Prayer and Mission

February 26, 2009

The mission statement of this church is: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” How can we be used by God to fulfill such a huge mission?

Isaiah 55:6-7 answers the question:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Fred and I believe this is a clear call for Desiring God Community Church in 2009: Seek the Lord! Call upon Him! God invites us to do so, saying whoever seeks, finds!

But seeking Him means more than saying, “God, help me!” Note what the prophet says MUST accompany our seeking the Lord: Forsaking our wicked ways and wrong thoughts, repenting and returning to the Lord. We all need this regular examination of our own hearts, this regular turning to God, this taking account of where we are before Him. Read more

Preach the Gospel to Yourself

February 21, 2009

[I have been reading Jerry Bridges’ book The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness (NavPress, 1994, 2006). He hits hard at the idea that we must appropriate the Gospel for ourselves every day, confessing our sins and turning to the cross. This is a necessary part of the turning to God in fasting and prayer that Fred and I have been calling us to over these last two months. Here are excerpts from chapter 3 of the book, “Preach the Gospel to Yourself.” I commend the entire book to you; for more information – and to read the preface and chapter 1 – follow this link – Coty]

The typical evangelical paradigm is that the gospel is for unbelievers and the duties of discipleship are for believers. But the gospel is for believers also, and we must pursue holiness . . . in the atmosphere of the gospel. To do that, however, we must firmly grasp what the gospel is and what it means in practical terms to preach it to ourselves every day. . . .

The single [Bible] passage . . . that most clearly and completely explains the gospel is Romans 3:19-26. A minister friend of mine calls this passage “The Heart of the Gospel.” So if we are going to preach the gospel to ourselves every day and learn to live by it, we need to understand Romans 3:19-26. . . . Read more

The Best Valentines Gift

February 13, 2009

Today is Valentines Day. What gift are you giving?

For those of you who are married: Do you want to give your husband or wife the greatest possible gift?

Let me tell you what that is: The greatest gift you could possibly give to your spouse would be to commit to living out your role as a Christian wife or a Christian husband by the power of the Spirit.

The book of Ephesians tells us how to do this. And the lessons begin not in chapter 5, but right at the beginning of the book.

The church, Christ’s bride, is chosen in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight (1:4). But He doesn’t say, “I’ve chosen you – so go make yourself worthy of Me!” Far from it. He Himself does the work to make us holy and blameless: He redeems us by His blood, thereby forgiving our trespasses (1:7). He even stamps His seal on us, giving us the Holy Spirit Himself; He guarantees that we will be holy and blameless, for He is the One who will transform us into Christ’s bride (1:13-14).

In chapter 2, Paul explains more of what this involves. We, on our own, were far from looking like an attractive, potential bride. Indeed, spiritually we were dead, decomposing, stinking, repugnant. We were naturally the objects of God’s judgment and wrath, not His love (2:1-3). But God loved us even in that disgusting state and united us to Christ, the giver of life. He raised us with Him, and even seated us with Christ on His throne in the heavenlies, the spiritual realm, so that He might show all just how rich His grace is (2:4-7).

Given that we deserve judgment but received mercy only because of God’s grace, and given that He chose us so that we might be holy and blameless, how should we then live? As new men, not as old men! We are made alive in Christ – yet we still live in this world and are tempted to behave like we did before. But knowing who we truly are, we are to put off that old, disgusting self. For those old ways of living are deadly; indeed, they are death. Instead, since we are children of God, act like it! We are “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). You were once darkness, but now are light! Walk in the light, not in the darkness (5:8)! Take care, consider the way you walk – for it indicates who you are (5:15)!

How are we to do that while still living in fallen bodies in a fallen world? Only by tapping into the same power that made us alive in Christ: that is, by being filled with the Spirit, every minute of every day (5:18). For being filled with the Spirit is not an emotional experience (though joy should accompany any true filling). The Spirit empowers us to live as children of light.

The key test for whether or not we are filled with the Spirit comes in marriage. For marriage reflects the very relationship between Christ and the church that the entire book of Ephesians describes (5:32). In marriage, we have the opportunity to live out before the world what Christ has done for us: Giving us grace that we don’t deserve, loving us when we are unlovable. We then can model the unity, love, headship and submission, and perfection that characterize the relationship of Christ to the church.

For wives, the test is: When your husband is unlovable and harsh and demanding and deserving of wrath, do you nevertheless submit to him in everything (5:22-24)? And not only do you submit – do you also maintain an inner attitude of respect (5:32), even when you think he is wrong, even when you think he is misguided? Will you model the perfect, spotless Church in her response to Christ?

For husbands the test is: When your wife is unlovable and unresponsive and cold, do you nevertheless love her as Christ loved the church, laying down your personal preferences and desires for her? Will you give up yourself for her? Will you model Christ?

When husband and wife live out these truths, the marriage blossoms. When one partner lives out these truths, he or she is a great gift to the spouse, and becomes a glorious picture to the world of the grace of God.

So yes, indeed: The greatest gift you can give your husband or wife is to commit to living out your role in marriage by the power of the Spirit.

Let me emphasize those last five words: “By the power of the Spirit.” Because if you are like me, you husbands are thinking that you cannot possibly love your wife like Christ loved the church. And you women are thinking that you cannot possibly submit to your husbands in everything. I assure you, all of us struggle with this. Jesus tells us to be perfect as he is perfect. And not one of us is perfect.

But God has promised that His people will become perfect – He will change us and mold us into Christlikeness. Count on that!

Satan will try to say one of two things:

“You’re doing well enough in your marriage, at least better than most others; don’t be fanatical about this – you don’t need to change anything.” But I tell you, don’t be satisfied with a marriage that is less than perfect. Examine yourself. If you are failing to live up to these ideals, confess this to God, and ask Him to change you.

Or Satan might say, “It’s no use. If you could start over, maybe you could make this marriage work. But given your spouse, given all that has happened in your marriage, there is no hope.”

This is a pack of lies. Now, by yourselves you cannot change the habits of relating to each other you have created. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). If you try to change through depending on your own natural resources, you will fail. But remember these great truths from Ephesians:

You are raised with Christ; you are seated with him in the heavenlies!

You are light; You can walk as children of Light!

You can be filled with the Spirit!

All this is true. By conscious, continual dependence on the Spirit within you, you can forgive your spouse, you can change old, negative patterns of relating to each other; you can live out the ideal Christian marriage.

So let us learn to walk by the Spirit in our marriages, imitating the relationship between Christ and the church.

Husbands, love your wives.

Wives, respect and submit to your husbands.
May that be today’s Valentines gift.

(This is, in part, an excerpt from a longer document on marriage that Beth and I have written. See it in its entirety at this link.)

On Fasting

February 7, 2009

Do you fast? If so, why? How? To what end?

Fred’s sermon last Sunday turned my thoughts to fasting; Michael Oh’s talk at the Desiring God Pastors Conference, “Missions as Fasting,” deepened those thoughts; the booklet he recommended, A Memorial Concerning Personal and Family Fasting by Thomas Boston (1676-1732) took those thoughts yet further. Consider, then, why, how, and to what end we should fast.

Why Fast?

We can only fast to seek God’s face. Avoiding food or earthly comforts has no merit. The benefit comes only from drawing close to God. And for a sinner deserving of hell to seek God’s face requires searching one’s heart, confessing sin, believing the Gospel, and seeking God’s help in turning from sin. Consider these Scriptures and quotes from Thomas Boston:

  • Psalm 27:8 You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
  • Such times are to be set apart from conversing with the world that we may the more solemnly commune with our own hearts to the state of matters between God and us.
  • In vain will we fast and pretend to be humbled for our sins and make confession of them if our love of sin be not turned into hatred, our liking of it into loathing, and our cleaving to it into a longing to be rid of it, with full purpose to resist the motions of it in our heart. . . If we are indeed true penitents we will turn from sin not only because it is dangerous and destructive to us but because it is offensive to God, dishonours his Son, grieves his Spirit, transgresseth his law, and defaceth his image; we will cast away all our transgressions not only as one would cast away a live coal out of his bosom for that it burns him, but as one would cast away a loathsome and filthy thing for that it defiles him.
  • James 4:7-10 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
  • Joel 2:11-13 For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it? 12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

How to Fast?

The way we fast must assist us in achieving the end of fasting: humbling ourselves and seeking God’s face. Such seeking takes time and requires focus. Avoiding food can be helpful; if we don’t eat we have extra time available, and the feeling of weakness that often accompanies not eating can lead to greater humility before God. But for many of us, there are other thieves of our time and focus that are much greater than food: Email perhaps, or the telephone, or text messages, or the internet, or the sports page, or television. Not eating will accomplish nothing if we lose focus and time because of answering our cell phone. Indeed, for many of us, fasting from these other distractions will be more vital for seeking God’s face than fasting from food. The best fast may require putting aside them all.

The time of fasting may last an hour or may last many days; what matters is focused seeking of God.

In my case, the various media are personally my biggest distractions. Therefore, my commitment after these reflections is to fast weekly for at least a half day from all electronic media and phones, and on occasion, to accompany that with a longer fasting from food.

What about you? What distracts you from setting aside focused time with God?

Fast to What End?

While all true fasting begins with confession, repentance, and appropriating the Gospel, biblically many different causes lead to fasts. Furthermore, we can infer from those passages that there are a number of additional valid reasons for fasting. Here are a few:

  • When a major, difficult task looms ahead of you, such as we find in Esther 4:16.
  • When a sin continues to recur. Writes Boston: Set therefore some time apart for personal fasting and humiliation on the account of that very thing that you may wrestle with God in prayer [about] it, and use this method time after time until you prevail against it; else that one thing may ruin you and you will be condemned for it, not because you could not help it, but because you would not use the means appointed of God for relief in that case.
  • When a major decision is in front of you, and you need wisdom and direction.
  • When threatened by dangers.
  • When your heart is hard towards God.
  • When tokens of God’s judgment fall on us or threaten us. These may be against us personally, or against our church, or our country. As Jesus says concerning the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4-5), such instances should lead us to repentance and, like the Ninevites, fasting could well accompany that repentance (Jonah 3:6-10).
  • In order to heighten our longings for Jesus’ return (Matthew 9:15, Revelation 22:20).
  • When we feel far from God. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus says, “When the bridegroom is taken from them, then shall [my disciples] fast.” Surely this means the disciples will fast after His death and before his resurrection, and that we can fast longing for His return; but it also means that whenever we lose our closeness with Him, fasting and thereby seeking His face is appropriate.
  • Prior to participating in the Lord’s Supper. Paul tells us to examine ourselves prior to participating (1 Corinthians 11:27-29), and such examination is a key part of any true fast. The point of examining ourselves is not so that we refrain from participating if our hearts are unrepentant; the point is to lead us to repentance!

So will you join me in fasting – from whatever distracts you, so that together we might humble ourselves, acknowledge that God would be just in condemning us all to an eternity in hell, acknowledge that we cannot fight sin or pay for sin on our own, seek God’s face, delight in our Savior whose death paid the penalty for our sins, and commit ourselves to walking in the power of the Spirit to the glory of our blessed God?