March 10, 2014 by
If you were to choose one thing to do on a daily or weekly basis, something that you thought would have the greatest impact on your church, not just in your life but for the next 30 years, what would you do? Invite people to your care group? Witness to your neighbors? Read your Bible more regularly?
All those are good things to do and would have a tremendous impact on your church. But I want to suggest one answer that many of you are already doing, one that might seem too mundane to make the list. If you want to change the world, teach children the gospel.
Surprised? I was struck by this thought while reading the book Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen Nichols. In 1529, as Luther was touring Germany and visiting churches that had sprung up in the aftermath of the Reformation, he was dismayed by the poor spiritual condition of many of the young congregations he observed. His solution? Write a catechism to train pastors and a catechism to train children. The latter, called The Small Catechism, was one of two books that Luther considered his most important writings (this from a man whose translated writings fill 55 volumes!).
But Luther was convinced that training the next generation was crucial to ensuring that the preaching of the gospel would continue long after his life. “The youth is the church’s nursery and fountainhead,” he wrote. “I admonish you parents, [that if] you do not help, we shall accomplish little with our preaching.” In another place he wrote, “We cannot perpetuate [Christian doctrine] unless we train the people who come after us and succeed us in our office and work, so that they in turn may bring up their children successfully. Thus the Word of God and the Christian church will be preserved” (p. 163 and 164 of Nichols’ biography).
Do you want to change your church for the better, to give yourself to something that will impact our community for generations to come? Then keep training children, yours and those who sit in your classes, to know, love, and cherish the gospel. Only God can cause their salvation, but he uses means. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
Parents, breakfast table devotions or bedtime Scripture stories may not seem like a big deal, but they are the seeds from which men and women planted deep in streams of living water grow. Children’s ministry teachers and workers, an hour on Sunday mornings trying to keep the attention of a dozen five-year-olds, follow a lesson plan, and keep Goldfish crackers from being ground into the carpet might seem like wasted time, but you are doing pioneering mission work among people who are only just beginning to know the name of Christ.
So let us train our children and teach our classes, for the glory of our God and the gratitude of future generations who will themselves hear gospel from these little ones in our care!
March 7, 2014 by
Mary Beth Odom
Gratitude is imperative in the life of a believer, and if you ask my kids, they would say it is imperative in our home too. It wasn’t until my four-year-old asked, “Mommy, why do I have to say thank you all the time?” that I began to consider something…Gratitude can seem like a peculiar requirement until you understand the heart behind it.
It is clear throughout scripture that God desires, even commands his people to be a thankful people. Psalms is filled with imperatives to praise and give thanks to God. In Colossians, we are called to sing, give, and even abound in thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances…” Yet like my son, there have been times when I’ve asked, “God, why do you ask me to give thanks in all circumstances? How can I be grateful in this?” God has been answering these questions, showing me his heart behind this command, and showing me his power that enables me to obey it.
Gratitude is a means to joy.
Whether you are 4 or 34, you may question the command of gratitude, especially in a trial. At one time, even C.S. Lewis wrestled with the seemingly vain idea of a God who asked his people to praise him. God opened his eyes to the purposes and love behind such a command, and he wrote, “If it were possible for a created soul fully….to ‘appreciate,’ that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude…” (A Reflection on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis).
Why does God desire that we give him thanks? Because he desires to give us joy. It is a mysterious and beautiful work that God does when our weak hearts, struggling to feel thankful, begin to express gratitude. It becomes a glorious exchange. When we, recipients of unfathomable mercy and grace return our thanks and praise, he continues to pour out blessings, and ultimately himself, for our delight and infinite joy.
Gratitude is cultivated by the gospel.
As I began to understand why God commands me to “give thanks in all circumstances,” I still wrestled with how. It is easy to be thankful when things are going well, but how do we conjure up feelings of gratitude when our hearts are broken? The answer is…we can’t. But as the lyric says “though there is pain in the offering,” we still thank him, and he draws near. He inhabits our praises with his presence, and he empowers them with his truth…his glorious gospel. It is his truth that informs our feelings, giving substance and power to cultivate our gratitude.
A wise man once told me, “A person who gets the gospel will be grateful.” Gratitude will overflow from a heart that is walking in light of the gospel, but if my hope is in anything else, I am anything but grateful. It seems that gratefulness (or my lack thereof) is quite the barometer of my heart.
It wasn’t until I was in the midst of a trial that I began to see this. God taught me something about gratitude and its correlation to my grasp of the gospel that will forever change me. I stumbled upon a work entitled “Thankfulness Enriched by Relief” by Milton Vincent. These words helped me to understand how the gospel instructs and even enriches my gratitude:
When I look at any circumstance that God apportions for me, I am first grateful for the wrath I am not receiving in that moment. Second, I am grateful for the blessings that are given to me instead of His wrath…this two-layered gratitude disposes my heart to give thanks in all things and it also lends a certain intensity to my giving of thanks. (The Gospel Primer, p.48)
Making these two distinctions of the wrath I am not receiving and the blessings in Christ I do receive is so helpful in giving me perspective or a “gospel lens” to view my circumstances through. Vincent says, “Life’s blessings, however small, always appear exceedingly precious when viewed against the backdrop of the wrath I deserve.” (p. 48)
The command of gratitude is not peculiar, but loving.
As I require my kids to express thanks, I want to point them to their heavenly Father who does as well. If they ask why, I want them to know that the command to give thanks is not peculiar, but loving; and that being grateful, even when it is hard, is for their good and ultimately their joy. If they wonder how they can always be thankful, I will remind them of the grace and mercy we have in Christ, praying that the gospel becomes the fuel of their gratitude.
It is because of his sovereign love and care for us that God calls us to “give thanks in all circumstances.” The verse continues on to say “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). God’s will is for his glory and our joy, and gratitude is a means to that end.
Friend, if you are lacking joy or struggling to be thankful in the midst of difficult circumstances as I was, turn once again to the gospel. Consider any circumstance or trial in comparison to the wrath that you deserve. Remember the mercy and grace that are yours in Christ. Express gratitude, even in the midst of pain. God will show you why he deserves your gratitude, and he will overwhelm you with reasons to give him thanks. As you do, God will be glorified, and as Vincent wrote, he will leave you “truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy” (p. 48).
Mary Beth Odom and her husband, Dave, live near Nashville, Tennessee, where Dave is the lead pastor of Redeeming Grace Church. They have four children.
March 3, 2014 by
A Practice Session
The key to effective meditation on Scripture is in asking good questions and then using your imagination to visualize the specific obedience that the Holy Spirit wants you to form in your life in response to those Scriptures.
Psalm 1 is a great place to start our journey of meditation. Here are some questions that open up the text and our hearts connection to the text, while preparing us for the specific heart adjustments we are seeking. You might consider using these questions to guide your meditation over a two-week period of time, pondering two or three questions per day.
Questions to Facilitate Meditation
- What does the imagery of verse 1 convey to my mind? What is the primary point being expressed? Try to articulate this in one sentence.
- What is the secret of the strength that will enable me to live like this?
- What is it that motivates someone to ponder Scripture night and day?
- Why does this give such pleasure, and where does this delight come from?
- What is the essence of this pleasure? (see Isaiah 33:17, Luke 24:27,44, and 2 Corinthians 3:18)
- The sweetest part of the word is Christ. What truth about Christ is delighting and satisfying my heart these days?
- What are some specific ways I find myself easily associating with and influenced by worldly values...especially through technology?
- What verses and passages am I presently memorizing to facilitate meditation during the day (and night)?
- When a tree is planted, it requires many years to mature and grow before it bears fruit. What does this imagery teach me about the correlation between multiple times of sowing the Word into my life before the harvest of godliness becomes evident? What does it teach me about the importance of patience and perseverance?
- The fruit of the tree is from the tree but not for the tree. It nourishes others, and the seed within the fruit provides the possibility of future multiplication of new trees. What does this teach me about the connection between personal meditation, ministry to others, and multiplication into others?
- Verse 3 provides a biblical definition of “success” (one who prospers). What are the characteristics? How is this different from a worldly definition of success? (see Psalm 73:3–5,12)
- What is the relationship between perseverance and prospering? How does a “leaf that does not wither” illustrate this? Why does the leaf not wither in the harsh desert climate of the Middle East?
- “The wicked are not so” (vs 4). Think of all the characteristics of the righteous in verses 1–3. Write down the exact opposites. Do any of these characterize my life?
- “Chaff” is not a familiar metaphor in the modern world. Many people have never seen chaff. It’s the nutrient-free, weightless, valueless husk of the grain. Make a list comparing the qualities of a tree with chaff. Try to include at least 10 items on the list.
- What is the connection between the standing in verse 1 and verse 5? Note that the one who stands in verse 1 cannot stand in verse 5.
- Verse 5 gives us insight into the righteous (inversely). Here then are two further elements of the “prosperity” of the righteous. Note the present and future aspects of this prosperity.
- In verse 2, the righteous person’s relation to God is given in individual terms. In verse 5, it is given in communal terms. Therefore, we may suppose that the benefits of the Word experienced in verse 2 will be experienced in a greatly amplified way in a community filled with people practicing the meditation of verse 2. How can small groups be a form of this communal meditation?
- Verse 6 speaks of two ways of living and two outcomes in the present and the future. Note the attentiveness of God toward those who are attentive to his word. Note also that those who neglect and devalue the word become worthless themselves and eventually perish.
- Verse 2 holds the key to everything good in this Psalm. There are three areas we need to pray about. First, a renewed commitment to meditation of the Word. Secondly, a renewed passion for the Word. Finally, a new habit where the Word governs and seeps into every crack and crevice of our lives by repeated habituated pondering. Start to pray for these three Spirit-given graces.
- Romans tells us we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). 2 Corinthians tells us we are to make every thought “captive to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Meditation is the surest route to both outcomes. Consider asking a few others in your church to start memorizing and meditating on Scripture with you for mutual encouragement and mind renewal.
Download a simple booklet of key verses (PDF), designed to encourage you on this journey of faith.
February 28, 2014 by
1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1–3
Psalm 1 is a fantastic, concise manual on the spiritual discipline of meditation. The first principle we discover about meditation is that images and pictures greatly enhance the process of meditation. Meditation is not an exercise in theoretical or philosophical abstraction. The very nature of meditation requires concrete thinking.
One way to move our hearts from abstract to clear thinking is through the use of pictures and images. Westerners tend to be more linear and rigidly logical than Easterners and can often find “a sanctified imagination” more challenging to cultivate. But meditation thrives when the imagination is used in the service of godliness.
Note this in verse 1 and verse 3 of Psalm 1. The picture employed in verse 1 is something all of us can easily relate to—walking, standing, and sitting. We do this every day, many times a day. These words of course represent the way we live and relate to others, but the imagery helps us to conceptualize the truth much better than hearing something like “blessed is the man who isn't influenced by godless people.”
The same goes for the balancing truth taught in verse 3. Comparing a godly person to a tree evokes many meaningful images in the mind and practical trajectories. The imagery is intended to stimulate concrete encouragement, patience, and then faith-filled expectation.
In the middle of this concise spiritual sandwich is the meat that makes it all happen. Here in verse 2, we find the explanation for the lifestyle choices of verse 1 and the lasting fruitfulness promised in verse 3.
In verse 2, we find something that is utterly foreign to much of North American Christianity with all its hyper-activity, programs, jam-packed schedules, pressing commitments, and the accompanying harried, tired lives that this constant busyness produces. We discover a person with a thought life not primary stimulated by the pressing frenetic world around them but instead, by a hidden stream of supernatural nourishment.
We find a life that has found something better than the delights of technology, or the latest movie or viral You Tube video, or a cruise vacation to live and long for, or the next big conference or vacation, or that next big anticipated purchase. The Scriptures are described as such a pleasure that the man cannot leave these living words long out of his consciousness. It's very much like the mind of a young man in love who is utterly captivated by the woman of his dreams!
So the question is, where does this powerful delight come from? I believe verse 2 is actually a closed circle. The meditation leads to the delight, which leads to more constant meditation, which leads to even greater delight, and so on.
When we first went to Japan, every place I visited served me green tea and rice crackers. I thought both were rather bland and unappetizing. But I persevered. Then one day several months later, I found myself waiting for green tea and rice crackers AND CRAVING THEM! Whoa! How did that happen?! I don't know, but I have loved them ever since. I now consider green tea and rice crackers an exceptionally refreshing and enjoyable treat (as does my whole family).
I suggest that it is the persevering practice of meditation in God's Word that in the end gives us the joy-filled delight for that Word. As we keep partaking, God gives us a taste for and delight in what we had previously found bland and unexciting.
So here's what I recommend. Consider stopping your regular pattern of Bible reading for two short weeks for a “meditation refresher.” Instead, memorize Psalm 1 over that time. While memorizing, start to ask yourself thoughtful questions and answer those questions throughout your day. Here are 4 questions that could potentially revolutionize the impact of this Psalm on your life:
- Think of a question that discovers your understanding of the text.
- Think of a question that deepens your understanding of the text.
- Think of a question that discovers your practice in relation to the text.
- Think of a question that deepens your practice in relationship to the text.
Coming up with good questions usually takes time. Each question should mine the text (first two), and mine your heart (last two), and then lead to specific “pictures” of application. Visualize the specific application and then pray for the Holy Spirit to materialize those “sanctified thoughts” in concrete decisions, words, and actions until the “law of the Lord” becomes part and parcel of who you are.
February 26, 2014 by
When we eat a meal, the food is inside our bodies, but it isn't actually part of our bodies yet. Over time, the food is broken down and transferred into the bloodstream where it actually becomes part of the body it originally entered. Meditation is the spiritual equivalent of digestion of God's Word so that it actually becomes part of our worldview, our values, our impulses, our thoughts, and our affections.
In fact, meditation has the power to transform lives in ways that reading and study of Scriptures cannot. This is because the essence of meditation is to ponder how passages fit into the cracks and crevices of our lives—“You shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Reading Scripture is like chewing the food and getting the flavor in your mouth. Studying is like swallowing the food—understanding what the passage means so that it can be put to good use in the life. But meditation is like the digestion process—it is the process of making the Bible part of who we actually are.
I suggest that our often anemic spiritual lives are related to the fact that much (maybe most) of the spiritual food we consume is never digested and incorporated into our lives. Meditation on Scripture seems to be largely missing from most believers' lives.
I believe there are three main reasons for this. First, we don't hear much about meditation. It rarely is blogged about, and there are precious few books on the subject in our bookstores. As a result, it's not even on our radar (though it should be, because it is often spoken of in Scripture).
Secondly, we live in an age of constant distractions where one can hardly finish one conversation with someone without it being interrupted by a text, email, or phone call. This is the era of multi-tasking. We have information overload on so many levels (including blogs like this one). As a result we have a hard time being still and quiet and just taking time to think. And meditation takes time—undistracted time—something in short supply. So we don't bother with meditation.
Thirdly, there is great spiritual resistance to meditation from both our flesh and the powers of darkness. The spiritual disciplines that bring the most damage to the kingdom of darkness are most fiercely opposed by that kingdom.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Romans 7:21–23
Verse 21 reveals a spiritual law. When I want to do right, something like meditating on God's Word, I soon discover evil resisting every impulse to do so. Delay, distraction, temptation, sleepiness, a sudden sense of unworthiness, and scores of other tactics are used to keep us from meditating on God's Word.
Thankfully, the power of God's grace is greater than the power of sin in and around us (Romans 5:20). We need only to breathe out the prayer, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47), and we are conveyed grace to overcome and obey through the person of the Holy Spirit gently exerting his will upon ours. This he delights to do, for he wrote the book we desire to meditate upon.
One last thought. Psalm 1:3 speaks of the meditating one as “like a tree planted by streams of water.” The phrase “streams of water” literally means “a channel of water” as in an irrigation canal. The meditating person is “planted” (deliberate choice) beside an irrigation canal (deliberate choice to funnel water to make it useful). The tree represents the strength of the meditating person. The water represents the Word that makes the person strong. The person's proximity to the Word is made by deliberate choice. Space for this practice must be carefully created. Time must be set aside in the schedule. Alarms must be set. A quiet undistracted place must be chosen. Cell phones must be turned off (gasp!). Family cooperation must be requested...a few deliberate choices that open up the amazing world of meditation to us!
February 24, 2014 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
Shirley Kamenar is part of Sovereign Grace Church Toronto, Ontario. Just like every conversion story, Shirley's story highlights the mercy of God in seeking saving her when she was hopeless. Be encouraged as you hear from Shirley about what the Savior has done in her life.
My story is one that points to the Shepherd who eagerly pursues even one lost sheep. Prior to my salvation, God was at work to lead and direct me to himself. Growing up in a family that had some religious background (Presbyterian and Catholic) but were not churchgoers, God began my salvation journey by bringing people and circumstances into my life to make me aware of the things of God.
My grandmother spoke to me of God's love and demonstrated faith in Jesus even through a lifetime of hardship. At an invitation from the Presbyterian church where my parents were married and had me christened, my parents happily sent me to Sunday School. At age ten, I remember learning about the gospel and having several opportunities to give my life to Jesus. I felt drawn to follow Christ but chose to wait, despite a growing awareness of God through my preteen years.
After holding back from following Christ, I spent the next ten years living a worldly life, sinning without remorse and never thinking about God. However, fun times, good friends, and loving parents were still not enough to fill the emptiness I felt. By the time I was 18, my fruitless search for happiness and a broken relationship had taken a toll when I attempted suicide. No one could have guessed how hopeless I felt. My parents were crushed and confused by my desperation, and they tried so hard to help me.
Where human help could not reach, however, God was at work. When I left home for university, I moved into a nurses’ residence, unaware that it was in the heart of Toronto's homosexual community. In that environment, God began to open my eyes to sin—my own and the sin around me. My observations and growing discontent with relationships and material things led me to question the purpose of life. I felt lost in the world without knowing why, and I craved the happiness in life that so many others seemed to enjoy.
After finishing college, God graciously intervened by pursuing me once again. I was invited to share a house with three Christian girls from the residence. They were different from any girls I knew. Besides their genuine care for others and their sweet dispositions, it was mostly the assurance they had of God's love and acceptance that convinced me that they had what I was missing. They gave me a Bible, invited me to church, and within a few short months, I eagerly put my trust in Christ.
How different everything has been since then! My search for happiness and contentment in the things of this world is now satisfied by a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. My desire for acceptance has been met with the promise that I am a child of God as it says in John 1:12. Insecurity and anxiety were replaced with the surety that I am in the “shelter of the Most High and in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). I was delivered from my self-destructive ways and was made new (Colossians 1:13–14).
I am ashamed of my sinful past, but it serves as a helpful reminder of where I've come from and of the power of the cleansing blood of Jesus. To this day (thirty years this month), God is my helper. He graciously continues to show me areas of sin in my life and enables me to change. My weakness is often still to fret and worry and even assume the worst, but the many promises of God remind me that he is sovereign and has taken care of the most important thing.
I am thankful for the many kindnesses of God, which include my husband Steve, our seven children, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, two grandsons, and our church. God has provided much help and direction through our pastor, Tim Kerr, and his wife Joanne, who have faithfully and tenderly cared for our souls over the years. Their constant example of extending grace has led me to a deeper understanding of the message of the gospel. God has “given me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet [do] not slip” (Psalm 38:6), but I do long for the day when I will finally see my Saviour face to face.
February 20, 2014 by
“Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.” Proverbs 4:1–2
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to capture for myself and for my three boys what it means for them to become men. I felt God convicting me and challenging me to press in with a more intentional leadership in this area. Specifically, I realized with the help of my wife that it is too easy for me to bring great intentionality to leading the church or the elders at Covenant Fellowship and not give sufficient attention to intentional spiritual leadership in the home.
Thankfully, there is an abundance of grace in Christ for dads who fall short. There is pardoning grace, and there is empowering grace. It is never too late for men to step up and be the spiritual leaders God has called us to be.
I realize not every dad will approach this the same way. But I decided to develop a short list of categories that bring focus to my discipleship of my sons. Conversations with other dads helped me in the process. The list is mostly for me, so I have something to keep before me as I attempt to raise boys into men. But I have also hoped the categories serve my sons as they grow up. Welcome to Man School.
Growing from boyhood into a mature man
- Be a Hard Worker! (Industry) Do chores and physical labor. Accept responsibility. Learn new skills. Create things.
- Be a Peacemaker! (Love) Be a good friend. Share. Forgive others and overlook an offense. Honor God in conflict. Think before you speak.
- Be a Good Sportsman! (Humility) Try your best. Don’t quit. Have a good attitude. Encourage others. Don’t boast.
- Be a Teachable Student! (Wisdom) Study hard. Do your best in school. Read often. Pay attention. Ask questions to learn.
- Be an Adventurer! (Imagination) Try new things. Be brave and courageous. Play outside. Create and discover.
- Be a Money Manager! (Stewardship) Give generously to the church. Bless others. Remember to save. Be honest. Spend and invest wisely.
- Be a Lover of God! (Worship) Spend time in God’s Word. Pray. Sing songs and rejoice in the Lord. Love the church. Learn theology.
- Be a Gentleman! (Manhood) Respect and honor women. Have good manners. Offer to help others. Be clean, neat, and organized.
May God help us as fathers as we labor in the happy and challenging work of bringing our sons from boyhood into mature manhood.
February 19, 2014 by
When I was a young man, I lived in a black-and-white universe. In fact, I thought any talk about “grey areas” was tantamount to spiritual compromise. However, as I have gotten older, suffered a little more, and lived in the hard edges of life, I have realized that the Bible isn't just a book about law and grace. It has a large section in the middle devoted to wisdom because sanctification usually requires more than just a simple “yes” or “no” for holiness to happen. Sometimes what is right in one instance is not right in another instance. As parents, we deal differently with each of our children because their personality, their temptations, and their levels of maturity are different and unique. The standard is the same, but the way of getting there is often quite different.
As I have pondered this need of wisdom for true progress in sanctification, I have thought about how the right or wrong emphasis can make all the difference between truth and error, and between beauty and ugliness. Think of a realistically drawn picture of someone’s face. Proper emphasis is everything. If the nose is too big and the eyes too narrow, the drawing doesn't look at all like the person being drawn (unless the person being drawn happens to be myself). If one makes cookies but exchanges the proportions of salt and sugar in the recipe, it doesn't taste at all the same. If fact, the cookies will make you gag.
Consider the emphasis we give to the twin truths of God as a righteous judge of sinners and God as merciful to sinners. Both truths are taught in Scripture. To hold to one without the other is to drift into a false view of God. Yet is there an emphasis difference in the way these truths are presented in holy Scripture? I believe there is. When we read through the books of 1 and 2 Kings, for example, we find God warning the people through prophets again and again. Finally, after many years, he brings about the judgment that he warned them about. This gives us an insight into God's heart, revealing a God who is a reluctant judge of his people. He appears to will judgment unwillingly where his people are concerned.
Yet how different it is when it comes to his mercy! Consider the passage in Isaiah 55 where God wonderfully declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).
What is He referring to? Verses 6–7 make it clear that God is inclined toward mercy. When God says he is not like us, he is saying, “You are inclined to judgment and reluctant to show mercy—but I'm different...in fact, I'm the opposite of that.”
Now this “emphasis” in the way we think about God makes all the difference when we have either wandered into, or willfully chosen, sin. When I rightly feel my guilt, the way I frame my thoughts about God's judgment and mercy will determine whether I run to him for forgiveness or try to avoid him like Adam did in the garden. If I believe that God is inclined to judgment and reluctant to show mercy (wrongly conceptualizing him in our image), I will run from him rather than run to him. It's the “emphasis” that I give to these two truths that profoundly affects my personal sanctification.
This is just one example. This is true of so many truths taught us in Scripture. Some truths are taught in large bold print. Others are taught in tiny italicized print. Giving the stress, proportionality, and emphasis that Scripture itself gives is part of not only of believing and applying the right truths, but part of believing and applying the right truths in the right way.
February 14, 2014 by
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” John 3:8
My life was transformed when I was a teenager. There was a time when I was clearly in love with the things of this world. No love for Christ, but a great love for my girlfriend. No concern for having Christian friends, but a great concern to have cool friends. No hunger for God’s Word, but a great hunger for entertainment. No interest in songs of praise, but a great interest in vulgar music.
But then something happened that took me, a wayward and rebellious teenager, and led me to the place where I sat down with my girlfriend and told her that honoring God meant more than our relationship. Something happened that led me to throw away a lot of my music and comic books and brought me to the place where I was devouring the Word of God and rejoicing in fellowship with the people of God.
What can explain this radical change that happened in me? Only the sovereign work of the Spirit of God. The wind blew where it willed.
Why does Jesus compare the saving work of the Spirit to wind? Think about wind. We know that it is powerful. It has the ability to uproot massive trees and toss about even the largest of ships on the ocean waters. It is a mighty force of nature. Wind is also invisible. A sailor feels its effects as the boat is carried through the waters but does not see the wind itself. Also, wind is an independent force. We cannot control it, even when we wish we could. It blows where and when it pleases.
Jesus, too, felt the wind and experienced its effects while he was on earth, and he compared it to the saving work of God. When he says, “The wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8), he is referring to the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about regeneration in the hearts of men. Just like the wind, the Spirit is powerful, invisible to the human eye, and independent from man’s will. Jesus is saying that regeneration is the sovereign work of God alone.
Earlier in the book of John, Christians are said to be “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Just as we do not cause our own natural birth, neither do we cause our spiritual birth. Birth is not initiated by us. You did not decide to be born into your earthly family, nor did you make a decision to be born again into the family of God. The sovereign Spirit of God in the one who brings us from death to life.
Do you believe that your spiritual rebirth was totally and entirely a work of God?
That God works in this way ought to be a great encouragement to us. It ought to embolden us in evangelism, knowing that the fruit of salvation is not dependent on the efforts of weak men and women but rather on the mighty and independent power of the Spirit. It ought to strengthen our resolve in ministry, knowing that while God calls us to lay the sticks, it is God who promises to light the fire. It ought to encourage us as parents, knowing that our children’s salvation rests not on our perfect love or wisdom but on the sovereign will of our God who is mighty and eager to save.
Our salvation is the sovereign work of God alone. His Spirit is like the wind—mighty and free—and it moves as God wills. He gets all the credit, and we get all the benefit.
February 13, 2014 by
“He must increase, I must decrease.” John 3:30
John 3:30 has become something of a life verse for me. In all that I do, the name of Jesus must increase, and my own name must decrease.
What does it mean to decrease?
1. I must acknowledge that everything I have comes from God.
“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Your role, your responsibilities, your influence, whether great or small, has been given by God. All the skills and strengths we have come from God, and therefore we take no credit or glory for anything. We only have these gifts because God chose to give them.
Let gratitude for our God-given gifts abound. But what if someone else is more gifted or popular or successful than me? That is God’s doing as well. Your place in this world is exactly what God intended it to be. Whatever success or gifts we have been given—in business, ministry, or in our families—should be used in humble gratitude. Whatever failures or setbacks we have should cultivate humble contentment. And in all of this, our aim ought to be to glorify God.
2. I must humbly and emphatically acknowledge that I am not the Christ.
An important part of decreasing is realizing who we are and who we are not, and then cultivating an accurate view of ourselves (rather than an inflated one). If you are prone to thinking that you are something great, this is a good reminder to take with you throughout the day: “I am not the Christ” (John 3:28).
Are there ways that you tend to exaggerate your importance and greatness? One magazine has a dating section where you can describe yourself if you are interested in pursuing a relationship. One woman wrote the following about herself: “Strikingly beautiful. Ivy League graduate.” She went on to say, “I possess a rare balance of beauty and depth, sophistication and earthiness, seriousness and a love of fun.” I think we can all agree this is a far cry front the humility John possesses.
3. I must remember my place in the wedding of the bridegroom.
John uses an illustration to help us understand our role. “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29). John says he is like the best man at a wedding. He sees the bride (the people of God) going to the bridegroom (Jesus), and this fills his heart with joy. Jesus is the groom; this is about him, not John. For me to put myself at the center of my life is the equivalent of showing up at my friend’s wedding acting like that day is all about me.
For John, his joy in this: Christ is present, Christ is speaking, Christ is increasing, Christ is glorified. John is absolutely thrilled that people are going away from him to Christ.
My role is to become less and less, and for Christ to become more and more. Christian, have you learned how to be brought low? Are you ambitious about decreasing? John was so committed to becoming less that he would later give his life for Christ. Verse 24 points forward to when he would be imprisoned and ultimately executed by beheading (Mark 6:27–28). The great artist Caravaggio has a painting of John the Baptist’s head on a platter—a man holding up John’s head by his hair as it sits on the platter. That is a “decrease.”
I’ve realized that my decreasing might cost me some comfort. But I’m learning to say, “So be it.” John was willing to decease to the point of being imprisoned and even put to death for the sake of Christ. A true man of God who gladly gave up his life for the one who would give up his life as the Lamb of God. I am compelled to do the same. We must decrease.