Thursday, July 30, 2009

He came forward.

They came with lanterns.  Certain He was hiding himself in the darkest corners of the garden on this blackest of nights.  He had to know they were after His life.

They came with weapons.  Expecting inevitable resistance from His followers if not from Him. Their fingers itched to have Him bound and taken to trial.  Then He would see who was really in charge.

But how wonderfully they were mistaken.  They stopped dead in their tracks.

He did not hide. Even though He fully and perfectly knew all that was about to happen to Him.  Even though He had just moments before been near death itself as He stared into the cup He was about to drink.  Even though He cried to the Father two times for an alternative and heard nothing but silence from heaven.  The most agonizing night.  And the greatest agony to come in merely hours.

He did not flee.  He came forward.  Though He staggered in His soul, contemplating the work He had to do.  He perfectly obeyed His Father.  He loved Him.  He was faithful to do what He had to do in order to fulfill the plan of redemption They had made together before time began. He knew His hour had come. 

He came forward. Because He loved sinners.

He did not resist.  The obedient Son asked the soldiers who they were seeking.  When they shouted His name, He came forward and said He was the One they were looking for. They did not even have to search. 

Before the men could even seize Him, they fell to the ground.  Astonished.  What? Who IS this man?  His very words made them tremble.  They could not even remain standing.

Again, He asked them who they sought. Again told them that He was the One they were after.  Once the soldiers made it to their feet again, they bound Him and led Him to face it.  Man's greatest act of injustice in all of history.  Yet God's greatest display of justice and mercy for all the world for all of time.   The cross.

Who was this Man that willingly handed Himself over to certain death? Certain wrath? The greatest human suffering possible?  Unimaginable pain and separation?  The horror and shame of the cross?

Who was He?

The only Man who was stronger than death.  The Man who was God himself in the flesh. 

The Man who saw our need. And gave Himself to be our Savior. Died in weakness, rose again in power. To be our peace. Our righteousness. Our HOPE.

And the only One who can save me.  The only One who can save you.

He is Jesus Christ.

Let us worship and be amazed.
He was willing to go to the cross.  He is willing to save sinners still!
What a Savior!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

knowing? or being known?

"What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it --

the fact that He knows me.

I am graven on the palms of His hands.

I am never out of His mind.

All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me.

I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me.

He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.

This is a momentous knowledge.

There is unspeakable comfort -- that sort of comfort that energises, be it said, not enervates -- in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love, and watching over me for my good.

There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.

There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that He sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow-men do not see (and I am glad!), and that He sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough).

There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, He wants me as His friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given His Son to die for me in order to realise this purpose."

-J. I. Packer Knowing God

Monday, July 6, 2009

repent of my repentance

Do you realize that our very acts of sorrow over sin and repentance before God are often in need of repenting of?  It can be very easy to find ourselves listening to the lie that we are doing what God desires when we repent - which is true in and of itself.  God does clearly command us all to repent of our sins, and it pleases Him when we come to Him seeking pardon.  But far too often, our motives for repenting are themselves ungodly.  

Examine your prayers of confession for a moment.  Do you have an overwhelming sense of the vileness and danger of sin, as John Owen puts it "as represented in the blood and cross of Christ", always abiding with you?  Is your motive a godly grief over sins that the Savior has spilt His blood to pardon - sins that He has already buried in the ocean of His mercy?

Or do you repent because you fear what God will do to you if you don't?  Fear what the consequences of your sins will be? Do you repent out of some sense of necessity, as if the work of repentance must be done continually in order to maintain your state of salvation? Or merely out of a desire to ease your bothered conscience, with little or no concern for Christ and the way your sins have slighted and grieved Him?  I think Tim Keller puts it best:

"Repentance out of mere fear is really sorrow for the consequences of sin, sorrow over the danger of sin — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings. But repentance out of conviction over mercy is really sorrow over sin, sorrow over the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin. It makes the sin itself disgusting to us, so it loses its attractive power over us. We say, ‘this disgusting thing is an affront to the one who died for me. I'm continuing to stab him with it!"

You see what is being said here?  If our repentance is not done for the simple fact that we have seen what our Savior has done in His rich mercy, and are continually and humbly beholding our sins in the horror and offensiveness of the cross, we have not really repented!  "The heart still clings" to sin if we are merely sorry for our sin for any other reason.

So let us fix our eyes upon Jesus Christ - and leave them there.  Let us be in continual awareness of our sin and His grace as displayed on Calvary.  For how can there be any drop of arrogance, any self-centered prayer, any love for another, when we truly and rightly behold the beautiful Savior who died there for us?

And let us also behold this same Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.  For He did not stay on the cross. He rose again. And "ever lives above, for me to intercede"!  His perfect righteousness covers my every sin - yes, even those polluted prayers.  His blood speaks a better word.

May this be our prayer today:  (taken from the Valley of Vision)

O God of Grace,
Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
and hast imputed His righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with a bridegroom's robe,
decking me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so many impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment.
for Thou dost always justify the ungodly.
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal.
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and Thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day's work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.

Monday, June 15, 2009

what is your life?

The first thought I had of it came in church yesterday morning.  The congregation heard the account of a woman in the hospital who was given a maximum of two days to live. She wanted a chaplain to come and talk with her. In God's merciful providence, the hospital could not get a hold of the chaplain on call. So they called the deacon from our church.  He went in to see her, and the woman, barely able to talk, told him that she wanted her sins to be forgiven. "What does it mean to be a Christian?" she asked him. By God's grace, he told her the good news of Jesus Christ and prayed with her.  This woman found the rest she was searching for - in the Savior.  Merely hours before it happened... 

That afternoon, several families from our church went to visit the local nursing home.  As I played the piano and the children sang songs about the Gospel, my heart was filled with hope.  Here we were in a room filled with so many lonely people.  Those who did have family visiting were accompanied by their guests. Even staff members were present, or would peek their head in the room out of curiosity.  I don't think I had ever seen the room that full. I could barely make my way through the maze of wheelchairs and beds.  All of them were there eager and glad to hear our songs and the message of the Gospel.  What a glorious opportunity!  After we were through singing, I made my way around to say hello to some of the residents. As I held their frail hands, and gave them a smile and  a greeting, I felt an overwhelming sense of the eternal importance of what we were doing.  I had done this countless times before, but never felt such urgency, such joy in giving joy to others.  I prayed that their eyes would not just see cute children and kind people, but the beauty of Christ and the glory of the Gospel.  This could very well have been the last time I would have seen some of these familiar faces.  Praises be to God for the opportunity to show His love and sing of the hope of the Savior.  These dear people are soon to face it...

At home that evening, my family gathered in the living room to listen to an excellent message by CJ Mahaney. One of my sisters and I had heard it given a few weeks ago at Next, but it was the first time to hear it for the rest of the family.  Pastor Mahaney spoke on a topic of first importance, the death of Christ.  He quoted Charles Spurgeon: "We cannot think of that death too often." Then he went on to proclaim the glories of the forsaken Savior and what it meant for Him to be cut off from His Father, and be left to drink the cup of God's wrath alone. "He drained the cup dry, leaving us not a drop to drink. He experienced wrath so that we might experience grace. He was forsaken so that we might be forgiven by the Father... He screamed so that we might sing nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ. He was forsaken so that we might never be forsaken."  What astounding mercy!

Then he spoke about the dying Savior.  And I was reminded again of this fact.  It comes to all men.  The repeated phrase in Genesis 5 "...and he died" will one day be said of every one of us. Will one day be said of me.  And because of the Savior's death, I need not fear death.  Why? Because when I die, "the next face [I will see], and the next voice [I will hear], will be the Savior's!" Because He drained the cup of God's wrath dry for me, I know that only grace remains.  All because of His... DEATH.

We do not know what our futures hold.  But there is one thing certain to happen to all of us... It is the one thing that happens to everyone. Yet it is the one thing we treat as if it will never happen.  Or something that is still a long way off.  Yet James tells us... "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14) What does this mean?  It doesn't matter if we live to be a hundred years old, or if we died this very day.  Our lives will be over before we know it.  

So then, the question remains...
"How then shall I live?"
Are we living and breathing to display the only true and lasting treasure - Jesus Christ?  Are we people who are constantly surveying and pointing others to His wondrous cross - His death that makes all the difference in this life and the one to come? Are we counting all earthly things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord?  Are we using our material blessings to show that these things are not our treasure - Christ is?  

Or are we storing up for ourselves treasures on earth? Things that may bring us temporary pleasure, but in the end mean nothing when we come to stand before God?

Don't waste your life!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

equally skilled.

He had just heard the voice of the Lord utter curses.  Curses against His covenant-breaking, justice-hating, evil-loving people.  A sort of divine lawsuit followed by a sentence of judgment. The people of God did not delight in the law of their Lord, the only true Counselor, but gave themselves over to hear the counsel of wicked earthly kings.  As the psalmist declared, their end would be certain downfall.

The prophet Micah knows this. And he mourns in misery. He felt as though he had just arrived at the fields after a harvest, and there were not even any leftovers.  Nothing to satisfy his craving for godliness. Where were the godly people? Gone.  Vanished from the earth.  The only people remaining walk only in wickedness.  Their hands continually set on doing what is evil. And to do it well.  "They all lie in wait for blood." Those in high places seek bribes. There is no concern for what is just and good.

Both of our hands are equally skilled at doing evil... at bribing the judges... at perverting justice... Both of our hands.

Micah warns that the judgment day is close at hand.  Where to put his trust?  Not his neighbor. Not his closest friend. Not even his precious wife. Trust no one.  The son hates his father. The daughter hates her mother.  Enemies dwelling with enemies in the very same household.  But Micah's mourning turns to quiet confidence. He waits in expectation for the Lord to act.

Both of their hands are equally skilled at doing evil... at bribing the judges... at perverting justice... Both of their hands.

"Aha! There he goes! He will never stand, the fool!" is what the enemy cries.  If only they knew.  They will soon.  Yes, I fall. But I will rise again.  Yes, I sit in darkness. But the LORD alone will be a light to me.  I am to patiently bear His indignation towards me for the wrongs I have done to His name.  Then He will plead my case.  He will bring me to light and just vindication.  Now the enemy sees.  The one who mocked "Where is the Lord your God?" will be covered in shame and trampled in the streets.

And our remnant will be preserved... our walls will be built... our kingdom established... many nations will flock to our City, while all else will surely become desolate.  Were we so strong and wise that we turned ourselves around to become a faithful and holy people, who now love justice and right?  No.  Our hands were equally skilled at doing evil.  
We needed a different pair of hands.

Both of HIS hands are equally skilled at outrooting evil... at judging the judges... administering justice... Both of His hands.

His hands are like none other.  For He is like none other. Micah's lament ends in exuberant joy...
             "Who is a God like you? Pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance?  He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.
                He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.
                  You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old."    --Micah 7:18-20

Both of His hands are equally skilled at showing me mercy... at loving the loveless... administering justice... Both of His hands.
Both of HIS hands.

Italicized lines taken from Jon Foreman's excellent song "Equally Skilled".  Listen to it here... 

Monday, May 18, 2009

seek first.

"But seek first the kingdom of God."  Matthew 6:33

A verse I have known since childhood.  But something that only challenges me more at time goes on.  No, it is much more than a challenge. It is extremely hard. A battlefield.  My every waking moment seems to be spent on relentless pursuit of my kingdom.  My  "righteousness". 

I am not mine.  I have no claim on anything good that I possess.  Every fiber of my being belongs to the King of a better kingdom.  My only righteousness is that of Christ.  He has covered my filthy rags with his spotless, seamless garment of radiant purity.  The King cannot turn me away, for "my life is hid with Christ on high".

Why then does this earthly life only seem to get harder?  Why am I so unable to further the Kingdom I love, the Kingdom where my heart rests?  The more He grows me, the more I see how much farther I have to go.  How frequently I fail. How much sin still must be wrestled with and defeated.  How much I still cling to my kingdom and the fleeting pleasures of this world.  This grip must be broken.

This world is not my home. I am a stranger and a pilgrim in this barren land.  "I am weak, but Thou art mighty. Hold me with Thy powerful hand."  This must be the cry of my heart.  I know I have nothing to offer the kingdom but feeble hands.  Can he use the weak and wounded?  The frailty of being in the flesh weighs me down, calls me to take the easy road again.  I must say no to its pleas. I must "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."  (Philippians 3:14).  

Yes.  He is able.  

For His kingdom to be established in me, mine must be destroyed.  And this battle will not end or become easier while I yet live on this earth.  The more ground I gain, the more opposition I will face.  This is why it is so hard.  But also why it is so good.

By grace alone, the King of Glory who rescued me will indeed make me into His likeness and bring my salvation to completion. He will not break this bruised reed but will bring glory to His name through me!

Until that day...
His Kingdom must be the cause my heart beats for.
Let it come in my heart and in this world.
And may He use me as He sees fit.

"For here we have no lasting city.  But we seek the city that is to come."  Hebrews 13:14

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Owen on The Means of Mortifying Sin

"Let, then, your soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these:

I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of naught. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succor and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that has all fullness of grace in his heart [John 1:16], all fullness of power in his hand [Matt. 28:18], he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror [Rom. 8:37].

'Why do you say, O my soul, my way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Have you not known, have you not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, faints not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." (Isa. 40:27-31).'

He can make the 'dry, parched ground of my soul to become a pool, and my thirsty, barren heart as springs of water'; yea, he can make this 'habitation of dragons', this heart, so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations, to be a place for 'grass' and fruit to himself (Isa. 35:7).

So God staid Paul, under His temptation, with the consideration of the sufficiency of his grace: 'My grace is sufficient for you' (2 Cor. 12:9)