Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An Encouraging Poem by Pastor John

This is a poem that Pastor John Piper wrote, which has been a great encouragement to me this summer. I pray that it blesses you like it has blessed me.

Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.

You can listen to the whole sermon here:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Devotional: Taming the Tongue

“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”—Proverbs 15:28

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to the wicked person. Apart from Christ, my sharp tongue can shoot darts into the hearts of those I love. And on more than one occasion I have had to go back and ask forgiveness for an ill word spoken in anger or haste. Most of the time I find myself quickly saying the first thing that comes to mind instead of praying about, or even thinking about, the implications of my words.

Notice first how the verse says “the heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.” The taming of the tongue cannot be a result of exerted will power. Every time I vow to never speak impulsively again, I find myself sorely disappointed by my own lack of ability to refrain. A thoughtful answer is the overflow of a righteous heart, and not righteousness from ability, but righteousness from the truly Righteous One—King Jesus. Even if we were able to answer kindly, apart from Christ, that kindness will eventually turn to pride in our ability.

So much of our frustrations with our own sinfulness stem from our continual attempts at “doing better next time,” instead of trusting in the fact that a Jewish carpenter did it perfectly 2,000 years ago and intercedes for us before the Father. This news, this amazing truth, is what keeps us from wickedness. The heart of the righteous man recognizes that he will never graduate from the Gospel and move on to something else. The minute we think that we are ready for something other than the Gospel it reveals that we have lost the wonder of what saves us.

We are always given a choice. We can choose righteousness or we can choose wickedness. But those of us who have had the scales fall off of our eyes, see that righteousness leads to life. A wicked answer may seem harmless in the beginning, but in the end it leads to spiritual death—separation from God. We obey because we love Him, and know that He is far better than any second long high from lashing out at another person.

The Bible is full of references to taming the tongue, which should tell us something. God cares about our words. He cares about our answers. How we respond to people says everything about our belief in the Gospel. With every word that pours out of our mouths we are either saying that Christ is enough or that Christ is worthless. Let us pray for a new heart, dear Christian, so the world may see only Jesus and not be clouded by our own sinful reactions. May this Lord’s Day be a great and glorious reminder of the sweet mercy of God for us on Calvary.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Providence of God and A New Car

First, let me say that, thankfully, I was not in my car when it was hit. But, as you can probably see the car is deader than dead. About a month ago my mechanic, Buzz, told me that, after a series of car problems this year that it was time for me to upgrade to a newer, more efficient car. After much unnecessary anxiety and deliberation, I decided to look for a new car, and I found one. The only catch was that I had to sell my current car (the one pictured). Buzz, being the nice man that he is, was going to sell it for me. While he was in the process of preparing it for sale, he parked it in front of his house, and it got hit—by a drunk driver. Upon hearing the news, my mind immediately raced with all of the preparations for my move in a month, and all I could think about was how much I didn’t need this added stress. But then my dad reminded me that I did sell my car, to State Farm Insurance of Minnesota, who kindly presented me with a check in the amount that I was initially selling it for. So, God did answer my prayer for a car buyer, just in a way that I had never anticipated.

Although it may seem like a very small event, it is reminding me that God is working every detail of my life (even obscure one’s like this one) for my good. As I have been getting ready to move and start school again, I have been humbled by the sweet providence of God, even in the smallest things.

The book of Esther teaches us about the providence of God as well. As I read the progression of events in this book, I see the providence of God in every page. It reminds me that God is over every detail, even details that seem insignificant, or seem to thwart the whole process.

The text doesn’t tell us how Esther felt when she was carried away to the harem of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), but it couldn’t have been a feeling of excitement. And all throughout her time in the harem, we see her obeying Mordecai, and receiving the favor of those around her. When the edict was made to annihilate the Jews, they did not know the outcome, though they had vague memories of the covenant promises of God. And when Esther went in to Ahasuerus to petition for her people, she had no assurances that she would make it out alive.

We see the book of Esther, and the whole Bible for that matter, from an entirely different vantage point than those involved in the biblical narrative. Many times God calls us to obedience before He reveals to us the means of His provision for that specific calling. Esther could not see the outcome, and on occasion it might have seemed quite bleak. But as I read her story, I see the mighty hand of our sovereign God guiding and orchestrating her every step—for the glory of His great name and for the joy and sanctification of His people.

And while getting a new car may seem like a very insignificant point in the story of my life. Often times the insignificancies are reminders that God is working just as much in the minor details of a believer’s life as He did in saving an entire people from a vengeful man. He is caring for the sparrows just as much as He is the kings. As I look at my new car, it is a sign to me that God is a very personal God. He numbers the hairs on my head, He formed me in my mother’s womb, and He provides for my every need. Every small mercy is further knitting into my heart a deep trust in the provision of God, so when true trials come, I can look back and see that He is a God who always provides for His children.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Devotional: Here Comes the Bride

“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.”—Revelation 19:6-7

The wedding season is upon us. At the dawn of the first day of summer the wedding invitations begin pouring in, and our weekends are quickly booked with all of the festivities of our friends and loved one’s happy nuptials.

As women, many of us have been planning our wedding since we were five years old, down to the color of the flowers and the number of attendants that we have already chosen. All we’re really missing is the groom, and we are pretty certain that he will come soon to sweep us off of our feet and carry us off to wedded bliss. This is not wrong. In fact, we should desire marriage and look forward to that day, should God choose to give us that. But the end result of our wanting to be married should be a hope in a marriage to a very different man—the God man, Jesus Christ.

Marriage exists to point people to the Gospel, and it’s really easy to lose sight of that when we desperately desire marriage here on earth. Often times we have a Hollywood understanding of marriage, thinking that our life will be complete if that “perfect man” came to our doorstep and promised us love and happiness for ever. The perfect man did come, and will come again to redeem His Bride, the Church.

For many of us, our days are spent dreaming of a marriage here on earth, even to the extent that with the first “hello” from an eligible bachelor we are planning the big event before we even know his name. And for others, we can probably confess that we are all too guilty of confusing a phone call with a marriage proposal. Are we content with our only marriage being the final marriage where we are eternally joined to our Bridegroom, Christ? Carolyn McCulley says that if Jesus came back tomorrow and you are disappointed because you aren’t married yet, you are idolizing an earthly husband, and desiring the wrong marriage. And I think she’s right.

The marriage we should long for is the final marriage that all marriages should point to, Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Jesus is not our own personal boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband. The marriage supper of the Lamb is not an individualized marriage. We will not each be personally walking down the aisle to Jesus in the last day, despite what some women’s Bible studies and worship songs allude to. He is the Bridegroom of the Church collectively, of which we are a part if we are in Christ. In our preparation to meet our Groom, our lives should reflect less of an American, individualistic ideology, and more of our brothers and sisters in the book of Acts, who gave their lives for the building up of the local church. This means we should spend more time changing diapers in the nursery and sitting in the pews under the Word of God, than picking out our wedding songs and drooling over designer dresses.

We muddy the Gospel when we bank all of our happiness on a marriage here on earth. Instead, let us cry out with the whole earth “come quickly, Lord Jesus!” All of our right, earthly desires for a husband are here to give us a temporary picture of an eternal reality—the Gospel.

I am all for marriage here on earth, and I love going to weddings where God is glorified in the joining of two Christians declaring a covenant before God and His people. Like Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories, and every good and biblical desire always has the potential to replace God as our object of worship. Whenever I am struggling with whether or not a desire is an idol, a question I always ask myself is “if God chose to never fulfill this desire in my life, would I still love Him? Would I still desire to serve Him?” Those are hard questions to ask, because more often than not, I find myself chafing at the idea of not getting what I want. But as we seek to honor God with our desires, let us keep an eternal perspective. Resolve today, dear Christian, to love and serve your local congregation, members of the Church. And dream of the greatest wedding party of all, where the Vera Wang dress will fade away in the face of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Theology with Sinead O' Connor

Christian Music Today (an affiliate of Christianity Today) published an interview with Sinead O’Connor regarding her newest album. When I first saw the article, I had to take a second look, primarily because the only reason I really recognize her name is that I wasn’t allowed to listen to her when I was younger, so it seemed rather strange that a mainstream Christian music magazine was even giving her time. Before you think that Sinead O’Connor will be joining us in the local evangelical church next Sunday, think again. Her new album is called Theology, and is “loosely” based on the writings of the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms and the Prophets. And though it sounds intriguing at first, the interview reveals that her “theology” is at best sadly confused.

What’s troubling about this new album is her very reasoning for creating an album only from the Prophets and the Psalms:

“But the only time God actually speaks for himself is in the books of the prophets. That’s what kind of interests me. I’m interested in the idea of separating God from religion...I don’t believe God supports war or violence. I wanted to dig out Scriptures to show the opposite to be true”

It’s not surprising that she is coming out with an album of this nature. Religious rhetoric is all around us these days, especially regarding what God thinks about war, violence, and social justice. It’s also not surprising that a woman who has made her living glorifying base sexuality, crass behavior, and rebellion, would now be “settling down” to make an album about her view of God. She has always made a statement, and this time she is trying her hand at religion. Faith and spirituality are the new trend. Our society has so deconstructed the language of Christianity, and our Creator, for that matter, that any glimmer of the word Christian gains our loyalties and trust. Marketing God is a booming business these days, and we must not give in so easily.

Ms. O’Connor’s understanding of the Old Testament is sadly mistaken. Our God is extremely violent, regardless of her admission of that fact. But He is not violent in the abusive Catholic Priest way, or even in the violence of her home country of Northern Ireland. There has been a lot of talk about the discontinuity between the supposed violent God of the Old Testament, and the peaceful God of the New. There isn’t. The warfare of the Old Testament was fulfilled when Jesus Christ said “my Kingdom is not of this world.” So now we rage not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities that seek to destroy the Kingdom of King Jesus. Our weapons are of the Ephesians 6 kind, not AK-47’s and machetes. And we wage war against the powers of darkness that hold people in bondage to sin, so that they may see Christ. But we also recognize the power of the state to take us to war as necessary, all the while acknowledging that one day all will be made right by our glorious King.

We know the truth about the Word of God because it has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, and if He had not opened our eyes, we, too, would be as lost as Ms. O’Connor. We also know that it never comes back void, even the Psalms and the Prophets. I pray that God would reveal to Ms. O’Connor the whole counsel of God, and point her to the most violent event in human history—the Cross of our Christ.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sunday Devotional: Sarah's Children

And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”—1 Peter 3:6

If you spend any amount of time with a group of women, it won’t be long before you probably will hear “I am so freaking out about this” from one of their mouths. “Freaking out” has become the modern day equivalent to the nervous break down of twenty years ago, and it floods our churches, our homes, our work places, and our very souls.

When Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that we are like Sarah if we do not fear anything that is frightening, he is not saying that the Christian life is free from fear. He is implying that there are very frightening things out there, but you need not fear those things. How we react in frightening times speaks volumes about our belief in the Gospel. Our response to fear is either telling the world that God always keeps His promises, or that God cannot be trusted.

Panic attacks, freaking out, and nervous break downs are not characteristics of a godly woman. In fact, they are characteristics of a woman who has nothing to hope in but herself. Learning to trust in the promises of God often times requires us to go through agonizing suffering and great uncertainty because God knows exactly what we need to conform us into the image of Jesus—even if it means great fear for a season.

If “freaking out” is not becoming of a godly woman, how do we remedy anxiety? Know God through His Word. If we do not know God’s promises, we cannot trust them in the first place. Read, study, and love the whole Bible—Genesis to Revelation. It is there that we will see the power of God in keeping covenant with His people, and it is there where we will find our source of strength. So much of our anxieties can find their calming rest in the precious Words of our God—go to Him, He will not forsake you.

For some of us, frightening circumstances may seem very foreign right now, to others it may seem more real than we would prefer. Regardless of the present, there will come a day when it will not seem so easy, and the reality of the frightening will be very near. Hope in God, dear Christian. Sarah faced great uncertainty: infertility, moving to an unknown land, and a husband who put her in dangerous predicaments. Yet God, in His mercy, molded her into a woman who hoped in God (1 Peter 3:6, Hebrews 11:11).

God cares far more about our reactions than our situations. He lovingly squeezes us until we can joyfully say that Jesus Christ is all, no matter the cost. May our reactions to all things frightening be proclaiming to the lost world around us that God always wins.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Lord willing, in less than a month I will have the tremendous privilege of serving with a team of women (and a few men) from my church in a Jamaican orphanage. Part of our team preparation includes reading a short book about the life of Amy Carmichael. As I have said before, Amy Carmichael is woman whose life and testimony for Christ I greatly admire. The book is entitled Amy Carmichael: Let the Little Children Come and it chronicles her ministry to Indian children at the turn of the 20th century.

Though she has become, to some, a great hero of the faith, she was not admired by her countrymen, or the native Indians around her. The caste system in India created much disdain for the temple children and for little girls in general, often scorning her and calling her work “demeaning”. But for some, she was considered a great blessing, and was frequently asked to speak in churches in her area, though she almost always turned down opportunities to travel away from the children. While reading the other day, this section stuck out to me:

But Amy knew that if she reared Indian children to be strong Christians, they could do more for Him among their own people than any foreigner ever could. She would be multiplying herself over and over in the lives of the children, helping India evangelize India.

For 50 years she taught, rescued, mothered, and served nearly a thousand Indian children, saving them from the horrors of temple prostitution and idol worship, many times at great risk to her own health and life. She wanted India to know the Savior, and she knew that this was only possible through much toil and work.

So much of the Christian life is about perseverance. And in a day where everything is expected to be quick, easy, and painless, a self-less, Cross carrying life, like Amy lived is completely foreign to much of our culture.

Amy’s prayer was answered. To this very day, the Dohnavur Fellowship (which Amy started) still stands, and is run by Indian women. Her work was not “demeaning”. It was a picture of the Gospel, and our own adoption into the family of God. She did not do it for fame, she did not do it for power—she did it so the little ones would know Jesus. James tells us that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). It is pure and undefiled because you get no external return on investing in the lives of orphans and widows. They are helpless. Even our Savior, Jesus Christ, rebuked those who did not love the littlest ones and allow them to come near (Matthew 19:13-14). It is not cool, easy, or powerful to be seen taking care of children, let alone talking to them. But God makes it very clear to us that children are to be welcomed, especially children who have no parents.

Taking care of the poorest of the poor, in the name of Jesus, reflects the Gospel because we too are the poorest of the poor. We were dead in our sins and orphans, but God redeemed us and made us sons of God (Ephesians 1:3-10). May God be pleased to raise up a generation of men and women in the humility and perseverance of Christ, to go to the lowly fatherless children, and point them to the perfect heavenly Father.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

What is Beauty? Part 2

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

The meaning of the last two lines of John Keats’ famous poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is much disputed among literary scholars and students, including my literary theory class in college. While much of the discussion centers on who Keats is really addressing when he speaks about beauty, the essence of this statement speaks to a very real aspect of the nature of true beauty—beauty is truth, beauty points to truth.

Psalm 24:1 says:

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell there in.”

God has created every inch of the universe, every cloud in the sky, and every hair on your head. Our understanding of beauty must first be rooted in a proper theology of God. If God created all things, then the created things should reflect the Creator—God, Himself. And if beauty is truth, then all things, to be truly beautiful, must point to the ultimate truth—God, Himself.

Beauty is not defined by the latest fashion magazine; it is defined by the One who created beauty. Do you purchase new shoes, or get your haircut, or buy new makeup to put Christ on display, or for man’s empty praise?

There is a common misconception among evangelicals that beauty is something to be avoided, but if God created the earth and saw that it was good (Genesis 1:31), we must believe that He didn’t create it ugly and call it good. Why are we drawn to things that are attractive, if God does not want things to be beautiful? It is our fallen nature that distorts true beauty. God created us with a desire for things beautiful because He wants us to worship Him. When we divorce beauty from God we wind up with a host of problems.

So how does this affect us in our daily date with the mirror and closet? If your shirt is drawing more attention to body parts then your person, it is not declaring the beauty and truth of Christ. If your outfit is drawing more attention to your impeccable style then your heart for Jesus, it is not declaring true beauty. We should want to be beautiful, but not so we can win pageant awards and a host of boyfriends. We should want to be beautiful because we want people to see our Christ.

Peter addressed this in 1 Peter 3:3:

“Do not let your adornment be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing.”

Now surely Peter is not telling us to forego clothing. He isn’t. Rather, he is saying that our outward appearance should not define us, and most certainly should not be a distraction in worship and daily living. There is much freedom in the Gospel regarding make-up use, hair styles, and clothing. But, all of these things should seek a common purpose—the truth of the Gospel. Christians, of all people, should be the most beauty seeking ones in society because we know the real source and definition of beauty.

No matter how many times a college student, or academic, can try and deconstruct the language of truth, the heavens are not silent—they are declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Is your appearance declaring the same thing? Do you seek to point people to Jesus, or to your new American Eagle shirt? May our lives and appearance be declaring the same thing—Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

To be continued (imperishable beauty and the beauty of fearing the Lord)…