Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cradle and Calvary

The crucial significance of the cradle at Bethlehem lies in its place in the sequence of steps down that led the Son of God to the cross of Calvary. 

~ J.I. Packer

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Best News EVER

I know I am a sinner, but there are days when it just hits me harder than others...I am particularly cranky, overly discontent, and irrationally sensitive. I try not to be. I sense those emotions rising up in me. I pray, asking God to rid my heart and mind of these selfish desires. There are times when I feel moments of victory but most times I continue to struggle. Like Paul, I find I continue to do the very things I don't want to do. And, the things I want to do, I don't do. (For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Rom 7:19) 

Hymn writer Charlotte Elliott knew the reality of her condition. She understood her own frailty and found no help from within herself. She determined to face God with one appeal and penned these lyrics in 1835:

Just as I am, without one plea, 
But that Thy blood was shed for me. 

That is my appeal. Again and again. Like the Apostle Paul, I know I am unrighteous. I know I fail at keeping the law and I am intent to outright break the law. Knowledge of my frailty keeps me clinging to the righteousness I have through faith in Christ .(Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ. Phil 3:9)

Only sin sick souls can delight in the following gospel refreshments. Hearts are reoriented once again to the truth that yes, I am a sinner, but in Christ I have been made a saint.

"You are fully forgiven and loved for his name's sake alone Not anything you have done, will do, or are doing now will ever establish any other relationship with God. He did all this for you when you were without strength (unable to perform); ungodly (not like him, and what he did not like); a sinner (enemy); and hostile to the blessed God Who loves you. He has freely bestowed this love upon you as a permanent possession, and He loves you without any merit on your part
Lay hold of this precious love by faith and you will never hide from God or man again. God loves you! Jesus died for you! Who can be against you? No charge can ever be laid against you in His sight. He has fully justified you on the grounds of Jesus Christ's finished work, His blood has washed you white as snow in the sight of God. His love will make you whole; free you from a lifetime of guilt, fears, inferiority complex and dreary loneliness; and open wide the gates that have long imprisoned you. It is nothing you have done. It is the precious blood of Christ that even now cleanses you continually from all manner of sin and sins. His blood and righteousness. What a precious fountain for uncleanness!
God has accepted you in the beloved Son - what need have you to grovel at the feet of men, ever performing to win their fleeting acceptance and favor? What need have you ever again to fear to be yourself? God loves you as you are! How shall you ever be lonely when He Himself is with you, and will be with you as long as the precious eternal blood of His Lamb is on the mercy seat in heaven for you?
At last you can walk with Him without shame, and walk with men in the reality of who you are. Your days will be cool, and God will be your Friend; and perhaps you will enjoy a little of paradise while still on this earth." ~ H.L. Roush, Sr.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Real Life Friday!

I need prayer. 
I need God to intervene. 
And sometimes I just need a good reminder. 

So often I forget. I get wrapped up in my problems and set out to solve them. I make my list, talk to my friends, and plead my case. I strategize my plan of attack and develop the most effective way to carry it out. Often this goes on for days. Welcome to my life...my real Christian life.

My husband and I are facing what seems to be goliath. For years we have been afraid to confront mounting tax debt and it has caught up with us. We heard from our tax accountant today and it's not pretty. His fee to handle the situation is in the thousands - about four or five times more than we were prepared to pay. We have yet to find out how much the actual tax and related penalties will be.

How quick and how often I forget the gospel. How notorious I am to assume God is not so concerned with the details of my life. How prideful I am to set myself up in place of God, [wrongly] believing I actually have the wisdom and knowledge and power to save my self in the midst of fiery trials.

I wanted to be reminded this morning of the gospel. I wanted to find comfort from the pages of scripture and search for an answer to my question "What does the gospel have say about our tax situation?" I flipped to a Psalm, the book of John, and a chapter in Isaiah. But it was not until I reached today's reading in 2 Kings that God taught me again, the truth of his gospel that lives on every page in his word. From chapter nineteen I wrote these refreshing reminders:

God hears my prayers.

God has determined my steps according to his plan from eternity past.

God will surely bring it about.

God knows all about me and how I spend my days - anxious and regretful and uptight.

God knows who I really am - how quick I am to forget, how my heart is prone to wander.

Despite my faithlessness, God is faithful.

God cares for my needs - he will provide for today and tomorrow and next year and five years from now and twenty five years from now.

By Christ's death and resurrection I am saved.

God defends my position - in Christ and by his grace I am protected. Not by my own wisdom, knowledge, and power, but by Christ who died and rose again to present me perfect before God.

I don't need to fear for he has given to me a place in his Kingdom. A Kingdom ruled by grace and mercy, not fault finding and finger pointing.

He has released me from the slavery of self dependence and self reliance to the freedom of trusting that Christ has paid my penalty - fully and finally.

Jesus has handled everything perfectly and his record is now mine. I stand before God as a righteous and perfect child on account of what Christ has done.

I can face consequences of sin with confidence and calm trusting that in Christ I am redeemed and he is reconciling all things to himself.

His power to put back together all that has fallen apart is immeasurable.

My chains that shackled me to the mess of this situation are gone. Christ has set me free - free to rest, free to do the right thing, free from worry and anxiousness, free to face the outcome and consequences standing firm in his promises.

Gospel winds are blowing this morning as God reminds me again that while my sin reaches far, his grace reaches farther.

Death By Works

There are some things called gospel, that are "a savour of death unto death" to everybody that hears them. 

John Berridge says he preached morality till there was not a moral man left in the village; and there is no way of injuring morality like legal preaching. The preaching of good works, and the exhorting men to holiness, as the means of salvation, is very much admired in theory; but when brought into practice, it is found not only ineffectual, but more than that—it becomes even "a savour of death unto death."

So it has been found; and I think even the great Chalmers himself confessed, that for years and years before he knew the Lord, he preached nothing but morality and precepts, but he never found a drunkard reclaimed by shewing him merely the evils of drunkenness; nor did he find a swearer stop his swearing because he told him the heinousness of the sin; 

it was not until he begin to preach the love of Jesus, in his great heart of mercy-it was not until he preached the gospel as it was in Christ, in some of its clearness, fulness, and power, and the doctrine, that "by grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" that he ever met with success.

Excerpt taken from The Two Effects of the Gospel, a sermon delivered on May 27, 1855 by C.H. Spurgeon

Read more about John Berridge, "the pedlar of the Gospel".

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Gospel Misunderstanding

[I am very sorry to see very often how little the gospel is understood even by some of the best Christians.]

Some time ago there was a young woman under great distress of soul; she came to a very pious Christian man, who said 

"My dear girl, you must go home and pray." 

Well I thought within myself, that is not the Bible way at all. It never says, "Go home and pray." The poor girl went home; she did pray, and she still continued in distress. Said he, 

"You must wait, you must read the Scriptures and study them." 

That is not the Bible way; that is not exalting Christ. I find a great many preachers are preaching that kind of doctrine. They tell a poor convinced sinner, "You must go home and pray, and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry;" and so on. Works, works, works—instead of "By grace are ye saved through faith" .

If a penitent should come and ask me, "What must I do to be saved?" I would say, "Christ must save you—believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." I would neither direct to prayer, nor reading of the Scriptures nor attending God's house; but simply direct to faith, naked faith on God's gospel.

Not that I despise prayer—that must come after faith. Not that I speak a word against the searching of the Scriptures—that is an infallible mark of God's children. Not that I find fault with attendance on God's word—God forbid! I love to see people there. But none of those things are the way of salvation. It is nowhere written—"He that attendeth chapel shall be saved," or, "He that readeth the Bible shall be saved." Nor do I read—"He that prayeth and is baptised shall be saved;" 

but, "He that believeth,"—he that has a naked faith on the "Man Christ Jesus,"—on his Godhead, on his manhood, is delivered from sin.

~ Spurgeon

Lover Of The Souls Of Men

Nothing touches the heart like the cross of Christ; and when the heart is touched and wounded by the two-edged sword of the law...

Nothing heals its wounds like the balm which flows from the pierced heart of Jesus.

I have not known men made to live unto God and holiness except by the doctrine of the death of Christ on man's behalf. Hearts of stone that never beat with life before have been turned to flesh through the Holy Spirit causing them to know this truth. 

A sacred tenderness the obstinate when they have heard of Jesus crucified for them. Those who have lain at hell's dark door, wrapped about with a sevenfold death-shade, even upon them hath a great light shined. 

The story of the great Lover of the souls of men who gave himself for their salvation is still in the hand of the Holy Ghost the greatest of all forces in the realm of mind.

~ Spurgeon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

God's Love For My Skimpy Devotion

I would love to say I am one of those people who finds time each morning to read the bible and pray. I really would.

I know, I've heard it before - if you really thought it was important you would make time to do it. Ugh. While that may be true, motivation to get up any earlier than I have to (my alarm goes off around 6:00am most mornings) is just not there.

As a result, I find that I have not been reading my bible as much as I once did. And truth be told, there are many many days that go by without giving it a thought (cue gasp!).

When I do stop to consider it, I regret that my schedule seems too busy for personal bible reading.

I run from one thing to the next - usually spending a rushed couple of hours trying to complete the weekly lesson for a women's study I attend at my church.

It seems to be just one more task on my to do list these days.

In this season of of busyness I am easily tempted to believe that God is not pleased with me. I begin to attribute difficulties in my life with God's displeasure. While I know theologically this is not true, my heart always defaults to this kind of thinking. How could God be happy with me? I can't even read my bible with any kind of consistency! 

You can only imagine what I was thinking last Saturday morning when I decided to turn to the pages of scripture. What "convictions" would I find? What words of discipline and rebuke would I read? What admonishments would meet my disobedience? 

With a sigh I grabbed my study bible and a pen, prepared to meet God head on.

When I don't know what to read or where to turn in my bible, I usually head for the reading plan in the back. As I turned to November 3rd I remember being thankful that the Psalm passages are listed first. Still, I braced myself for what God would speak, and...

this is what God did.

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul. 
Psalm 94:18-19

When I'd lost my way,

God called...

As I considered all the thousands of ways my heart gets carried away with other things, the Lord consoled me. And still, I held my breath a bit and waited for the hammer of discipline to come. I wrote:

Where can I see God's steadfast love?

I continued to write...the Sunday school answer. In the face of Jesus. I know it's true, but right now my heart needed to know.

Hesitating, I turned back to the bible reading plan. The New Testament passage listed was John 1:1-18. I gasped as I thought about all this passage speaks of. 

God loved...

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1

And from his fullness we have all received, grace  upon grace. 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John 1:16-18

What does God's steadfast love look like? God showed me when He said "It looks like my Son Jesus. It looks like grace." He was with God from the beginning, forming everything out of nothing, preparing for his rescue mission to save lost sinners like me. 

Called and calmed by God, assured of his steadfast love for me in Christ I continued as I wrote:

What should I learn from knowing Jesus is steadfast in love? 
What does this mean?

God spoke...

And he said, “Thus says the LORD, 
‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ 

For thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, 
but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, 
you, your livestock, and your animals.’
2 Kings 3:16-17

He reminded me of his life giving fountain; "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb"  Rev 22:1.

Refreshment and life flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb - Jesus, carried by the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. Jesus, the life giver, has promised eternal streams of living water and life sustaining love. His steadfast love will never cease. It is coming toward me with power and grace. It is one way in it's flow - gushing and rushing to rescue the dry and thirsty, the weary and the burdened. This love means I don't have to look anywhere else. My distracted and busy heart can cease from searching for what this world can never give. God's free gift of lavish love is mine - fully.  My heart was now consoled and loved by God's clear true voice. I anxiously wrote:

What difference does seeing Jesus and his love for me make? 

I turned to the final passage in the reading plan. I read from Zechariah and...

God compelled...

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 

They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets.
Zechariah 7:9-12a

What difference does seeing God's love for me make? How does a heart warmed by the gospel truth of God's unconditional love respond? In the face of God and his love for me in the person of Jesus Christ I can come clean. I see the truth of who I am. I am just like the people I oppress. I am cold, unfeeling, unsympathetic, compassion-less, intolerant, judgmental, unforgiving, unmericful, stubborn and diamond-hard hearted. I see that I am unable to meet these demands for justice and mercy and love. I don't even particularly like having to admit it, but I am in a mess because I can't even meet the expectations I place on myself! In the face of my utter disobedience and stubbornness, Christ brings light. Into the darkness of my heart Christ shines. In the miry pit of despair and "me-dom" Christ descends.

Jesus rescues this sin sick soul not with curses but with consolations, 

not with rebuke but with restoration, 

and not with displeasure but with deliverance.

What of my skimpy devotion?

In Christ, the love of God.

God's gracious and steadfast love. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Stupid Comment Award Goes To...

Actually there are two stupid comments that earn this "impressive" award. One is commonly directed at women, the other at men.

Stupid Comment 1

I am sure you've heard it before. It's been around. It is a commonly used phrase of "encouragement", a book title, and the subject of poems and songs. But more and I more, I hear this phrase used in the context of sincere exhortation. Have you heard it? Maybe someone has said it to you?

"Put on your big girl panties".

Friends, if someone has said this to you, I'm sorry. And for those of us who have uttered these words, we can do better than this. Now is the time to rethink this little gem of "encouragement" because really...

It's not all that encouraging. 

In fact, it can be used as a huge sledge hammer of law that speaks disaster for those who are already mired in guilt, shame, and self-condemnation.

The underlying exhortation goes something like this:

Your situation is not all that difficult really. All you need is to dry your eyes, put on a smile, and go about your business - everything else will take care of itself.

Lyrics from this well know tune by Nat King Cole echo the same sentiment...
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow 
...as well as this poem on dealing with life's difficulties:
It's good to trust in others
just know one thing is true
The one you really count on
Should always be......YOU.
So when someone let's you down
Don't get in a snit
Put on your "Big Girl Panties" .....
and learn to deal with it.

In other words, the real pain and heartache you are feeling is such an innocuous emotion you can pretend it away. Anyone who has been beaten down by the difficulties in this life knows how ridiculous it is to think a smile will make a seemingly impossible situation all better.

I met with a woman recently who is struggling. Her marriage is difficult and an issue with her son is heartbreaking. She feels tossed around by life's sea of waves and while she still longs for control she knows she has no control - and it's scary.

She talked, I listened. When she finished I said,

I'm so sorry.

I spoke with her again recently. She is meeting with a christian counselor and she shared how the counseling is helping her sort through her emotions and her responses. Then she said, "Of all the things people have said to me, I most appreciate what you told me when we met last time...

I'm sorry".

When I'm grasping for the right words again I hope I remember that a simple compassionate response is always appropriate. And just maybe, we can say goodbye to this "not so prized" phrase.

Stupid Comment 2

This is one of those comments that seems so right and so necessary. It comes from a sincere heart I have no doubt. Have you heard it? Has someone said this to you?

"Man up".

Another way of putting it is this commonly used phrase "Step up". Books and songs have been written and whole ministries are built upon this idea of "man up". I love the sincerity and the heart behind the message, but this simple phrase like the comment above is a compassion-less plea to "get yourself together". Here is the exhortation:

If you would just start acting like a man (tough, in control, responsible, and strong) your problems would be solved. You will garner respect, your wife will love you more, and your children will emulate you. Oh, and your church will now see you as acceptable and able to lead.

Telling someone to get their act together is like giving them a scalpel for the bullet lodged in their chest. They know something has to change (the bullet needs to come out) but they can't do it themselves.

Urging them to get busy, roll up their sleeves, and start acting like a man sounds good, but will only lead to despair (I can't do it) or pride (look at well I'm doing). Practical exhortations are helpful but not apart from the life giving truth of the gospel that reminds sinners of their utter inability while rescuing them with God's amazing grace, power, and forgiveness. In the same way that a sad and depressed woman can not pick herself up and act differently, a man caught in the "do more - try harder" vortex will find it impossible to drum up any lasting change.

The Gospel Trumps Stupid Comments

What a great refreshing orientation. Regardless of how I feel, the gospel is true. The gospel - the person and work of Jesus Christ is powerful when I am weak. He is forgiving when I am unforgiving. He is faithful when I am unfaithful.

The gospel trumps everything, including stupid comments. If you have been on the receiving end of one of these comments

I'm so sorry.

Now, hear the reorienting good news of the gospel:

The gospel reminds us that we are weak - all of us. That none of us act in ways we should. The gospel liberates us in a way that nothing else can. We are set free from the burden of having to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and smile or be strong for others. We know all too well the truth that we're not getting it done - the bible reminds us -  (as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one. Rom 3:10)

The gospel reminds us that we are just like everyone else and when we are tempted to give in or give up we can remember the liberating truth that God is patient with us in the midst of our difficulties. His love knows no bounds and he is always coming toward us with compassion and forgiveness. (I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jer 31:3)

The gospel refreshes us as we rest in the perfection of Jesus. His sinless record is now ours. Yes we sin, but In Christ we have a perfect record before God.

On those days when smiles won't come, when our weakness overpowers us and when we can't see our way through to the other side, the gospel reminds us that our weakness is actually our strength. (But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9)

p.s. A good alternative to the two stupid comments? Try this one next time;

I'm so sorry.