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Knowledge puffs up

12 Sep

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones,

“It is possible for a believer who . . . sincerely recognizes the Bible as his sole authority, and desires to submit himself wholeheartedly to its evident meaning—it is still possible for such a man to go astray by becoming purely theoretical in his attitude towards this precious knowledge. It can happen to all, but I emphasize again that it is the particular danger of those who have keen minds, and who desire to understand and to grow in knowledge. The devil knowing us as he does, always suits the particular form of temptation to our exact mentality. At this point I am not referring to people who do not read the Scriptures, or indeed little else, and who say, ‘I am interested in nothing but my experience’. The devil does not trouble such people in this way, but to those who truly long to grow and develop, he comes and says, ‘Of course, you are quite right; what you need, and what everyone else needs, is more and more of this knowledge’. But he presses the thought so far that in the end they get into a condition in which their whole relationship to truth is purely theoretical and academic. And this involves the terrible danger of becoming more concerned about, and more interested in, our intellectual knowledge of Christian truth than in our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and if the devil with all his wiles can beguile us into this condition he is more than satisfied. In other words, it is the failure to realize that the ultimate end of all knowledge is to bring us to a knowledge of the Person Himself. We are not to stop at knowledge concerning Him, precious though that is, and vital.”

We all wrestle…

11 Sep

I remember when I was young I would watch the Summer Olympics and I suppose, because I liked the glory of it, I wanted to take part someday myself and so after whatever event I was enjoying was finished, I would often go outside and try to do what I had seen myself and I sort of thought, I am embarrassed to say, if I just ran my fastest or swam my best a couple of times, then maybe I could somehow be able to be part of the Olympics.

I had no idea of the training that was involved. (Or the natural gifting!)

I don’t think I was all that unusual. That’s the way young people often think about life. They get excited and they start to try something; but they really have no conception, no idea of how much effort is involved in the whole thing, all they see is that moment on television, they don’t see the thousands of hours in the gym, and so when they try and fail, they give up so quickly, like I used to do when I found out I couldn’t run a two hour marathon the first time I tried.

And that I think, honestly is a problem a lot of people have in the Christian life as well.

People sometimes see someone who is doing well and they want to do well and so they try but they don’t really know all the struggle that is involved in it and so when they start sweating and struggling spiritually they think something strange is going on and they give up, when really as we see in many passages throughout Scripture, the Christian life is a struggle.

Take Ephesians 6:12.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against rulers and authorities…

The key word there is wrestle.

We all wrestle.

In the verse before this one, verse 11, Paul says put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand, but here he switches over to the word we; almost as if he wants to stress, that this wrestling or struggling is true across the board for every believer. It’s not just weak believers who have to wrestle and struggle, even believers like Paul had to wrestle, we all do. Don’t ever think the fact that you struggle makes you so different than everyone else here at church.

As one old Puritan once said, “Pretty much every Christian duty involves some kind of struggle for pretty much every Christian person.”

We sometimes think I don’t do that and that other person does because it is harder for me.

Well, yeah I guess that some of us struggle with particular temptations in different ways more than others and we definitely do grow and get better at certain things as we mature spiritually; but you know still, honestly we all wrestle. I am not trying to bum you out, because there really is spiritual growth and certain things do get easier as you go along spiritually but I do want to take away this excuse that people make where somehow they think the Christian life is so much easier for other people, because Paul says here we all wrestle.

Wrestle.

This is in the present tense.

Paul doesn’t say, we wrestled as if you only struggle way back at the beginning of your Christian life when you are first converted and he doesn’t say we will wrestle, as if you only struggle at certain times in your Christian life, no this is the every day Christian life.

Now honestly I think that’s a real rebuke to a certain kind of Christianity that talks as if once you become a believer everything is supposed to be nothing but easy street and it also rebukes the kind of person who says he is a Christian but isn’t wrestling, who isn’t trying to put off sin and working on becoming more like Christ, you know the only kind of person who doesn’t wrestle, a dead one.

I sometimes talk to people who are worried about whether or not they are Christians because they are having such a fight with sin and they don’t like it, they wish they were different and they are trying, but they hate the fact that they fail and you know, usually I am actually very encouraged when people speak to me like that because from what I know about dead men, they don’t wrestle. I don’t see too many wrestling matches in cemeteries and the fact that a person is engaged and fighting and hating the fact that he sins and worried about his weakness and wishing he was different, that’s a good sign that he actually is alive spiritually because spiritually dead men don’t really wrestle either.

Don’t let the fact that the Christian life is a struggle cause you not to work, it should instead encourage you to work harder because this is what our life in this world right now is like, we wrestle.

Five Tests for Missionaries

9 Sep

John Piper

“The utterly crucial question for many of you, as you have prayed and thought about giving your life, or a substantial part of it, to missions, is: Can I do this? Can I bear this weight of being the aroma of Christ in some new place? By God’s grace, you can.

Paul gives us five tests . . . to help us know that. I will turn them into questions for you to answer:

1) Do you treasure Christ enough so that you do not peddle his word? Paul says, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word.” That is, these peddlers don’t love Christ. They love money and use Christ. So the first test is: Do you love Christ more than money?

Strictly, the next four phrases in verse 17 all modify the word speak. Literally: we speak 2) from sincerity, 3) from God, 4) before God, 5) in Christ. So I ask you:

2) Will you speak from sincerity? Will you be real? Will you mean what you say? Will you renounce all pretense and hypocrisy?

3) Will you speak as from God? That is, will you take not only your commission from God, but your words and your authority from God. Will you speak his words and not your own. Will you speak in his authority and not your own? Will you draw your strength and guidance from his power and wisdom, not your own?

4) Will you speak as before God? That is, will you reckon him to be your judge and no man? Will you care more about his assessment of your words and not be deterred by human criticism?

5) Will you speak as in Christ? That is, will you get your identity and your assurance and your confidence and your hope and your courage from your union with Christ?

There are no perfect missionaries. The answer to these questions should be: O yes, Lord, as much as I know my heart, that is what I intend to be. Help me. To love you more than money. To be real and sincere. To speak your word. To fear no man. To get all I need from Christ.”

Dealing with regrets in ministry

21 Aug

Every once in a while you will hear someone who has been in the ministry for a long time and has achieved some measure of success asked whether or not they have any regrets.

Twice now I have heard different leaders sort of stumble as they try to answer that question, finally saying no, not really, they can’t think of anything in particular.

And I guess there’s a sense in which I understand what they mean if they are referring to the sovereignty of God over their lives and ministries. I have absolutely no regrets about the way in which God has treated me. How can you regret grace upon grace? But on the other hand I definitely have a hard time understanding their answer if they are referring to their own actions in the ministry.

No regrets?

Are you serious?

I have only been a pastor for twelve years now and I look back on the way I have served and I have all kinds of things I wish I would have done better. If I didn’t believe in justification by faith alone through grace alone, I would be wrecked (and I am not even naturally an emotional up and down kind of guy.) What makes my regrets so painful I think, is not so much the way my own failures have effected my life (because it seems to me God has often done the most amazing things in my life through those very failures), what makes these regrets so regrettable is the way I imagine my ministry failures have potentially impacted others. A failure to confront when I should have confronted, a lack of love, a failure in leadership, I can easily see how someone could be paralyzed in terms of service, because there are just so many ways to go wrong even when you are trying to do what is right. In fact, sometimes you are doing right and wrong at the same time and you don’t even know it.

I think this is a big part of why I am so thankful for the truth Paul expresses in Philippians 1:6.

He writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul was confident that God would finish what he started in these believers lives. Obviously that didn’t make Paul lazy and it didn’t cause him to be less careful about personal holiness, but I am sure it gave him confidence. It certainly does that for me. It means if the work in a person’s life is real, it is not something I began and it’s not something I can stop. Knowing that takes away undue pride in the results I might see in ministry, but I will gladly give that pride up, because knowing this also takes away undue anxiety over how my inadequacies might mess people up. I can’t stop the work of God.

Now any person who sees a truth like this as an excuse for a lack of spiritual growth and a lack of seriousness about the ministry needs a good kick in the pants. Of course. And any person who sees this as a reason for a complacent and apathetic attitude towards one’s actions in the ministry is seriously distorting this truth. I get that. But for others of us, for the kind of person who feels so inadequate to be representing the King of the Universe, not because of a lack of spiritual growth or seriousness about the ministry, but just because of the ways we see how we have failed to be exactly like Jesus the way we wish we could be and know we should be, this is exactly the kind of truth we can and must apply to our lives and ministries when we begin dwelling on our regrets.

Do you really think you are the only one who loves that person you want to minister to? God loves them so much more than you. And do you really think that you are so important that if you fail, God will fail to accomplish what He has planned? And knowing that transforms the way we think about our regrets. Instead of dwelling in self-pity or being paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake, we rejoice even as we sorrow in a gracious God who uses imperfect people as part of His great plan to glorify Himself and glorify His people as well.

Think it Through!

20 Aug

Instead of immediately jumping on one side, John Frame encourages us to think carefully about the following options when we come upon a controversy between two people.

“1.) That the two parties may be looking at the same issue from different perspectives, so they don’t really contradict.
2.) That both parties are overlooking something that could have brought them together.
3.) That they are talking past one another because they use terms in different ways.
4.) That there is a third alternative that is better than either of the opposing views and that might bring them together.
5.) That their differences, though genuine, ought both to be tolerated in the church, like the differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters in Romans 14.”

The only “problem” with these suggestions is that thinking these things through actually takes work and concern for other people’s good and it doesn’t feed our pride nearly as well as simply closing our eyes, siding with one person and going on the attack against the other.

Jesus on what is necessary

15 Aug

1. Jesus being in the Father’s House

Luke 2:49, “Did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in my Father’s house.”

2. Jesus preaching the good news

Luke 4:43, “It is necessary I preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, for I was sent for this purpose.”

3. Jesus suffering, dying and rising again

Luke 9:22, “It is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

13:33, “It is necessary I go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

17:25, “It is necessary first for the Son of Man to suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

24:7, “It is necessary that the Son of Man be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

24:26, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter His glory?”

4. Obedience and mercy

Luke 11:42, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice and the love of God. It is necessary for you to have done these without neglecting the others.”

13:16, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And is it not necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

5. Rejoicing over the salvation of sinners

Luke 15:32, “It is necessary to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive, he was lost and is found.”

6. Praying without giving up

Luke 18:1, “And he told them a parable that it is necessary always to pray and not lose heart.”

7. Pursuing the salvation of sinners

Luke 19:5, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for it is necessary I stay at your house today.”

8. Suffering in this world

Luke 21:9, “And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for it is necessary these things first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

9. The Scriptures to be fulfilled in Jesus

Luke 22:36,37, “But now let the one who has a money bag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that it is necessary that this Scripture be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

24:44, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that it is necessary for everything that is written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms to be fulfilled.”

On the Need for Gospel Transformed Fathers

9 Aug

The first command Paul gives fathers in Ephesians 6:4 is not to provoke their children to anger.

And I think the fact that he begins here teaches us something significant about the way the gospel changes parenting.

If I say to someone who doesn’t know the gospel, that this person over here needs to obey you completely, what would be the typical way for that person to respond, at least in their heart?

I think the typical response would be to think that’s awesome and to begin thinking about the different ways you can use that person to do what you want. And that is because no matter how nice we may appear on the outside, we are by nature as human beings, extremely self-centered and that is true of the best of us. Our primary core interest is self-interest. And this is why time and time again when a person gets into a position of power and especially if there are no limits on that power, he ends up abusing that power. How many stories have we heard of men who before they were in positions of power were working for the good of their country changing direction once they were given power over that country and using all the power they had been given for their own good. That is the typical way people use power, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s very surprising and those people usually become heros who stand out because we are all surprised that they didn’t use power to pursue their self-interest because that’s kind of just what we expect to happen in this world.

It is very typical for us to take power and use it for our own interests.

And if you have any doubt about that, you can just think about the way many fathers act in cultures where they are given unlimited power over their families. Does this position of power and respect make them more caring and servant-hearted towards their families? Not usually. How common is it to find lazy, self-seeking fathers who are demanding respect that their actions don’t deserve? These kind of men are everywhere.

And because of that, the world’s response to these kind of abuses of power and authority is to try to attack the very idea of power and authority; and that is probably part of why you see where I come from in the United States as an example that fathers no longer really have the kind of respect in their families that they do in many places in Africa, and if men ask for that kind of respect they usually are looked on as dictators automatically.

What we see here in Ephesians though is that the gospel’s way of dealing with this problem is radically different.

Because the gospel doesn’t deal with abuses of power and authority by getting rid of the idea of authority but instead by challenging and changing the way people in authority view their position of authority.

Just take what we find here in Ephesians 6, where Paul talks to fathers.

Because you see in verses 1 through 3 that Paul does not minimize the child’s responsibility to his parents. In fact, he very clearly tells children that they are responsible for obeying their parents in everything as a way of honoring the Lord and he encourages them that this is something that pleases God by pointing them to the promises God attaches to these commands.

What makes this passage so different is that Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on in Ephesians 6:4 to challenge fathers not to use the authority they have been given in self-centered ways by telling them that they too have a responsibility before God and that is not to use their positions of power in ways that provoke their children to anger or discouragement.

And what that means is that when Paul tells us that our children are to obey us completely, we should not respond by thinking to ourselves this is awesome that God has given me slaves for eighteen years, how much can I get out of them but instead by thinking, wow, this is a real responsibility, oh God, help me not to use this power for my own selfish interest but for my child’s long term good.

Now can you imagine if parents really were like that? Fathers, especially? What would happen to this country? To this world.

And it is part of by the way, why I am convinced that if you really want to make an impact on Africa and change Africa, you should be first and foremost committed to the local church and to the proclamation of the gospel and especially to the hard work of making disciples who are applying the gospel to their lives. You know one reason why we have so many leaders in positions of power in Africa who are using those positions of power for their own good instead of to serve the people? It’s because we have so many fathers who are setting that kind of example in their homes. Where you have self-centered fathers and mothers, you have self-centered leaders and governments.

If you want a different kind of government in your country, you need to start by having different kind of leaders in your homes. Leaders who take this first responsibility Paul gives seriously, to not parent in such a way that makes it easier for their children to sin.