Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The God of New Things



Isaiah 43:1-21                    January 1, 2017               Link for audio/video/manuscript

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert" (Isaiah 43:18-19).

God has chosen us to glorify Him by being powerful witnesses to the new things He does in us and through us in Jesus Christ. He’s working in our midst through our victories and defeats, through our hurts and healings, and through the good times and the bad – all the while doing something “new.”

Seven Steps to Strengthen Prayer - Bonnie McKernan

My struggles with prayer run deep. The spiritual deserts in my life have always been accompanied by a parched prayer life. Eventually, I came to realize this was not only a symptom, but a cause. I was neglecting the very thing that would satisfy my weary, thirsty soul. I was ignoring the path that would not only lead me out of the desert, but keep me out of the wilderness in the first place.

I often fall short of my good intentions when I fail to view prayer as a discipline that needs to be learned and practiced and developed. We speak frequently of the importance of prayer, but often don’t know (or forget) the “hows” of prayer. Even Jesus’s own disciples had to ask Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1). They saw something in the way he prayed so fervently and intimately to his Father that 
made them long to do the same. Lord, teach us to pray! 

While it won’t be the same for everyone, seven specific actions have really helped me in my battle against a weak prayer life.

Preparing to Pray

1. Set prayer apart. The more we pray, the more we want to pray. To do this, you need to build it into the rhythm of your day any way you can: set alarms, leave notes, put it in your day planner. Prayer is a practice that requires discipline and perseverance, and we should own the cost. Prayer is the greatest act of our day, and we must fight for it. And not just in times of need. It matters how we train and prepare for the battle.

2. Learn to withdraw. Pull away from distractions — the phone, the computer, the TV, the constant noise of modern life — and find a way to separate yourself so you can be and feel “shut in with God.” It can be a challenge when you work away from home for long hours or are sharing your house from dawn-to-dusk with a bunch of loud and energetic children, but make it a priority. Your car on lunch break, a quiet corner in the office, a closet in between meals or feedings or naptimes, or simply the quiet of your heart if that’s all you can muster. But find solitude, and pray (Luke 4:425:1622:41).

3. Have a posture of prayer. Do what you need to help you focus on what it is that you’re doing. Kneel, stand, close your eyes, look to the heavens — when your body is focused, it’s often easier for your soul to follow. If able, pray out loud. I’ve found that just softly whispering during my private prayer time is quiet enough that it doesn’t inhibit the flow of my praying, but loud enough that it keeps my mind from wandering. As C.S. Lewis observes, “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.”

Practicing Prayer

4. Pray Scripture. This is a great way to start. What joy it brings to a father to know his children hear his words, cherish them, believe them to be true, and then speak them back to him. So much of my prayers are “plagiarized” Scripture. Without even realizing it, they become the vocabulary of my prayers, sometimes because the beautiful promises make my heart sing, and sometimes because all I can do is desperately cling to his words.


5. Pray fervently. Praying should be active. We cannot truly come into contact with God and not be a different person, at least in some small degree, by the time we say, “Amen.” Struggle in prayer, wrestle with it, and let the Spirit move. Answers to prayer are a blessing, but prayer in and of itself is meant to be a blessing. Sometimes it feels like the moaning of parched lips in the desert, and we should still persevere because prayer is not just the fruit of spiritual life, but the means of attaining it.

6. Pray specifically. Vagueness can be the death of prayer. Not that we can never be general, just not at the expense of praising God’s specific attributes, confessing specific sins, or thanking him and asking him for specific things. We must learn to pray specifically and boldly due to the status we have through Christ, while simultaneously being completely submissive to God’s will. Bold and expectant faith coupled with humble submission is a powerful thing.

7. Pray for and with others. Prayer is meant to knit together the children of God, oftentimes, people we have never even met. We share a Father, we are family, and we should bear each other’s burdens in prayer. We become invested in each other’s struggles and triumphs. We start to care more about the people we pray for and less about ourselves. What a beautiful thing to come before our Father of one accord with the same appeals out of love and care for each other. Prayer binds the church together.

Prayers Like Arrows

Prayer is not a formula or something that only “works” if we do it perfectly, in just the right way. But it should never be careless. Careless prayers are like arrows that fall haphazardly at our feet. Prayers that we offer with little care or effort typically will do little after leaving our mouths (but be careful about underestimating God). On the other hand, when shot with strength and desire and fervor, our prayers fly swiftly toward heaven to the throne of God himself (Revelation 8:4):

It is not the arithmetic of our prayers — how many they be;
nor the rhetoric of our prayers — how eloquent they be;
nor their geometry — how long they be;
nor their music — how sweet their voice may be;
nor their logic — how argumentative they be;
nor yet their method — how orderly they be;
nor even their divinity — how good their doctrine may be, which God cares for:
but it is the fervency of spirit which availeth much.
(Bishop Joseph Hall, 1808)

God loves to make his people into skilled archers in the discipline of prayer, with prayers like arrows — fervent and strong ones that change lives, bring healing, impact our nations, alter history, unite the church, and above all display God’s glory.

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/seven-steps-to-strengthen-prayer @ 2017 Desiring God

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Power of Patience



James 5:7-12                 June 5, 2016              Link for audio/video/manuscript

As fallen created beings who live in a fallen world, waiting is our collective common experience. The power of patience available to us in times of pain, struggle and conflict is the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ who ascended into heaven, and who will someday return to this world take those who possess a living faith in him to their eternal home with him in the glory of heaven. Like the farmer, we are to patiently plow, plant and water as we wait for the fruit of God’s spiritual harvest. Like the prophets we are to patiently endure opposition when we share and live out the Word of God. Like Job we are to patiently allow God to do His deeper work within us for His greater purpose in times of suffering. May we each as individuals, and all of us together, come to know the power of the patience of God-given restraint in the midst of all of our struggles, knowing that Jesus is with us and he will return!

My Sin, Not in Part, But the Whole - Caleb Brasher

“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought.”
This is a strange phrase. Has it ever caught your attention before? In the third stanza of “It is Well,” the hymnist leads with this curious arrangement of words. It always struck me as odd. How can I consider my sin blissful?
Eventually, I learned to look at things in their proper context. I had never connected those lines with the lines that followed: “My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
We find this bliss by doing two things: by being honest with ourselves and seeing the depth of our depravity in our sin, and by looking to the cross and seeing the depth of God’s mercy in Christ.
Seeing Our Sin Clearly
As long as we aren’t that bad of sinners, we won’t need that big of a Savior. As Christians, it’s important that we realize that our problem is worse than we thought. Sin has permeated the depths of who we are. We aren’t as bad as we could be, but every faculty we have has been kissed by this sickness called sin. And when compared to the perfect standard of Christ, we have fallen far short.
Since we know our own thoughts and motives, we can say honestly with Paul, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).
If we want to savor the sweetness of the gospel, we have to be honest with the horror of our sin. Don’t look at part of your sin or confess half-truths; come to the cross with all of your sin in its entirety.
Seeing Our Savior Clearly
Then we will turn to Jesus. He doesn’t come to save us when we have our lives together. Jesus comes and exposes our brokenness. When we are covered in muck and mire, Christ reaches down, picks us up, and calls us his own.
It is here that we recognize our whole sin and that sin is then nailed to the cross. Paul uses this same language in his letter to the church in Colossae,
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14)
Christ didn’t come to just forgive our “more respectable” sins. He didn’t absorb the wrath of God on behalf of our “smaller” sins. Instead, he came and has forgiven all of our sins. This is how we are able to be honest with the depth of our sinfulness, because we trust that God will cover us with the depths of his mercy.
In this moment we experience the bliss of sin. The depravity of our sin leads us to our need for a Savior, and the cross shows us our Savior and leads us to worship.
Present Tense Sin
So where is your sin? If you are in Christ, then your entire record of debt has been canceled.
This leads us to a final observation about this classic hymn. The most powerful word in this stanza may be the word “is.” When I sing the song, my natural inclination is to sing it this way: “My sin, not in part but the whole,was nailed to the cross…”
But the hymnist doesn’t say that. Instead he chooses the present tense. This is both purposeful and powerful. By choosing the present tense of the verb, he is drawing out the truth that, while our sin was in fact atoned for in a temporal sense almost 2,000 years ago, in a spiritual sense, the cross is saving us each and every day.
So in a real way, our sin not only was nailed to the cross; our sin is nailed to the cross. This is the confidence we can have no matter what we may have done. For the Christian, our sin has nowhere else to go. It has reached its final destination on the cross.
And this realization leads us to only one conclusion: “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Humility Is Not Always Nice - Jon Bloom

Humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They aren’t always modest, they aren’t always agreeable and submissive, and they aren’t always nice — at least in the ways we proud people think those qualities are supposed to look in humble people.

We do tend to find true humility attractive when we recognize it, but we don’t always recognize it. Sometimes we mistake humility for pride and pride for humility. And truth be told, we don’t always like to be around humble people.

Humble People Don’t Think Much of Themselves

Most of us would agree that humble people don’t think much of themselves. But often what we have in mind is self-deprecation; humble people think of themselves as lowly. And this is true. In view of God’s holiness and their sinfulness, they don’t think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Romans 12:3). Their healthy, proportionate view of their own depravity causes them to consider others more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3).

But self-deprecation isn’t the primary trait of humility. The primary trait of humble people is that they just don’t think much of themselves — meaning they are not self-preoccupied. They have better, higher, more glorious things to be occupied with.

We can find this trait refreshing because humble people, seeing all things in relation to God, look for and enjoy God’s glory in all that he has made (Romans 1:20). This allows them to most fully enjoy what God has made — including us. When we’re with them they often help us do the same thing. And few things are as wonderfully refreshing as forgetting ourselves for a while because we’re absorbed in something more glorious.

But we can also find this trait convicting because it exposes our self-obsession. We are so used to people (especially ourselves) being self-conscious and self-centered that when we’re with people who aren’t, our own pride stands in stark contrast.

Humble People Prefer Windows to Mirrors

Not thinking much of themselves (in both senses) means that humble people prefer windows to mirrors. Desiring to see the glory of God in everything frees them from needing to see how everything else reflects on them.

Humble people view other people as God’s marvelous image-bearers, windows to God’s glory, not as mirrors that enhance or diminish their own self-image. But this also means they aren’t absorbed by how others view them. So they aren’t worried about reading the “right” books, seeing the “right” movies, listening to the “right” music, living in the “right” home, having the “right” job, being seen with the “right” people, etc. That’s a mirror mindset. They view these things as windows to see and savor God’s glory.

Humble People Are Authentically Counter-Cultural

This makes humble people authentically counter-cultural. A culture comprised of pride-infected people produces a lot of pressure for people to conform to cultural expectations. Even much that poses as non-conformity is really just subcultural conformity — an attempt to fit into some subgroup.

Humble people are unusually unaffected by this pressure to conform. They can be hard to categorize because they often don’t fit neatly into any cultural mold. They tend to eschew using trendy fashions or interests or social media as means of personal branding. They have preferences about those things, but they hold those preferences as ways of enjoying God’s manifold goodness rather than image-enhancers.

And it’s this lack of self-preoccupation that really runs counter to the cultures or subcultures that humble people live in. This deficit of self-importance usually isn’t considered cool by cultural cool-definers. It makes humble people odd.

Humble People Are Offensive

One of the things that can surprise us about truly humble people, which can sometimes be mistaken for pride, is that they can be quite offensive. Humble people, being without guile, say it like it is. And saying it like it is can sting, and even sound condemning.

Jesus could fling some zingers. He called religious leaders a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34) and sons of the devil (John 8:44), and he called the crowd and even his own disciples a “faithless and twisted generation” (Matthew 17:17). Humble Paul publicly rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) and told the Galatians they were “foolish” (Galatians 3:1). These weren’t “nice” things to say. Humble people don’t always say nice things. They say honest things that can have sharp edges and wound. Because of this they can be accused of pride.

But there is a qualitative difference between the offensiveness of the proud and the offensiveness of the humble. The proud offend to exalt or defend themselves and control or manipulate others. The humble offend in order to advance the truth for the glory of God and ultimate good of others. Humble offensiveness may not be popular, but it’s always loving.

King David knew this, which is why he wrote, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head” (Psalm 141:5). His son Solomon also knew this and wrote, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). Humility can wound and pride can kiss. Kisses may feel better than wounds — at first. But later, the wounds foster health and the kisses corruption.

Walk Humbly

That’s why humble people aren’t always what we think they ought to be. They are disagreeable when truth must be valued over relational harmony. They are un-submissive when conformity mars God’s glory. And their company can be unpleasant, even undesired, when their wounding words are kinder than selfish flattery or silence.

And this is the kind of people God is calling us to be, people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). He wants us to be absorbed in things more glorious than ourselves (Philippians 4:8), to prefer windows to mirrors (Philippians 2:3), to live counter to every culture we live in (Hebrews 11:13), and, when love requires it and it would give grace to those who hear, to be humbly offensive (Ephesians 4:29).

To be humble people requires much grace. But the good news is that God is able to make this grace abound to us (2 Corinthians 9:8), and he offers it to us if we will receive it (James 4:6).

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/humility-is-not-always-nice @ 2016 Desiring God

Monday, May 23, 2016

The War of Worldliness



James 4:1-12              May 22, 2016           Link for audio/video/manuscript

The Bible tells us that followers of Jesus Christ are soldiers engaged in a war of worldliness between the kingdom of the fallen world we live in and the kingdom of our good and perfect God. Because of our remaining sinful nature, our war of worldliness has become a war against ourselves, each other and God Himself. By God’s grace we do have the power to fight the battles against the world, the flesh and the devil - when we focus our hearts and our lives on the fullness of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and when we humbly submit to God and draw near to God through the grace of repentance. Jesus paid the high cost of defeating the enemy of our souls. May our hearts and our live reflect grace of God we have given by the good and perfect God who loves us!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Come, All Who Are Weary - Jon Bloom

Deep soul weariness: We all experience it, though in different ways and for different reasons.
Sometimes we can point to a significant factor, but often we can’t. Our weariness results from the cumulative, multilayered intersections of life’s complexities, bodily frailties, emotional heartbreaks, and the consequences of sin. It surpasses understanding.
Because our burdens are not simple, they are not relieved by simplistic platitudes (“Cheer up! Things are bound to turn around!”). But a simple promise can relieve a complex burden, provided we believe that the power behind the promise is complex and strong enough to relieve our heaviness.
And into our weariness steps the most complex power in existence speaking a promise as simple, hopeful, and refreshing as we could possibly want:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)
Come to Me
The simplicity of Jesus’s promise is both striking and refreshing. Jesus doesn’t offer us a four-fold path to peace-giving enlightenment, like the Buddha did. He doesn’t give us five pillars of peace through submission as Islam does. Nor does he give us “10 Ways to Relieve Your Weariness,” which we pragmatic, self-help-oriented 21st century Americans are so drawn to. Unique to anyone else in human history, Jesus simply offers himself as the universal solution to all that burdens us.
And his simple promise is audacious: “Come to me.” The only way that this isn’t megalomaniacal lunacy is if Jesus is who he claims to be: the eternal Word made flesh, our Creator (John 1:1–314John 8:58Hebrews 1:1–3). His simple promise implies a power behind it more than sufficient to lift what weighs us down.
What does coming to Jesus mean? When we read the context of this promise (Matthew 11–12), his meaning becomes clear. In his rebuke of the cities (Matthew 11:20–24) and religious leaders (Matthew 12:1–8) that saw firsthand his miraculous works, so clearly demonstrating who he was (John 5:36), and still refused to believe in him, we know that when Jesus said, “come to me,” he meant, “believe in who I claim to be and therefore what I am able to do for you.”
And here is where our burdened souls are tested. Will we believe in him; will we trust him? We want to rest our souls on the knowledge of how and when our burdensome problems will be addressed. But Jesus does not provide those details. He simply promises us that they will be addressed.
Jesus does not want our souls resting on the how and when, as if we are wise enough to understand and determine them. Rather he wants our souls resting on the surety that he will keep his promise to us in the best way at the best time. “Come to me,” he says, “cast your anxieties on me for I care for you” (see 1 Peter 5:7). “Trust in me with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (see Proverbs 3:5), he says, “and you will find rest for your souls.”
Rest for Your Souls
Our souls only find rest in hope. That’s what we’re frantically looking for whenever our souls are burdened and restless: hope. And that’s what most of the marketing of most of the products in the world tries to offer us: hope. But they are false hopes for soul-rest, providing only temporary distraction from or briefly masking the effects of our burdened souls. They don’t truly lighten our loads.
No, our burdened souls only truly find rest in one place:
     For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, 
          for my hope is from him. 
     He only is my rock and my salvation, 
          my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 
     On God rests my salvation and my glory; 
          my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:5-7
Jesus knows that he only is our salvation, our fortress, our mighty rock, our refuge. He is the one answer to every question, concern, fear, and need we will ever have. And so he simply and comprehensively offers us himself. For our hope is from him. Only in him will we find rest for our souls.
Take My Yoke and Learn from Me
But if what he promises us is rest, why does he tell us to put on his yoke? A yoke is placed on a beast of burden in order to do some work. Is Jesus offering us rest or work?
That is precisely the question Jesus wants us to ask: What work must we do for him that supposedly will give us rest?
Jesus answered this question in John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” And he answered it in John 15:4: “Abide in me” (like a branch in a vine). Believe and abide: that really is all the work God requires of us. Faith (believing and abiding) is resting on the hopeful promises of God. That is the yoke Jesus calls us to put on.
And what is happening here is a yoke-exchange. In the cross, Jesus takes our inconceivably and unbearably heavy yoke of sin’s condemnation and penalty, and offers us in exchange the easy yoke and light burden of simply trusting him. He does all the work and gives us all the rest. And his work not only fully addresses our sin problem, but also provides the supply of every other need we will ever have (Philippians 4:19). All we are required to do is trust him!
And if that wasn’t enough, in becoming human and dwelling among us, Jesus makes it possible for us to learn from him how to live by faith. That’s why the author of Hebrews tell us to,
[look] to Jesus, the founder 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. (Hebrews 12:2)
Believe, abide, and follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21). That’s the light yoke Jesus calls us to put on. It is the only yoke in existence that gives us rest for our souls.
Let’s Come to Jesus Together
Jesus’s great invitation for us to come to him, exchange yokes, and find rest is not intended for us to do in isolation. He intends for us to come to him in community, to come together. That’s one massive reason the church exists.
We all bear burdens and become weary, but in different ways, for different reasons, and often at different times. When we are weary, we are easily discouraged and can be given to cynical unbelief. In those moments we are often not the best preachers for our souls. We need others to speak truth to us and help us believe in Jesus.
That’s why we are not to neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but [to keep on] encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:25). We are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
So if you are weary, for whatever reason, however complex, Jesus invites you to come. Come, take his light yoke of believing in him. And if it’s hard, don’t come alone. Come to Jesus with and through a believing friend. Believe, abide, and follow Jesus’s example. And you will find rest for your soul.

The Power of our Tameless Tongue



James 3:1-12                  May 8, 2016                  Link for audio/video/manuscript

The tongue not only has the power to direct and guide but also destroy because it is deceptively inconsistent, as the tongue also has the power to bless and to curse from the same mouth. Sin has twisted and polluted our speech, but God began his work of a new creation in us when we come to a living faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we still live in a world marred by sin, we can have victory over our tongues when we surrender our tongues to God for His use and yield the control of our tongues to the Holy Spirit – which will then empower us to use our tongues to bless God and to bless one another and to bless those who have yet to know Jesus!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Faith Without Favor



James 2:1-13                   April 17, 2016            Link for audio/video/manuscript 

Favoritism is not compatible with a living faith in Jesus Christ because living faith in Jesus Christ is rooted in the character of God, a God who does not show partiality” towards anyone. How we treat people reveals the motives of our hearts; in all cases of judging the differences between people, the standard we use in measuring them is the standard of ourselves. We will only pass the preference test that our living faith in Jesus Christ is real when we treat all people in light of God’s purposes in that God is to always be exalted in and over and above all things that happen to us in life. May we live out a living faith with no other favor than to show mercy to others!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The True Test of Faith



James 1:1-18            April 3, 2016          Link for audio/video/manuscript

The true test of faith is the test of whether we will joyfully embrace all of the trials, struggles and adversities that God brings/sends/allows into our lives as good gifts from God - a God who is good, unchanging, and sovereign over all things - in order to give stability to our faith and to build up faith so might live out a living faith, through the in-working of God’s Spirit, which is the perfecting work of God within us, which will not only bless us with His power, presence and preeminence as we go through trials, struggles and adversities - but will also reward us with the crown of life in heaven.