For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Praying for Revival

I don’t think there are too many folks who would deny our nation and our world is in need of a revival. Yet, I wonder how many of us are truly and fervently and regularly praying for it.

Down through the years there have been numerous calls for prayer, sometimes with lasting effects, sometimes not. But I figure, it never hurts to do more praying right?

Recently I came across this site for the Monday Prayer Project. Honestly, I don’t know that much about the man behind it, other than a cross-referencing with several other blogs I read. But the idea is sound.
I would encourage you to go to the site and read The Story. It’s a reprint of a little historical survey of the connection between prayer and spiritual awakening. It’s a good inspirational read even if you don’t feel drawn to support the Project.

It also has a link to The Book, which is a downloadable version of John Piper’s A Hunger for God, a very good little resource on prayer and fasting.

And then there is The Pledge. Simply asking folks to set aside time every Monday to specifically pray for spiritual awakening around the globe, as well as encouraging one Monday a month for fasting, as well as encouraging you to meet with someone else for this same purpose.

Again, I don’t know much about the site/person here. But it seems like a pretty good idea. As I said, more prayer never hurts. And who knows, this might be the very thing our Sovereign King has designed to bring about world wide revival. Wouldn’t that be a glorious thing.

E. M. Bounds once wrote: “The crying need of the times is for men, in increased numbers – God-fearing men, praying men, Holy Spirit men, men who can endure hardness, who will count not their lives dear unto themselves, but count all things but dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Savior. The men who are so greatly needed in this age of the church are those who have learned the business of praying – learned it on their knees, learned it in the need and agony of their own hearts. . . In doing God’s work there is no substitute for praying.”

To that, I would say, Amen. So, I’m backing the pledge and committing myself to make this a regular, scheduled prayer effort. And I would invite you to join with me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Being Children of God

Family resemblance is hard to get away from, isn’t it? Take Nathanael my oldest son for instance. If you’ve ever met my wife’s youngest brother, Dan, you would know without a doubt that Nathanael is related to him. You may not know how, but the family resemblance is undeniable.

In fact, one of the only long lasting disputes between Cheryl and myself is over my first words when Nathanael was born. Standing there in the delivery room, holding that newborn boy for very first time only seconds after making his entrance into this world, Cheryl swears up and down that my first words were: “Oh, my goodness, it’s Dan.”

Now, I argue that Cheryl’s mind was a bit affected by the pain of labor and delivery as well as a few drugs, so her memory isn’t as accurate as she might think. But I do admit that somewhere in there I may have made a passing remark about how much our son resembled my brother-in-law. Anyway, the point is, we tend to look like our family, right?

In many, if not most cases, there is usually some clear resemblance to our parents, so that when we are seen together in public, folks readily know that we belong together. The same thing should apply to the children of God.

In 1 John we are given a host of assurances. “This is how we know…” John wants us to be sure of several things related to our God and our salvation, and so he gives us a series of tests. Among them, are some issues related to family resemblance. This is how we know we are God’s children, he says in essence, if we look like Him.

He spells that out pretty simply by saying: Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. . . By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7b, 10, ESV)

It comes down to family resemblance. Our God is righteous. Our Father is a holy God. Therefore, if we are truly His children, we ought to see a family resemblance. There out to be holiness and righteousness in our lives.

Of course, we know that in one sense that’s impossible. We have no righteousness in and of ourselves. Scripture is pretty clear about how God views our righteousness; like a pile of dirty rags; a polluted garment. As a friend recently reminded me, it’s not like the dirty rags that you keep around the house and find a use for in the garage or something. It’s a polluted garment, more like a dirty diaper that you throw out in disgust. That’s how God views our righteousness.

But the children of God are given the righteousness of God’s One and only true Son. His righteousness is placed on us, covering our sin, and we are then to live in such a way that we reflect that righteousness. His righteousness shines through us, so that people look at us and say, “You belong to the Father, don’t you. I can Him in you.”

And to do that, to see that resemblance is not just a matter of reflecting His righteousness, it’s also seen in our commitment to getting rid of anything and everything that will tarnish that image.

John puts it pretty bluntly. Maybe a little too blunt for some of us. He says in verse 6 of chapter 3 that No one who abides in him deeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Then in verse 8: Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil. And verse 9: No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Children of God practice the righteousness of their Father. Children of the devil practice the sin of their father. So which one are you? Which one does your life show you to be?

Now I understand we have to be careful here. John is not in any way suggesting that we can someone achieve a sinless perfection in this life, and that short of that perfection we have no assurance of our adoption. That’s not what he’s saying. There are some who suggest that, but that’s not what the plain language here suggests, nor is that consistent with the rest of what Scripture has to say about our constant battle with the flesh in this world.

However… However; we have to be careful not to go to the other extreme either. There are too many who say, well, since we’ll never be perfect in this world, and since Jesus died for our sin anyway, we can just live however we want, because after all it’s covered by grace, right? And John’s clear response to that here is: that’s not the attitude of the true child of God.

Read Romans 6 among other things. We are dead to sin. How could we even think of living in it? I know we fight it. I know it rears its ugly head. I know we’re going to be tempted by it. But the child of God responds not by coddling it, or ignoring it, or excusing it, or even tolerating it. Our response to sin is to get rid of it; mortify it; kill it; avoid it; do all we can to get it out of our lives.

Again, so that we can bear that family resemblance. Does that characterize your life? As I said before, John’s letter here not only gives us a host of assurances, but it also serves as a test for us; to examine ourselves; to see if these things are the things we see in our life. So, how well does this describe you? Are we living as faithful children of our Father? Or are then some things we need to work on in order to make the family resemblance a little more clear?

My prayer is that God will give each of us an ever growing desire to live as faithful children, to rejoice in His adopting love, and to commit ourselves to living for the Father’s pleasure and glory in all things.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ever Hold to the Right

Once again I mention my collection of antique hymnals. Not just to mention it, but to give context to what follows. Occasionally, I like to go through these old song books and just read through some of the lyrics for devotional thought. There have been some great songs written over the years, in addition to some of the great worship music being written today.

One song I came across recently is from a well known writer, Fanny Crosby, but to the best of my knowledge, not exactly a well known song. I found in one of my favorite little books called Brightest and Best for the Sunday School, put together by Robert Lowry and William Doane. It’s a favorite because it’s the first book to publish one of my all time favorites, To God Be The Glory; as well as the first publication of songs like All the Way My Savior Leads Me, I Am Thine O Lord, and Low in the Grave He Lay. Quite the little collection of songs. But I digress…

This other Crosby song is called Ever Hold To The Right. It goes like this:

1. Go on in the glorious cause of right, And, strong in our Father’s word,
Let this be the voice of every heart, For us we’ll follow the Lord.

Refrain: Go on, Go on, Ever hold to the right, Go on.

2. Go on with a sure and steadfast faith, A firm and united band;
We’ll walk with delight the Kings’ highway To Canaan’s beautiful land.

3. Go on in the path, the god old path, That millions have gone before;
And soon with the ransomed host we’ll sing On yonder beautiful shore.

4. God on till the Savior bids us come, the joy of His rest to share;
O then we shall see his glorious face, For He will welcome us there.

I sorta like that song. Ever hold to the right and go on. What a great word for the church today. We look around us and can find so many things that may discourage us. There is so much immorality in our land, so much compromise in the church, so many who would cause us to feel as though we’re fighting in vain. But hold to the right and go on.

Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica to encourage them in the face of great persecution and trials. In chapter one Paul talks about how he brags on this church because of their great perseverance and faith in the midst of those trials. In chapter 2 he talks about the last days, the coming of the man of lawlessness, and the coming of Christ. And then he offers more words of encouragement beginning in verse 13.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thess. 2:13-15, ESV)

Notice how verse 15 begins: “So then.” KJV says “therefore.” There are actually two words there in Greek, both with very similar meanings. The first is the idea of drawing a conclusion. The second is more direct in the idea of saying: accordingly, consequently, these things being so. That’s important because everything that follows is then related to what has already been said. It refers to both the verses immediately before as well as the first 12 verses of chapter 2 leading up to it.

So Paul’s argument goes like this: Times are tough, and they are only going to get tougher. The spirit of lawlessness that will ultimately be fulfilled in the coming anti-christ is already on the loose, and people all over are being deceived by it. Again, in our day we see evidence of that same spirit, again and again.

But as for us, we have been called by God, set aside for His purposes. We have the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in us and that should mean something. Those of us who benefit from God’s saving work can’t afford to fall into weariness and apathy, but must stand firm and keep an unyielding hold on the truth of God’s words. Ever hold to the right. The doctrines taught to us in Scripture must be held onto tightly, or soon we’ll find ourselves in the same boat as so many in our day who have left the truth in favor of a lie.

Stand firm. Ever hold to the right. Go on with a sure and steadfast faith, a firm and united band. Hold on to the truth of God’s Word. Don’t give in. Just wanted offer a little encouragement to those who might need it. And just to be balanced, since this started with a reading from one of my old hymnals, let me leave you with a similar word of encouragement from one of my favorite current artists: Flame.

This walk it ain’t easy/Matter of fact it gets hard/
You’ve enlisted for war/ The battleground is your heart/
It’s going to be some stress and strain/And discomfort and involved/
But my advice to you homie is to make your resolve/
To fight for your joy/In God’s keeping grace/
So at the end you can say like Paul that I‘ve kept the Faith/
You see the way is hard/Cause narrow is the gate/
And those who find it are few/I’m praying you complete the race/
But yet his yoke is easy/And His burdens are light/
But that’s the fight for us to rest and find in Him delight…
Hold on, He’s strong Hold on, cause our God is a warrior

Here’s praying for each of us to hold on and go on for His glory.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Watch What You Say (or Blog!)

Sometimes cyberspace can be very deceiving. It’s so easy to write and spout off about this or that subject without ever really thinking about the person on the other end; how it will sound to them, or even who they are.

I was reminded of that recently. From time to time my blog entries here are taken out of sermons; either one I preached the Sunday before, or sometimes from my study on the sermon for the Sunday to come. I never stopped to think about our church folks actually getting the “repeats.”

I guess I knew some of our church members read this blog. Sadly, their lives are so void of any real excitement that they have nothing better to do but bore themselves even further with my ramblings (just kidding folks…about your boring lives, not my boring ramblings….anyway…) But I never really stopped and put two and two together and realize that there are actually church members reading this blog.

Last Sunday, a dear lady in our fellowship said to me before the evening service, “Well after reading your blog on Tuesday I can tell you’re going to step on my toes tonight.” She meant it in a positive and encouraging way (if stepping on toes can be such), but I was shocked. Again, I never put the faces to the readers on this space. It never really clicked before.

My first thought was, I guess I’d better start being more careful about what I say here, huh? Hopefully I’ve never printed anything that I would be ashamed of later. My mom even reads this (Hi, Mom!). But it reminds me that just as we need to “be careful little mouth what you say” we should also be careful, little blog, what you post.

Words are not meaningless. They mean things. They have impact, whether spoken or written. And once they are out there, it is very difficult to bring them back. I’ve read comment threads on controversial subjects and thought to myself, “that person would probably never say that in a face to face situation.” Again, we feel the anonymity of cyberspace. And that’s not good.

Jesus told us that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36) Somehow, I think that just might apply to every word we blog as well. While blogging can be cathartic in letting me “vent” sometimes, I need to remember that people are still on the receiving end of that vent.

So here’s my goal. I will redouble my efforts to say things here that are worthwhile, that are Christ exalting, that I would say in person if I had the chance, and that I will be proud of in the coming years if I were to look back. I ask you to pray for me in that regard. Sola Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lessons from an Obscure Volunteer

I enjoy reading about some of the lesser known saints in Scripture. Some of my favorite stories are not so much about Moses and David and Paul; but about Ehud the left-handed Benjaminite, and Eutychus, the only man we know of to actually be preached to death. Great stories. Really.

During our daily readings this week another of those obscure men caught my eye: Amasiah the son of Zichri. Not to be confused with Amaziah, the son and successor of Joash as king of the southern kingdom of Judah. Nor the other small handful of people with the name Amaziah. This is Amasiah, with an “s”.

You can find him in 2 Chronicles 17:16. And that’s the only place you’ll find him mentioned, so don’t blink while reading. The passage is simply a listing of the “mighty men of valor” who served during the reign of King Jehoshaphat (who actually is the great, great grandfather of the aforementioned Amaziah, but I digress).

Jehoshaphat built quite the army, fortified his cities, etc. And Scripture lists for us some of the captains of this armed force. Most of those men are listed as “commander” or as a “mighty man of valor.” But then you get to Amasiah, and he is simply described as “a volunteer for the service of the Lord.” I love that. Other translations say he “willingly offered himself to the Lord.” Same idea. A volunteer.

This is why I like some of these obscure folks. There is such a rich lesson there about our service to God. This man was a volunteer; he readily gave himself in service to His Lord. The army of God certainly needs more volunteers, ready to serve, and fewer folks who are just looking for fame, influence, recognition, etc.

That prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, said of this little known servant: He needed no hunting out. How many even of church-members seem to be like Saul when he was elected king, and they could not find him! “Where is that tall fellow, head and shoulders above the rest of the people?” At last somebody said that he had hidden himself among the stuff. Many of our young men to-day are among the stuff; and there are numbers both of men and women who ought to be coming forward for Lord’s service instead of hiding among the rubbish.

He said further: Some of you want so very much persuading, that you are hardly worth having when at last we get you. There is such a thing as pressing a man so long that all the juice is gone out of him, and you have only the husk of the man when you do manage to get him. Amasiah wanted no pressing at all, for in his soul there was an ardent desire to serve the living God; he “willingly offered himself unto the Lord.”

One of my favorite bands, the John Reilly Band (now just Reilly), has a song called Anyplace that says:
I'll be the sweeper of the floor nothing less and nothing more
if that is what you have in store for me my Lord
And if you should have me wait all along the watchtower gate
no option would I rather take than obey you.
I just fall on my face in worship of you.
With my all I say take me anyplace, For you are worthy…

The church could use more of that “volunteer spirit.” What a joy it would be to command an army of Amasiahs. God, fill your church with willing servants, eager for Your will and Your way, all for Your glory!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Nature of Obedience

Studying in Luke chapter 4, I was suddenly hit with a challenging thought. (Yes, I do have actual thoughts from time to time) Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and there “in the synagogue” is a man possessed by a demon. (Is there a comment in there about those in our churches as well? Hmmm…) Jesus commands the demon, “shut up and get out!” OK, actually the ESV says, “Be silent and come out of him” but you get the point. And the demon obeys.

Now here’s what struck me. Isn’t it amazing that a demon would respond more quickly to the authority of the command of Christ than many who claim to serve Him as Lord?

Several years ago I was at a conference in St. Louis (actually St. Peters, MO) and heard one of my favorite preachers, Paul Washer. He was speaking in the context of the vileness of our sin, but the point applies here as well. He said:

God said to the stars, each of which is large enough to consume a dozen of our suns, "You go there, and you will be called this, and you stay there until I tell you otherwise." And the starts obeyed. He said to the planets, "you go there, and will be this color, and will go in this path, and will reflect light in just this way, and you continue to do all that until I tell you otherwise." And they obeyed him.

And He said to the mountains, arise and come forth and they obeyed and rose up out of the ground. And He said to the valleys, "Cast yourself down" and they obeyed Him. He said to the monsters of the deep dance in this way, and they danced in obedience. And then he said to you come follow me, and you said, "No!"

Washer concludes that image of our rebellion by saying: Our sin is so horrible, so vile, such a blight on creation that when you take you first step into hell, all of creation will rejoice because God finally got rid of you!

Again, in context he was speaking of our sin nature in general, but do you see the connection? All of creation obeys God. Man, alone, says “no.” God commands men to repent and believe. And in our sin we say, “No. I don’t want to change. I like things the way they are. I like my carnal pleasures thank you very much.” And even those who obey God’s call, who then call themselves Christians, we’re often not much better.

God commands us, tells us how to live. Be holy as I am Holy, He says. And we say, “No. I trust God for salvation, but that doesn’t mean it should actually affect the way I live. I’m still better than all those pagans out there, so a little this and a little that won’t hurt.”

God commands us to go and tell others about Christ. And we say, “No. That’s the preacher’s job, the Sunday School teachers; job. I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of radical or anything.”

God’s Word tells us how to live among our brothers; considering others as more significant than ourselves; humbly putting self aside. And we say, “No. I’m more important. My wants and my desires come first.”

God’s Word tells us how to worship; in spirit and in truth, with Christ as the central focus; singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to God; And we say, “No. I’d rather do things my way, satisfy myself, make it enjoyable for me.”

God commands us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him. And we say, “No. That’s too hard. I want to be comfortable and safe right where I am.”

How sad that the church is often less obedient to the commands of Christ than even a demon of hell. This is why James warned us not to be hearers of the Word only, but doers.

As J. C. Ryle once said: The man who hears Christian teaching, and never gets beyond hearing, is like “a foolish man who built his house on the sand” [Matt. 7:26]. He satisfies himself with listening and approving, but he goes no further. He flatters himself, perhaps, that all is right with his soul, because he has feelings, convictions, and desires, of a spiritual kind. In these he rests. He never really breaks off from sin, and casts aside the spirit of the world. He never really lays hold of Christ. He never really takes up the cross. He is a hearer of truth, but nothing more.

I pray for myself, that God would give me grace to truly break off sin, cast aside the spirit of the world, truly lay hold of Christ and His commands, live in obedience, take up my cross and follow Him.

And I pray that the church of God would wake up, grow up, get over itself and live in obedience to His Word for His glory in all things.