Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Will Complain Yet Praise

 Scott Hubbard post:  Learn How to Be Brought Low

You don’t need to be anyone special to know what it means to be brought low.
You don’t need to be Job to know that God gives and takes away (Job 1:21). You just need to know the heartsickness of hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12), or the bitterness of solitary pain (Proverbs 14:10), or the ache of God’s seeming silence (Psalm 13:1). In other words, anyone with a pulse knows what it means to be brought low.
But can we stand up, square our shoulders, and say with the apostle Paul, “I know how to be brought low” (Philippians 4:12)?
Can we say, “I know how to face financial disaster,” or “I know how to be betrayed,” or “I know how to endure years of chronic pain”? The words stick in my throat.

School of Faithful Suffering

There was a time when Paul didn’t know how to be brought low. We know that because he says a verse earlier, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
There was a time when Paul didn’t know how to give thanks from the dirt floor of a prison cell. But God taught him (Philippians 1:3–5). There was a time when he didn’t know how to rejoice when others in ministry stabbed him in the back. But God taught him (Philippians 1:17–18). There was a time when he didn’t know how to gaze at the blade of Caesar’s sword and say, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” But God taught him (Philippians 1:21).
And God can teach us. So, let’s take a seat in this bittersweet classroom and learn, with Philippians as our study guide, three lessons in being brought low.

1. God works wonders in the low places.

When Paul drafted his plan to evangelize the known world, he surely didn’t write at the top, “Get stuck in prison.” We can safely assume a jail cell didn’t fit neatly in his five-year personal ministry goals or church-planting strategies.
But it fit into God’s. And at some point, shackled to a Roman prison guard, Paul realized as much. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12–13).
Paul’s imprisonment did not sabotage God’s plan to advance the gospel. Prison was God’s plan to advance the gospel. And the same is true for us. Being brought low may ruin our plans, but not God’s better, wiser, kinder plans for us. If we will learn how to be brought low, we will one day testify, “I want you to know, brothers, that this bankruptcy has really served to free me from money’s stranglehold.” Or, “I want you to know that this betrayal has really taught me how to forgive.” Or, “I want you to know that this sickness has fueled my hope for heaven like nothing else.”
It’s okay if you’re still too low to look back and chart the sweep of God’s good purposes over the expanse of your sorrow. But while you’re there, remember this, on the testimony of Scripture and a thousand saints: God works wonders when he brings us low.

2. Jesus knows the low places.

Perhaps the most painful part of being brought low is the loneliness. Even the most faithful comforters cannot plumb the depths of our sorrows, or always speak the right word in the right tone, or discern our ever-changing needs. But there is one who has promised, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). And he is one who knows the low places.
For us, being brought low is usually a passive experience. We’re thrown, dragged, and kicked into this pit; we don’t jump in ourselves. Who would choose this grief?
Jesus would. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7).
Jesus traveled from the highest place to the lowest place on purpose. He left the praises of angels to face the scorn of men. He left the happiness of heaven to feel the horror of Gethsemane. He left the right hand of his Father to endure the forsakenness of the cross.
Jesus has seen every shade of sorrow, heard every tone of grief, and tasted every flavor of pain. So, as Zach Eswine writes, “When we search for someone, anyone, to know what it means to walk in our shoes, Jesus emerges as the preeminent and truest companion to our afflictions” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, 85).
The time will come when we’ll sit in the bright light of hindsight, and praise will cascade from our mouths in fountains. But until then, we are not walking this trackless waste alone. We have a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and he leads our way.

3. God will raise you up from the low places.

But Jesus does more than comfort and console when he meets us in our pain. He also promises, with all authority in heaven and on earth, that we will not stay there.
Jesus embraced a lowly station, and he submitted to the lowliest death humans have devised — “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) — but he did not stay low, and he did not stay dead. He rose up from his humiliation in a blaze of resurrection glory, and took his seat in the highest place, receiving from his Father “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
And now this King of heaven pledges to all who are his that he will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). Jesus’s living, glorified, death-conquering body declares that the low places do not last forever, that the grief of the tomb gives way to Easter gladness. Whereas God’s wonder-working power (lesson one above) assures us that he is doing good things right now that will bear fruit for this life, his promise to raise us up guarantees that one day we will be done with pain altogether. We will be done with being brought low.
When Jesus breathes life into your lowly body and raises it up in glory, you can be sure it’ll be the end to everything else that’s broken. Your poverty will turn to riches, your heartache to healing, your loneliness to steadfast love. You’ll finally gain Christ himself (Philippians 1:21–233:8). You’ll bow and sing beneath his lordship (Philippians 2:10–11). You’ll know the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10).
Your citizenship does not lie under this shadow of sadness, but in the bright skies of heaven, from which “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Grieve and Give Thanks

Those who know how to be brought low do not play the stoic, as if these lessons could shield us from the stabs of our sorrows. Instead, we move forward in faith, learning to let joy and sorrow mingle together in the same heart, learning what it means to feel, and speak, and act in a way that is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
We are not sorrowful only, as if this low valley has swallowed all that is high and lovely and good. Nor do we only rejoice, as if the valley is not really a dreadful place after all. No, we grieve and give thanks. We sob and we sing. We say with George Herbert, in his poem “Bittersweet,”
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made


Don Carson Deuteronomy 26Psalms 117 — 118Isaiah 53Matthew 1
WHEN I WAS A BOY, a plaque in our home was inscribed with the words "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Apart from the change from "hath" to "has," similar words are preserved in the NIV of Psalm 118:24.

My father gently applied this text to his children when we whined or complained about little nothings. Was the weather too hot and sticky? "This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Were the skies pelting rain, so we could not go out to play? "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." What a boring day (or place, or holiday, or visit to relatives)! "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Sometimes the words were repeated with significant emphasis: "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

It is not that Dad would not listen to serious complaints; it is not that Scripture does not have other things to say. But every generation of Christians has to learn that whining is an affront against God's sovereignty and goodness.
But the text must first be read in its context. Earlier the psalmist expresses his commitment to trust in God and not in any merely human help (Ps. 118:8-9), even though he is surrounded by foes (Ps. 118:10). Now he also discloses that his foes include "the builders" (Ps. 118:22) — people with power within Israel. These builders were quite capable of rejecting certain "stones" while they built their walls — and in this case the very stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. In the first instance this stone, this capstone, is almost certainly a reference to a Davidic king, perhaps to David himself. The men of power rejected him, but he became the capstone.

Moreover, this result was not achieved by brilliant machination or clever manipulation. Far from it: "the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (Ps. 118:23). In his own day Isaiah portrays people who make a lie their refuge while rejecting God's cornerstone (Isa. 28:15-16). The ultimate instance of this pattern is found in Jesus Christ, rejected by his own creatures, yet chosen of God, the ultimate building-stone, and precious (Matt. 21:42; Rom. 9:32-33; Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8) — a "stone" disclosed in all his true worth by his resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:10-11). Whether in David's day or in the ultimate fulfillment, this marvelous triumph by God calls forth our praise: This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

God Is Happy

Tony Reinke:  The Joy of the Lord Is Your Strength

“I think it’s fair to say that many Christians don’t believe God is happy.” It’s an insight from Randy Alcorn, in his book Happiness. “If we did believe it, wouldn’t we be happier?”
It’s not that Christians don’t want God to be happy, it’s just that we are slow to understand the theology that God is always, essentially, and completely happy. We may believe that he is sometimes happy — that makes sense to us. But is God always, essentially, and completely happy at the core of his being? 
That is a question that we have a hard time understanding, and one of the most common questions we get in the Ask Pastor John inbox: If God is so happy, why does he seem so angry in the Bible?
It’s a legitimate question for us to deal with, but under the surface it reveals our weird theological agnosticism about God’s happiness. How we answer the question will determine everything about how we view the Christian life — and how we search for holiness.
If we do not embrace the happiness of God, we jeopardize three precious realities in our own lives.

1. Your joy rests on God’s joy.

In a fallen world, cursed and made vain at so many points, we are fundamentally unhappy and prone to long bouts with unhappiness. We are made “happy” by having stuff, getting gifts, or feeling like we belong in a group.
In stark contrast, God is happy within himself. As Aquinas said so clearly, “God is happiness by his essence: for he is happy not by acquisition or participation of something else, but by his essence. On the other hand, men are happy by participation.”
We read our acquired happiness onto God (“God will finally be happy when X, Y, and Z all go his way”). We think God is merely happy by participation — just like us.
But God is happiness. Joy is fundamental to his triune nature. To find God is to find the fountain of all joy, so beautifully and simply put by Augustine: “Following after God is the desire of happiness; to reach God is happiness itself.” We participate in joy when we reach the essence of all joy: God himself.
Or take it from one of the most careful theologians of our age: “God is essentially blessed and happy” (Richard Muller, 3:382).
Yes, thank you for all these quotes, but please show me texts, you ask. 
The foundation for this point is laid in 1 Timothy 1:11, where Paul extols “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” God is essentially blessed. His blessedness — his happiness — is central to his glory. This text shows us that God’s expressive glory is essentially linked to his inner joy (The Joy Project, 116–119). God’s majesty is his radiating joy, and that joy is what he promises to us. His holiness and beauty attract the elect to him. God communicates his majesty as beams that burn out from the solid, rocket-fuel radiance of his inter-Trinitarian joy. 
See this truth, and embrace it, and your life will find an eternity of joy-fuel for this life — and the next one.

2. God really does delight in you.

When we assume that God is fundamentally angry, and simultaneously know that we are nothing special — not unique or extraordinary in our service — we cannot believe how on earth (or in heaven) the God of the universe would sing over us his song of delight (Zephaniah 3:17). 
How can a holy God delight in me?
It was a preacher named Henry Donald Maurice Spence (1836–1917) who made a point I cannot forget: “God is so joyous that he finds joy even in us.”
Let that land for a moment. God’s song of joy over his justified children is not merely the sum of the joy we attract from him; it’s also the multiplication of his abundant joy exponentially expressing itself out over us. Joyful people more easily express joy, just as God delights to rejoice over his children, because he is essentially joyful.

3. The happiness of God is the strength you need.

The text on this point is a familiar one, but one we don’t stop to think about more carefully. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Whether the “joy of the Lord” here refers mainly to the joy he has in himself, or to the joy he gives us, we have no real hope of joy or strength unless God is happy (John 15:11).
God does not give us any joy outside of the joy he has in himself already. Which means, God’s happiness is our strength.
It’s a remarkable point delivered to Nehemiah and a people who were ravaged by war, weakened by insecurities, and constantly reminded of their own fragility. 
And this is where we find our strength: for life, for pain, for trials, for marriage, for child-raising, for missions, for everything. The strength we need for this life is found in the essential joy of God. 
You will never be spiritually stronger than your God is happy. God’s joy is our strength. Settle it biblically. God is essentially happy within himself.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Yea Justified ... O Blessed Thought



Not To Us

Psalm 115
1 Not to us, Lord, not to us
    but to your name be the glory,
    because of your love and faithfulness.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Show Me Your Glory God

David Mathis:  Prayer God Loves to Answer Most

God loves to answer the prayer “Show me your glory.” When your soul hungers, when your tank feels empty, when you’re running on fumes, when you open your Bible in the morning and ask for God’s help, a great go-to request is this simple, honest, humble plea: “Father, show me your glory.”
God made the world to show and share his glory. He made us in his image to reflect him in the world. But we will not fully reflect him if we haven’t yet stood in awe of him and enjoyed his beauty in our hearts. And our hearts cannot look on him in awe if we haven’t yet seen him with the eyes of our souls. Changed lives (and a changed world) begin with seeing glory. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
“God, show me your glory.” History hangs on him answering that request. And one great evidence of his work in a human soul is feeling, and then expressing, that longing.

Two Memorable Models

It’s not only a wise request to make for ourselves, but also for others. The apostle Paul prayed for Christians that “the eyes of your hearts [would be] enlightened” so they might know “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and . . . the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18–19). Instead of starting with your wife’s convenience, what if you prayed, “Show her your glory”? Along with your neighbor’s health, “God, show him your glory.” Even before your children’s safety, “Father, show them your glory.”
But don’t miss the opportunity to begin with yourself and pray often for God to show you his majesty. When we make this sacred and powerful request today, we do well to consider the two biblical figures who asked the question most memorably.

MOSES’S AUDACITY

First is Moses. Before leading God’s people up to the Promised Land, Moses wants to know more about God. Will he handle his stiff-necked, unworthy people with grace, or is it just a matter of time before he breaks forth in righteous anger against his people’s sin? Who is God most deeply? So, Moses asks, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God responds,
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19)
God will show his glory to Moses by putting his goodness on display. Something stronger than wrath, and higher than mere power, drives the heart of God with his chosen people. Most deeply, he is a God of grace and mercy.
The next morning God hides Moses in a cleft of the rock on the top of the mountain and draws near.
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7)
Moses has his glimpse into the heart of God. He bows in worship. He asks God to draw near to his people, pardon their iniquity, and make them his own (Exodus 34:8–9).

PHILIP’S FOLLY

God meets Moses’s audacious request with favor, but some fifteen centuries later, one of the Twelve receives a different answer to a very similar plea.
Philip said to [Jesus], “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:8–10)
Why does God honor Moses’s plea, while Jesus meets Philip’s with mild rebuke? Because now the glory of God is standing fully embodied in Philip’s presence, looking him in the eyes as he makes his misguided request. Does he not yet realize he already has seen more than Moses as he looks on the face of God himself and asks to see the Father?
Jesus’s gracious rebuke comes not because Philip had a sinful longing. It was good that he wanted to see the Father. It was admirable that, like Moses, he asked to see the glory. But the kind correction he needed, standing in the very presence of God himself in the person of his Son, was that his search to see the very glory of God had come to an end when he came to Jesus.

We Have Seen His Glory

God had said to Moses, “You cannot see my face” (Exodus 33:20). But now Philip was seeing God. He was looking on the glory. As John 1:14–18 reveals, what glory God hid from Moses, he now shows us in the person of his Son.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1416–18)
Jesus has made the Father known. Period. The person of Christ so truly and fully reveals God that the Gospel writer can say — with no need to nuance, condition, or qualify — “he has made him known.”

God’s Glory in Jesus’s Face

Jesus is “the [visible] image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Do you want to see God? Do you long to look upon his face? Where will we see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God”? Answer: “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Which means, the lowliest Christian already has seen more of God’s glory than Moses saw on the mountaintop.
Soon we will see Jesus with our physical eyes. “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). But for now, we look on his beauty with the eyes of our hearts. One day God will remake this world, and in that new heavens and new earth, there will be “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22). And get this: “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). Lamp, singular. Jesus, the Lamb, is the singular lamp from which streams the glory of God that gives light to the world to come. 
Jesus is not one lamp among many. He is the singular source of the light of the glory that illumines the world to come.

Where We Turn Next

God loves to answer the prayer “Show me your glory,” and he doesn’t leave us in the dark as to where we should turn our soul’s gaze to have our prayer answered. Once we pray this audacious, wise, and necessary plea, we’re not left clueless as to where to focus next.
When we ask God today to see his glory, he may answer our requests in countless ways. He may show us some attribute of his character we’ve missed or minimized. He may open our eyes to his smile behind a frowning providence. He may meet some temporal need in a way that warms our soul and fills us with gratitude. He may give a relational breakthrough that was so long-standing that reconciliation seemed humanly impossible.
But the fullest response to our plea “Show me your glory” is to turn the eyes of our soul to Jesus. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). And our knowing the fullness of his answer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask. On the contrary, it inspires us to ask all the more.