I Want To Be Like Sylvia

Outside our kitchen window a lone spider hangs in the center of her web, waiting for stray flies and small moths to snag themselves in her snare.  She’s the center of her world, sucking all things into her vortex.

That’s a picture of people before Christ saves them.  But the grace of God in Christ turns self-centered sinners into other-focused servants.

Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”  Titus 2.14

Jesus didn’t sacrifice himself only to secure the pardon of our sins, as stupendous as that is.  For the cross also redeems us “from all lawlessness” – our tendency to rebel.

But God’s omnipotent grace doesn’t stop there.  It produces a people who are “zealous for good works” – passionate, fervent, earnest, and ardent to do good for the glory of Jesus.

In The Great Work of the Gospel, John Ensor tells this story:

“Sylvia Anthony’s husband died in 1987.  Before he died, the hospital supervising his care burned a hole in his stomach, making a sick man even sicker.  The hospital awarded him $90,000 for its error.  Being a generous man, he gave over half of it away before he died.  Sylvia used a little of it to bury her husband and the rest to house young unwed mothers needing transitioanal housing.  She opened her home and, when that filled up, rented another.  In two years she had spent almost all of the money, but by then enough other people had joined in to help nurse the work along.  Now called Sylvia’s Haven, it provides housing for several dozen single mothers in transition.  What compels a woman in her sixties, in the midst of her grief, to take the biggest chunk of money she ever saw and spend it on lost, sometimes drug-addicted and almost always rebellious young unwed mothers?”

What compels her is gospel grace making her zealous for good deeds.  I want to be like Sylvia.  I want to be more zealous to do good to others.

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (RO 12.11)

Let’s pray for grace to be zealous to serve.  Let’s sieze opportunities to do any kind of good we can, be it encouraging a downcast saint, working with our children, serving in the church, reaching out to the needy or giving our money to the kingdom.

Lord Jesus, give me your zeal.  Make me zealous for my Father’s house, as you are, and zealous for good deeds.

photo by De Shark

Read Books, Not Blogs

My friend Tony and I have been having some good conversations about blogs. I like blogs. I write one for crying out loud. But Tony has freshly reminded me why I want to be reading much more from good books than I do from blogs. Here’s a few reasons why.

Books Require More Reflection From the Reader

When I sit down to read John Owen, my brain needs to be fully engaged. His deep theological arguments go on for pages and require intense thought and reflection. When I’m done reading Owen my ears are dripping brain fluid and my heart is warm with truth. Reading a good theological book is like having a deep heart-to-heart conversation with an incredibly godly person.

Generally speaking, blog posts are quick bites. Usually weighing in at 400 words are less, they don’t require the same type of intense, heart-searching thought. I want to read more books because they don’t pander to my television-created short attention span.

Books Are the Result of Much Reflection By the Writer

Writing a book is like giving birth, except without the intense pain and the hospitals and a baby at the end. Seriously though, writing a God-honoring book requires hours of hard work, deep thought, and prayer. They’re the result of many hours of meditation on the word of God. When I sit down to read a book by John Piper, I know that I’m reading the words of a man who has thought long and hard about what it means to follow Christ.

Blogs require much less work by the writer. On a good day I can bang out a blog post in thirty minutes. They’re not the result of two years worth of sermons or hundreds of hours hunched over the sacred text. I hope they’re rooted in scripture and encouraging to the saints. But books flow out of person’s life, blog posts flow out of a person’s current thoughts.

Books Bring Accountability

For a book to be published it must go through a gauntlet of tests. It must be approved by a publishing committee that trusts the author, it must be scrutinized by an editor, and it must be endorsed by reputable people. This process in a sense holds authors accountable.

Blog posts can be written by anyone at anytime in anyplace. No credentials needed. No accountability required. All behind the beautiful anonymity of the Internet.

So will I keep reading blogs? Certainly. But hopefully not at the expense of good books.

What Does It Mean To Fear God?

His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love. (Ps 147:10-11)

I have a friend whose describes his grandfather as a cantankerous old man who would sit in his chair all day and thwack him and his cousins with his cane anytime they walked in front of him.  Is this what God is like?

God commands us to fear him and says that he takes pleasure in us when we fear him.  Why?  Does he enjoy us being afraid of him?  I know I don’t want my children to be afraid of me.  I want them to love me and enjoy being with me, not to be afraid of me.  So, in what sense are we to fear God?  The “fear” that brings God pleasure is not our being afraid of him, but our having a high and exalted, reverential view of him.

To “fear him” means to stand in awe of him: “Let all the earth FEAR the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world STAND IN AWE OF HIM!” (Ps 33.8).  To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of his majesty, power, wisdom, justice and mercy, especially in Christ – in his life, death and resurrection – that is, to have an exalted view of God.

We humans tend to be in awe of worldly power, talent, intelligence and beauty.  But these things don’t impress God because “His delight is not in the strength of the horse (mighty armies, worldly power) nor his pleasure in the legs of a man (human strength).”  But God delights in those who fear him – those who stand in awe of him –  and instead of trusting in their own human abilities or resources, “hope in his steadfast love.”

By way of contrast, the wicked person doesn’t fear God – he doesn’t stand in awe of God.  The wicked has a low view of God:

Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God
before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
He plots trouble while on his bed;
he sets himself in a way that is not good;
he does not reject evil.” (PS 36.1-4
)

The wicked person has such a low view of God and such a lack of awe for God that he doesn’t think God can find out his sin or hate it.  He doesn’t act wisely or do good because he doesn’t view God as holy and just and serious about punishing sin.  He trusts in his own wits and strength.  Obviously, the Lord doesn’t find any pleasure in the wicked.

So let us fear God – stand in awe of him, take refuge in him, and hope in his steadfast love. For it brings the Lord pleasure when we trust in him for strength and help, not our own wits and resources.

photo by oscar alexander