Rejoice Greatly

                “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.  He will proclaim peace to the nations.  His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 9:9-10

Reflection on the Word of God always seems to usher me into a feeling of awe as I encounter the tremendous promises which our God makes through His servants the Prophets and Apostles.  The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:20 that “No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  Such is the feeling I have as I reflect upon the tremendous word spoken by the Prophet Zechariah in the quotation which heads this page.  This promise, which is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week leading up to His cross, comes in the middle of the first part of Zechariah’s twin burdens regarding the events which are coming for the people of God.  As God speaks through the prophet about the judgment of the nations and the salvation of God’s people He gives us this tremendous word of hope.  “Your King comes to you.”   A better translation of this is “Your king comes for you.”  He is coming for our good, in order to sanctify us.  All that God is doing has this end to make us fit for eternity.  Apart from what our King comes to do, in His cross, resurrection, and intercession for us, we will find ourselves without hope when we stand before God in judgment.

Thomas Boston, in a quotation found on the Puritan at Heart website, puts this powerfully as he reflects upon our hope for eternal happiness. 

“When death comes, they have no solid ground to hope for eternal happiness. “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he has gained, when God takes away his soul?” Job 27:8. Whatever hopes they fondly entertain, they are not founded on God’s word, which is the only sure ground of hope; if they knew their own case, they would see themselves only happy in a ‘dream’. And indeed what hope can they have? The law is plain against them, and condemns them. The curses of it, those cords of death, are about them already. The Savior whom they slighted, is now their Judge; and their Judge is their enemy! How then can they hope? They have bolted the door of mercy against themselves, by their unbelief. They have despised the remedy, and therefore must die without mercy. They have no saving interest in Jesus Christ, the only channel of conveyance through which mercy flows– and therefore they can never taste it.

The ‘sword of justice’ guards the door of mercy, so as none can enter in, but the members of the mystical body of Christ, over whose head is a covert of atoning blood, the Mediator’s blood. These indeed may pass without a harm, for justice has nothing to require of them. But others cannot pass, since they are not in Christ– death comes to them with the sting in it– the sting of unpardoned guilt. It is armed against them with all the force which the sanction of a holy law can give it. 1 Cor. 15:56, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” When that law was given on Sinai, “the whole mount quaked greatly,” Exodus 19:18. When the Redeemer was making satisfaction for the elect’s breaking it, “the earth did quake, and the rocks rent,” Matt, 27:51.

What possible ground of hope, then, is there to the wicked man, when death comes upon him armed with the force of this law? How can he escape that fire, which “burnt unto the midst of heaven?” Deut. 4:11. How shall he be able to stand in that smoke, that “ascended up as the smoke of a furnace?” Exod. 19:18. How will he endure the terrible “thunders and lightnings,” verse 16, and dwell in “the darkness, clouds, and thick darkness?” Deut. 4:11. All these comparisons heaped together do but faintly represent the fearful tempest of wrath and indignation, which shall pursue the wicked to the lowest hell; and forever abide on those who are driven to darkness at death.”
Thomas Boston–Human Nature in its four-fold state]

Food For Thought

While I was preparing a message on Mark 11:12-26 I came across this passage from Malachi 3:1-5 which certainly gives us some food for thought.

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His Temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

                But who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand when He appears?  For He will be like a refiners or a launderers soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  Then the Lord will have men will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

                “So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but who do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.”

                It is a passage which predicts a specific Messianic event which Mark records for us following the Triumphal entry.   Our Lord comes suddenly to His Temple as the messenger of the covenant.  Within one week of this event the Lord Jesus Christ will establish a New Covenant in His blood upon the cross.  He comes to His Temple to refine His people.  His actions cleansing the Temple, and everything which happened afterwards which seemed so much like a judgment was in fact a refining.  Its ultimate purpose is to restore and to cleanse a people who will bring worship which is acceptable to God.

As Mark describes it this promise of God was definitely fulfilled.  The Disciples, along with each and every one of us are called to have active and continuous faith in God.  No matter how impossible it might seem God’s will come to pass.  Sunday morning we will be reflecting on this great truth.  God says it and then He does it.  Malachi prophesies it, and then God does it in the person of His incarnate Son.  We must never double the infinite power of God to fulfill His promises to us.

Devote Yourselves To Prayer

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

                                                                                                                                                                Colossians 4:2-6

                A number of years ago I was privileged to hear a seasoned preacher addressing a denominational gathering in which the weighty theme of demonstrating the reality of the Gospel was being considered.  The preacher announced the theme he had been given to consider, then asked those gathered a simple but profound question.  “Do you really mean it?”  In thinking about that question it occurs to me that that must be at the heart of every one of our worship services, or devotional times.  Do we really mean it when we pray seeking God’s will in our lives?  Do we really mean it when we study the Word of God, seeking to trace out God’s revealed purposes for our lives?  Do we really mean it?

Steven J. Lawson, in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, wrestles with the seventy resolutions which Edwards penned as a young man.  Lawson quotes these words from the preamble to Edward’s Resolutions.

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.  Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.” (Page 157)

                Lawson presents Edwards as a man who really meant it.  He recognised his own weakness, being desperately in need of the Holy Spirit’s help.  He sought that help on a daily basis.  Edwards also recognised that he had a great need for self-control and discipline in his life; therefore he set up a means by which he could engage in a lifelong pursuit of God.  That was his goal, to grow in Godliness.

These thoughts help us as we approach the command that the Apostle Paul gives to the Colossians in our text today.  When we begin to think about being people who are committed to prayer do we really mean it?  If we do really mean to be a people at prayer what steps are we taking to make sure that it will become a reality among us?  As Paul writes to the Colossians he uses the present tense to tell us that we must be continually engaged in a life of prayer.  It is not a onetime thing; it must be a continuous activity or a habit in our lives.

The reason for this is that we are people who are always fallible, desperately in need of the help that the Holy Spirit gives.  The work of living out the Christian life, and engaging in evangelism requires so much of us that it cannot be engaged in successfully apart from the help that God gives us by His grace.  If this was true for the Apostle Paul, and it certainly seems to be from the way he pleads for the prayers of the Church, then it must also be true for us.  We must be people who prayerfully seek an open door for the proclamation of the mystery of Christ.  Even in chains Paul is looking for an open door.  He is asking for boldness to make this gospel clear to his hearers.  Some of them might react violently to Paul’s message but he still must preach it clearly.  Is anything less required of us in these difficult and indifferent days?  The question remains.  Do we really mean it?

Dealing With Error

“Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”

                                                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:24

                Every day we are bombarded by thoughts which are in error.  We have to deal with the thoughts of others, whether through the news media, or on television or radio, or even those things which we hear in casual conversation which are in error.  I will never forget the person who at a time of significant grief in my family told one of my children that the person who had been lost had gone to live on the moon, never to return.  The consequence of that comment, given with the best of intentions to be kind to a small child was difficult to overcome.  We constantly have to deal with teaching, and advice which is in error.  Some of it is not so easy to detect.

In addition to the errors of others we also have to deal with the erroneous thoughts that we find arising in our own hearts and minds.  These can be devastating, leading us into all manner of destructive patterns of living.  To this the Lord Jesus Christ asks us a simple question which is designed to redirect us into Godly living.  The question is found in Mark 12:24 “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”  This question was asked of the Sadducees, who came to ridicule Jesus by asking Him a ridiculous question which arose out of their belief that there was no such thing as the resurrection of the dead.  They believed that this question would expose Jesus as a spiritual bumbler out of His depth in dealing with those who had received a real education in the Scriptures.  I once sat at a Ministerial meeting at which a senior pastor in a large church spoke at length about the fact that many uneducated Pastors believed evangelical doctrine, which anyone with half a brain would immediately dismiss.  Those precious doctrines of the Evangelical faith are the foundation of all that I believe.  The more I search them out the more precious they become to me.

Jesus tells us that we fall into error, in doctrine and in life, because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.  For those Sadducees the error was that they believed that this life was all that there was.  There was therefore no accountability before God for how we live our lives.  They then found themselves living as those who had no hope.  Perhaps the error that these Sadducees believed can be described by the words of the Apocryphal book called “The Wisdom of Solomon” which predates the time of Christ.

“For we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we have never been, for the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts; when it is extinguished, the body will return to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.  Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works, our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-5)

                What a hopeless philosophy to live by.  There is no comfort here.  It is this type of thing that Jesus was confronting with the question of the Sadducees.  In all kinds of practical ways we find ourselves drawn into a lifestyle of hopelessness, because we do not know the teaching of Scripture or the power of God.  If however we give ourselves over to a Spirit led study of the Word of God we will come to live with a deep awareness of the power of God at work in us.  The fruit of this will be a real and living hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing will ever be the same again.

The Lord Answered Moses

“The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.””

                                                                                                                                                                Numbers 11:23

                The context for this verse is another time of judgement for the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.  No matter how faithful God was to them they were constantly complaining and asking for greater blessings from God.  Finally Moses had had enough of their complaining.  He gets to the point where his mental and physical exhaustion overwhelm him and he begins to complain to the LORD.  He can no longer carry them.  It may very well be that this is in fact the place that God wanted to lead Moses.  He needed to recognise that the work was not his alone.  He needed simply to be obedient to his God.  God would carry the people Himself, as He had been doing right from the beginning.  The people wanted meat; they were tired of the manna that God was providing for them.

God tells Moses that He is about to provide meat for the people and Moses responds as if such a provision was incredible.  Notice what Moses says to God, see if it sounds like something you or I might say, or think.  “Here am I among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’  Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them?  Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” (Numbers 11:21-22)  God makes a promise through Moses to the people and Moses responds to it by thinking that he must find the provisions that God has promised all on his own.  It sounds like the disciples when Jesus tells them that He is about to feed a huge crowd with a few loaves and fishes.  Where were they going to find the food?  Our default response to God’s promises always seems to be that we think the burden of getting it done falls on us.

Where was Moses’ faith, or the disciple’s?  Where is our faith?  Do we believe that the God who calls us to serve Him will provide the resources that we need to accomplish His will?  That is the issue that this text confronts us with.  Taking it deeper this text confronts us with all of the ways that we are unbelieving when it comes to God’s calling upon our lives.  The life of faith is too hard for us, we say.   It scares us because it robs us of all of those things that we put our security in.  We are really much more comfortable finding our own way.  Except, that there will come a day when we will have to give account to God for our unbelief.

George Muller wrote in his autobiography that he lived his life and conducted his ministry in such a way as to show the Christian Church that it is possible, in fact necessary for us to live by faith.  Here is how Muller describes it.  “Some individuals are in professions which they cannot continue with a good conscience.  But they fear leaving their profession lest they become unemployed.  I long to strengthen their faith by proving that the promises from the Word of God of His willingness to help all those who rely on Him are true.  I know that the Word of God ought to be enough.  But by giving my brothers visible proof of the unchangeable faithfulness of the LORD, I might be able to strengthen their faith.  I want to be a servant of the Church in the particular point on which I had obtained mercy – in being able to take god at His Word and rely on it.  This seems to me to be best done by establishing an orphan house – something which could be seen with the natural eye.  If I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith obtained, without asking any individual, the finances for establishing and carrying on an orphan house, this might strengthen the faith of the children of God.  It might also be a testimony to the unconverted of the reality of the things of God.” The Autobiography of George Muller (1984 Whitaker House)

That is exactly what Muller did over a long and productive ministry.  He demonstrated that any Church, Ministry or life can be conducted according to principles that are by faith in the power of God.  God will always demonstrate Himself to be faithful to His promises.

Seeking The Lost

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

                                                                                                                                                                                Luke 15:31-32

                Over the years I have heard a number of titles given to this parable in Luke’s Gospel.  It has been called the parable of the Prodigal Son, the parable of the Father’s Heart, or as it is entitled in the NIV the parable of the Lost Son.

It is however a long, detailed, and complex parable which Jesus tells and Luke places within the context of the central travel narrative in the Gospel.  Here the disciples are following Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross.  This is in fact a central point in their calling, and in our calling as well,  to be disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ.  We are here being shown what it means to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross daily and to follow Jesus.

The specific context here is three parables which Jesus tells about lost things, a sheep, a coin, and two Sons.  These parables point out the heart attitude of God in heaven towards those who are lost.  These parables come in response to the attitude and the criticism of the Pharisees and
Scribes regarding the fact that Jesus welcomed sinners into His Glorious presence, and even ate with them.

To the Pharisees and their ilk this was proof that Jesus was not a Godly man.  One who claimed to be the Messiah should not do such things.  He should be more aware of who was around Him.  He should also be more circumspect in His relationships.  This raises a question for me.  How often do I exhibit that same attitude towards the lost, especially those lost who bare such clear evidence of brokenness and corruption that they do?  It is those who I find myself feeling uncomfortable around who Jesus spent His time with.  What I am thinking is that I limit those who can be found to those who live up to certain standards of my own making.  The saved are those who I am comfortable around.

As Pamela Erwin writes in “Adoption Extended” (Article in Adoptive Youth Ministry, Chap Clark Editor, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2016, p. 199).

“At a philosophical level most youth workers probably believe that the gospel is for whosoever will may come, but the day-to-day messiness of living that out in a youth ministry setting often pushes us into the reality of only the ones who look right, act right, and play by our rules are welcome.  What this means is only the people who look like us.”

                What Erwin writes about youth ministry can be, I believe, applied to all of ministry.  Who is welcome?  This is what the Pharisees and Scribes were confronting Jesus with.  This is the context in which Jesus tells this parable in which we are confronted by a ruined lost son, an equally lost up upstanding older brother, and a Father with a broken heart seeking out that which is lost, and when it found rejoicing with a great celebration.  This, Jesus tells us, is the Father’s attitude.  It is also the attitude of Jesus who came to “seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10)  This must also be the attitude of all those who would be disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ.

So what does this mean for the modern Christian?

1)      It means that must be 100% committed to following the LORD Jesus Christ.  We are to give ourselves without reservation to the LORD and then to His work.

2)      It means that we must develop an honest and welcoming attitude towards everyone we meet.  This must extend into those areas where we find ourselves becoming uncomfortable.  As Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “the flesh dies well there.”

3)      It means that we must become increasingly gospel conscious in every part of our lives.  Christ-centred prayerfulness and dying to myself are to be a crucial part of my life.

Spiritual Mindedness

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 1:19-22

                A number of years ago, when I first read John Miller’s little book Outgrowing the Ingrown Church I was struck by one of the phrases that he used.  This was that for him faith involved his giving himself to God without reservation, and then taking his courage in his hands and obeying God in everything that God commanded.  I wondered just what Miller meant by such a powerful statement.  It seemed that he was trying to define for us just what a life of faith looked like.  How do we know if we are living by faith or in the flesh?  How do we live in the Spirit, being spiritually minded as we live out our lives?  We use these expressions so glibly.  What does a truly spiritual life look like?

Of all places to find answers to these questions the book of James seems to be an unlikely place.  Here is a book that seems to teach salvation by works.  At least that is what we think.  However, when we take a closer look we discover that James is really calling us to live a lifestyle which is truly spiritual because it has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  What does such a life look like?

James tells us that God has willed to give us new birth through the word of truth.  He anchors the Christian life in regeneration, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing us to new life through faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the eighteenth century young missionaries like John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield discovered this teaching about regeneration by the work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  Their testimony was that as they came to believe in Christ they found, to use John Wesley’s word, “their hearts strangely warmed.”  They began to preach this Word throughout the villages and towns in Britain and many thousands came to faith in Christ.  They had returned to the Gospel message of the New Testament.

In tremendously practical terms James outlines for us in his letter this message of regeneration.  It is characterized by the righteousness of God being created within us.  This is not our righteousness it is His given to us through faith.  Almost immediately it begins to work itself out in our lives.  It produces the fruit of righteousness transforming our speech and our attitudes.  It causes us to obey the Word of God.  It is almost as if that word is being written into our hearts.  In fact that is what two Old Testament Prophets said God would do.

Jeremiah writes, ““The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah.  It will not be like the Covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my Covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.  “This is the Covenant I will make with the House of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.”” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

Ezekiel echoes Jeremiah’s words in this way, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

                                                                                                                                                (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

                James tells us that Spiritual Christianity is a faith that leads us to obey God’s Word through the power of God’s Spirit in all manner of practical ways.  It starts with our accepting by faith the implanted word of God which comes to us in the Gospel.

Saving Faith

I have recently begun to read The Works of Andrew Fuller (1754 – 1815).  This is a massive collection of the writings of a man who was in many ways the Father of Baptist Theology and Missions.  Fuller was instrumental in maintaining support for the missionary work of William Carey in India.  Michael Haykin in his introduction to the collection regarding Fuller’s work in opposing the harmful theological trends makes the following observation.

“Yet another vital controversy in which Fuller engaged was that with the Sandemanians, the followers of Robert Sandeman (1718 – 71), who distinguished themselves from other eighteenth century Evangelicals by a predominantly intellectualist view of faith.  They became known for their cardinal theological tenet that saving faith is ‘bare belief in a bare truth’.  In a genuine desire to exalt the utter freeness of God’s salvation, Sandeman had sought to remove any vestige of human reasoning, willing or desiring in the matter of saving faith.

                In his Strictures on Sandemanianism (1810) Fuller makes a couple of telling points.  First, if faith does concern only the mind, there would be no way to distinguish genuine Christianity from nominal Christianity.  A nominal Christian mentally assents to the truths of Christianity, but those truths do not grip the heart and re-orient his or her affections.  Then, knowledge of Christ is a distinct type of knowledge.  Knowing Him, for instance, involves far more than knowing certain things about Him, such as the fact of His virgin birth or the details of His crucifixion.  It involves a desire for fellowship with Him and a delight in His presence.”

                                                “Andrew Fuller: Life and Legacy a Brief Overview”

                                                Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality

                                                Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

                                                1 August 2007

                The last line of that quotation is the most vital for me.  Genuine saving faith involves a desire for fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and a delighting in His presence.  This is the type of faith which transforms our lives, elevating us above the slavery to the flesh and to our sin that we so often find ourselves struggling with.  Here we find ourselves delighting in prayer, and in the Word of God.  Here worship moves us into a lifestyle of obedience to our Lord for the simple reason that we love Him.  This seems to be what the Apostle John is describing in his first letter.

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete.”

                                                                                                                                1 John 1:3-4

Isn’t this what we long for?  To have a deepening fellowship with God in Christ is the goal of every Christian.  Such only comes about through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer.  The appeal of the Scriptures is consistently that we must ask God for this.  Therefore this is our appeal to you that you will come to God in Christ and ask for this blessing from on high.

Hearing God’s Voice

“Again the word of the Lord Almighty came to me.  This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.””

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 8:1-2

                A number of years ago, while on vacation, I had the opportunity to talk with a hotel pool attendant about my choice of reading material.   I was reading a book with the provocative title The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything written by Fred Saunders.  The woman saw my book and began to ask questions about it, which opened up a productive discussion regarding the Gospel of our Lord, which I pray will be used of God to bring that woman to faith in Christ.  That afternoon’s reading was a time that the Lord used to give me an opportunity to be a witness for Him.  Isn’t it amazing how the Lord does this for us?  It was also a wonderful time that the Lord used to draw me into a deepening trust in Him.  To be away from my usual responsibilities was the catalyst in my being immersed more deeply in the Word of God through which I most often find myself hearing the voice of the Spirit.

It is this subject that I wish to reflect upon today.  What I need most is to know the Lord more deeply.  So often in my busyness I find myself losing focus upon who He is and what He wants me to discover about Himself.  What I so desperately need is to hear His voice as He speaks with me in Scripture and directs me by His Spirit into those open doors of service where the Lord Jesus Christ can be made known to this needy, sinful world.  When I read good books that expound the Word of God I find myself being drawn the Lord.  When I read God’s Word itself, then I find that I begin to discover God’s Character as the One revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  At the beginning of the thirteenth chapter of his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper introduces the subject of the reading Pastor with these three quotes.

“Few things frighten me more than the beginnings of barrenness that come from frenzied activity with little spiritual food and meditation.”

                                                                                                John Piper

                “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them.”

                                                                                                Charles Spurgeon

                “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”

  1. S. Lewis

                What Piper points out in his chapter is that Pastors, I will go farther and say all Christians face a constant danger of becoming barren and lifeless on account of their busyness.  If we do not feed upon our Lord as we read we will find ourselves drifting away from the Lord.  I might add that if our reading does not lead us into a deepening understanding of the Word of God as it is found in the Bible then it will be of little benefit to us.  C.S. Lewis counsels us, and I agree with him here, to balance our reading of modern books with those great classics of old in which wisdom from saints who have lived and testified to Christ in the past is added to our modern voices.

The key thing is that we need to hear from the Lord Himself.  His desire is to make Himself known to us.  We must quiet ourselves down so that we can meet Him in His word.  It is only when we have heard Him that we will be able to share with our world a witness that will be truly life changing.

Thanksgiving Grace

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

A few years ago at the Hope Centre Bible Study we were discussing the ways in which Joseph demonstrated his faith by the decisions he made and the attitude he demonstrated throughout his life.  His whole character seemed to be marked by a trusting in the providence of God.  Even as he discussed the betrayal which he had suffered at the hands of his brothers, a betrayal which had in many ways defined his life, he did so with a deep trust in God’s leading.  “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)  At its heart what Joseph demonstrated was the radical thankfulness which is at the heart of the Christian life.

This weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving.  For one weekend we remind ourselves that we need to be thankful for all of the blessings which God has given to us.  Being Thankful is really something much deeper than this.  Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that it is in fact the will of God for us.  It is the character which He has designed us to live in.  As Paul puts it here we are to become people who are walking into a lifestyle which is constantly joyful, prayerful, and thankful.  When it comes to the word Paul uses for thankful we find that it is defined as “properly acknowledging that God’s grace works well.  It works towards our eternal gain and His glory.  We are called to be thankful for God’s good grace.” (According to Helps Wordstudies)  Later in the verse Paul adds this provision for all of the traits he has been discussing, “for this is God’s gracious design for you.”  This is, in other words, what God has designed for you to be.  The circumstances you experience in your life are moving you towards this design.

Joseph understood this.  He knew that God had been moving him through a lifetime of experiences towards the man he had become.  He was strong in faith, and therefore submissive to God.  In all of his circumstances Joseph was seeing God at work.  So too do we see God at work in our circumstances.  In God’s providence we find ourselves being led into the very places where we meet God in all of his graciousness.  Eventually we find ourselves responding to His leading with trusting praise because we are beginning to discover that He is in fact a trustworthy God who is displaying His matchless grace in our lives.

Bruce Theilman in a sermon on the book of Ruth tells a story about his Mother who went through a whole series of great difficulties in her life as a young woman.  These experiences were painful but they led her to a place where she would meet a godly young man who would become Theilman’s Father.  In due time her experiences led to her conversion and marriage.  Theilman told this story to demonstrate how she was in fact walking into the purposes of God just as Ruth had done.   Years later Bruce Theilman was attempting to define expository preaching and he said this, “There is no special honor in preaching, there is only special pain.  The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors.  And like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest.” Such is the life of service we are called to as believers.  God is transforming us into this image of Christ.  Like Joseph we are learning to rejoice in His leading because we know that it is leading us into something wonderful.  Be continually thankful!