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

Does God Care If I Clap?

Personality differences are a wonderful gift from God. We need loud and expressive people to keep us on our toes. We need quiet and reflective people to calm us down. Here’s the thing though. Often times we improperly import our personality types into our worship of God. Those who are loud love to sing (usually off key), clap, and dance. Those who are quiet prefer reflective, reverent meditation. All of this begs the question: which one is right? Does God prefer loud people or reverent people?

Fortunately, scripture doesn’t leave us hanging. In fact, it spells it out pretty clearly. God loves and desires both responses from all people. Check out Psalm 47:1-2

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.

The thing I love about this Psalm is that God gives us both the what and the why. He commands us to clap our hands and to sing to God with loud songs of joy. This isn’t a command based on personality type. It’s not reserved for extroverts. All people are called to clap and to sing loud songs of joy to God.

Why? Because he is the Lord Most High. He’s the great king who rules over all the earth. In light of God’s glorious majesty, clapping and loud songs are the right response! It wouldn’t be right to always be silent and reflective in the presence of God. His beauty and glory call for more.

Let’s be encouraged by this Psalm to move toward loud, expressive worship of God. In church, in the car, in the shower. Yes, worship is matter of the heart. You can belt it out without giving a rip about God. But true worship doesn’t stay in the heart. It animates the hands to clapping and the vocal chords to loud songs.

Amazing, Omnipotent Grace

The Opening Ceremony for the Promised Land would be an event to remember.

In DT 27, Moses commanded Israel that after crossing the Jordan, 6 of the 12 tribes – men, women and children were to stand in front of Mount Gerazim, while across the valley, the other 6 tribes would stand before Mt. Ebal.  The Levites would set the ark of the Covenant between the 2 throngs.  Then those on Mt. Gerizim were to call out the blessings God promised for keeping his laws, while the rest would listen.  Then the thousands on Mt. Ebal would chant the curses threatened for disobedience.  Then the Levites were to shout out 12 more curses for breaking God’s laws, and after each the people were to shout from the mountains, “Amen” – so be it.  Bring it on.

The blessings and curses are listed in Dt 28.  The blessings promised for obedience were incredible.  God said essentially, if you obey me, you will be the most prosperous people on earth.  Everything will go right for you from your kids to your cows and crops.  You’ll be so rich the nations of the world will come to you for loans.  You’ll be number one in the world – my chosen people.

The curses for disobedience were hellish – God said you’ll have the Midas touch in reverse – everything you touch will be cursed – your kids, your crops, your homes.  I’ll curse you with confusion, frustration, pestilence, wasting disease, fever, boils, scabs, madness, blindness.  Other nations will rip you off, and carry off your children. You’ll be decimated and hauled off to cruel slavery.

You’d think these incredible promises and horrific threats would have been enough to motivate Israel to obey.  But they quickly abandoned God and eventually all the curses engulfed them until Babylon finally ripped them from their land.

Amazingly, the most fabulous blessings and the most blood-curdling curses can’t inspire a sinful heart to obey.  The law provides neither the desire nor the power to obey it.

But God’s astounding grace provides both.

In Christ Jesus, grace invades our lives, purifies us, then creates in us new hearts that delight in God. But omnipotent grace does far more than regenerate us.  It keeps working itself out in our lives, renovating our thoughts, motives, and attitudes. Grace justifies us, adopts us, empowers us, and remakes us into Christ’s image. It transforms us from selfish rebels to humble servants.

How miraculous, powerful,unstoppable and amazing is grace!

photo of present-day Mts. Gerazim and Ebal: bibleplaces.com

Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

See if you can relate to this scene. You’re in Blockbuster, desperately trying to find a movie to watch that night. Your eyes flick across row after row of movie, finally settling upon one that looks somewhat interesting. But you’ve read reviews of this movie and know that there’s at least one inappropriate sexual scene and a smattering of cussing. You debate in your mind. Should you get the movie? What’s the right thing to do?

Or try this scene on for size. You’re cruising iTunes looking for some new music. You see that Coldplay has a new album out. After doing a little research you find out that the lyrics are mostly clean. Now you’ve got a dilemma. Is it right for you to listen to a mostly clean album?

Final scene. Ladies, you’re shopping for clothes and find what appears to be the “perfect” outfit for a bargain price. A closer look reveals that the neckline sinks a bit low. Is it too immodest? How can one know?

These are all dilemmas that Christians face on a regular basis. Simply put, how do we honor God in a fallen world? How do we live in the world without having a love affair with the world?

It’s this constant tension that makes me very grateful for a new book entitled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. Edited by C.J. Mahaney and written by wise, godly pastors, the book provides wise counsel for Christians. What exactly will you find in the pages? Here’s the chapter titles:

Is This Verse In Your Bible? – C.J. Mahaney

God, My Heart, and Media – Craig Cabaniss

God, My Heart, and Music – Bob Kauflin

God, My Heart, and Stuff – Dave Harvey

God, My Heart, and Clothes – C.J. Mahaney

How to Love the World – Jeff Purswell

This is a much needed book on a crucial topic and I am eager to start reading. Let me encourage you to get a copy. It will serve your soul.

Get the book HERE

Edwards On Electing Grace

This quote by Jonathan Edwards is breathtaking:

Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine [of electing grace] shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, set so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you. And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing you from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy.
Quoted in Chosen For Life by Sam Storms

If you are a Christian, it is because God has shown you peculiar mercy. He chose to pour out mercy upon you, not because of anything good in you, but because of His sovereign grace. Why did he save you and not your neighbor? Why do you know Christ, but your parents don’t? Because for some reason, God chose to pour out lavish mercy upon you. This should cause our hearts to explode in loud praise for the Lord. Take time today to sing the praises of the God who saved you.

Originally published on June 20, 2007

What Happened To The Sovereignty Of God?

It was one of those “teachable moments” a dad can seize to impress spiritual truth on the tender minds of his children.

We were driving to Maryland, where I was supposed to speak in a church that evening.  We weren’t running late, but we didn’t have any time to spare.  About 30 minutes into the 3 hour trip, we came upon stalled traffic.  Up ahead we could see the orange signs of a construction area.

After sitting there for awhile, being the model of godliness that I was, I put my hands behind my head, stretched, and with the very faith of Abraham said, “Well kids, it’s times like these it’s good to trust in the sovereignty of God.  Yep.  God’s in control.  Don’t have a thing to worry about.”  What comfort, what assurance, what peace my mighty faith must have given my family.  Surely someday a bronze statue of me would mark the spot, with the inscription “The Man of Faith.”

About 1.2 minutes later we still weren’t moving.  Looking at my watch, I suddenly blurted out, “This is not good!”

My wife, Kristi, slowly turned to look at me with an expression of disbelief, amusement and pity.  “What happened to the sovereignty of God?”

“Oh, yeah.  God is sovereign.  Of course.  I know that.  Don’t you think I know that?  I was just testing to see if you knew that.”

How quickly we can cave in our faith.  How easily we can trust God one moment, then doubt him the next.  Colossians tells us that we must “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (1:23). We must continue to trust in the mighty power of his cross to justify us before him.  Continue to trust God’s promises and faithfulness despite what our eyes see.  Continue to trust that he’s sovereign though everything seems out of control, and to believe he’s good despite pain and suffering.

It’s not enough to burst out of the starting gate, we need to hold fast to Christ until the end of the race.

So keep clinging to the One who’s holding you; keep trusting the One whose everlasting arms are underneath you.

photo by haydnseek