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,
January 9, 2009
Last week, we considered the crazy idea of fasting in 2009, looking at John Piper’s summary of some topics to pray for while fasting. This week, consider more generally what topics we should pray for.
What do you normally pray for? What topics do you focus on more than others?
For many of us, the bulk of our prayers concern three topics:
- health for ourselves and those we know and love
- guidance and direction in school, careers, and love life
- wisdom in dealing with problems in our families, our workplaces, our schools, and our churches.
Now, we should pray for these topics. There are numerous biblical examples of prayers on these themes (see, for example, Genesis 20:7, James 1:5, James 5:13-16, and Jeremiah 42:1-3). Indeed, we should pray for anything that is potentially worrying (Philippians 4:6-7).
But while these three themes are biblical, they constitute only a tiny portion of the prayers offered in the Bible. I encourage you to look at some of the great prayers in the Bible, and then use some of that language as your own as you pray. Then look at some of the themes prayed about at various other points in Scripture, and include those themes in your prayers this week.
To help you in that regard, I list below some of the important Biblical prayers, followed by a list of themes. Neither list is nearly comprehensive; in particular, nearly every psalm is a prayer, and I haven’t referred to that book at all. But if you spend some time contemplating these themes and prayers, you will enrich your prayers – and you will be that much more effective and productive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and your joy in Him will grow, to His glory.
So pray on these themes – and let others know the impact on you. Read more