Monthly Archives: June, 2012

Summer Savoring: Knowing God

In his book, God Transcendent, J. Gresham Machen makes this statement:  “There is an ultimate mystery before which the knowledge of the wisest men is dumb” (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1949, p.18).  I trust you agree.  In spite of our limitations imposed by the fall, we should, however, remain on a quest to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).  One of the volumes which has greatly assisted me in that endeavor has been J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.  Many of you have been blessed by this book as well.  Over the past several weeks, I have refreshed myself with its contents.  As expected, I have also been greatly encouraged.  If you have never read Knowing God, I challenge you to do so this summer.  You will not regret doing so!

One of the chapters that I particularly enjoy is entitled “The Majesty of God.”  Here are a few quotes for your meditation.

“The Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God. But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack: and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby. We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God. When the person in the church, let alone the person on the street, uses the word God, the thought is rarely of divine majesty. A well-known book is called Your God Is Too Small; it is a timely title. We are poles apart from our evangelical forefathers at this point, even when we confess our faith in their words. When you start reading Luther, or Edwards, or Whitefield, though your doctrine may be theirs, you soon find youself wondering whether you have any acquaintance at all with the mighty God whom they knew so intimately” (p.83).

“How may we form a right idea of God’s greatness? The Bible teaches us two steps that we must take. The first is to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make Him small. The second is to compare Him with powers and forces which we regard as great” (p.85).

“How slow we are to believe in God as God, sovereign, all-seeing and almighty! How little we make of the majesty of our Lord and Savior Christ! The need for us is to ‘wait upon the LORD’ in meditations on His majesty, till we find our strength renewed though the writing of these things upon our hearts” (p.89).

Are you waiting upon the LORD?  In other words, are you carving out time in your busy schedule to renew your mind (Rom. 12:2)?  I call it “personal devotions.”  The designation does not matter; the destination does!  As I seek God’s face (1 Chr. 16:11), I want to see more of His majesty that I might glorify Him all the more and glory in Him with my whole being.

Does that sentiment ring true in your heart as well?  I pray it so.

Have a great (though HOT) weekend!

Fire and Rain: God’s Sovereignty and Our Prayers

That’s Mt. Carmel, Israel, in the background–the location of some amazing events.

As our praying and waiting upon God continued, I felt a bit like Elijah.  Surely you remember the account of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  In a very real sense, Elijah put God on display.  In reality, we understand that God was actually putting Himself on display, proving that He alone was God (1 Ki. 18:39).  As a result, He allowed Elijah to do something dramatic.  Do you recall what happened?  No matter what the prophets of Baal did to summon their god that day, all their efforts were in vain.  False gods don’t make appearances, even if four hundred followers dance and scream!  However, the LORD made a grand appearance!  He showed up that afternoon and left a lasting impression, doing what He alone could do.  It was amazing.  The sacrifice, the altar and the water were destroyed by fire.  The sovereign God did what only He could do.

The story continues…

Another amazing event took place that day.  Our sovereign God heard and answered the prayers of His prophet.  Drought had come three-and-a-half years earlier.  The nation desperately needed a shower.  After God came in fire, Elijah beseeched Him to send forth rain.  Praying in a posture of absolute submission (1 Ki. 18:42), Elijah believed the Lord would answer that very day.  Seven times He sent His servant to look at the Mediterranean.  Six times the man returned to Elijah.  “No rain.”  The prophet continued to pray.  But on the seventh mission, he was told:

“Oh yes, a cloud! But very small, no bigger than someone’s hand, rising out of the sea” (18:44; The Message).

God had heard Elijah’s prayer!  And although the Lord required His prophet to persevere in prayer, He did indeed say “Yes.”

You might be considering offering an objection at this particular point:  “Sure, but I’m not Elijah!  He was a courageous prophet from Israel.”

James has a great rebuttal:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16-18; NASB).

In light of what we read in the Old Testament (God sending fire and rain in response to Elijah’s requests), this passage in James should astound us!  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.  In other words, Elijah was a sinner too.  Yet–God willingly heard and answered His prayers!  Why?  Because He wanted the Israelites to know that He alone is God!  Because He wanted to water His earth.  Because He wanted to give us an amazing illustration. 

Is God sovereign?  Is He in complete control of all events?  Yes.  Does He employ our prayers in that process?  Yes.  The fire arrived after Elijah prayed.  The rain fell after Elijah prayed with perseverance.  God did what God does best.  Elijah did what we all should do.  He prayed.  He prayed believingly.

How are you praying?  Pray believingly.  Pray specifically.  Pray today.  Pray.

You might be a sinner like Elijah (in fact, you are).  But Elijah’s God is alive and well.  And if you are His child, He still likes to amaze!  Although we are trusting God to provide what we lack for some impending bills, we are praising Him for hearing our cries and answering to the extent that He did!  Last week reminded us afresh that our sovereign God genuinely cares. 

Toasting God

We popped open the bubbly last night to celebrate God’s provision for our family.  I was offered a full-time job at a local IT company.  I was offered another class to teach for the college.  We received a gift from dear friends to help us with our July expenses.  And yesterday Jodi was asked to teach three classes at RCA (English for 5th & 6th, 7th & 8th and High School).

Many of you have prayed for us.  Thank you.  Your continued prayers are appreciated.  This weekend, however, we are celebrating God’s greatness and God’s goodness!  Won’t you join us in toasting God?!

Walking with Jehovah-Jireh

You probably remember this account quite well.  It simply isn’t every day when you read of God commanding a man to kill his son.  But that is exactly what the Lord told Abraham.

“He said, ‘Take your dear son Isaac whom you love and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I’ll point out to you'” (Genesis 22:2; The Message).

Do you recall Abraham’s response?  It was as remarkable as the directive!

“Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants and his son Isaac. He had split wood for the burnt offering. He set out for the place God had directed him” (Genesis 22:3; The Message).

God commanded.  Abraham obeyed.  However, Abraham’s relationship with God was more than that of King-vassal.  It was one of deep trust.  In other words, Abraham had much confidence in the character of the One who commanded.

In his great gratitude and praise, Abraham gives God a title many of us have come to cherish–Jehovah-Jireh.

“Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the LORD it will be provided'” (Genesis 22:14; NASB).

Here’s the rendering of verse fourteen in The Message:

“Abraham named that place GOD-Yireh (GOD-Sees-to-It). That’s where we get the saying, ‘On the mountain of GOD, he sees to it.'”

“God sees to it”!  Don’t you love that?!

Consider the following words by Charles Spurgeon:

“If we follow the Lord’s bidding, he will see to it that we shall not be ashamed or confounded. If we come into great need by following his command, he will see to it that the loss shall be recompensed. If our difficulties multiply and increase so that our way seems completely blocked up, Jehovah will see to it that the road shall be cleared. The Lord will see us through in the way of holiness if we are only willing to be thorough in it, and dare to follow wheresoever he leads the way” (sermon found on http://www.preceptaustin.org/jehovah-jireh.htm#J).

God will see to it.  He will prove to be Jehovah-Jireh.  Want a New Testament proof-text?

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33; KJV [“these things” are defined by Jesus as our basic needs]).

Today finds me encouraged by the doctrine of God’s immutability.  He does not change.  Abraham’s Jehovah-Jireh is my Provider.  The promise of Jesus given during the sermon on the mount remains in effect.  If I follow the “Lord’s bidding” (“seeking first His kingdom and righteousness”), I need not worry!

How encouraging is that?!

We’ve got some pretty big needs at present (a new job, provision for July, etc.).  You probably do as well.  If you are a child of God, trust Him.  Strive to be faithful today while you rest in the character of Jehovah-Jireh!

Summer Savoring–Jonathan Edwards’ sermons

I returned to the sermons of Jonathan Edwards this week for two purposes.  First, I was in search of some good quotes on prayer.  I found them, and will share some in Sunday School!  Second, I find that very few preachers challenge me to both love and live Christ like this man.  As you prepare to gather with God’s people this weekend, meditate on the following thoughts from an imperfect man who deeply treasured his perfect God.

“Let us attend to the Word of God, read and hear it carefully, consider it thoroughly, and daily walk by it” (The Warning of Scripture).

“God sometimes will bless weak means for producing astonishing effects” (God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men).

“The redeemed are dependent on God’s power through every step of their redemption” (God Glorified in Man’s Dependence).

“You all have a large treasure of divine knowledge in that you have the Bible in your hands. Therefore do not be content with possessing but little of this treasure. God has spoken much to you in the Scriptures. Labor to understand as much of what He says as you can” (The Importance of a Thorough Knowledge of Truth).

“Our hearts are so full of sin that they are ready to betray us” (The Necessity of Self-Examination).

“Our enemies must be drowned in the all-sufficient Fountain and, as it were, in the sea of Christ’s blood, as the Egyptians were in the Red Sea; and then we may sing, as the children of Israel did in the day when they came up out of the land of Egypt. When sin is thus slain, then God is wont to open a door of hope, a door through which there flashes a sweet light out of heaven upon the soul. Then comfort arises, and then is there a new song in the mouth, even praise to God” (Hope and Comfort Usually Follow Repentance).

The quotes above were located in:  To All The Saints of God:  Addresses To The Church, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2003).

BRIEFLY mistaken for Jesus

Cascade:  “Daddy, is that your face?”

TJ:  “No, no, no, Cassie, that’s Jesus.”

My three-year-old was hanging upside down on the recliner, looking in my direction.  Since her view of me was blocked, she wondered if I was the picture on the bookshelf.  It’s the picture above–a branding of Jesus in wood with the Korean words faith, hope and love.

I don’t see the resemblance.

Do you?  Don’t answer that!

This past Sunday our Sunday School class studied Acts 4:1-22.  In that passage, Luke describes the arrest of Peter and John for the healing of the lame man and their continued teaching about Jesus and His resurrection.  At one point, the religious leaders marveled at the men, sensing that they were uneducated, common men (4:13). Then it dawned on them.  They began to recognise Peter and John.

“They had been with Jesus” (4:13).

The content of their teaching, and how they taught, looked like their Master!  How many hours had they sat under the teaching of Jesus?  How many times had they witnessed their Rabbi answer the questions of others?

Consider for a moment the immediate context here in Acts, chapter four.  Just prior to Luke’s mention of Peter and John’s boldness and the recognition on the part of the Jewish leaders, he records a very important statement uttered by a Spirit-filled Peter.

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men my which we must be saved” (4:12).

WOW!  Where did these men get such a narrow-minded understanding of salvation?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6).

Standing before a group of sceptics, the apostles did not waver in their allegiance.  They were not ashamed of Jesus or of His teachings.  They refused to compromise.  They had heard Jesus clearly proclaim that He was the way, not simply a way.  They had seen His boldness when confronted by the religious hypocrites.  Now they were walking in His footsteps.

Did they look like Jesus?  Well, there wasn’t a perfect match.  However, what they were saying, and how they were acting and reacting, was similar!

I trust I look nothing like Jesus–physically.  I do hope, though, that I am beginning to look like Him in other areas.  Like Peter and John, I believe what Jesus proclaimed.  I, too, promote Him as God’s gracious provision to unending bliss in eternity.  Hopefully my actions and reactions are also beginning to look like His.  It’s a process–a long process, but it is a process to which I am committed.

Thanks for stopping by Striving For Reality today!

Dump Closed. Go to Church.

That is exactly what the sign reads at one of our local dumps.  When I took a load of trash to the dump on Friday afternoon, I noticed the sign as I drove in.  The place is open on Sundays from 1:00-5:30PM.  Under that information appeared a less-than-subtle encouragement from the manager:  “Go to Church.”

“Well, fine, I’ll go to church” (Cascade aka Miss Sassy now talks like that).

Twenty-five years into my Christian walk, I still actively attend church.  Like most of you, I’ve been bored.  I’ve been burned.  I’ve been disappointed.  However, that does not give me the right to abandon God’s plan for my growth or the growth of others.

I need the church.  The church needs me.

I also need to pray.  This morning I was challenged by another makeshift sign.  As I drove south on HWY 153 through Hixson (a northern section of Chattanooga), I easily noticed the very large word PRAY on the side of a sheet metal building.  Whoever painted those words wants me to pray.  I don’t know what exactly was on his/her mind (or whether or not it might be described as “religious vandalism”), but every time I read the words I consider it an admonition to remain in fellowship with God.

If I am to be the man the Lord wants me to be, if I am to make a difference in the lives of those around me, if I am going to accomplish anything of lasting value, I need to stay in fellowship with God’s people and–more importantly–with God Himself.

Today found me praying and working.  Sunday will find me praying and serving at church.

Are you taking advantage of the means of grace at your disposal (Bible reading, church attendance, fellowship, prayer, etc.)?  I simply do not understand how professing Christians think that they are fine while not proactively seeking Christ.  I am thankful that I have the desire to do so.  I am also fearful of what I would become, what I would do, if I strayed!  May God keep us all from straying!

Remember–the dump is closed on Sunday morning.

Steppin’ in Faith Today–Lead, Kindly, Light

Let’s be honest for a minute.  We would all like to know at least some of what our future looks like.  I’ll admit right now that I very much desire to know what I will be doing in the next stage of my career.  What is God’s plan for me?  Where does the Lord want me to use my gifts and talents for His glory and the good of others?  An illuminated future might ease my concerns in the present.  However, my good and sovereign God rarely provides such a glimpse.  Rather, He blesses me with light for today.  Surely that should be my prayer. Lead, Kindly, Light is a poem written by John Henry Newman (1801-1890).  Newman penned the words below on a voyage from Palermo to Marseilles in 1833.  Consider:

Lead, kindly, light, amid the encircling gloom,

  Lead thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

  Lead thou me on.

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene: one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou

  Shouldst lead me on;

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

  Lead thou me on.

I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,

Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power has blest me, sure it still

  Will lead me on

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

  The night is gone,

And with the morn those angel faces smile

Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

The following commentary was written by Ben Witherington III and Christopher Mead Armitage:

“This interesting hymn takes as its starting point the idea that we live in a dark and dangerous world, but a bright light can lead us home. Notice how Newman only asks for enough light to illumine the path in front of him. It may be true that sometimes God does not give us what we ask because it has to do with the more distant future and more remote needs than those that need to be addressed today. Notice, too, that Newman freely admits he has at times failed to recognize his need to be led, his need for the light. At some point in our lives, most of us have attempted to be the captains of our own fates, choosing our own paths. God will often allow us to reap the consequences of our actions so we will see and learn from our mistakes. Newman, however, asks that God not judge him or at least not react on the basis of his past behavior. In other words, Newman recognized that God’s mercies are new each morning and God is ready to forgive and start afresh with us. To ask for light for the day and to trust God for the future is indeed a good way for pilgrims to live if they wish to eventually find their way home” (The Poetry of Piety: An Annotated Anthology of Christian Poetry, Baker Academic, 2002 [bold, mine]).

Pray for today’s light.  Walk in that light.  Thank God for such a gracious provision!

Jesus Did It Anyway–Living the paradox

I recently finished an edifying little book entitled Jesus Did It Anyway:  The Paradoxical Commandments for Christians (Kent M. Keith, G.P. Putman’s Sons, New York, 2005).  You have probably read the list before.  I have included it below along with several good quotes from the book.  It is fuel for us today as go forward living the paradox.

The Paradoxical Commandment for Christians

1st–People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.  Love them anyway.

2nd–If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.  Do good anyway.

3rd–If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.  Succeed anyway.

4th–The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.  Do good anyway.

5th–Honesty  and frankness make you vulnerable.  Be honest and frank anyway.

6th–The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.  Think big anyway.

7th–People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs.  Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

8th–What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.  Build anyway.

9th–People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.  Help people anyway.

10th–Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.  Give the world the best  you have anyway.

Quotes

“Jesus calls each of us, in our daily lives, to live our faith, and love God, and love each other, and do what we know is right and good and true–no matter what” (p.26).

“Jesus calls us to love people anyway. He didn’t say that we should love each other only when we feel like it, or when it is convenient, or when the people we are supposed to love are charming and lovable. He didn’t say we can give it a try, but if we get tired, or it doesn’t work out, we can just give up. Jesus doesn’t allow any excuses” (p.41).

“People my accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. If they do, don’t allow yourself to be distracted. As Psalm 37 says: ‘Trust in the Lord and do good.’ Be the person God wants you to be–a person who does good. That’s when you will find personal meaning and deep happiness. That is where you will find Jesus” (p.53).

“Above all, cherish your relationships with your family and friends. Find the meaning and deep happiness that come from loving and being loved by people who will be by your side whether you are ‘successful’ or not. When you are successful, they will be genuinely happy for you, and when you are not successful, they will be genuinely sorry for you–but they will always be there for you. Just make sure you are always there for them” (p.63).

“If people can easily forget the good that God does for them, why should we be surprised if people forget the good that we do? People easily forget. But their forgetfulness shouldn’t change who we are and how we live. Who we are and how we live are more important than who remembers what we did” (p.73).

“There are those who say that these big ideas cannot be achieved. There are those who will try to shoot us down. But Jesus didn’t teach us about limits. He taught us to move mountains. We must keep our eyes on Him, and think big anyway” (p.100).

“Most of us sympathize with underdogs. We know that they struggle. We know that the odds are against them. We’d like to see them win, but we rarely reach out and help them. Instead, we play it safe. We follow the top dogs. Jesus was different.  He truly cared about underdogs. He ministered to them. He invited them to a new life. Jesus reached out to the poor. He healed lepers, epileptics, and paralytics. He healed the lame, the crippled, the dumb, and the blind. He exorcised demons. He forgave a prostitute. Tax collectors were hated in those days. But Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Him” (p.103-104).

“Peter walked on water when he had faith and walked toward Jesus. If we have faith and walk toward Jesus, we will be amazed at what we can accomplish, too. And if we have moments of fear and begin to sink, Jesus will reach out and catch us. One reason that we must step out in faith is that we can’t see the whole picture. We don’t know where all the pieces fit, and why everything happes the way it does. We see through a glass, darkly. Only God knows what it all means. Only God knows the impact of each of our actions and each of our prayers” (p.157).

If you are interested, more information about the author and the book can be found at:

http://www.paradoxicalchristians.com/index.html

 

My Help Comes From the Lord

Do you need help today?  Are you requiring some divine assistance?  Have dangers or temptations arrived at the dawn of a new month?  If so, John Calvin has a word for you!  The paragraph below includes Calvin’s thoughts on Psalm 121–one of the Hebrew songs of ascent.  It is a song bursting with confidence in God.  Where should we look when we are in need?  The Lord!  “There is no assured help but in God alone.”

Calvin can be a tough read for those of us “educated” in the government schools.  However, his comments from some five hundred years ago are a gold mine if you take the time to meditate upon them.  If you are looking for the large nuggets, I’ve hi-lighted them in bold.  Be encouraged as you read.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from?”  What then is the meaning of this unsettled looking of the writer, who casts his eyes on this side and now on that, as if faith directed him not to God? The thoughts of the godly are never so stayed upon the Word of God as not to be carried away at the first impulse to some allurements and especially when dangers disquiet us, or when we are assailed with sore temptations, it is scarcely possible for us, for our so being inclined to the earth, not to be moved by the enticements presented to us, until our minds put a bridle upon themselves, and turn them back to God. Whatever we may think, would the author say, all the hopes which draw us away from God are vain and delusive. The writer delcares that those lose their plans who, disregarding God, gaze to a distance all around them, and make long and devious circuits in quest of remedies to their troubles. It is indeed certain, that in thus speaking of himself, he exhibits to us a malady with which all mankind are inflicted; but still, it will not be unsuitable to suppose, that he was prompted to speak in this manner from his own experience; for such is the inconstancy natural to us, that so soon as we are smitten with any fear, we turn our eyes in every direction, until faith, drawing us back from all these erratic wanderings, directs us exclusively to God. All the difference between believers and unbelievers in this respect is, that although all are prone to be deceived, and easily cheated by impostors, yet Satan bewitches unbelievers by his enchantments; whereas, in regard to believers, God corrects the vice of their nature, and does not permit them to persevere in going astray. The meaning of the author is abundantly obvious, which is, that although all the helps of the world, even the mightiest, should offer themselves to us, yet we ought not to seek safety anywhere but in God, yes, rather, that when men shall have long wearied themselves in hunting after remedies, not in one quarter and now in another, they will at length find from experience, that there is no assured help but in God alone” (Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, P&R Publishing, 1999, p.331 [I changed the word prophet to author and/or writer]).