Saturday, August 23, 2014

One Thing - A Poem

The other day a young lady from our church shared the following poem to me. It touched my heart as I had just been meditating on Psalm 27 which touches on a similar theme, especially in verse 4, and so I asked her if I could post the poem on my blog. She said, "Yes, but please don't mention my name." So here's the poem, it's written by a young, anonymous lover of Jesus! I pray that it blesses your day. 

One Thing
Only one thing in Life matters forever-
Jesus.
All that I am, all that I have
Poured out
for Jesus

All fears fade, sin burns away
in the Light and radiance of
His face
Jesus

Every breath, every heart beat on
Fire
Burning with the purpose and passion of Jesus
To know Him, to love Him, to follow Him, every day
Jesus

Light in my dark
Hope in my despair
Healer of my hurt
Holder of my heart
Jesus

Light in my eyes
Dance of my feet
Joy in my soul
Jesus

Rock in my storm
Sword in my battle
Victory's crown
Jesus

Breaker of my chains
Death to my doubts
Answer to all questions
Jesus

Word of God
Unshakable promise
Faithful
Jesus

And when life is over,
The Course I have run
Beyond the setting of the final sun
I'll see Him there,
He'll meet me there
Together, forever with
Jesus.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hudson Taylor and the Birth of New Ministries

Reflecting on the ministry of Hudson Taylor, H Grattan Guinness wrote this: “In the quiet of his heart, in deep unutterable communings with God, the mission [of China Inland Mission] had its origin and remains its memorial” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, 2010, page v).

This comment really struck me because it’s indicative of the truth that Christ-exalting ministries are conceived and born of God as he plants his vision in the hearts of men and women who humbly seek him by the Word and prayer, by the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit, by the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ, and by the counsel of the Christian community. It seems to me that in the life of the church we need less strategic planning, and more humble, fervent, persistent prayer. We American Christians are so impatient. We want to get to the product. We want to roll it out to market. We want to see the results we expect to see in the time we expect to see them. And it seems that the deadline for our dreams is always yesterday.

But what we need is fervent prayer and a submissive spirit. We need faith and patience because God’s visions are better than ours, and God’s timeline is almost never the same as ours.

Husdon Taylor’s spiritual secret was “the simple, profound secret of drawing for every need upon ‘the fathomless wealth of Christ’” (page 8). Indeed, he is not responsible for the conception, spread, breadth, and longevity of the ministry he founded. In fact, before he was even born, his parents devoted him to the Lord for work in China, though they did not inform him of this until later in his life. But they prayed in faith. And when the day of Hudson’s salvation came, he began to seek the Lord as to what he should do and where he should go. By the loving power of the Holy Spirit, God gripped Hudson’s heart with a burden for China that would not let go, and the rest is history.

Hudson’s secret is not the secret of external success. It has nothing to do with how to found and grow a big ministry. Rather, Hudson’s secret is the secret of heartfelt, childlike, grace-empowered submission to our Lord and Savior. It is simple surrender to Jesus Christ who has done it all, paid it all, and is in himself all.

So, Jesus, please give us hearts to seek you, to know you, and to submit to your will for our lives and ministries. Show us the way we should go, and then lead us in that way. Give us all the passion and power we need to do your will, whatever your will is. You are our treasure and our delight, and if we have you we have everything. Thank you for hearing and answering our prayers when we pray by faith, according to your will. Amen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

George Mueller and Faith in Prayer

Last Sunday evening, as Kim and I were preparing to take our rest for the night, she received and read to me the following devotional from “Streams in the Desert.” It touched both of us pretty deeply, and so I wanted to share it with you all as well. May we learn to pray with childlike faith, knowing that our Father hears and answers prayer when we pray according to his will (John 15:7; 1 John 5:14).

“I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me (Acts 27:25).

“I went to America some years ago with the captain of a steamer, who was a very devoted Christian. When off the coast of Newfoundland he said to me, ‘The last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, something happened which revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. We had George Mueller of Bristol on board. I had been on the bridge twenty-four hours and never left it. George Mueller came to me, and said, “Captain I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec Saturday afternoon.” “It is impossible,” I said. “Very well, if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement for fifty-seven years. Let us go down into the chart-room and pray.”’

“‘I looked at that man of God, and thought to myself, “What lunatic asylum can that man have come from? I never heard of such a thing as this.” “Mr. Mueller,” I said, “do you know how dense this fog is?” “No,” he replied, “my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God, who controls every circumstance of my life.”’

“‘He knelt down and prayed one of the most simple prayers, and when he had finished I was going to pray; but he put his hand on my shoulder, and told me not to pray. “First, you do not believe He will answer; and second I BELIEVE HE HAS, and there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.”’

“‘I looked at him, and he said, “Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get audience with the King. Get up, Captain and open the door, and you will find the fog gone.” I got up, and the fog was indeed gone. On Saturday afternoon, George Mueller was in Quebec for his engagement.’”

Selected
If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine,
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Growing in Grace by Giving

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture that progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of giving in the Christian life.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

The law of God is that we will reap what we sow, and this law extends to our finances. Sometimes, by his amazing grace, God violates this law, but generally speaking it is a law indeed. When it comes to giving our money, Christians should understand this truth, but we should also be compelled to give from the inside by the Holy Spirit, rather than from the outside by some person, group, or organization.

Giving that glorifies God must come from the heart because heartfelt giving is an expression of praise. God loves a cheerful giver because he loves a heart that overflows with love for him to such an extent that it’s willing to give of its time, talent, and treasure. For God, and hopefully for us, giving is about the heart, not the wallet.

Another reason God loves a cheerful giver is because a giving heart is a faith-filled heart. It’s a heart that trusts that God will provide. And God is able to make our provisions abound so that we can abound in every good work. God knows how to supply and multiply that we may live for the glory of his name and the good of others, and this is what giving is all about. “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way,” and this will produce thanksgiving, or praise, for God (2 Cor 9:11).


So the reason that giving money is part and parcel of growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ is because it is a way of imaging the God who is abounding and gracious, of praising his holy name, and of being a blessing to others. My exhortation to you today, then, is to prayerfully consider the way you use your money, and to make a firm decision to use all that is in your possession for the glory of your Father and the good of others. May God cause all of us to be cheerful, worshipful, bountiful givers.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

God Exposes in Order to Restore

In his grace, God will expose our sin – pain. But God confronts in order to restore our fortunes – praise.  

For hundreds of years the people of Israel had rebelled against God, and through their intractable stubbornness, forced him into a place where he had to pour out his wrath upon them. God had warned them clearly and repeatedly over centuries of time because he’s immensely patient. But the time does come when mercy gives way to wrath, and for Israel this time had come.

As they were approaching the day when God would punish them, he sent still more prophets to turn them back from calamity. Among other things, God tried to persuade them that they were listening to false voices who were comforting them rather than warning them, who were speaking peace when disaster was looming. For instance, the prophet Jeremiah boldly proclaimed, “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading” (Lamentations 2:14).

Wow, what a scary place to be. Their prophets – the people who claimed to be speaking for God and interpreting his Word for the good of his people – were actually seeing, and saying, false and deceptive things. It’s not good when those who are supposed to be seeking our good actually lead us headlong into evil. And in this case, the prophets of Israel were leading God’s people into evil by refusing to confront them with their sin.

Now, we should slow down here for a minute and understand something: God confronts in order to restore. He gets in our face in order transform our heart. He exposes our sin in order to restore our fortunes. And one mark of false prophets is that they will not cooperate with God in this endeavor but rather will tell people what they want to hear because they’re afraid of them, or because they’re complicit in their sin. But true prophets speak the truth in love. They confront us with compassion, and they woo us toward God with hope.

This is why the Apostle Paul offered this most serious charge to Timothy, one of his young protégés in the ministry: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Oh that God would grant us humble hearts to desire his true Word no matter how hard it is to receive. Though it may sting for a moment, it will bless for an eternity. And when we have to be the one who speaks that hard word, may we do so with love, compassion, and hope in the restoring power of God. May we not fear people or be complicit in their sin, but rather, may we speak the truth in love, even as we seek to apply that truth to our own hearts and lives.

So yes, God will expose our sin, and it’s often painful when he does. But God confronts our sin in order to restore our fortunes, and this always leads to heartfelt praise when we receive his loving rebuke. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Corporate Worship: What Kinds of Songs Should We Sing?

Recently my good friend Orion Stimpel and I had a good discussion about the pros and cons of singing two different kinds of songs in the corporate worship services of the church: (1) verbally-dense, theologically-rich songs, and (2) verbally-sparse, repetitive songs. Rather than reiterating our entire conversation, or trying to offer a full treatment of this subject in just one blog, let me summarize for you the positive argument I made for including a wise blend of both kinds of songs in corporate worship.

First, true praise requires biblical content. Light produces heat, and biblical truth gives rise to godly affections. So as a starting point, we must have truth or we cannot have worship.

Second, verbally-dense, theologically-rich songs, when they’re faithful to the teaching of the Scripture, provide the congregation with the content that gives rise to praise. Of course, when we sing too many of these kinds of songs, or when they get too linguistically complex, we can actually suppress godly affections and diminish heartfelt praise. We can subtly communicate that loving Jesus is solely matter of the mind when it’s not. Nonetheless, these kinds of songs are vital for corporate worship, and if I was forced to choose between the two options above, I would choose this one hundred times out of one hundred.

Third, verbally-sparse, repetitive songs, when they are faithful to the teaching of the Scripture, provide the congregation with an opportunity to meditate more deeply on one particular truth. They allow us to focus our minds on a specific aspect of Christ, and in this way they give rise to heartfelt praise. Of course, when we sing too many of these kinds of songs, we can breed a superficiality or an emotionalism in the church that looks like authentic praise but is not. Nonetheless, carefully chosen, repetitive songs are vital for corporate worship, and I think the church is the poorer when we dis-include them.

Therefore, it seems to me that the best case scenario is when we prayerfully and carefully blend the two, when we sing theologically rich songs that fill our minds with truth, and wisely-chosen repetitive songs that allow us to savor some particular truth. After all, both Psalms 117 and 119 are in the Bible! (If you don’t know what I mean, look them up.)

What do you think? I’d love to hear your point of view. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Growing in Grace by Fasting

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of fasting in the Christian life.

Midway through the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said to his disciples, “And when you fast...” Later he added, “The days will come when the bridegroom [Jesus] is taken away from them [Jesus’ disciples], and then they will fast” (Matthew 6:16; 9:15). The Lord said “when” not “if,” and “they will” not “they might.” Jesus assumed that fasting would be a regular part of his disciples’ lives, and so today I want to address three questions: What is fasting? Why should lovers of Jesus fast? How do we go about fasting?

First, what is fasting? To fast is to deny ourselves food or water or other necessities or pleasures of life for a time. It is putting aside good things so that we can feast on great things. It is a way of making space in our lives so that we can give more of ourselves to prayer and worship and the Word of God. And in this way, fasting is a way of intensifying our quest for God.

If you’ll think about this definition for a moment, you’ll see that we can only fast from things that are good. For instance, we can’t fast from stealing or gluttony or coveting or lust. We have to repent from these things. Indeed, the only things from which we can fast are good gifts from God. So again, fasting is putting aside good things for a time that we might feast on great things like prayer, worship, and the Word of God.

Second, why should lovers of Jesus fast? The primary reason we should fast is that Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same. We don’t fast to be religious, or to deny ourselves for the sake of denying ourselves, or to earn the love of God, or to manipulate God into giving us what we want. Plain and simple, we fast because Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same, and as Christians our passion is to be submissive to Jesus and our greatest hope is to be like Jesus.

Third, how do we go about fasting? Much needs to be said about this, and so rather than trying to answer this question here, I will simply refer you to Bill Bright’s helpful little booklet, Seven Basic Steps to Fasting and Prayer (available on our website at www.gcfmn.org, resources > articles).

My exhortation to us today is simply this: read Bill Bright’s booklet, ask Jesus to help you, take the seven steps, and learn to fast. Rightly understood and practiced, it is one of the most powerful disciplines in the Christian life.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Seeking the Welfare of our Cities for the Glory of Christ

As the people of Israel approached a time of exile, the prophet Jeremiah spoke these words from the Lord: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf...” (Jeremiah 29:7).

This was a specific word from the Lord that was spoken to a particular people in a particular time of history, and therefore and we have to be careful about carelessly applying it to our day. But having said that, I think there’s some wisdom here for Christians who are living in this world because, like Israel, we are sojourners. We are living in a land that’s not our home. And yet, unless Jesus returns before we die, we’re going to live here for the rest of our lives, and so it seems to me that we too should seek the welfare of the towns and cities in which God has placed us.

And make no mistake about it – God has placed every Christian exactly where they live.

Early in the book of Acts we learn of a time when “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they [the believers] were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1). Outwardly this persecution seemed like a great defeat for the gospel and the church, but just three verses later we read that “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). So indeed, the people of God were “scattered” from their homeland and their many comforts, but they were not randomly scattered. Rather, like seeds sown by a master farmer, these precious, chosen people were deliberately placed in many towns and cities that they might exalt the glory of Jesus Christ and call people to saving faith in him. What seemed like a great defeat was actually a divine strategy for global victory!

Surely, this is in part why the Apostle Peter wrote his first letter “to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), that is, of the “scattering” (same Greek word as in Acts 8:1). The people of God are chosen by God and sown like seeds by God in particular places for the glory of his name and the advancements of his purposes. God does not randomly scatter his people, rather, he deliberately places us exactly where we’re at. Of course, we can walk in disobedience and be out of God’s will and all of that, but even in our rebellion the grace of God in Christ will make something of our wanderings. Generally speaking, God’s people are where they are, because God has planted them there.

My fellow Christians, we can advance much in joy and fruitfulness in Christ if we will let this truth sink in, and then begin to seek the welfare of our towns and cities. So I write this brief blog to say let us seek to see and savor the purposes of God for our particular town or city. Let us pray for that place day by day. Let us bless that place day by day. Let us serve that place for the glory of Christ day by day. Let us go about preaching the word of Christ in that place day by day. Let us advocate for justice day by day, remembering the poor even as the Lord remembered us.

And let us rest in the hope that God prospers what he plants. He has sent us, he has planted us, he will use us, and we will rejoice as we bear the fullness of the fruit he’s destined us to bear.


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

John Chrysostom: “The Cause of All Evils is the Failure to Know the Scriptures Well”

John Chrysostom (347-407) was the Charles Spurgeon of the fourth and early fifth centuries, if you will. He served as deacon and then pastor of the church in Syrian Antioch where he honed his preaching skills over a period of about eleven years. By the grace of God in Christ, he became known as an outstanding interpreter of the Scripture, an orator, and as a wise shepherd of the people. But he was not one to be a preacher of the word only, he was also a zealous doer. He taught that sound doctrine and sound living are inseparable, and that if we divide these two we obscure the gospel and diminish the glory of Christ.

Accordingly, he regularly led the people under his care to saturate their lives in the word of Christ, and to pray for the power to walk in his ways. Consider, for example, this wise plea: “Listen carefully to me, I entreat you…Procure books that will be medicines for the soul…At least get a copy of the New Testament, the Apostle’s epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If you encounter grief, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from them comfort for your trouble, whether it be loss, or death, or bereavement over the loss of relations. Don’t simply dive into them. Swim in them. Keep them constantly in your mind. The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well” (in Christopher A. Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Intervarsity, 1998, 88).

This counsel might seem overstated, especially the last line, but I don’t think it is and here’s why. The Word of our God is the medicine of our souls. God created us and he knows our design. He knows how we can fulfill our life’s purpose and achieve eternal joy and why. He knows what ails us and why. He knows how to solve every difficulty and heal every kind of disease. He knows how to deliver from suffering and when to let suffering remain for his glory and our good.

Our God and Father is wise beyond comprehension, and his Word is the means by which he reveals his will, wisdom, and ways. Therefore, when we dive into his Word, swim in it, marinate in it, explore it, seek to understand it, and strive to apply it to the difficulties and evils we are facing, it becomes a healing balm for our suffering souls. When we ignore his Word, we ignore his wisdom, light, and life, and we naturally bear the consequences of our actions. If we knew the Scriptures well, if we knew the wisdom of the all-wise God well, we would indeed avoid countless evils.

Over the years I’ve heard people say that they have gone to the Bible but felt that it didn’t relate to their daily lives and difficulties. I can understand this sentiment, but I think they feel this way because they’re simply looking at the ocean of God’s wisdom rather than diving into it. We must do more than observe our Father’s Word: we must dive in and swim, we must pursue his wisdom as though it’s healing water and living treasure, for that’s what it is.

So I pray that we’ll listen to the wisdom of our long-departed friend, John Chrysostom, and dive deep into the Word of God today.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Growing in Grace by Praying to God

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture our progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of prayer in the Christian life.

Paul writes in Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” The words “continue steadfastly,” like Peter’s word “grow,” implies that we who love Jesus must put forth effort by the grace of Jesus and learn to talk to him about everything. And this is, of course, the essence of prayer: talking to Jesus. Prayer is not some kind of incantation or request line through which we get things from Jesus, rather, it is the highest and most important use of the gift of verbal and non-verbal communication.

And Paul exhorts us to keep on keeping on in prayer because this is the way we remain alert to the presence of Jesus in our lives, the perspective of Jesus on our lives, and the power of Jesus for our lives. In fact, the word translated “watchful” here literally means “to stay awake,” and I think Paul meant it to be taken literally. I think Paul is saying that when we pray we stay awake to the presence, perspective, and power of Jesus, and when we fail to pray we fall asleep to these things. Therefore, it is of vital importance for those who long to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, to learn what it means to persevere in prayer, to talk with our Savior about all things at all times.

The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus bought for us the right of access to the throne-room of our Father. And his desire is that we would become intimately familiar with his courts, spending much time in his presence, seeking his broad and wise perspective, and pleading for the power to do his will.

So my exhortation to you today is this: commit yourself to spending more time with your Father every day, preferably in the morning. When we talk with the Lord at the beginning of the day, we tend to talk with him throughout the day. Press yourself to grow. “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).