Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mary, the Magnificat, and Man's Chief End

Poor Mary has been frequently mishandled by men. If ever a saint has suffered from erroneous extremes it has been her. On the one hand, she has been elevated to near Deity by some, ascribing to her a sinless conception and life which neither Scripture nor Mary herself support. And on the other hand, and maybe because of this, the uniqueness of her piety has been too persistently passed over, her faith too frequently forgotten, and her example too often eclipsed.

It is to correct the second error, rather than the first, that my words are aimed. In reading again the early chapters of Luke I have been reminded of, and become even more grateful for, the record of her faith. Three things especially have struck my sluggish soul and have been to me a welcome wound to convict my own conscience unto repentance and refreshment in my walk with the Lord.

1. Mary Displayed the Grace of a Solid Faith
If ever a faith was put to the test it was Mary's. As a young teenager she was visited by an angel who announced she would miraculously conceive and bear the Son of God. Never was there a more "unexpected" pregnancy in the history of the world. We are fearful to approach or address those with high authority or honor. How many would panic if appointed to address the President? But to Mary it was conveyed she would mother the King of Kings! And the context of this announcement makes it clear that she understood and appreciated all that this implied.

A. She was troubled. Luke 1:29 says "she was troubled at this saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was". The full weight of this responsibility arrested her reason. She knew, to the fullest degree her mind could measure, what this message would mean. The Promised Seed, the Son of the Highest, the Lion of Judah, the Rose of Sharon, the Prince of Peace would shortly be woven into her very womb. Her soul began to shake as this disturbing disclosure dawned upon her. But not only was she she troubled...

B. She was puzzled. Luke 1:34 says "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" Nature alone could make no accounting for what was about to take place. No ordinary expedient could provide an adequate explanation for this event. The Lord often confronts true faith with apparent impossibilities: a flood in a dusty dessert, an escape through the angry sea, water from a solid rock, a birth from a virgin womb. The words whispered by an angel must be remembered by my soul today "For with God nothing will be impossible" (vs. 37).

C. She believed. And here her solid faith is seen. Luke 1:38 "Behold the maidservant of the Lord." The strength of her faith is displayed in submission. "Let it be to me according to your word." No arguing with the agenda of the Almighty, no resistance to His sovereign right, no counter offers to her Creator. She believed. She knew God, she knew Him as her God, and she trusted Him with her life. Oh my soul...gather thyself instruction from the grace of her solid faith in God.

2. Mary Displayed the Grace of a Spiritual Frame.

The words of the magnificat (from the Latin "magnify" which is the first word of this song) recorded in Luke 1:46-56, display the spiritual focus of this exemplary woman of God. She had just labored through a long journey to visit Elizabeth her aged aunt. She was likely tired and possibly tense about addressing someone so much her senior and in the context of two miraculous conceptions. But her song discloses her heart. It was the greatness and goodness of God that welled up within her soul and poured out in praises from her lips. In this song she embodies the instruction to "set your mind on things above" (Colossians 3:2). Her song concentrates on the character of God...who He is and what He has done:

  • His pity "He has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant" (vs. 48)
  • His holiness "And holy is His name" (vs. 49)
  • His strength "He who is Mighty" (vs. 49)
  • His mercy "His mercy is on those who fear Him (vs. 50)
  • His goodness "He has filled the hungry with good things" (vs. 53)
  • His help "He has helped His servant..." (vs. 54)
  • His covenant faithfulness "As he spoke to our fathers..." (vs. 55)

Oh my soul...oh for such God-ward thoughts!! What a spiritual frame! How desperately this is needed in this material world and vanity fair of life! It is the condemnation of the world that "God is in none of his thoughts" (Psalm 10:4). But what about me? Too often I must confess an earthly frame, mere material concern, and a worldly mind.

3. Mary Displayed the Grace of a Sanctified Focus

What is my focus? What is the chief end of man? That was the question that certain 17th century theologians asked in the Westminster Assembly to which they answered "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (the Shorter Catechism, question and answer 1).

But where did they come up with this answer? I suspect, at least in part, they saw this answer in the opening words of the Magnificat itself. Mary begins by saying "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (vs. 46-47). Magnifies means glorifies. Mary glorified God, and did so in the context of joy: "rejoiced in God my Savior". Here is a sanctified focus indeed! To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is sadly not the focus of our world. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once remarked "the world in which we live is like a store in which all price tags have all been confused". This is true. We value little what is worth much, and value much what is worth little. Oh that we, oh that I, would be granted a more purified perspective on our purpose.

Oh my soul, may this little meditation be improved by God's grace to the strengthening of your faith in Christ and love for the Lord in the year to come.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

God's Chalkboard

"Do not wipe out my good deeds..." Neh 13:14

If the labors of my life were written chalk, I suspect that at the end of my days I would want to wipe them all away. So little has been done from serious earnestness for the glory of God. So much has been done from selfishness, ambition, pride. All has been mixed with sin. So little energy for the things of God which last forever. So much energy for the pleasures of this world that last a moment. Wipe it, wipe it, wipe it all away.

And in fact God truly has, in Christ, wiped away all my sin. I know I am forgiven. The handwriting which was against me has all been washed away in the precious blood of the Lamb.

But does that leave nothing at all on the board of my life? A blank slate is better than a filthy slate...but is that all I will have to show for my 3 score and 10, or however long the Ancient of Days is pleased to preserve me?

Nehemiah's words give hope, comfort, and joy. Here we find a saintly servant of God who prays that something does not get wiped off the board. "Do not wipe out my good deeds". What was Nehemiah asking for? He was to fine a theologian, and walked too closely with God, to think that any of his deeds or works were perfect. He knew that everything good depends upon the grace and mercy of God (see verse 22). But I think what Nehemiah wanted more than anything was to be useful to God. His prayer to "not wipe out my good deeds" was a pleading with God to be useful in the building of His kingdom. More than anything in life, do I want to be used of God for the good of others? That was Nehemiah's prayer. That which is erased can not be used for anything. It is like salt that has lost its savor. It is like light under basket that cannot aid us in our steps. Do not wipe out my good deeds Oh Lord! Use me as a pen in your hand and write that with my life that will most further Your glory and the good of mankind. Wipe, wipe away my sin and shame...but write large and indelibly a manuscript of mercy and library of love with the good works that You graciously give me to do.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Always Turning: The Best Way to Go Straight

The Christian life is upside down. The way to be rich, is to become poor. He that would be greatest must seek to be the servant of all. Him that would save his life...must lose it. Given this confusing conundrum of curious contradictions I'm persuaded to add my own paradox to the pile: The way to keep straight is to keep turning.

The Christian life is the life of the straight and narrow path. But in order to stay straight, one must be constantly turning. I take this principle from the life of the only OT king who is given a higher commendation than King David. It was said of him that "before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart..." [2 Kings 23:25]. This was king Josiah. He was a promised king. His birth was foretold 300 years before in 1 Kings 13:1. And he was a young king. He took the throne at 8 years old (as the father of an 8 year old myself, the wonder of this could not be more clear). But the outstanding feature of this great king was the turning of his heart to the Lord. He "turned to the Lord with all his heart".

It seems to me, as I sit here at my desk, that such turning is really the only way to stay straight. I must always be turning to the Lord. The world cries out for my attention...and I must turn my attention to the Lord. My heart gets discouraged...and I must turn my heart to Christ. I get afraid...and I need to turn my fears over to my God and cast them before Him. Every moment I sense some new straying within me...and every moment I need to be turning me feet back upon the path. Turning began my Christian life...and holy turning must always be a part of it. "For we were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (I Peter 2:25).

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Oh my Lord,

Deliver me from the wickendess, treachery, blasphemy, insanity, immorality, cruelty, hypocrisy, vileness, arrogance, corruption and carelessness of a prayerless life.

Your servant,


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Give it all!

Half-hearted Christians are like half heated meals: unpleasant at best and unbearable at worst. Like salt without savor or a cake half-turned, so a half-hearted Christian is a worthless soul. He is worth nothing to Christ, nothing to the Church, and nothing to the world. Better half witted than half hearted. Let the saying of Ornan the Jebusite be the motto for every believer today: "I give it all".

King David was sent Ornan. Note: the great King of Israel is sent from his high palace down to the humble abode of this holy Jebusite. David numbered the people to flatter his pride. Now he must go and inquire amongst the common people to humble his pride. Beware if you think you stand lest you fall. David was sent here by the command of Gad the prophet, but God had a message for David to be learned from Ornan the peasant. See oh my soul how any holy and obedient soul is a useful instrument in the hand of Almighty God! David needed a place to build an alter to the Lord, and he came expecting to strike a bargain with the foreigner. Maybe he expected a man like himself, who, seeing an opportunity for advancement would take it. David had to buy the property. Ornan could set his price. He could ask ten times, one hundred times, one thousand times its value...and David would be bound to purchase it, for the life of the very nation was at stake. What a surprise to hear him say to David "I give it all". Give it all? Just give it all? Oh how these words must have humbled the heart of this ruler. Oh they humble your heart today? O my soul, do they strike your heart and smite your pride? Have you said to God Almighty "I give it all"? Or have you held back the better part of your time, your talents, and your tender for yourself? Have you said to God "all..but not yet?" Have you said to God "Most..but not all?".

Give Him your all! Jesus said that "whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My discliple" (Luke 14:33). Forsake all, and give all that you are and you have to the Lord! Let the confession of Ornam be the confession of your soul daily "I give it all".