Monday, December 26, 2011

The Powerful Presence of the Prince of Peace

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
Isaiah 25:6-9

Excerpt from “Jesus, Light of the World: Prince of Peace” – 2011-12-25
In hearing the Father’s call for is life, Jesus came down to earth, grew in grace, obediently walked into the waters of baptism, healed the sick, cast out demons, preached the gospel, and challenged the spiritually arrogant of his day. As a result, they beat him and hammered his body to a cross where He was left to die. Under the weight of our sin Jesus’ body did die - but by the power of the living God he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven – fulfilling the promise of God proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah - the completed action of God as promised.

Just before he died, Jesus cried out: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). From God’s first promise in the Garden to his birth, from his death to resurrection, from this day and on into eternity - Jesus is our fulfilled promise that our war against God! And while our battle against sin, evil and death is not completely over here on earth – we have a completed promise from God that we have victory! The “Prince of Peace” has arrived; The banquet is prepared; the covering of sin has been removed; death has been swallowed up; our tears and our reproach have been wiped away - and our battle cry is “Behold, this is our Savior! He has arrived, we are saved! Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation!”

The night before he went to the cross Jesus said: “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:32-33). The peace we are promised in Jesus Christ is a peace is a peace that is not overwhelmed by adversity, overshadowed by fear or overclouded by guilt. The peace that Jesus gives us is not the absence of war, but rather the confidence that he is with us always, regardless of trouble or trial. The “Prince of Peace” brings not the absence of danger but the overcoming presence of the living God through Jesus Christ even in the face of death. In the words of the great Puritan prayer: “I am not afraid to look the king of terrors in the face, for I know I shall be drawn, not driven, out of the world.” The great Charles Wesley once wrote:

In times of trouble I rest beneath the Almighty's shade, my griefs expire, my troubles cease; Thou, Lord, on whom my soul is stayed, wilt keep me still in perfect peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hope Has Come – Stephen Altrogge

Let us join with the angel voices
Let us join their happy song
All of heaven and earth rejoices
For the Lamb of God has come
He has come to rescue sinners
Come to meet our desperate need
He was born to bring forgiveness
Born for Calvary

Alleluia hope has come
Alleluia Christ has come
We once were slaves in misery
Till You appeared and set us free
Alleluia hope has come

Let us lay our gifts before Him
Let us magnify His name
With our thankful hearts adore Him
For the Lord has come to save
He has come to break sin's power
He has come to set us free
Hope was born that glorious hour
Christ the mighty King

Monday, December 19, 2011

Loving Our Children as Our Father Loves Us

He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.'And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.
Psalms 89:26-29

Excerpt from “Jesus, Light of the World: Everlasting Father” – 2011-12-18
When children see their fathers passionately and intimately loving God in their everyday lives, they will become the children of God that God has purposed for them. There is no activity, no developed skill, no natural talent, no experience that can ever do that. God is our Father and we are His children. God did not sit on the sideline and encourage and exhort us; in Jesus Christ, He went in and played the game with them. Through Jesus Christ, God lived with us, loved with us, cried with us, laughed with us, hungered with us, struggled with us, suffered with us, died with us. God doesn’t just watch His children grow up, He rolls up His sleeves, gets down on the floor, and wrestles with them through the issues of everyday life with His children. We fathers are to do the same with our children, with our families. God is our “Everlasting Father.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Prevailing Power of our Mighty God

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Micah 5:2

Excerpt from “Jesus, Light of the World: Mighty God” – 2011-12-11
In all of the times of struggle, trial, pain and suffering we go through in this life - we can prevail, we can persevere in trusting, loving, seeking and gratefully finding our greatest joy and satisfaction in our “Mighty God” - when we fully embrace the reality that God has prevailed and will always prevail until the end of time. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, free of our sin which so easily entangles us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. In Christ we too shall sit with the Father, wrapped in His glory, immersed in His perfect peace and joy and love. Like Thomas Edison may we persevere in the midst of discouraging odds, and as a result may our lives shine where there once was darkness. May we run the race of life like Beth Anne the marathon runner, giving our all, knowing that with the power of our “Mighty God” we will finish the race and prevail to the very end, even if it seems like all seems lost. There will be a day, paraphrasing the words of Thomas Edison, when “the sight we so long desire will finally meet our eyes” – and we will find ourselves in the presence of the light that saved us from the darkness forever.

Out of a mountain of failures, a light was born. Out of our mountain of our failures, Jesus was born. God is still at work prevailing and persevering in the lives of those who trust Him, who love Him, who seek Him, and who gratefully find their greatest joy and satisfaction in Him. The truth of history tells us that God will prevail. In the season of celebrating the birth of God’s promised hope, may you know the never-ending joyful reality of the prevailing love of our “Mighty God” - that powerfully persevered on the cross of Calvary, and that will continue to joyfully prevail and powerfully persevere in every struggle, every trial, every pains and every suffering you experience in this life. Because our “Mighty God” persevered and prevailed, someday we will also persevere and prevail, and be with him in glory!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Emmanuel – Chris Tomlin

What hope we hold this starlit night
A King is born in Bethlehem
Our journey long, we seek the light
That leads to the hallowed manger ground

What fear we felt in the silent age
Four hundred years can He be found
But broken by a baby's cry
Rejoice in the hallowed manger ground

Emmanuel, Emmanuel
God incarnate here to dwell
Emmanuel, Emmanuel
Praise His name Emmanuel

The son of God, here, born to bleed
A crown of thorns would pierce His brow
And we beheld this offering
Exalted now the King of kings
Praise God for the hallowed manger ground

Oh, praise His name Emmanuel

My Soul Magnifies the Lord – Chris Tomlin

Good news of great joy for every woman, every man
This will be a sign to you, a baby born in Bethlehem
Come and worship, do not be afraid

A company of angels ”Glory in the highest
And on the earth peace among those on whom His favor rests”
Come and worship, do not be afraid

My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord
My soul magnifies the Lord
He has done great things for me
Great things for me

Unto you a child is born, unto us a Son is given
Let every heart prepare His throne in every nation under Heav'n
Come and worship, do not be afraid

Of His government there will be no end
He'll establish it with His righteousness
And He shall reign on David's throne
And His name shall be from this day on
Wonderful, Counselor, Everlasting Father

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Story of Christmas - An Animation

The Wonderful Will of God’s Sovereign Plan and Purpose

“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,' calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
Isaiah 46:9-11

Excerpt from “Jesus, Light of the World Wonderful Counselor” – 2011-12-04
We are entering a season when we remember and celebrate the wondrous fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Jesus Christ, emptied Himself from God, entered this world as a human being and lived as God among us. He hungered, he laughed, he cried, he slept, he ate, he got tired, he got hurt, he loved, and he was hated. He lived a common human existence in our midst. In being God among a people who see themselves as their own god, Jesus found Himself beaten, whipped, crucified and murdered on a cross. Those who killed him buried him in a tomb, hoping to bury their own guilt and pride and egos with him. But much to their chagrin Jesus rose from the dead, walked this earth, then rose again into heaven glorifying the name and honor and power of the one and only God who faithfully carried out the promise and purpose and plan He had made before creation ever existed. All according to Gods is will, God’s plan and God’s purpose. The birth of the Savior some 2000 years ago was an act of God’s will which caused a wonderful thing to happen to us because of God’s steadfast love for His people which was carried out according to His sovereign plan and divine purpose. Because it is so, we now have opportunity to be loved, to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be restored, to live the life God created us for. All according to God’s sovereign plan and divine purpose - Jesus was and is our “Wonderful Counselor.” God has a will, a sovereign plan and a divine purpose for each one of us.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Psalm 22 - Ryan Ferguson

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
"He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet-- I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
Psalm 22:1-31

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Restoration of God through One Another

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Excerpt from “Walking with God and One Another in Sharing Jesus” – 2011-11-27
Praise God that the Bible tells us that our God is a not a God of criticism but a God of restoration. The bloody cross of Christ is proof of that. We see God’s heart in Jesus Christ, who gave his life so that we might be restored back to Himself. God is a God of holiness and righteousness and justice who condemns sin and who condemns the behaviours and actions and that result from the sin that lives within us. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we might be restored back to God through Jesus Christ. This is the cry of our fallen hearts, the ache and yearning of our lost souls. In Psalm 51:12 King David cried out, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation!” and in Psalm 23:3 he praises his restoration back to God: "He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake."

And so we must take care not to look at one another with critical hearts. I’m reminded of the story about a wife who came home to find her husband shaking frantically and wildly dancing all around in the kitchen. She saw a wire running from his waist towards the electric frying pan. Thinking that he was being electrocuted, she grabbed her son’s baseball bat from the corner, and intending to get him away from the deadly current - she knocked him to the floor, away from the frying pan, breaking his arm in two places. It was then she realized that her husband had just been listening to his IPod.

We must take care not to swing at people when it seems they are struggling or in trouble or who are not living up to our expectations – but rather we should be seeking to help them. Maybe you remember the television commercial that showed an elderly woman lying on the floor shouting, “Help me, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up?” Brothers and sisters, there are times when we fall in our spiritual lives, and we can’t get back up by ourselves - and we need “one another” to get back up and walk.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bearing the Fruit of Grace through God’s Word

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

Excerpt from “Walking with God and One Another in God’s Word” – 2011-11-20
In Mark 4:20 Jesus said those “who hear the word and accept it” will “bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." Jesus is telling us here that when we have God’s Word in our hearts we will bear fruit. Our Lord supports this in the Gospel of John: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The fruit-bearing Jesus is speaking of here is the fruit-bearing that first takes root in the heart of the follower of Jesus - who has Jesus “abiding” (present, living in, remaining) in their heart. The Bible tells us that the fruit that we bear with Jesus living in our hearts is the fruit of the Spirit— "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Only when the “abiding” Word (Jesus) takes root in our hearts can we bear any of the spiritual fruits. In John 17:17 Jesus prayed: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." To word “sanctify” means to “to make holy.” The Word of God is the means the Holy Spirit uses to “sanctify” us, to make us more holy. Our holiness, our Christ-likeness, is what makes us more fruitful to God and to others. But if the “word” of God does not abide in us and take root in our hearts, we cannot bear fruit for God. Our walk with God will neither be consistent nor fruitful if we do not consistently spend time “abiding” in God’s Word.

In Acts 20:32 the apostle Paul said this to the elders of the church in Ephesus: “Now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” The apostle is telling us here that the Word of God is the means by which is the power of the grace of God comes into our lives. The gospel of John tells us the same when it says: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” When the Word becomes flesh in us we receive grace upon grace. And so reading, studying, hearing, meditating and memorizing and preaching and teaching and discussing the Bible is not a boring, passive activity - but rather a joy-filled, passionate, life-saving, life-building, life-sanctifying activity of God’s grace!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Ability in the Faithfulness of God

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

Excerpt from “Walking with God and One Another in Accountability” – 2011-11-13
This verse is often used to support the idea that God never gives us more than we can handle – but that idea in itself is not biblical. God’s Word tells us that God is always giving us more than we can handle because if He didn’t, we wouldn’t need Him. And we need Him because as fallen sinners we do not even have the “ability” to keep ourselves from sinning. This is what Paul wrote about in Romans 7:18: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ABILITY to carry it out.” The only power, the only strength, the only “ability” we have to keep ourselves from being overtaken by temptation is the strength, the “ability” we receive when we submit and surrender ourselves to God. And when we do – “God is faithful.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Resting on God

Resting on God

O God, most high, most glorious,
the thought of Thine infinite serenity cheers me,
for I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed,
but Thou art for ever at perfect peace.
Thy designs cause thee no fear or care of unfulfilment,
they stand fast as the eternal hills.
Thy power knows no bond, Thy goodness no stint.
Thou bringest order out of confusion,
and my defeats are Thy victories:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

I come to Thee as a sinner with cares and sorrows,
to leave every concern entirely to Thee,
every sin calling for Christ's precious blood;
revive deep spirituality in my heart;
let me live near to the great Shepherd,
hear His voice, know its tones, follow its calls.
Keep me from deception by causing me to abide in the truth,
from harm by helping me to walk in the power of the Spirit.
Give me intenser faith in the eternal verities,
burning into me by experience the things I know;
Let me never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel,
that I may bear its reproach, vindicate it, see Jesus as its essence,
know in it the power of the Spirit.

Lord, help me, for I am often lukewarm and chill;
unbelief mars my confidence, sin makes me forget Thee.
Let the weeds that grow in my soul be cut at their roots;
grant me to know that I truly live only when I live to Thee,
that all else is trifling.
Thy presence alone can make me holy,
devout, strong and happy.
Abide in me, gracious God.

From "The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotion" edited by Arthur Bennett

Reconciling with One Another for the Grace of Forgiveness

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Excerpt from “Walking with God and One Another in Reconciliation” – 2011-11-06
Reconciling is hard and complicated because relationships are hard and complicated – because we are fallen and sinful. We live in an age that is saturated with entitlement and rebellion and cynicism; it is all around us and it is all in us. And because it is so - we are all guilty of hurting or offending others from time to time. We may not have meant to or are not aware that we have – but we have and now there’s not only hard feelings and but also gulf in some of our relationships. Now we normally justify what we have said or done because we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions but everyone else by their actions. This is because our inherent sinful pride tends to we see our motives as pure – when in reality that is rarely the case.

Yes, reconciliation can be difficult. But just because it is difficult doesn't mean it is not right. In fact God commands that we do so. The purpose of going to those we have hurt or offended us is two-fold. First, it is be reconciled. And second, it is to be an instrument of God’s grace. You see the key to reconciliation is forgiveness. In humility we go to those we have hurt and offended and say to them, “Forgive me. I was wrong.” If they accept this, reconciliation begins. If they are not open to forgiving, it is in the hands of God: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” When we ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt or offended we are allowing ourselves to be instruments of God’s grace – because reconciliation is the objective of forgiveness. This is God’s heart for us, who reconciled us to Himself when, “He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Surrender Empowered Humility of God Empowered Exaltation

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10)

Excerpt from “Walking with God in Humility” – 2011-10-30
Our sinful pride will always cause us to humbly exalt ourselves. But our text for today calls us, commands us, to another way. The truth is, we cannot exalt ourselves – only God can do that. And God will not “exalt” us until we take our proper place before Him. Three different times (Mt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14) Jesus said: “he who humbles himself will be exalted." In all of these cases – and in our text for today – the word “humble” is in the passive mood, which means “humble yourselves” literally could be read “allow yourselves to be humbled.” We cannot be humble ourselves. God must be the one to humble us, but we must surrender and submit to Him first. We will always naturally resist being humbled because we are naturally prideful in our sin. Before a horse can be of any use, that horse must be broken of its self-will. It must be brought to the place of submission. Likewise, before we can humbly be of any use to God, we must first be broken of the self-will of our pride. It’s our fallen sinful nature to defend ourselves, to deny that we are prideful. But we are prideful, so God calls us to humble ourselves before Him and when we do “he will exalt” us. 1 Peter 5:6 says: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” What does it mean to be “exalted” by God after we have “humbled” ourselves before Him? This is where our second text that we are looking at comes in. 1 John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The context of these words from the apostle John is acknowledging the true depth of our sinful nature.

When we do “confess our sins” God will then faithfully “forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” – which means that we will then become righteous by the sacrificial work of the cross of Christ. And at “the proper time” – either on the day we die or on the day the Lord comes back, whichever comes first - God Himself will “exalt” us! And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4); And we will see His face, and His name will be on our foreheads. And night will be no more. And we will need no light or lamp or sun, for the God will be our light, and we will reign with Him forever and ever (Revelation 22:4-5); Jesus said: "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh!” (Luke 6:21).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Confessing Our Sin for the Greater Healing

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16)

Excerpt from “Walking with God in Confession of Sin” – 2011-10-23
We are to use our tongues to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another. Note how this sentence is grammatically connected: confession of sins to one another plus prayer for one another equals healing. The inference here is that there is that there is some sickness in life that is the result of unconfessed sin in our relationships with others. The first step in that healing process is to confess our sin to those we have hurt and then pray for them. Now there are proper guidelines and boundaries in doing this. James is not telling us we are to publicly confess our sins to the entire church. There may be specific instances where public sin must be confessed publically, we see that in cases of church discipline. But we must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. We know from texts like Matthew 18:15-20 that private sin is best dealt with privately. God is urging us in His Word today that if we have sinned against someone, we are to privately confess our sin to the one we have offended and to seek their forgiveness and pray for them so we might be reconciled, just as Jesus taught us to. . .

Walking with God in confession of sin means that if sin is the root cause of our sickness then we must confess our sin so we can be forgiven and pray again for healing. Yes, there are sins that will cause us physical sickness – but the greater sickness caused by sin is the effect sin has on our soul. Sin breaks our fellowship with God. Sin rejects the cross of Christ. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

1 John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession of sin restores us back to God. Confession of sin cleanses us anew with the blood of Jesus. Confession of sin empowers the Holy Spirit to once again rise up in our hearts. Confession of sin agrees with God that we are guilty and humbly receives the mercy of God that was brought by the violent grace of the cross. Like the scraping of barnacles off the hull of a ship so it can move freely again - confession of sin frees us from the bondage of guilt and shame so we might joyfully live with God and fully live for God. Confession of sin deepens our hearts and heals our souls and fill us with joy, humility and gratitude like a child who needs to own up to their rebellion before Mom and Dad – but not to earn God’s love, but to know it, to live in it, and to fully rest in it. Romans 8:14-15 says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Blind Spot of Loving Ourselves More Than God

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! (Lamentations 3:40)

Excerpt from “Walking with God in Self-Awareness" – 2011-10-16
When struggle and suffering and pain come into our lives, our fallen sinful tendency is to complain and grumble and protest and question God as to why we have struggle, suffering and pain in our lives. That is our fallen, sinful tendency because, like Narcissus, our fallen, sinful tendency is to stare into the deep pool of own reflection rather than keep our eyes on the One in whose image we were created. Because we are so often madly in love with our own reflection, we are unable to see even the true depth of our own sin. The very fact that the chosen people of God Jeremiah was writing about questioned God’s motives and goodness proves they were not self-aware of how blind they were to their own sin.

Jeremiah lived during troubled times. He became a prophet during the reign of Josiah, who was the last faithful king in Judah’s history. Josiah’s death was the beginning of the last years of the nation of Judah. Within two short decades the great blessing and prosperity of the people of God was gone- replaced by political, social, financial, moral, and spiritual decay. God had warned them through not only Jeremiah but also through the prophets Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah that this is what would happen if they continued their persistence in focusing on themselves and their continual wandering away from God. And they ignored the warnings because they could not see their sin beyond the blind-spot of loving themselves more than God – and untold struggle and suffering and pain came into their lives, and they still couldn’t see their sin.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Proper “View” of Worship

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

Excerpt from “Walking with God in Surrender” – 2011-10-09
Worship is our response to the revelation of who God is in view of the reality of who we are. In view of how lost he was in his fallen, sinful nature and how spiritually proud he was as a Jew - Paul responded in worship to the revelation of the constant, abundant “mercy” and “the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge” that God had poured into his life and the life of God’s chosen people who had so willfully rebelled and rejected God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” When we see our desperate need in view of the revelation of God’s undeserved mercy towards us, our spontaneous response should be heartfelt praise and passionate worship.

True worship is not about music or emotions or what happens in this building on Sunday morning at 10:30 AM. True worship is about being overwhelmed with the reality that we are seeing God in all His mercy and sovereignty and joy and holiness and love and grace and power and truth and glory more clearly than we have ever seen Him before – because God’s mercy and sovereignty and joy and holiness and love and grace and power and truth and glory penetrates our hearts and souls more deeply than they ever have before - because we clearly see our great, deep, desperate need for God and His mercy and sovereignty and joy and holiness and love and grace and power and truth and glory than we have seen it before. That is exactly the true worship of God Paul was experiencing here.

Our struggle with worship is that we tend not enough time looking at God and too much time looking at ourselves. We tend to define worship in terms of whether we liked the music or how we were emotionally moved or whether or not we liked the sermon or how long the service went. But none of those kinds of things are about God – they are about us. Worship is our response to the revelation of who God is in view of the reality of who we are. Our worship of God will improve when look to God instead of at ourselves - and when our opinion about worship stops being the standard for worship.

You see when you do truly and deeply and passionately fall in love with someone - you stop measuring, manipulating, or trying to control what happens to you. You find yourself so swept away with the one you love that you really don’t pay much attention to yourself anymore. You are entirely taken in with the one who has taken your heart. That’s true for human relationships because that’s how we were created to be in our relationship with God. Paul was genuinely overwhelmed by who God was when He was writing about God. In seeing who God truly was in view of his desperate need for God, Paul was grabbed by God in a way that we all should be grabbed by God so that real worship can take place.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Let Your Kingdom Come - Bob Kauflin

Let Your Kingdom Come

Your glorious cause, O God, engages our hearts
May Jesus Christ be known wherever we are
We ask not for ourselves, but for Your renown
The cross has saved us so we
Pray Your kingdom come

Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done
So that everyone might know Your Name
Let Your song be heard everywhere on earth
Till Your sovereign work on earth is done
Let Your kingdom come

Give us Your strength, O God, and courage to speak
Perform Your wondrous deeds
through those who are weak
Lord use us as You want, whatever the test
By grace we'll preach Your gospel
Till our dying breath

Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done
So that everyone might know Your Name
Let Your song be heard everywhere on earth
Till Your sovereign work on earth is done
Let Your kingdom come

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Power of God in the Will and Work of Fallen Humanity

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)

Excerpt from “Walking with God in the Power of God” – 2011-10-02
Paul is telling us here that God energizes, God empowers us in at least two ways. He energizes us both “to will” and “to work” (to do) what is pleasing to God (“for His good pleasure”). Without God’s empowerment within us, without God’s energy within us, there would be no will, no desire for us to do anything that is pleasing to God – and if even if we had the will, the desire to do what was pleasing to God, we would not have the energy, the power, to do so! Brothers and sisters, we can never take credit for anything good or godly we have done because “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Now there is and always has been and always will be a debate about how God “works” in us like this. We still suffer from the lack of humility and disobedience in the Garden because this debate has to do with us – how much good is in us, how sinful we really are, and how much free will that we have regarding our salvation and our ability to walk with God. There is a truth in tension here that cannot be solved with our human minds; God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). But we do know what God says about this in our text for today. God’s word clearly tells us the work of our salvation - and our desire and ability live out that salvation in a manner that would please God - is absolutely and totally dependent on God in being the source of our power and God being the One who is always working with His power within us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for (because) it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We are powerless without God.

Deep down inside our souls we all know this. Deep down inside we know that before Christ was in our hearts we were dead to the things of God. And when Jesus did come into our hearts – we came alive! Some of us have forgotten what it was like without Jesus. Some of us have forgotten we have another life within us: God’s life, the presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Yes, our hearts, our lives and our wills are involved in this too. But the truth is we never could come to faith without God’s sovereign divine intervention. But it’s also true that we would never have come to faith had we not chosen God. But we also saw last week that without God’s help – His energy, His power – we would not have chosen Him: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). Without God’s power we are powerless; without God’s power we do not have the ability to do what is right. But with God’s power we can live above our sinful nature and we can do what is right. In Galatians 2:20 the apostle Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The power of God through the cross of Jesus Christ is the power at “work” within us when we live out our lives in humble obedience for God.

Monday, September 26, 2011

God You Reign - Lincoln Brewster

God You Reign

You paint the night, You count the stars
And You call them by name
The skies proclaim, God, You reign
Your glory shines, You teach the sun
When to bring a new day
Creation sings, God, You reign

God, You reign, God, You reign
Forever and ever, God, You reign

You part the seas, You move the mountains
With the words that You say
My song remains, God, You reign
You hold my life, You know my heart
And You call me by name
I live to say, God, You reign

God, You reign, God, You reign
Forever and ever, God, You reign
God, You reign, God, You reign
Forever and ever, God, You reign

Hallelujah, Hallelu, Hallelujah, Hallelu
Hallelujah, Hallelu, Hallelujah, Hallelu

God, God, You reign, God, You reign
Forever and ever, God, You reign
God, You reign, God, You reign
Forever and ever, God, You reign

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Power of Christ in our Personal Weakness

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

Excerpt from “Walking with God in Personal Weakness” – 2011-09-25
Christians still sin. Over and over again, Paul, the mature apostle of God tells us that he still struggled with sin. But the fact that Christians still sin is not the whole story. Many of you may have seen the bumper sticker that says: “Christians are not perfect, they are just forgiven.” It is true that we are not perfect, and it is true that we are forgiven, but that’s not the end of the story either. In verse 15 Paul says: “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Christians still sin, but that’s not the end of the story because there is something inside of us that does not want to sin. There is within our souls an ache for God; there is within our hearts a desire to do what pleases God. Christians still sin, but we have within us something more powerful than our desire to sin – we have the indwelling Spirit of Jesus fighting for us! Ephesians 3:16 says in him we have been “strengthened with power through his Spirit” in our “inner being.”

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul tells us of a time when he was battling “a thorn . . . in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) – and he pleaded three times that God would give him victory in that war of the flesh. But Jesus himself spoke to Paul and said to him: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul’s responded by saying: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Brothers and sisters, there are wars going on in the world and there are wars going on inside of each one of us. May God bless us with a supernatural sensitivity to the reality of the battle within our hearts – and may God also empower us to declare the desperate weakness of our sinful nature, so that we might to gain victory in on-going war for our souls – as we bathe in the powerful sufficiency of the grace of Jesus!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

On September 15, 2011 religious broadcaster Pat Robertson publicly stated he believes that a man or woman is fully justified seeking a divorce if their spouse is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease because "if you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,” having Alzheimer’s "is a kind of death." Robertson’s statement made national headlines because Even for those who have a more liberal view of divorce, abandonment of a spouse who has a sickness or disease seems to go beyond the norm.

In Colossians 2:8 the apostle Paul writes: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Clearly Pat Robertson’s theology and morality are not rooted in the truths of God’s Word. While there is no verse in the Bible that states “till death do us part” – the statement itself is clearly supported biblically. Jesus himself made a clear statement regarding marriage and divorce.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9)
Below I have post the original article by Pat Robertson – along with two responses in which I am full agreement with (one from Justin Taylor and the other from Russell Moore). At the end I have included an article from Christianity Today which is an interview with Robertson McQuilkin, where he speaks of his response in being faced with a spouse who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. I have also include a YouTube audio of a statement he made about being marriage to someone with the disease.

Pat Robertson says Alzheimer's makes divorce OK

September 15 2011 - The Associated Press

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable because the disease is "a kind of death."

During the portion of the show where the one-time Republican presidential candidate takes questions from viewers, Robertson was asked what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from the incurable neurological disorder.

"I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her," Robertson said.

The chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which airs the "700 Club," said he wouldn't "put a guilt trip" on anyone who divorces a spouse who suffers from the illness, but added, "Get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer."

Most Christian denominations at least discourage divorce, citing Jesus' words in the Gospel of Mark that equate divorce and remarriage with adultery.

Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."

"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death."

The Gospel-Emptying Cruelty of Pat Robertson
Justin Taylor, September 15, 2011

Sometimes I think the category of “righteous anger” was created to respond to people like Pat Robertson.

His latest cringe-inducing statement is that a man should divorce his wife suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and “start all over again” if he is lonely and in need of companionship. When asked about the vow “to death due us part,” Robertson responded that “if you respect that vow,” then Alzheimer’s can be viewed as “a kind of a death.”

The best counsel is usually to ignore Robertson. But when a professing Christian says such cruel and worldly things, it also presents an opportunity to reexamine gospel truth afresh. In that regard Russell Moore has provided a wonderful service for us. He rightly writes that Robertson’s statement “is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

Russell Moore, September 15th, 2011

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Few Christians take Robertson all that seriously anymore. Most roll their eyes, and shake their heads when he makes another outlandish comment (for instance, defending China’s brutal one-child abortion policy to identifying God’s judgment on specific actions in the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, or the Haiti earthquake). This is serious, though, because it points to an issue that is much bigger than Robertson.

Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.

At the arrest of Christ, his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave.

The Bride of Christ fled his side, and went back to their old ways of life. When Jesus came to them after the resurrection, the church was about the very thing they were doing when Jesus found them in the first place: out on the boats with their nets. Jesus didn’t leave. He stood by his words, stood by his Bride, even to the Place of the Skull, and beyond.

A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore.

Pat Robertson’s cruel marriage statement is no anomaly. He and his cohorts have given us for years a prosperity gospel with more in common with an Asherah pole than a cross. They have given us a politicized Christianity that uses churches to “mobilize” voters rather than to stand prophetically outside the power structures as a witness for the gospel.

But Jesus didn’t die for a Christian Coalition; he died for a church. And the church, across the ages, isn’t significant because of her size or influence. She is weak, helpless, and spattered in blood. He is faithful to us anyway.

If our churches are to survive, we must repudiate this Canaanite mammonocracy that so often speaks for us. But, beyond that, we must train up a new generation to see the gospel embedded in fidelity, a fidelity that is cruciform.

It’s easy to teach couples to put the “spark” back in their marriages, to put the “sizzle” back in their sex lives. You can still worship the self and want all that. But that’s not what love is. Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

But the gospel is there. Jesus is there.

Living by Vows

Robertson McQuilkin in Christianity Today, February 1, 2004

After his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, college and seminary president Robertson McQuilkin found himself torn between two commitments, two divine callings. At the request of the CT editors, he shares the story of his struggle:

It has been a decade since that day in Florida when Muriel, my wife, repeated to the couple vacationing with us the story she had told just five minutes earlier. Funny, I thought, that's never happened before. But it began to happen occasionally.

Three years later, when Muriel was hospitalized for tests on her heart, a young doctor called me aside. "You may need to think about the possibility of Alzheimer's," he said. I was incredulous. These young doctors are so presumptuous—and insensitive. Muriel was doing the same things she had always done, for the most part. True, we had stopped entertaining in our home—no small loss for the president of a thriving seminary and Bible college. She was a great cook and hostess, but she was having increasing difficulty planning menus. Family meals she could handle, but with guests we could not risk missing a salad and dessert, for example.

And, yes, she was having uncommon difficulty painting a portrait of me, which the college and seminary board—impressed by her earlier splendid portrait of my predecessor—had requested. But Alzheimer's? While I had barely heard of the disease, a dread began to lurk around the fringes of my consciousness.

When her memory deteriorated further, we went to Joe Tabor, a neurologist friend, who gave her the full battery of tests and, by elimination, confirmed that she had Alzheimer's. But because she had none of the typical physical deterioration, there was some question. We went to the Duke University Medical Center, believing we should get the best available second opinion. My heart sank as the doctor asked her to name the Gospels and she looked pleadingly at me for help. But she quickly bounced back and laughed at herself. She was a little nervous, perhaps, but nothing was going to get her down.

This time we accepted the verdict. And we determined from the outset not to chase around the country every new "miracle" treatment we might hear about. Little did I know the day was coming when we would be urged-on average, once a week-to pursue every variety of treatment: vitamins, exorcism, T chemicals, this guru, that healer. How could I even wife 1 look into them all, let alone pursue them? I was grateful to friends who made suggestions, because each was an expression of love. But for us, we would trust the Lord to work a miracle in Muriel if he so desired, or work a miracle in me if he did not.

One day the WMHK station manager, the program manager, and the producer of my wife's morning radio program, "Looking Up," asked for an appointment. I knew an occasional program she had produced was not used, but the response to her monologue of upbeat encouragement continued to be strong. Though the program was designed for women, businessmen often told me how they arranged their morning affairs so they could catch the program.

As the appointment began, the three executives seemed uneasy. After a few false starts, I caught on. They were reluctantly letting me know that an era was ending. Only months before they had talked of national syndication. I tried to help them out. "Are you meeting with me to tell us that Muriel cannot continue?" They seemed relieved that their painful message was out and none of them had to say it. So, I thought, her public ministry is over. No more conferences, TV, radio. I should have guessed the time had come.

She did not think so, however. She may have lost the radio program, but she insisted on accepting invitations to speak, even though invariably she would come home crushed and bewildered that her train of thought was lost and things did not go well. Gradually, reluctantly, she gave up public ministry.

Still, she could counsel the many young people who sought her out, she could drive and shop, or write her children. The letters did not always make sense, but then, the children would say, "Mom always was ,a bit spacy." She also volunteered to read textbooks for a blind graduate student. The plan was to put them on tape so that others could use them. I was puzzled that those responsible never used them, until it dawned on me that reading and writing were going the way of art and public speaking. She was disappointed with each failure and frustration, but only momentarily. She would bounce back with laughter and have another go at it.

Muriel never knew what was happening to her, though occasionally when there was a reference to Alzheimer's on TV she would muse aloud, "I wonder if I'll ever have that?" It did not seem painful for her, but it was a slow dying for me to watch the vibrant, creative, articulate person I knew and loved gradually dimming out.

I approached the college board of trustees with the need to begin the search for my successor. I told them that when the day came that Muriel needed me full-time, she would have me. I hoped that would not be necessary till I reached retirement, but at 57 it seemed unlikely I could hold on till 65. They should begin to make plans. But they intended for me to stay on forever, I guess, and made no move. That's not realistic, and probably not very responsible, I thought, though I appreciated the affirmation.

So began years of struggle with the question of what should be sacrificed: ministry or caring for Muriel. Should I put the kingdom of God first, "hate" my wife and, for the sake of Christ and the kingdom, arrange for institutionalization? Trusted, lifelong friends—wise and godly—urged me to do this.

"Muriel would become accustomed to the new environment quickly." Would she? Would anyone love her at all, let alone love her as I do? I had often seen the empty, listless faces of those lined up in wheelchairs along the corridors of such places, waiting, waiting for the fleeting visit of some loved one. In such an environment, Muriel would be tamed only with drugs or bodily restraints, of that I was confident.
People who do not know me well have said, "Well, you always said, 'God first, family second, ministry third.' " But I never said that. To put God first means that all other responsibilities he gives are first, too. Sorting out responsibilities that seem to conflict, however, is tricky business.

In 1988 we planned our first family reunion since the six children had left home, a week in a mountain retreat. Muriel delighted in her children and grandchildren, and they in her. Banqueting with all those gourmet cooks, making a quilt that pictured our life, scene by scene, playing games, singing, picking wild mountain blueberries was marvelous. We planned it as the celebration of our "fortieth" anniversary, although actually it was the thirty-ninth. We feared that by the fortieth she would no longer know us.

But she still knows us—three years later. She cannot comprehend much, nor express many thoughts, and those not for sure. But she knows whom she loves, and lives in happy oblivion to almost everything else.

She is such a delight to me. I don't have to care for her, I get to. One blessing is the way she is teaching me so much—about love, for example, God's love. She picks flowers outside—anyone's—and fills the house with them.

Lately she has begun to pick them inside, too. Someone had given us a beautiful Easter lily, two stems with four or five lilies on each, and more to come. One day I came into the kitchen and there on the window sill over the sink was a vase with a stem of lilies in it. I've learned to "go with the flow" and not correct irrational behavior. She means no harm and does not understand what should be done, nor would she remember a rebuke. Nevertheless, I did the irrational—I told her how disappointed I was, how the lilies would soon die, the buds would never bloom, and please do not break off the other stem.

The next day our youngest son, soon to leave for India came from Houston for his next-to-last visit. I told Kent of my rebuke of his mother and how bad I felt about it. As we sat on the porch swing, savoring each moment together, his mother came to the door with a gift of love for me: she carefully laid the other stem of lilies on the table with a gentle smile and turned back into the house. I said simply, "Thank you." Kent said, "You're doing better, Dad!"

Muriel cannot speak in sentences now, only in phrases and words, and often words that make little sense: "no" when she means "yes," for example. But she can say one sentence, and she says it often: "I love you."

She not only says it, she acts it. The board arranged for a companion to stay in our home so I could go daily to the office. During those two years it became increasingly difficult to keep Muriel home. As soon as I left, she would take out after. me. With me, she was content; without me, she was distressed, sometimes terror stricken. The walk to school is a mile round trip. She would make that trip as many as ten times a day. Sometimes at night, when I helped her undress, I found bloody feet. When I told our family doctor, he choked up. "Such love," he said simply. Then, after a moment, "I have a theory that the characteristics developed across the years come out at times like these." I wish I loved God like that-desperate to be near him at all times. Thus she teaches me, day by day.

Friends and family often ask, "How are you doing?" meaning, I would take it, "How do you feel?" I am at a loss to respond. There is that subterranean grief that will not go away. I feel just as alone as if I had never known her as she was, I suppose, but the loneliness of the night hours comes because I did know her. Do I grieve for her loss or mine? Further, there is the sorrow that comes from my increasing difficulty in meeting her needs.

But I guess my friends are asking not about her needs, but about mine. Or perhaps they wonder, in the contemporary jargon, how I am "coping," as they reflect on how the reputed indispensable characteristics of a good marriage have slipped away, one by one.

I came across the common contemporary wisdom in this morning's newspaper in a letter to a national columnist: "I ended the relationship because it wasn't meeting my needs," the writer explained. The counselor's response was predictable: "What were your needs that didn't get met by him in the relationship? Do you still have these same needs? What would he have to do to fill these needs? Could he do it?" Needs for communication, understanding, affirmation, common interests, sexual fulfillment—the list goes on. If the needs are not met, split. He offered no alternatives.

I once reflected on the eerie irrelevance of every one of those criteria for me. But I am not wired for introspection; I am more oriented outward and toward action and the future. I even feel an occasional surge of exhilaration as I find my present assignment more challenging than running an institution's complex ministry. Certainly greater creativity and flexibility are needed.

I have long lists of "coping strategies," which have to be changed weekly, sometimes daily. Grocery shopping together may have been recreation, but it is not so much fun when Muriel begins to load other people's carts and take off with them, disappearing into the labyrinth of supermarket aisles. Or how do you get a person to eat or take a bath when she steadfastly refuses? It is not like meeting a $10 million budget or designing a program to grasp some emerging global opportunity, to be sure. And it is not as public or exhilarating. But it demands greater resources than I could have imagined, and thus highlights more clearly than ever my own inadequacies, as well as provides constant opportunity to draw on our Lord's vast reservoir of resources.

As she needed more and more of me, I wrestled daily with the question of who gets me full-time-Muriel or Columbia Bible College and Seminary? Dr. Tabor advised me not to make any decision based on my desire to see Muriel stay contented. "Make your plans apart from that question. Whether or not you can be successful in your dreams for the college and seminary or not, I cannot judge, but I can tell you now, you will not be successful with Muriel."

When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, "in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part"?

This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.

But how could I walk away from the responsibility of a ministry God had blessed so signally during our 22 years at Columbia Bible College and Seminary?

Not easily. True, many dreams had been fulfilled. But so many dreams were yet on the drawing board. And the peerless team God had brought together-a team not just of professionals, but of dear friends-how could I bear to leave them? Resignation was painful; but the right path was not difficult to discern. Whatever Columbia needed, it did not need a part-time, distracted leader. It is better to move out and let God designate a leader to step in while the momentum is continuing.

No, it was not a choice between two loves. Sometimes that kind of choice becomes necessary, but this time responsibilities did not conflict. I suppose responsibilities in the will of God never conflict (though my evaluation of those responsibilities is fallible). Am I making the right choice at the right time in the right way? I hope so. This time it seemed clearly in the best interest of the ministry for me to step down, even if board and administrators thought otherwise.
Both loves-for Muriel and for Columbia Bible College and Seminary dictated the same choice. There was no conflict of loves, then, or of obligations.

I have been startled by the response to the announcement of my resignation. Husbands and wives renew marriage vows, pastors tell the story to their congregations. It was a mystery to me, until a distinguished oncologist, who lives constantly with dying people, told me, "Almost all women stand by their men; very few men stand by their women." Perhaps people sensed this contemporary tragedy and somehow were helped by a simple choice I considered the only option.

It is all more than keeping promises and being fair, however. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved. I also see fresh manifestations of God's love-the God I long to love more fully.

In Sickness and in Health: A Man of His Word - Robertson McQuilkin

Blessed by God to be a Blessing to Others

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)

Excerpt from “The Joy of Repentance: Walking with One Another” – 2011-09-18
Everyone who lives on this earth with us is on a journey through life. And many around us are on a spiritual journey that is empty, joyless and hopeless – a journey that will ultimately lead to an eternal darkness and death. In Christ, we are exiles here on earth who are on a journey to go back home to the place “laid up” for us “in heaven.” But God has not blessed us with that for ourselves. He has blessed us so that we might bless others, so that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed." God has placed us here to walk with Him, so that we might walk with one another. And God has placed us so that we might walk with Him, so that we might bless those who are not walking with Him – so they would walk with Him also.

How do we do that? We smile. We greet those who cross our paths. We listen and respond. We show grace to everyone. We start conversations. We listen. We encourage. We tease. We give. We share. We love everyone. We care. We help. We ask questions. We listen. We look for those who are alone and we talk to them. We watch people. We pray for people. We pray with people. We pray without people. We look for opportunities. We create opportunities. We ask people what they think. We listen. We work with people. We play with people. We start conversations because people yearn to be connected and belong. We ask questions because people want to be heard. We listen to people because they want to be valued. We listen to people because they are on a journey, just like we are on a journey. We ask them where they are going. We listen. And when they ask questions, we bless them with God’s blessing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too Heavenly-minded to be of Any Earthly Good?

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3-5)

Excerpt from “The Joy of Repentance: Walking with God” – 2011-09-11
What is the hope, the anticipated objective reality laid up for us in heaven? Well Paul doesn’t specifically tell us here, but he does in Titus 2:13 when he speaks of “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” In Colossians 3:4 he says: "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." And in Colossians 1:27 he defines what heavenly minded people look like: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Now the reaction to this that often arises is - that we need to take care that we do not become so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. My experience in this – in having been baptized in the Catholic faith, raised in the Charismatic faith, confirmed in the Lutheran faith, saved in the Fundamentalist faith, taught in the Reformed faith, and served as a pastor in the Evangelical Free and Baptist faith – is that I have never met anyone who was that so heavenly minded that they were of no earthly good. I have met folks who are so self-centered in their heavenly-mindedness that they were of no earthly good – because they are constantly letting people around them know how heavenly-minded they are. Those who I have know who were truly heavenly minded lived it out humbly and quietly – and their earthly lives transformed many others lives.

John Piper tells us that the Bible, “teaches and shows that a strong confidence in the promises of God and a passionate preference for the joy of heaven over the joy of the world frees a person from worldly self-centeredness, from paralyzing regret and self-pity, from fear and greed and bitterness and despair and laziness and impatience and envy. And in the place of all these sins, hope bears the fruit of love.” Hope bears the fruit of “faith in Christ Jesus and of the love” that we are to have for one another and for others. I would argue that one problem the contemporary church does not truly wrestle with today is being too focused on heaven. The problem the church struggles with is retreating from the world and spending most of their time together in the building, indifferent to the desperate needs of the lost people around them. The problem professing followers of Jesus Christ wrestle with is spending too little time reading their Bibles and praying and listening to God and serving others and having conversations with all kinds of people they do not know - because most of their time is being taken up just living for themselves.

To be heavenly minded means you understand that you are currently in exile here on earth, and that you are on a journey to go back home to the place “laid up for you in heaven.” Heavenly-mindedness frees us from the bondage of worry and anxiety and pride and addictions and bad habits and sinful attitudes and self-centered routines - because so much love and faith is bearing fruit in our lives, that we have little time to spend on anything else. As the fountains of faith and love flow out from the powerful, freeing confidence of our hope in Christ, the light of eternity burns away the shadows of worldly mindedness.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Creative Work of God in Christ

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Excerpt from “Working for God” – 2011-09-04
However you and I might feel about the concept of work, the reality is that God Himself created the idea of work. In the very first verse of the Bible, we read: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). God began everything by going to work. It was a creative work, but it was work nonetheless; Genesis 2:2-3: "And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." And even though God rested from His original created work, He continues to work even today. Philippians 2:12-13 calls us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Take some time and read the entirety of Psalm 104, which praises God as our Supreme Creator and celebrates of His continuing work of grace in the world and in our lives.

Jesus, while he walked this earth, worked also. He was a common, ordinary man who was born in a stable, worked as a carpenter, and preached from a fishing boat. He grew tired; he became hungry; he ate and drank and walked with common, ordinary men and women. He died a death as we all will die a death; and because he rose from the dead, he is still at work in the world and within our hearts. In John 5:17 Jesus said: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Since the resurrection, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit now works on behalf of the Father and the Son within us, as Titus 3:5 tells us that "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." In surrendering one’s life to God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that creative work of God it to continue on in our lives; Ephesians 2:10 tells us “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand - Jars of Clay

“And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them.
Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies,
which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.”
Joshua 22:4

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie

All o'er those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day
There God, the Son forever reigns
And scatters night away.

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land
I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land

No chilling wind nor poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore
Where sickness, sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land
I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land

When shall I see that happy place
And be forever blessed
When shall I see my Father's face
And in His bosom rest

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land
I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land

God Will Not Be Found Near Our Sin

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Excerpt from “The Blessed Sovereign Grace of God” – 2011-08-28
Isaiah tells us God is calling us to “seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” This implies that God may not always be “found” and that God may not always be “near.” Our God is speaking here of a time when He would allow His people to be carried off into exile in Babylon because they chose other gods over Him. He calls every person who would be carried off into exile to seek Him and find Him while there was still time. This echoes previous words spoken by Moses who said: “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29). These are words not only for Israel but also for those of us at Arrowsmith.

The threat of exile really isn’t an issue or a problem for us here today: we’re sitting pretty comfortable and secure right now in life. And that’s our problem: the culture and society we live in has convinced us we are comfortable and secure. But the reality is, tomorrow or next week or next year, things might be different. But terrorists and earthquakes and hurricanes and cancer should open our eyes to the reality that in the near future God may not be so easily found or near. James 4:14 says: "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." It is possible that the Lord may be found tomorrow, that he may be near tomorrow. But we don’t know that. What we do know is that is that we don’t get our hearts right with God today, it may be too late to “seek” Him tomorrow. What keeps us from seeking God and calling upon God “while he may be found . . . while he is near”? One word we have already looked at: independence. In being created God’s image, we were created with a natural bend towards seeking to have a personal, intimate relationship with God. Yet, sin has so infected and so perverted God’s original intent, that we now view our God-likeness as the right to be independent like God. Mark Dever has written that “Some even talk of God Himself as if He were made in the image of man, rather than the other way around.”

It was in Garden of Eden where we not only lost our sense of true innocence, but also our sense of total dependence upon God. One of the greatest after effects of the fall is that without realizing it, we’ve now become dependent on sin rather than on God. In our fallen nature, sinful thoughts, lifestyles, and actions become deeply held beliefs and firmly established patterns. Our lack of dependency upon God coupled with our dependency upon sin is why we find it so difficult to abandon the sinful thoughts, lifestyles, deeply held beliefs and firmly established patterns that we hold onto that are not of God. This is why in verse three God said: “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” We cannot “seek the Lord” and be dependent on sin at the same time. The Lord will not be found in or near sin. God will be found – painfully so - at the end of our sin. But God will not be “found” in our sin or “near” our sin.