Friday, January 31, 2014

Never Thwarted

Excerpt from 843 Acres post:  The Grand Reversal of the Gallows


Prayer: Lord, You work all things according to the counsel of your will and you are righteous in all your ways. In both the story of Esther and the gospel of Jesus, not only did you defeat evil, you made evil destroy itself. The dark powers did their best to destroy your glory, but they found themselves "quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by [you]." [4] Therefore, we have hope. For no plan of yours can be thwarted and nothing can separate us from your great salvation. Amen.

Walking with a Limp

Don Carson post:  Genesis 32; Mark 3; Esther 8; Romans 3


Now it is rather different. True, God again takes the initiative: Jacob meets angelic messengers (32:1-2). Jacob decides to act prudently. He sends some of his people ahead to announce to Esau that his brother is returning. This spawns devastating news: Esau is coming to meet him, but with four hundred men.

On the one hand, Jacob sets in motion a carefully orchestrated plan: successive waves of gifts for his brother are sent on ahead, with each of the messengers carefully instructed to speak to Esau with the utmost courtesy and respect. On the other hand, Jacob admits that matters are out of his control. Bartering is gone; in “great fear and distress” (32:7) Jacob takes action, and then prays, begging for help. He reminds God of his covenantal promises, he pleads his own unworthiness, he acknowledges how many undeserved blessings he has received, he confesses his own terror (32:9-12). And then, in the darkest hours, he wrestles with this strange manifestation of God himself (32:22-30).

Twenty years or so have passed since Jacob’s outward-bound journey. Some people learn nothing in twenty years. Jacob has learned humility, tenacity, godly fear, reliance upon God’s covenantal promises, and how to pray. None of this means he is so paralyzed by fear that he does nothing but retreat into prayer. Rather, it means he does what he can, while believing utterly that salvation is of the Lord.

By the time the sun rises, he may walk with a limp, but he is a stronger and better man.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Begins and Ends the Day with God

Tim Challies post: Why I Love an Evening Service

Of all the casualties the church has suffered in recent decades, I wonder if many will have longer-lasting consequences than the loss of the evening service. There was a time, not so long ago, when many or even most churches gathered in the morning and the evening. But today the evening service is increasingly relegated to the past.

At Grace Fellowship Church we hold on to the evening service and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is a commitment, to be sure—a commitment for the pastors to plan a second service and to prepare a second sermon, and a commitment for the members to give the church not only the morning but also the evening. But these are small costs compared to the great benefits. Here are a few things I love about an evening service.


Perhaps the best part of having an evening service is that, just as the morning service allows you to begin the day worshiping God with his people, the evening services allows you to close the day worshiping God with his people. As a church we love to sing the song “We Are Listening” which proclaims, “Morning and evening we come / To delight in the words of our God.” And with an evening service, we are able to do exactly that: We begin the Lord’s Day in worship and close it in worship. That’s a beautiful thing.


If beginning and ending the day in corporate worship is an obvious blessing of an evening service, a less obvious but still important benefit is that having these bookends around the day encourages the best uses of the Lord’s Day while discouraging the less significant uses. Knowing that you will have to leave the house before the football game ends does wonders to uproot any real desire to watch football (or, over time, to even care about football, as I have discovered!). Conversely, knowing that you have four or five hours between services helps you spot a perfect window for extending hospitality. There is no better or more convenient time to open your home, especially to those who drive from a distance, than between the morning and evening service.


I grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition where the evening service was considered an integral part of any Christian’s duty. The morning service was set aside for verse-by-verse preaching through God’s Word while the evening service was set aside for advancing question-by-question through the catechisms and confessions. Even if your church will not use an evening service for teaching the catechism, it does offer an opportunity to teach something else, perhaps a second book of the Bible or a topical series. It also affords a natural context to integrate new or young teachers, to give them a place to grow in their ability to teach and preach.


Just as an evening service opens up more time for teaching, it also opens up more time to sing. I often come to the end of our morning service wishing I could sing more than the five or six or seven songs we sing there. There are so many great songs to sing! The evening service gives us another chance to encourage and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—those great songs of the faith.


There are many people in our church who are eager to serve and to serve regularly. With only one service each week, these people would be serving very irregularly—there simply would not be enough ways for all of them to serve the church on a regular basis. However, the evening service immediately adds many more places to serve—we need more people to greet at the door, more people to lead us in song, more people to care for the young children, and on and on. If there is joy in serving one another, our evening service increases our joy by increasing the ways in which we serve.


I love my church family; there is no group of people I would rather spend time with. And, frankly, Sunday morning and Wednesday evening just isn’t enough. As a pastor I want more time to be with the people I serve, to get to know them, to hear from them. As a church member I want more opportunities to fulfill all those “one another” commands with them and to have the other members fulfill them with me. An evening service is yet another opportunity to be with people I enjoy so much.


An evening service counters our culture’s obsession with convenience and low commitment in matters of family, life and religion. It can be downright difficult to get the family out the door once on a Sunday, not to mention twice and your neighbors will be convinced that you’re crazy for doing it. Let them! The evening service also counters our Christian culture of expecting little from people and, for that reason, being intimidated to ask much from them. Experience shows that when a church sets the expectation for the evening service, the people rise to it and soon wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Matchless Wisdom and Peculiar Providence of God

Don Carson:  Genesis 30; Mark 1; Esther 6; Romans 1

“THAT NIGHT THE KING COULD NOT SLEEP” (Esther 6:1). What a great dramatic line! Are we supposed to think this is an accident?
Both the Bible and history offer countless “coincidences” brought about in the providence of God, the significance of which is discerned only in hindsight. Even in this chapter, Haman chooses this particular morning to present himself early in the court—to obtain sanction for Mordecai’s execution, at that!—and that makes him the man to whom the king puts his fateful question (Esther 6:4-6). In the meditation for January 25 we observed that the peculiar timing of Agrippa II’s visit to Porcius Festus meant that Paul was forced to appeal to Caesar—and that brought him to Rome. Likewise, in God’s providence, Caesar Augustus, more than half a century earlier, had decreed that the Roman world face a census, and under the local rules that decree brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem just in time for the birth of Jesus, fulfilling the biblical prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
History entirely removed from the canon provides numerous circumstances where the tiniest adjustment would have changed the course of events. Suppose Britain had not broken the “Enigma” code machines. Would the Battle of Britain, and even World War II, have gone another way? Suppose Hitler had not held back his panzers at Dunkirk, sending in his planes instead. Would 150,000 British soldiers have been captured or killed, once again changing the face of the war? Is it not remarkable that Hitler’s persecution of Jews drove some of the best scientific minds out of Germany and into the United States? Had he not done so, is it not entirely possible that Hitler would have invented an A-bomb before America did? What then would the history of the past fifty years have looked like? Suppose Khrushchev had not blinked at the Cuba missile crisis, and a nuclear exchange had followed. What would be the state of the world today? Suppose the bullet aimed at Kennedy had missed. Suppose the bullet aimed at Martin Luther King had missed. Suppose the bullet that took out the Archduke in Sarajevo had missed. Christians cannot possibly suppose that any of these events and billions more, small and great, were outside of God’s control.
So the first verse of Esther 6 sets the reader up for the dramatic developments in this chapter, plunging us into many useful reflections on the matchless wisdom and peculiar providence of God. Then, at the end of the chapter, comes a line scarcely less dramatic: “While they were still talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared” (Esther 6:14). What profit should readers gain from reflecting on this turning point?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jesus Alone Is The Good Samaritan

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Who Is The Good Samaritan?

For every good story in the Bible there’s a bad children’s song. This is the one I remember for the Good Samaritan:
The man who stopped to help, right when he saw the need; he was such a good, good neighbor, a good example for me.
On the surface, this little diddy may seem harmless. The problem, however, is that Jesus wants us to identify with every person in the parable except the good Samaritan. He reserves that role for himself.
“You should be like the Good Samaritan.” If you grew up in church or Sunday School, you probably heard this a thousand times. In fact, even outside the church, the parable of the Good Samaritan is used to exhort neighborly love and concern for the downtrodden. This parable is perhaps the best known story Jesus ever told after the parable of The Prodigal Son. It is, however, also the most misunderstood.
You know the story: a man is walking down the road when he is set upon by robbers, who mug him, beat him, and leave him for dead. As he lies, suffering, in the roadside ditch, a priest and a Levite, in turn, pass by on the other side of the street, preferring not to get their hands dirty. It is the hated half-breed—a Samaritan—who comes to the man’s aid, setting him on his donkey, taking him to an inn, paying the inn-keeper to take care of him and promising to return to see that his needs are attended to.
You also know the common interpretation: don’t be like the priest and the Levite, too concerned with themselves to help another. Be like the Good Samaritan – be a good neighbor. In other words, our preachers want us to (at least eventually) identify with the Good Samaritan, the hero of the story.
The parable of The Good Samaritan is the second of the great commandments in narrative form: love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, Jesus tells the story to answer a lawyer’s question about who his neighbor is. The lawyer, trying to trick Jesus, asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the laws he already knows so well: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Then, “seeking to justify himself,” the lawyer asked Jesus a follow-up question: “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus answers him by telling the parable of The Good Samaritan…and we miss the point completely.
If Jesus had been asked, “How should we treat our neighbors?” and had responded with this story, perhaps “Be like the Good Samaritan” would be an acceptable interpretation. Instead, Jesus was asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was asked a vertical question (a question about a person’s relationship to God) rather than a horizontal one. The lawyer was, after all, seeking to “justify” himself. This parable must, therefore, be interpreted vertically. It’s about justification, not sanctification.
The context puts Jesus’ final exhortation to “go and do likewise” in perspective. Remember, this is the same Jesus who told his audience at the Sermon on the Mount that they “must be perfect, as [their] Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What Jesus is saying in the parable of The Good Samaritan is that, to inherit eternal life, you must keep God’s law perfectly—which includes loving your neighbor as yourself. No wiggle room. You must always love perfectly, sacrificially, selflessly—not just on the outside, but on the inside too. You must, in other words, always want to love perfectly, sacrificially, and selflessly. You must never hurt anyone—physically, emotionally, relationally. And you must always help everyone—physically, emotionally, relationally. You must never harbor grudges. Never. You must never seek retribution. Ever. You must never want to seek retribution. When someone cheats you, instead of trying to get your stuff or money back, you have to give them more. You have to turn the other cheek to your most aggressive enemies. You must love perfectly.
“Go and do likewise” is, therefore, not a word of invitation to be nice. It’s a word of condemnation in answer to the laywer’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Far from telling the story to help us become like The Good Samaritan, Jesus tells this story to show us how far from being like The Good Samaritan we actually are! Jesus’ parable destroys our efforts to justify ourselves; to find a class of people we can call “neighbors” that we actually do love. In destroying our self-salvation projects, the story of The Good Samaritan destroys us. Jesus brings the hammer of the Law (“Be perfect…”) down on our self-justifying work.
In a rich irony, we move from being identified with the priest and the Levite who never perfectly love our best friends “as ourselves,” much less our enemies, to being identified with the traveler in desperate need of salvation. Jesus intends the parable itself to leave us beaten and bloodied, lying in a ditch, like the man in the story. We are the breathless bruised. We are the needy, unable to do anything to help ourselves. We are the broken people, beaten up by life, robbed of hope.
But then Jesus comes.
Unlike the Priest and Levite, He doesn’t avoid us. He crosses the street—from heaven to earth—comes into our mess, gets his hands dirty. At great cost to himself on the cross, he heals our wounds, covers our nakedness, and loves us with a no-strings-attached love. He brings us to the Father and promises that his “help” is not simply a one time gift—rather, it’s a gift that will forever cover “the charges” we incur.
Yes, Jesus and Jesus alone is the Good Samaritan.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Of Good Works

Kevin DeYoung post:  Good Works and Sanctification

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the Christian life and sanctification. Much of this discussion has included differing views on good works and the relation of the Christian and the Holy Spirit to these good works. Here are a few questions and answers to help in this discussion.
What are good works?
  • Only that which God has commanded us in the Bible to do may be called good works.
Why do good works? Because good works done in obedience to God’s commandments
  • are the fruits and evidence of a true and lively faith
  • manifest our thankfulness to God
  • strengthen our assurance of salvation
  • encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ
  • adorn the profession of the gospel
  • silence adversaries of the faith
  • glorify God
  • lead us on to eternal life
Who brings forth our good works?
  • We can’t do good works in and of ourselves.
  • Good works are wholly from the Spirit of Christ.
  • The Holy Spirit must work and will in us according to His good pleasure to produce them.
  • However, this does not mean the Christian can be negligent in seeking to do good works.
  • We are not to “let go and let God.”
  • Rather, we are to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is already in us.
How good are these good works?
  • The good works we do in no way exceed what God requires us to do.
  • Therefore, it is equally true that in no way can our good works earn pardon for sin or eternal life.
  • Whatever good works we do bring forth, we have still only done our duty.
  • In any way that our works are good, it is because they proceed from the Holy Spirit.
  • And any way that they are not good, it is because they proceed from us.
  • Ultimately, what we produce is always mixed with weakness and imperfection.
Then how are our good works acceptable to God?
  • Because we are accepted through Christ and God is looking upon us in His Son.
  • Therefore, our good works done in sincerity, are accepted  and rewarded though filled with these many weaknesses and imperfections.
**If you liked the above answers, there is good reason. You are resonating with Reformed Biblical thought through the centuries. And that isn’t because you agree with me. These aren’t my ruminations. The answers to these questions are the thoughts articulated in Westminster Confession of Faith chapter sixteen: Of Good Works. There is much biblical wisdom in our confessions. There is a reason they have stood the test of time.

Higher Cause

Bethany post at 843 Acres: Uncommon Courage and Injustice

M’Cheyne: Esth 1 (txt | aud, 8:42 min)
Acts 24 (txt | aud, 7:20 min)
Highlighted: Acts 24:10
Injustice: Our quest for a legacy doesn’t always lead to godliness. In his introduction to Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, Sam Keen writes, “Becker’s radical conclusion that it is our altruistic motives that turn the world into a [cemetery]—our desire to merge with a larger whole, to dedicate our lives to a higher cause, to serve cosmic powers—poses a disturbing and revolutionary question to every individual and nation … [H]ow easily [will we] shed blood to purchase the assurance of our own righteousness”?
Paul: Paul “dedicated himself to a higher cause,” but he wasn’t interested in defending his own righteousness. In Acts 23, Paul is on trial. Yet he is calm, even joyful. Here, in Acts 24, he addresses Felix, saying, “Knowing that for many years you have been judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense.” [1] Although he’s been falsely accused [2], he’s not full of righteous indignation, but joy. For he has “a hope in God” and believes that “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” [3]
Indignation: As Keen argues, we often “shed blood to purchase the assurance of our own righteousness.” We attack others when they attack us, especially when we think we’re right or innocent. Yet neither Paul nor Jesus defended themselves when they were wrongfully accused. Why? Their “higher cause” was rooted in service and love. Jesus humbled himself as a servant. He trusted that the Judge would raise him up. And he was right.
Prayer: Lord, We confess that our righteous indignation often stems from self-righteousness. Yet we worship Jesus, who came in humility, service, and love. Yes, there may be times when you call us to speak—even as Paul spoke. Yet make us cheerful witnesses, knowing that our ultimate hope is in you. Amen.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I Am Forever Yours

Johnson & Johnson post:  How God Healed Me from My Abortion & Miscarriage

Last night we had a service at our church, called Rachel's Hope, which was a night of restoration and healing for those who have lost children in or out of the womb, or who have suffered from infertility.  I shared my testimony. It is a testimony that most of my close friends know, but there are many people in my life who have never heard it. I kept it a secret for many years and only recently have been public with it. After last night, I felt like it was time to share it with the world. it is:

Thirteen years ago, I had an abortion and I was completely alone. When I saw that pregnancy test, I was scared to death. I was 20. I was attending a Christian college.  It was not ok that I was pregnant. But at the same time, the thought of that baby already growing inside me brought me unbelievable joy. I remember actually forcing myself to stop smiling before I went in to tell my boyfriend the news. When I walked in, he was sitting there with the phone book open to Planned Parenthood. 
“You can’t have this baby,” he said. “It will ruin my future,” he said. 

 Those words have haunted me for years. They are disgusting and unbelievable. But at the same time, today they are almost laughable. Why would I allow someone to say that to me? Why would I hear these words coming from this immature boys’ mouth, and think, “Man, I don’t wanna lose this guy, so I better do what he says?” Since that time I have thought of countless, usually inappropriate, responses to his words. I have pictured myself throwing something in his face, stomping out of his apartment, and taking the train home, to carry and raise that baby by myself. I have replayed over and over again in my head how things could have gone so differently that day. How I could have stood up for myself and done what was right. How I could have told someone- just one person about my pregnancy and I probably would have made a different choice.  I am overwhelmed with how immature and stupid I was. How blind I was. I was convinced I had no choice.  I couldn’t tell anyone. I was ashamed I was pregnant. I was ashamed I had been sleeping with my boyfriend. I was ashamed I was considering abortion. My life was filled with shame. 

There seemed to be no escape. And this boy acted like this was the easiest, simplest and most obvious choice on the planet. He even called Planned Parenthood for me as I sat there sobbing on the bed. He would have made the appointment for me too, but the lady on the phone said I had to do it. So there I sat, sobbing into the phone. And she let me make the appointment. She didn’t ask if this was what I really wanted. She didn’t suggest I call back after I calmed down. Nope. I was sobbing so uncontrollably that  I could barely speak, but she scheduled an appointment. And I went. It seems so obvious now. Just don’t go. But in that moment. I was 20, I was “in love,” I was scared, I was alone. 

People often wonder, “How can someone be so hateful and heartless to make a decision to kill your own baby?” I don’t tell this story so people will feel bad for me. I tell it so people might be able to see why someone would make this decision. No one should. But it’s easy for me to understand how a young, lonely, desperate, and scared girl can make that decision. Someone makes that decision when there is no hope. I would go back and do it differently if I could. But it’s done. And when it was done, a piece of me died. I have been missing a piece of me since that day. My boyfriend didn’t want to talk about it. He told me to move on. I held it in. I told no one. I immediately became depressed, filled with suicidal thoughts, and eventually had a severe panic attack. But still I kept silent. I became a very good actress. I could fake a smile like nobody’s business. I had been living with my roommate, Gwyn, for the previous two years. I told her everything. But I couldn’t tell her this. I was so afraid people would judge me and hate me for what I did. I hated me for what I did. I wanted to die. I didn’t want to ever be forgiven. I killed my baby. I didn’t deserve to live. So I went on pretending. Going through the motions and crying myself to sleep every night. My life went on like this for another 2 or 3 years until finally, one night I revealed it to Gwyn, who obviously didn’t judge me or hate me, but supported me and loved me. 

Over those years of secrecy, and in the few years following, when I started opening up to a few people, I began learning about grace. Growing up in the church, I thought I knew what grace was, but I had no idea. I didn’t want God to forgive me for what I had done. I never wanted to stop torturing myself with thoughts of what happened. But a wise woman said to me that if I don’t accept God’s forgiveness and grace, that’s like saying Jesus dying on the cross wasn’t enough. Is that what I was saying? God’s sacrifice on the cross, his grace and mercy being poured out for this broken, sinful world, wasn’t enough to take away MY  sin? It took years to sink in, but now I know that when Jesus hung there on that cross, with the sins of the world bearing down on his perfect soul, he saw me. He saw my face. He saw me lying in that abortion clinic. 2000 years ago He knew what I was going to do. And He gave His life for me anyway. He took the punishment for my sin. THAT particular sin, as well as all the others. When He died, and when my heart broke because of my own sin, I was forgiven. I was set free. That is exactly why Jesus died on the cross, because we were all going to do things that are completely unforgivable. We are all guilty. But God doesn’t want me to live a life filled with guilt. He wants me to live a life filled with joy. And now, when I think about my baby, my heart misses her and my arms long for her, but I know I am forgiven. I can live my life. I can forgive myself. I have forgiven myself. And I have accepted God’s forgiveness. And I have peace and hope, knowing, in the next life, when I get to my real home, I will see her again. 

 A decade after that first story, my life was totally different. I got a family, I grew tremendously in my faith, I helped to plant a church, I became a church leader. And finally I could talk about my first baby, Lucille. It is no longer a secret. Now it is my testimony, and I praise God for that. But then, 3 years ago, after adopting three kids and giving birth to one, I became pregnant again.  When the signs starting pointing toward miscarriage, I begged God not to take this baby from me. I have already suffered so much at my own hands, I have already dealt with the grief of losing a child. Please, please do not let this happen. I could not possibly handle the death of another child. I sincerely believed I could not do it. I was a strong believer, but losing Lucille was the hardest thing I had ever gone through and I barely made it. I could not imagine trying to do that again. But it happened.  I lost the baby. And, Praise be to God, this time I was in a very different place. I was the opposite of alone. This time, instead of a stupid immature boyfriend, I had a wise, loving, godly husband. I had an unbelievably supportive church family. I remember my mom was out of town when it happened, but Brandy and Ty showed up at my house. I don’t think they said much at all. They know there are no words of comfort at times like that. But we sat in my living room and we sang.... 

 If my heart is overwhelmed 
And I cannot hear Your voice
I’ll hold on to what is true 
Though I cannot see
If the storms of life they come 
And the road ahead gets steep
I will lift these hands in faith, I will believe
I'll remind myself Of all that You've done
And the life I have Because of Your son
Love came down and rescued me 
Love came down and set me free
Mountain high or valley low, 
I sing out and remind my soul
 that I am Yours,
I am forever Yours

 The Sunday after I miscarried, it was my turn to lead worship. My first thought was no way. I can’t even get out of bed, how can I lead worship? But then I saw the song list that our worship leader sent out. On it was Desert Song, by Hillsong. I knew at that moment God was telling me to do it.  If you know the backstory to that song, you’ll know why. A few days before that song was supposed to be recorded, Jill McCloghry, the woman who sings it on the album, went into labor and had her baby at 23 weeks old. She and her husband spent a day with their baby before he died. She could have easily said she could not make that record, she was grieving the death of her child. But she chose to sing, she chose to worship, because no matter what happens in our lives, God is always worthy of worship. I knew I had to, too. And that Sunday, I worshiped more freely than I think I ever had before. I just knew the truth of the words I was singing. And I had to rely on God for every breath, every word and sound that came out of my mouth that morning. My heart was so broken, but I was so sure that God was still with me through it. I sang, 

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

And I knew it was true. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Make Haste to Help Me

Steve Fuller post:  Five Benefits of Asking God to Hurry

There’s something I’ve been praying about. The church where I serve as pastor needs a part-time worship leader. Our present leader has served us well, but his schedule is changing and he plans to step down. So, of course, I’ve been networking, calling, posting on church employment sites — and praying.
So far, God has not provided — and the problem is that I need him to provide soon. I can hear the clock ticking. The deadline is approaching. What are we going to do without a worship leader? Yes, I’m starting to worry.

So How Should I Pray?

I could just keep praying, “Father, please provide us with a new worship leader” — and leave it at that. But the Bible shows us more. You’ll notice that the psalmists often ask God to hurry.
This is all throughout the Psalms:
But you, O Lᴏʀᴅ, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! (Psalm 22:19) Make haste to help me, O Lᴏʀᴅ, my salvation! (Psalm 38:22)
Be pleased, O Lᴏʀᴅ, to deliver me! O Lᴏʀᴅ, make haste to help me! (Psalm 40:13)
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (Psalm 40:17)
Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O Lᴏʀᴅ, make haste to help me! (Psalm 70:1)
But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lᴏʀᴅ, do not delay! (Psalm 70:5)
O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! (Psalm 71:12)
O Lᴏʀᴅ, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! (Psalm 141:1)
This makes me wonder: why don’t I pray like that?
So I’ve started it. Following the example of psalmists, I’ve been asking God to hurry. And I’m discovering at least five benefits.
1. It reminds us that God is sovereign over timing.
It’s easy to think the reason our church doesn’t yet have the new worship leader is because there are not many worship leaders available, or because the position is only part-time, or because this is a bad time of year to be looking, and so forth. But when I pray, “Father, quickly provide us with a worship leader; don’t delay in helping us” — it reminds me that God can provide for us quickly. He can overcome all of our problems. He will answer our prayers and provide for us exactly when we need him.
Like David said, “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15).
2. It helps us see the goodness of God’s timing.
When I ask God to hurry, and realize that God is perfectly good, I see that timing is part of his perfect goodness. This is crucial because we can easily grumble about God’s timing. But like David said, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (Psalm 145:17).
All his works — including their timing. So every day of delay is part of that goodness. It is a gift of another day to pray, to depend on him, to seek him.
When we see that delays are part of his loving plan, it helps us humble ourselves before him, and trust him.
3. It helps prayer be honest.
If we long for God to provide something quickly, but we don’t express that longing when we pray, then we’re not being honest. We are holding part of our hearts away from him. We’re not entrusting that desire to him. And that can grow into frustration and bitterness. That’s one reason God wants us to pour out our souls before him (1 Samuel 1:15). I have found that the more I open my heart to him, expressing my longing that he act quickly, the more I experience his comfort and heart-satisfying presence.
4. It helps me pray earnestly.
Jesus said it is good to be earnest in prayer: “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [persistence, earnestness] he will rise and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:8).
When we ask God to work we usually feel some earnestness. But when we add, “please do this quickly; please hurry” — the earnestness grows. Maybe it’s because when we express our longing for haste, we end up feeling it even more. But whatever the reason, when we ask God to hurry, our prayers will become more fervent.
5. It stirs God to answer more quickly.
There’s mystery here. James says, “we have not because we ask not” (James 4:2). So there are times when the reason we do not receive something is because we did not ask God for it. Which means that, generally speaking, if we humbly ask God to hurry, God will hurry more than if we had not asked.
So, when we long for God to hurry, let us be like the psalmists. Let us humbly and earnestly ask God to hurry — for his glory and our good.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Simultaneously Holy and Love

Excerpt from Matt Smethurst:  Holy-Love Wins: David Wells on the Story of the Bible and the Meaning of Life


Why is integrating God's love and holiness into our view of his character so vital? What happens if we don't?
We often think of God's love and holiness in ways more cultural than biblical. That's why it's so hard to think of them together. God's love, as we conceive of it today, is about him filling us with inner comfort, always being there for us when and how we want him, and providing us with stuff. Joel Osteen's touch here is pitch perfect, culturally speaking. How, then, can we possibly reconcile the love of God to the thought that he is holy—which many understand to mean he's cold, distant, and judgmental?
The truth, of course, is that his holiness—his utter moral purity—includes his love, and his love is a part of his holiness. If we don't see this, we'll end up choosing between them, however unwittingly. If Christianity is only about God's love, then it needs no atonement. On the other hand, if it's only about God's holiness, about endless rules, then it ends up being graceless.
"This is a great time for Christian faith!" you declare near the end of the book.  What do you mean?
It's really simple. As the postmodern mood has deepened over the last three decades, the chasm between Christ and culture has deepened. Whatever remnants of Christian thinking have largely disappeared. Like the European nations, we are also post-Christian. But I look on the positive side of this development. The gospel now shines forth as a striking alternative, and for this clarity we should be grateful.
It's been about 20 years since No Place for Truth in which you spoke prophetically about the church's response to changing cultural trends. What are the most significant ways the cultural landscape has shifted since the mid-1990s?
First, the postmodern mood has deepened. Second, spirituality is now all-pervasive. Third, secularism lives a more difficult life. Of course, these all need unpacking. But it's the first of these changes that really explains the other two. The postmodern mood contracts all of reality into the self. This means reality is merely what someone perceives to be. This is then processed through a therapeutic filter. It's all about how we feel—how we're feeling this moment. Facebook was made for such a time as this! Older distinctions between true and false, good and bad are effectively erased. When Christian faith is then taken on board and submerged into this mindset, huge and damaging distortions happen to its truth.
You observe that "faith lives along the line between Christ and culture." How has your own faith, far from being weakened by the world, actually gained its "sinews and strength" by engaging with it?
When I was younger, I never quite understood why there were so many warnings in the Bible. Now that I'm older, I know! The world is a dangerous place for Christian faith. And I'm not just thinking of the growing and serious persecutions of our time. I'm thinking of the power of the modern world to corrupt faith. In fact, while faith is growing in Africa, South America, and Asia, it's receding—even disappearing—in the West. There is a reason for that. Living faithfully before God amid the world's noise, clamor, deceits, and rootlessness is not easy. But that challenge, as nothing else, pushes us to look for what is real, dismiss cheap solutions, develop internal toughness, and think afresh about what it means to follow Christ. I've found it's when we are out in the deep ocean, when the waves are high and threatening, that we learn our deepest lessons about God, his providence, and his grace.
As you envision the evangelical church in the days and years ahead, what gives you the most cause for concern and what the most cause for hope?
I'm most concerned about the local church. The experiments in "doing church" in recent years have been an unmitigated disaster. Many people today are drifting away from the church. They're calculating that the time and effort put into going isn't sufficiently rewarded by what's taken away. The days when people felt obligated to go, come what may, are fast receding.
What gives me most hope is that I think the evangelical world which came out of the post-war renewal of the 1950s and 1960s has run its course. We are now seeing a much more serious kind of evangelical belief just beginning to emerge and replace it—one that's more theological and more impatient with the culturally compromised forms evangelicalism has produced. In these young shoots, I find great encouragement.

Do What We Are Called to Do

Henri Nouwen Meditation:  Be Yourself

Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, or even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty, ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now.

We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do. Be yourself!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

But the Spirit of God ...

Ray Ortlund post:  All that matters

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  2 Timothy 1:7
“We must think of suffering in a new way, we must face everything in a new way.  And the way in which we face it all is by reminding ourselves that the Holy Spirit is in us.  There is the future, there is the high calling, there is the persecution, there is the opposition, there is the enemy.  I see it all.  I must admit also that I am weak, that I lack the necessary powers and propensities.  But instead of stopping there . . . I say, ‘But the Spirit of God is in me.  God has given me his Holy Spirit.’ . . . What matters . . . is not what is true of us but what is true of Him.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids, 1965), page 100.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let God be God

Excerpt from Don Carson post: Genesis 13; Matthew 12; Nehemiah 2; Acts 12


The lesson of these radically different experiences is one that we must learn again and again: God’s servants do not have the same gifts, the same tasks, the same success, or the same degree of divine intervention. It is partly a matter of gifts and calling; it is partly a matter of where we fit into God’s unfolding redemptive purposes. Has he placed us in times of declension, for example, or of revival; of persecution, or of major advance? Let God be God; let all his servants be faithful.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Love So Amazing

Jon Bloom post: Love Is Not a Verb

Two weeks ago, I encouraged us all to make a 2014 resolve to “pursue love” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Based on the following statements by Jesus, I would say that love is the most important thing to pursue this year.
The greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
However, we must be clear on what love actually is or else we will find ourselves lost in the pursuit of it and lose our resolve.

Love Is Not a Verb

John Mayer’s catchy song captures the way many people end up defining love: “Love Is a Verb.” The problem is that’s not true. Love is not a verb.
Now, I know what Mayer’s getting at. He means that lip-only love isn’t love. Love is displayed by action. That is true. The Apostle John agrees when he says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
But it’s still a massive and potentially dangerous oversimplification. If we reduce love to a verb, we will miss love completely. Making love a verb will likely make us Pharisees. Because just like you can talk loving without really loving, you can act loving without really loving. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “if I give away all I have and deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). We can look like we’re fulfilling 1 John 3:18 and still not love.
To understand love correctly, we must see that love is a noun that necessarily produces verbs.

Love So Amazing, So Divine

Let’s turn to the “Apostle of Love” for help with this:
  • “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  • “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
“God is love”: By saying this, the Apostle John is pointing us to the origin of love. In the previous verse he wrote, “love is from God” (1 John 4:7). True love is a part of and comes from the most beautiful, most valuable, most satisfying Treasure that exists: God.
“God so loved the world, that”: “That” is a very important word in this sentence. It was God’s love (noun) for his Trinitarian glory and for the Bride he determined to purchase for his Son that moved him to send (verb) his Son to the cross.
“By this we know love”: True love is revealed in Jesus’s death on the cross. He laid his life down for us “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2) in glorifying his Father (John 17:1), receiving glory from his Father (John 17:5), and the full eternal joy of his redeemed Bride (John 15:11). That’s what love looks like.
The most helpful single sentence definition of love I have found is from chapter four of John Piper’s book, Desiring God: “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others” (119).
Love is not the action of meeting others’ needs; it is the motive of the action. True love cherishes God supremely as the supreme Treasure and therefore wants others to also cherish the supreme Treasure and be eternally happy.
God is love, and love is from God. Therefore, loving others is doing whatever it takes for them to have as much of God as they can.

Demands My Soul, My Life, My All

This has huge implications. It means that true love can’t exist apart from God.
Anything that looks like love that we do for others — being patient, kind, not boastful or irritable or resentful, giving away our possessions, even martyrdom (1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 3)—that isn’t done for God’s glory and with a desire that others may taste and see that God is good (Psalm 34:8) is not true love. Godless love is a hollow shell, a love that has lost its soul. Godless love is sin (Romans 14:23).
It makes you catch your breath, doesn’t it? How often is your “love” sin? O how wonderful is the precious gospel! Jesus fulfilled the greatest commandments for us sinful lovers! There is therefore now no condemnation for us if we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
But, if you’re like me and see the frequent hollow sinfulness of your love in light of Biblical love, you’ll realize that this whole “pursuing love” thing is a much deeper issue than we first thought.
And the remedy is far more than us trying to do more verbs. We need a deeper transformation, a profound reordering of our souls’ affections. And this only happens by looking at the glory of the great noun until we delight in him more than anything else.
So that’s where pursuing love begins: look at the noun. Dive into the greatest commandment before getting consumed in the second. In the long run, because of the verbs it will produce, this is the most loving thing we can do this year.

Where to Start

Essential: Read deeply and slowly the New Testament this year.