Tag Archives: esv

Anxious For Nothing (Pt. 1)

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” – Matthew 6:27 (ESV)

A few weeks ago I received a book from Grace To You called Anxious For Nothing, written by John MacArthur. I started reading it about ten days ago and thought I’d journal here about what I’m learning from this book.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a bit of a worrywart. It’s something I’ve carried with me from childhood. There are times that the anxiousness goes away and hides for a while, but the tendency to worry always lies somewhere under the surface. I know of course that this type of behavior is something we are directly commanded not to do in Scripture – the examples of Matthew 6:25-34 and Philippians 4:6-7 probably being the most well known. The circumstances of my life the last half of this year have heightened the worry it seems – losing my Dad, changing jobs and continually searching for a new one, family issues – all of these have made me feel a bit unsettled. My mind has trouble shutting off at night and I’m always thinking about what’s coming up, what’s next. I’m definitely not much of a “live in the moment” person these days.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:34 (ESV)

For these reasons I was especially looking forward to reading this book from John MacArthur. In the first chapter of this book, MacArthur relates a scene from Sherlock Holmes and a conversation between Holmes and Dr. Watson. Holmes asks Watson to recount how many steps there are leading from a hall to a certain room. Watson explains that he doesn’t know, even though he’s been up & down those stairs hundreds of times. Holmes responds, “You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

MacArthur asks us to identify with Holmes or Watson in this passage, with the implication that many of us lean towards Watson. How true this is. Each worry that we come across somehow seems different than one in the past. But yet, how graciously did God provide for us the last time we worried so ? Worry, as MacArthur explains, really signifies our lack of faith. I’d also suggest it may be an example of pride as well, thinking this issue or problem is even too big for God to handle – only our worry and anxiousness can help figure this one out.

Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Sometimes I wonder how much of the old has really passed away in my case. God created us in His own image – but how much of our life before Christ is still “hardwired” in, or how much of what makes you “you” is still there and will always be ? Is the fact that we worry less than in years past an example of the progression of our sanctification ? Or is worry in any degree a sin that shows how much we fail to trust God ?

In this first chapter, MacArthur asks us to observe a little more and not just see, and reflect more on the latter part of Matthew 6. Observe the lilies and the birds and see little they lack. Stop for a moment and think about these things. In our daily hustle and bustle, this type of observation often goes right out the window. But it’s crucial to cutting worry off at the pass, and meditating on how much God loves and cares for us.

In the second chapter of his book, MacArthur turns to “avoiding anxiety through prayer”. I’ll get to that next.

Judges 10:15

“I don’t mind whether you’ve been baptized, confirmed, christened, publicly professed, walked the aisle, learned the funny handshake, signed on the dotted line, filled out the response card, sat up, knelt down, been knocked over, danced, or done any number of religious activities.

“What I want to know is if you are in the place of verse 15 ? Because there can be no joy without great sense of sin. There can be no realization of the wonders of Christ and who He is without a profound realization of what He has done for you.”

– Dr. Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, IL

The Book of Remembrance

I read Malachi last night and stopped for a while on these familiar verses. We could all spend a little time on these.

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. ‘They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.'”

Malachi 3:16-18 (ESV)

Marks of the True Christian (Pt. 1)

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” – Romans 12:9 (ESV)

It’s sad that many of the lines drawn for us these days in the world are in gray, rather than black or white, or right and wrong. What’s “good” for you isn’t necessarily good for me. But if it feels good, well, by all means, do it. Relativism is alive and well, unfortunately, and much of what the Bible says and teaches is foreign today to many people.

One of the things I find so strange about atheism is any discussion of good and evil within that belief system. If we’re all some kind of cosmic accident formed by particles thrown together, then why value human life more than that of a giraffe or a turtle or a ladybug ? To the atheist, why is the loss of human life through a crime considered “evil” then ? What makes it tragic ? How is good and evil defined ? By who ?

In a sermon on this text, John Piper explains that the thought process of those who don’t believe in objective right and wrong of course ultimately hits its dead end. And whether they feel it does or not, there is objective good and evil, and those who refuse to believe that now will ultimately believe one day. As Pastor John explains:

“The good and true and right and beautiful have objective foundation in God, and in his self-revelation, Jesus Christ. Which means that the simplest peasant in Russia or Jew in Germany or slave in Georgia or Christian prisoner in Rome can say to the most powerful Stalin or Hitler or plantation owner or Caesar: ‘No sir, this is wrong. And all your power does not make it right. There is God above you. And therefore right and wrong have objective reality apart from you.'”

*** to be continued ***

Reflecting on Psalm 86

“Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.”

– Psalm 86:1 (ESV)

Book Three of the Psalms contains Psalms 73-89, most of these written by either Asaph or the Sons of Korah. Just one is written by King David, which is Psalm 86. I’ve been reading and rereading this Psalm over the last couple of weeks, with a few thoughts coming to mind.

Before I became a Christian, I wrongly assumed many things about God. I had a completely unfounded view of what it meant to have a relationship with Him (more on that in an upcoming post) and one area where this view was wrong was in regards to prayer. My “prayers”, if you could call them that, usually consisted of a few minutes of thanking God for things He had given me (health, job, home, etc.) but the primary focus of my prayer was really on the things. I had no real sense of what a privilege it was to even be able to speak to God , and I certainly did not pray as if I were in need. My life was just fine the way it was, and out of obligation I figured that, every so often, I should tell God that I was glad that He was doing things my way.

Ugh.

Contrast this with King David, who opens this Psalm by asking God to “incline” His ear to David. I’ve been leery of trying to understand anything about the original biblical languages without a hint of any training, but I decided to dig in a bit with this Psalm anyway. Looking up this word in the Hebrew, (natah ?) it looks like it can also be translated as “to turn aside, incline, decline, bend down” (please correct me if I’ve gotten this wrong !). The King James translates verse 1 as “Bow down thine ear…” I think this is an important starting point in looking at this Psalm, and for that matter, prayer in general. David, as usual, is fully aware of who he is, and who God is. He knows he is someone in need, and He’s asking God to be gracious to bend down to even hear his request. This is in complete contrast to how I had approached prayer before becoming a Christian. I had no sense of need, just a feeling of, “Well, I guess I should get around to thanking God for everything good in my life at some point. I don’t need anything from Him though, just to be clear”.

Spurgeon translated David’s opening line this way, in a sermon on this Psalm:

“You are so high that unless You shall stoop and stoop very low, You can not commune with me. But Lord, do thus stoop. Bow down Your ear. From Your lofty Throne, higher than an angel’s wing can reach, stoop down and listen to me – poor, feeble me.”

So David begins this Psalm with a right understanding of his standing before God – as someone in need. He realizes that what he needs cannot be done through anything in his own power. He needs God Himself to bow down, to incline His ear, to condescend to our requests. David here gets it right.

We’d do well to remember the same.

Lessons from Nehemiah (II)

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12:4-5 (ESV)

Last week I wrote about some of the lessons I’ve taken from the book of Nehemiah. I wanted to continue with a few other observations, ones that I’ve thought about after reading through several of Paul’s letters the last few weeks.

One of my favorite chapters in all of the Old Testament (and probably the whole Bible) is Nehemiah 8. Here we see that the wall has now been completed, and the people of Israel are now gathering to worship. Nehemiah has led the physical labor that has brought the people to this point, and now he steps to the side as Ezra takes the stage to preach. We’re told from the text that Ezra read from the Law “from early morning until midday” (8:3), which we can assume was at least a couple of hours (and to think that some folks get antsy at the lengths of today’s sermons, which are usually no more than 20-30 minutes long). Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites helped to explain the preaching to the people, and sought to encourage them as they wept at the reading of the Law (8:9-10):

“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'”

If we go back to the book of Ezra, we see a similar type of episode. In chapter 4 of Ezra, discouragement had set in as the rebuilding work was ordered to cease, and there were hecklers lurking as well. But in chapter 5, we see the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage the people in their rebuilding of the temple (5:2) – “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.”

And as we read through Paul’s letters, we see a similar theme as he talks about the body of Christ. Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4:11-16 are just some of the places we see Paul explain this for us.

As a Christian, I have struggled mightily in trying to discern what gifts I have to contribute to the body of Christ. Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah all contributed to very significant events in Old Testament history, and each was necessary in their own individual way. Without any one of these men, the rebuilding, both physical and spiritual, would not have been completed, or at the least would have been radically different. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains to us how this is similar to our own physical bodies and the necessity of each part in making up the whole (v.14-20):

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

Next to my daily battles with sin, this has been my greatest struggle…praying about and seeking what ways I can contribute to the body, to others, to the church. A few months ago I actually drove to a weeknight Bible study at church, got to the parking lot, and then let these thoughts race through my mind. What could I contribute ? Everyone there knows more than I do about this anyway. Who wants to hear my take on it ? So I drove away without even going in. I often think the same things when service opportunities are presented. Someone can cook better than me. Someone can organize this better than me. And on it goes…

Reading through Ezra and Nehemiah, and Paul’s letters as well, has really helped to remind me of the importance of each member in the body of Christ. It has been a painfully slow process for me to come to that realization in my own life, but as always, Scripture points the way. I will think long and hard about the lessons given by these men, with the prayer that it turns into godly action.

Lessons from Nehemiah (I)

Last night I read Nehemiah and decided to just note a few things about this great man of God. I’m writing these mainly as a reminder to myself what a servant should look like, particularly in times of difficulty.

1) Nehemiah had a heart and burden for others – We find out quickly in the account of Nehemiah that he was a man burdened by the circumstances around him and of his own brothers and sisters. In chapter 1, we’re told that Nehemiah is in the city of Susa, and while there he is informed of what has happened in his beloved Jerusalem. The men and women who’ve returned from exile are struggling – badly – and the physical surroundings there are in shambles. Nehemiah is so troubled by this news that he responds in 1:4, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” As cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah enjoyed a position of some status, but he still identified primarily with his fellow countrymen. I read this and realize my own eyes are not open as wide as they should be. As we look around, it does not take long to find brokenness and hurt in the world around us. Often times though I have such tunnel vision of my own weekly schedule and my own comfort that these images just flash across my mind and then disappear as quickly as they entered in. Matthew Henry comments that, “Nehemiah lived at ease, and in honour, but does not forget that he is an Israelite, and that his brethren are in distress.” I would do well to remember the same.

2) Nehemiah sought God in prayer as he faced great decisions – Nehemiah is entering the presence of the king in chapter 2, with the news of his brothers & sisters weighing heavily on him. At that time, it could be considered a serious offense to be in a sad condition while in the presence of the king. When the king asked Nehemiah what he needed, Nehemiah did not answer immediately, but sought God first in prayer (2:4) – “Then the king said to me, ‘What are you requesting?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven.” Nehemiah knew the correct order of who was most likely to give him what was needed. He did not neglect to ask for the earthly provisions that the king could grant, but his first instinct was to turn to the ultimate Provider. Another good reminder.

3) Nehemiah lived with purpose – To put it mildly, as Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall, he met with some resistance. The Abbott and Costello of their day – Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite – made sure to discourage Nehemiah and make his life uncomfortable while the rebuilding was taking place. But dealing with these clowns did not send Nehemiah off on a permanent detour. They attempted to ridicule and even harm Nehemiah, but Nehemiah’s focus and faith in God ultimately prevailed (6:15-16) – “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” We are so distracted these days, and can easily get sidetracked and discouraged. Nehemiah’s burden was great, but his efforts were strengthened throughout by God, as he kept going straight ahead until the task was complete. “Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.” – Proverbs 4:27

4) Nehemiah lived above reproach – Rebuilding a wall of that magnitude in a span of just 52 days was quite a feat. We could have expected Nehemiah to enjoy some of the fruits of his labor, and many of his fellow workers probably would have agreed. Nehemiah would have none of it however. He admonished the officials who heavy taxes and burdens on their brothers & sisters (5:1-14), and when the time came for Nehemiah to be fed like a king as “governor”, he declined (5:18) – “Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people.” Unlike the officials he scolded, Nehemiah could live with a clear conscience in how he treated his fellow brothers & sisters. Can I ?

*** to be continued ***