Sunday, April 22, 2007

Walk with God

Resolved: To walk with God

"To walk with God is to set God always before us, and to act as those that are always under His eye. It is to live a life of communion with God both in ordinances and Providences. It is to make God's Word our rule and His glory our end in all our actions. It is to make it our constant care and endeavour in every thing to please God, and in nothing to offend Him. It is to comply with His will, to concur with His designs, and to be workers together with Him. It is to be followers of Him as dear children"

-Matthew Henry on Genesis 5:24 "And Enoch walked with God and he was not; for God took him"

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Verge of Battle

"Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies"
Deuteronomy 20:3

O my soul. Listen to this proclamation of the priest to the people as they prepared to engage their enemies. Such is the nature of the Christian life, that this slogan should, in a sense, meet us every morning. Sin is the great enemy of our soul. And surely there is sufficient sin in the heart of every saint to warrant this weighty warning as oft I wake from sleep. When once the alarm awakens, behold, I am on the brink of battle! Sleepless soldiers of sin are armed to attack, ready to rush, waiting for war.

This text today reminds me to be ready. But it also provides an armory of advice, a storehouse of suggestions, a repository of recommendations for this holy war.

First, learn to choose thy weapons well. Not every hole will sink a ship, nor every tool sink the nail. There are those which are not fit to fight. Hence we read "What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house...." Not every citizen is a soldier. The Christian must make wise employment of the means afforded him for the slaying of sin. The disciples thought that any word would do, then found they were to weak. Jesus showed them a more suitable sword when He said "Such come out only by prayer and fasting". Know your enemy O my soul! You may pluck up a flower with thy finger, but those might cedars of sin will require the Axe of the Almighty, the Sword of the Spirit. Put on the whole armor of God!

Second, be wise thy method of slaying sin. Some sins die by starvation, others by an active assault. There are transgressions and temptations, which, though they cannot be entirely eliminated, must be rendered utterly ineffective. "Placed under tribute" [20:11] if you will. When Christ recommended the "plucking of the eye" He had this in mind. There are temptations which must be utterly avoided, but there are others which are so woven into the fabric of our flesh, that they can only be "resisted". I say this to the comfort of those who wonder that they still find so many of sin's soldiers stationed within them. The Lord may be pleased to let them remain, in order to humble me and set me more upon prayer and upon crying to Christ. But although they continue, they may not control or command. Nevertheless, I must mostly be determined toward the death of sin. "But you shall utterly destroy them" [20:17].

Finally, don't pluck up the grace of God while weeding out thy wickedness. "You shall not destroy its trees..." [20:19]. Think not that you shall enjoy greater success by ignoring or avoiding God's means of grace. Maintain every habit of holiness even on the battlefield. Neglect not the company of the saints. Hear the Word preached, read well, pray without ceasing.

O my soul, hear thy Captain's cry to your soul "Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies!"

Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Heaven's Highway

John Flavel on the usefulness of pondering the Providence of God in our lives: "And though our present views and reflections upon Providence be so short and imperfect, in comparison of that in heaven; yet such as it is, under all its present disadvantages, it hath so much excellency and sweetness in it, that I may call it a little heaven...It is certainly an highway of walking with God in this world." Volume 4, p. 349.
I wonder if I think too little about the Providence of God, this highway to heaven. Providence is God's hand helping me along this highway, accompanying me along this avenue, carrying me across this corridor. Not a footstep forward without this faithful friend, the Providence of God. Here is the invisible engineer orchestrating the events of my existence. Season after season cycles forward bearing silent witness to His works all around me. Providence is the sovereign whispering of God. Listen. Upon this alter saints of old offered up their sacrifices of praise. "I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember thy wonders of old" [Psalm 77:11].
Resolved: To pay greater heed to God's hand in every hap, hand over unto Him the ownership and oversight of every occurrence, ponder the Divine plan, and consider Him the Captain and Cause in even the commonest coincidence. "For of Him and to Him and through Him are all things".
Soli Deo Gloria.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Psalm 148:14 - Near to God

"...a people near to Him" Psalm 148:14b

Oh my soul. Consider this Psalm of praise. All that falls within the realm of creation is called upon to offer up to their Creator the worship He is due. All substance and souls have the special privilege of praise established within their beings by a wise and loving God. However, a difference is pointed out in our text. All creatures enjoy the purpose of worshipping God, but only the redeemed know the privilege of friendship with God. Israel was God's redeemed people, and a picture of all those whom God would save by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And here, this Israel, all His saints, are called "a people near to Him".

What does it mean to be near to God? For myself, I must confess that I often do not feel that nearness. The heart seems chilled by all the common chatter and the cares and concerns of everyday life. The soul becomes sluggish, sleepy and slow in spiritual pursuits, trapped by the tyranny of time, distracted by the day to day demands.

To be near to God seems to me to speak of sincerity. The Pharisees were accused by Jesus of honoring God with their lips, but their "hearts were far from Him". It was a religion of the hand, not of the heart. False religion paints the surface but poisons the soul. Nearness to God is the open exposure of all I am to His searching eye, it is the uncovering of the soul. By nature we hide our hearts from Him.

But am I sincere? Is my faith for real? I read recently of John Duncan, Rabbi Duncan as he was known, and his fear of shallow religion which he describes as the "gentle conviction of sin, the calm coldish admiration of Christ, the gentlemanly, scholar like, prudent gratitude, the obedience of a freezing but not absolutely frozen state". Oh my that you? I pray it is not so.

How then shall I draw near to God? Surely I must do so. James says "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you" [James 4:8]. To draw near to God, I think, is:

First and foremost is that resting upon Christ from the heart. Jesus said that "no one comes to the Father but by Me". Christ is that door through which those that desire to draw near to God must direct themselves. Meditate upon that Mediator! Brood upon His birth, chew on His charity, think upon those thorns, deliberate about His death, reflect upon His resurrection, consider His coming again! Oh the wonder! "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were afar off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" [Ephesians 2:13].

Next, set thy sight on the sinfulness of sin. Cry out over my own corruption, be my own worst critic when it comes to my own crooked ways. The Psalmist says "The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart" [Psalm 34:18]. When I witness any wrong in another, acknowledge that the root of that weed lies within me as well.

Finally, cultivate a regard for God's reverence. Endeavor after an awe of the Almighty. Hallow His holiness in your heart. The Lord said to Moses "By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy" [Leviticus 10:3]. Swim against the stream of a society that seeks to sink our Savior down to a sort of sidekick. The flesh tugs upon His throne, eager to establish on earth what God has erected in eternity. Here is the irony. The higher we imagine God, the closer He is to us. Those that bring Him down, move Him further away.

Oh my soul, what a wonder, that God so high should seek to save thy soul so low, and by His grace have "a people near to Him".

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Imus in all of us

“See how great a forest a little fire kindles”, so said James, the brother of Jesus, while commenting on the calamitous capacity of our untamable tongue. I think Don Imus would agree. From the coffee shop to college campuses to cable TV, this past week our nation has preached and pontificated on the right reaction to his callous comment. And, I would add, rightly so. Any sensible society won’t miss such opportunities for sound reflection, sober reasoning, and a solid response. But in the midst of all our lectures and letters, what have we learned? Whatever our own impression is of this incident, a far worse woe would be to see all these words wasted without the least lesson to pass on to our little ones. As a father of four, I feel these things not foremost in the focus of talk for today, but rather in the framework of truths for tomorrow.

Those older and wiser will have much to add, but let me be so bold as to begin with this:

Lesson 1: Take heed to how you handle your tongue. Words, once wielded, can never be withdrawn. Joni Erickson Tada, a paraplegic due to a swimming accident in her youth, a prolific author, and a woman of incredible faith, once wrote this: “Words. Do you fully understand their power? Can any of us really grasp the mighty force behind the things we say? Do we stop and think before we speak, considering the potency of the phrases we utter”. But before we sling too many stones, I have something I need to say. Have you or I never made a mistake with our mouth? Is there not an “Imus” in us all? Do all of our own announcements so glimmer with grace and affect such a fragrant aroma as to be above reproach? I say this not to alleviate his offence, but rather to aggravate our own. Our own loose lips will be enough to sink our ships when the Day of Judgment arrives. Almost as soon as we learn to speak we need a Savior.

Lesson 2: “I’m sorry” alone is insufficient. There is something anemic in our apologies today. They seem superficial, insincere, and unsatisfying. Like the kid caught in a conflict and commanded to make his contrition, the words seem somewhat hollow and without heart. I am not suggesting Don isn’t sorry, but something seems to be missing. I suggest the problem today is that we have forgotten how to really repent. Repentance is more than “my bad”; it climbs higher and cuts deeper. Former generations knew this. David cried in the Psalms “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned”. Or maybe more relevant to our present point is the profound pain of the prophet Isaiah “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips…” Today we say sorry like sin is no more than a simple slip and transgression but a trifle. We may be ashamed that we have offended man, but we are not abased by our offence against God. Our apologies today are only horizontal, never vertical. In the 1600’s true repentance was defined like this “…out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins…he so grieves for and hates his sins, as that he turns from them all to God, purposing and endeavoring constantly to walk with Him in all the ways of new obedience” (from The Westminster Catechism, 1648). Somehow an apology, no matter how sincere, comes up short.

Lesson 3: Forgiveness is the greatest gift of all. But what does it mean to forgive? For many, it means ‘trying to forget wrongs’, but such a definition falls flat. Even our dictionary doesn’t seem to do it justice. It defines forgiveness in terms of “feelings” such as “cease to feel angry or resentful toward” [Oxford Dictionary, 2002]. True forgiveness is neither a feeling nor forgetting, it is a fact. I believe the English word “forgive” comes from the Old English forgiefan meaning to “completely give up”. This word translates a Greek word which means literally to send forth, send away, and forsake. Forgiveness, we might say, is final. The news today reports a statement by the team that says they accept the apology of Mr. Imus and are in the “process of forgiving”. I guess I’m glad that an understanding is being worked out and that healing can begin. But forgiveness is not a gradual process, it is a glorious pronouncement! A great help is found in Ephesians 4:32 “…forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you”. Forgiveness, once received, is the greatest gift of all. It should surprise us, shock us, and also sober us. Do you know God’s forgiveness? May that flavor our own forgiveness and let us learn well these lessons of life, both for our sakes, and for the generation to come.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Colossians 1:10

"So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him...."

Oh my soul. Who are you trying to please most of all in your life? For man is always seeking to please. I cannot conceive of an existance in which the concept of pleasure does not exist. We are, as beings, made capable of pleasure and of pleasing. And in this we seem to bear the image of God as well. For God is a Being capable of being pleased, as is evident from our text.

But what does it mean for God to be pleased? For us, pleasure is usually thought of in terms of experiences which change from moment to moment. In fact, the very concept of pleasure would seem to become meaningless in a state of existance that could not change. For pleasure, as we know it, is a relative term.

Then how can we speak of the pleasures of God? Does God's relative happiness depend upon our actions? Of course it can not.

I think the solution lies in the relationship between pleasure and perfection. When we speak of something as pleasant we are refering to the relative perfection, as we conceive it, of that thing or event or idea. I had a pleasant lunch. In my imagination I can conceive of a perfect buffalo wing sauce...and what I had today came very close. It was pleasing because it neared the idea of perfection for such a sauce.

God, then, is pleased in the sense that His creatures attain more and more the perfection for which they were intended.

How about me? How is my walk? Am I striving more and more to attain that perfection which faithfully represents the purpose for which I was created? And I think, as I do, I shall find myself to be more and more pleased as well. Man's pleasure will always fall short until it strives for that pleasure that pleases God too.

This perfection was seen in God the Son. Hence the Father spoke from Heaven "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased".

O my soul. Cease from seeking to please others so much, and thyself much more, and seek thy greatest pleasure in the pleasing of God. You shall lose your life. And only then, will you gain it back.

Soli Deo Gloria.