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Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Is Exactly What I Need Right Now

Transparency time: I’ve been somewhat stressed about a number of issues over the last week. A couple of those issues have been dragging on for a couple months. One for many months. I've tried to fill my mind with true things about God, but it's been a constant fight to keep those things at the front of my mind while these other issues have clawed to take center stage. Then last night in the middle of prayer meeting, I got a phone call that my son had been in a minor car accident. By itself, not a big deal. But in light of everything else going on, I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I need right now.” 

As I drove to the site of the accident, I feared that I was going to sink deeper into melancholy. I've been fighting it for the last week. Fighting hard. I prayed, “Lord, I don't think I can take this.  Please help me.”  I know cognitively that God does not make mistakes, but this sure felt like one, at least in its timing.  However, I was going to see that this truly was exactly what I needed right now.

You see, my son rear-ended the kindest man in West Chester.  Honestly, if this man wasn't a believer, then he was an angel.  He was uncommonly kind and encouraging to me and my son, expressing relief that my son was okay and saying several times, “your son’s life is more important than any damage to my vehicle.”  He shared funny stories about his first car accidents as a teen, two of which happened in the same week.  It seemed as if he wanted one thing - to help me be okay.  Even his voice and eyes were soothing to me.  As I thanked him for his kindness and understanding, he said, “God bless you.”  With police report in hand, I left the scene of that accident in the dark, pouring rain, but the clouds had lifted from my heart.

It was such a simple thing. This man didn't say anything profound.  He didn't exhort me from the Word.  He was just a conduit of God's kindness right when I needed it.  The Lord demonstrated to me that I was precisely right when I said to myself earlier, “this is exactly what I need right now.”  I meant it sarcastically, but it was true.  God always knows exactly what I need, and what I needed was for my son to get into the most pleasant fender-bender of all time.  The other issues with which I have been troubled have not changed since yesterday, but this small gesture of the Lord’s kindness has changed my attitude about all of it.  

How easy it is to live differently than what we say we believe.  “God is sovereign.  He is in control of all things.  He forces all things to work out for our good.”  But at times, this issue and that issue are so annoying to me that they couldn't possibly be for my good and I wish that they would go away right this second; they seemingly override my theology.   But when I slow down long enough to think biblically, I know it's all from him.  He's doing me good.  When I can't take another thing, He gives me more.  And there could be a million reasons why.  He may make it obvious in that moment why, or I may wait until eternity future to know why. Either way, I do know that one thing is true and I must remind myself that it is true: no matter what happens, this is exactly what I need right now.  I know because He has brought it about.

Psalm 145 came to me today to put a biblical interpretation on last night. Verse 13 reads, “The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.”  Verse 17 says something similar:  “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” Verse 18, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

No matter what the Lord brings into my life, He does it out of faithfulness and righteousness. He's being kind and good.  He is near to me, always giving me just what I need right now.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

He Delights To Listen to Us

The sacrifice of the wicked is destestable to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight. Proverbs 15:8

God has created us to be conversational people, but even the most conversational of us have our limit.  For example, many of us have friends or family members who seem to always be looking for a handout.  What do we do when we see them coming?  We avoid them as much as we can because we’re tired of being hounded.

What about in the home?  We love our kids and want to talk to them, but there’s a threshold, isn’t there?  I like movies, but I’ve mentioned before that I have trouble suspending disbelief.  It’s always annoying when movies unrealistically depict families in which the parents hang on their children’s every word 24/7.  Come on.  Those of us in the real world know better.  By the time 8 or 9 o’clock rolls around, it’s time for the 12-hour quiet game.  Sometimes that quiet game needs to happen much, much earlier.  That’s reality.  

What about at work?  The guy in the next cubicle who’s convinced you care about his dog’s new puppies.  And the weird sound the right side of his dashboard is making.  And his grandmother-in-law’s hip.  So he updates you in detail every day while you’re desperately trying to meet deadlines.  

We don’t have the capacity to listen all the time.  We get annoyed.  Some of that is sinfulness; some of it may just be fatigue and circumstance.  

But what a tragedy when we imagine that God is just like us.  I’m afraid that some of us are reluctant to approach God with “small” prayers and “long” prayers and the “same old” prayers because we think He’s like us, annoyed by all the noise. 

“I don’t want to bother the Lord with such a small thing.”  Doesn’t Peter encourage us to cast all our cares on the Lord because He cares for us?  (1 Pet 5:7)

“I don’t want to take up so much of His time.”  The Psalmist says that “the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Psa 103:17).  An eternal God is never crunched for time.

“I’ve prayed for the same thing so many times; He’s probably sick of hearing it.”  Isn’t that precisely what Jesus encouraged us to do in Luke 18:1-8“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart…”

The fact is that God is nothing like us.  He’s quite clear about this (Psa 50:21).  And consider this: …the prayer of the upright is his delight (Pro 15:8b).

Unlike all the situations in which we are resistant to listening to others, God regards our approach with a genuine, “oh, good. Good.”  He is a perfectly, unceasingly loving and welcoming Father.  He delights to listen to us. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Value of Old Voices

“Why should Christians care about what historic people (like Spurgeon) thought on a passage/topic?  Aren’t they old and out of date?” 

This was a question submitted to the Spurgeon Study Bible contest on the Truth &Circumstances podcast.  It was asked tongue-in-cheek, but I’d like to answer it here because it’s possible that some people aren’t sure why we care about historical figures like the Spurgeon and the Puritans and their writings.

There are at least a couple of reasons that we should value the writings of historical saints.  First, they serve as guard rails on our theology.  Some of you may not be old enough to see this happening in yourself, but I’ve known myself to drift theologically when I don’t keep a close watch on things.  Likewise, there is such a phenomenon as collective drift, where a community of people gradually move from a theological position together.  By consulting the writings of the past, we make sure we’re not doing that. 

Some might say, “well, don’t we just need the Bible as our guard rails?”  Good point.  But when it comes to interpreting the Bible, there is safety in numbers.  When interpreting a passage of Scripture or considering a particular doctrine, is it better only to consult our contemporaries, or all the best interpreters and theologians of all church history?  The answer should be obvious. 

Second, historical figures like the Spurgeon and the Puritans write with poignant wisdom that is very difficult to find even among the most accomplished writers of today.  When you factor in how technology has degraded our attention spans and ability to communicate, these writers of old read like something straight out of heaven.  Only on the rarest of occasions have I read a tweet that has made my heart soar.  (And typically, that tweet has been a one-liner from the writing of a Puritan!)  But when I read Spurgeon or the Puritans, I cannot but feel edified with every line.  Once when reading On Keeping the Heart by John Flavel, I was underlining all the lines that stood out to me as especially gripping.  Eventually, I stopped because I noticed that in the span of five pages there were two lines I did not underline!  You simply cannot find that kind of wisdom that well written in modern books.  We need these writings. 

I want to give you a brief taste.  Below is one prayer from The Valley of Vision: ACollection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  As we’ve been focusing on prayer at PBF this year, I thought it would be appropriate.  It’s a great place to start if you want to get your feet wet reading older writings.  A piece of counsel: Read this slowly and mindfully.  Don’t scarf it like you would a Facebook post.  Read each line and think about what it means.

Eternal Father,
It is amazing love,
            That thou hast sent thy Son to suffer in my stead,
            That thou hast added the Spirit to teach, comfort, and guide,
            That thou hast allowed the ministry of angels
                        To wall me round;
All heaven subserves the welfare of a poor worm.
Permit thy unseen servants to be ever active on my behalf,
            And to rejoice when grace expands in me.
Suffer them never to rest until my conflict is over,
            And I stand victorious on salvation’s shore.
Grant that my proneness to evil, deadness to good,
            Resistance to thy Spirit’s motions,
            May never provoke thee to abandon me.
May my hard heart awake thy pity, not thy wrath,
And if the enemy gets an advantage through my corruption,
            Let it be seen that heaven is mightier than hell,
            That those for me are greater than those against me.
Arise to my help in richness of covenant blessings,
Keep me feeding in the pastures of thy strengthening Word,
            Searching Scripture to find thee there.
If my waywardness is visited with a scourge,
            Enable me to receive correction meekly
                        To bless the reproving hand,
                        To discern the motive of rebuke,
                        To respond promptly, and do the first work.
Let all thy fatherly dealings make me a partaker of thy holiness.
Grant that in every fall I may sink lower on my knees,
             And that when I rise it may be to loftier heights of devotion.
May my every cross be sanctified,
            Every loss be gain,
            Every denial a spiritual advantage,
            Every dark day a light of the Holy Spirit,

            Every night of trial a song.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Psalm 100: Joyful Dependence

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.(Ps. 100)

From the moment we are born, we move toward a state of independence.  It is in our human nature to long to throw off the shackles of what we perceive to be holding us back.  The crawling baby wants to walk.  The adolescent wants to leave home.  The employee wants to be his own boss.  At every stage of life, our flesh desires to be free of that which holds us down.

We don’t want to be told what to do.  We want to be subject to no one.  We want to be our own person.  We want independence, breathing room, freedom.  And we believe that if we could only get to that place, we would enjoy life fully.

How interesting then that the Psalmist would find reason for joyful thanksgiving in a state of complete dependence and servitude, subjection and need. 

Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving, a call to worship.  Vv1-2 are just what you would expect:  Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!  Serve the LORD with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!

But v3 is striking.  It falls right in the middle of the psalm and serves as the central idea of the poem.  In the center of this call to worship there is the imperative to know God’s rightful place in authority over us:  Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;  we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 

In one verse, there are five allusions to the authority of God: God, Creator, Master, King, and Shepherd.  Conversely then, these imply five pictures of our dependence and obligation to Him: worshiper, creation, servant, subject, and sheep. 

Know that the LORD, he is God!  He is our God – He has sovereignty over us. 

It is he who made us...  He is our Creator – He has a purpose for us. 

...and we are His.  He is our Master – He has all rights over us.  

We are His people…  He is our King – He has dominion over us. 

…and the sheep of His pasture.  He is our Shepherd – He has love, patience, and care for us.

The Psalmist cites this reality as a cause for celebration.  He revels in his low position and in the LORD’s exaltation above him.  How far removed that is from the world’s perspective.  How far removed that is from the perspective of many of us.

Many confessing Christians spend their days straining against the authority of God in their lives.  They want the benefits, but none of the obligation.  They want the reward, but none of the sacrifice.  They want a Savior, but not a Lord. 

The mark of a true believer is the ever-present awareness that he is not his own.  He has a Master, an Owner.  He understands that every decision he makes and every deed he does should be undertaken for the service of his King, for the glory of his Creator.  He knows that every step he takes and every provision that he enjoys have been provided by his Shepherd.  His is a life of obligation, servitude, subjection, and joy.

Why joy?  Look at v5: For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Our God is good.  Our Master is loving.  Our Shepherd is faithful.  Our Creator is eternal.  True freedom can only be found in total dependence upon and slavery to Him.  Hallelujah.