Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Somewhere More Holy

Somewhere More Holy is one of the best books I have ever read. I received it in the mail Friday and finished it Saturday. I resented having to do anything else while I was reading it.

It’s probably too honest for the spiritually smug – those who have it all figured out and rarely sin anymore. If that’s you then don’t waste your time. Go polish your halo.

For the rest of us, the book is packed with the realities of living in a fallen world and with fallen people. Yes, our lives can get better and home is a great place to be and a great place to learn to be holy. It's also a fun place where a lot of funny things happen.

I hope you get a copy.

Here it is at Amazon.

Here is the website for the book.

Philip

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Does It Have to Do with Me?

Thoughts from my reading in Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul David Tripp. The words from the meditation are in brown.

I really like the flow of this meditation and the chronology of Jesus’ life that it covers.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

So what does it have to do with me, this poverty child?

What does it have to do with me, this homeless birth in a busy town?
What does it have to do with me, these shepherds searching for angel-announced hope?
What does it have to do with me, this little boy wandering among the shavings of newly planed wood?
What does it have to do with me, these dirty feet from dusty paths of Middle Eastern villages?
What does it have to do with me, this unremarkable vagabond?
What does it have to do with me, this traveler with his motley pack of men?
What does it have to do with me, these weird sayings and mysterious stories?
What does it have to do with me, this healer man with crowds of broken citizens?
What does it have to do with me, these jealous leaders plotting evil?
What does it have to do with me, confusing predictions about a future unclear?
What does it have to do with me, these hungry crowds fed by a little boy's lunch?
What does it have to do with me, prostitutes and drunkards made to feel welcome?
What does it have to do with me, these courageous declarations while standing in the synagogue?
What does it have to do with me, this palm branch carpet processional?
What does it have to do with me, this private dinner in a rented room?
What does it have to do with me, this basin unused with proud men at the table?
What does it have to do with me, this dark garden echoing with painful prayer?
What does it have to do with me, these three asleep, with a friend in torment?
What does it have to do with me, this kiss of death with soldiers as witnesses?
What does it have to do with me, these trumped-up charges by jealous men?
What does it have to do with me, this bruised and bloody back?
What does it have to do with me, this crown of thorns with flowers removed?
What does it have to do with me, this Roman ruler washing his hands?
What does it have to do with me, this cross dragged outside of the city?
What does it have to do with me, this dirty, bloody man nailed to a tree?
What does it have to do with me, these criminal companions hung on either side?
What does it have to do with me, soldiers gambling for the clothes of the accused?
What does it have to do with me, sword to the side to finish him off?
What does it have to do with me, this scarred corpse placed in a borrowed crypt?
What does it have to do with me, these women surprised at the body gone?
What does it have to do with me, this story so removed, so long ago?
What does it have to do with me, this one wise and suffering man?
What does it have to do with me, Palestine graced, hope rejected?

What does it have to do with me?
This story is my story, each chapter is for me. This unattractive man of humble beginning and ignominious end is the Hope of the Universe. Mercy is what it has to do with me; it is what the sin struggle of my heart, like the heart of David, requires.

A question from the meditation:

If you saw the story of your life embedded in the big story of the Bible, what difference would it make in the way you think about and respond to life?

As I read this meditation over each day this week, many different areas stood out to me. I thought about the life of Jesus in a different way than I have before. What I see about the story of my life embedded in the Bible is that Jesus came and lived a very extraordinarily ordinary life. He walked the roads and lived with the people while accomplishing the work that allows my salvation.

It’s sad how many people are blind to what Jesus did for them. They may deny his existence or claim that Jesus did nothing extraordinary or view him as a good man and not see that the life Jesus lived was a life lived for them.

I see it and I rejoice with thankfulness.

Philip


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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Enough

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

A Psalm of David . . . after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Title of Psalm 51


Enough is the persistent problem this side of eternity. Enough is what we seldom seem to get right. Enough is what trips us up, again and again. Enough is one of our deepest sources of trouble. Enough is what we find such difficulty in being satisfied with. Although the definition is different for each of us, the struggle with our enough is that it tends to keep expanding. And when it does, we never seem to have enough.

How true that is. We have our eyes on something and then as soon as we get it we are either looking to get a better one or something else that caught our attention. I remember a friend from many years ago. After they moved into a new home he told me that this was their dream home. A few years later, the dream changed.

It's the thing that slaps you in the face in Psalm 51. How could what David had been given not be enough? Born into a family of faith, anointed by the great prophet Samuel, chosen to be the king of Israel, set apart to be the father of the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ! How could it not be enough?

Comparison and the desire for pleasure and things, makes us forget all of the blessings we already possess. Our home isn’t good enough, our spouse could use an upgrade, our car is a piece of crap and the job is a bummer.

Through David, the promised Messiah would come and provide salvation for the world. David's anointing was much, much more than a position of leadership in a tiny little Palestinian kingdom. It was much more than the blessing of God's appointment to a certain place and a certain time. No, the reign of David was about a far greater kingdom, the kingdom of God.

What is it that God wants to do through me and what is it that the devil would like to derail through lust and discontent? What bigger thing is in danger of being traded for some small fleeting pleasure?

So, why was all this not enough for David? It wasn't enough because what started out as God's kingdom morphed into David's kingdom. What was to be driven and shaped by the will of God became controlled by the desires of David. What was to be motivated by spiritual vision got kidnapped by physical sight and sexual craving. Having lost the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of self, David no longer viewed what God had given him as enough.

Is that a clue to our discontent? If we are lean in out relationship with God do we look to fill the hole with something else?

But don't be too hard on David. His dilemma is your story too. You get angry in traffic; you get irritated at people; you overeat; you fantasize yourself beyond God's boundaries; you get addicted to power, possessions, and people precisely because, in your sin, you are not satisfied.

Sin wrecks everything. Grace and God’s power can deliver us from its grasp…if we are willing. Sometimes we are not sick enough of the sin in our life to abandon it. It’s still fun…maybe later....

May each day be a step toward satisfaction. May we grow daily in the experience of being filled and satisfied by him. As the old Christian chorus says, "May the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." May we say with joy and integrity of heart, "He is enough."

A question from the meditation:

How skilled are you at telling yourself again and again that what God has given you in himself is enough?

As I think about this I see that part of the key is what I tell myself. What is the message I am hearing from myself? Is it loud enough to drown out the voice of the world? I know the truth of Scripture and need to keep it in the front of my mind. I know that what God has provided is enough; I just need to remember.

Philip


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Friday, August 20, 2010

Deception


A woman divorces her husband because she is tired of life as it is and then proclaims, “I know this is the will of God because I feel such peace.” Another person says, “I know what the Bible says, but you can’t put God in a box.” Another man divorces his wife because he wants a different life and then proclaims that he has studied the Bible extensively and there was nothing to prohibit his actions. I wonder if his children buy his logic. A pastor of a church watches multiple divorces happen then hopes that both parties will continue to attend as if the decision to divorce is not much different than changing your clothes.

A snake shows up in the garden and tells the woman, “Go ahead and eat. Not only will it not hurt you but it will actually help you to be like God. Her husband stands by and does nothing to stop her and then also eats.

Deception: how do we protect ourselves? Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? That’s why we can’t trust our heart. Proverbs 24:6 says, “in abundance of counselors there is victory.” The first counselor we need is God’s Word. We need to follow it and run from those who try to tell us it doesn’t mean what it clearly says. In the Phillip’s version, Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into it’s own mould.” We are then told to let God renew our mind. That change comes from God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

A second and very important protection is good friends. Unless we dislike someone, it can be hard to confront them. We need to love people enough to tell them the truth when we see them going down the wrong path. A true friend will do this even if it put the relationship on rocky ground. Many times the person going through deception will cut off anyone who says what they don’t want to hear.

We will do well to surround ourselves with people who will help us to avoid deception. We also need to cleanse our mind daily with the Word of God.

I came across this article in World Magazine. It fits well with the thoughts that have been on my mind today. I encourage you to read it.

Philip

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hardness of Heart

Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of the people’s hardness of heart. He went on to say that it wasn’t that way from the beginning. In other words, God didn’t like the idea of hard hearts getting their way. He wanted two sinners to learn to get along.

I know someone who went through a divorce recently. The Christian wife divorced her Christian husband not so much for what was going on in the present but for what had happened in the past and what might happen in the future. As I have pondered the situation from my small peephole I have wondered if maybe she had forgotten just how much she had been forgiven. Even if her husband is a bundle of sin, isn’t she also? Did a hard heart lead to dull vision so that a look in the mirror didn’t reveal her own darkness?

Yes I know there is a lot I probably don’t know about this situation. The details are not the point. As I pray for this family I pray that the wife would be brought face to face with her own sin. I pray that she would see that she has betrayed God in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Despite this, God continues to forgive her and desire fellowship with her. He never throws the past in her face when she comes for forgiveness. If she was willing to practice the same then maybe healing could come to this marriage and family. But maybe that’s the problem with hardness of heart. The one afflicted may be unable or may refuse to see their own stuff. So they sit on the lonely hill, looking down on all the others who are not perfect like they. What a dreary place that is.

The road to hardness of heart is very gradual. Step by step the decision is made not to forgive or to hold a grudge. Callous is formed and feeling is suppressed. Justification is made on why this behavior is acceptable. Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Sadly, hardness of heart ends up hurting many more people than just the holder of the heart.

The Bible tells us to forgive as we have been forgiven. I know that’s not easy but it’s the truth and a command. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that we will be forgiven just as we have forgiven others. That’s a scary thought! Maybe that’s the root of a hard heart.

Philip

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Building the Walls

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

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem. Psalm 51:18

It's always the fruit of true repentance and it's captured in these words: "Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem." When my heart turns from sin, it turns to concern for what God wants and what others need. In repentance, my heart turns from the love-of-self-driven purposes of my kingdom of one to the transcendent purposes of God. And what is God's purpose? He calls me to love him above all else and to love my neighbor as myself.

I agree that sin is based on what we want; our desires and our kingdom. “Don’t get in my way and that includes you God!” In sin we don’t care about others and in truth we don’t really care about ourselves either, because ultimately sin hurts us and we are left unsatisfied. It’s like a mirage in the distance that becomes something else once we reach it.

David's sin wasn't just a sin of the eyes and the body. No, all the wrong that David did was rooted in the sinful thoughts and desires of his heart. David allowed himself to think things about Bathsheba that he should never have thought, and he allowed himself to crave what didn't belong to him. Then he permitted himself to plan what he should never have planned. With a heart now captured, David committed adultery and murder.

Do you think David had any idea of where that first glance at Bathsheba would lead? That’s the way of sin. It always gives much more than we expect and takes us places we didn’t plan to go.

The war of sin is not first a war of the body. The battleground on which the war of sin rages is the heart. It's a war between the desires of God and the desires of the sinful nature. So, is true repentance just about letting go of wrong behavior? No; true repentance begins with the heart. In true repentance I confess to my selfishness. I confess that my problem isn't just that I do bad things, but that I do bad things because I'd rather have what I want than what God has willed for me.

Sin is rooted in worshiping the creation more than I worship the Creator. Sin is about loving myself more than I love God. Sin is about desiring to be sovereign and constructing my own kingdom rather than finding joy in the greater purposes of the kingdom of God.

I think it can be harder to confess sin when we admit the motive as mentioned here. I want to be God, I want control, I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do, and I don’t want to keep the rules. It’s easier to say “I messed up” rather than admit why I really sinned.

The very fact that sin is about self-focus and self-love guarantees the fact that I'll not love you the way that I should. Here's the principle: if you and I are ever going to keep the second great commandment, we must first keep the first great commandment. It's only when I love God above all else that I'm free then to love my neighbor as myself. Now, what does this have to do with building the walls of Jerusalem? Everything! Let me explain.

Having confessed his sin and having rested in God's forgiveness, David's heart now turns toward the Lord and toward his neighbor. Jerusalem was the epicenter of the national and spiritual life of the people of God. It was the City of God, the place where the great temple of Solomon would be built. For Zion (Jerusalem) to prosper meant that God's blessings of grace were on his people. You see, in this prayer, David is no longer thinking of himself. No, he's praying that the riches of God's grace would be on the lives of all those around him.

What are my thoughts filled with? Do I think about others and their needs? Do I regularly pray for others? Is there only room for me in my thoughts?

But there's more. When he asks for the walls to be built, it's very clear that David is praying for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. You know that because he says (in v. 19), "Then you will delight in right sacrifices." Rather than his mind being dominated by his own purposes, his heart now goes to the purposes of God's kingdom. He's praying that God would receive the worship he deserves and the glory that's due his name.

Here's real personal transformation: the man once captured by dark and evil lust is now filled with love for others and a deep excitement with the glory of God. Only grace can create such a fundamental transformation.

The path to this point is hard. It can take a lot of pain in our life to bring us to this place; we don’t give up easily. But when we finally get there we wonder why it took so long…then we do it all over again.

A question from the meditation:

How is God giving you specific opportunities to be part of what he is doing in your family, neighborhood, community, church, and world? How are you responding to God's call?

One area is service. Setting aside even the good things I want to do to help meet a need somewhere or taking the time to listen to people when they need to talk about something. I have a hard time with both of these. I’m trying to do both in little areas and beginning to experience the pleasure of both.

Philip


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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Your Ultimate Fear

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

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Psalm 51:11

What's the thing that you dread most? What's your biggest fear? What are you convinced you can't live without? What would your biggest personal disaster look like? I got to thinking about the question of my own ultimate fear as I was reading Psalm 51 once again. David prays, "Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me." This should be our greatest fear in all of life, but is it?

I would have a hard time living without my PDA. What was life like before it? With it I carry a Bible library, various reference works, databases, address lists, schedule, etc. I could live without it, I guess, but it sure would be different. I wouldn’t think of losing it as my greatest fear but it’s probably my most valued possession.

She had it all and maybe that's why she was so afraid. She was living in a nicer, larger house than she ever thought would be hers. She had nicer clothes and nicer things than she would ever have imagined. She had the uber-successful husband and three beautiful children. She went to a great church. They had wonderful family vacations. She ate her breakfast, on most spring and summer mornings, on the stone deck overlooking the beautiful valley that opened up beneath the hill on which her house had been built.

The devotional goes on to talk about the fears in her life. What if some or all of it goes away? All of the possessions and other things that were once an aspiration or source of gratitude now are things that can’t be lived without.

How about the time when you had no money? Then it felt good to have a few dollars in your pocket. Now it’s hundreds of dollars and that doesn’t seem enough. How about the small apartment that grew into a house and now into a place where you could easily get lost. Remember when there was no car, then that first clunker and now you drive the sexy status symbol. How embarrassing it would be to drive a minivan around.

All of these things so easily fill our thoughts and build fears. It’s hard to remember what is really important.

But there was something else that had changed. The thing that was meant to define her life, and that once did, no longer defined her. There had been a time when everything in her life was defined and evaluated by her relationship with God. There was a time when she greeted God's grace with a surprised gratefulness.

But now these thoughts were no longer center stage. No longer would she identify herself as a sinner, rescued by grace. No longer did she get her meaning, purpose, and sense of well-being from the Lord. Now she was more concerned about losing her mansion than being cast out of God's house. Now she was more concerned about losing her husband than about God removing his Spirit from her. That once heartfelt and wholesome question, "Where would I be without the Lord?" had been replaced by the question of how she'd cope with the loss of any one item in her personal catalog of material things.

This is a battle all of us face and always will. Things will try to fill the place where God wants to be. It doesn’t really matter how much we have either. I remember years ago during the “hippie” days when my pastor talked about people who thought they were escaping the worry of possessions; all they had was a backpack. But just touch that backpack and you will see that it’s still there.

But I didn't think long about David or about my friend, because my mind turned to me. What is the thing in the world for which I'm the most thankful? The loss of what thing do I fear the most? The existence of what in my life gives me meaning, purpose, and that inner sense of well-being?

A question from the meditation:

Be honest: what is it that brings the most fear into your heart?

Probably future uncertainty related to money and health. Am I facing a losing battle with skin cancer? What is the future for my children? What is the future for our country?

The greatest fear… the loss of the peace of God that can get me through these things.

Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel. (Philippians 4:6-7 CEV)

Philip


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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Marijuana Welfare

Sometimes I think a requirement for being a politician is a lack of grey matter in the cranium.

In Washington, D.C., a new medical marijuana law requires that poor people be given a discount. According to the law, those “unable to afford a sufficient supply of medical marijuana” will be able to purchase it “on a sliding scale.”

I guess it would never dawn on these D.C. politicians that many of the poor are that way because of drug abuse. The medical marijuana scam will go a long way in keeping them in bondage.

May God have mercy.

Philip

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Already, Not Yet

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

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Psalm 51:9

Psalm 51 lives right in the middle of the "already" and the "not yet." Why is that worth observing? Because that's exactly where you and I live as well. We live right in the middle of God's great redemptive story; that's what the already and the not yet is about. If you're going to live right and well, you need to understand where you're living.

Here's where you and I are in the great story of redemption. Already the "mercy," "steadfast love" (v. 1), and "great compassion" (v. 1 niv) that David cried out for have been provided for us in Christ. The ultimate sacrifice of forgiveness that David's prayer looked forward to has been provided by the blood of Jesus that was spilt for us on the cross.

It’s great to live in this time where I have forgiveness. The forgiveness bought through the historical reality of Jesus dying on the cross; no blood of bulls and goats for me.

Already the Holy Spirit, for whom David prayed, has been given to you and to me. It's almost beyond the limits of our rationality to consider that that Holy Spirit actually lives inside of us teaching, correcting, convicting, and empowering us every day.

That’s something amazing and a little scary – the Holy Spirit lives within me. He’s right there when I sin; He sees it and hears it.

Already, God's great book of wisdom, grace, and warning, the Bible, has been given.

The best selling and most read book of all time. Sad that many times it sits on the table collecting dust and acting as an expensive coaster.

So, as we celebrate the already, we need to be very aware of the not yet. This world is still a terribly broken place, not yet restored to what it was created to be. There's never a day when we are not touched with its brokenness in some way.

Yearning unfulfilled. This is the hard place to live, longing for the day when we are beyond the sinful time we now live in. I crave the day when I will be sinless, pure and perfect.

The devil, who is the enemy of all that is good, right, and true, hasn't yet been finally destroyed. He still lurks about with deceit in his eyes, destruction in his hands, and trickery in his heart.

That’s right, there will come a time when he will be done away with. That’s one party I don’t want to miss.

So, we live with celebration and anticipation. We celebrate the amazing gifts of grace that we've already been given, while we anticipate the end of the struggles that will face us until the final chapter of the great story of redemption comes.

A question from the meditation:

You and I do live in the middle of the great redemptive story. Where specifically are you finding life in the middle to be hard?

It’s the battle between intention and action. All the good things I want to do yet rarely get to. The things I wish I hadn’t done but which are now part of my sordid history. The words I should say and the ones I shouldn’t.

Philip


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