Sunday, December 26, 2010

Celebrating Redemption

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is abbreviated and my thoughts are in red.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 51:15

We should be the most celebratory community on earth. There should be a deep and abiding joy that's the backbeat of everything we do. Each of us should carry around with us a deep sense of privilege for who we've become and what we've been given in Christ. We'll spend eternity celebrating redemption, but there's something wrong if the rehearsal for destiny's celebration isn't beginning now.

Good reminder to me. Too often I let the junk of life determine my outlook and mood. It shouldn’t be that way. My life is in God’s hands and He causes all things to work for my good.

It should be in our minds, it should flood our hearts, it should be constantly on our lips: we have been redeemed! Chosen out of the mass of humanity, forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus, accepted into God's family, the Holy Spirit now living inside of us, God working to empower us against and to deliver us from sin, the great paradigmatic truths of the biblical narrative now open to us, the mutual-ministry fellowship of the body of Christ our regular experience, and a guaranteed future in God's presence and free from sin and struggle. We've been redeemed! The scope and breadth of it boggles the mind. It's almost too much for our hearts to take in. Given what we couldn't deserve—love in the middle of our rebellion—and given acceptance we could never earn. We've been redeemed! We've been redeemed! We've been redeemed!

Doesn’t the religious cloud block these amazing things from our mind? Yeah, we’ve heard it before, I know all that… But really, if this is true, everyday and every thought should be colored by it.

Unlike the rest of creation, human beings are good at celebration. Last night I sat looking out an eighth-floor window over the Philadelphia Art Museum and watched the annual Fourth of July fireworks display. It was a fittingly celebratory end to a two-week celebration of our nation's birth that Philadelphia calls, "Welcome America." Welcome indeed! Welcome to remember the beginnings of the freedoms you now enjoy. Welcome to remember the patriots who gave their hearts, minds, and lives to secure this freedom. Welcome to walk the streets and enter the buildings where American freedom took its shape. And welcome to days of celebration with others who are reflecting, remembering, and recognizing the freedom that now shapes their daily lives. National freedom is a thing worth celebrating, as is another year of life, or the end of the harvest season, or twenty-five years of successful work. But all of these appropriate celebrations pale in comparison to the meaning and majesty of the reality of redemption that should flood the mind of every believer every day.

It’s the same at Christmas. I have to admit that I really look forward to the gifts and goodies I will receive. I can be “spiritual” with the best of them and can say the right words but am I really amazed by what the Christ child means? To be honest, my thoughts are more toward the commercial Christmas than the baby born in the manger.

What will you celebrate today? That raise you have been working toward? That new car you dreamed of for two years? The local team that finally won a championship? An anniversary? A birthday? The first steps of that toddler? The lack of traffic on the way to work? The deli sandwich that was better than ever? The new shoes that you thought you would never find? Your new iPhone? If you're a human being, you're a celebrator. The question is, in all of your celebrations, do you turn again and again to celebrate the most amazing, the most magnificent, the most mind-bending thing that a human being could be chosen to experience—redemption?

You have been redeemed! You have been redeemed! You have been redeemed! Now, go out and celebrate.

A question from the meditation:

Reflect on what you celebrated this year, this month, this week, today. Who is at the center of your life of celebration?

I celebrated the gifts I was given this Christmas. I celebrated with a lot of good food and cookies. This month I celebrated that my work was so much busier than last year. I also celebrate that I am a child of God. As messed up as my life can be, I know it is radically different than it would be if Jesus wasn’t at the center. Thank you Lord for being my redeemer and for the family and friends you have given to me.

Philip

PS So this post brings this devotional to a close. I have done one chapter a week this year and I think I am better for it. I have learned many things and have had my thoughts challenged and changed. Check it out yourself.


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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reductionism


Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is abbreviated and my thoughts are in red.

You teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:6

There's loads of knowledge to be found, but wisdom is a rare commodity. Why? Because wisdom is one of sin's first casualties. Sin reduces all of us to fools. You see the empirical evidence of the foolishness of sin on almost every page of Scripture. You see foolishness in full operation in the tragic story of David and Bathsheba. This is why David says, "Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place" (v. 6 NIV).

You read the story of David's sin, and you say to yourself, "What was he thinking? Did he really believe that he'd get away with this? Did he completely forget who he was? Did he think that God was going to stand idly by and let this happen?" But David is not some extreme case of foolishness gone wild; you see evidence of the same foolishness in each of our lives daily. The components of the foolishness of sin still corrupt and interrupt our lives again and again. People could say of us again and again, "What was he thinking? What was she thinking?"

I’ve heard it called the soporific nature of sin. It makes us spiritually sleepy, dull and stupid. That explains the crazy things people do.

What does foolishness look like? Here are four of its most significant aspects.

1) The Foolishness of Self-centeredness
We were created to live for something, someone bigger than ourselves. We were designed to live with, for, and through the Lord. God is meant to be the motivation and hope of everything we do. His pleasure, his honor, and his will are the things for which we are meant to live. But the foolishness of sin really does cause us to reduce our lives to the size and shape of our lives. Our living has no greater purpose than self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment. Our problem isn't just the difficulties of life in this fallen world but the foolishness that we bring to them that causes us to trouble our own trouble.

Wisdom from Scripture tells us that we find fulfillment when we experience the joy of giving to and serving others. If we water we will be watered. But sin tells us something different. I look out for myself, only giving if something is left over or if it’s convenient. I keep a tight reign on things and time; I don’t want to run out of either.

2) The Foolishness of Self-deception
We're all very good at making ourselves feel good about what God says is bad. We're all very skilled at recasting what we've done so what was wrong doesn't look so wrong to us. I'll tell myself that I didn't really lash out in anger; no, I was speaking as one of God's prophets. I'll tell myself that that second look wasn't lust; I am simply a man who enjoys beauty. I'll tell myself that I'm not craving power; I'm just exercising God-given leadership gifts. Foolishness is able to do something dangerous. It's able to look at wrong and see right. Had David been able to see himself with accuracy and if he'd been able to see his sin for what it really was, it's hard to imagine that he would have continued to travel down that pathway.

The only way out of this deception is to renew our mind with Scripture and to have good people around us who get involved in our lives when they see us getting off track.

3) The Foolishness of Self-sufficiency
We all like to think of ourselves as more independently capable than we actually are. We weren't created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources that God has given us. The lie of the garden was that Adam and Eve could be like God, independent and self-sufficient. We still tend to buy into that lie.

Sometimes I think we emphasize a “personal relationship with Jesus” too much. We think all we need is Him when He showed by His own life that we need relationships with other people. Through these relationships we gain wisdom and perspective. We also gain victory over sin. Nate Larkin, founder of the Samson Society said this: “During the darkest years of my life, I begged God time and again for a private solution to my private problem, but He never gave me one.” What Nate found is that God wanted to use his sin to force him out of isolation. “In the end, I found victory over my sin by surrendering not just to Christ, but also to the body of Christ.” I need other people.

4) The Foolishness of Self-righteousness
Why don't we celebrate grace more? Why aren't we more amazed by the wonderful gifts that are ours as the children of God? Why don't we live with a deep sense of need, coupled with a deep sense of gratitude for how each need has been met by God's grace? Well, the answer is clear. You'll never celebrate grace as much as you should when you think you're more righteous than you actually are. Grace is the plea of sinners. Mercy is the hope of the wicked. Acceptance is the prayer of those who know that they could never do anything to earn it. But the foolishness of sin makes me righteous in my own eyes. When I tell my stories, I become more the hero than I ever was. I look wiser in my narratives than I could have been. In my view of my history, my choices were better than what they actually were. Often it isn't my sin that keeps me from coming to God. No, it's my righteousness that keeps me from him. Sadly, I don't come to him because I don't think I need the grace that can be found only in him. I don't seek the rescue of that grace because I'm right in my own eyes.

There is also the recurring problem of trying to clean ourselves up before we come to God or thinking we have to grovel before we can be forgiven. Both of those have self-righteousness as their root.

Sin really does reduce us all to fools, but happily the story doesn't end there. The One who is the ultimate source of everything that's good, true, trustworthy, right, and wise is also a God of amazing grace. You don't get freed from your foolishness by education or experience. You don't get wisdom by research and analysis. You get wisdom by means of a relationship with the One who is Wisdom. The radical claim of the Bible is that wisdom isn't first a book, or a system, or a set of commands or principles. No, wisdom is a person, and his name is Jesus Christ. Wisdom begins a lifelong process of freeing us from the stronghold that the foolishness of sin has on us.

It makes such sense that a repentant man (David) would reflect on his need of wisdom. Sin, in reducing us to fools, causes us to do foolish things, even though we think we're wise. And for this we need more than information, education, and experience. We need exactly what we find in Christ—grace. Wisdom is the product of grace; there is simply nowhere else it can be found.

For our relationship with Jesus to grow we need to spend time with Him and get to know Him through the Bible. Without that, we will end up with some messed up view of who He is and what He wants. We will create Him in our image instead of being conformed into His image.

A question from the meditation:

Where do you see the four kinds of foolishness still operating in your life?

I’ve identified a lot of it in the above comments. Those words come from my life and are in the present tense. Probably my biggest problem is self-centeredness. That’s one that isn’t going away soon.

Philip


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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ready, Willing, and Waiting

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts are in red.

. . . and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:12

Lord,
I think I can honestly say
I am ready, willing, and waiting.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to see my sin as You see it.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to acknowledge that I am my biggest problem.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to run from wrong.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to seek Your help.
Ready, willing and waiting
for my mind to be clear.
Ready, willing, and waiting
for my heart to be clean.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to acknowledge what You see.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to rest in Your compassion.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to hide in Your unfailing love.

I am ready “to acknowledge that I am my biggest problem”. That in itself would be a major realization. I want to blame someone else for my problems and for my anger. “What you did made me angry” is a regular excuse but the truth is that someone else may have done something but my anger comes from within.

I am ready, willing, and waiting
to be washed by You.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to admit that I acted against You.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to prove that You are right and just.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to confess that my problem is from birth.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to examine within.

God is always ready but we are not. It’s nice to be in the place where we agree with Him with what is going on in our lives. That admission and confession prepares us for cleansing.

I am ready, willing, and waiting
to be whiter than snow.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to hear joy and gladness.
Ready, willing, and waiting
for brokenness to give way to joy.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to have a steadfast heart.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to celebrate Your grace once more.

It’s amazing that God takes us with our grit and grime and makes us clean like a new snow. And not just clean but joyfully clean.

I am ready, willing, and waiting
to teach others Your ways.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to help them turn back to You.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to have You save me from me.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to sing songs of Your righteousness.
I am ready, willing, and waiting
to declare Your praise.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to bring the sacrifice of a broken heart.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to see Your people prosper.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to see You worshiped as is Your due.

In our cleanness we are able to rejoice, to sing to praise and to show through our life the wonder of forgiveness and restoration.

But, I am also
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be protected by Your love.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be held by Your grace.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be hidden in Your mercy.
Ready, willing, and waiting
to be defended by Your power.
Because I know
that I won't always be
ready, willing, and waiting.

We do live a circular life. There are days when our thoughts are focused on God and days when we coast on our own power. There are days when we walk with God and days when He carries us.

A question from the meditation:

If someone watched a DVD of your last six weeks, would they conclude that you are a person who is ready, willing, and waiting to have God do exactly what he has promised to do in, with, and through you?

It depends on the day. I know that no good thing dwells in me. It’s only as I abide in Jesus that good comes out of my life. I wish I let Him live through me all the time but I don’t. What I am without Him rises to the surface and causes all kinds of problems.

Philip

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Admission or Confession?

Someone once told me that there is a difference between admission and confession, and I think that’s important to recognize. Admission is just sharing something that’s wrong so you can get it off your chest. Confession, on the other hand, is the beginning of transformation.

When you confess something that’s shattered in your life, something that you’ve kept hidden, you’re acknowledging that you need the Cross. You need God’s grace, and you’re willing to allow it to find you as you seek the truth.

From Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Broken Bones

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts are in red.

Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Psalm 51:8

I must admit it it; I have a low tolerance for difficulty. I am a project-oriented person, so I tend to have an agenda for every day. I know exactly what I want to accomplish and what a successful day will look like. I don't want to have to deal with interruptions or obstructions. I want the situations, locations, and people around me to willingly participate in my plan. All of this means that it's counterintuitive for me to view difficulty as something beneficial. I've little time and tolerance for "broken bones."

I identify with this mindset. I like to be able to schedule things in my day so all goes smoothly – at least in my view. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like things to be unpredictable or up in the air.
   
My problem is that my Redeemer is the redeemer of broken bones. Maybe you're thinking, "Paul, what in the world are you talking about?" "Broken bones" is a physical metaphor for the pain of redemption. In case you've noticed, God's work of delivering you from your addiction to self and sin and molding you into his image isn't always a comfortable process. Sometimes, in order to make our crooked hearts straight God has to break some bones. I gotta confess, I don't like broken bones.

It is so much easier when we yield willingly and without a fight. Recognize what’s wrong, agree with God and accept the grace which brings change. But it’s usually not that way because we enjoy our sin even when it’s messing us up.

I love the way the prophet Amos talks about this (Amos 4). It's a bit of a disconcerting passage until you wrap your brain around what the prophet is saying about why God is doing what he's doing. Listen to the "broken bones" phraseology of this passage:

"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I also withheld rain the from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city ..
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils."

. . . . . . . . . .

"I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning."
Amos 4:6-11

Too bad many people stop here and blame God for their problems and accuse Him of not caring about what is going on in their life. “How could a God of love let this happen?”

Now, you have to ask, "Why would a God of love do this to the people he says he loves?" Well, there's a phrase that's repeated after every stanza of this scary poem that's the answer to this question. Pay attention to these words: "yet you did not return to me." These acts that seem like the product of vengeful anger are actually acts of redemptive love. You see, in doing these things God is actually fulfilling his covenantal commitment to satisfy the deepest needs of his people. And what is it that they need most? The answer is simple and clear throughout all of Scripture; more than anything else they need him!

This is what we need to keep in mind every day: everything that God does and allows is designed to pull us to Him. If we remember that, the difficulties we encounter will be easier to accept.

But this is exactly where the rub comes in. Although our greatest personal need is to live in a life-shaping relationship with the Lord, as sinners we have hearts that are prone to wander. We very quickly forget him and begin to put some aspect of the creation in his place. We very soon forget that he's to be the center of everything we do, and we put ourselves in the center of our universe. We easily lose sight of the fact that our hearts were made for him, and that deep sense of well-being that all of us seek can only be found in him. We rapidly forget the powerfully addicting dangers of sin and think we can step over God's boundaries without moral cost. So, God in the beauty of his redeeming love will "break our bones." He'll bring us through difficulty, want, suffering, sadness, loss, and grief in order to ensure that we are living in pursuit of the one thing that we desperately need—him.

I have to admit that many times or most of the time it takes something BIG to get my attention. I may feel God’s hand on me but it isn’t until the sound of the crack and the pain of the break that I am aroused from my slumber. Pain has a way of getting our attention. Sad to say, many times people refuse to respond to God’s loving call. For them Proverbs 29:1 speaks: He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing.

It's time for us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the theology of uncomfortable grace. As long as sin still lives inside of us, producing in each of us a propensity to forget and wander, God's grace will come to us in uncomfortable forms. You may be wondering where the grace of God is in your life, when actually you're getting it. But it's not the grace of release or relief; no, you're getting the uncomfortable grace of rescue, relationship, and refinement.

How many times do we try to alleviate the pain in someone’s life that is there to help them? It may be through welfare, drugs, misplaced sympathy or words that help cover-up what is going on in their life.

So, if you are God's child, resist the temptation to doubt his goodness in the middle of your stress. It's time for us to stop thinking that our difficulty is a sign of his unfaithfulness and inattention. If you are God's child and you still recognize the battle of sin within, then those difficulties are sure signs of rescuing redemptive love. God isn't withholding his grace from you. No, you're experiencing uncomfortable grace, grace that's willing to break bones in order for your heart to be true. This grace is unwilling to give up. This grace will not turn its back. This grace will not accept the status quo. This grace will not compromise or grow cynical. God hasn't forgotten you. He loves you with real love, and he's giving you real grace. And he'll continue to do so until you're finally free of your propensity to wander away. Now that's real love.

We can understand this because we see how God acts in Scripture. It’s dangerous when we let the messages of the world crowd out God’s message. The solution is daily washing in the Word.

A question from the meditation:

What is God doing in your life right now in order to draw you more closely into a more committed relationship with him?

People I love are in bad situations that I can do nothing to change. I pray for the will of God to prevail in their lives. I pray for them to respond to God’s loving grace that can bring rescue, relationship and refinement. I know only God can fix what’s wrong.

Philip

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grace That Hides

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts are in red.

Hide your face from my sins.
Psalm 51:9

It seems like the last thing you would want to pray. It seems like it would be the thing that you'd fear the most. Who would want God to "hide his face?" God "shining the light of his face" on us is a picture of acceptance and blessing. The darkest moment of suffering for Christ was when God turned his back on him in those final moments on the cross. In a horrible moment of grief Christ cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Yet, as David stands before God as a humble repenting man, he does what seems to be unthinkable; he asks God to hide his face. What is it that David is pleading with God to do?

Sin causes us to hide from God. It may be a closing of our heart towards Him or dropping out of church or staying away from godly friends. Would we want Him to hide His face so He doesn’t see what we are doing or have done?

On the other side of lust, adultery, and murder, David is filled with the sense of the enormity of his sin. The weight of what he's carrying isn't just about how he used his God-given position to take a woman who wasn't his and use her for his pleasure. The weight on him wasn't just about how he plotted the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband. The weight had to do with his understanding of the extent of his problem with sin. David acknowledges the fact that he came into the world with this profound moral problem (Psalm 51:5). He scans back across his life and can't recognize a point where sin wasn't with him. But there's an even deeper awareness that sits on David's heart like a lead weight. He's come to understand that his sin was directly and personally against God. What he did, he did in the face of God. He rejected God's authority and made himself his own master. He rejected God's wisdom and acted as if he knew better. He rejected God's call and decided to do what pleased him rather than what pleased God. In the middle of the outrageousness of his rebellion, how could David ever stand before a holy God?

I think ultimate repentance is when we recognize and admit that our sin is against God, that it hurts Him and others and that it ceases being about us such as when we are sorry for having been caught or that we are now suffering some consequence. But why was David asking God to hide His face?

This confusing request actually demonstrates that David gets it right. He understands the comprehensiveness and the directness of the rebellion of his sin. He understands that as a sinner he can't stand in the presence of a holy God. What David doesn't understand is that when he prays for God to hide his face, he's praying for the cross. Something needs to come between God's holiness and my sin. Something needs to happen so that sinners, like David, can stand in God's presence and be completely unafraid. David couldn't possibly have known where the story of redemption was going, so he asks the only thing that makes sense to him: "Lord, won't you please hide your face from my sin, because if you don't, I am doomed."

Knowing what was accomplished on the cross gives us a completely different perspective than what David had but sometimes we don’t live with that understanding. We may hide or want God to hide or feel there is something we need to do to help take care of our sin. Maybe we need to beat ourselves up for awhile to show we are really sorry?

The cross was what David was pleading for. The cross provides our covering. The cross provides our cleansing. The cross makes it possible for God to accept us fully without compromising his holiness. The cross allows us to be accepted, not based on what we've done but based on what Christ has done. The cross allows sinners to be declared righteous! Christ covers us, so that as God looks on us he sees the perfect righteousness of Christ that's been given to our account.

So because of the cross we can admit our sin in confession and then be forgiven and cleansed; that is the reality. But everything in us fights against such an idea.

Isn't it amazing that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ mean that sinners no longer have to be afraid of God's face? Christ has answered David's prayer. He took the Father's rejection so that we'd be able to stand in the Father's presence and be unafraid. We don't have to ask God to hide his face, and we don't have to search for ways to hide from God. Jesus has made it possible for sinners to stand before a holy God and rest until the sin inside those sinners is no more.

This is amazing grace. It’s not about me cleaning up me, or perfecting me. It’s all about what God has done and the power now available in me through Him.

A question from the meditation:

Have you embraced the fact that your acceptance with God is not based on your position or performance but on the righteousness of Christ that has been given over to your account?

I have but it can still be a battle. Will I ever get completely away from the idea that there is something I should do; something from me that I can add to what Jesus did? That I somehow have to say I’m sorry more that once to show I really mean it.

Philip

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
Colossians 3:15

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Philippians 4:6

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Colossians 4:2

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:57

I am very thankful for salvation and the process of sanctification. I am thankful for the family that God has given to me. I am thankful for friends that inspire me to walk closer to Jesus. I am thankful for a good job. I am thankful that I got to spend a lot of time with my dad before he died.

I am thankful for this long weekend, that we will be able to feast later today, good music, silence, running water, good coffee, good books, Samson Society, that I was adopted and for money in my pocket.

Thankfulness gives me perspective.

Philip

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grace?

Sometimes we’ve been churches that preach a grace up front for those who aren’t Christians and a grace at the end for those who follow the rules and are “good Christians,” but we’ve tragically neglected the people in between. The truth is that none of us, even on our best, “holiest” days – the days we don’t cuss or look at porn or yell at our spouse or at the idiot who cut us off in traffic – even our best days aren’t holy enough to be looked at by God.

Anne Jackson
Permission to Speak Freely

Forgiveness

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is abbreviated and my thoughts are in red.

Blot out all my iniquities. Psalm 51:9

If the universe weren't ruled by a God of forgiveness, there would he no Psalm 51. It would be an act of self-destructive irrationality to stand before the One who controls it all and admit that you've willingly rebelled against his commands, but that's exactly what David does. He embraces the two realities that, if understood and acted upon, will fundamentally transform his life. The narrative of redemption, that is, the core content of Scripture, is the story of the interaction of these two themes.

To admit sin or rebellion puts you at the mercy of the one you confess to. They have the goods. If they want they can use it against you.

By coming to God with humble words of confession, David demonstrates that he's embraced the unique answers that God in his Word gives to these universally asked questions. What's wrong with people? The Bible is very clear and very simple; the answer is sin. The Bible directs us to look inside of ourselves and not outside. The Bible calls us to admit that we are our greatest problem. And the Bible chronicles how sin within distorts our thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and words. But the Bible does more. It shows us how sin puts us at war with God. It demonstrates to us how sin causes us to want to be self-sovereigns and our own lawgivers. Scripture pictures what happens when we try to set up our own little claustrophobic kingdoms of one, rather than living for the kingdom of God. The Bible requires each of us to accept, at the most practical of levels, that we have profound moral flaws within us that we can do absolutely nothing in ourselves to solve.

I’ve seen the distortion of sin first hand this week. Thoughts, desires, choices, actions, and words all warped. A family member is being completely ravaged. It started a long time ago with small diversions from God’s truth and then church was dropped. From active pursuit of God to coasting to flying backwards. Previously unthinkable things are being embraced. Self has become god.

So if sin is my problem then what do I do? The world tells us to hide behind an excuse. Religion tells us we need to beat ourselves up; show we are really sorry; do something to make up for it.

But David's words of confession prove that David has embraced something else. He comes because he really does believe that there's hope and help to be found. He knows that admitting sin is not a death sentence. He knows that, although he can't solve his greatest problem, there's a place where the solution can he found. The only hope for sinners is forgiveness. To put it even more forcefully, the only hope for sinners is that the One who's in charge of the universe is a God of forgiveness. The bottom line is this: if God is unwilling to forgive, we are doomed. But he's willing! The story that winds its way across the pages of the Bible is a story of God's active willingness to forgive. He controls the forces of nature and directs human history to bring the universe to the point where the Final Priest—the Sacrificial Lamb, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ—comes to earth, lives a perfect life, and gives himself as a sacrifice for our sins. All of this is done so that our deepest problem, sin, will find its only solution, forgiveness, without God compromising his character, his plan, or his law in any way.

This changes everything. We don’t have to be afraid to come clean. Repentance brings forgiveness.

The content of the Bible is the worst of news (you are a sinner) and the best of news (God is willing to forgive). It's only when you're ready to admit the worst that you then open yourself up to what's best. All of this means that you and I don't have to live in denial and avoidance. We don't have to play self-excusing logic games with ourselves. We don't have to give ourselves to systems of penance and self-atonement. We don't have to point the finger of blame at others. We don't have to perform our way into God's favor. No, we can come to him again and again just as we are, flawed, broken, and unclean, and know that he'll never turn away anyone who comes to him and says, "I have sinned; won't you in your grace forgive?"

I think it can be hard because we are so used to our experience with other humans. We have all experienced coming clean on something and then it becomes a club to beat us down. But Scripture shows that it is not that way with God. He longs to forgive, to wash away the sin and to reconcile us to Him.

There's no sin too great, there's no act too heinous, and there's no person beyond hope. The offer is open and free. There's no requirement of age, gender, ethnicity, location, or position. God welcomes you to come. He asks only that you admit your sin and seek what can be found only in him—forgiveness. He is able, he is willing, and with grace that we will maybe never be able to fully grasp, he says, "Come."

What a sweet promise that is and after forgiveness He never brings it up again. Amazing!

A question from the meditation:

Do you really believe that you can stand before God just as you are and be unafraid? Pray that God would fill you heart with this assurance.

This is an area I have never had a problem with. I have always understood that God does want to forgive and I have been able to accept it. Now with people it is another story.

Philip


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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Amazing Grace of Self-knowledge

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is abbreviated and my thoughts are in red.

For I know my transgressions. Psalm 51:3

I have counseled people for many years, and one of the things that has impressed me over and over again is how self-deluded people (including me) can be. It's amazing how hard it is to see ourselves with accuracy. It's been my experience over and over again that we see the other person with a fairly high degree of accuracy but can't seem to see ourselves with the same precision.

This is why we need other people in our lives. They can see what we can’t.

I have had angry people get quite angry when I've suggested that they are angry! I've had controlling people posit that they think themselves to be quite serving. I've watched vengeful people seem unaware that they lived to settle the score with others. I've worked with men eaten with the cancer of lust who tell me that sex isn't a big struggle for them. I've had bitter wives give me the litany of ways they think that they are loving their husbands. I've counseled a gymnasium full of teenagers who really do think that they are wiser than the surrounding authorities. I've sat with ungracious and legalistic pastors and heard them talk of their allegiance to a theology of grace.

Self delusion is a very powerful thing. The heart is deceitful above all things. Jeremiah 17:9

Why are we so deluded? The reasons are many. We make the mistake of comparing ourselves to the diluted standards of the surrounding culture, standards that fall far below God's will for us. We also make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others, always able to find someone who appears to be more sinful than we are. We spend so much time arguing for our righteousness that it leaves little time to reflect on the reality of remaining sin. Add to all of this the basic nature of sin. Sin is deceitful. It hides, it defends itself, it wears masks, it bends its shape into more acceptable forms, it points fingers of blame, and it even questions the goodness of God. Sin always first deceives the person who is sinning the sin.

The only good standard is God’s word. The world, the flesh and the devil will try to muddy the waters so we don’t see clearly. If we want to escape delusion then we need a daily immersion in the Word.

So, since sin is by its very nature deceitful, we need help in order to see ourselves with accuracy. Another way to say this is that personal spiritual insight is the result of community. We don't get it all by ourselves. We need a ministry of two communities in order to see ourselves with the kind of surgical clarity with which David speaks in this psalm. First, we need community with God. He's the ultimate opener of blind eyes. Through the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit we begin to see ourselves with accuracy and become willing to own up to what we see. But the Spirit uses instruments, and this is where the second community comes in. God employs people in the task of giving sight to other people. For David, that was the prophet Nathan.

Nathan was the voice of confrontation, exposure and judgment. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can voluntarily put people in our life to be the eyes we lack. We need someone to give a different perspective in our life. That can keep us from horrible situations and compromise.

There are a whole lot of people who are blindly stumbling their way through life. But their blindness is made even more powerful and dangerous by the fact that they tend to be blind to their blindness. A physically blind person is never blind to his blindness. He's immediately confronted with the fact that he's unable to see, and he gives himself a whole catalog of ways to live inside the boundaries set by this profound physical deficiency. The scary reality is that one of the things that keeps spiritually blind people blind is that they're not only convinced that they see, but they're also convinced that they see quite well! And so they don't seek help for their blindness. Why seek help for a condition from which you are convinced you don't suffer?

Again, the things we are blind to can be clearly seen by others around us. The wise person establishes a relationship with at least one other person to help fill that gap.

A question from the meditation:

In what ways has God's grace enabled you to know yourself better today than you once did?

Philip

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sacrifices


Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts in red.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

Perhaps
if I give You
some of my time.
Perhaps
if I give You
some of my strength.
Perhaps
if I give You
some of my things.
Perhaps
if I give You
some of my thoughts.
Perhaps
if I give You
some of my success.
Perhaps
if I give You
some of my relationships.

Some…. We want to give some. We are afraid to give all. It happens repeatedly because there is always a new area of our life where we are being challenged and changed.

We don’t get it right one time and that’s it. We don’t one day become mature in Christ. We are constantly realizing that there is another area to work on.

Surely
these sacrifices
will bring You delight.
Surely
these offerings
will bring You joy.
I'm quite willing
to give a tithe
I'm quite willing
to interrupt
my schedule.
I'm quite willing
to volunteer
to serve.
I'm quite willing
to do
my part.

My part…. I want it defined so I can do it and then go on. I like my schedule. I want things to fit nicely. I don’t want my plans interrupted. I don’t like things left hanging.

But I get the sense
that You're not satisfied
with a piece of me.
I get the sense
that momentary giving
momentary service
momentary sacrifice
momentary ministry
the momentary turning
of my heart to You
will not satisfy You.

He wants it all and all the time. He wants me to yield, to let go, to open my hand, to close the schedule book.

But I must admit
that I'm afraid
of what You require.
I'm afraid of a
broken spirit.
I'm afraid of a
contrite heart.
I'm afraid to be
crushed by Your grace.
So I try to
distract You
with my service
distract You
with my time
distract You
with my money.

Again. I gave it all before but it’s new again; a new area where the light is shining; a new area to learn the same lesson again. It seems it should be easier.

Deep inside
I know what You want.
Deep inside
I'm sure of what You require.
I'm afraid
because I want to hold onto
my heart.
I want
to give it to other things.
I want to
pursue pleasures
outside of You.
I'm afraid
to give You
what would satisfy You.
I'm afraid of a
broken heart.
So I regularly offend You
with empty offerings
and vacuous praise.
Hoping
to my own destruction
that you'll be satisfied.

The common thread of all these lessons is I should trust. It’s new and unfamiliar but You are the same. I will be most satisfied when I am satisfied with You. I will be safe as I yield all to You.


Take a Moment

Stop and celebrate how Jesus' willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice enables our sacrifices to be acceptable to God.

Philip


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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Appealing to God's Glory

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts in red.

Then you will delight in right sacrifices . . . ; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51:19

You're always in a safe place when you're appealing to God's glory. This is exactly what David does in Psalm 51:18-19: "In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem" (NIV). Why? "Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar" (NIV). David is essentially saying, "God, bless your people, because if you do, they'll live for your glory." This is what all truly biblical prayer will do. We often reduce prayer to a laundry list of self-focused needs in which we ask God to exercise his power for the sake of our comfort or for the purpose of self-glory. You know the requests:

"God, give me wisdom at work (so I can make more money and acquire more power)."

"God, alleviate my financial woes (so I have more money to spend on the pleasure and possessions that will make me happy)."

"God, help my daughter to be more respectful (so that my evenings will be more peaceful so I can get the things done that I want to get done)."

"God, work in the life of my husband (so I can finally experience the marriage of my dreams)."

"God, give me a better relationship with my neighbor (so he will like me enough to make his dog quit trampling my flower beds)."

"God, please heal my body (so that I can do the physical things that I love to do)."

This is a good thing to think about. It’s always good to pray but maybe the motivation isn’t always right. Things can get so mixed up that we may not see the motivation clearly. Is it for me or for the greater purpose of God’s kingdom and glory?

So much of our prayer has nothing to do with the glory of God. Regrettably, in much of our prayer we're actually asking God to endorse our pursuit of a whole catalog of self-focused false glories. For God to be willing to do that would not only mean a denial of who he is, but it would also mean our destruction.

It’s good that God doesn’t always answer prayer the way we want. We may not be self-focused but we may not be seeing the bigger picture. This is where trust comes in. If things aren’t going the way we want, we wait.

But perhaps you're thinking, "Paul, it doesn't seem loving for God to be so focused on his own glory. How does it help me to have God's zeal for his own glory be greater than his zeal for anything else?" This is a very good question and worthy of an answer.

First, don't fall into evaluating the character of God as you'd evaluate the character of a human being. God is not a man and cannot be judged by the standards that he has set for human beings. For a human to be obsessed by his own glory would be a horrendous spirit of pride and self-aggrandizement. But not so with God.

We mess up when we create God in our image. He is not the same as us. We need to remember that He is God and we are not.

So, it is right, good, and beneficial for God to find his greatest pleasure in his own glory simply because he is God. You see, in delighting in his own glory, calling us to live for his glory, and enabling us to do so, God frees us from our self-destructive addiction to self-glory and the endless catalog of false glories that comes with it.

There are a lot of things that fit in that catalog. We are always looking for something that puts us higher than others. It may be education, money, accomplishments, sports, Bible knowledge, game scores, cars, toys, words, etc.

So, God's unshakable commitment to his own glory is the most loving thing he could ever do for us. It's what redeems us from us and breaks our bondage to all the things in life that we wrongly think will give us life but lead only to emptiness and ultimately death.

So when I live for God’s glory I am the most happy, satisfied and content. I experience what I hoped to find in so many other things that proved to be disappointing.

A question from the meditation:

How much of your prayer is dominated by requests that have to do with your vision of glory? What changes in your prayer would take place if your prayer was shaped by an appeal to God's glory?

I am trying to keep this in mind as I go through my prayer list. It’s a subtle but true distinction. I may not even be me that I am praying for. I might be praying for someone else but not see how my prayer should be focused. Am I praying for comfort, promotion or help that simply benefits them or am I looking at the bigger picture? In praying right, I align with God’s will and glory.

Philip


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fight or Flinch


If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the Devil are at that point attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is tested. To be steady in all the battlefields besides is mere flight and disgrace, if the soldier flinches at that one point.

Martin Luther
This quote has been used a lot by the prolife movement to call pastors to speak out on abortion. I think that is a proper application as abortion must be viewed as one of the most crucial battles going on; not the only one, but probably close to the top of the list.

Sadly, most pastors seem unable to find their voice on abortion. In the past, a ministry I was involved with would prod pastors to preach a prolife sermon at least once a year but we didn't have much success. Of course, there are rare but notable exceptions.

The same thing is happening with homosexuality. Sermons on the truth of God’s Word relating to this subject are uncommon as well.

Why? Sometimes a pastor speaks out and then receives a firestorm of criticism. Sometimes he is not well versed on the arguments. He may view these as political issues and doesn’t want to taint his pulpit. He may look out at the people and figure that many of them are personally affected and he doesn’t want to hurt their feelings.

The same happened with divorce. So many in the church have been divorced so pastors can’t bring themselves to say it’s wrong. The sad result is the problem is compounded. People don’t know what God’s Word says so they end up doing what the world tells them to do.

All of us have our flinching point. It may be easy for me to speak on certain subjects but harder on others. I may have it together in certain areas but am a mess in many others. So it’s not an us verses them message. What we have to do is recognize where we have a hard time and move towards getting it right.

If your pastor speaks on a controversial subject let him know you support him and why. It’s a hard job he has to do in this culture.

If you are a pastor then know that your words can change lives. Your lack of words can do the same. Realize that most people in your church are deeply affected by the world and are not searching out these issues themselves. Do you know where the world and the devil are now attacking? Find out and then find your voice. Don’t give a surface sermon. Dig deep and preach deep. Don’t let criticism deter you. Be the man! Give a challenge to your people. They may squirm and complain but history will vindicate you.

Philip

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sermon on the Mount

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is indented and abbreviated.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:6

Confession results in deeper personal insight. Further confession leads to greater insight. This is one of the graces of confession. You see this spiritual dynamic operating in the life of David in Psalm 51. This man, who was so completely blinded by his own lust that he wasn't able only to use his God-given position of political power to take another man's wife but also to put a contract out on her husband and have him killed, is now able to see not only his behavioral wrongs but the heart behind them as well.
I was thinking about the idea of confession leading to insight and more confession leading to greater insight. I’ve seen that working in my own life. At first there is usually denial – I didn’t do anything wrong. Then responding to the Holy Spirit I admit something and that admission leads to complete confession. It’s hard to admit that. I don’t want to think of myself as so devious, dishonest and deceived. Thank God for His mercy.

You and I will only ever be holy by God's definition if we put the moral fences where God puts them. We tend to put the fences at the boundary of behavior. For example, rather than telling our children the importance of a respectful heart and the issues of heart that cause us not to respect others as we should, we instruct our children to use titles of respect when they're relating to others. Now, there's nothing wrong with this as far as it goes; the problem is that enforcing certain behaviors won't create a spirit of respectfulness. A child who's mad at his teacher for an assignment she's given may say, "Whatever you say, Mrs. Smith!" in a tone that's anything but respectful. The teacher immediately knows that the child has used a title of respect to tell her that he doesn't respect her at all, but to tell her that in a way that won't get him into trouble!
I don’t completely agree with this. I know it can’t change the heart but certain fences can help. I remember a friend telling me he was reluctant to install a filter on his Internet because he knew that what was needed was a change in his heart. Without a heart change, the filter will end up being bypassed. That’s true but sometimes the fence will protect us in our moments of weakness. It makes it a little harder to take the action of sin.

This is where Christ's teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is so helpful. Christ draws the fences in much closer. He calls for us to fence our hearts because he knows that it's only when we fence the heart that we'll willingly and successfully stay inside God-appointed behavioral fences. So he says, "You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27- 28).

Consider the importance of what Christ does here. He isn't adding to the seventh commandment. No, he's interpreting it for us. He's telling us what the intention and extent of the command has always been. God knows what lust lusts for. Lust doesn't lust for more lust. Lust lusts for the physical experience of the thing that's the object of the lust. A heart controlled by sexual lust won't be satisfied with better and more graphic fantasies. No, a lustful heart craves the actual experience and will only be satisfied when it has actually experienced the thing for which it lusts. This is why it never works to put the fences at the boundary of behavior. Even if I've placed clear fences there, I'll cut through them or climb over them if I haven't first fenced my heart.
As I said before, I think there is a place for the fence. I know it’s not enough in itself but it serves a purpose; maybe like training wheels on a bike. I hope to teach my children lessons that result in heart change but there are plenty of fences I put up to protect them until they are more mature.

Have you fenced your heart? Have you tried to stay inside of behavioral boundaries only to have climbed over them again and again? Go and read the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5 through 7, and ask God to "teach you wisdom in the inmost place." By God's grace, determine to fight the battle of thought and desire, knowing full well that it's only when you win this battle that you can be successful in the battle of behavior. And rest assured that when you fight this battle you aren't fighting alone, but your Lord wages war on your behalf.
I am thankful for the changes that have happened in my heart through the years. I’m thankful for the things that have lost their grip so an external fence isn’t necessary. I am thankful that the Lord does fight on my behalf and through grace changes my heart.

Take a Moment

What "fences of the heart" do you need to erect that are not there now?

Where is there evidence that you are stepping over God's "boundaries of the heart?" Stop and confess and receive God's offer of forgiveness.

Philip


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pastoral Search Committee Report

In our search for a suitable pastor, the following scratch sheet was developed for your perusal. The list contains the names of the candidates and comments on each.

• Noah: He has 120 years of preaching experience, but no converts.

• Moses: He stutters, and the former congregation says he loses his temper over trivial things.

• Abraham: He took off to Egypt during hard times. We heard that he got into trouble with the authorities and then tried to lie his way out.

• David: He is an unacceptable moral character. He might have been considered for minister of music had he not "fallen."

• John: He says he is a Baptist but lacks tact and dresses like a hippie. He would not feel comfortable at a church potluck supper.

• Peter: He has a bad temper and was heard to deny Christ publicly.

• Paul: We found him to lack tact. He is too harsh, his appearance is contemptible, and he preaches far too long.

• Timothy: He has potential but is much too young for the position.

• Jesus: He tends to offend church members, especially Bible scholars, with his preaching. He is also too controversial. He even offended the search committee with His pointed questions.

• Judas: He seemed to be very practical, cooperative, good with money, concerned for the poor, and professionally dressed. We all agreed that he is just the man we are looking for to fill the vacancy as our Senior Pastor.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

God’s Pleasure

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. My thoughts in red.

Then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51:19

I must admit
I am embarrassed
by
what gives me
pleasure.
It doesn't take
much
to make me
smile.
I get
real pleasure
from
a good steak
nice chocolate
a comfortable
bed.
I want the joy
of
cold soda
and
hot tea.
I want the bathroom
to
be empty when
I need it.
I want the streets
I drive on
to
be free of other
drivers.
I want people
to
respect my opinions
and
validate my plans.
I want my wife
to
be satisfied
with me as
I am.
I want
my bills all
paid
and plenty of money
to
do the pleasurable
things
that make me
happy.

It’s all about me and what I want. I have an idea of what would make me happy and I pursue it. I want to feel good. I want things to taste good and to smell good. I want comfort. But what if I am wrong? What if I’m looking at the wrong things in the wrong places? What if the pleasure I experience is a cheap substitute? What if I’ve been fooled?

But God
isn't like
me.
His pleasures
aren't a sad
catalog
of
low-grade
idolatries.
His desires
aren't shaped
by
ravenous self-focus.
He
doesn't.
live
in a perpetual state
of
self-absorbed
discontent.
His pleasures
are never
regrettable
ugly
or
unholy.
When
God smiles
His reason
is holy
and His purpose
is
pure.
He finds
great pleasure
in His glory
and
great joy
when
the repentant
turn
from the pursuit
of
their own glory and
turn
toward His.
He has
great pleasure
in
the success
of
His plan
and finds
satisfaction
in seeing
His children
turn
from their pleasure
to
live for
His.

If we don’t understand God, the above would seem incredibly self-centered. Why does everything have to be about Him? Why do I have to do everything He wants me to do? Why do I have to live for His pleasure? But to know Him is to realize that when I live that way, everything falls into place. I experience the highest pleasure and contentment.

Someday
by His grace
the pleasures
that give me
pleasure
will be
the things that
please God.
Until then
my
hope is in the
fact
that He finds
delight
in rescuing those
who
have been led
astray
by their pleasures
because
once more today
I'm
going to need
that rescue.
And I'll need
it
every day until
my
deepest pleasures
are nowhere to be found
in
the creation
and only to be found
in
the Creator.

Isn’t it great that He works in us? I don’t have to muster the strength to change myself. He shows me what is wrong and gives grace and strength to change. He lets me taste what true pleasure is and a longing for it is planted in me.

A question from the meditation:

How close is what gives you pleasure to what gives God pleasure?

It’s something I know in my head but it’s not something I live everyday. The world is so good in pushing its stuff. Every day it’s in my face. Something to buy, eat, look at or listen to; another hollow promise. But I have tasted the true pleasure, the experience of knowing I am doing exactly what God wants; I have felt His smile. So to answer the question, it depends on the day.

Philip


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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Righteous Judgment

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is indented and abbreviated.

. . . so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Or as The Message says, You’re the one I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. Psalm 51:4

What an interesting thing for a man who's confessing sin to say! Why would David be talking about God's justice? Now, it makes sense, when you have the sense to confess, to remind God of his mercy, but to stand before him and remind him of his justice is another thing all together.

Let me suggest that there are two ways that the justice of God should comfort us sinners. First, his justice means that his assessment of us is accurate. It isn't colored or slanted by prejudice or bias of any kind. It isn't shaped by any kind of hidden personal agenda. God's assessment isn't weakened by favoritism or the cynicism of previous experience.
He loves us and that is how He filters everything about us.

Unlike my experience in this broken world, I don't have to fear that God will wrongly associate me with some group, or have his view of me colored by a grudge, or have his perspective on me colored by irritation or impatience. I can rest assured that God's view of me is trustworthy in every way. And because God's view of me is untainted by sin, it's clearly more reliable than any view that I'd have of myself.
That’s what makes it easier to take God’s scrutiny of us. It’s the opposite of what makes it hard to accept the same scrutiny from some people.

Second, the way that God as Judge responds to me is right and pure as well. God's discipline of me is without personal bias. It isn't weakened by anger or impatience. His justice is never distorted because he's lost his temper or has tired of dealing with me. To add to this, since he isn't only just, but also merciful, loving, and kind as well, God's justice is always restrained and tempered by these things.
I know I am less than beneficial many times when helping other people see their faults. If we are angry, exasperated or annoyed we treat people differently. We hang things over their head and magnify their imperfections to make our own look smaller.

So, I can place myself in the hands of the justice of the one who sees me with accuracy and deals with me righteously. We stand before God unafraid, not because we're acceptable to him, but because his justice has been satisfied by the death of Jesus. So, God is to us both the One who's just and the One who justifies!

  • I don't have to manipulate God's view of me.
  • I don't have to run from him in fear.
  • I don't have to rationalize away my wrongs.
  • I don't have to work to shift the blame to someone else.
  • I don't have to put forward false pretenses.
  • I don't have to marshal arguments for my acceptability.
  • I don't have to try to buy my way into his favor.

    No, I can be who I am and what I am and stand in the light of his righteousness without fear, because Jesus has taken my sin and suffered my stripes. So the One who is my Judge is also my Justifier. There is rest. There is hope.
    We don’t have to pretend with God. He knows what we are and is working to change us. He knows we fail and it doesn’t change His emotional love for us.

    Take a Moment

    Stop and consider how sweet it is that you stand before a God whose assessment of you is not colored by ugly prejudice or self-serving bias. Think of how comforting it is to know that his view of you is always accurate and true.

    It's beyond sweet but it's still sad that I run and hide. What is there to fear?

    Philip


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    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    Deceptive Peace

    “It must have been the right thing to do because I feel such peace.”

    In a world guided by subjective emotions, objective truth is easily discarded. The guiding principals are gems such as, “Follow your heart” or “If it feels good, do it.” The conclusion, “It can’t be wrong because it feels so right.”

    A basic definition of peace is a state of tranquility without disturbance or agitation. So I guess if you are in a coma, we might describe you as peaceful but most outside observers wouldn’t think all is well.

    How about the calm before the storm? Maybe the peace someone feels is a brief, deceptive moment before the coming consequences.

    I think using peace as a judge of good or bad decision making is very dangerous. As Christians, we speak of the peace from God as a good thing. Philippians 4:6-7 has this to say, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I don’t see peace here as a sign of good decision making but as a result of prayer. When I pray for my prodigal children instead of worrying about them I receive peace from God. That peace lets me rest in the knowledge that God loves them and is working in them. Even with that peace I still have an unsure turmoil in wondering what part I played in their messed-up lives.

    Probably the strongest argument for peace in decision making is this: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)  Rule in this verse means to arbitrate or to act as an umpire. An arbitrator or umpire has to act according to the rules. So the same here; the rules are the Word of God. That’s where everything has to start and end.

    It’s good we have Scripture to guide us because we are reminded in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Without external objective guidance our internal compass gets out of calibration.

    We also need other people to help guide us. Good friends can give perspective; they can see what may be unclear to us. We may be wrapped up in emotion and they bring clarity. Of course, the wrong voices can be destructive. If their lives are not guided by God’s Word then it may be the blind leading the blind. I heard an alcoholic talking about this recently. He realized that his friends were not going to help him out of his bondage; they didn’t see a problem. He recognized that he was going to need new friends before he was going to be successful with recovery.

    Sometimes, the opposite of peace may be present when we are doing the right thing. Paul realized this in Acts 20:22-23 where he said, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” Of course there was a peace but not the way we may look at it. If Paul wanted to avoid hardship he could have said, “I just don’t feel a peace about going.”

    So what it all comes down to is if God’s Word says something then our feelings don’t matter. If we are disobedient then the peace we feel may be God’s absence or maybe the calm before the storm He is about to unleash.

    Philip

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Loss

    Have you ever lost something very important? I guess all of us have. Some have lost things greater than others, or at least we think so. Have there been things you lost that after the passage of time didn’t really seem like a big deal?

    I lost my hair and I am trying to lose some weight. I lost my mother twice. My birth mother was gone after my birth and my adopted mother died when I was 16.

    I have lost children. I would have four more children if death hadn’t snatched them away before birth.

    I’ve lost many years and moments that could have been shared with my family if I hadn’t been lost in the little world of me.

    I lost most of my tools when my work van was broken into. Many of them were passed down from my Dad.

    I have never lost a fortune although I have never had one to lose. I have never lost a wife through death or divorce. I have never lost the contents of our house in a fire. I have never lost my wallet or the car keys.

    I found out yesterday that I lost something that was very important me. Partly through my error and partly through bad programming every comment left on this blog for the past four years is now gone. I don’t think there is anything that can be done to bring them back.

    There were comments that told me I was stupid or misinformed. There were even some that said what I wrote was meaningful. It stings that all of these are gone because many times they filled-out or balanced something I wrote. Now all that is left is me and some of the time that’s not a good thing.

    As I think about all of this I am reminded how often I get things backward. I value and spend time on and am anxious for so many things that don’t really matter. I also neglect many things that have eternal value. I wish confession meant getting it right; it doesn’t so I know I will continue to mess up. I will trudge along or speed along; fully convinced I’m on the right path. I thank God for people along the way whose comments help set me straight.

    Philip

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    The Grace of a Clean Heart

    Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The devotional is indented and abbreviated.

    Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Psalm 51:10

    Could there be a more fundamental prayer request than this? Could there be anything more essential than this? Could there be any hope more beautiful than to believe that someday your heart and mine will be totally free from impurity of any kind? This is the most radical claim of all the claims of the gospel. This is the epicenter of what the cross of Jesus Christ alone can produce. This is the thing that the keeping of the law could never do.
    This is the hope of every true Christian – to be pure before God. We keep the rules but we know it’s not just about the rules. We keep the rules because that’s what is in our heart.

    Let's think about the theology of the heart that's behind David's request. Human beings have been made by God in two parts, the inner man and the outer man. The outer man is your physical self, your body. The body is the house you've been given for your heart. The inner man is given many names: mind, emotion, will, soul, spirit, to name a few. All of these terms are collected into one big basket term, heart. The heart is the control center of the human being. It's the center of your emotions, cognition, and desires. Essentially, what the Bible says is that the heart is the steering wheel of the human being. The heart controls, shapes, and directs everything you choose, say, and do. What controls the heart will therefore exercise unavoidable control over your behavior.
    As a parent I’m always reminded (by my wife) that what’s important is the heart. We can force kids to do “right things” but what we really want is obedience from the heart. If the kids have right hearts the right behavior will follow. Now if only I could make their heart change.

    What does this have to do with David's courageous request? David understands something that's fundamental to repentance. It's that sin isn't first a matter of behavior; it's first a matter of the heart. That's why Jesus said that to look at a woman and lust after her carries the moral value of the physical act of adultery. You see, since your heart guides your actions and words, if you allow your heart to lust, it won't be long before you commit the physical act.
    Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In the same way it’s hard to understand heart versus behavior. Speaking of lust, you may innocently come across an image in a magazine or billboard. To look away and keep looking away may signify a pure heart or it may show incredible discipline when all inside wants to look. To take a second look may lead to lust. Where did the lust start? Was it already in the heart or did the behavior of a second look bring it about?

    Or we could look at the other side of the coin. Worship is not first an activity. No, worship is first a position of the heart. It's only when my heart esteems God above everything else that I'll serve him with my time, energy, money, and strength. Impurity of the heart is not primarily about bad thoughts or bad desires. No, impurity of the heart is really about love for something in the creation replacing love that I was only ever meant to have for the Creator. And when I love something in creation more than I love God, I'll think, desire, say, and do bad things.
    Again, there are many times we may have all the outward appearance of devotion to God but it may all be for show. We have to be careful how we look at other people. Do we judge them by the outward? I am surprised how many times people are elevated to various positions such as elder and deacon in churches because they are successful in business and wear a nice suit. In some cases their personal and home life are a mess but having them on the board looks good and may bring in some contributions. And many times the better qualified are overlooked because they don’t fit the image of success.

    Now, what all of this means is that our biggest, most abiding, most life-shaping problem exists inside of us and not outside of us. What we actually need to be rescued from is us. What needs to be transformed in our lives is not so much our situation and relationships (although they need transformation as well). What really needs to be transformed are our hearts.
    This is where we need to examine ourselves. With the help of God and good friends we can discover what our hearts are like.

    Here's the gorgeous message of the gospel: even though I've bowed again and again to an endless catalog of God replacements, even though I've loved myself more than I've loved God, even though I've rebelled against God's kingdom and sought to set up my own kingdom, God comes to me in grace and wraps arms of love around me and begins a process that will result in the total transformation of the core of my personhood, the heart.
    It’s encouraging that He pursues us and doesn’t give up. Sometimes it is a long, hard road.

    So we wake up every morning knowing that by his grace our hearts are purer than they once were, and by his grace they'll be purer than they are today. So with thankfulness for the transformation that's already taken place and with the courage of hope of the transformation that's yet to come, we wake up, look to heaven, and say with David, "Create in me a clean heart."
    Each day can be a little better than the one before.

    Take a moment:

    Celebrate the reality that your heart is purer than it once was as you pray for a further cleansing from the impurities that are still there.
    Sometimes it’s hard to see change from close up. It’s easy to think that no progress is being made. Failures sap us of hope. The reality is that God is doing a work in us. I know I can look back through time and see the work He has done.

    Philip


    Get this book and join the journey:

    Olive Tree – PDA or Smartphone

    Amazon - paper

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Sunrise Celebration

    I was driving across town this morning to a business meeting. It was a little before 7 am. The eastern sky was ablaze with orange and red. The sun was rising and a camera could never capture what my eyes were seeing.

    I felt sad for people who are not awake at this time of morning. I thought how amazing that God brings in each new day with a celebration.

    Isn’t that how we should live? The Bible tells us that God’s mercies are new each morning. He is ready to start each day fresh.

    Let the sunrise be a reminder of the amazing grace, mercy and forgiveness of God.

    Philip

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