Archive for October, 2010

On Trials:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the circumstances that confront us; of the state we find ourselves in from time-to-time, and of those seasons in life when the issues of life seem to overwhelm and dishearten us. I suppose the frequent prayer requests as of late have served to renew my appreciation for all of this.  I have been reminded that, of those insulated from affliction, the children of God are not numbered among them.  Common and diverse are the trials that we encounter.  Whether a suffering child or an estranged family hostile to the gospel… adversity and affliction seem to abound.  And while the issues of life may not belong exclusively to the children of God, their divine and joyful purposes most certainly do. 

“But if you are without chastisement, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” says the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews.  Shortly thereafter, Hebrews records that God chastens “…for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” (Heb 12:10).  The annals of Christianity reveal that the greatest models of the faith; those who shone brightest for Christ, were intimately acquainted with trials and suffering.  Take a moment to catalogue them if you like: Job, Joseph, Elijah, the prophets, Paul and the entire company of Christ’s apostles. Each one groomed for eternity in the great furnace of adversity.  Job himself, in the midst of incomprehensible affliction said, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. “ (Job 23)  Again, God may intend any number of outcomes for the trials that confront us.  As mentioned above, they may be directed in order to purify us.  At other times they may be intended to develop perseverance/strength, as James affirms for us: “…knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1).  Still, at other times, the Lord may see fit to leverage adversity in order to develop within us the spiritual discipline of resignation, submission and contentment.  Of this lesson, even the great apostle Paul learned, uttering “I am well content with weaknesses…distresses… difficulties (2 Cor 12). 

While the Lord may have many reasons for our adversity, for each one the child of God has as many reasons to rejoice.  Each one is sent compassionately. Each one accompanied by His limitless grace. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”.  Further, each one will end ultimately in….what? Good (Rom 8).  What wonder!  Listen, would our Father in heaven ordain that which does not benefit His blood-bought child? Scripture clearly tell us that if God has given the Lord Jesus for us….His own Son….He will not refuse us any real good (Rom 8:32).  Is a loved-one sick?  Can’t God heal the sick? Surely then if He has not brought health, then He must see it best to appoint sickness.  Apply this perspective to every one of your circumstances.  If it is a season of great pain that you endure, then it is a season appointed by the Lord….and it must be a good one that He appoints because “Every good thing bestowed, and every perfect gift is from…..where? Above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1).

There is a story of a little girl standing at a street corner, seeking tentatively to cross the street.  Looking at the path before her, and realizing the danger, she trembled.  A kind policeman happening by and seeing the fear on her face, casually approached her and took her hand into his….and together they began to cross the divide.  Occasionally, a honking horn or passing car would cause her to flinch a bit and hesitate, but each time the policeman would strengthen his grip on her hand to reassure her, until finally they reached the other side, together.  

The man who tells that story, makes this point: “It’s not our grasp of the Lord that matters, it’s His grasp of us.  Let me draw my comfort no more from my frail grasp of Thee.  Let me henceforth rejoice with awe in Thy strong grasp of me.” 

Beloved, no matter what your trial today, the grip of Christ is ever strengthening around your hand to assure you of His presence….and He will not let go.  “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.  The times and seasons of life are fleeting, friend.  Adversity only hastens our eternity.  And once steeping across into our eternal rest, your faith and mine will only give way to sight; today’s affliction will give way to peace, and this dark day will be resigned to a bright eternity in the resplendent presence of Our great Comforter and Friend…..where sorrow and pain and suffering all must say their farewell. Even so, come Lord Jesus…

Grace to you, today,


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On Covetousness:

Allow me to begin with a definition.  Insidious: “Stealthily treacherous or deceitful: an insidious enemy.”

Covetousness is “insidious”.  That is, it is a stealthy, treacherous, and deceitful enemy.  Covetousness, of course, speaks of greed; of that lustful desire to have what you don’t have….or to have more of what you have already.  The Apostle Paul warns of this insidious sin, saying: “…do not let greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph 5). Paul goes one step further in Colossians 3:5, where he states: “Consider your earthly bodies as dead to….evil desire and greed which leads to idolatry.”  In other words, covetousness is the greedy, discontented longing of the creature which forsakes God in order to fill itself with the lower objects of the world.   In a word, it is idolatry characterized by lustful self-gratification, and Scripture records that it is a feature that should never characterize the child of God.  As Paul stated, the absence of covetousness “…is proper among the saints.  Self-gratification is diametrically opposed to sacrificial-love.

Having established what covetousness IS, notice now how it operates.  As mentioned above, covetousness operates insidiously; deceitfully.  How so? Because the covetous person hardly realizes his covetous character.  A back-biter sees clearly she is a backbiter; an adulterer sees plainly he is adulterous.  But a person that indulges in covetousness has hardly any suspicion of guilt.  The crime tends to be more transient, more subtle, more subdued. Subsequently such a person is subtly carried off right through life and into death, having never emerged from this delusion.  Paul states: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many a pang.” (1 Tim 6:10). This doesn’t happen overnight, mind you….but systematically, transiently, over time.  “Wandered” here has the idea of being deceitfully enticed and led astray.   It would be irresponsible of me to omit the preceding verse from the 1 Timothy text: “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction” (v9). What delusion! Watch yourselves against this insidious enemy.

For clarification, a man reveals his covetousness not by the riches that he has. After all, such riches can be righteously dispensed for promoting God’s glory.   Rather, covetousness is demonstrated by the unrighteous and discontented “longing” for, or selfish intent to collect and employ wealth/resources in a self-gratifying manner and for self gratifying purposes.  A man of this character is a man marked by covetous-delusion…and God pronounces him a fool.  Why? Because his self-gratifying agenda will subtly, systematically, ultimately “…plunge him into destruction”.  Further still, enslavement to covetousness is a clarion characterization of the unbelieving and unregenerate community.   This too is the apostle’s very confident assertion in his letter to the Ephesians: “For this you know with certainty…..no covetous man who is an idolater has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph 5:5).

Conversely, Scripture consistently represents the children of God as those who have little interest with world, and whose chief concern are to glorify God.  Jesus Himself said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” This world was no object of His affection…it held no charming value to Him….it could not allure or entice Him.  Therefore, in truth, the world is to be no more the object of your affection, Christian, than it was of His.  As Paul states: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6).  Far from identification with self-gratification, the Christian has been completely identified with Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection to new life.

Only God’s regenerative grace can breach the stone that encases the idolatrous, covetous heart. Only the new creature in Christ has the capacity to arrest the self-gratifying flesh.   Thereafter, Scripture remedies the remains of tempt-able flesh in this regard, saying: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things on earth, for you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3).  If you are “in Christ” indeed, fix your heart upon the irrevocable blessings of eternity.  Covetousness, that insidious enemy, is impotent to him who, when confronted with its allurements and deceit, hears the voice of his Redeemer bidding him to look ever higher, saying: “What is it to thee.  Follow thou Me.”  

Grace to you, today.

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Sincere Prayer

I remember hearing a statement once that went something like this: “When I am on my knees, I am imitating angels.”  While I often contemplate the scenes of heaven, I don’t give much thought to imitating angels.  Nonetheless, the image is thought-provoking; particularly concerning the matter of prayer.  Imagine if on your next occasion to pray you could leave the features and confines of earth, and were given the means to perceive the glory and splendor, and majesty of the invisible, eternal God.  With eyes fixed upon the throne of His glory, and innumerable angels roundabout you, how would you pray?  Would your prayer not be filled with awe?  Would it not be fervent?  Would it not be solemn? Would it not be thoughtful?

The truth is, if we are to rightly understand the nature and solemnity of prayer we should begin with the realization that we do not need these imaginings.  While it is true that we do not behold God fully here, our prayers are just as really in His presence as are the departed saints and angels around His throne.  It is no small thing to have this understanding because, as inestimable as the privilege of prayer is, it is often a difficult privilege.  Now of course, to frivolously repeat a few cold, metallic words as a matter of form is not difficult at all.  But to pray in a way that pushes the temporal aside, and sincerely engages all our heart and mind toward the invisible God as though He were visible, and in a way that resigns all our thoughts and faculties to communion with Him is not easy for the pilgrim. 

To aid us in this regard, perhaps we ought to simplify the issue a bit. While there is much that can be said concerning prayer, it is important to state that perhaps more than any other characteristic, the pilgrim’s prayer must be sincere.  In fact, if your prayer is not an offering out of the heart, it would behoove you not to pray at all, because such prayer is worse than nothing.  John 4 tells us “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”  No mere form…whether a bended knee, or some devout expression…can please God if the heart is not presenting the offering.  Such was the indictment brought against Israel “This people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Is. 29:13).  Interestingly enough, v13 from the Isaiah text ends with “Their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

Christian, when you come before the Lord in prayer, it is helpful to remember…God sees your heart.  He knows your meaning.  Lay aside the rote forms and aspirations toward eloquence.  Your broken language and my broken language, when accompanied by a humble and sincere heart, are precious to Him.  Pray to Him as though standing before His throne…..because you are.  Speak to Him as your Father……because He is.  First give Him your heart; you’re His child and He promises to hear you. 

Rest assured, then, if prayer must be anything it must be sincere…and sincerity in prayer is the fruit of heart-felt meditation upon God’s word.   Think of God’s majesty and greatness if you intend to praise Him.    Thoughtfully consider His lovingkindness and goodness if you intend to thank Him.  Ponder His infinite power if you intend to petition Him for strength. Think of the riches of His grace if you intend to petition Him for zeal and fervor.  Set your mind upon your Great Redeemer and the hope of glory if you intend to pray for perseverance.  Appraise your life, contemplate your offenses, and consider His limitless mercy if you intend to sincerely confess your sins.  

To “imitate an angel”, first bow your heart/your will…..then bow your knee.  Think…. consider…. ponder…. focus upon your inevitable entrance into eternity, the great love of Christ, and the riches that are yours…and yours forever through union with Him.  Lastly, beloved, know that Christ is in heaven even now, ever living to intercede for you.  He is your advocate there.  Put aside pretense, and form, and feigned eloquence…and pray sincerely; relying upon His intercession.  His merit is the ground of all acceptance.

Grace to you.

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