent to withstand the onslaughts of Satan or even his own desires; and (d) in an actual state of partnership with sin and Satan--then Satan's great conquests in the world are not to be wondered at. We look around and see his vast empire, and then the tiny plot of ground occupied by Christ's subjects; we see what heaps of precious souls lie prostrate under Satan's foot of pride, and what a small regiment of saints march under Christ's banner; and the strangeness of it all can make us ask, "Is hell stronger than heaven?"

Think about this--Satan finds the world unarmed, he finds no one in opposition to him in the whole world. Every single individual is born fully inclined to yield to him at his first summons. Even if a man's conscience tries to hold out against Satan's schemes for a while, the man's will and his affections (his true desires) will rise up and declare mutiny against his conscience. Like an uprising of soldiers in a garrison, the will and the affections will never rest until they've forced the conscience to yield. If conscience tries to hold out, the will and affections will go against conscience's command and throw open the city gate, as it were, to the enemy, and traitorously deliver the conscience over to their side. This describes Satan's easy victory over the souls of men.

On the other hand, when Christ comes to demand the soul, he meets with a scornful and easy reply: "We will not have this man to reign over us." There is no struggle between conscience, will and affection; with one consent they vote against him, rising up in blasphemy.

"You will not come to me," says Christ. Oh, how true are sinners to their master, the devil. They will not deliver the castle they hold for Satan 'til fired over their heads! Just as Pharaoh opposed Moses on the one hand, and enslaved Israel opposed him on the other, so Christ is opposed both by Satan's hand, and also by the very ones Satan so oppresses.

The conquests of Alexander the Great were lessened by the fact that he overcame a people buried in barbarianism, a people who had no arms and no discipline to fight wars. The conquests of Caesar were heightened by the fact that he overcame a people more warlike and furnished. Likewise, Satan's conquests are of poor, ignorant, and graceless souls, who have neither weapons, nor hands, nor hearts with which to oppose. But when Satan assaults a redeemed saint of God, then he finds himself before a city gate with bars; he is forced to sit outside it, and finally to rise with shame, having been unable to take even the weakest hold, or to pluck the weakest saint out of Christ's hands. Rather, Christ turns the tables on him, and brings souls out of Satan's dominion with a high hand, in spite of all the force and fury of hell, which, just like Pharaoh and his host, pursue them!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Prayer and Listening to God Part 4: Before We Go On; Prayer is a Rich Fellowship With God

((This is Part 4 of a series of posts on Prayer and Listening to God. Click here for Part 1).

In the previous article in this series, I said that I would offer a few quick guidelines for interpreting Scripture, and then look at some Scripture passages that have been used as "proof" that we should expect God to speak directly to us. I need, though, to stop here for a minute and say a few things about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and in the believer's prayers.

In making the case that we are not to listen inwardly for God's voice, whether in prayer or at any other time (for this is the case I'm trying to make), I am not, not, not saying that we do not enjoy rich fellowship and communion with God in prayer and in other times, too.

This rich fellowship and communion with God is through the activity of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15, "by whom we cry 'Abba, Father'"). The Spirit's work is to assure us that we are God's own. But how does he do this? The Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of truth. The reason He is called this is that He always works in tandem with the truth, i.e., the word of God (John 17:17). He assures us of our adoption as sons through the truths of Scripture. We are born again by the Spirit's work of regeneration, granting us faith to believe through hearing the truths of the word of God (Romans 10:17). The Spirit came for the express purpose, according to Jesus in John 14, of teaching the disciples and bringing to their remembrance all things Jesus had said to them (John 14:26)- which He did-and they wrote all that He said down as Scripture. The Spirit is all about Christ and His words (John 15:26, John 16:13-15).

So when we understand that the Holy Spirit is all about the word of God and the teaching of Christ in fulfilling His role to us as Comforter and Helper, then it's easier to see that knowing and understanding the Bible is hugely important in benefiting from the Spirit's ministry to us. It's a sobering thing, but God has made it so that when we don't know what the Bible teaches we may suffer the loss of the joy and comfort of the Spirit. John Piper has said that Scripture is like kindling that is ignited by the Holy Spirit to inflame our faith. This is true, and God has so designed it that without the kindling of Scripture, our faith will not burn as brightly and warmly. This is how we enjoy the rich fellowship and communion of the Spirit. The Spirit loves, promotes and ignites the word of God in our hearts.

But verses and chapters and books of Scripture have to be understood correctly before they can be kindling used by the Spirit for our help and comfort, because they're not just words, they're truths. If we misunderstand a Scripture, whether through an honest mistake or through being mistaught or through our own carelessness, we are misunderstanding a truth. We are missing a truth. We won't be as comforted, encouraged, corrected and trained as we could be, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.

 For the true child of God, being confused about the Bible's teaching or just plain neglecting it won't make him "unsaved"; but he will suffer loss, perhaps in his sense of assurance or confidence in the work of Christ or even in how he lives his life. This is a very sobering truth, and I know firsthand that it's so, because I lived much of my Christian life with a lot of this kind of misunderstanding of Scripture. I'm so thankful that God was kind and showed me my error. Most of the things I thought one was supposed to do in order to be close to God, I was astonished to find were just made up stuff, based on man-made ideas and so they certainly didn't really work! I was so surprised to learn that it really was simply faith in Christ's finished work and an understanding of what that meant, based on the teaching of the Bible, that God actually required of me. No more attempts to jump through hoops, no more dog and pony show. The truths taught in Scripture were what the Spirit used to draw me closer to God and Christ.

So, to sum up, there is a richness, an intimacy, a life-changing knowledge of God to be had in the ministry of the Spirit through the word of God. And that's the very reason I'm writing against the practice of listening inwardly for his voice, as taught by so many today. It teaches us to bypass the Scriptures, where we really do hear Him speak, and which is the kindling the Spirit uses to ignite a warmer and more confident faith. Seeing prayer and the Holy Spirit's work in a false way will rob you of what is really available to you when you cling to his promises in trust, look to him for his mercy, fear him for his excellent greatness, and tremble at his word, the Scriptures (Isaiah 66:2).

So, please keep in mind as you read this series of posts that prayer, though not a time for listening inwardly for God's voice, is meant to be a time for fellowship with God, helped by his Spirit as you pray in accordance with his word. Next post, I hope to get back to dismantling, as best I can, the wrong stuff, in the hopes of making more way for the good stuff. We'll look at guidelines for correctly interpreting Scripture, and we'll look at examples of misinterpreted texts that have led to the notion of our listening for God's voice (starring one of the biggies, the much-misunderstood "still, small voice").

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions and ideas in the comments.

Please click here for Part 5.