Thinking Thankfully

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Today is Thanksgiving and with all holidays, for some folks today brings joy and anticipation (can you say cranberry sauce and stuffing? Football? Seeing family, throwing around little nephews, and perhaps even a nap?) and for others it brings none of those things in parenthesis and maybe even sadness and despair.

Yet…God’s Word instructs us to be thankful always.  Always.  #Ow.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

How important is it to be thankful?

Erwin Lutzer writes that “Giving thanks changes everything…in fact, thanksgiving is a game changer.”  Why?  He provides two reasons:

  1. Being thankful honors God by reaffirming his sovereignty.  When we thank him in all things, we admit that he is really and truly in control of all things.  Yes, even the bad stuff, and he is able to redeem and restore by the power of the gospel.
  2. Being thankful changes us.  It builds faith in our hearts; the weight of our burdens are God’s not ours.  It gives us a new perspective, if frees us to see difficulties as a part of a larger purpose. It also frees us up to worship God, and reminds us of his goodness, love, and providence.

To echo Lutzer’s last point – thankfulness to God gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto God.  In this world we will all have hardship, but even in those times the answer is not to be full of self-pity and self-focus, but to cast our gaze outside of ourselves to the one who is able to redeem and restore all for his glory and our good.

In thankfulness, we make a conscious decision to thank God for all he has done for us in Christ – we take an axe to the root of unbelief that God isn’t truly good, or he isn’t truly for us, or truly not in control…and we find the strength to climb out of whatever hole we are in, and kill sin and it’s temptations with the grace of the gospel.

Dark Valleys

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It’s been one of those times where we see lots of suffering around us.  People passing away, marriages stuck in cycles of pain and disfunction, hopes and dreams not coming to fruition, chronic illness and pain not getting better, people reaping the consequences of very bad decisions, innocent children caught in the crossfire…the list goes on.

I found on my desk a copy of Be Still My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering and have read through a few pages.  One in particular struck me it was Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter titled “Dark Valleys.”

We will all indeed go through dark valleys, but in those times we need to remember the truth is that if we are trusting in our Savior Jesus, he will lead us and he is there with us – even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

What is the greatest evidence of this?  The gospel of course.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32 ESV)

Ferguson writes – “I cannot imagine living the Christin life on any other basis that this. If the Father loves me so much that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and to my blessing. 

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fears may become realities. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? What I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Rom 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold anything that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?

Drawn Away

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Have you worshiped a carved image lately?  Yeah. Me neither. When we think about idolatry we sometimes can go to one of two extremes – one way is to think that it doesn’t relate to us at all, because let’s face it I’m not going to bow down and prostrate myself before a piece of wood.  The other way is to make everything an idol and go on an extended morbid introspective idol hunt.  Perhaps we classify things as idols that aren’t really idols and all the while our idol hunt draws us farther into us, instead of leading us out of ourselves towards the one true God.

In Deuteronomy 4 we see Moses big introduction to his summary of the law given previously.  In 4:15-31 he cautions them specifically about idols.  Telling them to “watch yourselves very carefully.”  (v15)  But what does Moses say an idol is?  4:19 provides a pretty good definition.

“And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deuteronomy 4:19 ESV)

Three things we note about an idol here:

  1. Idols draw us away.  What is pulling at our spirits today to give more to them?  As time, energy, emotions are all limited, if something is pulling at us to give more it usually requires that we give less of something else.  Husbands fall victim to this sometimes in the “I am the provider” perspective.  Yes, we are to provide for our families, but at what cost to our families?  There are countless other examples.
  2. Idols require service.  We can short-circuit our understanding here is we simply think we have to bow down to worship something.  Worship = heart felt service.  What or whom are we serving?  A great example here is other people’s opinions.  To keep ourselves high up on someone else’s scale takes a lot of work!  Did I say the right thing?  Wear the right thing?  What will the other person think of me now?  We are serving the fear of man.
  3. Idols are common to everyone. Our verse says that Israel is to watch themselves carefully to not be drawn away and serve the things that “God has allotted to all the peoples under heaven.”  These can be good things.  Work is a good thing.  Positive relationships with others are good things.  But those things are not supposed to terminate on themselves, they are supposed to lead us to worship the giver of those things – God himself!

So idol worship is far more commonplace than we may have imagined.  What is the hope?  How do we grow and change?  Moses tells us!  It’s to give ourselves totally to the only one worthy of worship.  “But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV).  

God is near, he is not far.  And even though we all deserve wrath and judgment he offers us mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus, His Son.  We receive this by repentance (turning from false worship) and faith (trusting in Jesus with every bit of our lives.).  A wise pastor once noted “We worship our way into sin, and we will worship our way out of sin.”  We kill idol worship by worshiping the true God.

What is drawing us away today? Asking for more service?

 

Going Beyond

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In Matthew 5:43-48 is another well known passage where Jesus is teaching on loving your enemies.  Matt 5:44 says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Bonhoffer in “Cost of Discipleship” clarifies enemies are those who have hostility against us, not necessarily those against who we have hostility against.   How we treat people in those situations says a lot about where our hope is based and how much we understand we have been loved by God in Jesus.

v47  is pretty key in understanding this concept – “and if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?”

Christians are called to go beyond what others do and say.  We are called to be different.  Called to stand out.  In all situations, we are called to glorify God.  This is different, “extraordinary.”  The temptation is to blend in, to not stand out from others.  Yet we see from the Word of God that we are called to “do more.”  This isn’t an effort based system of earning God’s favor, but if you are disciple of Jesus you are already accepted by God.  Now, we work to go beyond the norm, we avoid sin, we love our enemies — because of who we are in Christ.

If we are truly living our lives according to God’s word – we will stand out.  Sometimes this will be hard, as anyone who desires to live a Godly life will be persecuted.  (2 Tim 3:12).  We are not promised an easy, financially prosperous, and healthy life – no matter what the false teachers on the “Preachers of LA” say.

But, what we do know, is that a life lived for God’s glory is the most fulfilled life that one can have, because we are walking in obedience to our Creator, and living a life of love, and in that is the blessing of growing in Christ and being more and more filled with the knowledge of Him as we go thru life.  Only in that is true peace and joy.

Seeking Joy and Trusting

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5, 6 ESV)

This is part of Psalm 13 where David is lamenting to God “How Long? Will you forget me forever?!” We’ve all been there, and as Chandler says if you haven’t, it just means you haven’t lived long enough. No one is immune to hard times when we feel alone and abandoned.

We see the resolve that David has – he has trusted in God’s covenant steadfast faithful love, an he will take joy in Gods salvation. On this side if history, we know that God has provided salvation in Jesus, so in our lives we should be rejoicing in God providing us Jesus.

That doesn’t stop our hearts from trying to find joy elsewhere, but whatever that is it is ultimately a joy thief, not a joy giver. Horton writes “the more passionately we search for happiness as and end to itself, the less happy we actually are.”

God created it this way. We need to find our joy and worth and value in God, not in other people or other things.

Psalm 13 rightly reminds us to trust in Gods love, rejoice in Gods salvation.

You Think He Doesn’t Know?

He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge— the Lord —knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath. (Psalm 94:9-11 ESV)

Sometimes I think we convince ourselves that God isn’t aware of what is going on. This verse says otherwise. In fact it takes it to a whole new level. Not only does he hear and see, but this text reminds us that he is the Creator of our very ears and eyes so of course he knows.

Not only that but he also rules over the world, all the nations. All knowledge we have us taught by him. When we rebel against him we actually are using the mind that God gave us to decide to not obey.

God knows even our deepest thoughts. That’s scary, as for me I have some pretty sinful thoughts. How does he still then love me? What does he think of me? If we are his adopted sons and daughters by faith in Jesus, he sees Jesus in us and by faith alone we stand justifies before him. Each day then is lived in grace as we grow, fail, grow some more, fail some more…yet always under the all knowing all powerful and all loving, eyes and ears of our Heavenly Father.

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The Things that Cannot Be Shaken

Japan-Earthquake_2155758bI spent some time in Hebrews 12-13 this morning.  So much good stuff in there, but what particularly grabbed me was Hebrews 12:18-28.   In the Old Testament, God spoke to Israel at Mt. Sinai and everything shook, they were terrified. That same God is speaking to us today, there is not two different Gods – and Old Testament God with an anger problem, and a kinder, gentler,  80’s feathered-back-hair “Jesus God” in the New Testament.  There is one God, in three persons, who is forever the same.   One day, God will shake the heavens and the earth,  and return to make all things new, to restore forever what sin has broken, to judge,  and to usher those who are his into our new “city of the living God.” (12:22)

The parallel is that in our lives, we can experience times when everything around us seems shaken.  I have a few close friends who are going thru such times now, and I’m certain I will be there someday as well.  No one is immune to such times – when everything we have known as stable for many years is upside down.  In these times, it is important to remember the message of this passage – there are things that cannot be shaken.  The shaking of our worlds can actually cause us to see more clearly those things.  In speaking of this passage, author Michael Horton in “The Gospel Driven Life” writes “Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, the Scriptures remind us, and only the kingdom that God is building will remain.”  Hebrews 12:27b says that they are shaken “in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain”  – there is a purpose to the times in our lives when everything is upside down – so that we may see more clearly that it is only God’s kingdom that will remain.  Sometimes, it takes everything falling down around us in order for us to see what is truly permanent.

So, what do we do in response to this?  Heb 12:25 says “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.”  God is still speaking today, right now.  God is speaking to you in these times, make a decision to turn from controlling your life, and turn over your life to live for God’s kingdom which cannot be shaken.  Our lives are meant to be lived in worship of God.  That doesn’t mean walking around singing worship music 24/7, that means turning from sin and toward God’s way in purity and truth and faith, in a healthy respect of who God is.

Hebrews 12:28-29 sums it up well –

“Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Words

As I was reading thru the book of James this AM, I was reminded of how many times in this book we are exhorted to keep a close eye on the words that come out of our mouths:

  1. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (1:19)
  2.  If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless (1:26)
  3. Speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:12-13)
  4. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.  If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot direct. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by man, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, an with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (3:2-12)
  5. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (4:11-12)
  6. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you many not be judged: behold, the Judge is standing at the door. (5:9)

The practicalities of this as a leader and Father, Husband are profound and severe – as I read a quote from Matthew Henry this week:

Sin is more easily learned from others than holiness

Preventing Drift

Psalm 130 reminds us of a stark truth

“if you, LORD should mark iniquities, who could stand?”

In other words, if God actually treated any of us like our sins really deserved we should be treated NONE of us are standing.

Here’s the but – “but with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” The astounding thing about Gods mercy and grace is that he offers us forgiveness. He does this so that others will see his grace and honor, revere, esteem him. (Or in Bible language ‘fear’ him)

God accomplishes this in Jesus, the work has already been done, what remains is to take that step of faith and to honor, revere, and esteem him with every area of our lives. To live a life of love for God and others, out of a grateful heart for his work in Jesus.

Verse 7-8 are good reminders, perhaps even one of those passages where because of Jesus, we can put our own names in it – “O, Mike, hope in the LORD. For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Mike from all his iniquities”.

We can never move on from this core message of the whole Bible, we must always keep it central – Gods redemptive plan in Jesus. We need to preach it to ourselves,
it central as our hope. As Hebrews 2:1 encourages us -“Therefore, we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. ”
We must also and proclaim this message to all – for there are many who think differently of God and are not aware of the simple pure truth of the Gospel.

Jesus in Judges

I read Judges 13 this morning and it kinda felt like I had never read it before.  It was like maybe little elves (spiritual elves, of course) came and added it to my Bible overnight. (C’mon…it could happen.)  It is a whole chapter – 25 verses – describing the encounter(s) of Samson’s parents with the angel of the LORD.

The account happens during yet another downward cycle of Israel in their rebellion and disobedience to God, they are being run over by the Philistines (again), but God is preparing to help them (again), despite their repeated rejection of Him. (again).   Don’t let the cycle of Judges blow past you either – our God is faithful – he works his plan.  We are like Israel – disobedient, prideful, doing what is right in our own eyes – and yet he offers us grace and redemption.

Like Abram/Sarai, Elizabeth/Zechariah, and Mary/Joseph the/an angel of the LORD appears and declares that a child will be born.  The angel of the LORD (if you ask Mark Driscoll, anytime we see “the” angel of the LORD it’s a Christophany – an appearance of Jesus himself) appears to Manoah, the father of Samson to announce this and give them instruction, the angel leaves. Manoah, wanting more information prays to God and asks that the angel return to teach them how to fulfill this mission and the angel returns.  After a little instruction (oddly enough to the mother, not about Samson),  the offer of a snack, and a little burnt offering the angel leaves.  Time goes by, Samson is born…end of chapter.  So what do we see?

  • God working his plan of redemption – I said it above but it bears repeating.  God’s plan cannot be stopped, he is working his plan to bring about redemption for all nations in Israel, a stubborn and rebellious people. (Hmm…sounds familiar)  Ultimately, this will be revealed to be thru Jesus.
  • Look at the diligence of Manoah – he asks God to have the angel return so that he can learn more in order to follow instructions exactly
  • Look at the faith of Manoah – note v12 and v17 “When your words come true…”  not “If…”  Do we have that kind of faith?
  • Look at the self-control and dedication required of Samson and his mother – Samson is to take a Narzirite vow – a temporary vow dedicating oneself to God involving several provisions, one of them being no alcohol.  This verse isn’t teaching it’s wrong to drink alcohol (though being drunk is clearly a sin), but rather look at the conditioning of the soul and spirit for a life devoted to God. God teaches big things through self-discipline with a spirit to honor Him.  Have you ever fasted?  Try it…you’ll see amazing things about your heart revealed…

Lastly, look at the reverence of Manoah – much like Isaiah, Manoah says that they are definitely dead because they saw God.  (If you ask me, I think this was an appearance of Jesus, as they refer to the angel as “God” and well…contrary to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell ya…Jesus IS God and that’s clear in many places in Scripture.)   We are human, sinful, selfish, rebellious…like Israel in the OT – God is perfect, 100% sinless and holy,  sovereign, full of mercy and grace.   Thus we cannot approach God in our sinful state – our sin prevents us from doing so.  What’s the hope?  Nothing.  Apart from Jesus Christ that is – that thru faith in who Jesus was (God in the flesh) and what he did (lived the perfect life we could not and died as our substitutionary sacrifice and giving us HIS righteousness) we can be restored to God.

Whether or not this is actually Jesus appearing to Samson’s Mom and Dad is yet to be confirmed – but there is no denying that there are shadows of our need for a Savior because of our sinfulness, and God’s holiness in Judges.  The plan of God moves forward and redemption is available to us still today in Him alone.