January 6, 2017
How can you please God?
Can you please Him by working on His behalf?
We often think: If we would just witness more (or more effectively); if we would just give more to the church, or attend services more regularly, or pray more, or help the poor more diligently then God would be pleased with us.
Is that right?
Consider what Jesus said to His disciples after interacting with the Samaritan woman, telling her He was the longed-for Messiah: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).
Jesus has quoted Deuteronomy previously, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus loves the word of His Father. He delights to do His will. He finds sustenance and satisfaction and fulfillment in accomplishing the Father’s plan. So, in this particular case, He found joy and sustenance from seeing this woman whose life was a wreck come to saving faith as He shared the Good News of the coming of the promised Christ.
So Jesus found joy in following God. Surely we too should find joy in following Him.
But what about the flip side of that truth? Does our activity, our accomplishment, our obedience please God?
We have to be careful here. Scripture makes some subtle but vital distinctions in this area. Consider, for example, Psalm 147:10-11:
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
We never impress God. However strong we may be, however great our accomplishments might appear, God doesn’t jump up and down, saying, “Awesome! I’m so happy you did that! Do it again! Show me what you can do!”
Instead, what gives God pleasure? He rejoices in our dependence on Him, in our acknowledgment of His power and authority, in our trusting in His love for us and commitment to us.
Furthermore, consider 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” That is, God’s will is for you to be made holy. For you to be set apart for Him. For you to be like Him, like Christ.
So putting these biblical thoughts together: We, like Jesus, delight to do God’s will and to accomplish His work. But God’s work and God’s will include not only actions on our part, but also our becoming like Jesus: Having patience, love, kindness, devotion, endurance, gentleness, piety, and self-control. So He desires us to become like Jesus – and for us to help others to become like Jesus. That never happens through our own strength, through our own will-power, through “the strength of a horse” or “the legs of a man.” No. That only happens as we devour His Word, as we depend on His grace, as we submit to His wisdom, as we rejoice in His love. Activity in and of itself does not honor Him. Becoming Christlike and acting Christlike honor Him.
So, no, in and of itself working on God’s behalf does not please Him. He takes no delight in my puny strength, my puny abilities, my puny accomplishments.
But God takes great joy in our fulfilling His purposes for us – as we become more like Jesus inside and outside, in thoughts and attitudes as well as in words and deeds.
So by all means witness – out of the overflow of your joy in Christ. Give generously – knowing all you have is a grant from God to be used for His glory. Worship corporately – in spirit and in truth. Help the poor – with the compassion of Christ for the glory of Christ. Become like Jesus – and act like Him. This is how you can please God.
January 8, 2016
What might God do in 2016?
What might God do through you in 2016?
We must be careful when asking such questions. God does not need our skills, our intelligence, our education, our experience, or our wisdom. Indeed, God chooses to work mightily through the foolish, through the weak, through the low, through the despised, “so that no human being might boast” before Him (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). If we even begin to think, “Look how much I have to offer – I’m such an asset to God!” – then we are headed to a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
But God always is at work through small, weak, insignificant people to fulfill His great plans. On the last night before His crucifixion, our Lord said,
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12-13)
He promises us the opportunity, the power, and the ability, through dependence on Him, to do greater works than He accomplished in His earthly life. He continues to act today – through you. Indeed, the Apostle John tells us, “As [God] is, so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17b)
C.S. Lewis captures this idea marvelously. In That Hideous Strength, all humanity is threatened by the forces of evil. All the powerful elements in society have been co-opted by this force. A small band of believers is able to seek assistance from a man from another century; he asks the band’s leader, “Are we not big enough to meet them in plain battle?” The reply: “We are four men, some women, and a bear” (chapter 13). Yet in the end God uses these few not only to overcome but also to embarrass and mock the evil forces.
In Lewis’ Perelandra, the evil man Weston and the follower of God Ransom are both on the planet we call Venus. The first rational beings on the planet, a man and a woman, are in their innocence, and Weston, playing the role of the serpent in the Garden, tries to turn the woman away from God (“Maleldil”). The temptation goes on and on; Ransom sees her slipping away, despite all his efforts. He asks himself:
Why did no miracle come? Or rather, why no miracle on the right side? For the presence of the Enemy was in itself a kind of Miracle. Had Hell a prerogative to work wonders? Why did Heaven work none? Not for the first time he found himself questioning Divine Justice. He could not understand why Maleldil should remain absent when the Enemy was there in person. . . .
“The Enemy is really here, really saying and doing things. Where is Maleldil’s representative?”
The answer which came back to him . . . almost took his breath away. It seemed blasphemous. “Anyway, what can I do?” babbled the voluble self. “I’ve done all I can.” . . . And then – he wondered how it had escaped him till now – he was forced to perceive that his own coming to Perelandra was at least as much of a marvel as the Enemy’s. That miracle on the right side, which he had demanded, had in fact occurred. He himself was the miracle. (Chapter 11)
He was the miracle! God had put him there for His purposes. God was working through him to defeat Evil and to magnify His Name. And just so with you and me. We are God’s miracle, placed in our time, in our place, as His agents to fulfill His plan, His story.
Later, when Ransom wonders at this, he is told:
Be comforted. . . . It is no doing of yours. You are not great, though you could have prevented a thing so great that Deep Heaven sees it with amazement. Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. He lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad. Have no fear, lest your shoulders be bearing this world. (Chapter 17)
Just so with us. We are not great. We gain no merit. We are small. We are a few men and women – without even the bear!
And yet we are as God in this world. God will do great works through us. Sometimes through our small, spontaneous acts of love. Sometimes through planning and strategizing on how to glorify His Name. But in all ways, at all times, God is powerfully at work through His people.
So what might God do through you in 2016?
Be confident. Be dependent. Be humble. Be in prayer. And look forward expectantly to how our Lord will use the weak and insignificant to advance His great Plan in 2016.
June 21, 2014
By Fred T. Balbuena
One of the spectacular truths we observe in God’s act of creation is the personal nature of God. He is a personal being because He speaks.We see this nature directly from Genesis 1 where we read that God speaks as the first human beings were created. God said, “Let us make man in our image.” This is absolutely crucial to our understanding of the nature of God. The God we know today and whom we believe, talks. As DA Carson says, “He has personality and dares to disclose Himself in words that human beings understand.”  He is not an impersonal power, a product of someone’s spiritual imagination, an abstract force, a spirit that is hard to define, nor is He absolutely unknowable. In other words, He communicates and we get to know Him based on what He says about Himself. Francis Schaeffer drives this idea by saying, “God is there and He is not silent”. Therefore, under the rubric that demonstrates God as a personal being is a display of Him communicating as a way of creating the heavens and the earth. God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). That is how powerful God’s word is. He just spoke the words and everything came into being.
We might wonder, however, whether God truly spoke some words in creation since no else could hear Him. But that is not true, He was not alone. There is an indication of the existence of a plurality in the personhood of God which we observe before the creation of man. He was communicating and indicating how human beings should be created to other Infinite Beings. The “Word” who is Jesus Himself was with God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2) This “Word” is Jesus who, “Became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God was definitely not alone before creation. The Son of God and the Holy Spirit where coexisting with Him before the foundation of the world. God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” The Spirit of God was hovering over the water. He exists in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This is exactly what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). The Father is eternally in exists with the other persons in the Godhead. Jesus said, “Father… you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-3) There never was a time when the Father was alone, was not talking to anyone, or denied of fellowship. God’s love for the Son was seen in the very act of creating.
And now, let us speak to him through our praises, thanksgiving, prayers, and petitions. Let us bless his name and ask him to continue to speak to us through His Word. At the same time, let us implore that the Holy Spirit would light up our minds so we understand what he says for our own good. God does what he says he will do when we call upon his name. So let us pray that he would grant us strength in weakness, firmness in the storms of life, joy in suffering, patience in the midst of oppositions, and love when we are maligned or criticized for the hope we have in the appearing of Jesus Christ. Never relinquish asking God to give us understanding when he speaks. His word is what we need the most. It’s the fundamental source of abundant life and daily renewal. Essentially, it’s our dependency and satisfaction in what God says that glorifies him the most in our lives. Here’s a familiar song that echoes this truth.
Speak, O Lord by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend (2005) © Thankyou Music CCLI#2444699
Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.
Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.
Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.
 D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), pg. 20.
November 22, 2013
C.S. Lewis died 50 years ago today. God used him powerfully in my life, as in the lives of so many others. In celebration of and thankfulness for his life, this morning I read one of his less well known works: Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1963).
Lewis is properly humble about the shortfalls of his own prayer life:
If God had granted all the silly prayers I’ve made in my life, where should I be now? (28)
For me to offer the world instruction about prayer would be impudence. (63)
And his speculations, while always stimulating, in my opinion sometimes stray from their biblical moorings. But you will profit from meditating on the following quotes. The lengthy quotations from chapter 17 have been especially powerful for me.
So thank you, Father God, for the life of C.S. Lewis – for your sovereignly drawing him to Yourself, for his devotion to you, for his careful thought about You and Your Word. Continue to use his writings for the glory of Your Name – and may we, like him, strive to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration.
(Should you want to explore more of Lewis, Desiring God’s fall conference on him was excellent. All the talks are available online. I particularly recommend those by Joe Rigney and Kevin Vanhoozer. ) – Coty
[A writer] has substituted religion for God—as if navigation were substituted for arrival, or battle for victory, or wooing for marriage, or in general the means for the end. But even in this present life, there is danger in the very concept of religion. It carries the suggestion that this is one more department of life, an extra department added to the economic, the social, the intellectual, the recreational, and all the rest. But that whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department. Either it is an illusion or else our whole life falls under it. We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious. (30)
One of the purposes for which God instituted prayer may have been to bear witness that the course of events is not governed like a state but created like a work of art to which every being makes its contribution and (in prayer) a conscious contribution, and in which every being is both and end and a means. . . . Let me hasten to add that [prayer] is also an end. The world was made partly that there might be prayer; partly that our prayers . . . might be answered. But let’s have finished with “partly.” The great work of art was made for the sake of all it does and is, down to the curve of every wave and the flight of every insect. (55-56)
How or why does such faith [in particular answers to prayer] occur sometimes, but not always, even in the perfect petitioner? We, or I, can only guess. My own idea is that it occurs only when the one who prays does so as God’s fellow-worker, demanding what is needed for the joint work. It is the prophet’s, the apostle’s, the missionary’s, the healer’s prayer that is made with this confidence and finds the confidence justified by the event. The difference, we are told, between a servant and a friend is that a servant is not in his master’s secrets. For him, “orders are orders.” He has only his own surmises as to the plans he helps to execute. But the fellow-worker, the companion or (dare we say?) the colleague of God is so united with Him at certain moments that something of the divine foreknowledge enters his mind. Hence his faith is “evidence” — that is, the evidentness, the obviousness — of things not seen. (60-61)
On the one hand, the man who does not regard God as other than himself cannot be said to have a religion at all. On the other hand, if I think God other than myself in the same way in which my fellow-men, and objects in general, are other than myself, I am beginning to make Him an idol. I am daring to treat His existence as somehow parallel to my own. But He is the ground of our being. He is always both within us and over against us. Our reality is as much from His reality as He, moment by moment, projects into us. The deeper the level within ourselves from which our prayer, or any other act, wells up, the more it is His, but not at all the less ours. Rather, most ours when most His. . . . To be discontinuous from God as I am discontinuous from you would be annihilation. [68-9]
It is well to have specifically holy places, and things, and days, for, without these focal points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and “big with God” will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment. But if these holy place, things, and days cease to remind us, if they obliterate our awareness that all ground is holy and every bush (could I but perceive it) a Burning Bush, then the hallows begin to do harm. . . . We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.
Oddly enough, what corroborates me in this faith is the fact . . . that the awareness of this presence has so often been unwelcome. I call upon Him in prayer. Often He might reply—I think He does reply—“But you have been evading me for hours.” For he comes not only to raise up but to cast down; to deny, to rebuke, to interrupt. The prayer “prevent us in all our doings” is often answered as if the word prevent had its modern meaning. The presence which we voluntarily evade is often, and we know it, His presence in wrath.
And out of this evil comes a good. If I never fled from His presence, then I should suspect those moments when I seemed to delight in it of being wish-fulfillment dreams. That, by the way, explains the feebleness of all those watered versions of Christianity which leave out all the darkest elements and try to establish a religion of pure consolation No real belief in the watered versions can last. Bemused and besotted as we are, we still dimly know at heart that nothing which is at all times and in every way agreeable to us can have objective reality. It is of the very nature of the real that it should have sharp corners and rough edges, that it should be resistant, should be itself. Dream-furniture is the only kind on which you never stub your toes or bang your knee. You and I have both known happy marriage. But how different our wives were from the imaginary mistresses of our adolescent dreams! So much less exquisitely adapted to all our wishes; and for that very reason (among others) so incomparably better.
Servile fear is, to be sure, the lowest form of religion. But a god such that there could never be occasion for even servile fear, a safe god, a tame god, soon proclaims himself to any sound mind as a fantasy. I have met no people who fully disbelieved in Hell and also had a living and life-giving belief in Heaven. (75-76)
It’s comical that you, of all people, should ask my views about prayer as worship or adoration. On this subject you yourself taught me nearly all I know. . . .
You first taught me the great principle, ‘Begin where you are.’ I had thought one had to start by summoning up what we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and’ all the blessings of this life’. You turned to the brook and once more splashed your burning face and hands in the little waterfall and said: ‘Why not begin with this?’
And it worked. Apparently you have never guessed how much. That cushiony moss, that coldness and sound and dancing light were no doubt very minor blessings compared with ‘the means of grace and the hope of glory’. But then they were manifest. So far as they were concerned, sight had replaced faith. They were not the hope of glory; they were an exposition of the glory itself.
Yet you were not – or so it seemed to me – telling me that’ Nature’, or ‘the beauties of Nature’, manifest the glory. No such abstraction as ‘Nature’ comes into it. I was learning the far more secret doctrine that pleasures are shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility. As it impinges on our will or our understanding, we give it different names-goodness or truth or the like. But its flash upon our senses and mood is pleasure.
But aren’t there bad, unlawful pleasures? Certainly there are. But in calling them’ bad pleasures’ I take it we are using a kind of shorthand. We mean ‘pleasures snatched by unlawful acts.’ It is the stealing of the apple that is bad, not the sweetness. The sweetness is still a beam from the glory. That does not palliate the stealing. It makes it worse. There is sacrilege in the theft. We have abused a holy thing.
I have tried, since that moment, to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different. How shall I put it?
We can’t – or I can’t – hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message (‘That’s a bird ‘) comes with it inevitably-just as one can’t see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern. The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don’t just hear the roar; I ‘hear the wind’. In the same way it is possible to ‘ read’ as well as to ‘ have’ a pleasure. Or not even’ as well as’. The distinction ought to become, and sometimes is, impossible; to receive it and to recognise its divine source are a single experience. This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore.
Gratitude exclaims, very properly: ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says: ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this! One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.
If I could always be what I aim at being, no pleasure would be too ordinary or too usual for such reception; from the first taste of the air when I look out of the window–one’s whole cheek becomes a sort of palate – down to one’s soft slippers at bedtime. . . .
One must learn to walk before one can run. So here. We-or at least I-shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have’ tasted and seen’. Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are, patches of Godlight ‘ in the woods of our experience. . . .
In this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven. (From Chapter 17, p. 88-93)
January 26, 2013
When God speaks, do you listen?
We often plead with God to speak to us, to tell us what we should do, whom we should marry, where we should move. We ask God to guide us and direct us and comfort us and lead us.
Yet do we answer when He calls?
How does He call?
1) He calls through the evidence of creation around us:
Psalm 19:1-2, 4a The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. . . . Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
2) He calls through His Word, His revelation to mankind:
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
2 Peter 1:19 We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
3) He calls through His people proclaiming His message:
2 Timothy 4:2a Preach the Word!
Luke 9:60b “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Mark 5:19 ”Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Jesus commands us to answer that call, to obey what we hear:
Luke 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears.”
Matthew 7:24-27 ”Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Yet time and again we have not paid attention to His Word, instead closing our ears and willfully refusing to hear:
Zechariah 7:11-13 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the LORD of hosts.
Seeing this danger in history, understanding the stain of sin within us, we must be sensitive to the stubbornness and rebellion in our own hearts. So will you pray with me?
Father God, guard my heart from stubbornness, from stopping my ears so I do not hear Your Word. I see those elements of rebellion within me, the desire to go my own way, to forge my own understanding of reality, instead of depending upon You and upon Your revelation. There is within me the longing for independence, for autonomy rather than for being Your child, looking to You for wisdom and understanding. Forgive me for these longings. Time and again You have shown me that true joy and fulfillment come from leaning on You, from depending on You, from acknowledging that I am not wise on my own, that I can do nothing on my own, that I will destroy what I love most and will dishonor the One to whom I owe everything unless I humbly acknowledge my need. So free me from the slavery of Self, and lead me willingly and joyfully in Your paths, for my own good and for the glory of Your Name. Amen.
May 6, 2010
How can I approach God?
As we saw in last Sunday’s sermon, God reveals Himself as unapproachable. Paul tells us that God “dwells in unapproachable light . . . no one . . . can see [Him]” (1 Timothy 6:16). God sets up limits around Mt Sinai for the Israelites, and more than once warns the Israelites not to touch the mountain, on pain of death.
God tells us He is holy. He is other. We cannot study Him as we would a plant, or an insect, or another human being. He is above us. He is beyond us.
And yet this same God says to the Israelites that they can be His “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5); He calls them His “firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). He promises through Isaiah, “With everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:8). Indeed, the author of Hebrews says that those in Christ have “confidence to enter the Most Holy Place” (Hebrews 10:19 NIV).
How can this be? How can God, on the one hand, be unapproachable, and yet, on the other hand, invite us to enter into His very presence?
Keep reading in Hebrews 10: “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19 NIV).
Reflect on this. Don’t dismiss the idea, thinking, “Oh, of course, I’ve heard all that before.”
Let this thought seek deep into you: There is absolutely no way for you to approach God through your investigations, through your searching, through your moral choices – unless He chooses to reveal Himself to you. And He graciously has decided that there is one way He will allow those who deserve His condemnation to approach Him: Through their trusting in the death of His Son, through their uniting with His risen Christ, the Lord Jesus.
So we can approach this holy, other, unapproachable God through the one means He provides: His Son.
Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, yes, I did that years ago!”
But, my friend: Have you done that today?
God tells the Israelites to consecrate themselves before He descends on Mt Sinai and speaks to them (Exodus 19:10). What is the equivalent for us today?
Every morning as you wake and thus enter God’s presence; every Sunday before coming to worship Him publicly, live out Hebrews 10:19 by building up your confidence to enter boldly into God’s holy presence by appropriating for yourself once again the blood of Jesus.
How can we do this?
Begin by examining your heart (1 Corinthians 11:28): Pray that God would help you see if there is any grievous way in you, any hidden sin (Psalm 139:24; Psalm 19:12). Confess those sins you are aware of to Him. Pray words like these: “Father God, I am worthy of your eternal punishment. I deserve nothing from you, not even to be alive this moment. But you have showered me with your blessings, including . . . (thank Him for specific gifts). Most of all, you have opened my eyes to see the beauties of the Lord Jesus Christ, and have saved me from the punishment I deserve by His blood shed on the cross. Forgive these sins I have just confessed by that same blood; cleanse me from all unrighteousness as You promise (1 John 1:9). Amaze me once again that I have access to Your very presence through the cross. Enable me this day to worship you from the heart, to encourage others in their walk with you, spurring them on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).”
How can I approach God?
- Not on the basis of my intelligence – His intelligence is of a completely different order of magnitude!
- Not on the basis of my holiness – He “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
- Not on the basis of my good works, or my obedience – for even my best works are stained by improper motives, and His command is, “Be perfect, as Your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
But I can approach God as a condemned sinner desperately in need of His grace. I can approach God through faith in His Son who died for His enemies. I can – and must – approach God daily as a supplicant, asking forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice.
And when I do, He says to me: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
March 2, 2009
(This sermon on Acts 4:23-31was preached 11/9/08. The audio is available here.)
Imagine that you are engaged in a personal ministry. You are confident that you are following God, and it seems that you are having some success. Then, suddenly, there’s a huge obstacle in your path,
- It might be a failure on your part,
- It might be a rejection or betrayal by former colleagues,
- It might be a financial barrier,
- It might be opposition, or threats from others.
How do you respond?
In Acts 4, that’s the situation Peter and John and all the apostles find themselves in.
Jesus was killed just a few months ago. That itself had seemed to be the end of their hopes. But God raised Him from dead. Jesus opened their eyes to Scripture and to His own prophecies to see that the crucifixion had to happen, to see the role of Christ’s suffering in God’s plan. The apostles now know that Jesus is living, active, still at work.
He then sent the Holy Spirit on them with power at Pentecost, baptizing them and filling them for their special task. These apostles saw three thousand saved that day – and they themselves baptized every one. They’ve seen more come to faith day by day.
Then God worked through Peter and John to heal a man who was lame from birth. A crowd gathered, and Peter preached; once again, thousands more were saved.
It would be understandable if, at this point, the apostles thought, “Wow! Look at God work! What success! Everything is just going to get better and better!”
But things didn’t get better and better.
As we saw last week, the Jewish authorities arrest Peter and John. They threaten them, warning them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus. Peter speaks boldly in their presence, saying there is no other name by which men must be saved, saying that they cannot but speak about what they have seen and heard, saying they must obey God rather than men. But the Jewish authorities just threaten all the more. They release Peter and John, but make their point absolutely clear: “If you continue to speak in the name of Jesus, watch out. We’re here. You know what happened to Jesus. If you love your families, if you want to see your children grow up, you had better keep quiet.”
This is the first serious challenge to the young church.
Put yourself in their shoes: These are not supermen. They have families, worries, and cares. If they are put to death, there are no food stamps, there is no welfare, there is no social security for their children. They must be facing a strong temptation to be quiet. Satan undoubtedly tempted them in these terms: “Think about how many are already saved! Let’s just teach them. Let’s just live together and enjoy each other, be family to each other. We can stop this proselytizing. For it’s this speaking in public that will get us in trouble. Indeed, maybe this is a sign from God –we’ve been spreading the Gospel, and we’ve had our success. Now maybe we’re supposed to stop and focus on deepening our joy in Christ.”
Imagine what would have happened if apostles had done that. That would have been the end of the church. Or, possibly, the church would have been a tiny enclave, a minor sect within Judaism. In other words, that would have been disastrous.
So how do the apostles fight this temptation? How can we, facing our own obstacles, fight the temptation to quit, to change, to adapt in ways that destroy our ministry?
Peter and John fight in four ways that are applicable to us:
- Acknowledge your weakness
- Know the truth
- Trust the truth
- Ask for God’s enabling Read more
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
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.
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?
January 16, 2009
[President-elect Obama has asked Pastor Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration. Dan Phillips at the pyromaniacs blog asked several well-known pastors and theologians to let him know if they would pray at this setting if asked and, if so, what they would say. The first (really excellent) response is from John Frame; the second is from our friend Thabiti Anyabwile. Dan did not ask me(!), but here is my prayer for the inauguration. For a version of this prayer that is easier to print, follow this link. - Coty]
Faithful Creator, Holy Sovereign, Righteous Father:
To you belong all power and all might. You raise up rulers on this earth, and you bring them down. You enable governments to flourish, and you remove them from the face of the earth.
Although we knew this, we have turned away from You, the fountain of living water, and have sought to quench our thirst from our own stagnant, broken cisterns. We have looked away from Your glory and have delighted in our own. Though You have showered us with blessings and have shown us Yourself in all we see, we have suppressed our knowledge of You and pretended that we control our own destiny.
Yet despite our sinfulness, in Your mercy over the last two centuries You have granted this country increasing prosperity and unequaled power. You have blessed us with liberty and, with all our faults, have allowed us to stand as a worldwide symbol of freedom. You are healing, as pictured in part by the election of this president, much of the prejudice that once bound us. Though we deserve Your judgment, You have maintained and sustained this government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Through the prayers of many, You have provided widespread confidence in our electoral system – so that those who voted for and against our new president can share this stage. We thank You once again for this peaceful transition of power.
Our world today faces numerous difficulties that will test this man deeply. So we ask that you give to President Obama a heart that fears You and trembles at Your Word. In this way grant him wisdom to discern the right choices, and strength of character to stand firm when those choices are questioned. Yet together with that strength, grant him humility of spirit to consider others more highly than himself. Protect him from the arrogance that so often comes with power. Give him faithful friends and advisers who will love him enough to reprove him and rebuke him. Prepare him for the unexpected challenges ahead – challenges that You alone know are coming.
Though we pray for our president, we know that ultimately, You alone are the answer to our problems. So we ask You to work in the lives of our brothers and sisters who have lost jobs, who have lost homes, who have lost loved ones, who suffer from oppression and poverty. Use even these tragedies for their good through Your great wisdom. We ask for strength and endurance for our sons and daughters fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for those fighting AIDS and malaria in Africa – but we ask all the more for the light of Your Gospel to shine in these dark places, ending these wars and overcoming these diseases. We pray similarly for perseverance for those serving the homeless in our cities, and those working with migrant laborers in our farms – and ask that there too, and in every place of pain and suffering, the love and mercy found only through Your Son might be declared verbally and lived out practically.
Thank you, O Lord, for Your undeserved mercy on this people. Bring us to repentance, O Lord. Open our eyes to our sinfulness and to Your great power to save. Enable us to call upon the mercy found only in Your Son. Forgive us by His blood, for You are the God of grace.
To you is due all glory, all praise, and all honor.
In the Name of Jesus I pray,