Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rest in the Prince of Peace - Jon Bloom

I remember singing this old hymn in church when I was growing up:
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
As a kid, I didn’t think very much about the words. Now I’m thinking a lot about them. They make a huge claim. And if true, they make a huge claim on us.
But are they true? Or are they just naive, simplistic Christian cliché? Do they hold up under the real world weight of complex pain we suffer in the varied afflictions we endure?
All Because We Do Not
To test its truthfulness, we need to peal back the poetic skin and see if it has a Scriptural skeletal structure. And as it turns out, it does:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)
God’s amazing promise to us through Paul is the power behind the hymn’s simple poetry.
And the promise really is amazing! We must not let the familiarity of these verses make us dull to their edge. God is promising us peace in everything and freedom from controlling anxiety! Peace is ours for the taking.
So if we don’t have the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds, it’s all because we do not . . . do something God calls us to do.
Carry Everything to God in Prayer
The wonderful thing is that what God calls us to do is easy! His is an easy yoke, a light burden (Matthew 11:30). He’s calling us to pray.
And what is prayer? Prayer is asking our generous heavenly Father for whatever it is we wish (Luke 11:13John 15:7), trusting that he will answer with whatever we need (Luke 11:10;Philippians 4:19). It is casting our anxieties on him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
But the only problem with bearing this easy yoke of asking God in faith for what we need is that we often find it hard. And what we find hard about praying is believing God — believing that it’s making any real difference.
Prayer is the native language of faith. That’s why a soul full of trust in God finds prayer almost effortless. But a soul full of doubt finds prayer a heavy burden. Prayerlessness is the muteness of unbelief.
An accurate gauge of our level of faith is how and how much we pray. A growing prayerful dependence on God is evidence of our growing spiritual maturity. And the more we pray in faith in everything, the more we experience the peace of God.
The Secret to Prayerful Dependence: Resting on the Faithful One
Why do we find faith so frequently difficult and therefore prayer such a labor? And what is the secret to realizing the promised peace Paul wrote about and experiencing what it means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)?
Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, struggled with this very issue. Here’s how he described his struggle:
I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fullness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do?
Then he experienced a breakthrough that changed his life:
When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from [his missionary colleague, John] McCarthy was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never know it before. McCarthy, who had been much exercised by the same sense of failure but saw the light before I did, wrote: “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more.” (Spiritual Secret, 261)
The key for Taylor was that he stopped focusing on trying to exercise more faith and instead he looked to Jesus, “the Faithful One,” as revealed in the written word. While his focus had been on his lack of faith and trying to work it up, he was miserable. But when his focus turned to the fullness of Jesus, he discovered the peace surpassing understanding.
Faith is not a muscle that we need to pump up in order to be strong enough to trust Jesus. Faith is our response to what we perceive as trustworthy. The more trustworthy, solid, stable, dependable, unfailing, and secure something appears to us, the greater our trust or faith in it will be. When our faith is weak, it’s an indicator that our focus is on the wrong thing.
Taylor’s refocusing transformed him. For the rest of his life he was marked by the peace of God and a remarkable freedom from anxiety. It bore up under the real world weight of his excessive labors, financial stress, frequent dangers, disease, the deaths of his wives and children and colleagues — the sort of difficulties that Paul knew (2 Corinthians 11:23–28).
My Peace I Give to You
Jesus came to give us peace — not only a forensic peace with God through his substitutionary atonement for our sins (Romans 5:1), but also a deep, heart and mind-guarding peace in the midst of tribulations (John 16:33).
He said, “my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). It’s ours for the taking. All we need to do is ask in faith in everything. And the faith-key that unlocks the peace that surpasses understanding is seeing him as the Faithful One and resting in his ability to do what he has promised. It is an easy yoke.
Let us not forfeit this peace and bear needless pain. Let us carry everything to God in prayer and trust him fully to provide everything we need (Philippians 4:19). @ 2016 Desiring God

Seeking God Through Forgiveness

Ephesians 4:31-32                February 28, 2016        Link for audio/video/manuscript

When we forgive we are acting according to God's character. Because of His love for us, He forgave us. When we forgive we act with grace, the grace that we have already received from God through Jesus Christ. Jesus did not lose his life at Calvary; he gave it so that we might know the freedom of forgiveness. The greatest blessing we can ever receive is the blessing of both freeing ourselves and those who have hurt us from the burden of sin. Jesus himself told us we are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. When we chose Christ we also chose to sacrificially love and forgive and he did for us.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jesus Paid It All - Jonathan Parnell

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4–5)
There is no question who Isaiah is talking about here. This is the suffering servant, God’s Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is one of the clearest passages in all of Scripture about what he has done for us. It is crystal clear, and it is simple.
There are two central ideas in this passage worth seeing as you prepare your heart to worship this weekend:
  • First, Isaiah shows us what Jesus has done;
  • Second, Isaiah shows us that what Jesus has done has been done for us.
Isaiah tells us that he has borne grief and carried sorrow. He was pierced for transgressions, even crushed. He was punished. He was wounded. To be sure, there is a lot happening here. A lot of terrible things — a true curse — are falling on the Messiah. Jesus really was the suffering servant. He was absolutely afflicted.
But it’s not just that Jesus bore grief, or that he was pierced or crushed or wounded. It’s that he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, that he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.
Jesus Paid It All for You
We should beware of distancing ourselves from these words, of assuming that we are far removed from their relevance in our twenty-first-century world. Instead, we are beckoned to draw near, to hear the Savior say to us, again, through the description of his ancient pains,
Child of weakness, watch and pray.
Find in me your all in all.
Your all in all, Jesus might say. Your only hope. Which means, to bring it home a little more, Isaiah 53 is for you. Can you feel the weight of these words? Do you sense the wonder of what Jesus has done for you?
Jesus has borne your grief. Your sorrows are the ones he carried. Your transgressions — all your sins — were the ones that pierced him, the ones for which he paid. For you. He was crushed, viciously slaughtered, for your iniquities. It was a slaughter you deserved — a punishment reserved for you — that he took upon himself, in your place, so that you get peace. By his wounds you have been healed.
Jesus has died, and he has died for you. The stain of sin that marred your life has now been washed white as snow. He has paid your debts. All of them. Jesus has paid it all. He has paid it all.
Praise the One Who Paid Our Debt
And so what do we do?
We trust him. We look forward to that day when we will stand before his throne, repeating the wonder that he died to save our souls. Yes, we will trust him today, and forsake the foolish pursuits that used to consume our lives. We will stop condemning ourselves for past sins. We will relinquish the shame we’ve harbored for so long and we will abandon our self-absorbed efforts to make ourselves worthy. We will turn from our sin, we will trust him, and we will sing. We will sing and,
Praise the One who paid our debt,
And raised our lives up from the dead.
Yes, we will sing, both now and forever. @ 2016 Desiring God

Seeking God Through a Clear Conscience

Acts 24:16        February 21, 2016         Link for audio/video/manuscript

Our love for God is revealed in how we love one another and others. It is essential that we understand and live out how love and a clear conscience work together because we are experts at justifying our lack of love. In Christ we are to be a people who love God and love one another in order that good might come out of the multiple kinds of pain, struggle and chaos that comes at us and from us. We are called to make every effort “to have a clear conscience toward both God and man" regardless of the threat or cost. Our efforts reveal the depth of our love for God.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Monty Williams Speaks at Wife's Funeral

Monty Williams, Oklahoma Thunder assistant basketball coach, speaks at the memorial service on February 18, 2016 held for his wife Ingrid, who was killed ate the age of 44 in a head-on car accident on February 9, 2016.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Joy Is Not Optional: Your Happiness Matters to God - David Mathis

Joy is essential to the Christian life. The Scriptures are clear: God’s people are both commanded to rejoice and characterized by rejoicing.
Our heavenly Father is not indifferent to our happiness. Joy is not a garnish on the dutiful entrée of the Christian life. Joy is not the icing on our cake, but an essential ingredient in a complex batter.
It’s not that there is only joy, but that in our most painful losses and sufferings, we discover how deep the reservoirs of Christian joy run. Only here, in difficulty and darkness, do we taste the essence of such joy — that it is not thin and frivolous and empty, but thick and substantive and full.
Joy Is Possible
To hear that joy is not optional lands on some ears with promise and hope. If joy is essential, then it must mean that joy is possible. In a world of sin and suffering, mess and misery, it is good news to hear that joy is possible.
For one, joy is commanded all over the Bible. It was commanded of God’s first-covenant people, Israel, perhaps especially in the Psalms. “Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!” (Psalm 149:2). “Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad” (Psalm 14:7). “Rejoice in the Lord” (Psalm 97:12). “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2). “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). With literally hundreds more instances throughout the Old Testament.
Beyond just Israel, God commands all nations to rejoice in their Maker (“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,” Psalm 67:4), and even commands the natural world to join in the joy (“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,” Psalm 96:11).
In the New Testament, God himself, in full manhood, doesn’t change his tune once he’s become the “man of sorrows” in our fallen world (Isaiah 53:3), but commands our joy as much as anyone, and gives us even more reason to rejoice. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). “Leap for joy” (Luke 6:23). “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Yes, joy is possible, joy so real and rich that we turn to friends and neighbors and say, “Rejoice with me” (Luke 15:69).
If it weren’t plain enough at this point, the apostle Paul drives it home further in his letters to the churches. “Rejoice in hope. . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:1215). “Finally, brothers, rejoice” (2 Corinthians 13:11). “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). And then, the joy tidal wave of Philippians: “Be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:18). “Rejoice in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1). “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Not that we’re dull to the multifaceted pains of life in this age, but in Christ we have access to subterranean joy that is simultaneous with, and deeper than, the greatest of our sorrows — we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
One reason the Bible is so relentless in insisting on our joy is because of the goodness of God. The imperative to joy in us is based on the indicative of good in him. “You shallrejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you” (Deuteronomy 26:11). Joy in the heart of the creature corresponds to goodness in the heart of the Creator. Joy is the fitting response in the receiver to the goodness of the Giver.
But I’m Not Joyful
Some hear possibilities in the commands of joy; others hear problems. And both responses are justified. We are sinners, spiritually dead by nature (Ephesians 2:1–3). Often we are emotionally inconsistent and spiritually dull. Even in Christ, we daily ride the undulating roller coaster from lethargic hearts to quickened spirits, then back into dryness again.
Those of us who know ourselves, and are learning to be honest with reality, own up to how little we are truly joyful, and ask our Father again and again, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12).
To such sluggish and self-aware people, hearing that joy is not optional can feel fraught with more condemnation than possibilities. It can be a new weight to carry on already over-burdened shoulders.
But our joylessness is not the end of the story. One infinitely powerful piece remains in the equation.
God Is Utterly Committed to Your Joy
With our endless failures in view, it is such spectacularly good news that God himself is utterly committed to our everlasting joy in him. In fact, there is a sense in which he is as committed to our joy in him as he is to his ultimate purpose in the universe: that he be honored and glorified. Because our joy is tied to his glory. In the words of John Piper’s poetic refrain, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.
God is righteous, and thus not indifferent to his glory. And the good news for those of us laying claim on the blood and righteousness of his Son is that he is not indifferent to our joy. Not the thin, frivolous, empty “joy” mere external circumstances in a fallen world can bring, but the thick, substantive, rich joy that can run deeper and wider than life’s otherwise most joyless settings.
In Christ, not only is God no longer against us in omnipotent wrath, but now he is for us — for our deep and enduring joy — in all his omnipotent love. His promise through Jeremiah comes home to us in Christ: “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul” (Jeremiah 32:41).
Our joy will not be perfect in this life; we will always strain and struggle. We will have our angsts and anxieties. We will have our ups and downs. Yet even here we have tastes. Not only is indomitable joy coming, but even now we sample the sweetness, especially in suffering. “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
It is good news that joy is not optional in the Christian life, because the final weight falls not on our weak backs, but on the almighty shoulders of God himself.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Seeking God Through Holiness

Hebrews 12:14-17              February 7, 2016           Link for audio/video/manuscript

A genuine faith in Christ will produce an appetite for holiness, a yearning for righteousness, and longing for the things of God beyond this world. Our positional holiness in God is the character of God that sets us apart from the world, imputed into us through Jesus’ death and shed blood on the cross. Our personal holiness is the bearing of the fruit of our positional holiness in God by striving for peace with everyone; by pursuing the holiness of being set apart for God so we might see Him; by speaking grace and showing grace and giving grace to one another and others; by forgiving one another and others as God has forgiven us; and by loving God and treasuring God and seeking the things of God in this life and in the life to come.