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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