sunrise

He Is Gracious

“Sometimes I indulge a hope that I am growing wiser, and think surely, after such innumerable proofs as I have had, that he does all things well, I shall now be satisfied to leave myself, quietly and without reserve, to his disposal. A thousand such surrenders I have made, and a thousand times I have interpretatively retracted them. Yet still he is gracious. Oh, how shall I praise him at last!”

-John Newton, November 23, 1774 from The Works of John Newton, Volume One, pgs. 456-457

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mountains

Hebrews 12:2

“The question isn’t whether you’re going to believe, but who; it’s not merely about what to believe, but who to entrust yourself to. Do you really want to trust yourself? Do we really think humanity is our best bet? Do we really think we are the answer to our problems, we who’ve generated all of them? The problem with everything from Enlightenment scientism to mushy Eat-Pray-Love-ism is us. If anything looks irrational, it’s the notion that we are our own best hope.”

-James K.A. Smith, from On The Road With Saint Augustine

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The Old Book

“I warn everyone to beware of a hope not drawn from Scripture. It is a false hope, and many will find out this to their cost. That glorious and perfect book, the Bible,
however people despise it, is the only fountain out of which man’s soul can derive
peace. Many sneer at the old book while living, who find their need of it when dying.

“The Queen in her palace and the pauper in the workhouse, the philosopher in his
study and the child in the cottage—each and all must be content to seek living water from the Bible, if they are to have any hope at all. Honor your Bible—read your Bible—stick to your Bible. There is not on earth a scrap of solid hope for the other side of the grave which is not drawn out of the Word.”

-J.C. Ryle, from Old Paths

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Fields

Abide in Him

“I am amazed at times at the fact that I, or anybody else who is a Christian, can remain so silent, can live such a poor, unworthy life. Was I not right when I said at the beginning that the whole trouble with us all is that we do not realize what we are? We insist on thinking about this Christian life as some great height which we have to climb. But before we are asked to do anything, we have been made something; we have eternal life abiding in us, otherwise we are not Christians at all.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John, p. 344.

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Cross

Redeemed and Sanctified

“Do not put your finger now upon some sin that seems to you peculiarly flagrant and say, I fear some trace of that remains. It is not so. For covered is your unrighteousness; no spot or defilement remains on those who are redeemed and sanctified. There is therefore now no condemnation – no righteous condemnation – from conscience or from God. How brave was our Apostle when he had drunk deep into the spirit of this truth, when he defied heaven and earth and hell to accuse him!”

C.H. Spurgeon’s Sermons Beyond Volume 63, p. 324

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road

2 Chronicles 1:5

“In many things, perhaps, in the experience of the seeker after God it is right for him to confess ignorance or doubt. But when God has told us clearly where we may find what we seek, then to ignore his map in the name of a ‘reverent agnosticism’ is not only folly but rebellion. If we are truly seeking the Lord, then more often than not we shall have to acknowledge that we do know the way to Gibeon, and we do know what we shall find there.”

-Michael Wilcock, from The Message of Chronicles

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Visiting With The Chronicler

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through perseverance and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” – Romans 15:4 (WEB)

It is, of course, one of society’s most well-known cliches – “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. As well-known as it is, we often find that history is repeated in some form or fashion nearly every day. We are left to wonder – weren’t you aware of that? Why did you do that again?

Whenever I think of the phrase, “those obscure sections of the Bible”, my mind seems to move towards 1 & 2 Chronicles. You don’t hear many sermon series these days from these two books! I think that’s somewhat unfortunate. The author of these two books – the Chronicler, as the author is sometimes called – has it in mind that we should remember our history. So much so in fact, that the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles consist of a long list of names. And what’s interesting is the list of names sometimes includes folks we would not expect to be mentioned.

“Shimei had sixteen sons and six daughters; but his brothers didn’t have many children, and all their family didn’t multiply like the children of Judah.” – 1 Chronicles 4:27 (WEB)

Curiously we don’t find a long rehashing around Abraham, Moses, or others we might expect. But in these long lists of names, we can find encouragement. Why?

Our always-on age and the need to share breaking news even in Christian circles the millisecond after we receive it I think have left us lacking in some ways. We become so now oriented in doing these things that we forget there is often a better choice to stop for a moment and reflect. More specifically, I think as Christians in 2020 we may feel that we are the first people to experience God in the way we do, the first to have these trials and weights to bear – we have the market cornered! And I think one of the reasons why we do is we have a woeful lack of understanding of and appreciation for history in general, and the history of God’s people and the Holy Spirit’s work among them more specifically. In writing “to all those in Rome”, the Apostle Paul understood that and reminded them late in his letter why God’s Word was not to be neglected. And the Chronicler does so as well. There is a chain that connects us to Adam, of course, and the effects of sin. But it also connects us with God’s people who have lived faithfully for Him, imperfectly, but have lived for Him nonetheless for these thousands of years.

One of my companions for my current study in these books is Michael Wilcock’s The Message of Chronicles. Wilcock gives a great summary of what the author is attempting to do:

“The overall connection, binding the generations of antiquity to those of the Chronicler and ourselves, implies also that old and new are equally factual. We must not let ourselves be persuaded at any point in Chronicles we have to do with mere legend or invention. The main characteristic of all stories which begin ‘Once upon a time…’ is that their ‘time’ nowhere actually connects with any real historical time of ours. But that his records do all belong to the same continuum is the very point the Chronicler is labouring to make. The connection between these ancients and us means that they are as real as we are.”

There are reasons why cliches are cliches – they all hold some bit of truth in them. History does repeat itself and we often ignore it at our own peril. The Chronicler knew that as well. The long line of names can seem daunting. Reading them this time around, though, I feel a new sense of appreciation for these men and women. God has been at work in history long before us (even before Twitter!) and will be long after (unless Jesus returns first of course). I’m thankful for the Chronicler and those reminders today.

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The Blood of the Lamb

“Sinner, you will never go out of the Egypt of your bondage to sin, till the blood of the Paschal Lamb has been sprinkled on the lintel and the two side posts. You may strive against sin as you will, but you will never overcome it, except through the blood of the Lamb. Inquire of those in heaven who have conquered sin and do now wear the snow-white garments.

“Never till you see a bleeding Savior will you be able to put your sins to death. They must be crucified on the cross. They will die nowhere else than there.”

-Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 61

Matthew 5:4

grapes“And the joy which a true penitent finds, is a pre-libation and foretaste of the joy of paradise. The wicked man’s joy turns to sadness; the penitent’s sadness turns to joy. Though repentance seems at first to be thorny and bitter, yet of this thorn a Christian gathers grapes. All which considerations may open a vein of godly sorrow in our souls, that we may both weep for sin, and turn from it. If ever God restores comfort, it is to his mourners.”

-Thomas Watson, from The Ten Commandments, p. 210.

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Acts 14:22

water rocky“You seem to differ from others, and begin to be looked upon with a jealous eye by old acquaintance, as holding certain strange doctrines. All this promises well. You are, I trust, now considered very strange and peculiar people, and I hope that you differ not only in doctrine, but also in life and conversation. Remember this, ‘through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Satan will frequently magnify the difficulties which you must encounter as children of God.”

-Letters of William Tiptaft, September 3, 1830

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He Was There

“Is it not then the task of the church and of the individual believer to go back over life and experience and try to itemize those moments when Yahweh was clearly but quietly present to save and support? I don’t mean a kind of self-fixated, trivial existential overkill…

“But as you ponder the ground you’ve traveled, the murky stuff the Lord has carried you through, the twists and turns of your life, can you not see glimpses of silent mercy, of quiet care? There was no noise or tempest. Yahweh was there, but not obviously.”

-Dale Ralph Davis, from 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, p. 304.

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A Royal Mess

But we keep no check
On our appetites
So the green fields turn to brown
Like paper in fire

-John Mellencamp

Most of us in our daily lives crave stability. As much as we enjoy new adventures, I think there is probably a sense of comfort knowing what to expect of our work lives, for example, on a daily basis. About 3,000 years ago, there were signs that at long last, Israel was heading into that type of stability. The aimless desert wanderings were in the past and the tumultuous run of judges was about to end. Against Samuel’s hopes, Israel now had a king of their very own in Saul.

It would be unfair to say that Saul had no redeeming qualities. He certainly looked the part, as described in 1 Samuel 9:2 – “…a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.” (NASB). Very early on in his reign, he appeared obedient and able to take counsel, as his interactions with Samuel indicate. But all that had been given to Saul, even the simple fact of being the first king in the nation’s history, apparently wasn’t enough. He became impatient with Samuel’s wise advice. He appeared to jump seemingly at random from one issue to the next without an ability to really focus. And jealousy ultimately got the best of him.

You wonder what it was like for Saul growing up. He probably had few peers in physical stature and most likely was the center of attention. Did those factors contribute to his impatience in not getting his way and his distrust of others? It certainly may have. After David’s conquest of Goliath, the word was out. Saul now had to share the spotlight and this agitated him. It led him away from his own family and ultimately to his death.

I wonder how much we see of ourselves in Saul. The appetites that we have to be seen and admired and the center of attention, much of which can be easily manifested online. I think those well-known words of 1 Samuel 18:7 (“Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands”) feels like a commentary on our need to get likes and retweets. A few years ago, as a user of Twitter and Instagram, I started to wonder why the number of likes on what I posted meant anything to me. I couldn’t come up with an answer. Sadly, these things can easily cloud our vision of God and His plan for us. And those green fields can turn to brown awful quickly. Sometimes people’s lives can serve as a great example for us – in how not to live. Saul seems tragic in that light.

 

Such a Great Salvation

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets”
-Hebrews 11:32 (NASB)

samson_crusader_bible

Image via Unknown medieval artist / Public domain

One of the things I’ve always found amazing (and disappointing) about movies or series that are supposedly based on the Bible is how often they detour from the actual text. I don’t know what it is about those who are involved in these productions – do you mean to tell me the Scriptures need to be improved upon or embellished to be interesting so the audience will keep their attention? And you’re the one to do it?

The book of Judges to me has always seemed even too outrageous for Hollywood. The cyclical pattern of the book – crying out to God, redemption from God, period of rest, departure from God, crying out to God, etc. is difficult to handle at times. There is wickedness in this book that in some ways surpasses anything else we see in Scripture.

“When he entered his house, he took a knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her in twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout the territory of Israel.”
– Judges 19:29 (NASB)

Even the so-called heroes of the book – Samson, Jephthah, and others – had holes in their character you could drive a truck through. Another of the judges that is often held up for his faith is Gideon, which has always baffled me. He put God to the test time and again with his wet fleece / dry fleece act and other acts of timidity. One of Gideon’s own sons (Abimilech) marred whatever legacy Gideon had left with such destruction in the family in his misguided attempt to be “king”. Judges covers a dark period of about 180 years (1200 BC-1020 BC).

The Bible, however, spares nothing of the reality of the human condition, so we should not expect much different than what we find in Judges overall. One of my companions for my study this month is Dale Ralph Davis’ superb commentary titled Judges: Such a Great Salvation. Davis combines his trademark wit and humor with a relentless attention to the text – so much so that I wondered if I had read the same passage he did when I read his comments on it. As a side note, this is a reminder that we have to continue to ask questions, make observations, mark up what we’re reading – as familiar as we may be with our Bibles, we can never know them well enough.

Summarizing Judges in his preface, Davis remarks:

“The church (in general) has a problem with the Book of Judges. It is so earthy, so puzzling, so primitive, so violent – in a word, so strange, that the church can scarcely stomach it.”

I have read through Judges several times over the years, but this quote from Davis pointed at me a bit. I put my own name in the quote in place of “the church” and realized why I have a problem with Judges and “can scarcely stomach it”. In short, it’s because I see my own patterns in these flawed judges and the nation of Israel during this time period. The wickedness in my own heart, the crying out to God, a period of rest, and then departure from Him, only to cry out to Him yet again. What I appreciated so much about Davis’ commentary throughout was the constant pointing back to that word that is so well-known but not so well-grasped – grace.

“He is patient with our weakness. God doesn’t mind humbling himself in order to bolster our fragile faith, our wavering grip on his word. He is so eager to do just that that he has provided a table instead of a threshing floor, and bread and wine in place of a fleece.” (p. 100)

That’s it, isn’t it? He is patient with our weakness. I mean if it were me, I would have turned my back after all of Gideon’s antics and headed for the door. But the often dizzying cycles and patterns of failed repentance throughout Judges I think means to emphasize that word – grace – and how in Judges’ 21 chapters God is giving us a picture in miniature of what that word means. The silliness of Samson, even as a grown man; the unwise vow of Jephthah; the sickening ending to the life of the Levite’s concubine; the tragic infighting between Israel and Benjamin – all of what seems like bottomless wickedness – all of it seems to point to reminders of God’s unfailing grace. Grace finds a place even here in the darkness of this Old Testament book. And because it does, and because we as followers of Christ are people of “the Book”, it finds a place with us as well 3,000 years on.

Upon reflection, at the end of his commentary, Davis notes that perhaps the title of his book is a bit of a misnomer:

“…Yahweh’s grace is far more tenacious than his people’s depravity and insists on still holding them fast even in their sinfulness and their stupidity. Nor is he finished raising up saviors for them…All this sort of wrecks the title of this book, doesn’t it? Biblical as it is, true as it is. ‘Such a Great Savior‘ would be far more accurate.”

Maybe Davis is right. And if he is, that is cause for encouragement for us all.

Romans 8:1

The Cross“I spoke with one earnest soul a little while ago, and she said, ‘I have no rest.’

“I replied, ‘Have you believed in Jesus Christ?’ She answered, ‘Yes.’

‘But,’ I asked, ‘Do you not know that as soon as you believe in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven you, and you are saved?’

‘I did not grasp that,’ said she.

“Yet that is the gospel— that whosoever believes in Jesus is not condemned. He that believes in him has everlasting life, and is saved the moment he believes— becomes changed from the power of sin and made into a new man, possessing a new life which can never die. This assurance is worth getting hold of, and he that has it, let him hold it fast, and rejoice in it; yet it is not to be obtained anywhere except from the dear hands that were nailed to the wood.”

-Charles H. Spurgeon, from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 28

 

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John 10:28

sunset“God brings a soul out of spiritual Egypt by his converting grace, that is, the ‘day of his power,’ wherein he makes the soul willing to come out of Satan’s clut­ches. Now when the saint is upon his march, all the country rises upon him. How shall this creature pass the pikes, and get safely by all his enemies’ borders? God himself enfolds him in the arm of his everlasting strength.”

-William Gurnall, from The Christian in Complete Armour

Hebrews 2:1

coins“We all know how silently and unconsciously we lose our hold of the things that we think to be most surely believed among us; and whilst we fancy that we are grasping them they are gone from us just because we had never doubted, and always ‘believed’ them.

“Conjurers will tell you that if you press a coin in a man’s palm and shut the hand quickly, he does not know for a moment or two whether the coin remains there or not. There are many of us who have closed our hands on the precious gold coin of the gospel, and it has been filched away from us, and we do not know that it has been until we open our hand and see the empty palm. We drift away by time and by familiarity.”

-Alexander Maclaren, from MacLaren On The Bible: Alexander MacLaren’s Exposition Of Holy Scripture

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This Nervous Age

“We who live in this nervous age would be wise to meditate on our lives and our days long and often before the face of God and on the edge of eternity. For we are made for eternity as certainly as we are made for time, and as responsible moral beings we must deal with both.”

-A.W. Tozer, from The Knowledge of the Holy

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A View of God

“I like to think that God is…”

I have heard many a sentence that starts with this phrase. Sometimes it’s in relation to a question about good vs. evil. Sometimes it’s after someone has messed up in a big way in their life – the beginning of this sentence usually ends with God sweeping the dustup under the rug. In any case, the sentence reveals more about us of course than it does about God.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” – A.W. Tozer

I have thought for a long time now that all of us (and Christians especially) might be best served by putting aside our preconceived notions and taking up a detailed study on the attributes of God. Our Sunday school hours and small group sessions would benefit tremendously. Our thoughts of who He is are right only as far as they line up with what He has revealed about Himself in His Word. And this is where many of us head off onto the shoulder of the road. The statement that “I like to think that God is…” seems to crop up the more someone is detached from his or her Bible.

I’ve begun reading A.W. Tozer’s classic The Knowledge of the Holy. In his first chapter, Tozer argues that wrong thoughts about God are simply idolatry:

“The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin – and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness. Always this God will conform to the image of the one who created it and will be base or pure, cruel or kind, according to the moral state of the mind from which it emerges”

I remember hearing a pastor say, on more than one occasion, that the most important thing we can do as Christians is pray. I don’t find anything at all wrong with that statement. However, I would add “pray AND read our Bibles”. How do we know what to pray for apart from His Word? It’s there that we discover His will for us. And certainly in making our way through the repeated warnings against idolatry all throughout our Bibles, we see how grievous a sin it is in God’s sight.

Tozer’s 1st chapter served as a wake up call for me. I have no right to the sentence “I like to think that God is…” My view of God is clear only as much as it is informed by the words of Scripture. Idols don’t have to reside on a pole, or be formed from gold or silver. Unless I’m careful, they will take shape simply in the form of an unworthy view of God Himself and reside right in my own heart.

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
-Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB)

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A Verse for the Year

“Open my eyes, that I may behold
  Wonderful things from Your law.”
-Psalm 119:18 (NASB)

It’s January 1, and many of us are thinking about a plan for reading the Bible in the new year. Some try to read the entire Bible in that timeframe, others may expand it to two or even three years time. My own plan (D.V.) is to read a chapter from the Old Testament each day, starting in Genesis. I realize in doing so, it will probably take me about 2-1/2 years to get through the entire OT. I have found in the past that reading three or even four chapters at a time leaves little left over for reflection, so I’m slowing that down a bit. I think that’s ok? I plan to read through the New Testament this year as well, and also spend the year slowly working through Hebrews – “that most Old Testament of New Testament books”, as Alistair Begg has said.

In any case, that covers the “what” of my planned Bible reading for 2020. But what happens when the Bible is opened (or the YouVersion app comes up)? Psalm 119 is essentially a meditation on the Bible itself, and verse 18 I think is a good, short prayer prior to reading. So much of our Bible reading can be formulaic, and eyes can speed over the text without much thinking. This is especially true with familiar passages. I think the Psalmist’s prayer here can help to change that. To “behold wonderful things” implies more than a quick glance. It means we are looking to the Spirit to make the words real to us and then to embed them in us so we are changed and shaped by God’s will. This is not an easy process, and it’s difficult to want this in our fast-paced culture. But it’s necessary. My prayer for myself and for all who are taking this journey of Bible reading in 2020 is that this would be our daily goal.

Image via © 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at gmail.com] [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Reflecting on Psalm 6 – Part 2

On this last day of the year, I decided to take another run through Psalm 6. It’s interesting that unlike another of the penitential Psalms (51), where we are given the occasion as being David’s excursion with Bathsheba, we are not given similar information in Psalm 6. So we’re left to wonder what event(s) in David’s life prompted this prayer. It could have been his hidings from either King Saul or David’s own son, Absalom, or something completely different. In any case, David is facing conflict from outside and distress on the inside.

“Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away;
Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed.”
– Psalm 6:2 (NASB)

The phrase “pining away” means weak or feeble. This Hebrew word is used just four times in the Old Testament. This is where David is now. His own sin, or the sin of others, has sapped his strength. To repeat, he explains “my bones are dismayed”. I feel in some small way I can relate to what David is feeling here. There are times that my own sin (and Satan’s reminders of it) have left me at the end of the day with “dismayed bones”, just wanting my brain to shut off. I’m exhausted from falling yet again, of being arrogant enough to feel as if I have become the first person to outsin God’s grace (what a feat!). I long for sleep to come quickly, to be “healed” – at least until the next morning when I have to face myself yet again. But when will the cycle end? Or better yet, “How long O LORD?” Warren Wiersbe notes that this phrase – How long? – is asked at least 16 times in the Psalms. And to this, Wiersbe says, “The answer to the question is, ‘I will discipline you until you learn the lesson I want you to learn and are equipped for the work I want you to do.””

I wonder how often we look at our predicament and wonder, “what lesson do You want me to learn here God?” I would guess that it’s much less than we wonder “how long will this predicament last?” Wiersbe’s comment is worth remembering. I’m also reminded of God’s question to Adam in Genesis 3 – “Where are you?” Perhaps that would clarify how the predicament came about?