How Firm a Foundation

lightstock_161330_small_user_1188538.jpg
My iPhone, as reliable and critical to my life as it is, does have its quirks. For example, every once in a while it apparently downloads and plays random music from my collection. On this morning’s ride to the office, I had originally planned on catching up on my sermon listening, but apparently I didn’t download any (Hey…it IS a Monday…)…so music it was. A few minutes into the drive, the song “How Firm a Foundation” (Enfield version of course, although the original was written in 1787) came on to my surprise. Surprise because it wasn’t on there yesterday. When I hear this song, I think something like “What a great song about the faithfulness of God’s word.”  Yes…but this time the lyrics hit me like a wrecking ball, especially those after verse 1 – here – check out from verse 2 on:

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I never realized the extent of how it is not US holding onto God..but how God strengthens, helps, upholds, sanctifies…US.  How he will not let us be deserted to our foes, and he will never forsake US.  He keeps, guards, protects and holds his children fast.  Even in our deep waters he has a purpose, he is purifying us (consuming the dross) and refining us to make us more into his beautiful image.

The more we think it’s up to us – the more anxiety and stress builds.  The more we think there is no way out other than sinning, the less we depend on God.  This hymn is a great reminder that God calls us to himself, saves us through his son Jesus, and sustains us in his mighty power for the work he calls us to.

It reminds me of Isaiah 41:10, which I’ll leave you with:

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10 ESV)

 

 

 

 


Ignoring God = Idolatry?

lightstock_254632_small_user_1188538

For the last few years, idolatry has been a big buzz word in chruchy circles.  As a Pastor, I have even thought to myself sometimes: “Oh boy, here I go again…beating on the same idolatry drum.”

It is still true, that anything we hold higher than God in our affections and priority is an idol and all the usually illustrated suspects come into play – money, status, relationship, sex, comfort, substances, etc.  How can you tell if something is an idol?  If we sin in order to get it, or if we sin when we don’t get it.

But something dawned on me, as when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed my default mode is to go turtle.  I withdraw into myself.  It dawned on me that when I don’t turn to God for comfort, identity, help…I’m essentially ignoring God and my idol is me.  Not that I think too highly of myself, but instead I don’t look outside myself to God for redemption.  The answer (as Shane and Shane so well put) is never more of me.

This concept is not foreign to the Scriptures.  Many Psalms are “lament” Psalms that are not complaining into thin air, or withdrawing into a turtle shell, it is a directed lament at the all powerful God who alone can help.  There is usually a turning point in the Psalm where the author snaps himself back inline to realize the greatness of God, the great salvation he offers by faith in the Messiah that nothing can take away, and the futileness of turning only to himself.  It would be a soul-building exercise for me (and perhaps I’m not alone) to soak in some Psalms and remember that I’m not the answer.

I’ll leave you with a great example in Psalm 13:

O THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.  How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. [Editorial note: turning point ahead!]

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

(Psalms 13:0–6 ESV)

 


2016 Is Here – What’s Your Reading Plan?

lightstock_4192_xsmall_user_1188538 (1)

2016 is nearly upon us!  With each new year, it is a great chance to start fresh – make positive changes.  (For one, I resolve to be nicer to the cat.) One of the best things you can do is have a plan to read the Bible.  Like…the WHOLE Bible in a year. You can do it. Why should you?  Glad you asked. I can think of a few really awesome reasons.

  1. It builds understanding. Bad thinking starts with a partial understanding of Scripture.  We have all seen verses ripped out of context and misapplied.  Building a view of God around a verse (or a handful of verses) plucked out of context is super bad.  When we read all of the Bible it brings balance and interpretation.
  2. It builds self-discipline.  Have a plan.  Have a time that you read, pray, and meditate every day.  Build it into your routine…make it a habit.  Use the common grace of God found in good coffee. You might have to make little adjustments to protect it.  For example, my wife and I this year are printing out our reading plans and using paper Bibles to be away from our iDevices so that we do not get sucked into social media distractions.
  3. It spills out into other people’s lives.  The more you read and seek to understand Scripture, the better you are able to be an instrument of blessing in other peoples lives.  One of my mini-“resolutions” is to try to use Scripture more in every day conversations.  I can’t do that if I’m not reading it.
  4. It causes you to grow in Godliness and wisdom and character and strength…and a zillion other ways.  One of the things that I find very hard to hear is when someone says “I just wish God would speak to me.”  HE. HAS.  God speaks in His word and we come to understand more of who God is and how we are to live by reading, meditating, and applying His Word.
  5. It’s EASY to find a plan.  You can find them EVERYWHERE.  If you are disciplined enough to be able to use your phone/tablet to read the Bible without being distracted by other stuff you have a plethora of options that serve up the Word right to your screen.  You an also find a treasure trove of other plans on the InterWebs.  For example – here’s a great list.

However you chose to do it…please…let me go “Nike” for a second and “Just Do It.”  Many people gave their lives so that we can have access to God’s Word and many other believers still do not have access to a Bible in their language.  God speaks through His word, let us listen and be changed!

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalms 119:105 ESV)

 

 


Thinking Thankfully

Thanksgiving_Paper_Turkey.001

Today is Thanksgiving and with all holidays, for some folks today brings joy and anticipation (can you say cranberry sauce and stuffing? Football? Seeing family, throwing around little nephews, and perhaps even a nap?) and for others it brings none of those things in parenthesis and maybe even sadness and despair.

Yet…God’s Word instructs us to be thankful always.  Always.  #Ow.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)

How important is it to be thankful?

Erwin Lutzer writes that “Giving thanks changes everything…in fact, thanksgiving is a game changer.”  Why?  He provides two reasons:

  1. Being thankful honors God by reaffirming his sovereignty.  When we thank him in all things, we admit that he is really and truly in control of all things.  Yes, even the bad stuff, and he is able to redeem and restore by the power of the gospel.
  2. Being thankful changes us.  It builds faith in our hearts; the weight of our burdens are God’s not ours.  It gives us a new perspective, if frees us to see difficulties as a part of a larger purpose. It also frees us up to worship God, and reminds us of his goodness, love, and providence.

To echo Lutzer’s last point – thankfulness to God gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto God.  In this world we will all have hardship, but even in those times the answer is not to be full of self-pity and self-focus, but to cast our gaze outside of ourselves to the one who is able to redeem and restore all for his glory and our good.

In thankfulness, we make a conscious decision to thank God for all he has done for us in Christ – we take an axe to the root of unbelief that God isn’t truly good, or he isn’t truly for us, or truly not in control…and we find the strength to climb out of whatever hole we are in, and kill sin and it’s temptations with the grace of the gospel.

 

 

 


Dark Valleys

lightstock_62663_xsmall_user_1188538 (1)

It’s been one of those times where we see lots of suffering around us.  People passing away, marriages stuck in cycles of pain and disfunction, hopes and dreams not coming to fruition, chronic illness and pain not getting better, people reaping the consequences of very bad decisions, innocent children caught in the crossfire…the list goes on.

I found on my desk a copy of Be Still My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering and have read through a few pages.  One in particular struck me it was Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter titled “Dark Valleys.”

We will all indeed go through dark valleys, but in those times we need to remember the truth is that if we are trusting in our Savior Jesus, he will lead us and he is there with us – even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

What is the greatest evidence of this?  The gospel of course.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32 ESV)

Ferguson writes – “I cannot imagine living the Christin life on any other basis that this. If the Father loves me so much that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and to my blessing. 

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fears may become realities. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? What I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Rom 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold anything that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?

 


Adoption and the Gospel

My family has been a licensed NJ Foster Home for a while now, in that time we have seen many kids come through our door.  Some only needing to stay a short time, others several months, and maybe one day (perhaps in the near future) we will be faced with the very real question of adoption. Will we consider making this child a permanent part of our family, we officially become “Mom” and “Dad,” our kids become “Brother” and “Sister,” and we get to call them our “Son” or “Daughter” – with all the rights and privileges therein.  Let’s be straight up – that is a big deal.  Huge.  Perhaps in this life there is no bigger commitment or responsibility than becoming a parent.

The concept of adoption is that a child who has been rejected or orphaned from their birth family can be fully accepted as a member of another family.  In that is actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. Let me explain.

Spiritually, we are all orphans – alienated from our Heavenly Father by sin.  Sin that is in us from the Fall and sin that we have willingly committed in rebellion against God’s authority in our lives.   Just like there is nothing a child can do to make themselves be adopted by another family, there is nothing that we can do spiritually to make us adopted by God.  It is an act of his jaw-dropping grace that he adopts us.  He pursues rebellious sinners and chooses to lavish his love on us in Jesus thru the cross.  Let’s look at a few elements of our spiritual adoption:

  1. God pays the full adoption price in Jesus.  Adoption is costly financially.  Those of you who have adopted internationally are well aware of this.  Then there is the normal expenses of providing for a child.  Adoption is also costly in other ways as well – we give a part everything we have with another child – our time, our emotional energy, our comfort…our sleep! Likewise, the price of our spiritual adoption is extremely high – it is the life of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.  This is an infinitely high price, one that no one can pay except God alone.  He pays it, and we receive adoption. Galatians 4 helps us understand this more deeply – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5 ESV)  Theologian and author J.I. Packer wrote if he had to summarize the message of the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”  God adopting us by providing a wrath-bearing sacrifice (“propitiation”) in Jesus.
  2. We are adopted with all the rights and privileges of God’s child.  When a child is adopted into a family, they assume the family name and everything that goes along with it. This is an astounding fact.  We become children of God.  I heard a Pastor say the other day “We are all God’s creation, but not all His children.” We become His children by faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12 tells us clearly – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV)  Becoming a part of our family is cool and all, but has limited rights and privileges (we aren’t all that famous or wealthy…)  BUT, when we place our faith in Jesus, God adopts us into His family!  Check out Ephesians 1:1-14 for a more detailed list of our blessings of being adopted.
  3. Through adoption, we have direct and intimate access to God as our Father.  Children have (or should have) unrestricted and continuous access to their parents. Kids should have that feeling that they are special and dearly loved by their moms and dads.  They do not need to go thru anyone else to be with mom or dad.  We do not need to go thru a priest, a prophet, or any kind of middle man.  We do not need to be at a certain spiritual level in order to be accepted by God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)  The great Dr. Ryan Boys said that there is no evidence of any ancient Jewish prayers where they called God “Father”  – now thru adoption by faith in Jesus we can!
  4. By adopting us, God makes us heirs to Himself and His kingdom.  Let’s pretend for a moment that my family had amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars, and I had no children.  By adopting a child, they would become heirs to everything I had as my “official” child.  Here’s the crazy thing – is there anything of more supreme worth than God himself?  This is mind blowing even more.  We will inherit God himself.  The joy of being with God is God himself.  Again, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is helpful in understanding this concept more:  “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7 ESV)  Pastor and Author CJ Mahaney spent over an hour plunging the depths of this mystery at the 2015 Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference, I would say that will be an hour worth your time.  (To see that message click here).

All of this is grace and all of it should amaze and astound us with the blessings that God provides in us.  When others notice that we are caring for the widows and orphans and praise us, it is an immediate opening to briefly share that this is the picture of our spiritual adoption in Jesus.  As we show grace to others, let us remember the grace of God in adopting us in Christ Jesus.  Dustin Kensrue sums things up well in his song “Grace Alone”  –

I was an orphan lost at the fall
Running away when I’d hear your call
But Father, you worked your will

I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near your throne
But Father, you loved me still

And in love before you laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as your own
You have raised me up so high above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone

You left your home to seek out the lost
You knew the great and terrible cost
But Jesus, your face was set

I worked my fingers down to the bone
Nothing I did could ever atone
But Jesus, you paid my debt

By your blood I have redemption and salvation
Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown
And you rose that I might be a new creation
I am born again by grace and grace alone


Haiti Day 5 = Chaos (and Bools)

So.  Yeah. Friday’s during Haiti VBS are nuts! Reason being…the kids all expect us to give them presents in the last day. We certainly has our share of soccer balls (about 50) and various other things…but when you have a couple hundred kids that doesn’t go very far.  Chaos is a good word to describe the atmosphere today. And shoving. Lots of shoving. With lots of yelling in CreoleEnglish telling us to “Give me bool.”  (Ball)

  
We did give away all of our “bools” via a contest where the kid lines up far away from the goal and gives it his best kick.  If he or she gets it in, they win the bool.  Here’s a pic of one of the attempts. I’m pretty proud of this shot, every once in a while I get a good one!

  

I had the opportunity to talk again with Alberto. He seems to be a legit follower of Jesus. I saw a man selling Bibles and bought one. After that Alberto asked me if that was a Creole Bible, which it was, and he told me that he didn’t have one. He only had a French one on his phone.  When I gave him the Bible his face lit up. He as so excited to have a Bible in his home language. Here is a shot of my bud and his new Creole Bible. 

  
Tonight we are going back to the town to hold a “crusade” – basically a church service. We will sing a few songs, and I am preaching from Luke 5. Please pray for the Word to go out and for it to penetrate hearts!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,704 other followers

%d bloggers like this: