Monday, October 09, 2006

Beware of self-worship!
"When we believe that we should be satisfied rather than God glorified in our worship, then we put God below ourselves as though He had been made for us rather than that we had been made for Him." -Stephen Charnock

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I have been alarmed at the presence of wickedness in my own life lately. I am aware of a strong tendency for self-comfort and pride. God has been speaking to me about the necessity for personal vigilance to my propensity for sin. These days I am reading a book written by a 17th century English Puritan pastor and theologian, John Owen, entitled, Sin and Temptation. God is using his words to challenge my complacency. Here are some reflections that have confronted my spiritual lethargy:

There are two laws at work within the heart of every Christian: "the law of sin" and "God's law." (Romans 7:22-23). "Sin has dominion over the Believer, though its rule is somewhat weakened." The law of sin is powerful. "Rewards and punsihments accompany it. . . . The pleasures of sin are its rewards. It threatens to deprive its adherents of its sensual contentments and to inflict temporal evils on them." It is this anxiety and fear that drives so much of my decision-making.

"The law of sin is not a written, commanding law so much as an inbred, impelling, urging law. . . . because it is inbred, it is strongly compelling." That is why God promises in the new covenant to make a new heart: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts." (Jeremiah 31:33). The written law could never conquer the inbred law of sin in my life, therefore, God makes his law a living, indwelling principle in my life.

In Romans 7, Paul describes the the law of sin as an indwelling principle: "sin living in me" (v.20), "evil is right there with me" (v.21), "at work within my members" (v.23). "The law of sin always abides in the soul. It is never absent. . . . It is always ready to apply itself to every end and purpose that it serves. . . . So you never accomplish good - when you pray, when you give alms, when you meditate, when you do any duty for God with love for him - without this troublesome, perplexing indweller being there to handicap you."

"The Scripture everywhere assigns the place of sin to the heart. While this should be the throne of God, sin invades and possesses it." (Matthew 15:19) "Temptations do not put anything into a man which is not there already. . . . Here dwells our enemy. Within this fort the tyrant sin maintains its rebellion against God all my days."

There is still an even greater difficulty in my pursuit of God's will: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). The human heart is unsearchable. The heart of man is known only by God (Jeremiah 17:10). "Herein lies much of its security and strength. We fight an enemy whose strength is secret, and whose presence is hidden." But the heart is also "deceitful." It is deceitful because it "abounds in contradictions and instability." The harmony of mind, will and affections has been fractured by the presence of sin in my life. "All rebel against one another." Further, the deceit of the heart is evident by the many promises that it readily makes yet fails to fulfill.

Yesterday I "happened upon" an article in the Boundless webzine by Matt Kaufman, entitled, The Master Humbler. In his article he talks about a 17th-century French nobleman, the Duc Francois De La Rochefoucald, who had written collection of 500 or so pithy sayings, popularly known as The Maxims. His words describe my inner life so accurately. Here's a few examples:
  • A desire to be pitied or admired is often the strongest reason for our confiding in people.
  • We generally lack the courage to say that we have no faults and our enemies no virtues, but we actually are not far from thinking it.
  • In general, we give praise in order to get it.
  • We refuse praise from a desire to be praised twice.
  • When laziness and timidity yoke us to our duties, we often give virtue the credit for it.
  • We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those we bore.
  • When our vices desert us, we flatter ourselves that we are deserting our vices.
  • Dislike of lying is often an unknown desire to increase the value of our testimony and to give a sacred importance to our words.
  • We confess our faults to mitigate, by our sincerity, the harm they have done us in other people's minds.
  • We confess to small faults only to convey the impression that we have no big ones.
  • We behave politely to be treated politely, and to be considered polite.
  • Had we no pride ourselves, we should not complain of it in others.

As I surveyed a brief sampling of this penetrating wisdom, I was brought face-to-face with the stark reality of the ugliness of propensity for sin.

Owen gives counsel regarding how to deal with my heart: "First, let us never reckon that the work of contending with our own heart is ever finished. . . . Second, since indwelling sin resides in various, deceitful ways, remain vigilant. . . . Third, then, commit the whole matter with all care and diligence to Him who searches the heart to the uttermost. He knows how to anticipate all its treacheries and deceit. Here is where our safety lies. This is the course of action David takes in Psalm 139. After he describes the omnipresence of God and His omniscience, he prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts." (v.23). It is as if he says, "I know very little about my own deceitful heart, even when I think I am most sincere. Therefore, O God, who is present in my heart, and who knows my thoughts long beforehand, undertake this work within me. Prepare it thoroughly, for you alone are able to do so."

In this journey, I long to follow my Master with an undivided heart. Every day I must strike the sin within me with deathly blows, "loading against it sin al the firepower most destructive to its survival" and surrender my heart to King Jesus.

Friday, July 07, 2006

I had the blessed privilege of chatting with a special woman of faith yesterday. She has just received word from the doctors that she has advanced stomach cancer. He told her to get her things in order. As I sat by her bed, I was reminded again of the cruelty of the curse that we have brought upon ourselves as fallen human race. This is certainly not the way God meant for his creatures to experience life. Sickness, aging and death are intruders. Yet, they seem to bring out the glory of God in people. I asked her if she was ready to finish her journey. "Yes, I want it to be over. I want to go home." I inquired further, "Are you ready to go home?" "Yes," was her answer without hesitation, "My faith is in Jesus Christ. That's what is really really important in life." It is not the adversity and lose that challenges our faith, it's the prosperity and health. Does she struggle with her faith? Of course. I read Romans 8:31-39, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." She said that there are times when she is tempted to question, "is this all true?" We talked about how the enemy of her soul relentlessly attacks to destroy her faith, even more so now as she approaches the end of her journey. She must turn her thoughts towards the truth of God's Word in times of temptation. We prayed together and I left more blessed than when I had arrived. Here was a woman who has lost all that this life has to offer and she was content. Why? Her hope is beyond this life, where our journey truly comes to an end.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Oswald Chambers states, in his devotional writings, My Utmost for His Highest, that we must begin with the end in view. Focusing on the destination keeps me on the right path following Jesus. It also gives me strength to endure whatever trial or obstacle may lay before me.

In John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, right from the beginning of Christian's journey, his friend, Evangelist, directed him, "Do you see yonder shining light?" He said, "I think I do." Then said Evangelist, "Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto." And Buyan adds, "So I saw in my dream that the man began to run." Running for his life toward eternal life. What a way to live. The concerns and values of this present life can so clutter my focus that I can become bogged down and distracted with the incidental and impeded in my progress toward the essential. Oh, how I long to become more like my Master!

Years ago I read a book by the English Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter, The Saint's Everlasting Rest. Baxter was chronically sick, tubercular from his teens and suffering constantly from dyspepsia, kidney stones, headaches, toothaches, swollen limbs, intermittent bleeding at his extremities, and other troubles, and all before the days of pain-killing drugs. Yet he was always energetic, outgoing, and uncomplaining. By the time he was forty-five years old, he had just about evangelized the entire town of Kindderminster (two thousand adults, plus youth), besides writing many books. During the next thirty years, when as an ejected clergyman he was no longer able to hold a pastoral charge, he wrote so much that he now has a niche in history as the most prolific English theologian of all time.

What kept this frail invalid going so single-mindedly and even spectacularly through the years? From his thirtieth year he practiced a habit which he first formed when he thought he was on his deathbed: for something like half an hour each day he would meditate on the life to come, thereby increasing his sense of the glory that awaited him and reinforcing his motivation to use every once of energy and passion that he found within himself to stay fixed on the path of worship, service and holiness towards his goal. Diligent cultivation of hope gave him daily dtermination in disciplined hard work for God, despite the debilitating effect each day of his weak body. He stands for all time as proof that there is present strength to follow Jesus in the present by keeping our focus on the ultimate eternal goal.

My best friend and soul-mate is an inspiration to me in this very practice. She has never ended a prayer without first reflexion and gratitude for the blessed hope that awaits her on the other side of this brief and fleeting life. "We know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. " (1 John 3:2).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Last week I had a sobering glimpse of where I was headed in the journey. It scared the wits out of me. It all started at our care group. We have been reading the book by John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted. He was talking about the transformation that takes place in our lives as we follow Jesus. He made this statement, "You will not always be as you are; the day is coming when you will be something incomparably better - or worse." And then he quoted C. S. Lewis, "All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations . . . immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

Through the week I had been studying Colossians 3:1-11, and I came to the conclusion that no matter how far down the road I think am I as a follower of Jesus, the rythm of my steps must always be, "death and life." And "death" always comes before "life." I realized that I have lulled myself into thinking that I can simply maintain a level of spiritual life and moral health without any personal cost or discomfort. I realized that I had just about convinced myself that I had arrived at spiritual maturity.

The reality is that there is no "maintenance" mode in the spiritual journey of life. I am always changing, either for the better or the worse. And when I took a long hard look at the spiritual and moral condition of my life, I realized that things were getting worse not better. I had deceived myself into thinking that I was cruising along without any effort, when the truth was that I was slowly sliding backwards in my mindset of self-satisfaction.

This journey is first and foremost about dying. I have forgotten that my master said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Somehwere along the road of life I have forgotten that little word, "daily." That is to be the routine, daily cadence of my faith walk: losing my life; gaining His life. I fooled myself into believing that I could have both; that I could get along fine with just a little bit of me. Paul put it emphatically, "Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature." (Colossians 3:5). Whatever it is that doesn't belong to Jesus, I must do whatever it takes to execute it from my life. This is the path my master trod; it is the path this matheetuo must tread.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Reading in Colossians chapter three this morning, I was reminded of the complete sufficiency of Christ. "Christ is all, and is in all." Everything that I need for the journey is found in Him, comes from Him, and ends up with Him. And yet I am so prone to look for some novel idea to suppliment my faith experience. Christ is everything! This truth has been further reinforced in my thinking with the short sermon of Dr. S.M. Lockridge entitled, That's My King!

The Bible says my King is the King of the Jews; He's the King of Israel; He's the King of righteousness. He's the King of the ages. He's the King of heaven. He's the King of glory. He's the King of Kings and He's the Lord of Lords. That's my King. Well, I wonder, do you know Him?

My King is the sovereign King. No means of measure can define His limitless love. No far-seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of his shoreless supply. No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessings. He's enduringly strong. He's entirely sincere. He's eternally steadfast. He's immortally graceful. He's imperially powerful. He's impartially merciful. Do you know Him?

He's the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He's God's Son. He's the sinner's Savior. He's the centerpiece of civilization. He stands in the solitude of Himself. He's august and He's unique. He's unparalleled. He's unprecedented. He is the loftiest idea in literature. He's the highest personality in philosophy. He's the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He's the cardinal necessity for spiritual religion. He's the miracle of the age. He's the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him. He's the only one qualified to be an all all-sufficient Savior. That’s my King. I wonder if you know Him today.

He supplies strength for the weak. He's available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He strengthens and sustains. He guards and He guides. He heals the sick. He cleanses the leper. He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors. He delivers the captive. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent. And He beautifies the meek. I wonder if you know Him.

Well, this is my King. He's the key to knowledge. He's the wellspring of wisdom. He's the doorway of deliverance. He's the pathway of peace. He's the roadway of righteousness. He's the highway of holiness. He's the gateway of glory. He’s the master of the mighty. He’s the captain of the conquerors. He’s the head of the heroes. He’s the leader of the legislatures. He’s the overseer of the overcomers. He’s the governor of governors. He’s the prince of princes. He’s the King of kings and He’s the Lord of lords. That’s my King. Do you know Him?

Well, His office is manifold. His promise is sure. His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous and His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I wish I could describe Him to you.

He's indescribable. He's incomprehensible. He's invincible. He's irresistible. I’m coming to tell you, the heavens of heavens cannot contain Him, let alone a man explaining Him. Well you can't get him out of your mind. You can't get him off your hands. You can't outlive Him and you can't live without Him.

The Pharisees couldn't stand Him, but they found they couldn't stop Him. Pilate couldn't find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn't get their testimonies to agree. Herod couldn't kill Him. Death couldn't handle Him, and the grave couldn't hold Him. That's my King! He always has been and He always will be. I’m talking about, He had no predecessor and He’ll have no successor. You can’t impeach Him and He’s not going to resign. That’s my King! Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Well, all the power belongs to my King. We’re around here talking about black power and white power and green power, but it’s God’s power. And the glory. We try to get prestige and honour and glory for ourselves, but the glory is all His. Yes. Thine is the Kingdom and the power and glory, forever and ever and ever and ever. How long is that? And ever and ever and ever and ever. And when you get through with all of the evers, then, Amen.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

For many years now this image has inspired my spiritual journey. The travels of Christian in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress vividly describe the decisions, challenges and blessings of my life. This photo reminds me of that one critical moment in my journey that I must keep fixed in my memory. Christ's death means my life.

Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to travel was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did Christian run, but not without great difficulty because of the load on his back.
He ran until he came to a hill, and upon that hill stood a cross, and at the bottom was a sepulchre. So I say in my dream that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden was loosed from his shoulders and fell from his back and began to tumble, and continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I say it no more.
Then Christian was glad and lighthearted and said with a merry heart, "He has given me rest through his sorrow, and life through his death." He stood still for a while to look and wonder, for it surprised him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked and looked, until the tears streamed down his cheeks.

May I never loose sight of the wonder of what Jesus did for me. It was my defining moment for the rest of the journey.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

As a Matheetuo most of what I have learned has been in the journey. Life generally works that way. That seems to be the environment that God prefers to operate. A wise mentor of mine once shared with me that life is not so much about arriving, it's more about the direction in which I'm moving. Moving in the right direction, God gives the grace that I need in the moment to do what He requires of me. This was the way that God led and provided for the nation of Israel as they sojourned through the desert. "The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day." (Exodus 16:4). Enough for that day: such was the rule for God's giving and man's living. It is still the rule in all the dealings of God's grace with his children. His presence and grace enjoyed today will remove all doubt as to whether I can entrust tomorrow to him too.

Today I picked up Andrew Murray's Abiding in Christ. His insights once again challenged me. We are so easily led to look at life as a great big whole, and to neglect the little today, to forget that single days do indeed make up the whole, and that the value of each single day depends on its influence on the whole. . . . Each day of faithfulness brings a blessing for the next, making both the trust and the surrender easier and more blessed. And so the Christian life grows; as we give our whole heart to the work of each day. And so each day separately, all the day continually, and day by day successively, we abide in Jesus.