Without Reservation

“Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.””

                                                                                                                                                Mark 12:43-44

Derek Thomas tells the following story in order to illustrate the principle of true Christian giving which the Lord Jesus Christ teaches His disciples in Mark 12:41-44.

“Now the story is told – I have no way of verifying it – a little girl in church, and when the offering plate comes around she puts in her doll, her treasured little doll.  Now this is the doll that she takes to bed with her at night, and gets up in the morning and carries it around under her arm.  It’s her treasure, and she puts it on the offering plate.  And the deacons are touched, and the minister during the course of the week comes round and visits the family and brings the doll with him, and says to the little girl, “I’m giving her back to you.” And the little girl wipes a tear from her eyes and shakes her head and says, “No.”  And when the Pastor asks why, she says, “I didn’t give it to you.  I gave my doll to the Lord.””

                Mark is at the end of chapter 12 describing true saving faith.  It is a faith that arises from a heart that is given completely and unreservedly to the Lord.  The widow brought all that she had to live on.  In her poverty she gave all that she had.  What she was demonstrating was that God had done something in her heart that had resulted in her coming to trust in His provision for her.  What she had did not matter because she believed that to quote the Apostle Paul, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)  What was important to her was the extravagant expression of real love to the Lord with all of her heart.  This was the purpose of her life and living.  She had come to understand that the God she worshipped would care for her needs.  His Word had demonstrated this time and again.  The test was in her demonstrating that faith in real life.  Would she bring her treasure, her last two coins, her future, her security, to her Lord and cast it into the Treasury?

That is the test for each of us.  What is our treasure?  What are we relying upon today?  We cling to it as if life itself depends upon it?  In this world it often seems as if life itself does depend upon our treasure.  So we cling to it.  We protect it.  We worry about it.  So often after all of that effort it fails us.  Jim Elliott once wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose.”  This is the position we find ourselves in.  We find that to gain an eternal security through faith in the Lord we have to give ourselves without reservation to the Lord.  This requires us to yield up our lives, and all our treasure in trust to Him.  We in fact become living sacrifices.  What we get back is His limitless resources.  He promises to meet our needs.  This truly becomes for us a narrow road of faith.  On that road however there is great and eternal blessing.  God is fitting us not for this world, but for the one to come.  He is remaking us into people who are truly holy, not with that which we have created for ourselves, but with that which He has created within us through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  All we need to is give ourselves without reservation to our Lord.  Will you?

A Call To Faith In Jesus

“Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 11:45-46

                One of the themes which run throughout the Gospel of John is the way the actions of the Lord Jesus Christ bring about a division among the people of Israel.  They are given a clear revelation of Jesus’ nature and identity in the way in which He engages in works which reflect the will of the Father as it is revealed in the Scriptures.  They are then brought to a dividing point where they must decide between faith and unbelief.  John’s purpose in this Gospel is to confront our unbelief and to bring us to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In fact John tells us this at the end of the second last chapter of his Gospel when he writes the following.

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”  (John 20:31)

                When we look carefully at the unbelief which is described here in John’s Gospel one thing becomes very clear to us.  This is that the unbelief of the Jews described here is not really an absence of faith.  It is a belief in the wrong things.  The Jews did not believe in Jesus because they believed in other things.  In the same way we fail to believe in Jesus because our faith, and worship, is centred on other things.  G. K. Beale in We Become What We Worship (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., 2008, p. 17) writes about this as he seeks to define idolatry.

“Before launching into our study, I need to define idolatry.  Martin Luther’s larger catechism discussion of the first commandment (“You shall have no other gods before Me” [Ex. 20:3]) included “whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol.”  I might add here, “Whatever your heart clings to or relies on for ultimate security.”  “The idol is whatever claims the loyalty which belongs to God alone.”  These are good and basic definitions of idolatry.  The word idolatry can refer to the worship of other gods besides the true God, or the reverence of images.  According to both the ancient Near East and the Old Testament, an idol or image contained a god’s presence, though that presence was not limited to the image.  The ultimate biblical assessment about the purported divine reality behind idols is well summarized by Christopher Wright:

                “Although gods and idols are something in the world, they are nothing in comparison with the Living God…

                While gods and idols may be implements of or gateways to the world of the demonic, the overwhelming verdict of the Scripture is that they are the work of human hands, constructs of our own fallen and rebellious imaginations…

                The primal problem with idolatry is that it blurs the distinction between the Creator God and His creation.  This both damages creation (including ourselves) and diminishes the glory of the Creator.

                Since God’s mission is to restore creation to its full original purpose of bringing all glory to God Himself and thereby to enable all creation to enjoy the fullness of blessings that He desires for it, God battles against all forms of idolatry and calls us to join Him in that conflict…

                We need to understand the whole breadth of the Bible’s exposure of the deleterious effects of idolatry in order to appreciate its seriousness and the reason for the Bible’s passionate rhetoric about it.” (C. J. H. Wright, The Mission of God, Downers Grove, Ill., Intervarsity Press, 2006, pp. 187-188)

                Beale goes on in his book to make the point that whatever we worship will form us into its image.  This is why it is of such vital importance that we see clearly who the Lord Jesus Christ is, the Son of the Living God who has come into this world to set us free from the idols which we worship and to bring us to truly worship the God who has created us and who wishes to restore His image in us so that we might bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

John calls us to a point of decision regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.  What do you believe about Him?

A Thought On Thanksgiving

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counsellor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 11:33-36

                An advertisement for David W. Pao’s book, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme,   is quoted as saying that “To offer thanks to God is to live a life of worship and to anticipate the future acts of God, all in submission to the Lordship of Christ.  Ingratitude to God is idolatry.  Thanksgiving functions as a link between theology, including eschatology, and ethics.  Here Pao provides clear insights into the passion of an apostle who never fails to insist on the significance of both the gospel message and the response that message demands.”  That quotation provides us with a good starting point for our reflection upon the passage from Romans 11:33-36 which is quoted at the top of this page.  That text gives us a glimpse into the passion of the Apostle Paul who has just spent the better part of eleven chapters in the letter to the Romans outlining the gospel he has been proclaiming.  The teaching is rich, abounding in Scripture, and deeply convicting as we begin to glimpse God’s redemptive purpose being worked out in our lives and in our world.  Tim Challies in an article shared on a wonderful new website called “His Marvelous Light” which can be found at http://hismarvelouslight.wordpress.com writes that “If a person or church is gospel-centred, it tells us that there are other things around which it is not centred.  It is not tradition-centred (as perhaps, fundamentalist churches may be), it is not pragmatically-centred (as church growth churches often are), it is not culturally-centred as so many churches are today.  It is the Gospel that stands in the very centre of the church or of the believer.” 

What Challies is stating is exactly what the Apostle Paul was.  It is also what the gospel is calling each of to become.  Paul outlined the gospel pointing to the fact that it transforms every part of our lives, lifting us out of the idolatry which dominates our lives, into the freedom we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is God’s doing not our own.  John Calvin expressed in these words in his Institutes, quoted by Haykin and Stewart in The Advent of Evangelicalism, page 204.  “It was his task to swallow up death.  Who but life could do this?  It was his task to conquer sin.  Who but very Righteousness could do this?  It was his task to rout the powers of world and air.  Who but a power higher than world and air could do this?  Now where does life or righteousness, or lordship and authority of heaven lie but with God alone?  Therefore our most merciful God, when he willed that we be redeemed, made himself our Redeemer in the person of his only-begotten Son.” (Institutes 2.12.2)

                There is only one proper response to such a gift and the Apostle Paul has expressed it when he is overwhelmed in praise to God for all that He has done for us.  To come in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for grace is to be completely transformed by this gift.  From the moment that we believe we will find ourselves living a life that is filled with thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for us.  This is at the heart of genuine worship of God.  Anything less than real gratitude to the one who has redeemed us is idolatry.

Praise The Lord

“Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His Holy Name.  Praise the LORD, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 103:1-5

  1. M. Lloyd-Jones, at the beginning of a sermon entitled “Four Pictures of Life” in his Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons, writes the following helpful comment.

“I always point out whenever I happen to preach from the book of Psalms that a Psalm is a song and should always be taken in its entirety.  Certainly there are individual verses in the Psalms which merit prolonged and separate attention but a Psalm is generally composed so as to give expression to some one big prevailing thought or mood.” (Lloyd-Jones, p. 181)

                Our task is to ask just what the big prevailing thought or mood of Psalm 103 is.  This calls for a careful examination of the Psalm, in its context.  It seems that Psalm 103 and 102 are to be taken together.  In Psalm 102 we find ourselves identifying with one who is afflicted and as a consequence is crying out to the LORD for deliverance.  In fact the Psalms superscription states that it is “A prayer of an afflicted man.  When he is faint and pours out his lament to the LORD.” (Psalm 102 – superscription)  At the very least this Psalm describes the characteristic response of the Godly person to affliction.  They cry out to God for deliverance, praying and meditating upon the reality of the LORD as the one who delivers us.  Some take this a little further suggesting that it is “A prayer of the Afflicted One” and that it should be interpreted in a Christ Centred way.  The message here is that we pray as an afflicted person who is bringing their need before God in tandem with the Lord Jesus Christ is our great High Priest.  In Hebrews 2:17-18 we read, “For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  If we are identified with Him in His suffering we will also be identified with Him in His resurrection.

Psalm 103 continues the theme, leading us on, once we have cried out to God for deliverance, we also praise the Lord for all that He has done for us.  The one thing that this Psalm focuses upon is our reverent praise of the LORD who has delivered us in His grace.  The praise offered here is focused upon the message of the Word of God.  At the heart of Psalm 103 is a biblical statement about the character of God which seems as if it has been lifted right out of Exodus 34:6ff.

“He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel: the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:7-10)

                What Psalm 103 calls us to do is to praise the LORD making sure we continually remember His benefits.  What this means is that we must be careful to remember the His works of grace.  We must not leave it up to chance that we might remember them.  We must take steps to make sure that we remember.  This applies not only to us as an individual.  It applies to our society and children.  Listen to the Word of God in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and their children after them.  Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when He said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear My words so that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

                We live in a day when the great acts of God’s grace are being forgotten by many.  It is our responsibility to teach these things once again as we praise the LORD for His grace, and as we cry out to Him for deliverance, and as we recommit ourselves to remembering His Word and to teaching it to the generations yet to come.  This is God’s plan for deliverance.  Will we follow it?

Standing Your Ground

“Then the High priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.  They arrested the Apostles and put them in the public jail.  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the Temple Courts,” He said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:17-20

                There is something wonderful about the way that Luke keeps alternating in the early chapters of the Book of Acts between the general and the specific.  He writes, as a summary, in chapter 5:12-16, about how the Church is growing dramatically in response to the prayer of Acts 4:25ff.  Then in the seventeenth verse of chapter five Luke goes back to his specific account.  Now it is about the way that the world around the believers, in the form of the High Priest and Sadducees is roused to jealousy and responds to the growth of the Church by putting the Apostles in jail, and subjecting them to a trial with the hope that they might be put to death.  Fruitfulness leads to persecution here in Acts five, as it always does in one form or another.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his sermon, “The Outpouring of the Spirit” proclaims the following about an awakening that took place in the United States in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.

“The work still progresses, if anything, at a more rapid rate than before, and that which makes me believe the work to be genuine is just this – that the enemies of Christ’s holy gospel are exceedingly wroth at it.  When the devil roars at anything, you may rest assured there is some good in it.  The devil is not like some dogs we know of; he never barks unless there is something to bark at.  When Satan howls, we may rest assured he is afraid his kingdom is in danger.  Now this great work in America has been manifestly caused by the outpouring of the Spirit, for no one minister has been a leader in it.  All the ministers of the gospel have cooperated in it, but none of them has stood in the van.  God Himself has been the leader of His own hosts.  It began with a desire for prayer.  God’s people began to pray: the prayer meetings were better attended than before; it was then proposed to hold meeting at times that have never been set apart for prayer; these also were well attended; and now, in the city of Philadelphia, at the hour of noon, every day of the week, three thousand persons can always be seen assembled together for prayer in one place.”

                Looking at Acts 5:17-20, and the verses which follow, we see that in response to the preaching of the gospel the Jewish Leaders rise up, in opposition.  They are going to do everything in their power to bring this movement to an end.  The Apostles are arrested and put in the public jail.  Plans are put into effect for the calling of a trial of these apostles for the purpose of putting them to death.  The problem that the Christians posed was to be brought to a speedy end.  They made their plans, but God intervened.  The Angel of the Lord, at the very least an angel, but perhaps the Lord Himself, set the Apostles free.  The point here is to confirm what Luke has been saying right from the beginning of the book, this is about the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the prime mover behind the spread of the Gospel.

The Apostles are set free and told to stand their ground in the face of the opposition they will be facing.  Sometimes the only way forward for believers is to stand our ground in the face of severe opposition.  The leaders rise up and the Apostles stand firm with the Gospel message.  This can only be the result of a prayerful abiding in Christ.  They stand firm in the Spirit of God and the consequence is the advance of the Gospel in the face of opposition.  This is what the Apostle Paul calls the Church at Ephesus to in Ephesians 6:10-13.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Watching And Waiting

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Do not gloat over me, my enemy!  Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  Because I have sinned against Him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until He pleads my case and establishes my right.  He will bring me out into the light; I will see His righteousness.  Then my enemy will see it and will be covered in shame, she who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?”  My eyes will see her downfall; even now she will be trampled underfoot like mire in the streets.”

                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:7-10

                The Old Testament prophet Micah’s ministry took place during a time of upheaval in the ancient world.  It was a time of great uncertainty as Empires rose and fell and life was very uncertain for individual people.  Micah’s own nation, Judah was being rocked by uncertainty. They were feeling the vulnerability of being a small nation caught between empires.  They were also deeply aware that they had been called by God into a covenant relationship that they believed would keep them secure from every misfortune.  Many of the Old Testament Prophets wrote during this uncertain time.  They sought to bring clear Biblical wisdom into their situation.  For many years Micah had delivered a word of prophesy that was designed to convict the sinful, complacent people of the covenant so that they would turn back to God.  After giving them a word of judgment and of hope Micah finally comes to the end of his prophetic book concluding it in a way that is both interesting and instructive.

It is instructive for us because Micah shows how we are to think and to act in uncertain times such as the one he lived in or that we currently find ourselves living through.  Micah confesses his personal sinfulness in the first few verses of chapter seven then he offers up a Psalm of praise, which is based upon his personal conviction that the Word of God which he has been given is absolutely trustworthy.  He states that he will “watch and wait with a fervent expectation.”  What Micah is stating is that he believes that the God of the covenant will be faithful to his promise which was given in His word.  It is upon this foundation that all intercessory prayer is based.  We believe in a God who is faithful.  He will always keep His promises to us.  As Micah reflects upon this truth he recognises that the God of Israel will always listen to the prayers of His people.  Therefore their misfortunes are merely chastenings designed to bring them to repentance.  God will yet save them in this life, by raising up the humble.  His righteousness will be revealed in them.  He will also deliver them in death.  There is in fact a resurrection coming for those who die in the Lord.  Of that we can be certain. Micah calls us to approach our own uncertainty with that same spirit of intercessory prayer.

It is interesting for us as well because Micah pulls back the curtain on history to reveal the one who is actively working out His own great purpose in all of the uncertain events which are taking place.  Our faith is put on firmer ground here because we see here one who has worked out His will in history with great precision.  Not only did He work all things according to His will but He told us about it in advance so that when we saw what He had done we would be brought to faith and we would give glory to our God.  We therefore hear His call to become people who pray without ceasing.