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The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: A Great Start to 2013

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards: A Great Start to 2013

4377.2013blog

Below is a portion of the many Resolutions written by Jonathan Edwards on how he would live his life.  They were written from the years 1722-23.  Read through these and I believe you will find them to be an excellent prescription for charting the direction of your life in 2013.

Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence.

Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.

Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.

Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.

Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world.

Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

Resolved, let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.

Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.

Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance.

Would You Root for a Guy Who Never Scored a Point?

Would You Root for a Guy Who Never Scored a Point?

Every follower of Christ, at the moment of his/her conversion, receives at least one gift of the Spirit.  These gifts are to be used for others in building up the kingdom of Christ.  There is great variety in the gifts and this means that not all will receive gifts that place them in the limelight. Paul, in multiple places in the New Testament, ingeniously compares the human body to the body of Christ- one body, with many different members, each of which have different functions.  Here is what Paul told the Corinthians on the subject:

1 Cor. 12:19-22- “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

What Paul is telling the church is that not all of us, based on our gifts, can be the eye, or the brain, or the mouth- parts of the body we deem to be important.  As a body, some members have to be the big toe, the ear lobe, etc.- parts of the body we deem to be unimportant or least not very glamorous.  The point of all of this is to say that your gift may not put you up in front of people.  It may not get you accolades and notoriety.  But your gift is important to the body of Christ.  Besides, your gift has not been given to you for your glory or benefit.  God has given it to you to serve Him and others.

Think about this: What is the goal of playing football?  The goal is to win games.  How does a team win games?  Score points. 
I’ve always been irritated by the sideline reporter that asks the coach before the game starts, “Coach, what do you have to do to win the game?”  Just once I want a coach to answer, “Uh, score more points than the other team!”

What if I told you of a man that played football 23 years, 15 of those years in the NFL, and he never scored a touchdown.  He scored not one single point his whole career.  This man would have to be a failure, wouldn’t he?  Especially considering that he played 245 games in the NFL.
 Why start a player in that many games that can’t score?  Well, let’s look at his stats.  He made 1,032 tackles, blocked 86 passes, intercepted 3 passes, and made 19 fumble recoveries (but still no touch downs).  Was he a failure for never scoring a point?

In a football game it seems that everything centers on the football and the goal line, but there is more to the game than that.
 Who is the man I was describing above?  It is Ed “Too Tall” Jones.
 He played in 16 playoff games, 3 Super Bowls, was All-Pro two times, and was a member of Dallas’ vaunted “Doomsday Defense.”  The reason he never made a touch down was his position- Ed was an all pro defensive end. “Too Tall” was a team player, he never 
played to make touchdowns, he played to help his team win.  Not everyone on a football team is playing to make touchdowns.  They are playing to help their team win the game.

So it is with Christians.  Not all of us have gifts that seem glamorous or “important,” but every gift is indeed special and important.  We must humbly embrace our gift, whatever it is, and use it for the good of the church and the kingdom.

How to Get Hit By a Truck (or God)

How to Get Hit By a Truck (or God)

This past weekend we had Don Whitney* speak in each of our worship services on the topic of spiritual disciplines.  One point that Dr. Whitney made has especially stuck with me this week.  He asked, “What would you do if you wanted the experience of being hit by a truck?”  That statement caught my attention!  You wouldn’t stand in the middle of the worship center at church to get that experience.  Why?  Because trucks don’t drive down the middle of worship centers.  If you want to know what it’s like to get hit by a truck, you have to go stand in the middle of I-40.  That’s where the trucks are.

The same is true of experiencing God.  If we want to get “hit” by God- and by that I mean grow in conformity to Christ- then we have to go to the “highways” where God is travelling.  These highways are the spiritual disciplines.  Bible study, prayer, worship, fasting, giving, serving, sharing, etc. are the paths on which God is travelling.  If we want to grow in Him, we need to be disciplined to be on these paths in our lives.  Having such discipline to do these things is hard work, but so very worth it since in these paths lie value for this life and the life to come.  Paul reminded the young pastor Timothy of this truth in 1 Tim. 4:7-8- “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Our discipline is not the ends of godliness, but rather the means.  God is not impressed by anything we have done, but in what Christ has done for us.  Yet we labor and strive in spiritual disciplines so that God can mold us and shape us to be more like His Son.

If you want to get hit by a truck you have to go where the trucks are moving.  If you want to grow in your relationship with Christ you have to get into the paths where He is working to change lives.

*Don Whitney is Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Coincidence or Sovereign God? A Moment in Ecuador When I Saw God Do What Only He Can Do

Coincidence or Sovereign God? A Moment in Ecuador When I Saw God Do What Only He Can Do

I love it when I get to experience God doing what only He can do.  Times such as these are such excellent reminders that not only does God exist, but He alone is worthy of our praise and worthy to be followed as our Lord.

Our team working in orphanages in Ecuador awoke on a Friday morning with a full day of activities scheduled.  We were to arrive in a small town about mid-morning at a community center to conduct a VBS for about 250 children.  When we got there, the children were not there.  We were told they would arrive about 3:30 that afternoon.  It was a schedule bust, but that’s not uncommon on mission trips such as this one.

I noticed a small building across the street from the community center that had the exact same signage on it that the orphanage had in Quito where we had been working the last two days.  I walked across the street and asked one of the workers inside the gate if this building was an orphanage.  She responded that it wasn’t, but it was a daycare.  I asked if she would allow our team to come inside and do some fun songs, activities, and a Bible story with the kids.  She readily agreed.

We had a great time spending about two hours playing with the kids.  As we were leaving to go back across the street, eat our lunch, and wait for 3:30 to arrive, the lady I spoke with at the gate stopped us.  She said that another daycare was located on the other side of town and that that they were very poor and could use our encouragement.  I asked if we could go there now.  She said yes, but they close at two.  I looked at my watch and it was one.

So, I hurried our team on to the bus, we ate our lunch in transit, and pulled up to the daycare before they closed.  The neighborhood was close to abject poverty.  Inside the daycare, we found that only five children were still left of the usual twenty.  As some of our team started playing with these kids, others received a tour of the facility from the director.  It had about four rooms in it and totaled, by my guess, about 800 square feet.

It was at this point that I started to notice there was pretty much nothing inside this daycare.  They had almost no furnishings, supplies, or equipment.  The director then told us about their situation.  They are subsidized by the government, but their funding had been dropped.  As best I could understand the director, she explained how some foundation had supported them, but they too removed their funding and when they did they also removed much of the daycare’s equipment- including the refrigerator.  They take care of twenty kids everyday, but have no diapers, wipes, etc. They had nothing to care for the kids.

Upon hearing this, we immediately sent part of our team with the director to a store.  We asked her to pick out what she needed.  We bought dishes, cups, diapers, snacks, etc.  They didn’t even have brooms and mops!  And then we surprised the director by buying a full size refrigerator.

As we delivered the items to the daycare, the workers were so excited to see that the daycare was being resupplied and equipped.  And then we brought in the refrigerator.  Upon seeing it, one of the workers, a Christian, started to weep.  We tried to tell her it was OK and that we were honored to get to help them.  She said something like this- “No, you don’t understand what this refrigerator means.  My heart is so broken for these kids and we are unable to care for them. Just this morning I woke up, got on my knees by my bed, and I asked God to provide the daycare with a refrigerator.”

When I heard this chills went up my spine.  I had just experienced one of those moments when God did what only He can do.  When our team woke up that Friday morning, we prayed that God would use us for His kingdom.  We had no idea that little daycare in an impoverished neighborhood even existed.  When this lady woke up she had no idea we were even in her country.  But God knew!  God was sovereignly moving us around like chess pieces to accomplish His will.

Later that night I reflected on what an incredible thing that turn of events truly was.  God did that day what none of us could do.  Yes, some will call what I have described as a coincidence.  Problem is, I’ve seen way too many of these “coincidences” for them to be anything other than a sovereign God doing what only He can do.  God alone is worthy of our praise and worthy of our life service.

How Can I Know if I Am Praying in God’s Will?

How Can I Know if I Am Praying in God’s Will?

A little boy wanted $100 very badly. He prayed for weeks, but nothing happened. So, he decided to write a letter to God requesting $100. 
When the post office received the letter to “God, USA”, they decided to send it to the President. The President was so amused that he instructed his assistants to send the little boy a $5 bill. The President thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. 
The little boy was delighted with the $5 bill, and sat down to write a thank you note to God.
It read: 
”Dear God, Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through Washington, D.C., and those guys deducted $95 in taxes!”

This humorous anecdote leads us to ponder the question, “How exactly does God answer our prayers?”  1 John 5:14-15 makes some strong assurances about the prayers we offer up to God- “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”  How can John be so confident?  Because of the qualification- “according to His will.”  If we ask anything according to the will of God, God will hear and answer our prayer.  So, how do we know we are praying according to the will of God?

John’s teaching on prayer in 1 John is a summary of what he heard Jesus teach about prayer, which he recorded in his gospel.  One such passage is John 14:13-14- “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”  There are at least four things we can discern from this passage about praying according to God’s will:

1. We must have a relationship with Christ.  The “you” is directed at the disciples, not the world in general.  God hears and answers prayers from followers of Christ because in Christ they have standing before God.  The author of Hebrews wrote that we can come with confidence to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16) only because of the work of Jesus as our high priest (Heb. 4:14-15).  A person who does not have saving faith in Christ does not have the righteousness of Christ which is the basis of us coming to God in prayer.

2. I must come to God on the merits of Christ, not my own.  Two different times in John 14:13-14 Jesus said we must make our requests in His name.  This means more than a phrase we tack on at the end of our prayers.  It is praying from the perspective that God owes me nothing.  If I think God owes me something because of all of the good things I have done for Him, then I am praying in my name, not Jesus’ name.  Many people operate on this basis.  They think that because they have faithfully gone to church for decades, taught Sunday School, and gone on mission trips that God owes them a favor.  However, my sin-tainted deeds have no claim on God.  The perfect, righteous life and deeds of Christ do have claim on God.  So, I pray because of who Jesus is and what He has done, not on the basis of myself.

Recently I was the camp pastor for Children’s Falls Creek.  There were over 3,000 people there, most of whom were 4th-6th graders.  By day two of camp I had become a celebrity.  I couldn’t walk across the camp with out being mobbed by kids yelling my name and asking me to sign everything from their Bible to their shoes! For the first time in my life, I got a small taste of what it would be like to be famous- a strange experience!  By the third day, I noticed something interesting.  A few groups of kids on different occasions must have noticed the mob around me and decided if they wanted their picture taken with me or talk with me they would have to use a different tactic.  So, they sent an adult sponsor over to me that knew me- a student of mine or a fellow pastor.  These kids knew that the mob had no claim on me- there was no way I could give each of those kids the attention I wished I could give them.  But when they sent an adult that had some kind of relationship with me they knew this person had a claim on me.  Why? Because of my relationship with them.  The same is true of our spiritual lives and prayer.  On our own, we have no claim on God. He owes us nothing.  Yet, through Christ, we have access to God.  So, we must pray in Jesus’s name based on His merits, not our own.

3. I must have obedience to Christ.  When I live my life in earnest to obey God and His Word, my desires will become God’s desires.  When I live in selfishness and sin, my prayer requests will look accordingly.  There are numerous references in Scripture that connect walking in holiness/obedience to prayer and God answering our prayers. For example, John 15:7 states – “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  In addition, 1 John 3:21-22 states “We have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

James Boice wrote, “Prayer is not so much getting God to pay attention to our requests as it is getting our requests in line with His perfect and desirable will for us.”   Obedience to Christ and His Word helps line up our desires with the Father’s will.  If our lives are lived in unconfessed sin and selfishness, our prayer requests will be rooted in what we desire first and foremost, rather than what God desires.

4. I must desire the glory of God more than my request.  Jesus said He will answer prayers so that the Father may be glorified.  There are times when Jesus will not answer a prayer the way we wish.  This is very difficult and painful. However, we must accept and understand that God is sometimes more glorified answering a prayer request in this way than in the way we hope.  This is what God did in the life of Jesus.  We would not wish Jesus to be treated the way He was and die the way He did.  Yet, that was God’s plan for His life and through that plan He was most glorified.   It was something that was incredibly difficult for Jesus and He even prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for the Lord to remove the “cup” from Him.  However, Jesus’ greatest desire was for the Father to be glorified above his own comfort or desire.  To pray in line with God’s will, we must do the same in our lives.

Look back through these points to make sure you are praying in accordance with God’s will.  He wants us to pray, He will hear, and He will answer!

Why Spiritual Disciplines Are Important

Why Spiritual Disciplines Are Important

If you want to get in shape, you have to have discipline.  Either discipline to exercise or count calories.  So many Christians are powerless and don’t see transformation in their lives because they are so undisciplined in spiritual matters.  We live in a culture of comfort and convenience that has tainted our spiritual lives.  Playwright George Kaufman was enduring a sales pitch from a man selling stakes in a gold mine.  The salesman told him, “This mine is so rich, you can pick up chunks of gold off the ground!”  To which Kaufman responded, “You mean I would actually have to bend over?”

I learned in training for a marathon you can’t just run.  You have to do other exercises.  I talked with a number of personal trainers and asked them what are the best exercises for overall good fitness.  When I compiled all of their answers (which were very similar) I had a list of over a dozen basic exercises that cover numerous areas of fitness such cardio, strength, core, and flexibiltity.

The same is true for our spiritual health.  There are a number of areas where we must practice discipline if we are to grow.  These areas include Bible study, prayer, worship, service, stewardship, and sharing/defending the faith.  If all we did was just one exercise, other parts of our body would go lacking. For example, have you ever seen that guy in the gym who does noting but work out his upper body?  He has huge arms, shoulders, chest, etc., but his legs looks like toothpicks!

We can’t just work all the time at serving, but fail to study and pray.  We can’t work at studying if we never go out and put it into practice through serving and sharing the Gospel with others.  My plan is to write a series of posts on the basic spiritual disciplines, but I want to start with looking at the topic from a general perspective.  It seems to me that Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6-10 is a good place to start.

1 Tim. 4:6-10- “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

A key word in this text is “godliness.”  We do discipline with the goal of godliness.  The word literally means reverence, but a reverence that leads to action.  Like Isaiah who was filled with awe at the vision of God, but then took action.  Isa. 6:8- “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’”  Isaiah didn’t say, “Thanks for the show God” and then left unmoved.  Godliness means we are filled with awe at God, filled with overwhelming appreciation that he would die for us, and bless us, and give to us, and comfort us- and then we go take action in response to that!

Godliness is active.  It is not just piety that sits with bowed head and folded hands. It is worship that leads to obedience every day of the week.  So, how can we develop spiritual discipline that leads to godliness?

Good Teaching: Godliness Requires the Proper Diet

To get in shape you must eat right.  You can’t do this eating Twinkies.  Paul says to first reject junk food.  Note the phrase “Old wives tales” in v.7 is sarcasm.  The phrase was used in Greek polemics of something that had no credibility.  Don’t believe everything!  Instead, consume good spiritual food.  In v. 6 Paul says be nourished on words of faith and sound doctrine.  2 Tim. 2:15- “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  We need to saturate ourselves with the Word of God, good, sound teaching, good books, music, etc.  In essence, we grow in godliness when we are disciplined to put good stuff around us- an athlete in training doesn’t go to Taco Bell for every single meal.

Note the phrase “in pointing out these things” in v.6.  This means if you are a minister or teacher, lay out good food in front of your parishioners and students.  If you are a parent, lay out good food in front of your kids.  Good parents don’t serve Ding-Dong casserole topped with Cheetos every meal!  The right diet is essential for spiritual fitness.

Godly Training: Godliness Requires the Proper Exercise

Getting in shape means not just the right food, but also the right exercise.  The word “discipline” in v.7 is also translated “train.”  The word referred to intensive physical training- hard work, sweat, discipline.  We kill ourselves to lose weight, build muscle, and run long distances.  It’s tragic that we will do this because we are so dialed in to the world’s definition of beauty.  The world says what determines your beauty is what you physically look like.  A recent news story revealed that a size 6 is now considered a plus size by many in the fashion industry.  That’s interesting when over 50% of the women in this country wear a 14 or larger.  It’s not reality and it isn’t true.  However, God says what makes you beautiful is what’s on the inside- your heart and character. Prov. 31:30- “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

We strive to physically to look good, but when it comes to disciplining ourselves spiritually we hesitate.  Are we more passionate about what we look like than growing in the Lord so we give more effort to that?  Some criticize spiritual discipline because they say it is legalism.  I disagree.  Legalism is self-centered, spiritual discipline is God-centered.  Legalism says I will do this in efforts to earn merit with God.  Discipline says I will do this because I love him and want to please him regardless of what I get.

We need to remember that spiritual discipline is not me earning anything.  It’s not even me growing in the Lord in my own strength.  Paul had great energy for the Lord and great discipline, but he said in 1 Cor. 15:10- “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Paul gives a huge reason why our spiritual discipline should excel our physical discipline in v.8.  Physical exercise is of temporal benefit.  Stop exercising and eating right and the flab comes back.  Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 146: “Why so large cost, having so short a lease. Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?”   That’s a fair question. Why do we spend so much time, energy, and effort on a lease that eventually runs out.  But spiritual discipline lasts for eternity.

Global Task: Godliness Requires the Proper Mission

Why train if there is no event or goal?  Imagine playing football without an endzone.  Why would an Olympic athlete give so much for four years except to perform in their event?  Don Whitney shares the illustration of a boy strumming “Home on the Range” on his guitar while he looks out the window and watches his friends play ball in the park.  That is discipline without direction. It is drudgery.  But suppose an angel came to this boy and showed him a vision of a man playing the guitar in Carnegie Hall in front of thousands of people making the guitar sing like he thought could not be done.  The angel says to the boy, “That man is you. But you have to practice!”  Suddenly the boy’s practice on the guitar is no longer drudgery.  He has direction, a goal.

Why should we work hard at spiritual disciplines?  Two reasons:

First, as already noted, spiritual exercise counts for eternity, physical exercise does not.  Imagine an athlete spends thousands of hours and years of practice to run a 10 second race.  In a flash- it’s over. But spiritual discipline leads to lifelong transformation that stores treasure for you in heaven for all eternity.

Two, v.10 reveals we have the goal of sharing our faith with the world.  We discipline ourselves spiritually so we can tell and live by example the gospel of Jesus Christ- the Savior of all men who believe.  We labor and strive because our hope is fixed on Jesus Christ (v.10).  Spiritual discipline does not earn our way to heaven, but passion for growing in Christ and being transformed by Him is fruit/evidence that we have indeed been saved.  When we give of ourselves and discipline ourselves and pay the cost it shows that our faith is not in vain. Our hope is not placed in a false hope, but the true, saving hope of Jesus.

An Amazing Quote About an Amazing Man: Worth Pondering for Your Life

An Amazing Quote About an Amazing Man: Worth Pondering for Your Life

I am reading Kevin Belmonte’s biography on William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament who almost single handedly with tireless courage brought an end to slavery in the British Empire in the 19th century.  Upon Wilberforce’s death in 1833, the Officers of the Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Color in the United States held a meeting in New York City to decide how they could best commemorate Wilberforce’s life and accomplishments.  A committee within the group appointed Mr. Benjamin F. Hughes, Principal of the Free School, to “deliver an Eulogy on the Life and Character of the distinguished Philanthropist whose death we so much lament.”  Did Hughes ever deliver! His speech, Eulogium for William Wilberforce, is considered today a classic work of African-American literature.

Below is one quote from Hughes’ eulogy that moved me immensely.  After reading it, I just sat and pondered for some time, its power and my prayer that something similar could be said of me one day.  Here is the quote:

“I present you no bloodstained hero; he has led no slaughtering armies, he has desolated no kingdoms; for him no triumphal arch is reared; his laurels have been in another and nobler sphere.  He was no aspirant to popular applause, no time serving politician; he was the friend of the ‘robbed and peeled;’ [and] emphatically one of the greatest men of modern times… the Hercules of Abolition.”

Ponder this quote well.  May our lives be lived with the same humility, bravery and focused on matters of eternity.  May we win our laurels in another and nobler sphere.

Remembering to Give Thanks: A Thanksgiving Devotion

Remembering to Give Thanks: A Thanksgiving Devotion

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a few thoughts from one of the most poignant passages in Scripture on the subject of giving thanks- Luke 17:11-19- the account of Jesus healing ten lepers and only one returning to thank the Lord.  Take a moment to read that text and consider these thoughts.

There are many reasons we forget to be thankful.  For some, it’s simply selfishness. For others, our forgetfulness stems from familiarity.  We get so used to the blessings of God that we lose the appreciation we have for Him and what He does for us daily.  I have heard from those who have visited Yellowstone that the busboys clear the tables at Old Faithful Inn without even looking up at the geyser.  Their familiarity with it has caused them to lose sight of the geyser’s grandeur.

Why nine of the lepers failed to give Jesus thanks for the grandeur of the miracle He did for them will never be known.  Perhaps it was for reasons I’ve just stated that they, and we, tend to be forgetful.  But here are some simple points we can learn from this passage.

The one least likely to be thankful was thankful (vv.16-17)

Samaritans and Jews hated each other. The fact that the one least likely to remember to give thanks is really an indictment on those of us who should know better.  And if there is anyone who should never forget to be thankful to God it is those of us who have been saved by His marvelous grace and live with His tangible blessings every day.

We should be thankful because of the tremendous opportunity and access we have to the gospel.  We have multiple Bibles in our possession, freedom to attend church and listen to spiritual broadcasting, and never worry that the authorities are looking over our shoulder.  Much of the world does not enjoy these benefits.  Like the geyser at Yellowstone, we tend to get used to these privileges and forget to be thankful.

Another reason we should never be the ones to forget giving thanks is the physical blessing we enjoy as Americans.  If the world were reduced to a city of 100 inhabitants, it would look like this:

80 would live in substandard housing

50 would be malnourished and 1 at the point of death

39 would lack access to improved sanitation

24 would have no electricity

8 would have access to the internet

5 would control 32% of the world’s wealth and all 5 would be Americans

48 would live on less than $2 US dollars a day

20 would live on less than $1 US dollar a day

Given what you have, do these numbers cause you to be thankful?  Jesus asks, “There were ten. Where are the other nine?”  The math doesn’t add up.  When we have been blessed by Jesus and consider what we truly have in Him and from Him, we have to live our lives in the framework of thanksgiving.  I don’t know who wrote this poem, but its truthfulness applies well:

Today upon a bus, I saw a lovely girl with golden hair; I envied her- she seemed so happy, and how I wished I were so fair; When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot and used a crutch, but as she passed, a smile. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two feet the world is mine.

And when I stopped to buy some sweets, the lad who served me had such charm; he seemed to radiate good cheer, his manner was so kind and warm; I said, “It’s nice to deal with you, such courtesy I seldom find”; he turned and said, “Oh, thank you sir.” And then I saw that he was blind. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I have two eyes, the world is mine.

Then, when walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue; he stood and watched the others play, it seemed he knew not what to do; I stopped a moment, then I said, “Why don’t you join the others, dear?” He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two ears, the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I’d go; with eyes to see the sunsets glow, with ears to hear what I would know. I am blessed indeed. The world is mine; oh, God, forgive me when I whine.

Being thankful is good for us becuase it helps us glorify God (v.18)

When we forget to give thanks it builds within us a self-reliance that causes us to think that what we have is a result of what we have done.  We have nothing that God hasn’t given us.  The Masai tribe in East Africa express thanks in this way- They bow, put their heads on the ground, and say, “My head is in the dirt.”  Thanksgiving is an act of humility.  Another African tribe, to say thanks to someone who did them a favor, sits in front of the person’s hut and says, “I sit on the ground before you.”  God does good things for us and our response should be that we give Him our time and our lives.

Don’t forget the greatest blessing is spiritual in nature (v.19)

Some believe the nine received physical healing, and this one leper who returned received spiritual and physical healing.  By far the greatest gift we can ever receive from Jesus is not material in nature, but salvation and the opportunity to be in relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.

A pastor once led a worship service on the island of Tobago in a leper colony.  They asked if there were any particular songs they would like to sing.  A woman turned to the pastor.  She had no nose or ears.  She lifted a fingerless hand and asked to sing, “Count Your Many Blessings.”  The one least likely to give thanks, did just that.  If there is anyone who should be giving thanks, it is us.  Let’s never forget that.

 

That Was Easy: The Tragic Malignment of the Gospel

That Was Easy: The Tragic Malignment of the Gospel

In my office, I have one of those buttons from Staples that says, “That was easy!”  It’s mostly a joke I have with our church staff since most weeks we are dealing with issues and logistics that are far from easy to solve.  I thought about this button the other day while reading a new book by Scot McKnight titled “The King Jesus Gospel.”  Although I don’t agree with all of McKnight’s findings or terminology, I think he makes a powerful and important point whereby the “That was easy” catchphrase applies.  In essence, McKnight denounces what he calls the “salvation” culture in evangelicalism today.  I would prefer he use the word “decision” culture.  Regardless of the nomenclature, he is addressing what all of us would call “easy believism” in the church.

Unfortunately, many Christians today base whether or not a person is “saved,” “right with God,” or “going to heaven” solely on whether or not they said the “sinner’s prayer.”  I have seen this at times when I have been asked to conduct a funeral for someone.  My first question to the family is if the deceased was a follower of Jesus.  I have been told something to the effect of, “Oh, Uncle Jim pretty much lived an idolatrous, debaucherous life, but when he was 14 he prayed at church camp to accept Jesus so I know he’s in heaven.”  Tragically, such a belief doesn’t seem to line up with the teaching of Jesus or the authors of the New Testament.  Nowhere in the Bible do we see someone praying what we would identify as the sinner’s prayer.  Nor, do we see such terminology as “Ask Jesus into your heart.”  Now, please don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer.  A person’s salvation begins with an understanding of their sinfulness, the redemption of Christ through His substitutionary death on the cross, and the utter inability of any of us to save ourselves.  This is many times articulated through a prayer.

The problem is when we treat the sinner’s prayer as though it were some form of fire insurance keeping us out of hell.  Sadly, we have fostered a culture within the church that says if you go through certain motions- walk an aisle, say a prayer, sign a card, and get wet in the baptistery then you are safe from an eternity of damnation.  What you do after that is optional.  Thus, the sinner’s prayer and “decision” you have made punches your ticket to heaven.

Few things could be further from what Jesus taught.  I have profoundly learned this as I have preached through the Gospel of Mark this year.  Two great lessons have stood out to me from preaching through Mark.  One, Jesus showed incredible patience and love to his disciples who at times could be knotheads beyond description.  This challenges me when I want to get frustrated with people.  Two, Jesus powerfully condemned the religious establishment of his day in how it had adulterated a true understanding of what it means to be right with God.  What I have learned is that our “decision” culture is eerily similar to the religionists of Jesus’ day.

Take for example Jesus cleansing the Temple in Mark 11:15-19.  Jesus says they have turned the house of God into a “den of robbers.”  He is clearly quoting from Jer. 7:9-11- “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”  Notice what God says here- He is condemning the practice of the people who live egregiously sinful lives then go through the empty, external rituals of animal sacrifice and burning incense in the Temple and think that God was pleased with them!  The people were living for their sinful appetites, but thinking they were in the clear with God because of some outward rituals.

This sounds like us today.  Too many people have said a prayer and signed a card and then never gave God a second thought.  Yet, they think they are going to heaven because they have performed the ritual of the prayer, card, and baptism.  Many in our day (as the Jews in Jesus’ day) are living double lives: the life we want to live in the world and the life we live the few times we show up at church.  We must realize that such a double life, and trying to live for two masters, will always result in frustration in this life and doom in the next.

Back to the McKnight book I’m reading.  His point is principally that what makes us right with God is not simply because we have said a prayer, but because our lives are surrendered to Jesus Christ as our King (hence McKnight likes the term “King” for Jesus rather than “Savior”).  Life in Christ can begin with a prayer of confession and surrender to Jesus as Lord, but that is only the beginning of a life that is radically transformed to live for King Jesus and not king self.  True followers of Jesus are willing subjects of the King whose lives are given in obedience and servanthood.  I’m not advocating works righteousness here.  We are not saved because we do a bunch of stuff for the King.  That’s really no different than what I have been arguing against in this post, not to mention an affront to the teaching of Scripture.  No, I am saved wholly by God’s gracious gift of salvation given to me on the basis of Christ’s merits in His life, the cross and resurrection.  My acknowledgment of this results in the joyful surrender of my life to His lordship.

“That was easy” is a phrase we should never connect with salvation or the gospel.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus to provide our redemption.  Neither is salvation as easy as saying a prayer and then doing whatever you want.  The cost is high to follow Jesus- refusing to be your own king and following the King of Kings who calls us to view life differently than the world.  Being His servant is not easy, but very much worth it!

 

 

Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen

Reflecting on 9/11: Struggling With the Question of Why Bad Things Happen

Ten years ago this Sunday our nation was thrust into one of the greatest crises and tragedies it ever faced- the infamous events of 9/11/01. Words will never describe the grief and heartache that hit so many on that terrible day.  9/11 changed so many things for all of us.  As we look back at the scenes of planes flying into buildings, explosions and plumes of smoke, people wounded and covered in dust, and others desperately looking for their loved ones we ponder one of the oldest questions man has asked: If there is a God who is good and loving, why do things like this happen?  9/11 was a storm that shook us to the core and one we will never forget.  How do we make sense of horrific storms such as 9/11 that hit our nation? Our lives?  Our families?          

All of us have experienced storms in life, and not just the ones that have wind, rain, thunder, and lightning.  We have experienced the storms of death, sickness, pain, loneliness, hopelessness, and temptation.  We have been assaulted by family troubles, troubles at work, troubles in our marriage, troubles with friends, and troubles with our finances.  We have all experienced great disappointment, heartache, and loss.  And some of these storms, at least to us, seem like they will wipe us out.  Like the disciples in the boat during the storm we cry out, “We are perishing!”           

Some storms we experience in life are the result of the fact that we live in a world that is fallen and under the curse of sin.  Bad things happen in this world because, let’s face it, as sinners we are bad people.  What comes natural to us is violence, lust, lying and greed.  As a result we see a lot of bad things in the world.  The headlines are full of examples that show our proclivity to sin.  Sometimes we get caught up in the middle of those bad things.  A storm comes our way and we did nothing wrong- nothing to deserve it.  It just happens.  Why?  That’s a tough question that I don’t think we’ll ever be really able to answer.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why doesn’t God stop it?  Can God stop it?  We could philosophize and theologize all day on this topic. A brief blog post does it absolutely no justice, but understand just a few things:

One, not everything that happens in the world is God’s will.  I sat with a family enduring the pain of a loved one committing suicide.  One of the people in the room looked at the grieving family and said, “Well, you know this was God’s will.”  No, I don’t think it was.  It’s not God’s will for a child to be abducted.  It’s not God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings.  Can God bring about positive things from tragedy? Absolutely! But recall that this world and the people God first created were perfect.  Yet, we were the ones to mess it up.  Let’s be careful about blaming God for bad things that happen.

Two, could God stop all of the evil in the world?  Yes, but if he did, what would the evidence be that we are all sinners.  Furthermore, God could stop every murderer and terrorist but he would have to deny them their free will.  And if he did that for them he would have to do that for us.  Bad things happen because people choose to use their free will to follow their sinful indulgences.  Free will is a beautiful gift from God, but because of our sin we have turned it into a terrible curse as well.

Three, the fact that evil things happen does not undermine the fact that God is good, loves you, and is all-powerful.  Why does God allow what he does?  We’re never going to fully know.  We just need to know that in all things he is present in the storm and desires for us to trust him to help us through it.

Why didn’t God stop those planes on 9/11?  We’re not going to know.  But in times of tragedy, we should focus on what we do know about God rather than what we do not know about Him.  I do know he is all-powerful and all-knowing.  I do know He loves me so much He sent His Son to die for me.  And there’s one more thing I know for sure: I’m not God.  My wife and I were thrilled beyond description when she became pregnant for the first time.  We started planning and focusing on the arrival of the baby.  But then her pregnancy ended in miscarriage.  We were crushed.  I will never forget sitting in the office of her doctor, a kind and older Christian gentleman, as he struggled with something to say to try and comfort us.  I was surprised when he broke the silence by saying, “Have you ever seen the movie Rudy?”  What did that football movie have to do with my grief over losing the baby?  He continued, “Remember that scene when Rudy is talking to the priest after he was denied entrance to Notre Dame?”  I nodded through my tears.  “And do you remember what the priest said to Rudy?  He said, ‘Rudy, there are two things that are certain in this world: One, there is a God. Two, I’m not Him.’”

I must admit at the moment I found little comfort in the doctor’s words.  However, as I look back, it’s good advice in the midst of tragedy.  None of us are remotely close to being God.  We will never know fully why He does what He does.  He truly sees from a perspective that we will never possess.  What’s left is for me to trust Him, regardless of the pain, knowing that God loves me and weeps with me and will one day make all things new for those who love Him.