Monday, September 29, 2014

Praying for Strength

Excerpt from Jon Bloom: Pray for the Strength That God Supplies


The biblical pattern of God strengthening his saints is this: God chooses a sinful, weak person to be his redeemed saint; God further weakens this saint through circumstantial and/or physical adversity; The saint is forced to trust God’s promises; God proves himself faithful to his promises; The saint’s faith is strengthened and hope abounds because his/her faith doesn’t rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5).
This pattern is woven all through the Bible. As soon as you see it, you see it everywhere. Perhaps the text that most clearly demonstrates this pattern is what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:
[7] So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. [8] Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. [9] But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [10] 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.
That is a strange statement: “when I am weak, then I am strong.” What did Paul mean? He meant that through the loving discipline of God’s appointed thorn — his weakening agent — Paul was forced to “rely not on [himself] but on God who raises the dead” and set his hope fully on God (2 Corinthians 1:9–10). Paul came to understand that this weakening agent became a strengthening agent in the hand of God.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our Joy and God's Glory

Excerpt from John Piper: Scripture: The Kindling of Christian Hedonism


Third, the third thing to clarify in our definition of Christian Hedonism is the foundational conviction that the reason God designed us to find maximum pleasure in him because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
In other words, God made a world in which our supreme jubilation and his supreme glorification happen in the same experience. They are one. They are not separate. They are not in competition. God did not make a world in which we must choose between our supreme happiness and his supreme glory. In fact, he made a world in which we dare not choose between them. Choosing between them is blasphemy.
Trying to choose my supreme happiness over God’s supreme glory is a blasphemous denial that only in him is my supreme joy found. And trying glorify him without the pursuit of supreme pleasure in him is a blasphemous denial that my heart’s affections are essential to worship — a denial that my affections for God are not essential in making much of God.

Boast In This

23 Thus says the Lord“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 9

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Arrangements God Is Making

Don Carson post: 2 Samuel 22; Galatians 2; Ezekiel 29Psalm 78:1-39


One of the most intriguing “behind-the-scenes” reasonings is found in Ezekiel 29:17-20. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is going to succeed against Tyre, but it will be a hard campaign and with little profit. So God will give Egypt to Babylon, in part to pay off Babylon for its long and costly years against Tyre. “I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ezek. 29:20). Not for a moment should one think that any of the nations acted out of conscious obedience to the Lord (cf. Isa. 10:5ff!). But the Lord is no one’s debtor, and these are the arrangements that Almighty God is making.

We would not know these things apart from revelation, of course. But they warn us against pontificating too loudly about what is going on in our day, when we see so little of the big picture as to what God himself is doing.

Praiseworthiness of God

John Piper:  Why Are You on the Earth?

George Herbert’s poem called “Praise” contains a verse that has been taped to my computer monitor since I first read it years ago.
Of all the creatures both in sea and land
Only to man Thou has made known Thy ways,
And put the pen alone into his hand,
And made him secretary of Thy praise.
This is the answer to our question. Why is man on the earth? He is here to be the secretary of the praise of God.
To which our querying minds say, But do not “the heavens tell the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1), and not just man? Are not “the things that have been made” the secretary of his divine attributes (Romans 1:20)? Do not the “the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord” (Psalm 96:12), and “the rivers clap their hands” (Psalm 98:8)? Do not “the mountains and the hills break forth into singing” (Isaiah 55:12)?
Yes. They do.
But “there is no speech, nor are there words. Their voice is not heard” (Psalms 19:3). This is not the work of the secretary. The work of the secretary is to transcribe the song of the mountains, the clapping of the rivers, and the singing of the forest, and the telling of the heavens.
Man is here to interpret and transcribe the praises of God.
The singing trees are not the secretary. The psalmist who told us what the trees are saying is the secretary. The blog writer who quotes the psalmist is the secretary. The mother who points her child to the tree and speaks of God is the secretary.
“Man is here to interpret and transcribe the praises of God.”
For this, every human being was created. Being in the image of God does not mean being a dumb image (Genesis 1:27). We are talking images. We are images who write. And if the point of being an image is to image (which I consider self-evident), then we are to image in all the ways we are gifted to image.
And what we are to image is the original. Images are images of something. We are images of God. He is the original. And our imaging is to be true and clear. That is, every person is meant to image the praiseworthiness of God. We are to be the secretaries of his praise.
And if we fail in this secretarial calling, Herbert says, in this same poem,
He that to praise and laud Thee doth refrain
Doth not refrain unto himself alone,
But robs a thousand who would praise Thee fain,
And doth commit a world of sin in one.
Therefore, let us open our mouths and take up our pens and point the whole world to the praiseworthiness of God. This is why we are here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

More Constant Than Our Circumstances

Bethany at 843 Acres: A Timeless Riddle

M’CheyneEze 26 (txt | aud, 3:47 min)
Ps 74 (txt | aud, 2:29 min)
Highlighted: Ps 74
Riddle: Epicureanism denied the existence of an omnipotent and loving God based on the existence of evil in the world. The Riddle of Epicurus was this: “God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak—and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful—which is equally foreign to god’s nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?” [1]
Confusion: When Asaph looked upon the ruins of Jerusalem, he had similar questions. He knew the character of God and his covenant promises, but he could not understand how God could abandon his people and allow Jerusalem and its temple to be destroyed: “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet … Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?” [2].
Person: It is not necessarily sinful to ask such questions. The heart can trust God and still be confused when it looks at the world. Yet we understand what Asaph could not—that the center of worship is not in a place, but in a person. Ultimately, his prayer was not answered by philosophical reasoning, but by Jesus Christ. The cross says to the Riddle of Epicurus, “The greatest ‘bad thing’ in history was the brutal crucifixion of my innocent Son. Yet I allowed it to happen—not because I am spiteful, but because I am love. You may not always know the reasons behind all I do or allow, but I promise this:  ‘For those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.’” [3]
Prayer: Lord, When we look at the world around us, we often question how your promises can be true. Yet we stake our lives on them for you are more constant than our circumstances. We confess that, like Asaph, we have incomplete information. Let us not judge you with feeble sense, but instead trust you at your word with eyes of faith. Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dogwood Winter: Weathering Cancer with Hope

A book written from my mother's blog about her struggle with cancer and her faith in God.

“Dogwood winter,” a southern phrase, describes a brief period in spring when icy weather returns and coincides with the dogwood blooms.
Beverly Grayson struggled for eight years with cancer. Midway, she began journaling online where candid posts revealed thoughts about illness, family, Tennessee, and even recipes. She dreamed of whittling her posts to book length to encourage others that God sees, God knows, and God comforts.
With conviction, wisdom, and humor, she shares personal stories and 365 Bible verses that comforted her. Beverly left a legacy of insights for sufferers and families who face the upheaval of cancer. She will help you—no matter the outcome—live from faith to faith, from scan to scan, with hope intact.

We Believe

God Is Faithful

You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Ps 73: 25-28

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Need to See

Jonathan Parnell post: Don't You Know Jesus Is Real

The apostle John shows us a vision in Revelation 5.
There is a Lamb standing as though it has been slain. It has seven horns and seven eyes — eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. It goes forward and takes a scroll from the right hand of him who is seated on the throne. And when this happens, in that moment, four living creatures and twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb. They are each holding harps, and also bowls of incense that represent the prayers of the saints. They all fall down, and then they begin to sing,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10)
Then, from around the throne and the sound of these voices comes the sound of other voices. Angels start singing. Myriads and myriads of angels. Thousands of thousands of angels. They are all singing now, loudly, powerfully, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).
And then, beyond the four creatures and the elders and the angels, every single creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea exclaims, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).

Two Questions

The scene is too much for us. It is so holy, so deep, that it feels almost strange to imagine such through the black ink of English letters on paper. But we do. We can.
We can read John’s vision. He wrote it down for us so that we would read it. He wants us to see what he saw. And when we do, when we read these words, there are two central questions we must face. There are two things we must encounter before we turn to the next chapter.
  1. Did you see what this says about Jesus?
  2. Do you believe that he is real?

The Need to See

Did you see it? I don’t mean whether you read the words, or even if you imagined the scene. Did you see what it says about Jesus? That there is one worthy — the Lion of Judah, the Root of David (Revelation 5:5). That he was slain, and that by his blood he ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9). That the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood has also made us a kingdom and priests to our God (Revelation 5:101:5). Do you see the honor given him? That he is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12). That to him belongs blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever (Revelation 5:13). Did you see that?
Maybe you did. I hope you did. But now there is the second question. Do you believe it? Do you believe that the Jesus described in these wonderful words isreal?

Very Real

Apocalyptic genre aside, incredible vision put on hold, do you believe that the Jesus here referred to is a real person? Do you think that one so worthy of worship and glory is as real as the realest object you can put your hands on? Can you picture, as a possible scenario, you putting your arms around the shoulders of this man? Can you feel what it would be like to hug him like you would hug your dad? That you could embrace him? That with these arms, our arms, my arms, I might pull him close to me and press my ear next to his? Do you believe that you could, with your fingers, trace the blistered scars on his hands, and then, as clear as you’ve ever heard anything before, listen as he speaks to you? He says something to you. He looks at you with his eyes, and he speaks to you. He says your name. He does. He says that he loves you. He says that he has all authority in heaven and earth and that he’ll never, ever leave you.
Do you believe he is real like that?
Because if you do — if you see the way Jesus is described in Revelation 5, and if you believe that this Jesus is real — then what is there that we would not do for him?

Fearless in Him

I am convinced that if we could see him here, if we could grasp a fraction of what it means to have all power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing, and if we believe that he is real, so real that we could touch him, hear him, sit next to him, eat a meal with him — if we’d know him and believe him like this — then there is no endeavor for his sake for which we’d be too afraid.
So there are nearly 7,000 unreached peoples on the earth — Jesus is real. Let’s go.
So the secularized West needs the revival of a multiplying church planting movement — Jesus is real. Come with us.
Spend three afternoons a week to mentor troubled youth in the inner-city — Jesus is real. Sign me up.
Pastor a small church in rural America that has terrible internet bandwidth — Jesus is real. Bury me in the parish cemetery.
Sacrifice time and resources so that strangers might hear the gospel — Jesus is real. Show me where.
Do you see what these verses say about Jesus? Don’t you know that he is real?

Bless God!

A terrible beauty, O God,
    streams from your sanctuary.
It’s Israel’s strong God! He gives
    power and might to his people!
O you, his people—bless God!

Ps 68:35 [Message]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Engagement and Holiness

Bethany post: 843 Acres: Evangelical Churches in NYC

Praise: This weekend, Redeemer celebrates its 25th anniversary. Over the years, God has seen fit not only to grow Redeemer, but also to begin at least 100 churches in center city, including Trinity Grace, Apostles, Metropolitan Faith, Dwell, and more. For these blessings, we sing, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name.” [1] With praise, though, there is caution.
History: In “Our Place in the Story,” Tim Keller briefly recounts the evangelical history of NYC. After highlighting how the evangelical awakening, which emphasized conversion through hearing the gospel proclaimed, affected the churches in the 1700s, Keller moves to the 1880s, when evangelical churches were unsure how to reach the new Catholic immigrants and were being superseded as social gathering places by the city itself.
Split: To stay relevant, the Protestant churches moved uptown and built stately buildings, like First Baptist at 79th and Brick Pres on Park Avenue. But the decline didn’t stop and, eventually, there was a split. The Presbyterians pursued Liberalism, relegating the preaching of the gospel and seeking conversion through “loving action, social reform, and education.” The Baptists pursued Fundamentalism, developing “a very combative stance toward the city” and focusing on “materialism and moral evils.”
Call: “In a short newsletter article,” Keller continues, “it is impossible to avoid over-generalization. Yet it is not hard to see that, by the second half of the 20th century, the old kind of Protestant evangelicalism—true to historic orthodox doctrine, yet also intellectually robust and socially engaged—was weak or vanished in New York City. And now it is growing back … However, we too face the issue of a culture that is not interested in what we have to say. How do we reach them? We must not make the same mistake again. We must not respond with either withdrawal nor with assimilation to the spirit of the age.”
Prayer: Lord, Although we see praises for your mighty works in Psalm 66, we also know that the people who saw those miracles—the turning the sea into dry land and the walking through the waters on foot—worshipped idols just three months later. Therefore, in light of our praise to you for your work in our city, we admit that we’re apt to forget you. May we love our city to life, as we cling to both engagement and holiness. Amen.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Even If

Vaneetha Rendall post: What If the Worst Happens?

I found myself growing fearful. Not a heart-stopping, all-encompassing fear, but the kind of constant gnawing that occurs when you look at the discouraging trends of the present and assume things will never change. When you think about the future and wonder, “What if the worst happens?”
What if.
I’ve spent a lifetime considering the “what ifs.” Those questions have a way of unsettling me, destroying my peace, leaving me insecure.
People in the Bible were uneasy about “what if” questions, too. When told to lead the Israelites, Moses asked God, “What if they don’t believe me?” Abraham’s servant asked about Isaac’s future wife, “What if the young woman refuses to come with me?” Joseph’s brothers asked, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us?” All of them wondered what would happen if circumstances went awry. Just like we do.
We all face a staggering array of “what ifs.” Some are minor issues while others have life-altering repercussions. What if my child dies? What if I get cancer? What if my spouse leaves me?
The uncomfortable truth is, any of those things could happen. No one is free from tragedy or pain. There are no guarantees of an easy life. For any of us. Ever.
I was considering this sobering reality a few months ago. Over the course of several days, I had brought numerous longings and requests before the Lord. I wanted them fulfilled. But the unthinkable question haunted me: What if my inmost longings are never met and my nightmares come true?
As I sat poring over my Bible, I was reminded of the questions I had wrestled with for decades. “Is God enough? If my deepest fears are realized, will he still be sufficient?” Each time those questions had come up in the past, I’d pushed them out of my mind. But this time, I knew I needed to face them.
I wondered: If my health spirals downward and I end up in an institution, will God be enough? If my children rebel and never walk closely with the Lord, will God be enough? If I never remarry and never feel loved by a man again, will God be enough? If my ministry doesn’t flourish and I never see fruit from it, will God be enough? If my suffering continues and I never see the purpose in it, will God be enough? I wish I could have automatically said, “Yes, of course God will be sufficient.” But I struggled. I didn’t want to give up my dreams, surrender those things that were dear to me, relinquish what I felt entitled to.
I reflected on my unilateral unwritten contract with God, where I promise to do my part if he fulfills my longings. I reluctantly admitted that part of my desire to be faithful was rooted in my expectation of a payback. Didn’t God owe me something?
Reluctantly, I opened my hands, filled with my dreams, and surrendered them to him. I didn’t want to love God for what he could do for me. I wanted to love God for who he is. To worship him because he is worthy.
God’s presence overwhelmed me as I relinquished my expectations. He reminded me that I have something far better than a reassurance that my dreaded “what ifs” won’t happen. I have the assurance that even if they do happen, he will be there in the midst of them. He will carry me. He will comfort me. He will tenderly care for me. God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life. But he does promise that he will be there in the midst of our sorrows.
“God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life.”
In the Bible, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not guaranteed deliverance. Just before Nebuchadnezzar delivered them to the fire, they offered some of the most courageous words ever spoken. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it . . . But even if he does not, we want you to know that we will not serve your gods . . . ” (Daniel 3:17–18).
Even if.
Even if the worst happens, God’s grace is sufficient. Those three young men faced the fire without fear because they knew that whatever the outcome, it would ultimately be for their good and for God’s glory. They did not ask “what if” the worst happened. They were satisfied knowing that “even if” the worst happened, God would take care of them.
Even if.
Those two simple words have taken the fear out of life. Replacing “what if” with “even if” is one of the most liberating exchanges we can ever make. We trade our irrational fears of an uncertain future for the loving assurance of an unchanging God. We see that even if the worst happens, God will carry us. He will still be good. And he will never leave us.
“Even if the worst happens, God will carry us.”
Habakkuk models this exchange beautifully. Though he had pleaded with God to save his people, he closes his book with this exquisite “even if” . . .
Even if the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes,
even if the olive tree fails to produce
and the fields yield no food,
even if the sheep pen is empty
and the stalls have no cattle—
Even then,
I will be happy with the Lord.
I will truly find joy in God, who saves me. (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

God - You're My God!

So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
    drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
    My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
    My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

Ps 63: 2-4

Friday, September 12, 2014

In God I Trust

Bethany post at 843 Acres: Persecutions by ISIS

M’CheyneEze 15 (txt | aud, 1:14 min)
Ps 56-57 (txt | aud, 2:35 min)
Highlighted: Ps 56-57
ISIS: In Iraq, ISIS is systematically slaughtering Christians and other religious minorities. Amnesty International now describes northern Iraq as “blood-soaked killing fields.” How are we to view these persecutions and atrocities?
Persecution: David was no stranger to persecution. In Psalms 56 and 57, he was running from Saul, who wanted to kill him because God had anointed him as king in Saul’s place. He described Saul and his 3,000 men in Psalm 57: “My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts—the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” [1] In Psalm 56, he wrote, “All day long, they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.” [2]
Trust: How did David face these life-threatening circumstances? First, he acknowledged his real emotions: “When I am afraid …” and cried out in lament: “You have … put my tears in your bottle.” [3] Then he looked up: “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” [4] Many years later, Jesus echoed David’s thoughts: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [5] In other words, both David and Jesus were saying that there are things more valuable than safety—namely, being in relationship with God.
Prayer: Lord, We do not pretend to understand the fears and emotions of our brothers and sisters abroad, as they face death daily in the hands of their oppressors. Yet we long to pray for them. Therefore, we plead for you to give them great assurance of faith that they belong to you so that they may not faint nor falter in your service, but go through it resolutely and bravely. Lift your countenance upon your people that they may not repent of being called yours. And make your name great. As Diocletian, who greatly persecuted the church, observed, “the more he sought to blot out the name of Christ, the more it became legible.” And as David pled for justice to be done against his oppressors, we, too, pray for justice: “For their crime will they escape? In wrath, cast down the peoples, O God!” [6] Amen.