Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Choosing the Right Way

Psalm 1:1-6                         July 27, 2014               Link for audio/video/manuscript

If we want the blessing of God in our lives, we must walk in God’s “way”. And as Christians we are constantly faced and challenged with the question of whether following Christ is worth it. But the reality is that as long as we are alive on this earth we will constantly be faced with choices – and this is the one choice that matters the most. I pray today you would choose the “way” of Jesus. In the words of Robert Frost – both Psalm 1 and the entirety of the Word of God tell us make choosing the “way” of Jesus will make “all the difference.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

We Must Learn to Taste - Barry Cooper

God doesn’t play fair.
Much to my parents’ concern, I hadn’t been to church for a long time. And yet here I was, in my first term at university, sliding into a pew at St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford.
This, I can promise you, was not the result of any pious yearning on my part. Rather, it was because the congregation counted among its number a particularly lovely second-year student of modern languages.
Where earnest parental pleading had failed, she had proved to be rather more convincing.

Stop Reading the Bible

Incidentally, or so it seemed, it was at St Ebbe’s that I met Tony. Knowing that he was the student worker at the church, I politely agreed to meet him for a coffee one afternoon in his study.
It was underwhelming. We looked at a few paragraphs of the Bible together. Then he asked me to explain to him what I’d just read, because apparently even a person in his position can lack basic comprehension skills. Then he asked me how he could be praying for me. Finally, he wondered if I’d like to do it all over again next week. Presumably he was very lonely indeed, so I said yes, and the routine continued throughout the winter, and into the spring.
That six-month stretch turned out to be the pivotal moment of my life. During those meetings, Tony taught me to stop reading the Bible. Or rather, he taught me to stop merely reading the Bible. He encouraged me to act on what I was reading. Trust it. Obey it. Put it into practice. Live it out, so that I would discover, in my own experience, that God’s word was good. Even when (perhaps especially when) it cut across my deepest and most cherished desires and convictions.
This, I discovered, is what it meant to “taste and see that the Lᴏʀᴅ is good.”

Taste and See

How unsettling that the Bible puts it like that. If the psalmist had said, “See that the Lᴏʀᴅ is good,” we might comfort ourselves with the delusion that God could be observed at a safe distance. But we must taste in order to see.
Tasting can’t be done remotely, at arm’s length, or by proxy. Tasting is impossible without coming close to the food in question and opening ourselves. It requires that we pick something up, put it into our mouths, onto our tongues, and swallow it so that it goes deep into the darkness, and then changes us so that — whether we like it or not — we are no longer quite the people we once were.
For years, the Bible had been telling me to “taste and see that the Lᴏʀᴅ is good.” For years, I had been gawking at a plate of food and hoping that the act of staring would fill me up. I somehow expected to know God without “tasting” — without allowing his word to invade me, nourish me, and change me.

Not Just Knowing About, But Knowing

The Bible is not a distance learning program. It’s not primarily for knowingabout God, but for knowing him.
One of life’s saddest ironies is that many who know the Bible do not know its Author. This is a grand and tragic exercise in missing the point — along the lines of a drowning person catching a flotation device, and then using it to make a hat.
A.W. Tozer was right:
The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into him, that they may delight in his Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God himself in the core and center of their hearts.

Meet the Author

By the time Easter arrived, I knew when I sat down in Tony’s overstuffed armchair that I wasn’t doing it for his benefit.
I had been introduced to, and now knew, Jesus Christ. The one through whom and for whom all things had been created. The one who knew me and had set his loving kindness upon me, before he attended to the small matter of speaking the universe into existence. The one whose humility and tenderness had directed the nails into his own limbs, the spear into his own side. That God had put his pierced arms around me.
Sadly, the relationship with the modern languages undergrad didn’t work out. But in its place, another love, infinitely satisfying and entirely unexpected, was beginning to bloom. At twenty years of age, I was finally learning to taste.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Let the Nations Be Glad and Sing for Joy!

Psalm 67:1-7                     July 20, 2014                   Link for audio/video/manuscript

The goal of the church is to be worship; worship is the very means by which missions is accomplished. We glorify God when show Him to be preeminent over any and every other great, worthy, important thing in our lives. When the world sees our worship of God – when they see that He is most preeminent in everything we think, say and do – they will be drawn to God and they will also give glory to God by surrendering their hearts and lives to Him through Jesus Christ. Our worship of God is our mission; our joyful and sacrificial response in worship to His love for us will change us and transform the world forever.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Unexpected Answers of God - Jon Bloom

In John 16:23–24, Jesus makes a stunning, sweeping, glorious promise to us:
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
So we ask the Father for things we long for because we want the full joy he offers us. And we don’t ask for trivial or fleshly things, because we know what the Apostle James says: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). No, we pray for greater faith, love, holiness, wisdom, discernment, experience of God’s grace, boldness, joy in God, and less satisfaction with worldly things.

Unexpected Answers

Such longings and prayers are sincere and God loves them and loves to answer them. But we do not know ourselves very well, nor the depth or pervasiveness of our sin, nor what it really requires of us in order to receive what we ask for. We can’t help but have unreal, romantic imaginations and expectations about what God’s answers to our prayers will be.
Therefore, we are often unprepared for the answers we receive from God. His answers frequently do not look at first like answers. They look like problems. They look like trouble. They look like loss, disappointment, affliction, conflict, sorrow, and increased selfishness. They cause deep soul-wrestling and expose sins and doubts and fears. They are not what we expect and we often do not see how they correspond to our prayers.

What Should We Expect?

If we ask God for greater, deeper love for him, what should we expect to receive? Answers that give us a greater awareness of our deep and pervasive sinful depravity, because those who are forgiven much, love much, but those who are forgiven little, love little (Luke 7:47).
If we ask God to help us love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), what should we expect to receive? Answers that force us to give unexpected attention to a neighbor (who we might not put in that category (Luke 10:29)), which are inconvenient and irritating.
If we ask for God’s nearness because we believe that it is good for us to be near God (Psalm 73:28), what should we expect to receive? Answers that break our hearts, for God is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).
If we ask God to make us living sacrifices (Romans 12:2), what should we expect to receive? Answers that break and humble our hearts because the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17).
If we ask God for a deeper experience of his grace, what should we expect to receive? Answers that oppose our pride and humble our hearts (James 4:6).
If we ask God for his kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10) in our own lives and in the world around us, what should we expect to receive? Answers that reveal our deep spiritual poverty, because the kingdom is given to the poor in spirit (Matthew 6:3).
If we ask God to satisfy us with himself so that we aren’t so easily satisfied by the world’s mud puddles, what should we expect to receive? Answers that cause us to be increasingly aware of the evil and suffering and injustices of the world because those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6).
If we ask God for greater wisdom and discernment, what should we expect to receive? A steady stream of mind-bending, confusing answers that are difficult to understand and work through because our powers of discernment are trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).
If we ask God to “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5), what should we expect to receive? To repeatedly be put into situations where we discover that our perceptions are not trustworthy so that we are forced to trust Christ’s promises, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
If we ask God to help us “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10), what should we expect to receive? Answers that require more humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2) than we thought possible and might result in destitution, affliction, and mistreatment, like many saints throughout history, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38).
If we ask God to help us stop serving money so that we can serve him more wholeheartedly, what should we expect to receive? An uncomfortable amount of opportunities to give money away, expenses that deplete reserves we’ve been stashing away, maybe even a job loss — answers that push us to us despise (ignore, turn away from, release) money and cling to God (Luke 16:13).
If we ask for our joy to be made more full (John 16:24), to experience more happiness in God, what should we expect to receive? Answers that cause us to find earthly joys we once thought gain to become empty, hollow, and loss and push us to search for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus and find him gain above all else (Philippians 3:8).

Expect the Unexpected

When God begins to answer our prayers, we often find his answers disorienting. Circumstances might take unexpected courses, health might deteriorate, painful relational dynamics might develop, financial difficulties might occur, and spiritual and emotional struggles might emerge that seem unconnected and we can feel like we’re digressing from not progressing toward the sanctification we desire. We cry out in painful confusion and exasperation (Psalm 13:1Job 30:20), when what’s really happening is that God is answering our prayers. We just expected the answer to look and feel different.
This being true, we might be tempted to not even ask God for such things. I mean, who wants unpleasant answers to prayers for joy?
Don’t be deceived into this short-sighted thinking. Remember Jesus’s promise: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). If the path to full joy is sometimes hard, and Jesus tells us it is (John 16:33Matthew 7:14), that is no reason not to take it! What do you want? Low, shallow, thin joys? No! Go for full joy! And remember what the writer of Hebrews tells us:
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
With regard to God’s answers to prayer, expect the unexpected. Most of the greatest gifts and deepest joys that God gives us come wrapped in painful packages.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hearing the Voice of God

Psalm 19:1-14             July 6, 2014           Link for audio/video/manuscript

David knew God was real. Though he struggled with the errors of spiritual blind spots and the self-confidence of his presumptuous sins – he knew that God knew his struggles. And so he looked to the transcendent God who created him and to the personal, relational covenant LORD who loved him: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” May that be the cry of our hearts also!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart!

Psalm 139:1-24                  June 29, 2014            Link for audio/video/manuscript

David begins this Psalm by declaring: “O LORD, you have searched me and known me!” - and then he ends by saying: “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” May we embrace the truth that our God is all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful, and perfectly-holy – and may also pray that our all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful, and perfectly-holy God would constantly and continually “search” us and “know” us and “lead” us in His “everlasting way”!